Archive | September, 2012

Julie’s Visit

29 Sep

Two interesting things happen when you’re an expat and someone visits you from home: 1. There is an interesting sweet/sad emotion that comes from the combination of  joyful re-connecting and wistful homesickness.  2. There is an emergence of a particularly prideful eagerness to show off everything you think is wonderful about where you are.

Our close friend Julie came to visit recently and in doing so, she garnered the honor of being the first (non-Ennis-native) person to come to Ireland from San Francisco to see us.

We did our best to show her not only where, but how, we were living here.  We had ten amazing – but too brief – days full of experiences both ordinary and extraordinary. 

A perfect example was the very first day of Julie’s visit when we picked up the girls from school (ordinary) and then went into town to tour the ancient Franciscan Abbey (extraordinary) built in the year 1240 which makes it one of the oldest buildings in town.

Even though we had been there a few times before, I think you learn more when you are sharing your experiences with someone new.  This time, I realized that since Saint Francis founded his order in 1209, this abbey on this little island not too close to Italy must be one of the earliest Franciscan Abbeys in the world.

But our visit to the Ennis Abbey was only one small moment of Julie’s trip and there were many many more memorable moments….some of which may even get a blog post here.

Craggaunowen

25 Sep

When I arrived in Ireland last September, the girls and Mary had been here a month without me and had a whole list of places they wanted to show me.  One of these places was Craggaunowen.  Unfortunately, by the time we got around to getting in to Craggaunowen, it was closed for the winter and not open again until the summer.

This summer, it seemed we were so caught up in the Burren and various Kil-towns that we didn’t get around to Craggaunowen until it was just about to close again for the season – we got in the last day it was open.

At this point, the question you are asking yourself is probably what I was asking myself when they took me there: What is Craggaunowen?  Is it a castle? A museum? A park? What exactly is it?

It isn’t really that simple, but they describe it as a “Heritage Site” or “Pre-historic Park”.  Really, it’s a large forested area with a guided walk upon which you will encounter examples and re-creations of every phase of Irish civilization: the first one you reach is an old 16th Century tower-house/castle that you can run around in, avoid the “murder hole” and pretend-swordfight your way all the way to the top if you’re a lefty (ask Grace about that one).

The path from the tower house leads you to a stone age cooking pit and the remains of an actual dugout canoe from a couple thousand years ago that someone discovered in a bog.  They have also built a reproduction of a Crannog which is like a beaver dam for humans: a sort of man-made island in a pond that was home for ancient folks who needed a little natural defense around their houses.  They have also reproduced a ring-fort which sounds more military than it really is.

Basically a ring fort was an early multi-family dwelling with a couple of huts and a raised earthen barrier around it topped with a fence to keep out unwanted visitors.  My girls made themselves at home.

One of the coolest parts of this walk through the forest is the Sleeping-Beauty-esque glass house that you see through the woods and which looks completely out of place after your stone-age trip through time.

Inside the futuristic glass house (besides people who resist throwing stones) is Brendan’s Boat of “Brendan the Navigator” fame.  Never heard of him?  Maybe that’s because you think Columbus discovered America.  By now though I’m guessing most people acknowledge that Brendan sailed from Europe to America long before most people knew there was a world in the New World, but he was a monk not a businessman so you can see where that went. 

The boat housed here is not the original boat, but it is the original reproduction boat.  There used to be a lot of skeptics in who said that Brendan couldn’t have made it across the Atlantic with the limited sailing  technology available to him at the time, so a couple of guys in the 1970’s set out to prove that Brendan could have done the journey with only the simplest of materials.  The boat in the glass house is the boat these guys sailed to America.  It is made of animal skins and wood and is pretty impressive to see in person.

After Brendan’s boat, the wedge tomb isn’t quite as impressive, but it helps to have your daughter demonstrate how dead people would have been buried in it (Pictured above). 

Pictured below, Tara barely stands for a minute next to a stone that has stood for thousands of years.  The notches carved on the side are an ancient form of Celtic writing called Ogham…I think it says “no loitering”.

I had to wait a year to find time to get there , but it was definitely worth the anticipation.  Sad to say it will be closed until the spring, I wouldn’t mind the walk again on one of these crisp autumn days.

Midlife Business Adventure

22 Sep

In case you were used to seeing posts show up here more frequently than they have lately, I have to tell you that my time has been under more demand as a result of my enrolment in the Corporate M.B.A programme at University of Limerick’s Kemmy Business School.

Like the decision we made when we moved to Ireland, the M.B.A.  idea had bubbled around in the atmosphere for a long long time and yet the actual process of deciding on it and committing to it was an impulsive and last minute decision which precluded second-guessing.

Here I am, back at school, almost twenty years after the last time I carried my own textbooks on a college campus so my posts might not come as frequently.  I’ve got a few in the works that will appear here at some point when I have a chance to finish them up.

En-chanted Evening

14 Sep

On the recommendation of a trusted friend, I left work the other day at 5:20pm and headed out East of Limerick to a Benedictine Monastary called Glenstal Abbey.

Every evening at 6:00pm the monks say Vespers – which is evening prayers – in Latin.  Technically, they don’t actually “say” the prayers, rather, they chant them…gregorian style.  Completely amazing to hear, it is a meditative and calming experience.

Just to approach the chapel is an experience…walking through the ambiance of this old Castle-like fortress-like monastary.  But once inside, the altar itself is spare and minimalist: just a simple table with an incense burner on a stand in front of it.

High above the altar is a equal sided cross suspended with thin wires in the air like a floating addition sign.  The smoke from the incense rises underneath it quickly expanding like a dancing genie….if ever there was a representation of the “Holy Spirit” this would be it.

The smoke dances into the air as the deep intonations of the latin chant fill the room and the mystery of spirituality surrounds you, transporting you to a timeless place of reflection.

You can buy the albums of the monks doing this…or you can show up twice a day and get the full experience just for the price of passing by.  I highly recommend it.

A(nother) Year(?)

11 Sep

Last year when we came up with this crazy idea to move to Ireland, we were only willing to mentally commit to a sort of “year abroad” – leaving ourselves a solid path back to San Francisco after giving our kids(and ourselves) some quality time with the Irish side of the family.

In keeping with our “single year theme”, I gave my blog the subtitle “A Year in Beautiful Ireland” because that’s what Mary’s father had written at the top of a piece of paper he gave us in 2008 where he listed the pro’s and con’s of coming to Ireland.

Now that I’ve busted through my one-year anniversary (Sept 10th), it is probably a good time to say explicitly that we’ll be staying a while longer.

back to school…again!

How much longer? Hard to say, but as you can tell from the photo above, it’ll probably be at least through the end of this school year. Chances are that it may be longer than that because the girls aren’t the only ones who started school recently.

I’ve managed to get myself enrolled in an MBA program at the University of Limerick’s Kemmy School of Business. that program lasts for two academic years.

So for those friends and family from SF who ask how long we plan to stay in Ireland, I have to say that between the amazing public schools, the fantastic rural lifestyle, my awesome job, and now the MBA, it’s going to be hard to predict how long we’ll be living in Ireland. But then again, I couldn’t have predicted much about the last decade of my life in advance.

Spiral of Life

10 Sep

Our morning view of SF’s Mission District – 2011

This morning we all got up just before 6:00am to head down to Shannon Airport to pick up our friend Julie who was coming to visit from San Francisco.

At this exact time, precisely one year ago today, it was just Mary and the girls headed to the airport to pick me up when I arrived in the country.

It’s like a perfect circle. Except that the second time around the circle it’s never exactly the same. More like a spiral. I like this metaphor, the way life circles around repeating itself in amazing ways with infinite variations. Hopefully each time we go around, we grow a little like those shells at the beach.

Our morning view over the hills of County Clare – 2012

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