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Mangan’s Cross

21 Apr

Shortly after we moved to Ireland I asked my father-in-law if he wanted to go grab a pint with me and as we headed out from his house he suggested we go to the Sibín bar (Shebeen) and pay our respects at a wake for a neighbour that had passed away. As we turned at the crossroads, Jim says “she used to live in that cottage there” and I said “oh, Mrs. Mangan?” as if I might have known her.

"The Custom's House"

“The Custom’s House”

My father-in-law asked incredulously, “how do you know Mrs. Mangan?” and I said “I don’t, but everyone refers to that crossroads as Mangan’s Cross, so I just guessed”. We had a little laugh, but it occurred to me that like “The Bog Road”, so many of the crucial landmarks in Ireland have names that only the neighbours know – that don’t show up on the map and are only passed along orally and rarely referenced in text or print.

As we sipped our pints in this cozy pub in the tiny township of Doora, Jim told me about old fellows, long gone, that had sat on stools like ours and sung a song about the local boys who had volunteered to fight for England in WWI with the promise of being repaid with Irish independence.

Jim speculated that the old fellow who sang that song was probably the last one who remembered “The Doora Volunteers” and knew  the words that described the young soldiers’ humorous ineptitude. I wondered if Jim was now the only person left who knew that song.  How fast time erases history.

I wonder how many generations will continue to say “turn right at Mangan’s cross to get to the Sibín”?

(this post is dedicated to the memory of my Aunt Kay with gratitude for all the Arizona history she helped preserve RIP)


Legislating Superstition

24 Mar

I love it when government acknowledges the power of the mystical, so I’ve been carrying this photo around in my phone since January when the new license plates started appearing on Irish cars.


In December of 2011 I wrote at length about the Irish car registration system and how the government decided that putting the year of manufacture in big numbers at the beginning of the Licanse Plate would shame people into buying newer cars – and it did. (my old post about the reg plates) But they didn’t take into account how this would impact car sales in the year 2013 when there would be a big “13” on everyone’s car which would be bad luck.

So this year, in order to avoid putting a hex on everyone’s car, the Irish government represented the year with “131”.  Because as the farmer said “I don’t believe in Fairies, but don’t tell them that”.

Murrisk-y business

15 Jan


After Christmas, we set out on a road trip around Ireland. First stop was Westport, Co. Mayo, where Mary’s dad is from. The photo above is of Murrisk Abbey which is the ruin of an ancient church where Mary’s dad’s grandmother met his wife for the first time – at the altar on the day of their wedding.
Not so long ago, the small communities on the 365 individual islands in Clew Bay still arranged the marriage of their children to families on neighbouring islands.
I was told that the two fathers had met at a fair in Louisberg on the mainland and the deal was done – thus Edward O’Malley, from Clare Island (descendant of Grace the Pirate) met and married his wife all on the same day.
When I was there the wind was blowing the rain horizontally off the bay so hard that each drop felt like a needle on my face. Mary stayed in the car while I took the picture with the epic mountain Croagh Patrick in the background (I had to climb around on top of the old sagging graves in the cemetery to get this angle). I walked back to the car leaning into the gale force wind at no less than a 25 degree angle – all in all a great experience.

Emo Gas

25 Jul

Why do these gas stations crack me up so much?:

“the price of gas makes me wanna die…”

Because I’m pretty sure that the people behind the name had no idea that “Emo” was a descriptive term for an ultra-hip music subgenre and fashion style characterized by depressed teens with eye-obsuring hairstyles singing punk derived songs about death and suicide and other depressing angst-ridden melodrama.

I laugh everytime I drive past one of these stations thinking that I’d go inside and find some kid sneering at me through his bangs saying something like “you know you’re gonna kill us all with climate change driving that gas guzzling machine out there…”

Put me on your t-shirt

19 Jul

It’s a joke on the postcards and t-shirts in the tourist shop: “Irish Traffic Jam” and the cartoon sheep or cows or you name the livestock are all blocking the cars.

..but no joke, the only traffic on my commute today was this:

When I came around the bend and saw them coming at me, I immediately pulled in – and because I know that the engine can spook the sheep, I shut mine down and waited as the farmer driving the red car approached with his arm out the window slapping the side of his door to keep the sheep moving along.

I don’t mind all the traffic because this is where I end up:

It is something of a miracle to me that I can spend the day on the phone to a dozen countries working in a race with daylight to get as much of the project done in my day – and at the end of it, I slow down to let the sheep go by and I get to look out over Galway Bay and think about how different this is to our life in the States….and smile.

Fair Weather, Friend

14 Jul

Yes, I’m back on the weather again. Simply because I am getting tired of telling people that I really don’t mind the Irish weather. But without fail, the second or third question everyone asks me when they find out I moved to Ennis from San Francisco is “what do I think of the miserable weather here”.

I am getting a little tired of telling the Irish people how awesome their weather actually is if you stop hunching against it and look up at it once in a while.

This photo is representative of the kind of thing I see regularly on my drive home from work in Limerick. In this case, it is a half ruined tower house near the Caherdavin offramp with the most amazing sunset taking place behind it.

The skies here are never dull, always changing, and invariably I can find something beautiful in them. So the next time someone looks to me for commiseration about the weather here, I think I”ll just send them to read this blog.

Summer Hols

30 Jun

That’s a word I hadn’t heard before….Hols.  Apparently when vacation comes around, it becomes too difficult to say three syllable words like Holidays.   Nonetheless, the kids are out for summer break now. 

Yesterday as we drove to school in the morning, the girls and I busted out a rousing rendition of the theme song from the Phineas and Ferb cartoon.  Why?  Here’s why:

The lyrics are perfect, so if you don’t have a broadband connection to watch the video on or you just can’t understand the words, here they are (the girls know them by heart):

There’s 104 days of summer vacation, then school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation is finding a good way to spend it

Like maybe building a rocket, or fighting a mummy, or climbing up the eiffel tower
Discovering something that doesn’t exist, or giving a monkey a shower

Surfing tidal waves, creating a nanobot, or locating Frankenstein’s brain
Finding a dodo bird, painting a continent, or driving our sister insane

As you can see there’s a whole lot of stuff to do before school starts this fall
So stick with us cause Phineas and Ferb are gonna do it all

Anyway, that’s the song the girls and I sang and bounced up and down to all the way to the last day of school.  And here’s what they looked like when Mary and I went to pick them up afterwards to kick off the Summer Hols:

The particular significance to this moment goes well beyond simply being the last day of school.  The reality is that when we moved to Ireland last Summer we said we would commit to going for a single year and we’d evaluate how it was going at the end of the school year and decide if we were coming back or not.

Most people said “there’s no way you’ll come back after only a year” and we firmly replied that we wouldn’t commit to staying any longer than the school year.  So while it hasn’t been a complete year here yet, the school year is our main marker and we have quickly gotten to that Evaluation point we said we’d get to.

Between the school, the job, the house, the lifestyle and the general pervasive sense of peace and joy we are experiencing here, it looks like we’ll be here longer than our original commitment.  How long?  Who knows?  Who knows anything these days, but I know it’s been one heck of a great school year for the girls. 

Here’s what they looked like on the first day, way back last August:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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