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Imy of Killimer

10 May

A little background here: last October I noticed a banner in the church referring to a “Saint Imy” who I had never heard of. A little poking around proved that pretty much nobody else had either.

Since then, I have been quietly researching and trying to figure out who she was and what she did that was so Saintly. The only productive result I could find online was a small dot on a “Points of Interest” map in a town called Killimer on the Southern Coast of County Clare. So when Mary’s friend invited us to Kilrush on Sunday I set a course through Killimer to find out what was at that dot.

We almost missed it. The road follows the coastline and affords views of the wide Shannon estuary and glimpses of the ancient monastary and round tower on Scattery Island (founded by local Saint Senan – one of St. Patrick’s “12 Apostles of Ireland). But in between stretches of scenery and a few scattered houses, we blasted past a small whitewashed shrine with a cross on top and Mary screeched the car to a halt so we could see if this was the “point of interest” we sought.

Inside the shrine we encountered a lovely statue of a Saintly looking woman and a plaque on the wall next to her that told me more in two sentences than I had learned in hours of research and countless conversations with pious people.

The best info I previously got was stuff like “oh yeah, Imy, she’s one of the local Saints, but that’s all I know” or “I knew a couple of girls named Imy from around Kilrush”. But nobody could tell me anything about teh actual Saint until this:

It isn’t much of a description – and frankly I wasn’t sure if it meant she was Senan’s sibling or a nun. But it gave me something to go on and some more research revealed that St. Senan’s sister was also called Ibie which probably means some transcriber had a cold when he told his scribe to write “Imy”.

But, Ibie was also called Imer sometimes which I should have figured out because I knew “Cil” meant church and towns with “Kil” at the beginning were always the “Church of Someone” so looking for Imy in Killimer should have been a clue…oh well, I guess I’m not DaVinci code material.

If I was more like that Tom Hanks character in the Dan Brown movies, I might be able to figure out who is buried under the unmarked headstone built into the wall around Imy’s shrine. I’m pretty sure it’s not Imy because legend has it that she wanted to be buried on Scattery Island but women weren’t allowed there so her brother Senan buried her under the sands at low tide so she could be on the island but not on the land.


E.S.L. in Ireland

6 May

This may seem obvious to many, but the official state language of Ireland is Irish (also known as Gaelige, or Irish Gaelic).  Which means that technically, English is a second language here.  In practice, however, there are only estimated to be about 90,000 people who speak Irish as their first language and unless you go to the Gaeltacht areas where Irish is spoken regularly outside of the classroom, you are unlikely to hear anything but English.

Where I do see the impact of English being a second language here is mostly in the signage: all road signs are listed in both Irish and English, which apparently leads to some inconsistencies in the translation. 

Seriously though, it’s not as bad here in Ireland as the stuff you see on the Engrish website  above, but here’s a real practical example:

In February I wrote about Liscannor which is on the coast next to the town of Lahinch.  As I wrote, I couldn’t remember if the town was spelled “La”-hinch or “Le”-hinch so I went online.  I found plenty of examples of both spellings and attributed the inconsistencies to typical internet inaccuracy.  On the advice of the local residents and the world famous golf course, I decided to go with “La”-hinch.  And then I noticed the road signs:

(the extra blue sky is from the tinted windscreen of the car)

When I saw that sign, I thought they might have just made a mistake, but even the Ordinance Survey map – which is about the most official map there is – spells the town “Le”-hinch.  Now that I was attuned to the spelling variations, I started to notice versions of Lahinch spelled both ways in many different places.

And it’s not just Lahinch that changes spelling: notice Ennistymon in the above sign and compare it to this:

The more I started looking at the town name spellings on signs around Ireland, the more inconsistencies I noticed.  That’s when the lightbulb went on in my head and I realized what was causing this phenomenon:

It  isn’t Lehinch vs. Lahinch,  it’s not Ennistymon vs. Ennistimon: the towns are named An Leacht and Inis Díomáin.  English is the second language here, really.

A door to adore

2 Apr

I said I would write more about the wonderful house we’ve moved into, so here I go:

It is the family home of some very good friends who built it themselves with great care and attention to detail and there’s no way I can describe every wonderful thing about it, but I”ll start with the name:

The house is called Sonas which is an Irish word meaning “Happiness”, but as with all great words it has broader and subtler connotations.  So I spoke with some Gaelgoirs about the word Sonas (“Gaelgoir” is a word I’ve only heard spoken so in trying to spell it here I turned to the internet and this was the best spelling I could come up with.  It is pronounced “GWAIL-gore” and means someone who speaks Irish either natively (or as fluent as a native speaker). 

Turns out the Sonas “happy” isn’t like an “I won the lottery” happy, but is a quieter, more peaceful happy, like “wellbeing” or “contentment” with a “joy” overtone to it.  

In this house, Sonas begins with the front door which was handmade with custom leaded glass depicting the fiddle and tin whistle (and allegorically our friends who built the house). 

When I arrived in on Friday evening, the girls and Mary greeted me with hugs and squeals of welcome and wanted to show me around and point out all the fantastic things about the place.  But what struck me first and made me a little emotional was the table in the entry hall which they had set up with a guestbook on it.

first page, but not for long...

That little detail meant so much to me: it meant that we would have a place of welcome, a place our friends could come over to, a place from which we could share our own Sonas.  It wasn’t since we’d sold the Filbert St. place in 2008 that we’d really had a place that we could hang out comfortablely with friends in

The guestbooks also reminded me of my grandparents guestbook from their Arizona ranch.  When we were out there last summer, the guestbooks were one of the things I found so fascinating, reading them was like reading a novel: who came when and when they came back and what they wrote about their visit, and the good times that were had.  The ranch was called D/T after my Grandparents initials: Dorothy and Tom.  When I saw the guestbook on the table I thought about the D/T and how funny it was that D and T were the initials of our friends who have trusted us with their gorgeous home. 

The girls were so excited to show me around the house and how they had set up their rooms and after the tour they led me finally the kitchen where they had helped Mary cook the most amazing dinner and prepare the nicest loveliest table for the best first night in a house we ever had together.

We’ve lived in a lot of different places as a family and Tara said to me as she was going to bed “This is the nicest house we’ve ever lived in”.  I think we’ll enjoy our time in this place and I think our friends will be glad to know that their house is in good hands (and pattering feet).

Lá Fhéile Pádraig – Saint Patrick’s Day

17 Mar

I had a busy week and I have about three half written posts to finish up, but I’m going to preempt them because it’s Saint Patrick’s Day and we’re in Ireland  so I need to tell you about it.

Firstly, we had to drop Grace off at “Area 9” in front of the courthouse to convene with the rest of the group from the Ennis National School who she would be marching with.  “Area 9” sounded like a place you would find aliens, and when we got there it met our expectations: lots of antennas and glitter and green lace tutus.

Everyone was dressed for the occasion and Grace’s friends were supposed to represent the countries their families came from. Grace was representing with the stars and stripes in an outfit Mary and I painted latenight the night before.

After dropping Grace at the courthouse, we set about finding a parking space which was as difficult as it would have been in San Francisco before a parade.  Fortunately, Mary knew of a secret little street behind the houses on Steele’s Terrace where she had bought her first house many many years ago. 

Steele’s terrace is named after Tom Steele who was a protestant landowner in the 1800 who was a friend of Daniel O’Connell and a major supporter of Irish independence.  He was also a hopeless romantic (and possibly one of the earliest documented stalkers) who fell in love with a girl who lived in a house overlooking the river Fergus that runs through Ennis.  Tom Steele used to sit on a rock on the river bank and watch for her in her window for years and his love was unrequited.  The rock he sat on is now a landmark called Steele’s Rock and this is the view of the town from there:

You can see all the people walking across the bridge and starting to line the streeets in preparation for the parade.  The narrow streets of Ennis were getting narrower by the minute.  We walked to O’Connell Square to get a coffee from the only place that seemed to be open in the whole town.  Here’s a view looking down O’Connell St. with the spire of the Cathedral in the background.

We got our coffees and took up our own position by the side of the road and waited for the inevitable arrival of St. Patrick and the flood of people and vintage cars and sports teams and various sundry groups that marched in the parade.

The town was quite literally full of people (see below photo).  The buzz of the parade was intensified by the tiny width of the streets.

Eventually, the Ennis National School group came along and I managed to get a few seconds of video of their approach.  If you have never heard anyone speaking Irish, you should listen to the guy with the megaphone because that’s Irish he’s speaking and I have no idea what he’s saying but I suspect it is the same as what he says in English right afterwards.

The red and white stripes on Grace’s shirt gave us our own little real-life “Where’s Waldo” moment trying to pick her out of the crowd.  Over here they call the “Where’s Waldo” books “Where’s Wally” which is strange to me because both of those names are equally unusual in my opinion and I don’t think “Waldo” is somehow offensive or foreign to the Irish, but who knows.  Anyway…

Besides Grace, my favorite group marching in the parade were a bunch of old ladies walking with baskets of Turf and signs claiming that they were “The Last Turf Cutters”.  If you are not Irish, you may not know about cutting turf.  But as a foreigner, this is one of my favourite natural things about Ireland.  You can dig up the ground, dry it out and it burns in the fire like a Presto Log but smells better. 

The “turf” in question is the result of thousands of years of Peat bog growing and settling in on itself to create a compacted burnable substance that looks like clay mud when it’s wet but dries out and burns long and hot in the fire.  Cutting bricks of it out of the bog is a practice that has fallen by the wayside with the presence of more easily obtained and more renewable resources.  But the burning of turf is still quite common although less and less so.  Actually, there are a couple of bricks of the stuff on the fire I’m sitting in front of right now as I type this.  In any case, the little old ladies marching with the turf in the parade might actually be the last turf cutters.

It was a great day of partial sun and I got the below picture of the Parade marching past the Queens Hotel.  If you were around when we got married, you will likely have several memorable stories that occurred here.  You will also likely have several other stories which you won’t remember but other people will, and you will wish they wouldn’t.  But as it turned out, Grainne rang during the parade and she and her gang were in the restaurant there watching the parade through the windows while enjoying refreshments.

So we moved inside and and watched the end of the parade from the comfort of our window seats with hot chocolates and chips….and Guinness.

When the parade was over, the kids got burgers in the outdoor bar of the Queens nightclub.  Us parents had a weird flash back/flash forward remembering/projecting the times we had/they would have in this very bar.

All in all a very fine day for our first Saint Patrick’s Day in Pat’s own homeland.

Somewhere in Time

11 Mar

This morning I had a moment straight out of the movie “Somewhere in Time”.  I don’t know if you ever saw the movie, but Christopher Reeves falls in love with a girl from the past and figures out how to travel backwards in time to pursue her.  This is one of my all time favorite movies and is probably partly responsible for my core belief that if you want something enough, you can make it happen.  That’s pretty much how Reeves travels back in time: he simply believes it so much that he actually changes his reality.

photo from "somewhere on the web"

(spoiler alert) After Reeves arrives back in time and wins the heart of his true love, he sees a penny that has fallen from his pocket that dates from the 1970’s.  The shock of this time disjunction sends him spinning back to the 1970’s where he came from.

This morning I found a US penny on the floor in my bedroom.   At first I thought it was a €.02 coin, and it was only when I picked it up that I had that wierd jolt of Somewhere in Time feeling like I was rushing back over the thousands of miles to the US with the strange and unexpected presence of the coin that at first seemed so strange but then reminded me of all the times that it hadn’t seemed strange to see a simple penny on the floor (here is the aforementioned penny pictured below next to the Euro version of it)

only slightly larger, but three times more valuable...

But the truth is that as well esconced and adjusted as we are to the culture and lifestyle here, there are still major moments of disconnect where it becomes clear that we are not “from” here.  This was well illustrated last week when we went to mass.

I don’t want this blog to be all about my observations of Irish Catholicism, but seriously, there are so many things about it that I find unusual.  Maybe it’s just because I”m not used to going to mass all the time, but I really don’t ever remember seeing all the staues in a church shrouded in purple cloths before.

Apparently this is a traditional thing that I just wasn’t familiar with since the US bishops decided not to do it anymore 38 years ago when I was just a toddler.  The shrouds are supposed to be about how just before they crucified Christ he hid himself from the people until it was his time to die.  So all evidence of the divinityof Christ is hidden in the church until…well…I’m not sure when we get to see the stuff again – probably right around Easter.

But no matter what the reasoning is, it is totally freaky to see all these purple shrouds all over the church.  Even my patron Saint Imy was all covered up. 

And if all the shrouds weren’t weird enough, we sit down and the whole mass is in Irish.  Grace is sitting next to me on the pew and I ask her if she can understand anything the priest is saying.  She tells me she can’t.  I say “you ought to understand a little more than me with all the Irish you’ve been learning.” she shrugs.  I hear the word “slieve” which I know means mountain and I figure out we’re hearing about Abraham on the mountain about to sacrific his child when god saves them from this tragedy.

Grace leans into me like a little baby bird leaning into it’s mother and I put my arm around her.  I get this powerful sense that the two of us are like strangers in a strange land, surrounded by weird statues covered in purple shrouds listening to an ancient ritual in an ancient language that has no relation to anything we’ve ever known.  I felt a little  lost, a little overwhelmed, and a little scared but I also felt like we were going to be ok.  Somehow it would be alright. 

Grace relaxes "in God's hands"

I know that being in Ireland right now is the right call, and I love exploring the new culture and the new relationships, but it does feel foreign sometimes and periodically I get that “Somewhere in Time” rush spinning my heart back to San Francisco.


25 Feb

After a week in the Burren, we capped off the girls’ school vacation by heading up to Westport, Co. Mayo for a visit to Mary’s cousin Fidelma, her husband and their two gorgeous children.  We also paid a visit to Mary’s father’s brother Ed who still lives there.

Arizona or Ireland?

Westport is one of the most beautiful towns in Ireland and it reminds me so much of Flagstaff Arizona.  In part this is because of the looming presence of an adjacent mountain of magical magnificence.  In the case of Westport, the mountain is called Croagh Patrick (pronounced “Crow” Patrick), and the tiny chapel on top was built by Saint Patrick who fasted at the top of this sacred Celtic site for forty days before casting all the snakes out of Ireland.   Yep, that’s right, this is the fabled spot. 

We stayed the night with Fidelma and Jeremy who live in a village outside of town called Murrisk directly at the base of “The Reek” which is what they call the mountain locally.   “Reek” is an anglicized version of an Irish word for “Stack” which is also what “Croagh” means…Patrick’s Stack.

the backyard..

Almost every window in their house looks out at the mountain like a picture painted on every wall.   It is an incredible location and I think how amazing it must have been for Jim Lyons to grow up here.  I think he would love Flagstaff Arizona too.

We explored the streets of downtown Westport and showed the girls the house where their Lyons family came from right in the center.  The cute little shop in the front has kept the building in great condition.  Mary tells me there was always a shop below and the family lived above.  There is a little alley around the side and the kids could play in the yard there in back. 

We also walked around the river that flows through the town and had the girls pose on the stairs that a toddling Jim Lyons fell down and into the river at the tender age of three while his sister turned her back for a split second. 

I can tell you with certainty, the stairs are very steep and hardly much more than a few inches wide each – I was terrified our own girls were going to fall in.   It was freezing cold and I certainly didn’t want to have to go in after them!

The other exciting thing we pointed out to the girls is that Westport looks out on Clew Bay and the 365 Islands there that include Clare Island where their Great Great Grandfather O’Malley came from bringing his pirate heritage with him to his bride from Inishturk Island who he met for the first time at the altar on his wedding day.  Things were different back then, but they got on well enough to have well over a dozen kids.  Yes, things were different back then.

See any pirates out there?

Do the Duagh

21 Feb

Last week when the girls were off school we spent the week up in the Burren. I was commuting back and forth to Limerick which is about an hour each way but it was absolutely worth it because the girls love the outdoor activities there and I love spending the evenings with them.

That said, one afternoon last week, Mary asked me to stop at the shop in Kinvarra on the way home and pick up a few bits. So I got off the bypass in Gort instead of in Crusheen like I usually do, and I headed over to Kinvarra directly instead of going my usual route through Tubber and Boston. Unfortunately, I got turned around in Gort and got delayed there. Then I got turned around again along the way through the countryside to Kinvarra. I was marginally lost, getting later, and very very grumpy about it when I found myself passing an astounding old ruin. I stopped the car and got out.

Mary and I had passed it accidentally once before but I couldn’t have found my way there directly if I’d tried. It is an old Abbey called Kilmacduagh. Remember my Irish lessons: “kill” means “church”, “Mac” means “son of” and…well… Duagh, must be someone. So when I drove past this place a second time accidentally, I knew I had to get out and walk around. It completely changed my mood. I was calm, un-grumpy, and once again thrilled to be living in a country where things like this place exist.

A quick trip to trusty Wikipedia tells me that Duagh was an old Irish Cheiftain and his son became Saint Colman (“Mac Duagh”) and founded that monastary in the early 600s.

I also learned a couple of things about the monastary from the locals that aren’t on Wikipedia either because they aren’t deemed true enough or becuase they are just too local to have made it there. Firstly, although Wikipedia does mention the similarity between the lean of Macdugh’s tower and the other leaning one in Italy, Wikipedia only says that Macduagh’s tower is twice as old as Pisa’s, while the locals tell me that the Irish tower is lean-ier (is there a word for “leaning more”). Secondly, I am also told that this particular round tower is the most complete and best preserved example of such towers in all of Ireland – at over 112 feet tall, it seems pretty remarkable that this structure has lasted so long.

just a little to the left....

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