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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)


10 Feb

This is where I row.  How cool is this:


I mean, Boston was great and scenic, and California is beautiful, but when the water in Limerick is low and I can row past secret underwater entrances to the dungeons of a thousand-year-old castle I have to take a moment and think “how lucky am I to be able to row on this river!”

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.

The Big Smoke

30 Nov

Some people here call Dublin “The Big Smoke”.  It sounds kind of cool, but I have a feeling that it’s like calling San Francisco “Frisco” – people who actually live in SF sort of cringe when they hear it.  In any case, I had to go to Dublin today.

I’m more than a little freaked out that I haven’t posted on the blog for so long, but November has been pretty crazy with Tara’s birthday, massive load at work, Thanksgiving, my MBA classes, rowing, etc. etc. etc.  In the midst of all this, I had to pass a standardised test called the GMAT exam to get “accepted” into the MBA programme that I’ve been enrolled in for the past three months.  Apparently Dublin is the only place in Ireland where you can take the GMAT exam so I had to go to a testing centre in “The Big Smoke”.

Since our friend Zoe is visiting us from Canada, I brought her along to see the sights.  I found the testing center and parked the car and then Zoe and I looked for a nearby place to rendezvous after the exam when…lo and behold….we stumbled upon the National Leprechaun Museum.

The Leprechauns must be camouflaged on the green carpet

The Leprechauns must be camouflaged on the green carpet

Who knew they even had one…I wish I had had the time to go in and see if they had a pot of gold there, but I was too interested in taking my test.  Which turned out to be worthwhile since I got my results and scored a 740 which is 10 points higher than the average Harvard MBA student gets…and puts me solidly in the 97th percentile…boo ya!  Looks like the old noggin still has a few tricks left in it.


3 Nov

A lot of powerful feelings flooded over me as I cleared U.S. immigration two Fridays ago.  I had been out of the country for over a year so I took advantage of my business trip to Mexico to spend the weekend with Mary in New York.

good times, but not very square…

We were both relieved that there wasn’t any trouble with Mary’s green card, but I was feeling very homesick to be in the U.S. without a plan to get home to S.F.   Nonetheless, New York was just as I remembered it.

You just can’t compare the vibrant buzz of the people and the traffic and the spectacular urban vistas in New York with anywhere else in the world.

it’s all about the buildings..

But the last time we were in the city, there were two more buildings on the skyline, and their absence was a tangible weight on top of all the other emotions that our brief stop in the states was stirring.

So the first thing we did on Saturday morning was to head downtown to pay our respects at the World Trade Center Memorial.

As large as the hole in the ground is here, there is no way to measure the holes in all the lives touched by this tragedy

Any words I can put to the experience would be inadequate, but it was cold out, and emotional, and right next to the site was an Irish bar called O’Hara’s from which we could hear a hot beverage crying out our names.  So we stopped in to warm up and chill out.

Every inch of the back-bar at O’Hara’s is covered with the badges of Police and Firefighters from all over the U.S.  As a central hub of the World Trade center rescue, recovery and cleanup, O’Hara’s has served the servers, and these are the tributes to all the men and women who put their lives on the line in service to others.

badges of honor

There is a bar in Kinvara, County Galway that has similarly covered it’s back-bar with the badges of Police and Firefighters from all over the U.S.   In Ireland, these badges honor the contribution the Irish people have made to U.S. emergency services and at O’Hara’s it is the Irish people who honor the emergency workers right back.

Then an elderly man and his wife sat down next to us and ordered with Irish accents.  So we began talking, and it turned out that this couple immigrated to New York in the 50’s during one of the many hard times in Ireland that sent the Irish across the world willing to work.  This fellow came from rural Longford to this enormous city to work as a welder on the tallest buildings in the world – what a mindblowing shock that must have been.

Today was the first time this weary man had come down to the site since his handiwork had been so senselessly wiped out.  Talk about mindblowing.

It occurred to me that the Irish were a big part of both the beginning and the end of the World Trade Center story.

But even without the Twin Towers, New York is still very much alive, and after honoring the dead, we headed to Greenwich Village to celebrate the living.

the “North Beach” of New York

Our friend Mike had told us they were having a block party.  They had blocked off the street, fired up a barbeque grilling burgers and hotdogs, tapped a couple kegs of local microbrews, and were rocking out to a band of enthusiastic local musicians in front of the Tavern on Jane.  Being there at that moment made me even more homesick because the vibe was so similar to the comfortable community coolness of our old North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco.

And just like North Beach, Greenwich Village is full of surprising little nooks and cranny’s that lie just out of sight of the casual passer-by.  In this case, the highlight was a small private garden shared by a bunch of the nieghbors that we could duck into for a quiet break from the crowding mayhem of a New York street party.

garden party in the village

It was a whirlwind one-day visit to the big Apple, but we managed to experience so many different sides of the city that it felt like a whole week.  On Sunday morning, before I headed off to Mexico and Mary headed back to Ireland, we got to experience one last thing that we couldn’t get on the Emerald Isle: a proper brunch at a sidewalk cafe.

homefries in the homeland

Passing Ports

28 Oct

I had the opportunity last week to use my brand new Irish passport.  My job required me to go to Mexico and we managed to tack on a few extra legs to the trip to make the journey as productive as possible. 

But as much as I love traveling to different countries and experiencing different cultures, business trips are not nearly as fun as vacation trips.  Here’s what I saw on this trip:

Sunrise at Shannon Airport, Ireland

Steamy afternoon at the Mexico City airport

Crisp fall day at the Salt Lake City Airport

Manhattan Skyline from JFK Airport

Fog delays in London’s Heathrow Airport

I visited three other airports on the trip, but for one reason or another didn’t manage to get pictures of them.  So much for taking in all the sights!

But seriously, I did get out of the airports for a few minutes and I did have some wonderful times as well as getting business done and I’ll post more about that later, but when I got back it *felt* like all I did was bounce from airport to airport and I was very happy to hug my girls again.

Strand Races

1 Oct

Going to the Kilkee Strand Races has got to be one of the coolest things we’ve done in Ireland.  Quick summary: sandy beach, low tide, fast horses.

It’s like a scene out of some movie – and probably was or will be, but they set up a full racetrack on the sandy beach in the West-Clare beach town of Kilkee and run a day of horse racing there.

Because it’s not an official track, the betting is totally old-school.  The bookies set up an umbrella on the grass above the beach and post their odds on signboards.  You make your bet directly with the bookie, no official track betting system or big national chain.  Mano a mano here – look ’em in the eye and decide if he’s good for the payout.

Of course, with the girls there and all we couldn’t compromise their morals with this kind of gambling….hahahaha.  But seriously, Grace and her animal-whispering skills drew us over to the paddock area where the trainers were getting the horses ready.  Grace had to try and pet as many as she could which is how she determined which one she thought was the winner.  She chose number 12.

With our horses picked, we went over and watched the races.  As if racing horses wasn’t hard enough on a regular track, in this setting, when they barrel up the far side of the course, they are splashing through the sea foam as the waves wash up on the sand.  It looked like Black Beauty or was it the Black Stallion…whatever movie it was where they run down the beach through the spray and all.

At the end of the course, they have a sort of hairpin turn into which the horses lean at improbable angles as they fly around the bend.  The conditions are tough for racing and more than one jockey lost his seat on the day.  Most walked away, but one did get carried off in the ambulance, so it wasn’t all fun and games.

Below are the horses running along the home stretch into the finish.  Notice the number on the lead horse….next time I take Grace to the track I’m bringing serious betting money with me!

After the races we headed back to base at Anne’s house overlooking the course and relaxed while the tide came in.

Tara and I went for a walk just before high-tide and got a great shot of the Kilkee strand looking back toward Anne’s place showing how the entire race-course had vanished under the clear blue water.

And so ended yet another lifetime highlight brought to us by Killkee and our wonderful friends there.

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.


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.

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.

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