Crosses and Castles and Close Encounters – Ireland

Not everyone in the world has an Irish Heritage, but on  St. Patrick’s Day many a lad and lassie believe that somewhere in their ancestral past is the vestige of Éirinn go Brách .  My wife is legitimatley part Irish and  I can trace my ancestry back to Dublin, but my Dublin is a city in America, not Ireland, however, even in this American town,  the celebration of all things Irish is roundly upheld.  When the opportunity arose for us to go to Ireland there was certainly no reason not to go.  This little article shows a few  pictures of a personal Ireland on a trip taken around St. Patrick’s Day and shows a few spots in Ireland from a personal point of view.

Celtic cross

The cross above stands in a graveyard in Killarney National Park.  I don’t know the identity of the interred, but I am grateful for the beauty of the resting place.  To the best of my recollection, this image was taken at Muckross.  Nevertheless, it represents crosses we saw all across Ireland on our trip there.

Like many others we started in Galway and ended in Dublin, with too little seen in between.  We were there in early spring, so the images you see should reflect the Irish landscape around St. Patrick’s Day.  But, don’t take our word for it.  Go see for yourself.   Even at the early date of our trip, you could none the less tell the beauty of this green island and its well earned lore.  I was surprised by the hilliness and the beauty of the lakes resting in the valleys.

Irish lakes and hills

The Connamera region of Ireland is full of mountain, lake and bog land, with a rugged beauty that may not fit with the bright image of Ireland that you may have. However, it can bring to mind the potato famine of the mid 1800’s that sent so many Irish to foreign shores that each of us now feel an Irish kinship.  In the midst of this ruggedly beautiful land, you will find man made places that are unimaginably beautiful. One of these is Kylemore Castle  which is currently inhabited by the Benedictine Order of nuns also known as The Irish Dames of Ypres. 

Kylemore Castle

This is a “modern” castle, built in the 1860’s, and purchased by the Benedictine Oder in 1920.  Like much of Ireland, its history can be considered tragic or uplifting and I will leave it to you to research and decide which you think it is.  Here is a link to a website that will be helpful. .

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Far to the south of Kylemore Castle, you will find a castle that is far more famous and which is on the ‘to do’ list of almost any tourist to Ireland.  I am referring to the famous Blarney Castle. According to the legend,  if you kiss the Blarney Stone. you will be gifted with the ability to tell a tale with your listener’s being unable to determine whether you are telling the truth or lying.  Blarney Castle sits on a beautiful setting but, because it sits right beside a rather mundane road, upon arriving, you may wonder if you’ve arrived at all.  None the less, a few feet along the path you realize that you are in a special place, even if you aren’t sure why.

Blarney Castle

The castle does not look like a “Disney” castle, but was clearly a functional fortress, capable of defending her master’s interests.  To kiss the Blarney Stone, one must ascend to the top level of Blarney Castle, find the opening in the parapet that is designated as the “stone”, lie down on your back and extend your face into nothingness until your lips press against the wall.

Kissing the Blarney Stone

It take some concentration as well as trust in the one holding your legs.   As you can see the person kissing the stone hangs his/her head between heaven and earth.   Note also the modern day grip bars installed to allow even the most reticent tourist to kiss the stone.  I, for one, think it should be done the old fashioned way with neither grips nor assistance.

Getting around in western Ireland gives you a great appreciation for the skill and courage of the Irish drivers and lorry-men who navigate these roads.  The roads can be narrow and closely bordered with the ubiquitous Irish stone fences setting out the fields of one landowner from another.  In this photograph,

Close Encounter

the two drivers of the oncoming buses, squeezed their buses through a space that left no more than 4 inches separation. No dents, no bumps no bruises.  These narrow roads will take you past the traditional Irish fields that you have to say you’ve seen.  No trip to this emerald Isle can be complete with out looking out over the patchwork Irish countryside divided by the stone fences,

Irish Countryside

each set with no mortar and expected to stand forever.   Some of these fences are hundreds of years old and hearken back to an earlier time in this place where  peat was burned for heat an thatched roofs held sway.   In some places, the old ways live on.

Peat Pile

Beyond the green fields you come to the land of peat. As you can see, the peat is cut into short logs for burning and it is indeed still burned.   Perhaps you will find a village in which some of the houses still have thatched roofs.  Blarney Castle, peat bogs and thatched roofs  alongside green fields and stone walls were what I expected when I came to Ireland and the land did not disappoint me.

Thatch covered houses in a row

Although the houses above were not the little cottages in the field I had envisioned, they gave me the imagery of the houses I had wanted to see.

From the western shore of Ireland, the Atlantic stretches to America.   On that shore you’ll find the Dingle Peninsula, where some of the most scenic stone walls fields and seascapes will be found and to the north you’ll find the Cliff’s of Mohler jutting between sea and sky and providing sanctuary to thousands of birds.  Although no one can own the scenery, standing there on the cliffs and looking along the shoreline, you feel as though you belong to it, even if it can’t belong to you.  Even when you try to capture it in a photograph, you look back and realize that you couldn’t really show what you see.

The cliffs of Mohler

Once you’ve  seen these cliffs and the images of Ireland will  reappear in your memory and even in your dreams, some times in the strangest ways.

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From the Celtic Cross to the cliffs of Mohler and back to Dublin, the emerald isle captures your imagination and lets you blend history and fantasy into one, taking part of the tales of Ireland you may have heard and fixing them in places you finally see with your on eyes.    Even when you visit Dublin and all of its bustle, there may be time for you to visit the Papal Cross that was erected near the edge of the Fifteen Acres in Phoenix Park and contemplate all that you have seen.

The Papal Cross in Phoenix Park, Dublin

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