Posted on July 22nd, 2006 No comments
We had been noticing that we were sleeping longer in Ireland than we do normally. It’s rare that one of us isn’t awake by 6:00 a.m. when we’re at home, but since we were on vacation, our bodies must have much have intuitively known that there was no need to get up early and so we found ourselves sleeping until 8:00 a.m., or even a little later. It felt good to get the extra rest.
We awoke on Tuesday with a light schedule, knowing it would be our last full day in Tubrid because on Wednesday we’d be heading up to Dublin. We planned to stay at an airport hotel on Wednesday because our flight left very early in the morning on Thursday at 7:00 a.m.
As I mentioned in a previous posting to the weblog, my cousin Kathleen was visiting Ireland at the same time we were there, having made a decision to accompany her husband on a business trip to the UK and then on to Sicily. Kathleen was born and grew up in Ireland, but moved to the U.S. before she had learned to drive. So she had virtually no experience driving in Ireland and had somehow managed to avoid it despite having visited Ireland quite frequently over the past 30 years. Driving in Ireland requires a driver to do many unnatural things, such as sitting in the passenger seat of the car, where, strangely enough, they put the steering wheel along with the gas and brake pedals. They also rent primarily stick-shift cars, something you’d almost never find in the U.S. for rent. If you want an automatic shift car in Ireland, it generally means you’re going to pay 3 times the cost of the economy car rental fee. You also have to learn to shift with your left hand…during the 1 minute span it takes to get the car out of the parking lot. The hardest part, of course, is learning, after many decades of doing otherwise, to drive on the left hand side of the road. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a passenger who will manage the navigation and yell at you when you forget to keep to the left. The coup de grace to driving in Ireland are the roundabouts. The roundabouts will keep you from losing focus on your driving. Each one is a new experience in learning the rules of right-of-way, merging, yielding and reading exit signs all while keeping your head on a swivel. But if you get confused, you can always stay on the inside lane and circle around until you get your bearings.
Kathleen was arriving alone and so she decided to rent a car at the airport and, for the first time in her life, she would drive in Ireland. We had missed her arrival by a day while we were in Nenagh, but she was able to catch up with us in Kilkenny. We had arranged to meet with Kathleen and my other cousins Lil and Theresa for lunch at the Kilkenny Design Centre, across the street from the Kilkenny Castle. The Kilkenny Design Centre is a collection of artists’ shops and a retail store with a restaurant/cafeteria on the second floor. It’s quite nice, but can get expensive if you hang around it too long because there are so many nice things you can buy there.
Kathleen was the first relative I remember meeting from my Aunt Bridie’s family. She stayed with us for about a week when I was very young, about 6 years old and I recall that my sister and I quickly became attached to her, hoping she’d continue to live with us like a big sister. After moving to the U.S., Kathleen settled in Seattle and so we didn’t get to see her like we did my other Irish relatives who lived in and around New York. Eventually, I went off to college and later moved to Colorado and when she visited my mother in Pennsylvania, I was at school or in Colorado, so it was more than 30 years before we got to meet again. Terri and I went to her son’s wedding in Seattle in 2004, flying the LongEZ up from Colorado. We stayed in downtown Seattle for about 5 days and got to see many things while we were there and spent some time with Kathleen and my other relatives including Kathleen’s brother John and his wife Ann and her brother Tom who flew in from Ireland. We also met her husband, Bob, and her children, Andrew (the groom) and Katie for the first time. I saw her again in 2005 during a business trip to Seattle. Now I’ve been able to see her each year for the past 3 years, a trend I hope will continue. After the 30 year gap, we obviously have a lot of catching up to do.
Because of the logistics of arranging the schedules, we didn’t eat lunch until about 2 p.m.. We had a great time visiting and before we knew it, it was time to head back to Tubrid. Later that evening we were scheduled to have dinner with my cousin, Eileen and her husband Willy and her children.
After leaving Kilkenny, we headed back to Tubrid and gave Eileen a call to let her know we’d be a little bit late. Theresa offered to follow us so we wouldn’t get lost and we were glad for the help, because the roads in Ireland aren’t the easiest to navigate. We did make a wrong turn at a ‘Y’ in the road which to us looked more like a ‘T’ but were able to recover thanks to Theresa’s supervision. We knew we’d be coming back in the dark, so we had to keep looking for landmarks that would help us return without assistance.
On my mother’s side of the family, I have 10 first cousins and between them all, they have 28 children. These are my first cousins, once removed. Many of them live in Ireland. We had met some of them for the first time in 2003, and on this trip we got to meet a few more. There are still a few that I’ve never met. During dinner, I got to meet Eileen’s daughter, Louisa, who lives nearby and her son Eric who lives in Florence, Italy most of the time and works as a mechanic for a major airline. He comes back to Ireland quite frequently. We also got to see her sons William and John again. We had a very nice dinner and afterwards we took a quick tour of the Kilkooley estate.
Louisa lives in a guest house inside Kilcooley, a beautiful 2,000 acre estate surrounded by a tall stone wall. The wall was built during the potato famine for subsistence wages to keep people from starving. The Kilcooley land owners sold personal items such as jewelry and silver to raise money and created a kind of work program for the poor to have a wall built around Kilcooley. There are a number of famine walls around Ireland. The Kilcooley wall is 5 miles long and is reportedly the longest famine wall in Ireland. I’ve found that the term ‘famine wall’ also refers to a public work scheme that was intended to build unnecessary structures just so that the poor had to work for sustenance and not be given charity, and I’ve seen a few pictures of walls that fit that description. But the Kilcooley wall is not one of them since it was privately funded and does serve a purpose. Although it was getting late, around 9:30 p.m., there was still enough daylight left to get an impromptu tour of the estate which Louisa and her boyfriend generously arranged for us.
The estate includes a wide variety of landscapes. There are thickly forested areas along with pasture land, areas dedicated to equestrian activities, a 10-acre lake, and a huge Georgian mansion built in 1770. The land has been in the same family for nearly 400 years and now, for the first time ever, is for sale. The most interesting part for us was a Cistercian Abbey known as Kilcooley Abbey which dates back to the 12th century. The current structure was built in 1450 after the previous one was destroyed by fire. There was something surreal about walking out from a canopy of thickly forested land into a wide expanse of pasture with this imposing medieval structure off in the distance. Despite the time of day, or perhaps because of it, there was an aura of other-worldiness about it. Louisa intentionally failed to mention its dramatic effect just so she could see the expressions of awe on our faces as we first gazed at the abbey. We wandered around inside the abbey and took some pictures before it became too dark. We’d love to go back to Kilcooley and spend some more time exploring around the grounds.
Later we went back to bid our farewells to Eileen and her family and then headed over to the Cradog, where we’d spend the night with Lil and Frank. Around the time we left, my cousin Paddy was calling from New York and Eileen went in to take the call. No sooner did we arrived at Lil’s place did Paddy call there too and so we got a chance to speak with him which was very nice.
Posted on July 3rd, 2006 No comments
Just prior to taking our first trip to Ireland back in 1967, my mother was expressing anxiety about flying since she had never been in airplane. Her arrival to the U.S. from England in 1953 was on the Queen Mary, a ship that is now retired and parked in Long Beach, California as a tourist attraction.
In an effort to ease my mother’s fear of flying, my father decided to take us to the local airport in Forty Fort, PA and get an introductory flight in a small 4-seat airplane. My mother sat up front, and my sister and I sat in the back. I still have vivid recollections of that flight and know that it influenced me to pursue my own pilot’s license some 20+ years later. My mother’s reaction was quite the opposite. She hated the small airplane that seemed to her like it was bumping along in the air like a cork on the ocean.
The most amazing thing about the flight for me was that I was able to look down from above and see my house and my hometown, and once I’d experience the earth from above, it became the way I began to visualize any place I visit. Experiencing a city from the ground can be confusing because it’s hard to recall how the city is laid out if you don’t always know which way you’re traveling. But in the air, there’s no mistaking it; you can see where everything is located and get a sense of the size and proportion of the area. Now when I visit a new city, I make a point of ‘visiting it from the air’ first, by using Google Earth, which allows you to simulate a flight over any location on Earth.
In a few weeks I’ll be traveling to Suzhou, China. I will land in Shanghai and travel by bus or rented car to Suzhou. Using Google Earth, I have already looked up the locations of the two cities, measured the distances between them and got a sense of the enormous size of the city of Shanghai. Although the cities are only separated by about 50 miles, I found that the airport is 20 miles to the east of Shanghai, and Shuzhou is to the west, so it’s going to take at least a few hours to get to Suzhou after landing. I had some advice from a co-worker today that the drive he had to Suzhou was quite nerve-wracking with the driver using the horn most of the way. I may try to take that trip outside of the normal rush hour.
Similarly, I used Google Earth prior to taking the European trip. I had hoped to retrace the routes to some of the same places we had visited in 1967 and needed to figure out how far apart they all were from each other. I knew we’d be traveling to from Shannon Airport to Nenagh first and then to Tubrid, just outside Kilkenny, and also to Waterford and Tramore. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they are only separated by distances of about 30 to 50 miles (as the crow flies). I knew that the roads between them were not straight highways and so it would take at least twice as long as the ‘mile per minute’ I generally allocate for travel on Interstate highways in the U.S..
Shortly after we arrived at John’s house in Nenagh, he had to meet with his architect, so he took us with him and dropped us off in Nenagh. It gave us a chance to take a self-guided walking tour around town. We visited the ruins of a Franciscan abbey, built in 1212. We also visited the Nenagh Castle, a 12th century structure that was undergoing some restoration work on the inside. Nenagh has a population of around 6,500 and is the largest town in North Tipperary. It’s a bustling little town with many shops lined up along its main street. Afterwards, John took us for a tour of a lot of homes in the area. We ended up back in Nenagh and had dinner at the Abbey Court Hotel. Later we visited one of those out-of-the-way pubs called the Carney Pub, a place frequented by Martin Sheen when he visits Ireland. Sheen’s mother, Mary Anne Phelan, is from a nearby area in Tipperary. The pub was tiny inside, but it had a nice crowd of people all of whom seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.
The next day, John took us for a tour which included a stop in Dromineer, a beautiful location on the banks of the Shannon River and we stopped briefly at a pub owned by a friend of his called the Whisky Still. There is also a very nice restaurant at the Dromineer Bay Hotel, which is where we’d being having dinner the following night.
On Saturday, John gave us a tour of Tipperary where we saw many beautiful views of the River Shannon, particularly around the overlook near Portroe. We eventually made it to the towns of Ballina and Killaloe, which was across the river in County Clare. Many of the houses that overlooked the Shannon River were spectacular. We were amazed at the number of homes we saw under construction and those that had been built in the last 10 years. Ireland is truly undergoing an economic renaissance.
Later that evening, we had dinner with my cousins at the Dromineer Bay Hotel. Dromineer is a beautiful location that was one of my Aunt Bridie’s favorite places to visit. The hotel’s restaurant has beautiful views of the River Shannon and the food is outstanding. Later, we stopped at a pub in Puckaun which is owned by my cousin, Pat. We had a great time there mingling with the locals listening to the live music.
After spending a few days with John, it was time for him to return to the U.S. and he needed to leave very early in the morning, around 6 a.m. to catch a 9 a.m. flight. We were schedule to travel to Tubrid that day, so we spent a little time washing a few items and visiting with my cousin Tom and his family where we got to see a hurling match on TV. I had seen local Irish boys hurling when I visited Ireland as a child, but had never seen a match on TV. It was quite interesting to watch since the game is fast-paced and requires tremendous skill. It’s a somewhat like a combination of field hockey and lacrosse, but the sticks, called hurleys, are flat and are used to balance the ball as the players run at full speed down the field. The hurleys are also used like a baseball bat to hit the ball through the air great distances so that accounts for the fast pace of the game. The goal is similar to a soccer goal, but it also has uprights similar to American football and you can score a point by hitting the ball through the uprights. Getting the ball under the crossbar and into the net results in 3 points, but it is protected by a goalkeeper so it’s much more challenging. The Irish are quite enthralled with the sport and we heard many references to it during our travels in Ireland. World Cup fever may have been raging through other European countries, but the Irish were fixated on the outcome of the hurling matches. After getting a chance to watch both sports, my vote is for hurling as being the more entertaining of the two.
The last time we visited Tubrid in 2003, we stayed with my cousin Lil Kellaghan, who has a B&B called the Cradog, which means ‘my little place’ in Gaelic. She and her husband Frank raised 6 children, all of whom are grown and living on their own and so they converted the space in their modern farmhouse into a B&B which they’ve been running for the past 10 years. Three of the rooms are ‘ensuite’ which means they have adjoining private bathrooms, and there’s another room with a separate private bathroom. The place is absolutely gorgeous and has b
eautiful views of the countryside in every direction. It also has a sitting room and dining room for the guests. There’s a country pub just a short walk down the lane. I’d highly recommend you stay at the Cradog if your travels in Ireland take you anywhere near Kilkenny.
On this visit we’d be staying a few nights at with my cousin Theresa at Tubrid House which is less than a mile from the Cradog. Tubrid House is where my grandfather, my mother, uncle, aunt and many of my cousins were born and raised. It has been in the Kennedy family for nearly 160 years. We stayed there for a week when we visited in 1967 and although it looks much the same from the outside, my cousin Paddy and his wife Theresa have done much updating to the interior as well as to the surrounding courtyard. It’s located right next to a 600-year-old castle which has been undergoing a restoration. The castle is currently surrounded by scaffolding and the mortar is being replaced to secure it so that it won’t collapse. On our previous visits, we had gone into the castle and did some exploring, but this time it looked like that wouldn’t be possible since the workmen were there each day. Despite it’s proximity to the Kennedy property, a neighbor owns the castle. It’s not apparent what the neighbor’s plans for it will be when the restoration work is complete. There is a similar castle a few miles from Tubrid called the Clomantagh Castle owned by the Irish Landmark Trust, and the interior has been retrofitted with electricity and running water and it is available for rental. We took a tour through it in 2003 and although it gets many points for its uniqueness, the atmosphere inside this castle tends to be somewhat dark and dank despite the copious amount of whitewash that had been applied to its interior walls. It costs around $1000/week to rent and sleeps 10. That’s not too expensive for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rent a 15th-century castle.
My cousin Lil invited us over to have dinner with some guests she was hosting so we’d get see her in action and to swap some stories with fellow Americans. We jumped at the opportunity. The Cradog is affiliated with a local group of B&Bs that can handle bus tours. The guests are split up among 3 or 4 B&Bs within a few miles radius and they get a chance to experience a stay at Irish farm house. This is a rarity on a bus tour since tour companies generally book rooms in city hotels. After spending several weeks traveling around Ireland and Scotland in 2003 by bus, we stayed for a few extra days to visit with Lil at her farm house B&B. I can assure you that the being able to sit and talk with a gracious hostess who grew up in Ireland will be much more memorable than any 4-star hotel you may experience in your travels. Staying at B&Bs is a great way to truly experience the culture and the people of Ireland. After having a chance to meet and talk with the guests who stayed at the Cradog, I found that they felt the same way…
Posted on June 22nd, 2006 No comments
Terri and I just got back from an amazing trip to Europe. We spend 17 days there and enjoyed every minute of it. I’d like to put together a more complete narrative of the trip, but here are some photos from Ireland and another set from Italy-Switzerland-Brussels-Amsterdam to look at while I put together something that helps to better describe what we did there.
Posted on March 6th, 2005 1 comment
Formula One Racing
Formula One Racing season started this weekend and I’m looking forward to this season. Last year was a bit of a disappointment with the Williams BMW team having an off year. We went to the formula one race in Montreal, Canada last year and the team did great with both cars in the points finishing in 2nd and 5th place but they were later disqualified for having the brake ducts too close to the rotors. I blogged about that race here. This year there will be 19 races on 5 continents and the Williams BMW team has two new drivers, Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber. They aren’t exactly rookies, but neither one has won a race yet, partly because the cars they drove last year were not very competitive.
I hadn’t known much about Formula One racing since in the U.S. there are too many other race events which is a distraction from this global sport. To watch it for a season is a lesson in geography as they move the race between 17 different countries. I worked on a project at the Chemical Analysis Division of HP (now Agilent) that was a joint venture with an Italian company. The company was located in Monza, just outside Milan near the famed race track. During my visits to Italy I became good friends with my host, Silvio, and we still communicate regularly. Terri and I have been over to Italy several times and visited him and his family while we were there. He lives very close to the race track, within walking distance, and you can hear the cars practicing at the Monza Autodrome from his patio. He knows the sounds of various engines so well that he can tell you which cars are practicing by listening to the sound of their engines. Hardly a day goes by that there isn’t some event going on at the track and we got to visit the track each time we were there and saw a wide variety racing, including Superbike racing which was truly a thrill for a motorccyle enthusiast like me. We’re hoping to visit my friend again soon and would like to time it so we will get to see the F1 race from a European vantage point