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Saturday, October 27, 2007

IRELAND--DAY 3

DAY 3

This Trafalgar tour is just too expansive and wonderful for me to cover everything in diary form. I’d go on forever telling you all about the city tour of Dublin—“…the fair city where girls are so pretty….” Our guide, Harry, is a wealth of knowledge; Rob and I are overwhelmed by the country’s history dating back to the Vikings; we travel, make new friends; and have a great time in the pubs. This is very us.

History buff? Ireland is for you. Some parts of Ireland were settled by Vikings, and this morning we head off to Glendalough about forty-five minutes from Dublin. It’s one of the oldest remaining monastic sites in Europe dating back to the 7th century. Imagine! As we walk through the archway entrance we see that no mortar was used and that the rocks forming the arch are placed there as support. Amazing! What was the world like when monks put the entrance to their protective tower far above ground to shield themselves from the marauding Vikings who simply lit fires below them and smoked them out!?
Why was one Celtic cross unfinished and missing the Bible stories the monks used to engrave on them in order to teach these tales to illiterate people? How tiny were the rooms in the priest’s house where today’s pilgrims come to touch the dirt floor in hopes for miraculous cures?

Glendalough, Glen of Two Lakes, sits in a beautiful and still wild valley in county Wichklow, the Garden of Ireland. It probably is not much different, at least in some ways, from the times of the monks.

So many unanswered questions….So many feelings of wonder….
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When I was in Ireland in 1997 with my78 year old mother and my 16 year old son, Michael who had his first beer there (of my knowledge), my mother fell in love with Guinness! At one lunch stop at a pub when the waitress asked for her order, she simply replied, “I’m not hungry; just a Guinness.” In her memory, and in Rob’s present, we felt it obligatory to pay homage to this Irish institution by visiting the Guinness Brewery.

We expected the kind of tour we’ve taken at wineries where we always learn something new and interesting about wine production. NOT! We paid 22 euros for the tour, and it was wasted on anyone who already knew that beer is made from barley, hops, and water. DUH! In the case of Guinness, that means 70% of the barley crop in the whole of Ireland, and that’s a prodigious amount. For the 22 euros, we received a “free” pint of this nectar, and we toasted to my mom and to Michael in The Gravity Bar atop the building. Actually, I’m a lager fan, so Rob got to drink mine too. The Gravity Bar gave us a great 360° view of Dublin, and that’s pretty spectacular.

I’m not sorry we went; had we not gone and made that toast, I would have felt I’d missed something special and uniquely Irish. Having gone, I’m suggesting you skip this admitted icon and head to another of the many possibilities. Think of Guinness as life blood. It’s offered in every pub and restaurant; it’s given out in return for blood donations; it is free at the old age homes; it’s given to new mothers and fathers at Dublin’s Maternity Hospital. Basically, it's Guinness from cradle to grave. It’s mother’s milk. Yes, you read that right.
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Evenings are for partying, and in Ireland that means drinking, music, and warm-hearted fellowship, so we headed about thirty minutes from Dublin to The Merry Ploughboy, a pub with a great show in the Irish tradition.

Dinner tonight was grand: another great soup, Angus Prime Rib, and a lovely dessert. Harps for me and Guinness for Rob. We also met Lorraine and Carl from Michigan, and the evening was off to a great start.

The entertainment was terrific.

The Merry Ploughboys—two guitars or guitar and banjo, mandolin, and Irish pipes, or tin whistle—gave us a great intro to traditional Irish music. They musicians cajoled the audience into joining them sing traditional Irish songs. We also were introduced to some traditional Irish instruments. The Uilleann Pipes are very different from bagpipes as they are played with bags under both arms, one pumping air into a bag, the other regulating the amount of air that enters the pipes. It’s raucous, happy music most of the time, but when it is sad, it is soooooo sad.

Then came the Irish dancers. That’s always incredible to watch, and these two pair were no different. In the smaller venue the sounds of their steps reverberated against the walls. The speed and grace accentuated the delicacy of the women and the strength of the men. The almost miraculous precision of the four added to the magic of the evening.

Harry played Irish music in the coach as we headed back toward Dublin. What a perfect way to end the day.

I’m adding one video clip: 1. Irish pipes (You’ll notice the Guinness in the mic stand ready to wet his whistle)
The Uilleann Pipes
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