Ireland, Again

Self-portrait with beach

Self-portrait with beach, and camera

Have I mentioned we were in Ireland? (Insert the emoticon with the big dopey grin here!)

Of course, I’ve mentioned it. And clogged up the internet with photos to prove it!

I love that blogging is not only a way to communicate with you but a way to communicate with the future me, the me who has a tendency to forget the small, perfect moments of a day.

My blog acts, in part, to capture thoughts, emotions, and experiences, so I can come back and visit them, and myself, again. So, I’m going to do this one final post about our trip. It’s sort of a “best of the rest” of the trip, beyond Penn State, Yeats, weaving, and ancient sites.

We’ve been to this splendid country before and have done what we wanted to of the obligatory tourist attractions. That meant that, this time, we could walk on paths less traveled.

And we especially found ourselves on beaches. You have to love an island country, where you’re never far from the sea!

We found lots of moments of quiet beauty that slowed our steps and haunt us.

And we had chances to relish those moments that are quintessentially Irish.

Thanks for allowing me to share so much of this trip with you! Angela, from A Silver Voice of Ireland, gave me all kinds of input. Perhaps her best tip was about the creation of the Wild Atlantic Way, a new approach to seeing Ireland while staying near the coast all the way! We followed it for many miles.

The Ancient and Quiet Places of Ireland

IMG_1603In a previous post I said that, when we left the hubbub of Dublin, we sought quiet. And where better to find quiet than among the ancient folk and the marks they left on the land?

Always drawn to graveyards of any age, we find the most ancient ritual burial places especially fascinating. Who were these peoples, who left symbols carved into gigantic stones? Who left passage tombs and dolmens and wedge tombs and stone circles?

If I were going to urge people to visit just one place in Ireland in would be Brú na Bóinne, near Dublin in County Meath. This large and complex megalithic site is home to Newgrange and Knowth. Here one finds passage tombs, ranging from small and modest to huge and awe-inspiring. These tombs date to 3500 BCE, older than Stonehenge, older than the Egyptian pyramids, older than most things we’ll ever be lucky enough to see.

The majesty of these sites, with their evidence that we are only the latest of the innovative and reflective people to inhabit the earth, defies description.

But they aren’t the only worthwhile megalithic places in the land. We also visited Carrowmore and the Cavan Burren Park.

Carrowmore, in County Sligo, contains passage tombs, as well as stone circles, even older than Newgrange, dating to 3700 BCE.

The Cavan Burren Park, in County Cavan, has a new visitor center and wonderfully constructed walking trails that take one past megalithic tombs, prehistoric stone walls, ancient rock art, and glacial erratics.

Of course, a spot need not be ancient to inspire calm and introspection. From the National Museum of Ireland to Yeats’ grave, we found our quiet places.

May you share the awe and peace we found at these remarkable places.  A huge thank you to Angela, from A Silver Voice of Ireland, for her generous guidance in directing us to many of these wonderful sites!

Weaving Our Way Through Ireland

IMG_1614Oh, look—sheep! It must be Ireland!

Yes, it was Ireland and, for newbie weavers, sheep mean wool and wool means weaving. One of our goals for this trip was to talk to weavers.

Hand weavers are still working in Ireland but not so easy to find. It seems many of the folks who know the trade are working these days to educate and entertain tourists, as was the case at Avoca Mills.IMG_0635The man we talked to at Avoca was certainly knowledgeable about weaving, and he talked as he wove. He even let a novice weaver take a turn!

IMG_0612We’ve long loved a song called “Nancy Whiskey,” about a weaver seduced by drink (what a ridiculous concept!). In that song, there’s the lyric, “I’ll surely make those shuttles fly.”

We had never understood what that meant because, when we weave, the shuttles move very slowly. But on this trip we were introduced to looms with flying shuttles—it makes hand weaving go so much faster!

We also watched the production looms at Avoca, moving faster than the eye can see. And it was evident that, in spite of the presence of a hand weaver, much of the weaving coming out of this mill is done on mechanized and computerized machines.

As much as we love old-fashioned handmade work, seeing the production looms, and even the flying shuttle looms, was a good reminder of a practical fact. We may have the luxury of doing this craft for creative purposes, but other people made their living at it, and still do.

In fact, the one weaver we met who still does hand weaving exclusively, Eddie Doherty, in the town of Ardara in County Donegal, also owns the pub next door. When we rang his bell, he came from his pub to show us his weaving.

He explained that, in the small towns in Ireland, one profession wasn’t enough to support a family. Years ago, as a young publican, he had needed a second source of income and had chosen weaving.

IMG_1215 That got us noticing other examples—Mannion’s Pub, next door to Mannion’s Butchers. King’s Pub, next to King’s Grocery. And our favorite—Kennedy’s Pub, next door to Kennedy’s Funeral Home! No question who supplied the gargle for those wakes!

Watching these weavers inspired us. I particularly loved the ways color is used to transform relatively straightforward patterns into eye-dazzling beauty.

We were sorely tempted by the beautiful things we saw. On previous trips we have done our best to support the handmade community, buying sweaters and woven blankets and tweed jackets.

But this time we had come to Ireland with an agreement not to add to our wardrobes and linen closets. We had declared a shopping moratorium.

But we couldn’t resist one thing—we bought yarn.

We couldn’t resist bringing home wool and cotton and linen, in the heathery colors of this lovely country.

IMG_1687The plan is to use what we saw as inspiration, and to combine our Irish yarns with our own effort. We’ll make, at home, something to commemorate this particular trip to Ireland. We haven’t decided yet what form our souvenirs will take but we do know they’ll be one of a kind!

I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, more eye candy . . .

I Will Arise and Go Now . . .

IMG_1026After the whirlwind that was our visit to Dublin for the Penn State football game, we were eager for a change. It was wonderful for a few days but we’re the quiet types, introverts, really. We needed an antidote to the noise and crowds and . . . well, the noise and crowds.

We found it on the beaches and islands and hilltops.

And we found it in Yeats country.

I’m not knowledgeable about poetry. I don’t read much of it, and I understand less, but I do love what little I know by William Butler Yeats.

When I was still working full time and living in a big city, I kept a framed copy of Yeats’ poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” in my room. I even have an old record of Yeats reading his poem!

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Innisfree always made me think of “camp,” and our lake, and quiet, still summers away from the world. Just reading the poem could transport me to that place where “peace comes dropping slow.”

Now, we live year-round in the equivalent of Yeats’ “bee-loud glade” and I try, always, to consciously appreciate how lucky we are.

So, as we drove through Sligo, I really, really wanted to visit this special isle. My long-suffering spouse acquiesced and we drove around Lough Gill.

First we found Dooney Rock, which inspired my other favorite Yeats poem, “The Fiddler of Dooney.

Dooney Rock

Dooney Rock

Then we drove down long, single-lane roads until we could see tiny Innisfree sitting just slightly off shore, tantalizingly close but inaccessible.

We couldn’t get to it. We couldn’t walk on it. But, that’s okay—that very inaccessibility preserves the solitude and the mystery and the magic.

Just looking at Innisfree, with Yeats’ words sounding in my head, was enough. I felt it in my deep heart’s core. Where is your Innisfree?

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Céad Míle Fáilte, Penn State

IMG_0537For the past couple of weeks, while the cats have been posting foolish photos of themselves, my husband and I have been in Ireland.

We love Ireland for many different reasons that I’ll probably enumerate soon but the catalyst for this particular trip was to combine our love of Ireland with our love for our alma mater, Penn State University.

Penn State opened its college football season in Dublin, against the University of Central Florida. For those of you who aren’t from the US, and even some of you who are, this whole fascination with college football must be confounding.

But for those of us who are ensnared, nothing could top this game! My husband and I have five degrees from Penn State between us—one BA, two MAs, and two PhDs. That’s a lot of years and a lot of football games attended—it gets in ones blood.

So, on the last weekend in August, we and about 20,000 of our closest Penn State friends showed up in Dublin, and what a welcome we received!

The focus of much of the activity in the days before the game was Temple Bar.

An estimated 10,000 Penn State fans showed up for the pep rally. That’s a lotta navy blue and white!

The Penn State party was held at the Guinness Storehouse. I never would’ve believed that a party of that magnitude could be pulled off without feeling crowded, without incident, and with such flair!

The game was at Croke Park—what a great place to see it! Before the game, two sky divers targeted the stadium, to deliver game balls. The one with UCF colors and flag missed the stadium entirely—do you think that was an omen?

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Penn State skydiver hits the mark!

It was a wonderful game, at least for Penn State fans. Lots of great plays, tense moments, the grim feeling that the game was lost . . . only to win on a last-minute field goal, as time ran out! Woohoo!

The kicker who made the successful field goal is Sam Ficken. My husband and I were at a game two years ago, where Penn State lost by one point, after this same kicker missed 4 field goals. From goat to big-time hero—who wouldn’t be happy for this guy?!

Sam is in the middle of this throng!

Sam is in the middle of this throng!

The city of Dublin has many new American fans, I’m sure. The people were kind and so tolerant of the hordes of fanatics dressed in team colors, behaving in odd ways. They provided at least 100,000 welcomes.

Thank you, Dublin—sláinte!

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Baking Hands at Home: Brown Soda Bread

IMG_2986Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.
James Beard

There may be no activity more “hands at home” than baking bread. With a zillion different kinds of bread available in every store, many of us still look for opportunities to bake our own, and it always seems to be appreciated!

I remember fondly the days when my grandmother made bread for the farm. She made all the bread for the household and used a standard yeast recipe for white bread. When the bread came out of the oven and she rubbed the crust with a stick of butter, heaven came to earth for us kids! We’d sneak into the kitchen, when no one was looking, and use our fingernails to peel pieces of buttery crust off the top of the bread. Then we’d sneak away, leaving naked, crustless bread behind, like no one would notice. How did we get away with that?!

I have been known to bake yeast bread and love it but I’m more likely to make a quicker bread. When we first visited Ireland, we learned to love the earthy, dense soda bread that is so associated with the Irish. I’ve read that it didn’t originate in Ireland at all and, honestly, I don’t care about its history—I just love the way it tastes.

And I love how easy it is to make! When I got home from that trip, serendipity kicked in and I found an issue of Bon Appetit magazine that featured Irish cooking. Their recipe for soda bread became my standard. For a while, I made it so frequently the recipe was imprinted on my brain. And then I just stopped making it and I don’t know why.

But I came across the recipe last week and made it and rekindled my love for it! It is not at all sweet, like some recipes for soda bread can be, and it has no extras added in, although I’m told some people like raisins in their soda bread (ick).

This bread is heavy and cake-like; it is perfection straight out of the over with butter and I might even like it better toasted with peanut butter. In fact, just typing that sentence got me so excited, I went directly to the toaster and am currently chewing and typing at the same time!

I think the bread must be pretty healthy, too, because all the packaging for the ingredients seems to be in shades of red, orange, and yellow, the way marketers signal consumers that food is “natural.” And marketers would never mislead us, right? I hope it’s somewhat healthy, since I’m going to be eating a lot of it now—it’s a fall and winter kind of bread! Enjoy!

IMG_2972Brown Soda Bread
Bon Appetit, May 1996

1 ¾ cups all purpose flour
1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons toasted wheat bran*
3 tablespoons toasted wheat germ*
2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (packed)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½  salt
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces
2 cups (about) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Butter 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

Combine first 8 ingredients in large bowl; mix well.

Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles fine meal. This is my favorite part because it makes me feel like a real cook. You rub the cold butter and dry ingredients between your thumb and fingers, making that gesture like you do when you’re talking about money. (Does that make any sense?)

Stir in enough buttermilk to form soft dough. I used about 1 ½ cups and it seemed like enough this time.

Transfer dough to prepared loaf pan. Bake until bread is dark brown and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. I cooked mine about 37 minute.

Turn bread out onto cooling rack. Turn right side up and cool.

* My wheat bran was “untoasted” so I actually put these two ingredients
in a cast iron skillet over medium heat and stirred them around until
they smelled like they were toasting. I’m not sure in makes a lot of difference in the final product.