Headin’ South


Ireland is a small country. It is 35,595 square miles. Compare that to Minnesota, in the U.S. where I live: 86,936 square miles. Which makes Ireland 2 1/2 times smaller than Minnesota. Ireland’s population in 2016 (the latest stats I could find) was 6,572,728 compared to Minnesota at 5,679,718 in 2018 which makes their population density almost three times higher than Minnesota. Dublin was crowded with 1.7 million people in the city and surrounding area but the smaller towns I visited only seemed crowded because of all the tourists. If I were to live there, I would defiantly find a country town. That being said, I think other countries are fine to visit but I like where I live and therefore, I will always come back home.

The history of Ireland is inextricably tangled up with Great Britain. My first tour driver told the story of how some English Royals were invited to an Irish wedding. They liked Ireland so much that they stayed for 800 years. Needless to say, the Irish were not happy about it. There is so much history to tell that I’m not going to get into it because I’m not a historian, and there is a multitude of really good books on the subject. To give you an example of the tenacity of the Irish, I heard this story: When Queen Victoria died in 1901 it was ordered that the Irish paint every door in the country black as a sign of loyalty to the crown and of mourning. The Irish of course were having none of it and painted their doors with the brightest colors they could find. It kind of gives you a hint of how relations went between the two countries. As I said in my post, “To Dublin,” The Irish won their independence in 1921. As with any negotiation, they had to make compromises, but they won their freedom.

When I decided to go to Ireland I had to come up with a way to make the most of my time there. I am interested in history, both of people and Natural History so I wanted to see as much of both as possible. I wasn’t sure about driving, and I didn’t want to rely on buses or trains. So I decided on taking a tour. I was a little apprehensive about spending an entire week with a group of people because I’m on the anti-social side but it turned out fine. The group I was with were all very nice, laid back people and I made some new friends. I chose a company called Vagabond Tours. They were highly rated and they are a small group tour company. There were 15 in my group. That’s as big as I’d want it to be.

My people

I arrived in Dublin on a Saturday morning and my tour left on the following Monday so I had two days to explore the city and then I was headin’ south. We were picked up at the Grand Canal Hotel, (which is where I was staying) loaded up the coach and headed out. The countryside south of Dublin is relatively flattish land with farms of crops, horses, cows, and sheep. The motorway is equivalent to freeways in the U.S. According to the Irish, they drive on the correct side of the road, which is the left. With a little practice I think it could be easy to get used to. Our first stop on the tour was at the Rock Of Cashel. It is a castle dating from the 1100’s and was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster. In 1101, the King of Munster, Muirchertach Ua Briain, (Murtough O’Brien, whom I have traced my lineage to) donated the fortress to the church.

The Rock of Cashel

From there we visited Blarney Castle. If you have heard of the Blarney Stone, this is where it is. There is a legend that says if you kiss the Blarney Stone you will receive the gift of gab. I did not kiss it. The castle and grounds are very beautiful and very commercialized. You can’t blame them I guess. They’re making a lot of money off tourism and it’s helping the economy greatly.

Blarney Castle

At the end of a long days ride, we arrived at Gougan Barra. It is an ancient monastic site built by Saint Finbarr. The area is just stunning. It rests in a valley with a lake and mountains all around. And sheep. Always sheep. There are three spellings for Gougan Barra. The one I have used is the Irish spelling. The other is Gougane Barra which is English. And then there is Ghuagan Barra which is the spelling for the Ghuagan Barra Forest Park, or Pairc Fhoraoise. Confusing, right. Every public sign in Ireland has both Irish and English spellings on them.

Here are my favorite photos of Gougan Barra

It was a beautiful, peaceful place. I easily could have spent days there. As soon as I saw it I decided to leave some of Ann’s ashes there. I left them at the alter stone on the monastic settlement behind the little church building. I’m sure she would have loved it there. Ann was raised Catholic and even though she no longer participated, It was still a part of who she was. Here’s to Saint Finbarr!

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To Dublin


Amsterdam

If you read my post, “Across the Sea,” then you know the reasons why I visited Ireland. My flight consisted of flying to Amsterdam, switching planes and then flying to Dublin. It’s always interesting when you fly over 400 miles further than you wanted to go and then board another plane to fly back to your destination. We reached Amsterdam without incident which, if you fly at all you will know is a great relief. I had a one hour and fifty five minute layover. When the flight crew announced they were ready to board we were all ushered onto a bus. Odd, but not unheard of. The bus left the terminal, and continued leaving the terminal. We rode past houses. And then farms. And open fields. Some time later I saw a plane up ahead on the tarmac. As we got closer, the plane got smaller. “Oh cute,” I thought. “A little planelet.” Well that small plane was where we were heading. It turns out it wasn’t really small, it held about 50 people. But compared to the giant jet I had traversed the Atlantic ocean on, it was small. We boarded and got settled and, didn’t go anywhere. Finally,one on the flight crew came on the intercom and in a nonchalant, sing song voice said, “You may be wondering why we haven’t left yet. It seems we can’t find our pilot. We’re pretty sure he knows he’s supposed to be here but we can’t reach him by phone. But don’t worry, he’ll show up eventually. He always does.”

This was not a confidence booster. Myriad thoughts ran through my little brain. Is he a drunk? Irresponsible? Is he lost? As I sat there reviewing all the poor decisions I had made in my life, flying to Ireland was creeping ever so slowly to the top of the list. Eventually he did show up and proved to be a good pilot. We landed safely in Dublin. I didn’t see any of the flight crew crossing themselves and that helped a lot. Getting through security at Dublin airport was a breeze except they took my shaving cream. In today’s world of AK 47’s and shoe bombs, shaving cream seems pretty tame. I’m not at all sure how I could kill someone with that but apparently terrorists are pretty inventive.

Dublin

So there I was, in Dublin, Ireland for the first time in my life. I found a bus heading toward the city center and climbed aboard. It was just a short walk to my hotel from the last stop. Dublin, with a population of about 1.7 million people is defiantly a cosmopolitan city. Many immigrants have come to Ireland in recent years to help make Dublin a colorful, busy, attractive place. There are restaurants serving every kind of food you can imagine, and shops of every kind. Buses, trains and taxi’s will take you anywhere you wish to go at any hour. There has been a resurgence of interest in the Irish language in the last decades resulting in every public sign containing both English and Irish. I have always heard the language referred to as Gaelic however I learned that is wrong. Gaelic is the culture, Irish is the language. I have been interested in Ireland’s history and have read much about the uprisings and the fight for independence, so I went to see some important sites, especially places concerned with the Easter Rising of 1916. One of these sites was the General Post Office, which is still in use today. It was here that The Irish Volunteers captured the building and used it as their headquarters. In front of the building, Padraig Pearse read the Proclamation of Independence. The rising was unsuccessful but the execution of many of the leaders by the British helped turn the tide of opinion against them (the British) and by December, 1921 The Irish Republic won its independence.

General Post Office and the Spire

In the middle of O’Connell street, right across from the General Post Office (GPO) is the Dublin Spire. It is a monument built on the site of the former Nelson’s Pillar, a monument to a British Naval officer, which was blown up in 1966. The Spire is 9.8 feet wide at the base and 390 feet tall, and is needle shaped. It was commissioned as part of a redesign of the street and chosen in an international contest. Those who don’t like the Spire complain that it has little architectural or cultural connection to the city. In my humble opinion, they’re right. While I was there I noticed a member of the Garda (police) standing near the GPO. So I asked him about the Spire. I asked what the significance of the Spire was. What did it represent? He said, “Well it’s a really tall thing, isn’t it.” It wasn’t a question. “But isn’t there any meaning to it?” I asked. “Well after all, You’ve got to have a really tall thing haven’t you,” he said. That wasn’t a question either. Irish humor is interesting.

As well as the GPO I saw lots of other places in Dublin. The Temple Bar, Dublin Castle, the Ha’Penny bridge, and Trinity College among others. It was a fun weekend and I feel like I walked 500 miles. All up hill. I just about got killed a few times, what with them all driving on the left side of the road. Not only that but electric cars are popular there. Dubliners call them silent death because they don’t make any noise as they run over you. There is much that I did and saw that I could write about but it would make this article way too long. As far as big cities go, I liked Dublin. Facebook and Google like it too. Those companies and others are buying whole office buildings and setting up shop in Dublin. Apparently they get a good tax deal. (If you want to know things, ask a cab driver.) Oh, and it seems Dubliners have an affection for green tinted glass. It’s on buildings everywhere. Next, I’ll tell you of my adventures in the country.

Across The Sea


What have I been doing for the last ten days, you ask? Or maybe you haven’t. More than likely, you haven’t given a single thought to what I’ve been up to. I’ll tell you anyway. I flew over 7400 miles in four airplanes. I rode over 1000 kilometers in a small coach bus. I hung out with 15 other people for 10 days. And I walked what feels like 500 miles, all up hill. I saw some beautiful beaches, some wonderful mountains, and a hell of a lot of sheep. I learned some history and heard some great music. I met some great people. I went to Ireland. I went there for two reasons. I’ve always wanted to go, and I wanted to take my wife’s ashes there. My wife’s maiden name was Sheehy. That’s a name that is unique to only one place on Earth. Ireland. Her great, great grandfather came to the U. S. with three brothers some time during the 1800’s from County Limerick, Ireland. She always wanted to go, but never found a way. I left her ashes in two places, both of which she would’ve approved of. I feel really good about that.

As I walked through places in Ireland, I felt her spirit. I felt her love and laughter. When Ann was dying of cancer I told her I would take her ashes to Ireland. I told her that the Sheehy’s would have come home then. She put her arms around me and said, “I am home”. It made me cry, as it’s doing right now. It is important to me that I did this. It is a fulfillment, an ending, in a way, of something that I felt was right. Her ashes should reside in the land of her ancestors. In life, Ann felt her Irishness. She was German also, but she always felt a closeness with her Irish roots. And she was a redhead. (I’m told that the red hair hair came to Ireland with the Vikings. More on that later.) So this was important to me, and I pulled it off. Everything worked right. That doesn’t always happen, and I had this silent nagging in my head that said something will go wrong, you won’t be able to do this right. But it worked, and for that I am grateful.

The two places I left her ashes would have been meaningful to her. The first was a little place called Guagan Barra. (Goo-gone Bar-ah) It is the 6th century ruins of the monastic settlement of Saint Finbarr. Ann was raise Catholic, and even though she wasn’t a part of the church any longer, it was still a part of her. This was an absolutely beautiful location on a little spit of land on a lake surrounded by mountains. She would have been in awe of this place. I know I was.

Guagan Barra

The second place was under the alter stone of a Standing Stone Circle. Even though Ann was raised Catholic she had a spiritual side that took a left turn somewhere along the way grabbed hold of her pagan Irish roots. She was very interested in Ancient Ireland, it’s people and their spiritual beliefs. She probably could’ve sat in the middle of that stone circle for a long time, communing with those who went before her.

Alter stone at Kenmare stone circle.

I’ll write more soon about the trip, the people I met and places I went. I just wanted you to know why I went. Not the least of which is that I just wanted to see Ireland too. I have Irish ancestors also. Names like Brown, Daily, Byrne, and O’Brien grace my genealogy chart. I’ve traced them back to the 1300’s and my mother always remembered her grandparents speaking in an Irish brogue. So now you know why I went, not that I would need an excuse, It’s Ireland after all. Who wouldn’t want to go there?

Comfort Zone


Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have a comfort zone. A place in our minds where we feel comfortable, where we feel in control. Where we believe we know what’s going to happen and how we’re going to handle it. We all have that, and we all like it. There are people who thrive in chaos. People who are at their best when everything around them is falling apart and they still somehow seem to figure things out and make things work. For them, chaos is their comfort zone. A hospital is a good place to find people like that. Emergency medical technicians are like that. Army Sargent’s are like that. What it all boils down to is control. We like to believe that we have control. Over ourselves, our kids, situations, etc. Control usually means we are familiar with our surroundings, familiar with how others do things, and just plain familiar with whatever we encounter. Then we think, there won’t be any surprises that we don’t know how to deal with. That’s our comfort zone, and we want to be there.

I never really liked high school. I was kind of a quiet kid, I didn’t do sports, I didn’t join anything. I always wanted to be somewhere else and yet I breezed through most of my classes. I had maybe two or three friends. When I graduated I walked away and never looked back. Never, is a funny word. You’ve heard the expression, “Never say Never.” It was a smart person who made that up. They knew what they were talking about. A few years ago I started to get curious about my classmates. I hadn’t seen most of them for many years and truthfully, I’d forgotten many of them. When I found a Facebook group for my class, I joined. A step out of the comfort zone. A few months ago I started seeing posts for my 45th class reunion. (Yes, I’m that old.) One of the people on the committee said that they wanted people to join the planning committee. So I joined. A leap out of the comfort zone. I’m glad I did it. It’s fun catching up with people you haven’t seen in many years. None of us had any idea what we were in for when we left that school building for the last time and so it seems I had more in common with my classmates than I realized. Getting out of your comfort zone can be fun.

Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I believe that, but it can be very troublesome for many folks. I knew a woman who said it really bothered her husband to hear people speaking a different language. Standing in the grocery line and listening to someone speaking Spanish or Somali really upset him. “You don’t know what they’re saying. They could be talking badly about you,” he would tell her. For him, this was way outside his comfort zone. Travel, especially to foreign countries, helps with that. Seeing how other people live, hearing other languages and experiencing new and different things helps broaden the comfort zone. I’ve traveled a lot within the United States but never to a country that has a different language. I plan to do that in the near future.

I think it’s good to be uncomfortable. Many people will avoid an uncomfortable situation at all costs. It gives you a prickly feeling. Makes you sweat a little, makes you uncertain. I think these things are good. They serve to open your mind, and heart to bigger and better things. The truth is, there is no such thing as control. I think I’ve written about this before. If we believe we have control of a situation, we’re fooling ourselves. Like the person who says, “My dog would never do that,” or “My child would never say that.” That’s believing you have control, and it’s false. We lie to ourselves in order to believe that we have control because we don’t want to be outside our comfort zone. When I was a kid I did all kinds of things my parents didn’t know about. But I never heard them say, “Our son would never do that.” They knew better. Maybe that’s how I came to realize that there’s no such thing as control. I knew my parents trusted me and yet I was out doing all kinds of things I should’ve gotten a beating for. So if they imagined they had control of me, I knew they didn’t. Now apply that logic to everything in your life. Control? What control?

So I recommend getting out of your comfort zone. Go do some things you’ve never done. When you hear people speaking a different language, listen to them. They’re not talking about you. You’re not that interesting. They’re probably talking about the same kind of things you talk about. Go to a different country where they use different money. Then you can figure out how their money relates to yours and if you’re getting the right change. Trying to figure out the bus routes in Edinburgh Scotland was a real treat. Yes they speak English, but their accent makes it hard to understand sometimes. It was fun. I’m going to Ireland soon. They have an area I will be going to that is called “Gaeltacht” where a large share of the population speaks the Irish language. I can’t wait to hear it and I’ll be leaving my comfort zone at home.

Distraction

The cat, in the field, concentrating ever so diligently on the small mouse hiding under leaves and dry grass, is annoyed by my footsteps in gravel on the side of the road. As I stop to watch this Scottish version of the common house pet, her ears pitched forward toward the mouse, I notice that she doesn’t look Scottish at all. Not that I would know what a Scottish cat is supposed to look like, but when you’re in Scotland well, everything is Scottish. Her right ear, the one closest to me, suddenly pivots toward me as I take a step and the sparse gravel beneath my foot crunches loudly in the still, evening air. I stand still, and just as suddenly, the ear twitches again and returns to it’s former attentive position. Her body tenses, her head lowers and, I take another step. This time her head turns, she focuses on my face and I am the recipient of an evil glare that seems to say, “I know where your hotel is. Later I will find you there, and I will kill you in your sleep.”