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“A long time ago when the earth was green…” The Irish Rovers

May 6, 2013

This post is a bit different, as all I have been thinking about is the great family trip we had in Ireland a couple of weeks ago.

On April 18th, Anne and I landed in Dublin and our adventure began. Over the first three days we stayed in or around Dublin, where I learned that in Ireland, there are three types of historical/ archaeological sites . There is “old” which is from the Renaissance/ late Middle Ages (circa 1500-1700 A.D.) ; there is “older” which is circa 800-1200 A.D when many of the Irish castles and cathedrals were originally built; and then there is “REALLY OLD” which is circa 2500-4000 B.C. when Neolithic man started farming and hunting in Ireland. I don’t exactly know why but for some reason I was particularly enamored by the artifacts and early tombs constructed by Neolithic man. Maybe it was because I felt so much younger by comparison. ( “No, Maryanne your dad is NOT old, now Neolithic man, he’s OLD”)

One of the highlights of the trip was the tomb/ astronomical observatory at Newgrange which is about 20 miles north of Dublin. A guide takes a limited number of people into the tomb every half hour and we had the benefit of getting a reserved time slot. So that afternoon, I found myself squeezing thru a very narrow rock passageway which was clearly designed for a much smaller Neolithic man. Once inside the relatively large central chamber, I was struck by the carefully laid boulders that comprised the walls and rose to the apex of the tomb. (One woman on our tour nervously asked if they had put in new supports in the chamber to keep it from collapsing over time. No, our guide said confidently, these were all the original boulders and rock that was laid some 5000 years ago!). This incredible structure seemed as if it were out of an Indiana Jones movie, even more so because on the three days around the Winter Solstice, the sunrise would light the central chamber thru that very narrow entrance. Early man in Ireland was apparently among the earliest astronomers in the world.

There were many other great sights on our trip ranging from castles to cathedrals and museums. We saw Kilkenny Castle which is my wife’s last name (though the castle did not belong to the Irish Kilkenny’s but instead an English noble named Butler, which somehow seemed fitting to me–for Anne, not so much). But by far the best part of the trip was linking up with our oldest daughter Kathleen at Dublin airport and then driving up to Northern Ireland to meet up with my youngest Maryanne who was on a work/study semester at the University of Ulster in Derry.  From the time Maryanne went away to college almost 3 years ago, Anne and I have come to realize how precious family time together can be and for 3 days in Derry we had a real family reunion. 

Going up to Derry (or “Londonderry” to the Irish loyalists) in Northern Ireland was a unique experience as well. There was so much history here, ranging from the walled city dating from the Middle Ages to the recent strife captured poignantly on so many painted walls and murals across the town. And there was a constant reminder that all was still not well in Northern Ireland, with Protestant parts of the territory “marked” with British flags and painted curbs. And as I saw this, I reflected on what I learned on our first five days of the trip in Dublin, Kilkenny and Rock of Cashel. Ireland was a place of constant change and turmoil which continues to this very day.  There was the rule of the Celtic kings beginning in the Bronze Age circa 500 BC. There were the Vikings who invaded Ireland in the 8th and 9th centuries and were eventually defeated in the 11th century. Soon after, the Anglo-Normans arrived with Henry II declaring himself Lord of Ireland in 1171 and English rule began officially with the Treaty of Windsor in 1175. By the 16th century, a series of rebellions and wars began and continued well into the 20th century. This included the Second Desmond Rebellion in 1579, the Nine Years War in 1594, the Flight of the Earls in 1607, Irish Rebellion of 1641, the Irish Confederate Wars of 1642, the Battle of Carrickfergus in 1760 (the first French incursion into Ireland), the Irish Rebellion of 1798, the Second United Irishmen Rebellion of 1803, the Tithe War of 1831-36, the Easter Rising of 1916, the Irish War of Independence during 1919-1921, the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, and the “Troubles” beginning in 1969. If this wasn’t enough, Ireland seemed to plagued with periodic famines (such as the Famine of 1740 and the Great Potato Famine of 1840), diseases and plagues which led to constant emigration, most notably to the US. Makes me think twice now about complaining about a bad day, after all, the Irish had centuries of bad days.

Yet thru it all, the Irish people have remained resilient and haven’t lost their sense of humor or their general cheerfulness. One cab driver when I sat in the front seat announced “Riding shotgun, are ya?” And then proceeded to explain to me with a wry grin that I was in real “trouble” when it came to the bill at the “very nice” restaurant that I was going to with my wife and two daughters. When we were wandering around Dublin looking for the art museum, we asked a policeman if we were on the right track. He pointed to the nearby museum which we appeared headed towards and said it was the “dead zoo” and  only “dead animals” were in there. (It was the natural history museum.). This led to a back and forth about my wife and his wife and how I might end up exhibited in that museum if I wasn’t careful.  Then, there was the story from one of our guides about the  political argument/negotiation that took 6 months to complete centuries ago,  but then she noted “but in Ireland, this was a short argument”.

Of course, the trip did have its bumps “literally” when I hit the curb while driving on the left side of the road on one of the more narrow roads. (and I was very grateful upon our return to be able to drive on the right side again!). And the weather was cold and rainy a lot of the time. But the beer was always good and plentiful (In fact, the typical pub seemed to have at least 10 beers on tap including, strangely enough, Budweiser, wherever we went) and the sun came out for at least a brief appearance every day. All and all, it was a great and memorable trip.

From → Travel

3 Comments
  1. Sally Braine Frost permalink

    Well done, my friend! No one would have guessed that you were a history major at Brown!

    Cheers! Mom

  2. georgia k permalink

    ” saw Kilkenny Castle which is my wife’s last name (though the castle did not belong to the Irish Kilkenny’s but instead an English noble named Butler, which somehow seemed fitting to me–for Anne, not so much).” Why is that Bruce? Why is that? GO Worriers!!!

  3. Geoff Braine permalink

    Best. Blog. Post. Ever.

    Brought me back to Sandy’s and my trip there about 10 years ago.

    Thanks Bruce.

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