Friday, August 5, 2011

Ireland Ceoil Agus Craic

You may have read in a couple of my blogs  reasons for us to visit certain towns or islands based upon some of my previous adventures  and I wanted to revisit them to share them with Sharon and to jar my memory of days past but now it’s Sharon’s turn to seek and explore while I tag along for the ride or mainly drive.

On the island of Ireland lay the hopes of Sharon to maybe find a thread of her mothers lineage. The Dougherty’s were known to be thick up in the NW part of this land of Leprechauns, Craic and the “black stuff” known as Guinness.

Sharon descending staircase in Dublin

We are scheduled to depart England from Gatwick Airport for the short flight to Dublin, then gather up our two bags , dash off to the rental office to snag a small car this time with an automatic transmission since the Irish drive from the right side of the vehicle.  The rental agency thinking to do us a favor, upgraded us to a larger full size car meaning it took up more road space while using a bit more petrol but at least I didn't have to shift with my left hand. The lesser gas mileage didn’t bother me as much as driving a bigger car on the high hedge lined backcountry roads meeting head on traffic coming towards you at unreasonable speeds required some getting used to.  It wasn’t fair that I couldn’t cover my eyes like my companion.

The drive into Dublin from the airport wasn’t all that bad but we parked a bit prematurely along a sidestreet in Smithfield, a part of Dublin resembling an industrial area. Walking around in search for a hotel didn’t come up with anything too quickly. Remember, we don’t use maps so our searches usually are directed by our sixth sense.  A medium sized contemporary hotel appeared a short distance ahead and with tired feet, a wee bit of hunger, and a desire get settled we decided the Maldron Hotel would be perfect. They only had one room left because Bon Jovi was scheduled to play the next evening and apparently is very popular. I thought to myself, “Do people still pay to see him”. I thought he was on the Indian gaming casino tours by now. The room…oh yes the room happened to be the penthouse suite with a view of the roof tops of Dublin though the room was worn from previous Bon Jovi fans.
Life doesn't get any better than this

After relaxing a bit and catching a bite to eat in a tasty little restaurant a few blocks away. We returned to our room, checked email, turned on the tube, and hit the sack very early telling ourselves we will be refreshed for tomorrow.  

Leaving our bags in the room we raced out of our hotel to begin our search for a new less expensive hotel closer to St Stephens Square near where our friends from New Mexico will be staying when they arrive in a week. I had done a bit of research on the internet before pounding the streets but unless you are really familiar with the areas and streets of Dublin you can be quickly doomed if you don’t have a compass, GPS, or a very detailed city map of which we had none. So with a bit of knowledge of what area we needed to be and a free city map designed for shopping mostly, we combed the back streets around Trinity College and Temple Bar sections of the city centre. Our friends had pre-booked a hotel on the edge of St Stephen Square being the high priced location for rooms but at the end of a street leading off of St Stephens named Kildare St. (anyone remember Dr. Kildare in the 60”s) we found the Kildare Hotel which adjoins the quaint and wonderful old pub, The Blarney Inn where you can conveniently grab a pint on the way in or on the way out of the hotel. The hotel itself has a comfortable old tired look to it and our room expressed the same well lived in feeling. But the price was right and the location next to Trinity College was perfect plus of course the “Blarney Inn”.  Later on we discovered a restaurant called the “Pigs Ear” next to the Blarney that served up some of the best food we experienced in Ireland.
Our pub in Dublin, our room was above

After securing our reservation at the Kildare when we would return to Dublin in four days, we serpentined our way through the city over the bridge back to Smithfield, grabbed our bags, checked out, and then drove south into the hinterland of Kilkenny to the village of Kells where Kasia (the beautiful young Irish woman whom we met in Paris) insisted we stay at her mother’s cottage.

Venturing out of Dublin by motorcar can be disastrous on a driver and his navigator but the car park attendant provided me spot on directions and within 10 minutes we were heading southward out of the city….but not necessarily in the best direction to reach our destination.  We should have been of the N11 but ended up on the N7 or something like that though our selected route had us cruise the eastern shore line until my navigator mentioned we needed to redirect ourselves immediately west using the narrow country roads interconnecting farms and villages. These extremely narrow secondary roadways come as a sobering surprise to the American driver and with the added righthand drive feature and high hedgerows this turned taking a leisurely drive in the country to a white knuckle reality video game especially for the navigator.  Unlike the navigator, I couldn’t close my eyes.
Jadzia and the Cottage

Because of the slightly as cued route, we arrived close to the house a bit past our scheduled 4PM but we thought it best to stop at a pub and get a little more exact direction and of course have a pint. The pub maiden, I believe her name was Barbara, knew Dave and Jadzia giving us her version of the directions to the cottage. It was a five minute drive down a road right next to the pub, go all the way until you arrive at a nasty right turn, then look to the right and we’ll see a cottage with a thatched roof.

Finishing my Guinness, we took the directions with earnest and after a couple deliberations in route we found the “nasty right turn” and peered right at the most charming story book cottage you could imagine. Still unsure we found the right place, Sharon used the formal entrance at the renovated two story stone barn and gave a knock only to be greeted by Dave, our much relived grinning host.

Dave and Jadzia, two of the sweetest people in the world
Slinging bags on backs and daypacks in hand we were introduced to our new home for a few days. The setting was so picturesque much like a scene from a Paul Henry painting or any of the Ashcan school of fine artists and if this wonderful setting wasn’t enough,  hostess and host took us for a short walk down the lane, onto a stone bridge crossing the Kings river to Mad Jacks, an unpublished pub meaning there is no signage indentifying this watering hole, just a quaint looking cottage with a welcoming doorway leading into the pub where Sean, the one eyed barkeep holds court. Sean, a slender man of normal height, is a self acknowledged ladies man in the county of Kilkenny. It is purported Sean must back through a doorway when approaching a closed door because his “John Thomas” when aroused, extends much past his arms reach.  In addition to his manly attributes, I heard if a woman makes a fire in the pub fireplace, it is the custom she must become his wife. There are a few other nuances about Mad Jacks but I must carry on with the matters at hand and that being the pouring of the “black stuff” aka; Guinness. When built properly, the Guinness could fend off any warring nation because it’s strength and fortitude has no equal and the smooth taste weakens when served off the island.
Kells bridge across the Kings River
After a couple of pints at Mad Jacks, Dave announced that he is never late for a session meaning he must be on his way to play music at another bar with a couple mates and being late is bad form. Jadzia drove us all to a pub in Kilkenny and there we listened to Dave and the boys play Irish and American tunes, drank endless pints of Guinness and had some fish and chips sometime before midnight. Ah but the night was still young for the Irish…at around 2AM we all piled into a taxi. Yes that’s Sharon, Dave along with his two accompanists, the guitars, and myself squeezed into the taxi but first asked if this many in the taxi is legal? The driver replied “ only if you get caught” and he drove back to Mad Jacks for more stories, cigarettes, Guinness and song until finally Sean threw in the towel at 4:AM refusing to serve us any longer. Dave and the others grabbed their instruments while Sharon and I joined them in a short walk over the bridge back to the cottage where we ended our evening saying good night to the boys in one bedroom while Sharon and I tucked away in our bedroom closing our tired eyes on the first day at the cottage.

The next morning we awoke sometime about 10AM and foraged for some coffee. I heard the day before about a 12th century monastery called the Kell’s Priory across the road to the left, down a pathway, past the old mill, across a foot bridge spanning the Kings River taking about a 10 minute walk in all. I wasn’t expecting much after seeing many ruins during our journey but as I came upon this three acre site the structures included full height perimeter walls about 15’ high, Medieval tower houses, and a couple rough ruins of churches all of which I felt blessed to witness such a beautiful setting. The rolling green countryside as a backdrop with the beautiful Kings River running along the eastern side of it conjured up such a peaceful stage. I ran about photographing as much as I could capture but the photos are only a glimpse and even that doesn’t take into account the smells and sounds of this magical portrait of a struggling life long past. I hiked across the Kells Priory to the upper road leading into Kells centre to get a look of the village during the daylight and stroll past Mad Jacks over the bridge and back to the cottage. Later that day Dave invited to watch a Hurling match being broadcast at Mad Jacks. I’d never heard of hurling except used in a colorful description when one drinks too much which seemed to be fitting in this culture but my sophomoric assumption was incorrect and Dave explained the rules, pulled out a hurling stick and began to give me a short lesson before we made our way down the road to the pub to view my first hurling match. I have a deep respect for other cultural sports though a game such as cricket total escapes me but that wasn’t the case for this great sport of hurling. We walked into Mad Jacks. Sean pulled down a couple Guinness while Dave and I seated ourselves at a tall table in front of a projection screen to view the match.

I can best describe Hurling as hockey and soccer with the goals at each end of the field resembling a combination of soccer on the bottom and American football on the uprights.

Object of the game is to score points obtained by whacking the “baseball” with a “hockey” type stick into the “soccer” type goal for three points or whacking the ball between the “football” uprights for one point. The player with the ball can only run about using four steps before he must balance the ball on the stick and run or pass it off to another player. This is a very fast fun game and if you get the chance, go see it. As for this match, it was between the current champion Dublin and Kilkenny who have enjoyed winning most of the championship matches. The result was Kilkenny spanked Dublin and we all celebrated liberally.

 On Saturday we decided to take the drive to the tall ship festival held at the port of Waterford, known throughout the world for its crystal craftsmanship. The drive usually takes less than an hour but because of the traffic for the festival we added two hours to the trip sitting in massive traffic waiting to be let into the parking lot and then shuttled by bus into the center of town where the festivities were taking place. I would guess almost a half million people were wandering the streets tasting food, shopping for crafts, and taking in all the music along with the magnificent tall ships from all over the world.

The next day we needed to leave the cottage and our new friends for we had to explore more of  the hinterlands of Ireland  but before we left, a decision was to be made….The third Friday of each month a “session” was held at the “Red Shed”. This gathering of locals to share food and music is an event not to be missed. Both Jadzia and Dave pleaded for us to return but we were to meet our friends from New Mexico in Dublin. This is something we couldn’t change…but…we could convince our friends to jump in our car in Dublin and within two hours we could be back in Kells at the cottage where we all could be together and share with them a great Irish experience.  Through email we contacted Sara and Coby suggesting they ditch the first night of their hotel in Dublin for a road trip to Kells and get immersed into Irish culture by attending a session, staying in a 350 year old cottage, and drinking at Mad Jacks plus Coby brought along a fishing pole to do some trout fishing which the King River is famous for.  The respond from them was immediate and direct…”We’re on!”. Now we must leave our friends knowing we now will return within five days though in the meantime we must explore more of Ireland our style, “The no plan plan”. In all fairness we did rough out a route towards Galway, Sligo, and Donegal with the help of Dave.  (Thank you Dave)

Galway was very charming with great shopping, delicious food, creamy pints of Guinness, and River Dance performers in the Au Pucan pub across the street from our hotel. What more could you hope for….well the next day Sligo was on our radar. This is a bit smaller town but they had a Festival of the Arts going on so we checked into a hotel just outside of the town on Rosses Point. The hotel had a great view of the Atlantic, nice walking trails along the coast and Kelp Bathes to help extract all those poisons I’ve ingested in my journey so far. With a festival guide we selected two plays and one concert. One of the plays was called Cirque Legume, a silly farce on circus performers played by one clown and one dare devilish performer using vegetables in lieu of other more common props. The mini makeshift theater was above a pub that hung personal photos of Burningman a couple years ago. What a small world.

The next day we shopped and attended an afternoon play titled “Chekhovs the Bear” and then in the evening we were treated to a beautiful concert performed by Lisa Hannigan at the Model museum.

Next day we packed up to drive northward to Donegal in search for Sharon’s Irish lineage. Remember this was Sharon’s country to explore her roots and indeed when we visited the castle in the center of Donegal, her Grandmother’s maiden name, O’Dougherty was mentioned as part of the history of the castle. There wasn’t much else to see in this small town so after a pub lunch, we turned the car south and headed towards a town close to Dublin for the night so we could wake up early and get to St Stephens square to meet our friends before noon.  I drove about two thirds the way back to towards Dublin leaving about two hours to drive the following morning.  The sky was darkened by leaky clouds while winding our way into Monaghan in search for shelter. We came upon very nice bed and breakfast with free wifi and of course a quaint warm pub across the street to help melt away the days drive.

Our friends from Albuquerque..Sara & Coby sipping Jameson
With the sun breaking through our bedroom window signaling us to pack, get a bit of breaky and check out, we began our drive to Dublin missing a crucial turn though we caught it early and circled around correcting our direction. Arriving at our friends hotel earlier than expected and they being a bit late we waited quite a while but eventually connected, had them get settled into their room, took them on a walk about the neighborhood, stopped by the Blarney Inn for their first pint of Guinness and put them into our car to motor off to Kells. This time leaving Dublin became a frustrating maze of wrong turns and directional bewilderment. What should have taken no more than 20 minutes ended in a search for the N9 highway taking almost an hour but we persevered and were on the road to Kells. We took the Kilkenny turn off with a mission to get some groceries and drinks at a supermarket but most importantly find a restroom to empty the Guinness from our bladders. We couldn’t find the supermarket that seemed easy to find days earlier so we spotted the American fast food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken to relive ourselves but we all passed on buying the chicken. With the pressure off my body and mind I found the supermarket, picked up the necessities and now off to the cottage in Kells.  Once we parked across the street and lugged our bags into the cottage, everyone introduced themselves to our friends Sara and Coby. Instantly everyone became old friends and what better way to solidify a friendship than tilt back a few Guinness at Mad Jacks. It was fun to see the expressions on our friends faces taking in all the charm. Hours earlier they were on a jet from America and now they were walking down a narrow lane enshrouded with lush green foliage and flowers with the King River running along their left side walking towards the bridge with Mad Jacks just on the other side of the river.

I felt quite at home walking into the pub introducing Sean to my friends an ordering up a round of pints and then settling in by the fireplace to drink, smoke and sharing stories with a few of the local gents. I could see Coby just couldn’t believe what he was experiencing so quickly in the true Irish countryside. After a couple pints we walked back to the cottage and prepared ourselves for the Red Shed event later on by napping for a couple hours.

After awakening from our kip, the crowd began to grow in the backyard of the barn, cottage and the Red Shed. The buzz of conversation began to increase as the night approached without darkness.  I noticed a mighty red headed wavy haired young man with a bushy beard to match sporting an engaging smile. I introduced myself and explained he was the supporting musician, Moses Morehouse. Within a half hour Moses took the stage and performed with such passion the crowd erupted with great approval demanding more when he tried to leave the stage. Returning to appease his audience, he modestly admitted this was his first official encore and was visibly moved by the request.

Ger Wolfe, a well-known recording artist in Ireland took the stage and swooned the audience with a smooth Celtic sound bringing about lovely tunes to accompany his stories and tales. The daylight began to fade at about 11:PM  and I too was lulled into a mellow trance. Soon it was time for me to retire and rest my body because we had to return our friends to Dublin so they could get back on their schedule after our high jacking of them.  Waking up late the next morning, I took Sara to shoot some photos at the Priory and show Coby the fishing hole Sean pointed out to Coby when he asked Sean about a fishing permit. When asked about a permit a day earlier, Sean asked Coby if he knew when the best time to fish was. Sean replied after Coby admitting not to know, “When the fish are biting is the best time” and as for a permit, Sean gave Coby the permission to fish and that was that.

We all walked across the road, turned left past the old mill where we stopped and surveyed this incredible building with a waterwheel used for power. We continued to walk upon the thick grass along the river until we reached the footbridge, continued across and now the Priory commanded our attention. Coby walked along the river throwing out his line all the while Sara and I tried to capture the moment in digital format. Sara and I walked through the Priory up to the road and walked into Kells, past Mad Jacks, over the bridge, past the cottage and old mill returning us to the footbridge where we could take in the majestic rhythm of Coby tossing his fishing line into the river. It was a picturesque moment especially when he pulled in a trout. In proper form, Coby returned not only the fish into the river but himself as well. I believe he felt like it was a baptism at the Priory. We all returned to the cottage to ready ourselves for the return trip to Dublin.

After thanking Jadzia and Dave for a lovely time they made a convincing effort to make us stay longer but I had hold fast for I knew our friends had much more to see in a very little time so it was time to go. We promised each other to get together once again but this time in Arizona to join us on our journey to Burningman in 2012.

Returning to Dublin was a breeze. After dropping off Coby and Sara at their hotel, Sharon and I checked in at the Kildare Hotel and when she went up to the room I move our car into a parking spot around the corner. Once we settled our plan was to meet up with our friends for drinks and dinner somewhere in the Temple Bar district, known for it’s raucous entertainment and traditional pub food. We found Sullivan’s to our liking and ordered some great Irish specialties while washing it down with some local ale. Ending the evening at the Blarney Inn attached to our hotel was a fitting way to say goodbye to Sara and Coby for the next day they would venture out onto the coast for some hiking while we hung around another day relaxing before our next journey to Iceland.

A special thanks goes out  to the Jadzia, Dave and all the folk in and around Kells for an amazing experience we’ll never forget.

I would like to dedicate this Irish blog to my Aunt Gerri who we invited to join us bug couldn’t make it. We love you Gerri!


  1. Hey Curt!

    Just browsed your blog, so so happy to see your memories posted! They are as clear as the day, as if you were just comin' around the corner with your great smiles!

    Lots of love to you and Sharon, and here's to the future Burning Man stories!

    Roll on 2012!

    Dave, Jadzia, Kasia and Liadain. Xxx

  2. Thank you Sharon and Curt for sharing in our adventure and for showing us around and introducing us to wonderful people. You have created some great memories here. Love to you both!