Castles and The Hole in the Wall

Ireland is a beautiful country of ruins.

Scattered throughout western Ireland, tucked behind stone hedges, are several stone structures that were one the family homestead or the barn. Passerbys can see an outline of the home, maybe a window or remaining stone wall, that has been taken over by area flora.

The shell stone structures offer a small glimpse of the history of the region. A look into what once was. But it also adds a sort of magical element to the landscape that plays into the clash of the clans. The numerous towers were the signals or how they communicated possible invasion, fire, etc to surrounding homes and the next tower down the line. “Cell towers” if you will.

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Ireland has been working hard to perserve the history and heritage of their castles and landmarks. Many of the castles date back as far as the 12th century (Rock of Cashel) and can be toured today. Many offer medieval banquets or a walk back through time with a folk village.

Dunguaire Castle, Kinvara

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Rock of Cashel

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Kilkenny Castle

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The Hole in the Wall
If you want to know the true dirt on the stone structures in Kilkenny, there is one spot I highly recommend.  The Hole in the Wall pub.

Mike and I walked by a small A-board promoting the Hole in the Wall ale house. I looked down the narrow alley way, intrigued. It sounded like us, but I wasn’t sure about the look of things. The street was packed with tourists holding maps and smart phones, posing for selfies. The alley towards this ale house was a bit barren at best.

“Yeah, the Hole in the Wall,” yelled a large man wearing a striped t-shirt that reminded me of the sweater Freddy Kruger made famous. He had a cell phone in his hand and disappeared from view as quickly as he appeared.

Mike and I debated going to a bar on the water that had a gorgeous view of the castle for a pint or going to a pub tucked into an alley way that looked a bit shady. Perhaps even a front for robbing tourists. We took option B.

Turns out, the Hole in the Wall pub, while small, is loaded with history. The barkeep was a friendly guy, even with the Kruger shirt, who talked about the building’s start in the 12th century, the various holders of the building and even the brothel history. Which by the way, is where the name came from. During the brothel time, they had some high end guests who needed to slip in and out without being spotted. A hole was cut in the back courtyard wall to accomodate them. Hence, the Hole in the Wall was named.

It was an entertaining history lesson from an unexpected source. It was our kind of tour.

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The Fine Art of Storytelling from Ireland’s Foremost Expert

“When a storyteller dies, we lose an entire library.”

These were the first words Ireland’s foremost storyteller, Eddie Lenihan, uttered in The Santuary at The Queen’s Bar on Saturday as part of the Fleadh Nua 2016 festivities.

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The Fleadh Nua is an eight-day celebration of traditional culture and music. It features some of the best storytellers, musicians and dancing of the region.

My love for the written and spoken word brought us front and center for the hour long storytelling event in downtown Ennis.

Lenihan, who has been collecting traditional stories and lore from the older generation for thirty years, shared his favorite stories with a rapt crowd in a dimly lit bar.

‘The Other Crowd’, ‘The Good People’, ‘The Wee Folk’ and simply ‘Them’ are a few of the names given to the faeries by Ireland residents. Honoured for their gifts and feared for their wrath, faeries help teach and guide humans along their individual journeys.

Lenihan’s tales offered a glimpse into history, such as walking home in the dark on an island without electricity, while weaving in modern connections to hook the audience. They came alive with his motions, hand gestures and tone variations.

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From the potato farmer locked in his pasture to the creation of the various types of faeries, Lenihan’s storytelling weaved a trance over the attendees of the event. One of the more powerful stories was the descriptions of “American Wakes.” These were “go away parties” for the Irish leaving to start anew in America. Why wakes? Everyone back home knew that they would never return. These wakes were their “funerals” on home turf — the final goodbye.

At the end, the event was over but Lenihan still had tales to tell. He allowed those who had to depart leave, and then he launched into the tale of how faeries were made. He prefaced his tale by saying, this one is the truth for there are several versions of it.

Wait? What? The truth has different versions?

According to Lenihan, the stories in books, scriptures or texts were written down and then recited without variations. It was one person’s vision. But the stories that allow for a bit of humour, embellishment or differences are the ones that are true. They are the ones that people connect with. It’s the difference between memorization . . . And feeling it in the heart.

For me, it was seeing a masterful speaker at work. He may not be the World Champion Toastmaster, but his passion for sharing stories and lore erupted from every word spoken. He had us all leaning forward in rapt fascination.

I believe a friend of mine said it best: “Writing isn’t about sharing the world. It’s how we explore it.”

Storytellers are still trying to figure out the world, define it and explain it. They are viewing how we are all connected and exposing the thread that weaves our lives together. They are what bind us to our communities. It’s our memories shared and our hearts exposed. It’s what connects us.

Tomorrow, next week or next month, I may not remember every detail about the tales I heard. What Lenihan taught me about stories in the brief session will help me build my own personal library filled with wonderful tales — and several versions of them.

Answering the Call of Ireland

I cried. When our plane touched down at Shannon Airport, I felt the tightening in my throat and the wetness in my eyes. It wasn’t a long voyage to a childhood home or a journey that was coming to an end.  It was a release from the pent up anticipation for the one item on my bucket list — visiting Ireland. I’m not sure when I developed my obsession for the island across the pond, but for decades the island across the pond has been calling me.

I will admit that there was a bit of fear in answering the call. What if it isn’t what I expected? What if it was exactly like the Pacific Northwest coast region I called home? What if it was like all the American Irish pubs?

From the imagery on the silver screen to the drumbeats captured on CD, it would be easy to have inflated expectations of this far away land. It would be easy to be let down once I merged myself into the daily lives of the folks that call it home.

But it hasn’t. Far from it.

The pictures of the rolling green hills and landscape dotted by fuzzy sheep are true. In fact, I am having a hard time capturing an image of Ireland on my tablet that is anything but amazing. (Don’t worry, we are using a “real” camera also!)

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It isn’t just visual. The magic lies in the sound of the flute played on a downtown Galway street or the stories told by our AirBnB host Kevin. Every person we have met has been warm, friendly and welcoming.  Drivers on the narrow carriageways wave at one another, regardless of knowing the other vehicle occupants or how many cars are lined up.

On Wednesday evening, we attended a Galway Toastmasters Club meeting. We were treated to four speeches from fellow Toastmasters with an Irish accent. They asked us about our club, told us about theirs and shared stories about the area during the two hour meeting. The club gave us a common ground, but our love of story telling is what furthered the connection.

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Ireland, I have answered the call. You aren’t getting rid of me.

Ireland: Fresh Coffee and Guiness on the Beach

I’m a “when in Rome” kind of girl. I am game for trying almost everything — including items on the menu that says “doesn’t need explaining”when it is the only one that clearly does.

But this sense of adventure ends when it comes to morning coffee.

In Britian and Ireland, the morning cup of joe is usually Nescafe or a purchased espresso. There really isn’t a “filtered coffee” option. If it’s in your hotel room, it’s Nescafe. If it’s a coffee shop, you’re ordering an Americano.

Knowing this, I packed my  own pour over system for in the room consumption. It’s a simple little device that stores the grounds and hot water before flushing it into the waiting cup. It makes a “damn fine cup of coffee” each time and takes up very little luggage space. 

All I needed was some grounds!

Limerick

Our first morning in Ireland . . . Mike and I, excited to see Ireland got up, dressed and was out the rotating hotel door by 7am.  However, we were the only ones up with the sunshine in downtown Limerick. The coffee shops, bakeries and stores were all dark. So, we walked around Limerick and took photos for an hour (FitBit update: got about 4,300 steps in).

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Although we popped into a few coffee shops, we were unable to find locally roasted beans . . . Or ones that could be ground up and sold. With that, we were headed north.

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Our adventure for the day was to head north towards County Sligo (sly-go, we are learning the proper pronounciation of words via the radio). On our way, through majestic countryside sprinkled with fluffy sheep, we popped into a little town north of Galway (Gaul-way) for lunch. Turns out, this quaint town is home to The Galway Roast – Ireland’s Freshest Cup of Coffee. The coffee shop, in addition to great sammies, hand-roasts their own unique blend of beans right there at the coffee shop. Our bag was stamped “April 25, 2016 – Best before six months after date.” Sold. Take my money.

We spent a bit of time wondering around the charity shops and local churches before jumping back on the carriageway! (Read: Another 5,000 steps in!)

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Aughris, Templeboy, County Sligo

Our final destination for the day was the Beach Bar and Aughris House. The Beach Bar is a traditional thatched building that makes locals and newcomers welcome. We couldn’t resist having a Guiness while taking in the Atlantic Ocean views from the outdoor patio seating. Behind the Beach Bar is the Aughris House B&B, a super charming house with seaviews and home cooked breakfasts.

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Tomorrow: Connemara & My First Toastmasters Meeting Abroad.