Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Picture-Perfect Waterfall

On the way back from Dingle, we stopped in Killarney National Park, Ireland’s largest, for some light hiking. We stopped near Muckross House, a palatial estate, and Heather, John and Carol walked in to see Torc waterfall. The verdant forest, vines and wildflowers at this time of year, and views over a string of lakes, made it a fragrant as well as scenic stroll. Tom had duly warned John and Heather about Carol’s penchant for “death marches.” So when the group reached the falls, John and Heather made the smart choice to stop for picture taking. Carol, of course, made a vain attempt to climb farther to see the TOP of the falls. Even she gave up after the trail kept curving ‘round and ‘round the mountainside. The brief stop at the falls was well-spent by John, who once again managed to capture some of the breathtaking views of his ancestral homeland.

Another Magical Escape

It is Saturday. Bright sunshine is painting the streets of Rosscarbery. But sweet sorrow approaches. The time we have left in Ireland can now be counted in hours. Life is full of twists and turns. Some sweet. Some bitter. It was a happy bend in the road of our lives that led us here to West Cork in December 2008 and again this past week.

This blog has been our attempt to share a magical experience with family and friends. Words can hardly do justice to the way this place feels. A small town, far from the beaten tourist track, Rosscarbery has become a special place for us. The people here have made it so. With their welcoming good nature, they have once again decorated our lives with memories to cherish through the years.

Is Anyone Really Surprised?

Returning to the place where we discovered the game of rings has been sweet for John and Heather. They’ve both won two matches each against Carol and Tom. It may not be possible for them to have a rubber match showdown because it is difficult to play rings while the televisions are being watched in pubs. The match won by Heather on Friday was sweetened by the involvement of two young children who stopped in for a wee bit with their parents. The children here are cute beyond belief!

Check Out Rescue Hill

Bartenders here know how to pour fine pints. On more than one occasion this past week, we were well-treated by Mark, who was picking up shifts at O’Brien’s. As will happen during bar banter, we learned that Mark, 25, is an outstanding musician. He shared an acoustic album with us, which we listened to and enjoyed. We’re delighted to recommend to our friends back in the states that they find the band Rescue Hill on Facebook!

Well-dressed Roads

Some of the old roads we’ve traveled on are so narrow that roadside hedges rub up against both sides of our rental car. But many of the roadsides are embroidered with some of the prettiest wild flowers. One in particular caught John’s eye. They are foxgloves and native to mountains in Europe, not Ireland. But they still grow freely here, blooming from May to September, we were told.

A Holiday Bromance

With the departure of Emily and Ali on Wednesday, a holiday bromance ended. John and Ali became fast friends. They share an interest in music and good drink. Between last Saturday and Wednesday, the two were almost inseparable. At one point when put on the spot about his bromance with Ali, John described it as a relationship that is “disturbingly comfortable.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Our Tourist Excursion

We haven’t felt like tourists most of the time we’ve been in Ireland. Rosscarbery has been so welcoming that we feel sort of like relatives who have strayed back to the old homestead. That said, we agreed before leaving Iowa that we would breakaway for one tourist excursion.

This happened Thursday. With Heather behind the wheel for more than three hours we drove across Ireland’s sunsplashed west country from County Cork to Dingle, which is in Kerry. For Carol and Tom, it was a return to a place they’d visited in the mid-1990s with their dear friends from Jersey, Marilyn and Brian. For John and Heather, it was a chance to go back about as close as you can to Iowa and still be in Ireland.

We arrived on an amazingly beautiful day. We had booked accommodations at the Dingle Pub, right in the center of this small seaport town. The Dingle Pub is both a pub and a B&B. The man who runs the show here is Tom Geaney. Chances are he will be here if you ever wander into the place. Our stay here was wonderful. For a glimpse at this place go to and enjoy!

Our host at the Dingle Pub encouraged us to take advantage of the lovely weather. The landscape was astounding and while it was not without visitors, there were times when it felt as if we had the entire peninsula to ourselves. The whole of the afternoon was spent driving and stopping to see sights such as a prehistoric fort, authentic Irish potato famine cottages and a church from around the time of St. Patrick. Oh, there was one stop at a brewpub, followed by a drive to Connor Pass. A narrow road with hair-pin turns took us to a viewing area 1,509 feet above the town of Dingle. John, of course, went mad taking photos and poor Heather had to drive the treacherous road up and back. Tom and Carol are enjoying the tourist life.

Today, it is back to Rosscarbery, but before we go, we thought we’d share a few more photos from our visit.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Day In Dingle

Today we spent a day driving to Dingle. The views were spectacular and the weather was incredible...We're going to let the pictures tell the story.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sightseeing By The Sea

Ali, Emily and Carol spent part of a day touring the pretty little coast towns near Rosscarbery, starting with Glandore and continuing on to Castletownshend before turning inland to Skibbereen. Glandore was postcard pretty, with brightly colored houses hugging the steep banks, moss-covered rock outcroppings and boats dotting the harbor. Of course, none of us had brought a camera. So, without much faith in the process, we took a few shots with Carol’s BlackBerry. The technology gods smiled on us, though, and we got nice shots of Emily doing yoga atop a small pillar, and Emily and Ali and Ali and Carol with Glandore harbor as a backdrop. Skibbereen has a bustling downtown, with grocery, furniture, hardware, jewelry, clothing and shoe stores, as well as many fine restaurants and tea shops, much like Clonakilty. It’s probably what many American downtowns were like until the 1960s or so, before suburban superstores sucked the retail life from main streets.

The Regatta

For such a small hamlet, Rosscarbery features a surprising number of things to do, often surrounding a sport of some sort and accompanying betting. On Sunday evening, for example, onlookers were treated to a regatta in Rosscarbery’s harbor, involving teams from Rosscarbery and neighboring towns. There were different age levels of rowers, from schoolchildren to adults. It was a lovely sight: The sun still shone brightly, and the rowers were decked out in bright colors. Quite a crowd gathered to watch by the boathouse. Heather and Carol found a good viewing spot by joining the line of cars that pulled off to park on the bridge that leads into town. Unlike with road bowling, they didn’t actually see money change hands for betting. Since schoolkids were involved, perhaps the audience refrained from gambling. But don’t bet on it.

Karaoke At De Barra

During a stop in Clonakilty on our December 2008 trip to Cork, we stumbled into De Barra, a bar that has long hosted live music and served as a hangout for musicians. This time, the entire gang of six hired a taxi van to take us there Tuesday night for the express purpose of attending karaoke night. Some vowed only to witness, but we figured with appropriate lubrication, a brave few might sing. As so often happens in Ireland, one of the most enjoyable parts of the night occurred entirely by serendipity. We happened to run into three American brothers and struck up a conversation: Chris, the oldest; middle brother Jon; and mountain of a man Ted, 21, who’s playing football and studying economics at a small college in Minnesota. They grew up in the Milwaukee area and are now scattered to California, New York and Minnesota, but rejoined for a tour of Ireland. We enjoyed comparing notes on America and Ireland, and, it turns out, both groups had planned a karaoke night out with some ringers in attendance. Emily, conservatory-trained at Syracuse University, wowed the crowd with her soaring soprano on “Jolene,” made famous by Dolly Parton. Ali, a bona fide rock star, outdid all comers in creativity with his hip-hop version of “Bittersweet Symphony” by the Verve. And Chris clearly had taken many turns behind the mike on karaoke nights, whipping up the crowd for singalongs on the chorus of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” The singing was organized as a lighthearted competition, complete with four “American Idol”-style judges, only they were all very complimentary. As the adage goes in American news writing, a good time was had by all.

Keeping The Lines Clean

Draft beer seems to taste better in Ireland. One reason for this is that the lines from the kegs to the taps are cleaned out regularly. For example, once a month, Barry O’Driscoll arrives in Rosscarbery to clean the Guinness lines at the town’s pubs. While working at Nolan’s yesterday, he talked about his job. Usually he arrives in the morning. It takes about 40 minutes or so to clean a line. Most pubs have more than a dozen handles. Beer cannot be drawn from lines while being cleaned. Obviously, customers would be less than happy if beer were unavailable to them during a pub’s open hours. This does put some pressure on O’Driscoll to complete his rounds before the onset of afternoon. The problem, he said, “is that you can’t be everywhere early in the day.”

Executing The BBQ

John caught some fire on Tuesday. In another brash display of behavior seldom seen from Americans in Ireland, John grilled beef and pork roasts outside. Under blue skies dappled by puffy white clouds, he turned out two masterpieces. Working with a gas grill graciously provided by Sean and Betty from Rosscarbery’s Abbey Bar, John also sautéed a mixture of mushroom, onions, peppers and potatoes that accompanied a salad and wonderful rice and smoked fish side dish made by Emily.

For the sake of full disclosure, it must be noted that this blog entry is being written in a pub. A handful of patrons at the bar have just been asked if they have any idea how many Americans come to Ireland and end up grilling their own dinner. After some shrugging and head scratching, the locals were content to say that until someone tells them differently they will believe that John is the first. As one patron said, “Americans come here to kiss the Blarney Stone, tour the Ring of Kerry, drink in pubs and peep at castles. I’ve never heard of anyone who came here to cook on an outdoor grill.’’

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Amazing Hand Dryers

Maybe we are too easily amused. For example, we’ve had conversations about sparkling cleanliness of the restrooms in all three of Rosscarbery’s pubs. The restrooms at The Abbey have motion sensors that turn on the lights when someone moves into the room, which is something that should be standard in restrooms everywhere. The prize for restroom amenity goes to Nolan’s, which has astoundingly powerful hand dryers. Unlike some hand dryers, which will leave you damp after what seems like an eternity, the hand dryers at Nolan’s comfortably blast hands dry in about 10 seconds.

Orchestrating A BBQ

The sky was socked with puffy gray clouds most of Monday. They cleared out by early evening, but the less than perfect weather provided an ideal backdrop for us to hang around Rosscarbery. Truth be told, there was some lingering over pints with locals in the pubs. But the time was mostly well spent, planning for a Tuesday feast.

John has not been near an outdoor cooking appliance since last week. You can see the withdrawal pains in his eyes. Then in the morning, Emily and Ali hosted a wonderful breakfast of eggs, bagels and salmon, prepared by Emily. Her intentions were sweet, of course. But to the Iowans, this was an unspoken challenge. It was as if she was saying, “OK, let’s see what you can do!”

The feast is tentatively scheduled for late Tuesday afternoon. Sean at The Abbey Bar has graciously agreed to let John use a gas grill. Ali and Emily purchased meat provisions on Sunday in Clonakilty. And, as this is being written mid-morning Tuesday, the sun is shining brightly. Sadly, five out of your six pilgrims have not yet seen the sun. In Ireland, planning sessions can be grueling and last long into the wee hours of the morning.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Doppelganger Incident

On our last visit, we met a fine local musician Ger Deasy. So we were thrilled to learn that Ger had a gig at Bernie’s Bar in nearby Clonakilty. We sat in the back of the pub, waiting for Ger to start his gig. Suddenly a chap walked up to John and engaged him in conversation. It was as if the two of them were long lost buddies. After a half minute or so, the chap realized that he had mistaken John for someone else. Even though no harm was done, the chap apologized profusely. John learned later that he apparently looks just some fellow named Jimmy.

Playing In The Road

John came to Ireland with a keen interest in road bowling. Popular in County Cork, but no doubt seldom seen by American tourists circling around the Ring of Kerry, this is a curious sport. It seems to have been invented by someone who grew tired of hearing his mother say, “Don’t play in the road.’’ The object of the game is to hurl a metal ball as far as possible down a country road and then go chase after it and throw it again. Players get a running start and then pitch the ball, softball style, as far as possible down the road ahead. The running start makes the endeavor look a bit odd. The player who reaches the end of the road, so to speak, with the fewest number of throws wins. Meanwhile, spectators wager on everything. We do not know whether anyone bet on Americans showing up for the match.

Road bowling results and schedules are printed in the local paper. But since matches are held out on country roads, tourists wouldn’t necessarily encounter them. We started asking around about road bowling soon after our arrival here in Rosscarbery. Pascal, the problem-solver at O’Brien’s, was kind enough to point us in the direction of a noonish Sunday match. With Heather at the wheel, we set out in the general direction of where the match was located. We knew we were heading the right way because we saw a sign, “Caution: Road Bowling in Progress.’’ But after that the road twisted and turned and went off in different directions. There were no more signs, but after a while, Heather took a turn, and we arrived upon a small crowd of people in the road, with two cars following behind. As we pulled up, a man waved us on, as if to say, “It’s OK. You can drive through.’’ But Heather told him we wanted to see the match, so we pulled up behind the two cars following the small crowd of people. Heather, John and Carol got out to follow the match. Tom got behind the wheel for the first time and drove about a half mile or so.

The cool thing is that the bowlers and spectators were so pleased to have an American audience that they offered John a chance to make a throw, which he did without hurting himself or anyone else. It is worth mentioning here that John’s throw made an impression on at least one person. In one of those odd men’s room moments at Bernie’s Bar in Clonakilty, a man told John, “I saw you earlier out at the road bowling match.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Taming A Wild Beast

Ireland is home to some of the most beautiful yet most vicious golf courses on the planet. Rosscarbery’s golf course sits by the sea just a few miles south of the square. The six of us spent the better part of Saturday afternoon on the links, playing 18 holes. With narrow fairways and greens the size of a postage stamp, the course proved challenging. Yet all of us had our moments when we were able to tame the beast. John authored the most spectacular shot of the day. He had pushed his approach shot on to a grassy knoll overlooking the torturous 10th hole. Almost thigh deep in the wild rough, John was able to slide enough of his pitching wedge under the ball to coax it from the grass. The ball landed maybe three inches from the cup. It is probably worth mentioning here that John had several spectacular shots from the rough, yet he didn’t seem to understand that the rough is not necessarily where he wanted to be all the time.

The Problem Solver

If you are reading this, you might want to hoist a glass at some point to Pascal, owner of O’Brien’s. One of Rosscarbery’s three pubs, O’Brien’s sits high on the main square. Pascal has owned it for about six years. Anyway, the six of us drifted in there around 11 Saturday morning only because we hoped someone might be able to point us in the direction of a place to get the voltage converter needed to keep John’s laptop up and running here in Ireland. While our pints of Guinness were setting, Pascal produced two converters. Then he filled us in on particulars of road bowling, a sport that we are eager to see while here. “It’s like you’re the concierge of Rosscarbery,’’ Ali said to Pascal. Indeed, were it not for Pascal, this blog would have been in deep peril.

Two New Travelers

Up to this point, your travelers in Ireland have been John and Heather, Tom and Carol. Two new pilgrims joined the adventure Saturday – Ali and Emily. We did not just find them under some high top in a pub. Emily is the daughter of Carol’s brother Bob – hence her niece. Ali is Emily’s husband. He is from England, a fact none of us held against him on the first day as the World Cup match between the U.S. and England approached. For those of you who did not catch the score, the game ended in a 1-1 tie. While the conclusion may have been unsatisfactory for fans of the two sides, the fact that England could not defeat America delighted about two dozen Scotsmen who stopped at the Abbey on Saturday. Clad in green and white striped soccer jerseys, the Scots flew in on Friday to spend Saturday road bowling in West Cork. “We don’t like the English,’’ one of the Scots volunteered to us, just so we’d know why they were rooting for the U.S. and singing songs about Barack Obama. Upon asking why the Scottish did not like the English, we were told that enumerating all the grievances the Scots have against the Brits would take too long and would spoil a crackling good Saturday afternoon. Anyway, Ali took great interest in the game, but, well aware of the lack of love between Scots and Brits, he watched the game quietly in the corner. The result did not please him. One Scotsman put it in the form of a question, “You realize, of course, that America just beat England 1-1?’’

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Return To Rosscarbery

We took it as a good sign that the sun bore through the ashen clouds as we stepped onto the tarmac at Cork Airport. Yes, we were back in Ireland, heading once again to a place that is magical to us!

For the next week or so we will be sharing bits and pieces of our return to Rosscarbery.

After being chauffeured here by Heather, who clearly has driven on the left side of the road in a previous life, we were swept off our feet again. Little has changed since we were last here in December 2008. We strolled the square of Rosscarbery – more or less the main drag of the town – in warming late afternoon sunshine. We sat down to tea, laid out by Nora Hubbert, the woman from whom we rent a lovely two-bedroom apartment here. We hoisted a pint at the Abbey, where we were delighted to visit with owners Sean and Betty. And, of course, we visited Nolan’s and O’Brien’s, you know, just to make sure they still remembered how to pour. Silly us. They did. We topped off the day with a stop for fish and chips at Roc’s, a small takeaway place that we wish we could take away with us back to Iowa.