Friday, October 29, 2010

From Ireland to England!

Our experience in Ireland was rich with memories and wonderful adventures that connected our exploration of the Celtic monastics with our own family story and history, and especially Susan’s Irish heritage. It should be noted that, although I have always been told that my own heritage is mostly English, Scot, Welsh, Dutch  and German, after I paid for items with my credit card, a woman who worked in the bookstore at New Grange, informed us that her father’s name had been William Stokes and that he had lived across from Martin’s Pub (now Anderson’s) in Ardee! Susan and my journey together may well have been in the stars long ago!

On Monday evening, October 18, we took Mae and Joe out to dinner at Darver Castle in Dundalk where they had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a few months before.   We had a lovely time with them and we heard and told lots of stories about Susan’s parents as we had done earlier in the week when we had tea at the Nuremore Hotel where Susan’s parents stayed several times when they visited the Smiths.  After dinner it was back to Mae and Joe’s where Anne and her daughter, Alana and Courtney joined us along with Mary and her husband Jerry.   To our surprise, we were presented with lovely gifts from the Smiths which touched us deeply.   Susan especially treasures a charm with shamrocks which will be a perpetual reminder of this incredible visit.   After warm goodbyes, we went back to the cottage and packed our bags for our departure the next day.  In the morning, we bid our goodbyes to Attracta Ward, (Larry was in Dublin) and were deeply grateful for their warmth and hospitality.  It is our hope to go back to Ardee over the years and to rent their lovely cottage again. 

The River Liffy which passes through Dublin was especially pretty at night
As we had yet not spent any time in Dublin, we had decided we would spend two nights there before heading over to England.   We stayed at the Best Western Academy which was centrally located and, conveniently, around the corner from the Gresham.  Susan’s parents had often stayed at The Gresham. It was a little over our budget, but we did have afternoon tea on our second afternoon in Dublin which was lovely and, of course, allowed us to connect with Susan’s parents once again.

We had returned our rental car when we got back from Ardee, but Dublin is a walking town and as we are both New Yorkers, we loved having the chance to get around the city by foot.   On our first night we wanted an authentic Irish Pub experience.  Susan had done a little research and settled on the Brazenhead which was identified as the oldest pub in Dublin.   Music was to start at 9, so we made reservations for an 8 PM dinner.    Sure enough, it was a dark, cramped, authentic Irish Pub originally dating back to the Middle Ages.  At about 8:45, the first of what became 6 musicians strolled in and headed to a corner table.   At 9 on the dot, they started playing.    Susan, who rarely drinks, had a Harp (Irish lager) and I had a Guinness and we enjoyed some wonderful, mostly Irish music (with some American country thrown in for fun) for the next hour and half.  It was a great and relaxing evening.

In the morning, I went to the Irish Writers Museum which is a small museum that does an excellent job of telling the story of the history of Irish literature and its writers.  I had been an English and World Literature major in college and so was familiar with many of these writers.  Still, I discovered some new ones and it was interesting both to see their story put into a cohesive whole and also the argument, with which I agree, that Irish literature is distinct from, and in many ways a subversive form of, English writing.
In the afternoon, we went to see the historic Book of Kells and the exhibit at Trinity College which accompanied it.  Needless to say, it was quite impressive to see this ancient manuscript up close.  It was also one more piece in our Celtic exploration.

Lounge aboard the Ulysses
Our sojourn to Dublin was quick but enjoyable and it is our fervent hope that we will have a chance to visit the city again.  On Thursday, October 21, we left the hotel early and boarded the Irish Ferry Ulysses (named for the Joyce novel!) to travel across the Irish Sea to Holyhead in Wales.  The ferry is the largest vehicle carrying ferry in the world and is as large as a cruise ship.   We had some trepidation, as we had been told by Phillip Smith (and others) that it could be a very rough voyage depending on weather.  In fact, we had been advised not to take the “quick ferry” because it would make it an even rougher trip.  The Ulysses ride was about 3 ½ hours, the quick ferry a little under 2 hours.  

We didn’t need to fret; it was a smooth and very enjoyable trip.   As we had left the hotel before breakfast was served, we were able to have a full Irish breakfast (eggs, baked beans, bacon, toast, balck and white pudding) on board the Ulysses.  It was delicious (Susan did not eat her black pudding!). 
Susan took this photo as we left Ireland behind us mindful that this was the last sight her grandfather and many other people from Ireland would have seen before they got to America!
We arrived in Holy Head and, as we had more than an hour before our train departed for Liverpool, we checked our bags and decided to walk around this quaint and peaceful Welsh town.  We even bought and sent some postcards.  There was a historic church, St. Cybil's,  in the center of town; sadly it was not open.   We ended up having such an enjoyable walk that we missed the first train to Liverpool.   This was not a problem as they ran almost hourly and we had a quick bite and caught the next train.

We were staying at the Marriot in the center of Liverpool.  We had booked the hotel on Priceline and had gotten it for a very reasonable price.  It was within pretty easy walking distance from the train station, so we lugged our bags (one large suitcase and one knapsack each) and took the ten minute walk.
View of the Ulysses from Holy Head, Wales

Walking along Holy Head
St. Cybil's - Holy Head

As I was born in 1957, I came of age in the era of the Beatles (Susan said to note that she was born much later – ha, she was born in 1958!!) , and so Liverpool was a place of pilgrimage of sorts for me too.  Last Christmas, Susan gave me the Beatles’ Collection which had been digitally remastered and  is now all on my I-Phone.    When I was a choirboy at St. Thomas, Beatle music was often our music of choice in the student lounge.  I was very much looking forward to seeing a little of Liverpool, but it was not to be.    

After we checked into the hotel, we went out for Indian food and had an excellent dinner at Mayur Restaurant which the concierge at the Marriot had recommended and which chef Gordon Ramsey had apparently designated the “best Indian restaurant in Liverpool;” pretty high praise as Liverpool has a full complement of excellent Indian restaurants.  We wound our way to the restaurant walking past the Liverpool Cathedral en route and marking that as a place we wanted to visit the next day, perhaps taking in Evensong. 
At Mayur we had an outstanding meal of innovative Indian food.  We began with an assortment of vegetarian appetizers for two.  I had a curried soft-shelled crab dish that was superb.   Susan had a chicken dish that was equally excellent. This was accompanied by two  Indian breads and Raita, the cool yogurt sauce that brings perfect balance to an Indian meal.  The restaurant lived up to its billing and we were very pleased.  We walked it off on our return to the hotel.

View from our room in the Marriot in Liverpool
In the morning, I awoke with a fever.   Susan went to Boots and picked up a thermometer (which of course was calibrated to Celsius – thank goodness we had a conversion chart by way of the internet!).  My fever was a little over 101 F.    I ended up spending the day in bed, and spent most of it sleeping.  Susan took a couple of quick trips out to pick up a few things.  Most of the day, she watched television and took care of me.  She ordered dinner through room service.  I wasn’t very hungry.  

Overnight, my fever broke.  Saturday morning, we got a good English breakfast, checked out and went to pick up a rental car for our drive to the Lake District.  Liverpool was pretty much a wash but I can’t complain.   We’ve been on the road an awful lot and this was the first instance of being sick besides a very minor bout with a head cold when we came out of Jerusalem.  All in all, we’ve done very well, knock on wood!

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