Monday, April 15, 2013

Our final day in Ireland

I am sitting in my sister Sandra's beautiful home in the borough of Kensington in London and am finally feeling a bit rested after a wonderful tour in Ireland and a great time with all of our fellow travelers.
My morning began with a hotel porter banging on my door looking for our bags, and me answering in my underwear, only to find it was 8:40am and I thought we were leaving at 9..... In a quick panic I called the front desk, furious that I had not received my 7:45 wake up call and then rushed Rory and myself down for breakfast. Most of our group had not received their calls and there were many apologies from the staff.....bottom line, that was the only mishap we had the entire time..
We headed straight across to Dublin and arrived in time for everyone to do any final shopping or touring and Rory and I spent our afternoon doing laundry at my sister Brenda's house.
The plan was that I was to perform for the tour group in the evening with the O'Malley brothers Arthur and Raymond, and my friend Paul O'Tool. Rory and I got a lift back to the hotel in time for a shower and a stroll over to Kennedy's for dinner and the concert.
We played for everyone after dinner and twelve members of my family came to share in the fun. Everybody said it truly was a great finale to a wonderful trip to Ireland.
The wake up call came at 5am for everyone and Rory and I jumped on the bus to the airport as our flight to London was just ahead of the trans Atlantic flight for the group. We thanked our driver John, said our last fair wells and headed off to London....Rory and I are spending a couple of days here with my sister and her family before heading to Paris on the Eurostar train tomorrow. The train leaves London and travels under the English Channel and arrives in the center of Paris just over three hours later.
We will return to Dublin late Thursday night and return to Los Angeles next Sunday....see you all when we get back....we have had the best time and October '14 will be an even more exciting time as I plan to pick the best of the best for our tour destinations....If you haven't joined me on a tour yet, start planning....we have the most interesting, entertaining and informative experience. Look for a few comments in the next couple of weekly bulletins.
In the words of Ireland, "Until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of His hand"

Friday, April 12, 2013

Back to the Republic...

Everyone was up and at breakfast on Thursday morning by 7am and on the road to Donegal by 8.  we drove north to Ardera to the Triona weavers. Our group was let loose for some much needed "retail therapy", to quote John our driver, and we were presented with Irish coffees while the cash and plastic was flying for such items as Donegal tweeds and woolens.
After lunching in Donegal town we headed southeast to County Fermanagh and again into the UK, to the home of Beleek china. It was an amazing experience to tour this factory producing the most beautiful Parian china by hand. just watching the pieces being hand painted was exquisite. I even bought something.

We then drove southwest through Co. Leitrim and into Co. Sligo to the Yeates Country and W.B's grave at Drumcliffe Churchyard. His epitaph "Cast a cold eye on life, on death.....Horseman pass by" always found that a bit chilly...after a quick cuppa, we drove to our Sligo Park Hotel. Almost everyone stayed in after dinner and got a good night's sleep.

Breakfast at 7am this morning got us off to an early start heading for Co. Mayo and the town of Westport, our final port of call before heading for Dublin tomorrow. We arrived around 10 am, dropped a few people off and headed down to Achill Island, the largest island off the Irish coast, reachable by bridge. e drove through Newport, Mulraney and saw one of the old 12 century O'Malley castles along the way. There are three in all on the Mayo coast. One can only wonder at the awesome beauty of the Atlantic Drive and our weather was splendid...just an occasional sprinkle....lots of terrific photographs. We had lunch at the Beehive restaurant and then visited a Famine village, completely deserted and in ruins. Upwards of one hundred small houses existed here before the Great Hunger of the 1840s wiped out the community through famine and emigration.

We arrived back in Westport about 4 in time for a stroll before dinner. Rory and I went for a drink at the Porter House pub on Bridge Street, a pub once owned for generations by my own family. We owned several properties at one time in the late 1800s and into the 20 th C but over the years these were sold off. We met an elderly gentleman, reading his paper over a pint, and I asked him who he was. He knew my grandfather, my two aunts, an uncle who died at the age of 21 and my father. We were enlightened with stories of my family history, anecdotes of my grandfather and just the idea that Rory got to meet someone who actually knew his great grandfather was priceless. This man had, at one time, been the organist in the local church and told us my grandfather used to go and listen to him rehearse quite often. My grandfather was a professional musician in his day and thought me much of what I know today. He also told us I had " the look of my grandfather and that Rory and I had definitely gotten the 'gift of the gab' from him".... What a coincidence meeting him when we did.
Back to the hotel for dinner and it was scrumptious .... Everybody agreed it was the best yet...many of the group went out....Westport on a Friday night...Rory's already asleep, I'm finishing up this chapter of the blog and hope to be asleep before the partners start arriving back later...there's a couple of bachelor parties in tonight and a wedding....

Tomorrow we head straight across to Dublin for more shopping before my final concert at Kennedy's of Westland Row with my brothers Arthur and Raymond on stage, along with original member of the Young Dubliners and one of my very dear friends, Paul O'Tool....my brothers Martin and Fergus will probably show up as well as my sister Brenda and many other family members...hope to get our laundry done tomorrow afternoon before Rory and I had head off to London and Paris on Sunday morning....m

I'm hitting the sack right now, catch up later.....


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Our journey continues ... Belfast and beyond....

On Sunday morning we left Dublin and headed north to what once was the "Border".... these days we drive right through and watch road signs change from Kilometers to Miles.....no military or police presence as we pass into Northern Ireland.

We travelled through Dundalk and Newry and on to Belfast where John, our driver, took us on a quick tour of the city before we alighted at the Europa Hotel, which was to be home for two nights. The Europa has enjoyed the reputation as the most bombed hotel in Europe in the '70's. We had the afternoon to ourselves and then we were taken by Marty Maguire, my old friend, and a fine actor to see him star in the play "The Sweetie Shop" at the Roddy McCorleys Social Club in a very Republican section of the city. In the 1970's, life in Belfast was so limited when it came to moving around the city for people, that "speakeasys" were not unusual in the various segregated neighbourhoods. The play is a tribute to those times and quite funny though some of the dialogue flew over my head as the Belfast jargon was laid on quite thick....

We also visited the "Crown Bar", directly across the street from our hotel and a landmark for Belfast's city center. Both exterior and interior are Victorian and the decor is breathtaking. Probably the most visited destination in Belfast..

The following day we spent the morning touring the Titanic Museum. Truly an amazing exhibit and though I thought I was well informed there was much more to see and learn from the experience. Oh, yes...it was my birthday...and I was given a gift of a "Titanic" Captains hat, just what I always wanted...

At this point we were joined by a Belfast guide who jumped on board the coach and gave us the real deal tour of the different neighbourhoods, the painted murals, the memorials and it was fascinating. One must come here to really appreciate or hope to, the pain, misery and loss the people of both sides of the divide have, and still do experience.

A few of us went out around 5 pm to Kelly's Cellars, est 1720 for a couple of drinks and then to Madden's music pub where my name is written among other well known musicians on the gable wall. The mural was painted by Danny Devaney, the muralist responsible for all the famous Republican murals in the Nationalist communities.

We got back in time for a lovely dinner in the hotel and the staff had baked a beautiful birthday cake, just delicious...I then played a show in the Lobby Bar where all our travellers joined me in song. Just a great birthday.

This morning we left the Europa at 8am and drove north to the Giants Causeway, a most unusual and quite unique basalt rock formation featuring thousands of hexagonal columns, created by a 60 million year old explosion and the lava flow being cooled into what apparently stretches across to Scotland and attributed in folklore to the battle between two giants from both countries. A heck of a walk was had by all to see this today. On our way we stopped in the small town of Carrickfergus and saw the 12c castle built by the Norman John De Courcey. King William of Orange landed here in 1689 with 10,000 men on his way to the Battle of the Boyne.

By the by, the weather has been cool but sunny, just lovely on our trip so far.....not a drop of rain...hope I don't put my foot in it....

We stopped at the "Old Bushmills Distillery" for a visit on our way to Derry and we eventually arrived at the City Hotel about 5pm. Rory and I scoped out my venue for tonight's show, The Dungloe Bar in the Bogside section of town. Derry is the official City of Culture this year and we had a tour on the coach which again included all the murals and memorials of this, Northern Ireland's second largest city.

Following dinner in the hotel, Rory and I rushed over to the concert venue and almost all of our fellow travelers came to the pub and a great evening was had by all. I am exhausted and am signing of to hit the sack....Off to Donegal, Fermanagh and Sligo tomorrow....until the next time...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Rory and I, along with Chris joined most of our fellow travelers at LAX in Los Angeles at 7am for a 9am flight on Friday morning. Uneventful flight to Atlanta and then on to Dublin. Personally, I was uncomfortable and got little or no sleep....John Costelloe, our coach driver was waiting for us in Dublin airport for our arrival at 7am and once on board the coach, we toured around the city until check in time at lunch hour. The rest of the day was free for everyone and my brother Martin showed up to the hotel, surprising us, and drove us off in his Jaguar Sovereign to pick up my Martin guitar which stays in the careful hands of my niece Emma, a budding sixteen year old musician, while it lives here... Saves me transporting an instrument.
By mid afternoon, Rory, Martin and I drove into Grafton Street in his "MI5" Jag, I called it, and dropped nephew Adam off to play pool with his pals. We made our way to Sheehan's pub off Grafton Street for lunch and watched the famous Aintree Grand national steeplechase horse race from England. It's the most famous horse race in the world, where forty 9 - 11 year old horses run around a four and a half mile track, twice, and jump thirty fences over six feet high. Needless to say many fall but yesterday, nobody got hurt and an outsider won at 60/1...it's a very exiting event and everybody watches it.
Then it was back to the hotel and a nap. Rory took off with another of my nephews, Justin, and his wife Paula, while I went to Kennedy's around the corner with some of the group for fish and chips...we older folks called it an early night and I was in bed by 10pm...for those of you who know I'm a teetotaler these days, going to bed at 10pm in the old days would have been unheard of for me...we would have closed some place down, then got back to some one's place for a session and a sing song and ... who knows....maybe I'm getting wiser..
We were up first thing this morning for Irish breakfast and out the door to Newgrange, a 3500 year old  Neolithic tomb, built before the great pyramids of Giza and 1000 years older than Stonehenge. I've been there several times and it is amazing. A burial chamber inside a huge mound and worth a Google for more info...could go on too long about it for the blog. We then travelled to the monastic settlement of Mellifont Abbey, a rather large settlement built by Cistercian monks in 1171.
We drove on to see the great High Celtic Crosses in Monasterboice which also included a very fine example of a round tower, extremely high though broken at the top, These high towers were used as lookouts for the monks and a refuge during times of attack. They were quite impregnable, fireproof and the door was built about seven or eight feet above the ground and the ladder pulled up for safety.

During this afternoon's trip, we were driving at times through the river Boyne Valley, a most spiritual area and also the site of the famous Battle of the Boyne in 1689 where Protestant King William 111, defeated Catholic King James 11 in the dual for the crown of England. This famous battle, the largest ever assembly of armies on Irish soil was to be remembered in history as the beginning of the religious divide and is commemorated every year by the Unionists in the North.

Tomorrow we will enter their domain....but tonight we will have a singsong in the hotel after Rory takes me out for a fancy dinner....

Slan mo chairde....until the next words appear....

Ireland and Northern Ireland 2013

Once again, my friends, we are off on an adventure that promises to be for me, one of great pride in showing not only the beauty and culture of my own Republic of Ireland but also the deep history, the fragmented society, the struggles on both sides of a Christian divide and the path to peace that the North of Ireland pursues today. It's own breathtaking scenery awaits us when we drive across into what is still today the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
This is a story of passion for me. In the late nineteen sixties when "The Troubles" were reawakened with the Civil Rights marches across the North. Irish Catholic men and women seeking equal rights to their Protestant Unionist brethren, "Bloody Sunday" struck a cold chord throughout Ireland when a British paratroop regiment opened fire on innocent people in a peace march and more than a dozen were killed.
I was sixteen years old at the time and an impressionable young man. In the South, we were shocked and being so young, my friends and I were deeply horrified but, we thought, not in any danger. We were watching the news from Vietnam at the same time and it seemed that everything was changing. The music was changing, we were growing up and the trouble in the North seemed far away, but it wasn't and our history had been drilled into us in school and our small island was a potential cauldron, ready to explode.
And explode it did...In 1974 I was walking home from work one Friday evening along St.Stephen's Green and a little after 5pm three bombs exploded in the heart of Dublin city. Close to forty people were killed and many more injured. The most eery thing for me was, I never heard the sound of either one....I still can't understand that to this day. Three massive explosions, they brought their war to our town.
The years have past and much has happened to improve the lives of everyone in this country, north and south. Prosperity arrived with the "Celtic Tiger" in the Republic and much has improved also in the North. Economics today are having the same effect here as they are in many parts of the world and we are now travelling during some tough times.
Despite these rough waters, Irish and Northern Irish people always have a very friendly welcome for travellers and I am truly looking forward to this sojourn with my friends and a wonderful trip awaits us. Oh, and as a wonderful addition, my son Rory is with me and you can't beat that...






Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ireland Tour 2011

It's 2.45pm on Sunday and I have just arrived at my sister Brenda's house and am decompressing at the moment. It feels great to be home here and satisfied with the knowledge that everyone has had a wonderful experience here in Ireland and most have flown home to the US today. There are about sixteen altogether staying on to do their own thing and Chris, Paddy and I will be coming back to Los Angeles next Monday the 21st.
Chris is staying with a friend in Sandyford, a suburb on the Southside of Dublin and Paddy is with a friend in Malahide on the Northside of the city.
The reason for the delay in writing is a result of no Internet happening in the last two hotels, in the rooms, that is...I will attempt to catch up on all the news. My last words had us finishing up in Killarney so there's a lot of ground to cover. Our tour was to take us southeast across West Cork and into the ancient town of Kinsale dating to the 12th century.
Following another hearty Irish breakfast of bacon, sausage, black and white pudding, tomato, fried mushrooms, baked beans and two eggs....you don't have to eat it all, in fact they are just your heart attack choices...you may have fresh fruit, healthy cereals, yogurt etc and a wide variety of Irish breads to satisfy the palette of all our, by now, seasoned travellers....we headed out the road to Kenmare...It is a lovely town, close to the Cork border and we had a comfort stop and time for a coffee and a bit of shopping...who mentioned the word recession ? My fellow travellers dropped more money than God every where they went and the one complaint that was expressed by most, was that we did not spend enough time in places like Kenmare..while there, we experienced twelve members of the Irish army in full combat gear take up positions on the street while a security van loaded cash into two separate banks, the soldiers were no greenhorns but veteran pros in their late twenties and thirties. It was obvious that no photos would be tolerated, they just stared our group down if anyone even came close to raising a camera. This action takes place all over Ireland since robberies by groups like the IRA and other paramilitaries, as well as criminal gangs in general, began robbing security and cash carrying vehicles over the last forty years..
We travelled through Bantry and into Skibbereen where we visited the Famine graveyard, a plot the size of two tennis courts where more than 9,000 people were buried between 1845 and 1849. Our group were clearly moved by the scene and the writings on the wall of the memorial. We travelled on to Kinsale and checked into our hotel for dinner and everyone came to my show that night in the famous old pub "The Spaniard", once again an hilarious evening that included a local lady, extremely inebriated, who joined me at one point onstage for a song...one of my oldest friends, a school chum and Irish Navy buddy came to see me perform. He brought another Navy pal who got up and told an old "sean nos" tale or story. The group were thrilled with the evenings music and stories and we all retired around midnight, only to find that there would be no hot water the following morning...oh well, these things happen in Ireland sometimes...
I need to mention that all this time we had little or no rain and our group were definitely blessed with the weather.
Our bus headed for Blarney Castle the next morning and the opportunity to either kiss the Blarney Stone and/or shop in Ireland's biggest souvenir shop, the Blarney Woolen Mills....I let them loose, it was like Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving....I had to duck out of the way for a coffee and a scone for safety...
We continued through Ireland's second largest city, Cork and down to Cobh (Cove) on Cork Harbor, Ireland's largest and deepest, and visited the Heritage Center that presented an excellent exhibition of the Irish emigration experience. Upwards of one million people left Ireland during and after the Famine of the mid 1800's, many on what they called "coffin ships"due to their rickety condition and being unseaworthy. Thousands of Irish died on the voyage to the Americas as conditions on these ships were deplorable. The famed Titanic picked up it's last 127 passengers and supplies here in Cobh before it headed out into the Atlantic and it's impending doom in April 1912. There is a wonderful Titanic museum being built in Belfast at present, due to open on the centenary of the ocean liner's disaster and it will be on our list of destinations next year on our North of Ireland Tour.
Leaving Cork, we stayed on the coast and headed east towards Waterford en route to Kilkenny. I would like to declare right now that it began to become apparent that my choice of individual destinations may have been a bit overly ambitious as there just wasn't enough time in the day. We made a decision to hold off, until the following morning, our visit to the medieval Butler stronghold that is Kilkenny Castle. With that decided, by myself and our driver, we arrived in Kilkenny and gave everyone forty five minutes for a quick look about. The narrow streets and alleys have hardly changed over the centuries but they have a mall and I'm sure a Mickey D's hiding somewhere...
We arrived at the five star Lyrath Estate in time for a truly elegant meal together. The service was impeccable and I'm sure there were a few of our travellers had never experienced anything quite like it. The over all experience was excellent including catching the second half of the soccer game between Ireland and Estonia, that gave Ireland a 4-0 victory and a berth in the European Nations Finals in Poland and Ukraine next Summer...it's been 28 years since we qualified...lots of excitement around the hotel that night.
After another lovely breakfast on Sat morning we headed into Kilkenny and toured the famous 13th century castle. Considering quite a bit of our week had been spent experiencing tales and sites of the Great Hunger, the famine of the 1840's, the opulence portrayed in Kilkenny Castle throughout the centuries, lended the belief that unlike the diet of the poor Irish peasants, the Butlers were eating a lot more than potatoes!
We were now driving north to our final destination on my list of things to see and do. Just about an hour outside Dublin in the heart of the Wicklow mountains lies the monastic settlement of Glendalough, the original home of one of our most famous saints, St. Kevin, who lived in the early 7th century. The settlement dates from about the 12th century and is home to our best preserved round tower standing almost 40 feet in height. The tower was a bell tower and also a storage facility for all the precious books and gold and silver items they would have had. They could also see for miles any danger that might be approaching such as the hordes of Vikings that pillaged these settlements between the 9th and 11th centuries. While in Glendalough, I met my good friend Dominic Leech of the Fureys and Davey Arthur band that performed last year at the John Anson Ford Theater in Hollywood on behalf of the Celtic Arts Center. We may have a chance to play together later this week.
Our final jaunt brought us over the Wicklow mountains and into my home city of Dublin, back to our first hotel, the Alexander. After check-in, I took my gear over to Kennedys on Westland Row to sound check for my evening's performance. We had planned this concert several weeks ago and had chosen the menu items ahead of time to ensure a fun and successful evening, this, our last night in Dublin as a tour group. Dinner at 7, showtime at 8....there was great anticipation and a buzz in the air as rumour that my brother Raymond AND his entire collection of harmonicas were arriving to perform. My eldest brother Arthur and his daughter Emma popped in around 8.15. Moments later, the front door opened and there he stood, as the thunderous applause rocked the house upon his arrival...Raymond was in the building. Well, the crowd was thrilled and Raymond was everything they expected...he took over and captured the evening. Arthur got up for a few songs and the O'Malley Brothers won the day....nobody dared leave their seats.. Right about this time, my brother Martin's daughter Kate arrived with a friend and at eighteen years of age is quite the chatty, confident young lady. When all the Americans left about 10.30, Raymond continued, solo, to entertain what was left of the evening's punters, most of whom were our family members and friends...it was a fabulous final curtain on a nine day adventure that brought us to famous castles, battle sites, monasteries, embarkation points to America, famine memorials, live music and Irish dancing, boiled bacon and cabbage, O'Malley family everywhere, the O'Malley stronghold and castle on Clare Island ten miles off Ireland's rugged Mayo coast...everyone of Johnny Cash's "Forty Shades of Green".....the road rose to meet us everywhere with warm welcomes, strong whiskey and above all a camaraderie and new friendships forged between us...my final words for this year's tour group and those planning on visiting the streets of Belfast and Derry, the awe inspiring Mountains of Mourne, the Giants Causeway, the Homes of Donegal, Yeat's Country and my own towns of Westport and Dublin, next year.... "Let's fill the parting glass, and forever remember our time in Ireland in 2011, may God hold us in the palm of His hand until next time"...

Goodnight and joy be with you all....Ken

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ireland Tour 2011

The gloomy weather finally arrived yesterday morning, though our collective energies and prayers brought the sun back after about an hour on the road. We were delayed by some changes of plan because of the early showers so we had to shorten our trip a bit and by the time we got to Dingle, we only had time for lunch and a quick tour of the town. Myself, I paid a visit to St.Mary's Church for a prayer, the shot across the street to my old haunt Dick Mack's for a drink. Said hello to a couple of old friends and drank in the soothing atmosphere of my favourite town in the Southwest.Definitely need a full day there next time.
We were again truly blessed with glorious sunshine at a time of the year where there is no reason our entire trip could have been rained out. Friends have told me the Summer left something to be desired, weatherwise....
The Dingle Peninsula is one of the most beautiful areas in Ireland and the road around Slea Head is daunting to many drivers but our driver John, negotiated turns and curves in a luxury coach that left us holding our breath. Some places seemed like pushing a huge GE refrigerator through a bathroom door... The Blasket Islands off the coast and Skelligmichael, the monastic settlement of the 8th century, a rock standing alone seven miles out in the harsh Atlantic, left one thinking what could it have been like for those monks who battled the elements while attempting to join their spirits closer to God.
Upon our return to the hotel, several of our traveling friends took a ride in the horse drawn jaunting carts through Killarney National Park to Ross Castle....myself I opted to watch the movie "Zulu" with one my favourite actors Michale Caine, probably in his mid to late 20's and Stanley Baker. A true story of a siege by 4000 Zulu warriors against a force of 129 British soldiers, a Welsh regiment and their three day stand at Rourke's Drift in the Transvaal in 1879. I watch it every time it comes on, fascinating stuff...nothing to do with Killarney, but one has to put the feet up sometimes.
Again, I had no dinner and prepared for my more relaxed acoustic unplugged show here in Hannigan's Bar in the hotel. I played from 8 'til about 9.15 and most of our group showed up. Suzanne from Sierra Madre sang a couple with me to great applause but it was our driver John, who brought the house down with his rendition of "Dublin in the Rare Auld Times"...I would like to get that response just once while I'm here... it was a lovely moment.
Some of us went over to Sheehan's around the corner to watch the Irish Set Dancing, well you never saw such leppin' and dancin' in all your life...the blood of the Celts was curdling as men whisked the ladies around the floor, I can't quite describe it...one of those "You had to be there" moments....I took a couple of our ladies out for a waltz when the music changed, though the tempo only went from the storm force of Nascar to the gentle spped of the Breeder's Cup...oddly, no pains in my body this morning...must be fitter than I thought....these people weren't even breaking a sweat....what is very interesting and extremely enterprising on the part of Sheehan's Pub, a very large pub I might add, is that they have a traditional Irish music group in the very front of the bar from about 8 'til 10.30 then a rock band comes on in the back area...even further back in another area they have the set dancing from 9 'til 11 and THEN a disco 'til about 1am...and that's on Wednesday night in the first week in November....tell me the Irish don't now how to have a good time...I'll get back to y'all tonight after our trip from here through Kenmare, Bantry bay, Skibbereen, Clonakilty and into Kinsale for dinner and an official concert at The Spaniard Pub tonight...the road continues to rise and the weather looks good...