Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday April 17

The morning started with a smoked salmon and cheddar cheese omelet and all the usual trimmings. I'm writing these blogs since I woke up at 3:30am this morning and could not go back to sleep. I'm downstairs in the quiet of the breakfast room, it's now 6am...the birds are chirping outside but all around this 280 year old house house, nothing is stirring, not even a mouse...only the almost silent tapping of my keyboard.

After our breakfast we headed off again at 9:30 for another very long driving day. I know I pushed Paul, our driver, but he was cool...our first stop was the town of Kinsale, a two hour drive east and south to the coast. Today one of the culinary gems of Ireland but well known for its historic Battle of Kinsale in 1601, the defeat of the Irish clans by the English army ended the old Gaelic era, and began the complete colonization of Ireland by England for the next three hundred or so years. After a very pleasant walkabout we drove to Skibbereen and I shared the sad moments at the Famine graveyard just outside town where there are 9-10,000 unidentified bodies of the Irish dead buried in a space half the size of a football field...or smaller. A saying is written nearby, " Never was the price of bread so cheap, and the price of human life so dear". This Irish holocaust took place between 1845 and 1850, when 1,000,000 people did and 1,000,000 + emigrated because of the Great Hunger, the potato blighted famine, the greatest human disaster of the 19th C.

We drove on to the most south westerly point of Ireland, the Mizen Lighthouse Station, a two hour drive from Skibbereen. I must say, so far, our group has been great for the duration of these last two days' drives... My cousin Stephen O'Sullivan is the manager of the Visitor Center and he was actually one of the last Irish Lights Lighhouse Keepers who worked on the Mizen Lighthouse. His mother's family, the O'Donovans, had worked as lighthouse keepers for generations, and though Stephen was born and raised in London, he got the job as a very young man in the early 70's.

Unfortunately, Stephen was unable to meet our group but much to my amazement his twin sister Anne, flagged down our bus outside the village of Goleen nearby, where their family have lived for generations, I didn't even know she was visiting her own home for Easter, and she boarded the bus asking for me...we have not seen each other in over ten years and our reunion was magic. She and her husband Chris got to meet Rory and they invited us back to stay with them anytime...what a treat.

Now for the real information ... I can only tell you all that the scenery down around the Mizen Lighthouse , Goleen, Barleycove and Glengarrif has got to be the most breath taking in all of Ireland....and I had never ever been there before. Karen, from Long Beach, who initiated the tour as a trip to her immediate family, and welcomed anyone else who wished to join us, had specifically asked to visit Kinsale...this prompted me to visit a lifelong wish, Mizen Head and my God was it worth it...a very long drive down the Bantry Bay peninsula but....beauty beyond my imagination. Everybody, despite the ten hour day tour were so impressed.

We returned to Kenmare in less than two hours and headed into town to grab a bite. Many of us assembled in McCarthy's Pub for a bite...Rory had a delicious local wild salmon dish in a veloute sauce, I had the stuffed leg of pork, unfortunately I think it was probably prepared on Holy Thursday last and reheated last evening. I could have used it to resolve my shoes but you win a few etc...

We came back to the Lodge and I sang for about an hour again by he fire in the parlor and we all retired once again around midnight. As it is now 6:20 am on Tuesday, I'm signing off and will go upstairs to his Lordship's room and see if I can't grab 40 winks ! It's a moving day today, we are packing up and driving north west to the Cliffs of Moher in Clare and on up o Westport for the next three days....catch you all later...
Sunday April 16

Breakfast, prepared by our hostess Maura and her staff, can only be described as a little bit of Heaven to start the day. Besides the usual hearty Irish fry up breakfast, Maura provides many delicious treats and options. We started with local yogurt, local honey and shaved almonds, followed by, for myself Dover sole on the bone....OMG...Rory had a huge plate of bangers, rashers, puddings and eggs..terrific breads and toast with lashings of tea and coffee...what a start to our day, to be repeated daily..

We left the house at 9:30am and drove to Killarney for Easter Sunday mass at the cathedral, built in the mid 19th C. Less than an hour later the non-believers and heathens joined us back on the bus and we headed off for the Ring of Kerry. No rain at all and the sun broke through several times as the day itself was very mild, about 52 degrees. As always the scenery is splendid and we stopped regularly for photos. Lunch in the charming village of Sneem, pronounced "Schneem" was the best chowder ever...Rory had bought two baguettes with two lovely cheeses for sampling later, at a bakery, and left the bloody stuff in the restaurant behind us...too bad, local cheeses...the food here in Ireland is amazing...a long way from the bacon and cabbage days.. It was a long day and an hour later we were back in Kenmare about 6pm. We had a dinner reservation for everyone at Packy's Restaurant in town, and though a bit pricey was fantastic by everyone's account. Rory had the roasted cod in lemon butter and I had the halibut special, it was as tender as anything and perfectly cooked.
I regaled everyone later with an impromptu concert back at the Lodge for about an hour and all headed for bed just about midnight. I slept the sleep of the Gods...

Saturday April 15

My trip this year started out with a minor heart attack when I left my very expensive 1919 Gibson A4 mandolin on the sidewalk out side the Aer Lingus terminal at LAX in Los Angeles. My manager Chris had just dropped one of my fellow travelers, Eva, who had flown in the day before from Phoenix, and I at the airport and after hugs and good byes, I walked in to the check in only to receive a phone call and instantly panic realizing my mandolin was not with me. I rushed out and thre was Chris frantically trying or reach me...I thought what a possible nightmare start to the trip...all is well.

Everybody showed up, all fifteen who were flying with me, eight more were making their own way to Dublin from scrawl other different parts of the US. After a long but not too arduous flight, ten hours direct to Dublin everybody met up in Dublin Airport, we met our new driver Paul and off we went. We picked up my son Rory in the city, he had flown over days earlier and had retrieved my Martin guitar which I leave with one of my brothers in Dublin.

We drove south west for four hours to the beautiful town of Kenmare, Co. Kerry for the first three days of our tour and arrived about 7:30pm at our two side by side guest houses. Our principal guesthouse here is the Shelburne Lodge, built in the 1730's for Lord Shelburne who built the town of Kenmare to support his vast estates, he signed the Treaty of Paris ending the US British Revolutionary War and went on to become Prime Minister of England in the 1780's... I believe I have his Lordship's room, naturally....the house is extremely charming and took six years to completely restore by the present owners. Due to our number, several are staying at the equally lovely "The Lodge" next door.

We went up to the nearby Lansdowne Hotel to the the Poets's Bar for a lovely dinner at about 9pm. Rory and I both had incredible "locally raised" lamb shanks... We listened to a bit of traditional music and all retired for the evening.

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....