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 don't have to eat it all, in fact they are just your heart attack 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 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'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 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 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 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...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ireland Tour 2011

Well, it finally arrived...waking this morning saw the soft rain falling as I approached our driver John, and we discussed the plan for the day ahead. As he called it "A moving day", as different from "A grazing day", a day when we don't have to travel far and we can actually leave our luggage in the room and return for a second night at the same hotel.
It was to be our longest drive of the week, Westport to Killarney in Co. Kerry. Due to a couple of minor mishaps, such as missed wake up calls, we got off to a bit of a late start which really does affect our journey. It is normal to have a time booked for a hotel dinner in the evening and if there are problems, our travel plans may have to be altered. We stopped at the awesome Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare for lunch and our group spent the time walking along the 800 feet above sea level massive spectacle of beauty and power that is the element of earth, wind and water. The cliffs are to possibly join the next wonders of the world, an international vote due on this decision in a couple of days.
The weather was pleasant enough though quite cold. We continued south through Clare, passing the world famous Lahinch Golf Links, a favourite of Tom Watson, one of the worlds greatest golfers. We drove through the Burren, a stretch of land unique in the west of Ireland for it's almost Lunar appearance. Virtually solid limestone with some very rare floral specimen.
We turned on an Irish comedian, Noel V. Ginnity, CD on the last leg into Killarney and the roars heard throughout the bus were side busting.
Upon our arrival at the Killarney International, we were met by the Lord Mayor of Killarney who entertained us with stories of the town and we are all planning on taking the horse and trap through the nearby park to Ross Castle in the morning. We had a lovely dinner in the hotel this evening and I told the history behind the Battle of Kinsale in 1601. We will be heading to Kinsale on Thursday morning.
Tomorrow we are heading to Dingle and Slea Head, the closest parish to New York. Some of our more senior members are being a great example to their juniors in showing great energy on the trail and we have had no breakdowns or far...Everybody is having a wonderful time and the weather, hopefully, will be kind to us though I know tomorrow will be challenging with rain in the forecast.
The Ring of Kerry is one of the most beautiful tourism spots in Ireland and we are looking forward to a pint in Dick Mack's and fish and chips in Harrington's in Dingle....I'll be back !!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dublin to Westport

It's quite unbelievable....our third day of glorious sunshine, the locals can't believe it themselves..where's it coming from, California perhaps....
We had an early start on Sunday morning from our Dublin hotel, the Alexander, and were amazed as nobody seemed awake and on the streets as we drove around the city, literally, hardly a car to be seen in the City center. We headed out towards the West and as our driver informed us, Athlone Castle was closed on Sundays, he was taking us to Trim Castle in Co. Meath. It turned out to be far more impressive both in size and reputation. It is an old Norman keep, the biggest in Ireland taking three years to build, in 1177. We had a wonderful tour guide who informed us that the castle had been used to film several scenes in Braveheart, the exterior being the seige of York Castle and the interiors were used for the London scenes...we saw the window where King Edward "Longshanks", chucked his son's boyfriend out to his demise four floors below...also the gallows Mel choked on !!
The history and description of life in the castle back then was facinating, including such tidbits as the household excrement was saved not only as fertilizer but also stirred regularly by one particular chap who would then daub the item onto a section of the outer walls for all to see, and supposedly the darker the colour, the richer the diet and showed their wealth and superiority off to the world....anyway, as I was saying...
After that wonderful attraction, we drove to Mullingar, the largest town in the Midlands and stopped in for lunch at the Druid's Chair, dating from 1609...great food...then on to Westport. Our driver, John, is truly a wealth of information and has a great sense of humour, what can I say, he's from Dublin...we were well entertained all the way.
It was getting dark when we reached the Castlecourt Hotel and checked in...people baling out everywhere to grab dinner somewhere, I never ate, didn't have time...I was heading for the sesiun (music session) at Geraghty's Pub in the town. There were three other musicians, locals, and I received a warm welcome...I just brought the mandolin as I did not want to sing much, I've been nursing a chest cold for over three weeks and it's really annoying and affecting my voice...we had a great time and were alerting some of the locals to join us tonight for my show in same pub..
I was too tired to write last night and decided to leave it 'til now...
After the usual hearty Irish breakfast this morning, we drove out to the northern end of Connemara, through Delphi, Ashleigh Falls, and Killery Harbor....Ireland's only fjord measuring eleven miles lunchtime we reached Roonagh Pier next to Louisburg and took the ferry to Clare Island, ancient seat of the seafaring O'Malley's the largest of the 365 islands in Clew Bay and we spent a few hours out there that included a visit to a Sistercian Abbey from the 13th Century...reputed to have the tomb of Graunaile, Grace O'Malley our pirate Queen ancestor from the 16th Century, more about her..... Google her, I'm too tired right now !
The sun was splitting the rocks out there all day and we stopped into the little hotel on the island for a bite, and all they had was tea, coffee and scones...of course they had all the booze you could drink, and , many did imbibe....a seventy year old woman, one Irish Coffee and she started singing and asking where the bathroom was, at the same time...
We got back to the hotel about five and I had an 8.30 soundcheck...sucked down a delicious dinner of salmon and hake in a white sauce with all the trimmings and walked to the gig...only in Ireland...
The great news is that everyone showed up, there were at least twenty extra chairs set up for the show and the house was packed...I did the first set solo, then invited the local musicians to join in. We were also joind by a lovely young lady from Hungry on the violin and a great night was had by all...a complete success and a terrific end to a wonderful, beautiful day.
We're off down the Westcoast tomorrow to Killrney...wil catch y'all up tomorrow night...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Well, we made it...most of our forty six travelers from Los Angeles, some from Nebraska and a few from New York. The flights were reasonably comfortable and we arrived in Dublin at about 7.30am this morning. We were met by our driver John Costelloe who gave us a tour of the seaside area of the North Dublin suburbs; Howth, Malahide and Portmarnock before arriving at our Alexander Hotel in the south city center.
After settling in everyone took off in different directions, some to pubs, others to museums, some to lunch and one lady actually went to a play she wanted to see. Most of us, all done in from traveling, limped back for naps and then I got up about 5.30 to relax in the foyer and chat with those of us coming and going.
I gave various and sundry suggestions to people seeking things to do later as today was more or less a check-in day before we take order tomorrow and head west across the country. My brother Arthur brought me my Martin 0001 guitar, which lives here, and then we headed out for some serious fish and chips in the Queen Maebh restaurant above O'Neill's of Merrion Row. Despite and in respect of it's very expensive prices (for a pub) it was extremely good and with bellies full we sauntered across the street to O'Donahou's Pub, the most famous, internationally well known, of all Irish music was packed sardine-in-a-tin style as usual, and we stayed for a while, arses to elbows as they say, before heading back down the street to the hotel. We are within walking distance of everything which is great and the hotel is right around the corner from the Christian Brothers School I attended for ten years. It's not with the fondest memories that I remember that place but despite the corporal punishment they dished out liberally, we learned... I'm glad I got the education I got and I played Gaelic football and hurling for the school and I was very proud of that. Brought back so many memories...
Unlike most of my previous visits home, which were often wild and crazy, the older I got....I was back in my room by about 11 and am looking forward to getting a good night's sleep... we're up about 6.30 for breakfast and on the road at 9 .... We will visit Trim Castle on the way, it was used as York castle in Braveheart.... Oh, by the way, the weather was stunning here today, blue skies, sunshine and just a little nippy....I'll be back tomorrow night....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ireland Tour 2011

It's Wednesday and I'm just checking my list to make sure or hope I don't forget anything this Friday as we take off on another adventure to Ireland.
There are forty six of us traveling this time and it's my largest group yet. I will be posting every day with reports on our daily sojourn. It's going to be a wonderful trip, once again customized by me, to present Ireland's great historical and cultural attractions in a tour of the West and Southwest of Ireland. Counties Dublin, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Limerick, Kerry, Cork, and Kilkenny will be on our route as well as a stop in Wicklow to see Glendalough, the monastic settlement of St. kevin and one of the last remaining round towers from the past.
There will concerts and impromptu singsongs along the way and great craic to be had by all. Besides my ever vigilant manager Chris Wilson, the tour will be joined this year by our head of Public Relations, Ms. Paddy Kelly to assist in directing such a large group. With this many Americans in tow, many of whom will be visiting Ireland for the first time, there will be many bumps in the road to be smoothed out...things like "Why can't I get a latte in Ballyslabdashamuckery ?" etc...
Anyway....I'm looking forward to visiting with my brothers Arthur, Fergus and Raymond and my sister Brenda in Dublin and as I am staying on beyond the end of the tour, I will be flying to London to visit my brother Martin and stay with my sister Sandra for a few days..all very exiting.
I will keep up the blog and try to write everyday with all the news of the trip so keep you posted...

May the road rise to meet us and remember there's always the next trip and the one after, for you to join me and my cohorts...there's no trip to Ireland like a trip with Ken O'Malley....

But then, you know that already...
Cheers for now....Ken