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