Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Ten Things - Plus One - Learned from Ireland (Part I)

St. Patrick's Day is here again...with thoughts of the country we visited a few years ago. (And I hope to return to -- soon.) We noticed a great deal, but some things really stood out. Like:

*The breakfasts were 'full' -- and amazing. The Irish may stint elsewhere, but not in this department: 'black' and 'white' pudding (actually rounds of sausage -- blood for the dark, and offal for the white), banger sausages (softer than ours, with more 'stuffing'), fried potatoes, fried eggs -- and a basket of toast, with some brown bread slices thrown in. Hot, strong tea completed the menu, plus a bowl of slow-cooked porridge, if we were lucky. We could go for hours on a meal like that -- and often did.

*The 'Troubles' never really have gone away.  We may think that the 19th century's Great Famine, when Irish potato crops were ruined in a matter of days and weeks, is far in the past. Not so for the Irish -- nor for all of the political unrest they endured in the early 1900s.  It isn't just the IRA, either. Unemployment and other money problems are still an issue for the Irish. They still largely resent England  -- but realize some of their income comes from English support, as well. (And they don't like it.) We were never badly treated; too many Irish people have friends and relatives in the States to dislike 'Yanks.' But if we'd been Brits...
     During a trip to Connemara, our cousin pointed out a patchwork of carefully outlined squares, still evident against the hills. "Know what those are?" he said. "The potato plots from the Famine -- they're not planted anymore, but they're still there."
     Memories are the same way, for Ireland.

*Castles, old forts and other stone monuments, including guard post towers from Oliver Cromwell's time: they're still there. It became a common sight to drive past a field, or look out at shore's edge -- and see one. Nearly all are in ruins, especially the guard outposts, which often have a gigantic hole in their back. (Cromwell's men would sneak up on the outpost, then blow a hole with their cannon. Problem solved.)
    And the time of Cromwell's invasion of Ireland? The mid-1600s. Oh, that we Americans still preserved that much of our Colonial heritage.

et voila...

      Some of the castles have been restored -- or at least fixed up enough for tourists. Most, though, are just crumbling piles of rock, with holes for windows. When we asked why, we were told that it would cost too much to reinforce or repair them -- so they're just left alone.

      It looks picturesque that way, but there won't be much left after another generation or so.

*Kissing the Blarney Stone -- an exercise in weirdness.  Much of Blarney Castle is pasted-together ruins, but its top floor has an interesting feature: an open spot with a very nondescript stone held in place over a drafty metal grill. Smooch the stone, and you're supposed to be given the 'gift of gab.' (And apparently most of the Blarney's owners had it, too.) Sounds easier than it is -- you must lean over backwards, with the guard nervously holding onto your belt while you do it.

I did it -- on condition that the Brick NOT take a picture.
         He took it, anyways. (I made him erase it.)
Blarney Castle had its share of ruined towers, shady (and spooky) walks, plus an extensive herb and flower garden, only made up of harmful plants: a true Poison Garden. Maybe that's how they got rid of people who refused to 'kiss up' to them?

Blarney Tower - one of the 'lookouts,' near the castle proper

*A lot of fuss made over mountains, cliffs and other grand-sounding landmarks.  But they weren't. Their mountains, at least to these Coloradoans, looked like foothills. Pretty, yes, but we've seen steeper hills just a few miles from home.
     And the much-ballyhooed Cliffs of Moher?

I was more impressed by the old man playing an accordian on the footpath.
     The photos look wonderful. The reality was pretty mundane. In fact, it's the first national park I ever visited where cattle were grazing at the entrance to the parking lot. They weren't impressed, either.

Part II's coming -- but this flu is still hanging on, and I need some sleep.

Now head over to the Holiday Goodies blog, and cook something Irish to celebrate!

Erin Go the land I've come to love.

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