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photo of old suitcase courtesy babygadget.net

As I get closer to leaving for Ireland I am becoming more and more bogged down with the distractions on my mind and my long to-do list. This has made it impossible for me to take the time to pull together enough coherent thoughts to post much in this blog lately. Instead, I’ve been darting about gathering up loose ends as I go along with hopes that it will all come together by the time I’m dashing out the door for O’Hare Airport this Saturday. It always does – somehow – come together. However, this trip is a bit different for me because Declan is staying home and I face, without the benefit of his expertise, not only the long journey from Chicago to Dublin to Shannon, but also a very old cottage, which has sat empty since November! I am both excited about this trip and apprehensive about what awaits me there. Hopefully, a family of mice has not moved in while we were away. Hopefully, my inability to use keys properly, will not keep me from opening the front door. Hopefully, the alarm will turn off for me when I key in the code. Hopefully, the electricity stayed on during the record cold and the pipes are working and the floor is dry. Hopefully, my bad-house-plumbing-karma was totally fulfilled here in Elmhurst last month, so that it does not greet me again in Rose Cottage. And hopefully, Anton, Eóin and I – three novices – will be able to light a fire in the stove and keep it lit!

Originally, it was just me and Eóin making the trip. However thankfully, I will not be the only adult present, since Anton is coming along! This will be Anton’s first visit to Rose Cottage and while I’m very excited to see what he thinks, I am also a bit nervous about what his impression will be, due to my fear that nothing could ever live up to my enthusiastic descriptions about the place. I want him to love Rose Cottage, Kilkee and County Clare enough to want to return often! Although Anton will be my co-pilot and map reader, it will be my responsibility to do all the driving. The last time I drove in Ireland was during my first visit there in 1999, so I’m also a bit anxious about the driving. At least I’ll have an automatic, which is half the battle and at least I won’t be driving in Dublin – which is nearly the other half! All I have to deal with then is driving in the wrong side of the car and on the wrong side of the road. Piece of cake, right?

For this trip, as well as for my use during our longer stay in the summer, we purchased a MacBook Pro Notebook. Hopefully I will find a pub or cafe in Kilkee with Wi-Fi so that I can write a bit for the blog and even post a photo or two! By summer I plan to have internet access at the cottage so that the computer will not only allow me to keep up with Blogging from the Bog, but will enable me to stay in touch with my family through Skype. This reminds me of something I must add to my to-do list… find out how to post a photo directly from the camera to the laptop!

Speaking of my to-do list, it is quite long and includes the following – and probably a few things I haven’t thought of yet: purchases of various items of clothing that we somehow did without here at home these past months but seem necessary for a trip away, check, travel kit for contact lenses, check, remember what personal items I didn’t leave at the cottage so I can buy them and bring them along, check, make sure the Easter Bunny is ready for his/her/its visit to our home the day after we return, check, bring various baking utensils and bowls to Kate’s to help equip her for the first Easter dinner she will be preparing for the family, check, make sure any bills that can’t wait are paid, check, gather and mail all tax information I dragged my feet on because this is the first year since 2000 that I didn’t have to prepare a FAFSA for a college student, check, figure out a way to pack the notorious Nicholas Mosse butter dish, milk pitcher and sugar bowl and Brown Betty teapot, check, get a haircut, check, convince Eóin that he can bring only one teddy and it can not be his huge polar bear, check, get a list of directions from Declan for things like – how to get to Rose Cottage from Shannon Airport and how to get to the refuse center where I have to haul the trash while we’re there, check, pack map, check, and finally, pack suitcases… well, who am I kidding, that is not going to happen until late Friday! To be honest, several of the things I’ve just “checked” here are actually still in the to-do queue!

But it will all get done,  and when we are finally all checked in and sitting in O’Hare’s dumpy International Section of the airport awaiting our flight, I will relax and just go with the flow. One thing I’ve learned traveling is that most things work out just fine and those that do not either turn into happy accidents or, at least, offer some good stories to tell. So, I look forward to having a few updates on the cottage to share with you all, as well as some nice photos of a couple of sites we hope to take in during this very short trip. And though I’m not leaving for another 4 days, I’ll say goodbye for now… Slán go fóill… and get back to my to-do list!

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A Welsh pipe band performing at The Cliffs of Moher on St. Patrick's Day 2010 - photo courtesy Cliffs of Moher Facebook

One of the must see attractions in County Clare are the Cliffs of Moher. These spectacular cliffs on Clare’s Atlantic coastline are so photogenic and well-known, that even people who have never been to Ireland, recognize them in photos. I have visited them many times. The dramatic view has always been breathtaking and humbling, so the factor that makes two visits stand out from the others for me, would be the weather.

The first of these two particularly memorable visits to the Cliffs took place the day Declan and I brought Kate there during an October Bank Holiday weekend the year we lived in Ireland. A perfect example of how difficult it is to pin down or predict Irish weather, that October day was one of a small handful of warm, sunny days we experienced in Ireland that year. I have photos showing us basking in the sun wearing sunglasses with our – always handy – sweaters tied around our waists. If I didn’t tell you those photos were taken in the West of Ireland you might think we were on a sun holiday in the Mediterranean! Aside from the weather, that day was particularly fun for me because I was able to share with Kate a place I fell in love with during my first visit to Ireland.

Another visit to The Cliffs of Moher which stands out for me, was a quick stop I insisted upon while Declan, 4-year-old Eóin and I were traveling from Doolin to Declan’s aunt and uncle’s home in County Cork. Even though the weather that day was brutal, with gale force winds and showers, it just didn’t seem right to drive past a phenomenal place like the Cliffs of Moher without stopping. We wrapped ourselves in jackets and scarves and made the long windy trek up the steps holding our hoods up over our heads and most importantly, holding on to Eóin for dear life! Having never experienced the kind of wind found at the top of the Cliffs of Moher when nature is showing its full force, I was very naive to want to pay a visit on that particular day. I remember that we could barely hear each other’s voices, however, neither Declan nor myself needed to tell the other to hold on tight to little Eóin! We went up – took a quick look at the Cliffs in their most brutal and harsh embodiment – and then quickly turned around and headed for the car, County Cork and a very pleasant meal in a Mitchelstown Pub with Declan’s relatives. That day there were no screeching, white seagulls  flying along the sharp, grey-black walls of the cliffs. That day it was only wind and mist, which turned into rain before we made it to our car.

I’m sure when we are in Clare at the end of this month the draw of the Cliffs of Moher will pull us back again for another awe-inspiring visit, but we will be more selective about what conditions we are willing to endure to visit this moody old friend!

St. Patrick’s Day blessings to ye!

In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday when most people have the day off work and the schools are closed. In the U.S. when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a weekday, as it has this year, we must be content to do most of our celebrating on the weekend. Therefore, since most of the celebrating in Chicago is going on today, I decided that I would wish everyone a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, today! I spoke to my son at around 10:30 a.m. and he was already celebrating with some friends at an Irish pub in Chicago, called Fado… which means ‘long ago’ in Irish. Good luck with that Anton… I hope the celebrating does not go on through to tonight! The Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade was today, as was the Elmhurst parade, which we missed due to the rain but could still hear from our house. Tonight, I may attend a Ceili Mor at the Irish Heritage Center which promises ceol ‘s craic – music and fun.

I’ve had some great fun celebrating over the years. Many St. Patrick’s Days were spent at the South Side Irish Parade and there were a couple spent in suburban pubs sipping disgusting green beer while wishing there was a vegetarian version of corned beef and cabbage. One particularly memorable St. Patrick’s Day took place many years ago at Irish Eyes Pub on Chicago’s north side with Fred, back when we were dating. We enjoyed some great Irish bands that night and I, in my youthful enthusiasm and amateur status, drank perhaps a beer more than I could handle and ended up with my face laying on the table! Recently, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations have been of a more subdued nature, with Declan and I marching with Eóin and his preschool in the Elmhurst St. Patrick’s Day Parade for a couple years and eventually, just the three of us watching from the sidelines.

In March of 2002, I had the good fortune to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the Irish, in Dublin! That year Delcan, Kate and I made the most of an authentic, Irish St. Patrick’s Day by attending as many events as possible. Two days before St. Patrick’s Day, we attended Dublin’s spectacular fire works celebration on the Liffey, surrounded by a crowd that seemed impossibly huge for a country with a population of roughly 4.5 million (6.2 million, if you include Northern Ireland)! On the day itself, March 17th, we made our way to Dame Street in the City Centre for the parade, and stood at the side of that narrow street in a crowd so thick with Irish people, as well as folks from around the world who came to celebrate in the land of St. Patrick, that it was nearly impossible to see the innumerable floats and marching bands passing by. We craned our necks and stood on our toes doing our best to see a bit while we nearly froze that cold, wet day. After about an hour of this, we decided we needed a bit more comfort. I should really say that I needed a bit more comfort, considering Eóin was born a mere 8 weeks later! Fourteen-year-old Kate insisted upon staying to watch, so Declan found a platform for her to stand on so that she could see above the crowd while we slipped in through the door of the pub that stood right behind her. So… there  we sat during St. Patrick’s Day 2002, in a pub on Dame Street, Declan having a beer and me a Club Orange, watching the rest of the parade on the pub telly, as it marched right past Kate and the pub door!

Unfortunately, the weather became increasingly bitter cold and wet that day and forced us to reluctantly miss the post parade festivities in Stephen’s Green where many great Irish bands were scheduled to perform in an outdoor concert. However, that year I felt satisfied to have done my best to make the most of  a truly Irish St. Patrick’s Day.

Here, for your enjoyment, is my idea of a great St. Patrick’s Day celebration… Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!

The South Side Irish Parade crowd, celebrating an unusually sunny parade day in 2009, Metromix photo by Chuan D. Vo

You can’t live in Chicago and ignore St. Patrick’s Day! Our tradition of dyeing the Chicago River green, which began in 1962 during the days of the first Mayor Daley, along with the yearly St. Patrick’s Day Parade rivalry between the bigger, downtown Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the rowdier, South Side Irish Parade, always marked this holiday as a big week in Chicago. My one and only sighting of the first Mayor Daley in the flesh was to see him decked out in his Kelly green hat marching in the downtown parade when I attended one time as a child with my mother, however, throughout most of my life this South Sider chose to celebrate in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood at the South Side Irish Parade. I attended this parade innumerable times, first as a child with my mother and sister, then with my friends as a teenager, and eventually, with my young husband, as a wife and mother… Anton and Kate in tow.

Instead of being anonymous bystanders at the downtown parade, the South Side Parade provided the comfort of a familiar neighborhood and many familiar faces. There were always groups of friends and acquaintances we could count on finding at the same corners each year – some on the calmer, east side of Western Avenue and others on the west side, where all the packed bars spilled out into the street. We also looked for a couple familiar faces within the parade… a friend who played guitar with his Irish band there every year and another who marched with the Irish Fire Brigade. When they came into view, we would call out their names and wave, most likely not laying eyes on the likes of them again for another year! Very often, as the parade was tapering off to an end, we made our way to the west side of Western Avenue to enjoy a meal of corned beef and cabbage with my aunt and her family, who celebrated on parade day every year in their home on Artesian Avenue in West Beverly. Most years, brutal weather came to the parade as an uninvited guest, but we merely put up with it, resigned to the fact that this is a necessary evil for folks celebrating a March 17th holiday outdoors in Chicago. However, I do remember attending one particular year when we were joyfully surprised with sunshine and warm Spring breezes, which combined with the parade festivities to create a Mardi Gras atmosphere that lasted well into the night!

The last time I attended the South Side Irish Parade was in March of 2004, when I brought Declan and Eóin for the first time. This was Declan’s first St. Patrick’s Day in the States. I remember him expressing his surprise at seeing the vast number of lawn signs in the Beverly neighborhood declaring support for the Democratic Presidential candidate that year – a shock after spending so much time in the Republican land of Elmhurst. We felt at home wearing our John Kerry pins that day and had a nice time, but the weather was brutal as usual, and we never aroused the enthusiasm to make the trek again during subsequent St. Patrick’s Days. It became easier to keep our Patrick’s Day celebrations closer to home by attending instead, the 3rd largest parade in the Chicago area, the Elmhurst St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The politics isn’t ours, but the proximity is, and these days we are far more likely to run into familiar faces here in Elmhurst than on the South Side of Chicago. However, I always felt nostalgic for the South Side Parade and vowed each year to make it back again.

But sadly, we missed our last chance to attend last year. The South Side Irish Parade is now a thing of the past… this enthusiastic and sometimes rowdy parade celebrating both St. Patrick’s Day and South Side pride, which grew too big and too disruptive for a city neighborhood, is now replaced with the more manageable, and tame sounding, “South Side Irish Parade Family Fest”. My guess is that the only way we will end up attending the Family Fest, will be to watch my son dance there one year with his Irish Dancing school! But the days of “Mardi Gras on the South Side” are over… at least until some crafty South Side Irish-American can convince the city to try it again!

The Loop Head by Carsten Krieger - carstenkrieger.co.uk

This magnificent vista lies just a short drive from Rose Cottage.

Loop Head Peninsula, a wild and historic piece of Ireland situated at the south-west corner of County Clare, is a treasure I only first heard of on the day we viewed the cottage with Mossie, our auctioneer. Before this, I was well acquainted with most of the rugged West Clare coastline, the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren, but it wasn’t until we had signed the closing papers in Dublin and were finally in Kilkee, that we had the opportunity to make the journey into Loop Head.

Our short visit to Ireland last November for the final walk through and closing, coincided with a recent barrage of record rainfall and floods. But with the first break in the rain, we made our way into the peninsula and down to the very tip of Loop Head where we found a working lighthouse and a breathtaking view. We could hardly believe our good fortune, that this place existed a mere 15-20 minute drive from Rose Cottage!

That day we stood windblown and careful to keep a safe distance from the rocky edge watching turbulent weather approach, appearing like the fabled mists written of in tales of Avalon, and threatening to swallow us up if we stayed too long.

That day I resolved to send all Rose Cottage visitors to this very spot on their first excursion for their first taste of what West Clare has to offer.

Brigid's Cross, courtesy fisheaters.com

Naomh Bhríde, St. Brigid (c. 453-523), also known as “The Patroness of Ireland” and “The Mary of the Gael”, has been credited with being a pioneer of early monastic life in Ireland. A contemporary of St. Patrick, St. Brigid, the daughter of an Irish Chieftain and his Pict slave, began her first convent with seven nuns, went on to set up and become the abbess of a double monastery, which housed both men and women, and eventually was even ordained Bishop. St. Brigid is surrounded by myth and mist, which is beautifully mixed with the folklore and rituals of the Celtic goddess, Brigid, her pagan predecessor. About where Brigid ends and St. Brigid begins, there has been much debate.

This scant bit of information was all I needed to be drawn to St. Brigid’s Cathedral in Kildare, County Kildare, Ireland. The fact that I had lived in Newbridge, County Kildare for several months before finally making it to the cathedral a few miles away, just goes to show how a person can get bogged down with day-to-day living, even while living abroad for one year with a long list of things to see! When we finally made it to Kildare and the cathedral, it was late on a cold, damp winter’s day. Though the gates were open with a bit more than an hour until closing, the cathedral was closed due to limited winter hours, so we had to satisfy ourselves with just touring the grounds. To tour the grounds of this particular cathedral is to wander, not only the place where St. Brigid’s original church and monastery once stood, but also to reach back into Ireland’s pagan past to the sacred site of the goddess Brigid, upon which St. Brigid is thought to have built her monastery.  Although a Norman Bishop in 1233 built the cathedral, which now stands on the site, the grounds contain the second tallest round tower in Ireland and the remains of the ancient oratory, “St. Brigid’s Fire House”. A sacred fire burned on this spot for centuries, probably going back to pre-Christian times when priestesses lit and tended fires for the goddess Brigid. When her monastery and church were built upon this site, St. Brigid, perhaps in keeping with the wise tactics of St. Patrick, adapted the local pagan practices into Christian ritual and continued the custom of a perpetual fire. This fire was kept burning throughout her life and through several centuries by the nuns who came after, up until the suppression of Ireland’s monasteries in the sixteenth century.

Due to the season, the cold, wet weather and the time of day, we had all these treasures of antiquity to ourselves as Declan, Kate and I walked around reading plaques, touching ancient, weathered stone and in general, attempted to sense a bit of the energy and vibes of this historically significant and sacred place. By the time we made our way around the cathedral there were about 15 minutes left until closing, and with dusk upon us and darkness approaching, that invisible energy we had looked for was beginning to feel a little too close for comfort and we were ready to leave and find a nice, warm tea shop. However, upon our return to the entry gate it was, not only closed –  but locked! The bars were wrapped in a thick, metal chain and secured tightly with a heavy lock, and there was not another person in site. At first, Kate, Declan and I walked calmly around the grounds, looking for another exit, which we were sure was available. When that proved fruitless, a little less calm, we began looking for a spot where one of us would be able to scale the wall and go for help. But we found that the Normans built their walls very well and with the height of the walls, followed by hedges and furze and a sharp decline beyond, none of the three of us felt up to the task of escaping this fortress. Back at the gate, we did what any person stuck in an abbey against their will would do, we called for help! The street leading to the gate was empty but as we were yelling a man happened to leave a nearby pub, and we were able to get his attention. Sure enough, he held up one finger telling us to wait, and went back into the pub where he retrieved the guard who was supposed to be on duty at the cathedral. The man came running with one of those big, old skeleton keys on a ring, and full of apologies. Apparently he had not seen us enter the gate and, considering the weather, had decided his time was better spent having a pint, than sitting in a damp old church awaiting visitors, so he closed up early and headed for the pub! Thank goodness the pub was close by, but then, aren’t they always close by?

A few months later we made it back to St. Brigid’s Cathedral when the tourist season was beginning to open things up a bit and we were able to get inside to tour the cathedral and walked the grounds again, pamphlet’s in hand and a bit more informed. We were even allowed to ring the church bell with its huge dangling rope, something 13-year-old Kate had a lot of fun doing! During this visit we learned that a strange hole passing through the stone at one outside corner of the cathedral, had its own piseog, or superstition, attached to it. The tradition is that a person places their arm through the hole far enough so that they can bend their elbow in order to touch their shoulder, and then they may make a wish! Here is a photo of me, on that windy day at St. Brigid’s Cathedral, making my wish. The bump in the photo is Eóin a few weeks before he was born. As any mother would guess, my wish was for an easy delivery of a healthy baby. Though we may never know the true origin of that hole in the stone wall, thankfully my wish came true!

Me, with Eóin aboard, making a wish!

Recently a friend in Ireland, Ruby, provided me with more information about the tradition of Pancake Tuesday, which I wrote about on the 16th of February. I thought I would share her information here so that you can have a better idea about how this day before the beginning of Lent was traditionally observed by most Irish people. Ruby says that the pancakes made on that day were made with plain flour, milk and eggs and did not contain baking powder. The batter was poured, paper-thin, to cover the bottom of an 8-10 inch skillet. So, it seems that they would be more like French crepes than the American style pancakes shown in the photograph with my earlier post. Also, instead of being served with maple syrup they were generally served with sugar or Golden Syrup, and lemon. Traditionally, the whole family would take part in the process, taking turns flipping the pancakes in the air. As the finished pancakes were piling up on a plate, they would be kept warm by placing the plate over a pot of boiling water. After all the batter was used up the family would dive in and devour these delicious treats! As I mentioned in my previous post, the single females in the family would get the first flip, with a successful flip indicating that she would marry before the following Pancake Tuesday! Based upon my ability to flip pancakes, if I had been born in Ireland I would probably still be a single woman, perhaps devoting my energy to a career and my three cats – Anton, Kate and Eóin!

Lyle's Golden Syrup - courtesy Wikipedia

Thanks for all the great information Ruby – and for reading my blog!

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