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Beannacht Lá Fhéile Pádraig!

St. Patrick blesses Co. Mayo, photo courtesy news.NationalGeographic.com

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! So far this year, my celebration of St. Patrick’s Day has been to attend the local parade last Saturday with Declan and Eoin – bundled up from head to toe to keep out the cold – and to bake two loaves of Irish Brown Bread, my first ever! One loaf went with Eoin to school for his Culture Project Food Day and the other was just for us. Served with raspberry jam and the deep yellow richness of Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter – and moistened with cupán tae – the brown bread was celebration enough! However, adding to the pleasure of the holiday, I just received the following video in a “Happy St. Patrick’s Day” email from The Francis O’Neill Club of the Irish American Heritage Center. Song for Ireland perfectly conveys my affection for Ireland and this version by Dick Gaughan is particularly soulful. So, in celebration of the day that’s in it, I offer this video for you to enjoy a wonderful song and to feast your eyes on the beauty of the island St. Patrick loved so well! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PInNrFZQEwk&feature In addition, with thoughts directed toward the people of Japan in their struggle with the ongoing devastation in their country, instead of talk of green beer and shamrocks this St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll leave you with the comfort of a small part of  St. Patrick’s Breastplate, a prayer attributed to the saint himself.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Thanksgiving feast - provided by graphicdesignblog.org

While I’m here in the States being thankful for my many blessings this Thanksgiving, my husband will be on his way back “home” to spend a week in Ireland. Thanksgiving dinner at our house will be a smaller affair this year. My daughter is having her first Thanksgiving away from home, seated at a table I’ve never seen, in her L.A. apartment. That leaves just me and my two sons – and my husband – if we manage to have our feast on the table before the taxi comes to bring him to O’Hare Airport for his journey across the pond!

Declan is happy to be going to Ireland, or perhaps, just to be enjoying a few days off work! Although it would be great to be going along, I can’t begrudge him this short trip on his own after Eoin and I were able to enjoy so many weeks in Kilkee last summer. The main reason for this visit is to batten down the hatches at Teach deBúrca and to see to it that the fuel tank is filled with sufficient oil to keep our West Clare cottage snug enough throughout the winter months to keep dampness out and the water pipes from freezing. After last year’s unusually cold weather we are even more determined to make sure the cottage stays warm and dry. Also while there, Declan is looking forward to inspecting our two outbuildings, which he expects to be standing proudly beneath newly installed roof cladding. Like the drainage ditches we put around the perimeter of the property last summer, the roofs are a necessity if we want to keep these rustic old relics intact.

When Declan arrives at Teach deBúrca, it will be his first time crossing the threshold through our lovely, new, red half-door, which was not installed until after his departure last summer! Now that I’m thinking of it, perhaps I should supply him with written instructions for mastering the art of locking and unlocking the door. Also upon arrival he will, hopefully, be able to give me the good news that our Belfast sink is still sitting where I left it in August, despite the warnings I was given against leaving such a coveted item on display.

It will be far quieter in Kilkee this time of year, with many of the shops closed for the winter. Kilkee is bustling at the height of the summer holiday season but during the winter months it is a sleepy village inhabited only by locals who are not as inclined to spend their time and money enjoying a lot of breakfasts at The Pantry, pricey but delicious dinners at Murphy Black’s or lovely seafood feasts at Naughton’s Bar. And, though Diamond Rock’s Cafe will still be open on the weekends, it will probably be too cold to have tea or a morning mocha on the outdoor patio. I do hope the weather is mild enough for Declan to be able to walk safely along the cliffs or at least allow him to wander for a time around the Pollock Holes. However, with such a short stay, seeing to the concerns of the cottage will leave little time for much else. For instance, on top of having the oil delivered and ‘battening down of hatches’, I am hoping Declan will manage to get over to Kilrush or Ennis to buy a new, electric stove top to replace the gas stove that came with the house, but was not properly installed for safe use. This will enable me to prepare meals next time I’m there, using the lovely new cookware I am stashing in Declan’s luggage! Teach deBúrca will be more of a home with a working stove and hot meals enjoyed at our kitchen table …

… which brings me back to Thanksgiving dinner and the fact that it is already the end of November and I have taken such a long break from writing in this blog! I can’t explain my absence except to say that I’ve been pulled in many directions since returning to the suburbs of Chicago. The lazy days of a summer spent in Kilkee seem so far away… walks along spectacular cliffs, drives through the foggy mists of Loop Head, braying donkeys in the night, holy wells and abbey ruins, waves crashing against the rocks and upon the sandy shoreline, the daily navigation of potholes dotting the long, narrow gravel road that leads to our cottage, bright orange starfish in the tide pools… such a different world from life in the suburbs. I suppose it has taken me awhile to readjust and to begin to recapture the ability to exist in the two worlds at the same time.

I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving!

A different world.

Since returning from Ireland, in addition to suffering from jet lag, I’ve spent most of my time readjusting to life in the suburbs of Chicago and reuniting with my family. My main focus, and a lot of emotional energy, has been devoted to getting my youngest ready to begin 3rd grade – and sadly – saying goodbye to my daughter as she embarks on her new life in L.A.. Therefore, Blogging from the Bog has had to take a back seat for a few weeks. However, I have many photos and a few stories to tell and will be back at it very soon!

Until then, I thought I’d share this lovely song by Adele, which has absolutely nothing to do with West Clare or Teach deBúrca, but reminds me of my feelings for my children – something that has been on my mind a lot lately!

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!

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!

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!

I drove home last night while the skies were in the process of dumping 4-5 inches of snow on the Chicago area in a matter of about 2 hours. My trip home from Irish language class on Chicago’s north side, which should have taken roughly 30 minutes, instead was nearly an hour and a half! White knuckled, I crawled home at a speed hovering around 20 mph on expressways jammed with an unusually large number of cars for the 9:30-11 p.m. time span. Because the snow was coming down all at once, plows had not yet had the chance to even begin to clear streets. Between the huge snow flakes falling, blowing sideways and looking like thick fog – making visibility beyond two car lengths nearly impossible – and the snow piling up in huge amounts on the pavement, cars just crawled along, some unable to grip the road and swimming along like fish traveling up a stream. A few vehicles sat in ditches at the side of the road as reminders that it is paramount to adjust one’s speed to the conditions.

Like I’ve said in earlier posts, the snow is beautiful, and even last night its beauty wasn’t lost on me. However, driving in it was a challenge at best, dangerous at worst, and I am now officially quite ready for winter to end! I’m sure Declan feels the same, considering he shoveled the driveway twice last night and again this morning. And just to add insult to injury, along with the brutal weather in Chicago comes an excellent system of snow removal, so yet again, Eoin trudged off to school disappointed that he did not have a snow day off!

daffodils courtesy Google

Meanwhile, I hear the daffodils have already popped up in Ireland. Soon their bright yellow faces will be lining the motorways. Longingly, I think of our trip in March to County Clare… only 30 days to go, but who’s counting?!

Nicholas Mosse "Assorted Landscape" butter dish - photo courtesy AnnMarie.com

For the most part I am a pretty reasonable, logical thinker – that is, unless emotion gets in the way! This can happen with big things, but most often it comes into play over smaller issues, like when I bought a third pair of boots last October, which I simply had to have because they made me feel 10 years younger when I put them on – or maybe it was two inches taller. I really can’t remember now. Another example of emotion trumping logic, would be my drive this morning to Andersonville in Chicago to enjoy the much-anticipated, weekly morning tea time with my daughter at Kopi – even though she had to be at the Theatre School extra early on this particular Thursday morning, leaving us a bit stressed for time. Logic would have told me to skip it this week and wait for a less hectic day, but emotion ruled the day and I gladly refused to miss out on the fun with Kate.

Recently, I made one of these seemingly logic-free and purely emotional decisions with the purchase of an over-priced, yet charming, “Assorted Landscape” butter dish from the Nicholas Mosse Pottery Studio based in Kilkenny, Ireland. On the surface this was a completely illogical thing to do, considering I had it shipped to my home in the U.S. …  only to have to pack it up again so that I can carry it back to Ireland when I make the trip to Kilkee in late March! And, if for some reason you don’t think this decision lacks logic, just ask Declan and he will set you straight. After hearing my explanation for why I would do such a thing he was incredulous to say the least. He simply could not get his mind around it! But at the end of the day, Declan will realize how much better his morning tea and toast will taste in Rose Cottage, with the butter coming from this particular butter dish – as it sits upon our kitchen table next to the Nicholas Mosse “Landscape Cow” milk pitcher and “Landscape Sheep” sugar bowl, which I already owned and will also be bringing with us to Ireland in March.

The emotional aspect of this purchase comes from our current absence from the cottage and my strong need to make it mine, and make it cozy, comfortable and welcoming – yet being unable to do much of anything from this distance. These emotions convinced me that Rose Cottage can only be ours, when the kitchen holds a Brown Betty teapot and this little assortment of country-inspired, Irish-made pottery!

So, logical or not, silly or not, an expensive – yet charmingly quaint – butter dish has made its way across the pond to the States, only to be immediately prepared for its trip back home again in a few weeks. Sometimes a person just has to go with what feels right. Besides, without deferring to emotion every once in a while – life would be a very dull affair!

Pancakes - courtesy Google

The day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, is known as Pancake Tuesday in Ireland. So, while those in New Orleans were reveling at Mardi Gras today, folks in Ireland were ‘feasting’ on pancakes.

With strict religious traditions followed in the past, abstaining from eggs, fat and butter during Lent was required, so these products were used up on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday in a feast, which in Ireland included pancakes. On Pancake Tuesday in the old days, families would sit around a fire, often fueled with the addition of holly from Christmas, where they baked the pancakes. The honor of making the first pancake was usually awarded to the eldest, unmarried daughter. It was said that if she was able to flip the pancake and it landed neatly back in the pan, she would be married within the year! If the toss were unsuccessful, she would remain single. I’m sure there were a few ‘first pancakes’ purposefully flipped over the side of the pan into a bit of a mess… as well as, a few lovingly flipped with practiced expertise!

These days Pancake Tuesday is a nod to tradition and fun way to have something a bit different for dinner, and in Ireland, pancakes are rarely seen except for on this day. With the exception of a few tourist places, breakfast in Ireland does not include pancakes. Apparently, the Irish find the American taste for pancakes at breakfast and throughout the year… along with our restaurants almost entirely dedicated to pancakes, a bit of a curiosity and uniquely American. In fact, when we have had Irish visitors over on holiday, bringing them to a local pancake restaurant, or pancake house, has become a part of their sight-seeing and the American experience!

The year I lived in Ireland was the first I had ever heard of Pancake Tuesday. To me it was a great excuse for an easy dinner, as well as, a fun opportunity to take part in the local culture. So, on Pancake Tuesday of 2002 in County Kildare I made a huge, American sized stack of pancakes for dinner. Kate was thrilled to be having pancakes! Declan looked a bit confused. Why had I made so many pancakes? I just shrugged and told him pancakes always come in stacks, besides it’s our dinner. When he then told me that usually dinner on Pancake Tuesday included pancakes – but also consisted of other food items, such as meat and vegetables and that the pancakes were more of a dessert… I felt a bit like the befuddled foreigner again. However, we ate the stack of pancakes, with maple syrup, and they were delicious! And what’s more, they reminded Kate and me of home.

Tonight I served pancakes of a sort for dinner. Potato pancakes – with applesauce on the side. I’m not sure if they count as Pancake Tuesday pancakes, but somehow being in the U.S., having a stack of traditional pancakes with dinner felt a bit odd and too much like breakfast. However, had I found the following recipe before today, I may have made it instead – though vegetarian that I am, the bacon would have either been omitted or cooked separately on the side. Here is a recipe for Guinness Pancakes with Crispy Bacon and Cheese, courtesy of the Irish Culture and Customs website:

Ingredients:

5 oz. plain flour

1 tsp. baking powder

2 eggs

9 fl. oz. Guinness (approx.)

1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

1 T. vegetable oil

For the topping:

4-6 rashers of dry-cured bacon

knob/pat of butter*

1 T. vegetable oil*

4 heaping T. grated sharp mature cheddar

2 T. chopped fresh herbs (i.e. chives, parsley, basil)

Method:

1. Mix the flour, baking powder, eggs and thyme with enough Guinness to create a thick-ish batter.

2. Heat a little oil in a large, flat non-stick frying pan. When the oil is almost smoking pour in 2-3 ladles full of the batter.

3. Cook over a medium heat until bubbles appear on the surface and the underside is brown (3-5 mins). Turn over and brown the other side. Continue until you have 8-10 pancakes. Keep warm.

4. Fry the bacon with a little butter and oil until crisp. (* My note: I don’t think American bacon needs the addition of oil and butter!) Mix together the cheese and chopped herbs.

5. Arrange the pancakes on a warm plate, scatter with the cheese mixture and top with the hot bacon. Serve at once.

Perhaps next year a few of us will observe Pancake Tuesday with Guinness Pancakes!

An Leabhar Cheanannais.

The Four Evangelists, from The Book of Kells courtesy of Brian Keller

Music brought me to Doolin and County Clare, but it was a very different art form that first brought me to Dublin. Ireland’s most famous illuminated manuscript, The Book of Kells, or  An Leabhar Cheanannais, has enchanted me for many years. Having done a bit of calligraphy, as well as desktop publishing, I have had a long time interest and appreciation of lettering, fonts, and page layout, both with pen and ink and in the new digital forms. So it was with great anticipation that I made my way to Trinity College Dublin to finally lay my eyes on this medieval work of art and phenomenal technical feat. In an earlier post I told the story of my embarrassing incident outside the ‘ancient’ door at the side of the museum which houses The Book of Kells and the Old Library at TCD. But once I finally found the correct entrance, I was rewarded with a view of the treasure I had been in awe of for a very long time.

Considered Ireland’s finest National Treasure, The Book of Kells, which was created by Irish monks around the early 9th century, contains the four gospels written in Latin. The calligraphy and artwork was done on vellum (prepared calfskin) and decorated with magnificent designs of geometric patterns, celtic knots and swirls of bold and brightly colored inks and, if I remember correctly – gold leaf, in illustrations so intricate that you need a magnifying glass to appreciate them fully. Along with these beautiful and intricate designs, the real fun comes from the illustrations of human beings and animals which are worked into the text and even help form some of the letters. Some of these illustrations are so comical, and even a bit wicked, that you can’t look at them without feeling that you are getting a glimpse into the minds of some very talented monks having a bit of fun with their calling!

A great example of the human hands, and minds, behind such wonderful manuscripts comes, not from The Book of Kells, but in a copy of St. Paul’s Epistles, which was written in Irish, around the 8th century at Reichenau Monastary. In the margin of the text is found a poem, written and probably composed, by an Irish monk who was working on the manuscript. This charming poem is about his cat, Pangur Bán. Following are the first and last verses of the eight verse poem (translated from Irish):

Pangur Bán

I and Pangur Bán, my cat,

‘Tis a like task we are at;

Hunting mice is his delight,

Hunting words I sit all night.


Practice every day has made

Pangur perfect in his trade;

I get wisdom day and night,

Turning Darkness into light.

Life in medieval Ireland could not have been easy, especially for the poor, but even the wealthy had their challenges with so many bloody battles and skirmishes and the constant need to defend territory from both foreign invaders and even the clan on the next mountain who wanted a bit more power! And being a monk was not without its difficulties and risks. However to me, there could have been few occupations in that era as rewarding, both spiritually and artistically, as that of the monks who spent their lives creating these beautiful works of art for the eyes, mind and soul.

My son recently brought to my attention an animated film that is based upon these monks and The Book of Kells, and has been nominated for this year’s Oscars in the Best Animated Film category. “The Secret of Kells” is due to come out this March and I can’t help but think that an artistic treasure like The Book of Kells would attract animators with a great respect for its history and beauty. And considering the animated cat in the film has the name “Pangur Bán”, I think I am in for a treat! Meanwhile, here is the trailer for your enjoyment:

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