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Oscar Wilde covered with snow. Photo Niall Carson/The Irish Times

Good news greeted me upon my first glance at the Dublin Airport Authority website this morning – a website I have spent far too much time with this week! Dublin Airport Fully Operational. In what I think is a small window of opportunity during a brief lull in Ireland’s continuing severe weather advisory, Declan’s flight left the ground today, a mere 45 minutes late and is expected to arrive at O’Hare a bit early! After three days spent hoping and waiting at Dublin Airport I know an exhausted Declan will be so happy to be back that he won’t even mind the real cold that will greet him in Chicago. And as there is always a silver lining in every cloud, Declan had the good fortune to make new acquaintances during his ordeal at the airport and to even experience the unusual coincidence of running into Elmhurst friends, now living in Wisconsin, who were also stranded, trying to make their connection from London to the same Aer Lingus flight that has kept Declan waiting for so long. Last night they all enjoyed a well-earned evening at the pub, which by the background sounds I heard while talking to Declan on his mobile, was full of laughter and more than a few pints of the black stuff!

Another silver lining in this cloud of Irish severe weather, is that it has given me an excuse to share a photo of one of my favorite Dublin statues, covered with snow. This statue of the Irish writer/poet, Oscar Wilde, resides in Merrion Square. Like most statues in Dublin, Oscar has been given the usual array of humorous and irreverent nicknames, which I will refrain from including here, for fear that a few of my readers would not understand the affection usually attached to Dublin nicknames. It is my opinion that the sculptor, Danny Osborne, has managed to perfectly combine the respectful and weighty tribute of a representation in marble with the personality and flamboyance of Mr. Wilde himself! Whenever I come upon this statue I cannot help but stand there smiling for a while admiring the use of colorful marble carved into such a casual and vivacious form of this man who was so talented, yet so persecuted and disgraced in his lifetime. The fact that this statue of Oscar Wilde is now proudly displayed in such an important Dublin park, is a testament to the likelihood that the prejudices and inequalities that we still cling to today, will one day be looked upon with disbelief and scorn. Always, after passing Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square, the rest of my stroll is in the company of Mr. Wilde’s ghost – cheerfully walking along the footpath, arms swinging and head held high, completely unaware of my presence.

Oscar Wilde relaxing in Merrion Square during milder weather. Photo courtesy whatdoiknow.typepad.com

In all probability, Declan’s arms will not be swinging nor his weary head held high when he returns home after a grueling three days of waiting in Dublin Airport. However, I know he will think it was all worthwhile in exchange for the time he was able to spend in Kilkee and Dublin, and for the fun he had with his fellow stranded passengers yesterday, all of them making the best of a bad situation. And at least, now that it’s Friday, he has the weekend to relax and recharge before getting back to work on Monday morning!

Hello from the Camden Court Hotel, just a short stroll from Grafton Street in wonderful Dublin City! Although we’ve been to Ireland twice since last Thanksgiving, we have not been in Dublin for a year, so it’s wonderful being back. Returning to Dublin always feels like returning home. I love this city with its odd quirks; great food and favorite restaurants; familiar sights, lanes, streets, rivers and canals; and both historic and oddly modern buildings and neighborhoods! Dublin is a unique combination of historic, modern, beautiful and grungy and I feel at home and comfortable here!

We arrived in Dublin Airport at around 7:15 a.m Sunday, after a white knuckled, bumpy flight that ended in a very wobbly landing. We realized why the landing had been so wobbly as we fought to walk to the car rental kiosk through extremely high winds that blew dust into our eyes and my hair into a mass of wild chaos! Compared with the hot weather in Chicago, it was downright autumnal when we arrived – grey, windy and very cool. Eventually the sun came out and has stayed out for the most part, but it is still cool enough for a sweater and light scarf. At least the rain has stayed away so far.

Bewleys on Grafton Street, courtesy Dublin Photo Galleries http://www.dublin30.com

We’ve already managed to visit a cousin and a brother (both Declan’s) and to do a tiny bit of sight-seeing, some necessary shopping and a lot of eating! Yesterday we had a very “American” moment when we found ourselves looking out at the historic Bewley’s on Grafton Street while sipping iced mochas at Starbucks, of all places! I thought a photo of Bewley’s through a Starbucks window would have made a wonderful photo for the blog, but alas, with the camera left in my luggage at the hotel, I had to settle for photo of this landmark Dublin cafe that I swiped off the net!

Ranked just below his long anticipated opportunity to visit with a his cousins in Dundrum, a highlight of Eoin’s trip so far was sticking his fingers into the bullet holes on the columns outside the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, which were left by British soldiers during the 1916 Easter Rising. Afterwards, he walked through Grafton Street holding my umbrella as though it were a rifle, pretending he was one of the Easter Rising heros!

We ended our Grafton Street sight-seeing/shopping spree by watching a Canadian street performer escape Houdini-esqu from a straightjacket… a feat he managed to carry out by first dislocating his left shoulder with a popping noise so loud that it made me cringe! Pretty amazing “entertainment” for the mere 3 euro donation we dropped into Canadian-Houdini’s hat! Message to Kate and Kevin – there is work for theatre majors in Dublin!

Tomorrow, after collecting The Traveling Butter Dish and Co. we’re leaving Dublin and heading out west to Kilkee. Although I’ll miss Dublin, I am looking forward to being in the cottage again. Meanwhile though, just to give you an idea of how great this city is, right now, while typing this blog entry at nearly 2 a.m., I am being serenaded by a group of revellers in the street below singing The Rare Auld Times! Yes, I love Dublin!

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:

Door of Reconciliation, wikipedia

If you have the opportunity to tour St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin you will see an old wooden door with a hole cut into it. The “Door of Reconcilliation” is said to be the place where the phrase, “chance your arm” was coined. This phrase may be used here in the States, but I only first heard it spoken when I was in Ireland. It refers to a person ‘taking a risk’ as in, “I may chance my arm and ask for a raise” or, “Life is full of exciting surprises if you chance your arm.”

The story behind this door and the phrase attached to it is that, in 1492 there was an ongoing bloody, feud between two prominant Irish families, the Ormonds and the Kildares. During a confrontation in Dublin, the Earl of Ormond, James Butler, along with several of his men, took refuge in the Chapter House of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, behind this very door. Butler’s enemy, Gerald Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare, stood on the other side of the door. Fitzgerald decided, in his desire to end the bloodshed, to make a peace offering. To prove his good intentions and honor, he ordered his soldiers to cut a hole through the door and then bravely, “chanced his arm” by thrusting it through the hole in the offer of a handshake of friendship. In doing so, he risked having his arm sliced off by Butler and his men. However, Butler magnanimously accepted this offer of reconciliation and with a handshake through the hole in the door, the feud was ended, and Fitzgerald was able to return home with both arms intact! Thus, in this case anyway, chancing an arm had paid off.

As a mother, I have in some cases advised my children to chance their arms… as evidence of this, one has a BA in English Literature and the other is about to finish a BFA at a Theatre Conservatory! I urged them to think less about taking the safe, conventional routes and to study what they love, work hard at their chosen subjects and the rest will take care of itself. I truly believe that no matter where their passions and pursuits lead them, they will end up more fulfilled if the starting point is at a place where their true interests and passions lie.

However, when it comes to advising my children to take physical risks… I am very protective and a bit of a coward! One example of this would be the threat they have lived with since they were very young that, should any of them ever purchase a motorcycle I promise I will sneak into their garages in the dead of night and put sugar in the gas tank. This is not an empty threat! As far as their physical safety goes, I have warned them to, “be careful” more times than I would like to admit… more times than I know I should have. A good illustration of my over use of the phrases, “be careful” and “watch out”, happened once when I was in a coffee shop with my youngest son when he was about 4 years old. He was having fun running circles around a small table. Suddenly, he came to a dead stop and with a concerned look on his face asked me, “Uh oh… do you think I’ll get dizzy and fall down?” I looked over at the people sitting at a nearby table who were having quite a laugh over his statement and said, “You know, that says a lot more about me than it does him!”

Hovering, worrying and warning my children when it comes to their physical safety and well being is just who I am… like my mother before me! So, this leads to my most recent conflict. Since Eoin and I will be spending our summer(s) at Rose Cottage, it is my intention to enroll him in some sort of summer camp in Kilkee to provide him with fun and an opportunity to meet some of the local children. Because Kilkee is a resort town during the summer due to its proximity to the ocean and the lovely Kilkee Beach, it makes sense to enroll him in a camp that will introduce him to the many watersports that are so much a part of the area. In my pursuit of this end, I came across watersport instruction, NEVSAIL Watersports, that is located next to the life guard hut on the beach and offers adult instruction and certification along with summer camps for boys and girls ages 6-16. As I browsed their website I read all the choices of watersports that this camp offers… kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, raft building, sailing, orienteering (whatever that is!), boogie boarding, surfing, fishing and power boating. The school guarantees high safety standards and states that, “Kilkee is regarded as one of the safest and most popular bathing places on the west coast.” However, my gut level urge was to run the other way! Do I really want to introduce him to, and perhaps begin a passion for, any of these watersports? Shall I risk having a son who spends his leisure time in pursuit of the ultimate wave?! Even raft building, which at first sounded a bit more tame, upon more thought, gave me visions of Eoin floating away into the Atlantic on a raft without an oar! And don’t even get me started on power boating!

So here I am, torn between a desire to provide my son with the opportunity to explore this new horizon that Kilkee has to offer him, and my gut level urge to find him a nice pottery camp! Do I chance my arm? Do I allow him to chance his?

from NevSailWatersports.com

While going through photos today looking for a nice shot of Dublin for the blog, I came across this photograph of my mother-in-law, Eileen’s, back garden and couldn’t stop looking at it. The photo tugs at my heart because this is the place where I spent a great deal of my time during every trip to Ireland since July of 2000, when I first brought my daughter there for a month long visit. This house on Whitebeam Road in Clonskeagh, Dublin 14, was always our base and is the place I think of first when I think of Ireland. It is from here that we brought that one log of firewood we burned with the turf, when we made our first fire in Rose Cottage… the ‘continuity log’. And if it wasn’t for this very house in Dublin, there would be no cottage for us in County Clare.

Every time we arrived back at Whitebeam Road after a long interval spent in the States, it was almost as much a feeling of homecoming to me as it was for Declan, who was visiting the home where he had spent the better part of his life. His mother would be waiting eagerly at the door when we arrived, the dog, Judy, barking her harsh, Cocker Spaniel bark, her tiny tail stub shaking her body from side to side. Most likely, Judge Judy, Eileen’s second favorite show after Coronation Street, would be blasting on the television. I think my mother-in-law got many of her ideas about what Americans are like from watching Judge Judy. In fact, I think the dog was named after this particular American tv judge, though she never admitted as much.

There are four fireplaces in the Clonskeagh house, one in the sitting room, one in the dining room and one each in two of the four bedrooms. This was not so much for luxury as for heat, because up until about six years ago there was no central heating system in the house. Eileen relied upon a fire built each morning and a couple electric heaters. This wouldn’t be the norm anymore in places like Dublin, but the house had not been modernized over the years and was pretty much still existing in a time warp of 1960’s Ireland, maybe even 1950’s Ireland. But it was an elegant house in a very lovely and desirable Dublin neighborhood, a place I really hated to have to leave when my husband sold it after Eileen passed away in July of 2007. In my mind, Eileen was part of the house and the house was part of her, because by the time I met her she was elderly, and though she still got out for yearly holidays abroad and trips to Dublin’s City Centre, she mostly stayed at home and lived a life of daily rituals. These rituals started with a breakfast of toast and instant coffee every morning while sitting on a wooden stool in the kitchen listening to talk radio. This was followed by a walk to a nearby shop for the Irish Times and a day mostly consisting of telling Judy she was being “bold!” when she misbehaved, voracious reading, working on crossword puzzles, and watching a bit of television between catnaps.  After she died the house felt different, inanimate and lonely. But I’ll miss it just the same…  for Eileen, her spirit and the kindness she exhibited toward me, and for all the memories I accumulated during my visits there.

One of the things I’ll miss the most about my time spent in Clonskeagh are the walks I often took from the house to the nearby neighborhood of Ranelagh with its coffee shop, Coffee Society, and its wonderful restaurants. My favorite recollections of that trek are the innumerable times I made it with my daughter during our first stay there, when she was in the final months of being a 12 year old, just before her more cynical, self-conscious teenage years. Though she complained about tired legs during the first part of the walk, in a short time she would become happily distracted by picking the tiny, purple flowers that grew between the rocks of the stone walls that hid the front gardens of huge homes we passed along the way. She would be equally distracted from her tired legs by yelling, “gross!” at each snail she spotted crawling on those same walls on the wet days. Reminiscing about these walks we made together along the Sandyford Road to Ranelagh is a bittersweet memory when I think of her all grown up now, and of how fast time moves along. But not all memories are bittersweet and Kate and I also have a good laugh about just how cold that old house in Dublin could get, even in July, and how we dreaded its ice cold toilet seat first thing each morning!

Another feature of visits to Declan’s mother’s house would be hopping on the #11 double decker bus on excursions into the City Centre to visit museums and to shop, for fun on Grafton Street, or necessity on Henry Street. I made that bus trip more times than I can count, when Declan wasn’t available with the car and I needed to get around in a city that I would never, ever drive in. For though the Irish tend to be very nice, reserved people, I’ve noticed an underlying aggressive streak that is very evident in the way they drive their cars in Dublin traffic! Perhaps a bit of the old Viking spirit remains from Dublin’s Viking roots.  I took many bus journeys into town alone and also with Kate, who always insisted upon sitting in the upper deck. Later my bus partner was Eoin, no easy task in those first years of strollers and baby bags. But eventually, he became big enough to walk on by himself and look out the window enjoying our usual bus trip pastime of watching for our favorite colors as we passed the colorful “doors of Dublin” on the houses that lined the residential streets.

The River Dodder meanders behind Eileen’s house with a park along the bank. The park would fill with the lunch crowd on work days and what seemed to be every young person in South Dublin on weekends when the weather was mild. On the pretty rare occasions that the sun was out and it was fairly hot, folks would be stretched out on blankets scattered all over the grass attempting to get a bit of color, knowing that the sun could disappear at any moment and then stay away for the remainder of summer. In spots between the blankets there would be young parents walking toddlers and small groups of boys managing to find enough space to kick a ball around. I’ll miss the River Dodder for these sights, but mostly for a memory I have of peering down at it from the nearby bridge one night with Eoin, watching a bright, full moon reflecting on the water.

The last time we were in Eileen’s house was after we had cleared it of furniture to prepare for the final closing. The photograph I’m showing here was taken on that day, just before we emptied the plants from the white Belfast Sink, visible in the photo near the back door. At one time that sink served as the kitchen sink, though it was in the back garden filled with flowers for as long as I have been visiting. Like the log we burned in our first fire in Rose Cottage, that Belfast Sink will one day make the trip from storage in Dublin out to the West and find a new home with us in County Clare. Here’s an idea… maybe I should fill it with roses!

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