Cork City ...
Having lived for 35 years in Melrose, those two words meant an area just west of the then-Gooch School where a lot of folks with Irish surnames lived.
Cork City ...
As of last month I have a quite different image. It came alive for me during a trip to Ireland in September when I crossed the two channels of the River Lee that cut through the downtown of Cork. It was not unlike driving through Lowell or Lawrence or Haverhill, but now those words conjure up a multitude of images.
Words create images. Some are more vivid in our minds than others. As the years pass, the exact same words may prompt different images.
Cork City was the halfway point on a 10-day journey by automobile with my daughter, Jennifer. We started in Dublin, went slightly north to the site of a massive 5000-year-old tomb in Newgrange, then plunged straight south to a seacoast town below Waterford called Dunmore East. Along the southern seacoast we found a nearly tourist-free, genuine Irish town called Youghal and tore ourselves away after two days. Two memorable side trips to Ardmore and Kinsale will be described later in this travelogue.
The name O'Driscoll was popping up everywhere in the Cork area: on for-sale signs (O'Driscoll Real Estate Company), storefronts and on the sides of trucks. The name cropped up incessantly in Cork City, making me wonder why I didn't live most of my time in Melrose on Cleveland Street instead of Upham Street.
Outside Cork City is the Blarney Castle. While I waited below, Jennifer stood in a long line, then climbed four flights of inside stairs to the top where she lay on her back, pulled herself out over the edge and kissed the Blarney Stone. With this act comes the gift of eloquence. I will continue to bumble along.
A three-night bed-and-breakfast stay in Killarney enabled us to do bus tours of the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula, where "Ryan's Daughter" was filmed. From there we scooted to Galway on the upper West Coast, spending a half day touring Connemara and a half-day visiting the Ashford Castle. In between we stayed at a B&B overlooking Galway Bay, brightened by a full moon.
On our last night we stayed in the pretty town of Adare, about a 45-minute drive north to Shannon Airport.
Backing up, let me share some of the images now indelible in my mind.
The first was a bit of an oddity. As is normal for American tourists, we arrived in Dublin at 7 a.m. Breakfast at Bewleys was touted as sort of the "in" thing to do. When we arrived, waiting outside for the cafeteria to open were a dozen young teens in evening dresses and tuxedos.
No, the Irish don't dress up for breakfast. And yes, they had been up all night, and from what we could gather they had come from the Irish version of a Cotillion. Otherwise the patrons were average folks on their way to work. The next morning we saw several other small groups of teens around town similarly dressed. Must have been Cotillion week.
Except for a few photographs here and there, what follows are some words that I hope will create some pleasant, virtual images in your mind:
If pressed for time, the two most efficient ways to see this city are by bicycle or by bus. Several friends who have taken the Dublin Bike Tour rave about it. It's leisurely, takes about three hours, stops at the worthwhile sites and is the best way to avoid the famous traffic congestion. The cost is about $18 US per person, covering bike, tour guide and insurance. Tours leave at 2 p.m. on weekdays and throughout the day on weekends, leaving from the front gate of Christ Church Cathedral. Where's that? Opposite the Lord Edward pub! Luckily my daughter had slightly pulled a back muscle prior to the trip, so we elected to take the Dublin City "Hop on-Hop off" bus tour. It makes 13 stops at locales easily accessible to almost 30 tourist attractions.
Trinity College, where the Book of Kells is displayed, the Dublin Castle and St. Patrick's Cathedral are among the most popular -- not to mention the Guinness Hopstore that has one decided advantage over all the others. But the surprise gem in the mix was the modern "Ceol and Chimney" (ceol is the Gaelic word for music), adjacent to the Old Jameson Distillery. A variety of interactive exhibits provide a glimpse of the storytelling tradition that evolved into music, song and dance. The Uilleann pipes, the fiddle, the flute, the button accordion, the jigs, the reels, the hornpipes. They are all there in this modern space that includes touch-sensitive screens, surround sound, musical stepping stones and more. The conclusion is a breathtaking film tour of Ireland shown on a wraparound screen that pans four corners of the greener-than-green countryside, takes you into homes and pubs and exposes you to a variety of performers in their community settings.
Having finished your sightseeing, possibly without much sleep over the past 24 hours, it's no time to turn in as the sun sets. The locals turn their noses up at it, but we heartily recommend attending the cabaret dinner-show at Jury's Hotel in Ballsbridge, a section of Dublin. It's a lively three hours of perky entertainment.
Recently excavated and restored on the summit of a low hill overlooking the rolling green Boyne valley is an architectural wonder known as Newgrange, a massive stone burial mound built sometime between 3500 and 2700 B.C. That means it would have pre-dated the pyramids, Stonehenge and Mycenae. Two other "passage tombs" are located in the Boyne area, and there are believed to be as many as 200 scattered around the country. The mound is almost 40 feet high with a diameter of something like 250 feet, set at the very top of a one-acre hill. It's estimated that 200,000 tons of stone hold the mound together. The perimeter contains 97 stones forming what is called a kerb, an unbroken circle of slabs. I wondered whether it was the root word for what we refer to as "curbstone" or "curb".
The several-ton entrance stone is among several that are decorated. The passage into the tomb is about 60 feet long. At places it is quite narrow. Those with claustrophobia are urged to stay on the outside. The woman behind me froze at the narrowest point. Turning back with a dozen people packed into the passageway behind her didn't seem practical, so, after a couple of hand-wringing minutes, her husband simply pushed her through. A half hour earlier I noticed that the woman ordered a liquer drink in the coffee shop. It was noticeable, because it was only 11 a.m. She must have known what was coming.
Once inside there is an opening, maybe 10 by 10. Three little rooms run off the "lobby" and obviously were burial chambers. Our guide turned off the inside light, which was a bit spooky. With a flashlight she demonstrated how at certain times, notably December 21, the shortest day of the year, the sunlight pierces the main chamber and illuminates a stone with three linked spirals that some say connotes eternity with no beginning and no end. The light actually comes through a roofbox. Not like the ones at Fenway park. Rather it is a shaft-like opening that runs along the top of the passageway and is the size and shape of our aluminum ducts that run across basement ceilings in forced-air heating systems.
Lots more can be said about this prehistoric monument, but I guess what mostly boggled my mind was the transporting of these several-ton stones. We were told some came from Waterford County in the south, others from a quarry about two miles away. It was estimated by our guide that it would take 80 men four days to pull a four-ton stone from the quarry. It's beyond me how they moved the other stones such great distances.
We traveled across at least half of the Southern coastline. Ireland is only 150 miles wide and 300 miles from north to south, but driving is sometimes slow. The roads are narrow, the "highways" snake through the centers of villages and farmers have to use the same roads to drive their tractors and front-end loaders. The scenery is so beautiful, it really doesn't matter, but generally it takes an hour to go 30 miles.
A lot of the magic of Ireland is found off the main roads. For instance, after soaking up the seaside sights at Dunmore East, we headed west. Gerry Cook, the Melrose attorney who has made several trips to the Ould Sod, told us to make sure we visited Ardmore. It had half-registered with me. Suddenly we saw a sign for Ardmore too late to turn. His advice had been right on the money up to then, so we took the next turn a couple of miles further down the road and made our way there. It was like hitting the lottery.
They only have four beaches in this tiny seaside resort, where Mrs. Margaret Carr of Melrose comes from. A cliff-top area above the city not only provides sea and land vistas but also a 2Ż-mile circular cliff walk that ends near St. Declan's Well. It is here that St. Declan is supposed to have established the first Christian settlement in Ireland. We visited the site of the original monastery where the walls of a church dating back to 1203 still stand. The altar is said to have come from the original church in the 9th Century. Adjacent is a skinny tower with narrow windows about 20 feet up as well as at the top. A local resident strolled by and told us the monks built the 87-foot tower in the 11th Century to foil invaders who might want to steal their sacred books. They could put a ladder up to the first window, climb inside with their books, then pull the ladder up inside the chimney-like interior. Smart fellows.
Tourists flock to Ireland in the Summer months. They're everywhere in some towns. Unlike other countries that are tour meccas, the Irish don't seem to have their hand out. They're very welcoming and obliging but not overbearing. Tourists are everywhere in places like Kinsale and Killarney. We stopped in Youghal for what we thought would be a half hour to make calls to those two hot spots for lodging. Instead we stayed for two nights! What we discovered was a genuine Irish town with a beach as long as the eye can see (four miles, they say). There are plenty of sites that would attract visitors, not the least of which are St. Mary's Protestant Collegiate Church and Aherne's Seafood Restaurant. And Moby Dick was filmed here. Even Sir Walter Raleigh was comfortable in this town, becoming mayor in 1588.
Late Saturday afternoon I wandered to the banks of the Blackwater River. There I saw a girl, who looked to be about 14, fishing from the banks. Her brother, a couple of years younger, had to take the fish she caught off the hook and re-bait it. She didn't seem crazy about that task, but she knew how to cast and had four fish that looked like mackerel at her feet in the sand. It was clear what they would have for dinner that night. A middle-aged woman with two toddlers arrived and started fishing about 20 yards upstream. Within 30 seconds she got a pull on her line. The rod bowed like a rainbow. Just then her husband arrived and grabbed the rod. It took him several minutes to pull in the line. They had caught three fish in one cast. I then went to public fish pier. Several people had landed fish there, most about eight inches long. One man caught four with a single cast. Two girls who appeared to be 8 and 6 years old were with their grandfather who was having trouble keeping his catches on the hook. Their mother sat in the car 30 feet away. "Don't get too near the edge," she hollered. "But I want to catch fish," said the older girl, hoping her grandfather would give her a turn. "That's not sport," her mother scoffed, "that's slaughter!"
The next morning we attended early Mass with about 150 townsfolk. About 120 of them sat in the back pews. It was in Youghal we first heard the description for a spinster: "an unclaimed Irish treasure". It was in Youghal we discovered Ireland, an unclaimed treasure itself.
You can read all about how historically important this southern coastal town is and how pretty a setting it has, wrapping around a harbor and rising straight up a hill on one side to produce gorgeous vistas -- and it's all right on the money. But you would be more right on the money -- literally -- if you understood it is a shopper's mecca. Shops of all sizes await you. Prices can be reasonable for the discerning shopper. Folks like me are born every minute. We stumbled into one little place that had good prices for African art of all kinds. I say "stumbled into" it, because it was really a cafe.
Kinsale is a walking town, with everything jammed together in a U shape at the base of the harbor inlet. It's a pleasant place to meander, though crowded. Sort of like the Victorian Fair. How popular is it? Four days before arriving we called 15 B&Bs, and all were booked. We didn't stay overnight. But we did spend several hours there, wandering the lanes, doing window-shopping and real shopping. Just about the entire time it rained. We hardly noticed.
NEXT: Going West, then North to Galway.
October 6, 2000