Monday, August 4, 2008

July 2008

Evening sky at Spanish Point

Bill and I took separate holidays this month so we could take turns
staying with our dogs. They'd only been in Ireland with us for a month
and we didn't want to leave them with a stranger so soon, but we're hoping to leave them with a dogsitter this fall so we can catch one of those supercheap Ryanair flights to Europe. The fares will be going up next year due to the high price of oil.

Bill had a blast at the Willie Clancy Week in early July. It's held in
the coastal village of Milltown Malbay in West Clare. For 51 weeks of
the year Milltown has a population of a few hundred, but for that one
week the place is heaving with thousands of wanna-be Irish musicians
who come from all over the world. They're here to take lessons from the
best traditional musicians in Ireland, with over 20 levels of
instruction for each traditional instrument (Uillean pipes, flute, tin
whistle, accordian, concertina, banjo and bodhran). No beginners
please, and you have to audition to get placed in the right class.

Camping at Spanish Point

But Clancy Week is much more than just a school - it's also a huge
street party with music sessions and ceilis (dances) happening in every
pub from mid-day till very late at night. For a small town Milltown has
a lot of pubs - at least 15. Laws are ignored so children can play
music in the pubs and the local gardai (police) look the other way when
it comes to closing times.

Music Session in Milltown
(Taken with a cell phone)

Bill took flute lessons in the morning, Irish lessons in the
afternoons, and played at sessions until 2 or 3 am every night. There
were also impromptu sessions going on in the campground by the sea. He
was utterly fried by the end of the week and slept most of the Sunday
he returned. I went out to join Bill at the pubs on several evenings
and had an awesome time, but I'm glad I wasn't camping out at Spanish
Point. It was cool, wet and windy the entire week, so I was glad to go
home each night to our snug little cottage.

Newfield, New York
In the middle of the month I flew to the US for a visit with family and
friends followed by four days at the amazing Grassroots Festival near
Ithaca. My daughter Monica and her boyfriend flew in from Santa Monica,
California, and my parents drove up from Washington DC. My brother Tom,
his wife Martha and their son Ian also live in Newfield, so it was half
a family reunion (two out of four siblings).

My parents, Ann and Ed, and I

My 5 year-old nephew Ian, Monica's boyfriend Matt, Monica, and Monica's best friend Amanda

My bro Tom manning the barbie

Mon and Amanda enjoying Tom's homebrewed suds

Ian and his recycling truck

At the Hacienda
I got a chance to hang out with Sharon and Bubba in their brand new
kitchen, an addition to the Hacienda. The water and stove had just been hooked up and a bunch of us got to enjoy the first meal prepared in the new space. Plus, I got a chance to fire the potato gun. Just imagine - if the Irish had potato guns they could have kicked the English out centuries ago!

Sharon and Bubba in their new kitchen

Bubba fueling the potato gun with propane
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A movie of me firing the potato gun (and I nailed the shed!)

Sunset from the deck on the roof of Sharon and Bubba's new kitchen

Eileen and Heather on the deck

Sharon and Pam

Grassroots Festival
I spent a fabulous 4 days at the Grassroots Festival in Trumansburg NY. This was a great way to see just about everyone I know from Ithaca plus amazing musical performances. I didn't bring my camera to the festival but you can see photos at the Grassroots website:

Walking in Paradise
After I returned to Ireland, Bill and I took the dogs to an old estate,just south of Ballynacally, called Paradise. The original estate was about 1,000 acres looking onto the River Shannon, and included a stables, a walled garden, exotic trees and shrubs, and an impressively large house.

The old mansion at Paradise with trees growing inside

There are many of these old ruins around County Clare - most of them were owned by English landlords who were not popular with the Irish and as a result many of the old houses were torched during The Troubles. We did a little research on Paradise and it turns out that the Henn family was good to the Irish and so the house was in good shape until the 1970's when it burned accidentally (although rumor has it was burnt for insurance money).

Detail of one of the round towers on the house
We saw an old picture of the house - the two round towers once had fanciful pointy roofs.

Front entrance to the mansion

Detail over front door
The H stands for Henn, with the motto Gloria Deu (Glory to God) below.

I can't explain why I love these crumbling old ruins. We've been to quite a few of them in our travels through Ireland. There is something very melancholy and spooky about what used to be a thriving old estate that housed many generations of a family. Ruins like this are a reminder that what man builds will be torn assunder and nature will come creeping back in the end.

Inside - remains of fireplaces on the first and second floors

Trees growing inside the round tower

View of the River Shannon from Paradise

The grounds of these old estates are usually the only places in the west of Ireland where you'll see huge old trees. The English learned from the war of independence with the United States that guerrilla fighters hide behind trees (the Americans learned this technique from the Iroquious) and so most of the trees in Ireland were cut down so the Irish couldn't hide in the forests. The tree trunks were shipped to England and used for ship building and making charcoal to fuel the industrial revolution.

Our cottage gardens

In memoriam - Jim Nash, 1948 - 2008
Sadly, my ex-husband Jim passed away on the Monday after Grassroots. He had been fighting cancer for over 2 years. Although Jim and I split up when Monica was small, he made a lasting impact on my life. It was Jim who really got me into gardening, and what started as a hobby turned into an obsession and then a career. He was the first man I met who identified wildflowers and learned the latin names. Jim was a free spirit who lived an unconventional yet rich life. He was always quick to lend a helping hand to his friends and neighbors. He helped me see that life is too short to live by someone else's standards, and if it wasn't for his influence on me I might not be here in Ireland today. He will be missed.