Thursday, November 6, 2008

October 2008

Irish reaction to the US election: Go America!
Of course I was delighted, no, make that dee-double-diddly-delighted, that Barack Obama won the US election. The Irish followed the election closely and Obama's win was the top story in all Irish newspapers the next day. A friend here texted me to say "Heard the good news. Am driving to work with a big smile on my face. Go America!" Another Irish friend, who lived in NYC in the 80's, texted to say "Well done America! We are all thrilled. There is a great air of expectancy that this election will benefit the world."

On the other hand, I've heard a few comments by Irish economists that Obama could be bad for the Irish economy. He plans to lower the corporate tax rate to bring back US businesses that have set up headquarters in Europe. Starting in the 90's, Ireland offered very low tax rates to US businesses, something like 10% vs. 30% in the US, and as a result a number of American businesses like Dell and Microsoft set up large operations in Ireland. Due to the global downturn these companies are being downsized here, and the Irish are very worried about the loss of well-paid jobs. (McCain had also vowed to lower the US corporate tax rate, so it's a bit unfair for Obama to be solely maligned for this plan.) In my opinion the Irish became far too dependent on foreign corporations for job creation, and it would make more sense to offer incentives to small businesses and entrepeneurs to create jobs that will not be shifted away as the global situation changes.

Goodbye Ori

Long Beach, NJ, 2007

A few weeks ago our old dog Ori stopped eating and drinking. The vet had warned us that this would happen at some point and it would be the indicator that the liver tumor was causing other organs to shut down. She was not in pain but had obviously lost the will to live, and when after two days it was clear that she wasn't going to recover we took her to the vet to be put to sleep. It was so sad to say goodbye, but at the same time we are so thankful that she was well enough to bring to Ireland 5 months ago. When Ori first came to Ireland in May she was still in relatively good health and she got to take some long walks with us in the beautiful green hills around our cottage. She also enjoyed the first summer of her life where she wasn't uncomfortably hot. With her thick Husky fur she was much more comfortable in an Irish summer than hot and humid upstate NY.

Ori at Ballycorick Creek, June 2008

Sonya, our other dog (the blind one) definitely knew something was wrong and was out of sorts for a few days around Ori's death, but we've been giving her extra attention and long daily walks and now she is back to her normal goofy self. She is a love and we are so glad to have her here with us!

Gleninagh Castle

Gleninagh Castle is in North Clare, on the shore of Galway Bay with the limestone hills of the Burren rising up behind it. The castle is in a great location for defense, with long views of the shoreline. We really wanted to get inside but it was well-fortified with a heavy iron gate at the door.
(Note to self: next time bring hacksaw.)

Check out the gaps at the base of these protrusions. They were designed for shooting arrows straight down onto the heads of invaders at the door.

Bill on the flaggy shore at Gleninagh

Holy well

There are thousands of these holy wells in Ireland. Some are just trickling springs emerging from a tumble of rocks, and others, like this well at Gleninagh, are enclosed in small stone buildings. Originally associated with pagan deities, the wells were adopted into the Irish version of Christianity (which continues to have a heavy pagan influence) and each well was named for a Christian saint. The wells are thought to have healing powers, and many are said to heal specific ailments such as warts, lameness, or failing eyesight. People leave small tokens and offerings at the well, and will often bring a small bottle to take some of the holy water home with them. When we first moved into our cottage I found a bottle labeled Holy Water under the kitchen sink, so I sprinkled it liberally around the cottage and on our newly purchased VW Polo. ('Can't hurt, might help' is my motto.)

I experienced my own minor miracle at one of these wells three years ago, in West Cork. I had burnt my fingertips to the point of blistering on the stovetop at a hostel. Later that day we were at the hermitage of Saint Finbar, and I held my fingers in the water of the holy well to soothe the pain. Later that evening, I noticed that my fingertips felt completely better and the blisters were completely gone. I showed my fingers to Bill, the eternal skeptic, and he was completely flummoxed. So maybe there is something to those old pagan beliefs.

Rag Tree or Raggedy Bush

Another pagan tradition often associated with holy wells, this is a rag tree growing out of the holy well. These trees are usually hawthorn, which are closely associated with fairies. Fairy trees whose roots grow out of the holy wells are believed to have special healing powers. People will bring a scrap of cloth belonging to a loved one who is ill, and tie the cloth to the branches of the rag tree. It is believed that as the cloth melts away in the rain and wind the illness leaves the person's body.

(Get this - about 10 years ago they were building a new highway near Limerick. There was a fairy hawthorn in the path of the new road, and the Irish construction workers refused to cut the tree down. Terrible things are supposed to befall those who fell a fairy tree. The tree still stands, and the four-lane highway swerves around it. This probably wouldn't happen today - now all the road workers are Polish.)

On the Mass path

After lunch at the castle we hiked up an old Mass path into the Burren hills. When the Catholic mass was deemed illegal by the English Protestants (punishable by death for priests who broke the law), masses were held in the hills of remote areas. The path was steep with this fantastic view of Galway Bay and the Burren hills on the right. The castle is just visible at the left of the photo, a small white rectangle near the shore.

Jump for joy - a beautiful sunny day!

Walled Garden

We visited a walled garden in Kilrush, about 10 miles south of us on the Shannon estuary. The waterside location combined with the protection of the tall stone walls means this garden is frost-free year round, and they can grow amazing tropical plants within, like this 20 foot banana tree.

Straight out of Dr. Seuss, the crazy tall flowers of Echium.

Another view of the huge Echium flowerstalks, exclamation point of the plant world.

Cool purple berries

Warning: Juvenile humor ahead
We frequently listen to a classical radio station. The Irish pronounce the sound "th" as a hard "t", so everytime the radio host announces that they've just played the third movement of a particular piece, we crack up. (Just think about it for a moment.)

Irish place names that make me snicker like a third-grader: Feakle, Spiddal and Ballybunion.

True fact: Feakle was having problems a few years back with E. coli in their water supply.
Probably not true: someone told me that Feakle used to have a community newsletter called Feakle Matters, but as we were in a pub he was probably full of shite.