THE BRITISH ISLES
The British Isles consist of Great Britain and Ireland. Great Britain includes England, Scotland, and Wales, and each is here given individual coverage, because although governed as one commonwealth, each has its own identity. The United Kingdom includes Northern Ireland with Great Britain. The rest of Ireland is an independent republic.
It has been my good fortune to see much of England during several trips, although most have started and ended at Gatwick, London’s second international airport. Although Heathrow is larger by far, and most useful for international connections, Gatwick happens to be located near my company’s headquarters in Surrey. During my earlier trips, travel was mostly by train, but later, I drove the countryside, which allowed me to see more of it, and, of course, the motorways and roundabouts added to the excitement of the trip. My seminars were given in Horley, which is somewhat off the beaten path. I was able to do some walking around the area, but many of the roads dead-end at Gatwick Airport.
We were taken to a unique country pub in this area. It is in a one-street village known as Friday Street, and the pub is named after Stephen Langton, a young lad of the 12th-century village who was orphaned at an early age. He was brought up by monks in a nearby abbey, and eventually became the Archbishop of Canterbury. As a youth, he and his neighbors were often harassed by Prince John and his men, later to become King John. As archbishop, he became the key player in forcing King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, the first document to limit the king’s power over his subjects. A copy of the document is proudly displayed at the pub, where the ploughman’s lunch has more cheddar than you can eat at one setting.
My first visit to London was during a stopover on the way to Saudi Arabia in 1975. (The company allowed stopovers then, before the belt-tightening of the 1980s.) My colleague and I landed at Heathrow and took the tube to London to see Big Ben, Westminster, and No. 10 Downing Street (the residence of the Prime Minister). The first thing we learned was to look to the right before stepping off the curb to cross the street, if you wanted to go on living, because that’s where the traffic was coming from. (I later learned that Winston Churchill was hit by a car in the U. S. after failing to look to the left, and suffered a broken leg from it.)
In 1977, Betty and I stayed at a hotel on Berkley Square (pronounced “Barkley”), made famous by the nightingale singing there during World War II. I gave a seminar at a downtown hotel while Betty shopped at Harrods. But even the three days we spent then hardly allowed us to see much. Betty was on a tour of the Tower of London, about to see the Crown Jewels, when there was a power blackout and the visitors were rushed outside. The labor unions had a powerful grip on the economy then, and were cutting power to different sections of the city each day until their demands were met. There was no doubt where the unions of Australia and New Zealand learned their tactics.
My most memorable visit to London came in 1990, when I was invited to lecture at the Royal Society and the Royal Institution on consecutive evenings. The Royal Society was founded in 1662 to promote the development of the natural sciences. Lining the halls of the venerable building are portraits of its past presidents, the most notable of whom was Isaac Newton, named to that post in 1703. Mine was the 5th Annual Lecture to the United Kingdom Automatic Control Council, delivered on March 6th. While my lecture was very well received, and later published in the journal of the council, I felt very small, standing in the shadow of Isaac Newton, the first to separate light into its spectrum and to develop the laws of gravitation.
The following evening, I returned to London for my address at the Royal Institution. It was founded in 1799, as a laboratory for technical development perhaps of a more practical nature than the abstract sciences discussed at the Royal Society. One of its early presidents was Michael Faraday, credited as the first to liquefy a gas, the discoverer of benzene, and the first to convert electricity into motion. On the wall of the reception hall hangs a huge painting of Faraday behind the semicircular bench in the auditorium demonstrating some principle of physics before a packed gallery. Faces watching him intently included such lights as Joule, Lord and Lady Kelvin, and other notables of the scientific world too many to remember. His bench and the gallery still stand, but I lectured elsewhere in the building. My lecture on “Entropy and the Environment” was given to the England section of the Instrument Society of America, and published later in the year. If anything, I felt even smaller in the shadow of Faraday, Kelvin, and Joule.
Following these lectures, I flew to Oslo for a one-day seminar there. The following day, I returned to Gatwick, and was invited to a friend’s house in Brighton, where I arrived by train. He was very helpful with maps and guidance about where to go and what to see when Betty and Jeanne arrived next day.
The next morning, I rented a car and we drove anxiously to Hampton Court, a place I had longed to see after watching the movie, “A Man for All Seasons,” which was filmed there. It had been the residence of Cardinal Wolsey, Chancellor of England, until Henry VIII took the office from him and gave it to Thomas More in 1529. Henry then took up residence there.
Its high brick walls open to a large courtyard, palace, armory, kitchens, and other buildings restored to their 16th-century elegance. The armory contains an impressive collection of muskets, swords, bayonets, etc. There is a boat landing on the Thames right outside the gate, where boatmen conducted travelers both up and downriver, as in the opening scene from the movie. Outside the walls are magnificent gardens which were in full bloom with spring flowers–tulips, daffodils, and primroses–during our March visit. There was also a full-size maze, where we got lost for awhile. This was really a great place to visit, but it certainly helped to have some knowledge of its history, and the role it played in the Reformation.
From there, we wended our way past Windsor and Oxford (no time to stop on this trip) to Stratford-upon-Avon, where we found a bed-and-breakfast for the night. After dinner, we strolled past Shakespear’s Globe Theater and looked over the other attractions of the area–there was nothing playing at the time, so the town was quiet. Next day, after the usual English breakfast of ham, eggs, toast and fried tomato, we toured Ann Hathaway’s cottage in the mist before proceeding northwest to Chester.
Chester is a walled city containing some ruins dating back to Roman times. One can still walk on the wall completely around the old city, and this we did–it takes about an hour. The most notable feature of the city is its predominance of Elizabethan buildings, mostly stores, all over the downtown area. Shops, restaurants, agencies, etc. bear the opulent look of huge timber frames surrounding white stucco walls illuminated with leaded-glass windows.
In the heart of the city lies Chester Cathedral, one of the oldest in England. A painting shows St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, dedicating it in 1109, shortly before his death. The interior is very dark, construction predating the Gothic masterpieces which have walls that were mostly windows; yet there is a quiet elegance in its ancient stones. Most of the light filters in through the leaded glass surrounding the cloister, planted with beautiful roses.
Driving and parking are a problem here. We had selected a hotel from an advertisement, and had difficulty finding the place. When we did find it, there was no place to park nearby–we finally were directed to park down the street near the river Dee. The river wasn’t very clean, and neither was the hotel, but we only had to put up with it for one night.
On our next trip there, on our way to Scotland, we were booked into a new hotel just inside the walls, but we couldn’t find the place. We passed it twice without identifying it or finding the entrance. Finally, I pulled into a parking area where the hotel should have been, only to find ourselves in a bus station, with a bus bearing directly down on us. In a panic, I backed out of the way to let the bus go by, and stopped for a minute to cool off. It was then that I discovered the sign directing me to the hotel entrance. Relieved, I drove to the parking garage and proceeded directly up the down ramp, having switched from the left to the right lane as I lost my concentration. This was the only time it happened on this trip, and fortunately, no one noticed.
Next day, I had to give a seminar at the Shell Oil Stanlow refinery to the north. I had no intention of driving there, and so insisted that a car be sent for me, and it was, returning me to the hotel afterwards.
My first visit to Oxford was on a Saturday when I had nothing else to do while in the Gatwick area. So I took the motel’s courtesy van to the airport and then boarded the airport bus to Oxford. The route took me past Hampton Court, and one glimpse made me promise to return. After arriving at Oxford, I had a pub lunch of smoked mackerel, potato salad, and a pint of bitter, and joined a walking tour of the city. The tour took us past many of the 35 colleges that make up the university, but we had only time to go through one–Christ Church College. Portraits of its most famous graduates decorated the walls of the dining hall, lords, princes, and statesmen renowned through the history of the empire. The cathedral contains some interesting stained glass–one window depicts the knights murdering Thomas Becket before the altar in Canterbury Cathedral.
The tour guide rattled off the names of countless luminaries who attended the various colleges, from Thomas More to C. S. Lewis–it was most impressive. But I was also intrigued by the varied architecture of the city. Its buildings date from the 12th century to the present, and each century has its own architecture. One could witness the improvement in the skill of both architect and builder from the 12th to the 18th century–most notable were the steeples designed by Christopher Wren in the late 17th and early 18th century. The Gothic buildings are magnificent, and Christ Church College has perhaps the best examples. Across one narrow alleyway, an arched stone bridge of Gothic style connects the upper floors of two buildings, and it is enclosed and fitted with windows of leaded glass–magnificently done!
After observing the richness of the Gothic architecture, we entered Keble College, dating from 1870. Its buildings are made of red brick and mortar, and have none of the elegance and grace of the older stone structures. The more modern buildings of poured concrete and glass are still less attractive. This ascent and eventual decline in architectural style can also be seen in other art forms such as music, painting, and literature, not all peaking at the same time, but with the same ultimate result.
Above the main altar in the church at Keble College is the famous painting by Holman Hunt (1854) of Christ as described in the Book of Revelations: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door to me, I will come in to him and will sup with him.” (Rev. 3:20). Attired in a princely gown, but wearing the crown of thorns, Christ arrives with the dawn to knock at a door which has no latch. This is the door to a human heart, which can only be opened from the inside. The artist was said to have taken a very long time to finish the masterpiece, being only able to work on it during the few minutes of predawn light each day.
After a seminar in the Gatwick area in October of 1994, I was invited to the Engineering Science Laboratory at Oxford for a demonstration of some research projects sponsored by my company. This time Betty accompanied me. We drove up from the south, taking directions from a copy of a map of the city on which our destination was marked. Unfortunately, most of the streets are one-way, and the direction was not marked on the map. The most direct route to our destination turned out to be unavailable, requiring us to circle about the city taking numerous streets and finally missing the one where the laboratory was situated. After another pass, we found our way. While I was given the demonstrations and technical presentation, Betty was given a walking tour of the city by the wife of my host. Matriculation was going on, as students appeared in black gowns and high collars over their suits. The following morning, we did some more walking, taking in the botanic gardens before moving on to Chester.
Following my next seminar in 1996, I gave a lecture at the same laboratory and renewed acquaintances there. I still missed a turn finding my way to the place. There was no time for further exploration on this trip, as I left right after breakfast for a luncheon engagement in Llandudno in North Wales, a drive of four hours.
Following our visit to Wales in March of 1990, Betty, Jeanne, and I passed through Bath on our return to Gatwick. We found a place to stay overnight, and walked downtown for a tour of the Roman baths. We learned that the Roman colony abandoned the place for home when the empire collapsed during the fourth century, and it evidently remained desolate for centuries. In relatively modern times, a farmer plowing his field stumbled onto the remains of the Roman baths and their hot springs. Eventually, the entire site was excavated, and now is the principal attraction of the city. It was a complex facility, with accommodations for all classes. The spring still flows warm and sulfurous as before.
There is a beautiful abbey church there, and some exquisite 18th-century architecture. Of particular note is a crescent-shaped boulevard lined with identical apartments in Georgian architecture. Downtown shops and restaurants are reminiscent of Chester, but not nearly as old. The river Avon flows right through the city center. I visited Bath again in October of 1993 in conjunction with a meeting being held there, but had little time to explore further.
In May of 1989, we ran a field trial at a chemical plant in Slough, not far from Windsor. We stayed at a beautiful inn located on a lock of the Thames River at Maidenhead. The trial wasn’t particularly successful, which kept us busy trying to make things work. Still, we managed to tour Windsor Castle, the sometime residence of the Royal family. They were absent during the time of our visit, but the place was heavily guarded nonetheless, by redcoats with their tall beaver hats and Uzi submachine guns.
Across the bridge from Windsor is Eton, home of the college of the same name. We wandered about town, peeking into some of the courtyards, but were not allowed access. One of its most famous students was the poet Thomas Gray (1716-1771), whose monument we discovered there. His most famous work is one of my favorites, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” He lies buried in the same churchyard he wrote about. The discovery of his monument at evening twilight brought back its first and climactic verses to me:
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day;
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea;
The plowman homewards plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me...
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour:
The paths of glory lead but to the grave...
On my way home from Israel in December of 1980, I flew to Manchester and took a train to Sheffield to spend the weekend with my sister and her family. Her husband was on a sabbatical from his teaching position in the States to a year at Sheffield University, while she was taking graduate courses there. Charlie picked me up at the station in a blue M-G sports car.
The weather was frosty and the days short–darkness began to fall around 2 p.m. it seemed. Yet there was time for some sightseeing and walking among the rust-colored bracken that stained the hills. To the southeast lies Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood fame. And to the southwest we visited a tiny town called Eyam, turning point of the Black Plague which killed half the population of Europe during the 14th century. Its church goes back at least that far, and the churchyard contains a Celtic cross that dates to the ninth century.
Midway between Sheffield and Manchester in the Peaks District lies the quaint village of Castleton, named after the ruined Norman keep that surmounts a local promontory. The village below consists of stone houses of various ages nestled in a valley with a small stream running through. As darkness began to fall in mid-afternoon, the colored lights of Christmas trees gave a cheer to the scene, and the wisps of smoke rising from chimney-pots told of the warmth within those venerable homes. It was a lovely winter scene out of a Dickens novel.
The highlight of my visit was a Christmas concert given by the university choir, which my sister had joined. They sang an unusual selection of 16th-century carols, interspersed with readings from Dickens–it was a most enjoyable performance, everything very well done. Next morning, Charlie drove me to the Manchester airport through the Peaks District so white with hoarfrost that one could hardly distinguish the sheep standing in the meadows. Although traffic congestion made me late for my flight to Heathrow, I was able to fly directly from Manchester to Kennedy and connect to Boston from there, arriving home on schedule.
The legend of the conflict between Henry II and Thomas Becket foreshadows that between Henry VIII and Thomas More nearly four centuries later. Both Thomases were loved and trusted by their king, and both were sufficiently skilled in the law and politics to merit appointment as Lord Chancellor of England. Both also refused to yield to the king on matters of principle, and both payed with their life. “Is there not one who will rid me of this troublesome cleric?” was the rhetorical question Henry II raised in rage over the latest excommunications announced by Becket. Four knights immediately rose and conspired in the deed. They rode to Canterbury, where they slew the saint upon the altar of the cathedral, on December 29th, 1170. The event is described by T. S. Eliot in the very moving play, “Murder in the Cathedral,” which includes the saint’s last sermon, given on Christmas Day. For centuries afterward, pilgrims from all over Britain came to honor the site of the saint’s martyrdom, as chronicled in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written toward the end of the 14th century.
In October of 1994, Betty and I drove from Gatwick to Canterbury to see this most famous of all the cathedrals in the land. We managed to find our way into the city, and settled for the first parking lot anywhere near the center. We took the last place in the lot, when I realized I had no change for the ticket machine. So Betty waited by the car while I dashed over to a bank to change a large bill–then we walked to the cathedral. It is surrounded closely by a wall, so that it is difficult to get a good photograph of the structure, but I managed to get most of it through the main gate. The building dates from the 11th century, but most of the existing structure was built during the 14th and 15th centuries, in the English gothic style. The Trinity Chapel was built to honor the memory of Becket. The shrine which for three centuries following his death was the object of pilgrimages was destroyed by Henry VIII in 1538; his knights even rode their horses down the aisles and shattered the stained-glass windows with their swords. To this day, only the upper windows still have the original images, where their swords could not reach.
Following a 1995 seminar in Leeds, my host took me on a short tour of York, another of the original Roman cities of England. The most important monument in York today is its famous cathedral, York Minster. Its nave is so huge, that the entire Canterbury cathedral would seem to fit inside it! Its main entrance has two square gothic towers like Canterbury, but its central tower is much larger. Originally built in the 7th century, it was rebuilt in the 12th, but chapels and other features have been added through the years.
An anecdote of more recent times pertains to a remark made by the Anglican Archbishop of York. It seems he admitted from the pulpit some doubt about the “virgin birth.” Not long after, a bolt of lightening struck the nave of the cathedral, setting the roof afire. Reconstruction eventually cost some five million pounds. The project was finished at the time of my visit, and a detailed model of the damaged section was on display, showing its original construction and the method used to effect the repairs.
After our informal tour of the cathedral, we strolled some of the downtown streets looking for an interesting place to dine. Buildings in the old section are predominantly Elizabethan, reminding me of Chester. Many had second stories overhanging the first stories, and even third stories overhanging them. In some of the narrow streets, third-story windows of opposed buildings were close enough to allow occupants to reach out and shake hands! We found a pub with a good ale and Yorkshire pudding, and a 12th-century atmosphere. Next morning, I caught a plane from the Leeds-Bradford airport to Dublin.
High on the Salisbury Plain north of the city and southwest of London, lies the ancient monument of Stonehenge. Consisting of an outer circle 100 feet in diameter of huge rectangular stones, and an inner horseshoe of even larger stones, it was believed to have been erected in stages between 3100 and 1500 B.C. The vertical stones are 10-12 feet high and tapered toward the top. The sun rises precisely in the center of the horseshoe at the summer solstice, so the formation has some astronomical significance, perhaps used for predicting eclipses or as a guide for planting crops. The positioning of heavy lintels bridging the tops of many of the vertical slabs both in the outer and inner rings suggests a temple; ancient Greek temples had beams supported by columns, although never in a circular formation. The stones are not of local origin, but came some distance from South Wales. I was taken to Stonehenge by friends during my 1987 visit, and stopped again to show the site to Betty and Jeanne during our return from Wales in 1990.
A few miles to the north, outside the town of Avebury, lies another astronomical ring. This consists primarily of a ditch and rampart originally 20-30 feet from base to top, now considerably less. At about 1/4 mile in diameter, it is the largest ring structure in Great Britain. Crossroads go through its center, with several dwellings and farms within the circle. Originally, a ring of large stones lined the inner circumference of the ditch, but most are now missing, having been cut for building stone over the centuries. The remaining stones are not cut as at Stonehenge, but there are many more, some even stretching radially outward over 1½ miles. There are also some underground rooms in the area made of cut stone. In fact, this whole countryside is laced with prehistoric artifacts. A huge white horse is carved into the limestone on the side of a nearby hill, but we couldn’t seem to find it. We finally gave up, returning to our inn at Horley. Next day we left for home.
Following my 1994 seminar at the Shell Oil refinery near Chester, Betty and I drove north toward Scotland. We had long desired to visit the place, and finally had an opportunity, as a seminar was scheduled for Falkirk. We headed due north through Cumbria and past Carlisle, finally crossing the border and continuing up the center of Scotland. Falkirk is about midway between Glasgow to the west and Edinburgh to the east. A battle was fought there in 1298, where William Wallace was defeated by the English under Edward I. Now it is a peaceful city, chosen for my seminar because of its proximity to the industrial center at Grangemouth. We arrived on a beautiful October day, and promptly became lost. I stopped at a post office parking lot and asked for directions to our hotel–the reply from the young lass was so quaintly phrased that I didn’t understand it all, and had to ask for further instructions later. After about three passes through the city center, we finally found our hotel.
After meeting with our contacts there and checking out the facilities, we adjourned to the bar. I had consumed Scotch whisky before but never developed a real taste for it. My host invited me to try a single-malt, which I accepted, and returned from the bar with a double Glenmorangie on ice. This was one of the finest drinks I had ever tasted, and it opened up new vistas for me. I became a fan of single-malt Scotch, and continue to enjoy it, but in moderation, because it is expensive. I purchased some at a bottle shop in Edinburgh, and later found that the same brand cost less at liquor stores in New Hampshire. I tried a few others, and found that Tamnavulin tastes even better and costs somewhat less. A year later, I developed a similar taste for Irish whiskey.
The capital of Scotland is pronounced “Edinborough,” notwithstanding its spelling. We planned on spending two full days here, and booked accordingly at a motel near the city zoo. The gorgeous fall weather we enjoyed at Falkirk departed, and we awoke in Edinburgh to a cold and steady rain. Armed with a map of the city, we took a bus downtown to a point where there remained a short walk uphill to the castle. Situated atop Castle Rock, a natural promontory, the site has been a defensive position since at least the 6th century. It became the capital of Scotland under Robert the Bruce–a museum there commemorates his crowning in 1305. Although not treated very favorably in the movie, “Braveheart,” following the death of William Wallace, Bruce led the Scots to freedom from England until his death in 1329. The story of his life is fascinating to read–fraught with peril, betrayed on every side, he nonetheless persevered in his reign.
The castle was built and rebuilt over the centuries, and contains many artifacts from different periods. One unique piece of armament is Mons Meg, a 15th-century artillery piece which could propel a 21-inch stone ball two miles. The full bore is only about 6-feet long, but the powder chamber is of reduced size and much greater thickness. Only three or four of these were built around 1430 by a Dutch company, and this may be the only one remaining. It is incredible that a stone ball could be ground as perfectly as needed for a projectile–several balls were on the floor in front of the barrel. One of our souvenirs from the castle was a bottle of locally made mead–wine made from honey–it was quite good.
From the castle, we walked about town in the rain, stopped for a cup of tea, did some window shopping, and photographed the enormous monument to Sir Walter Scot, author of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy. Tired from walking, we returned to our hotel by bus. Later, after the rain had stopped, I walked near the hotel, but found little of interest other than the aforesaid bottle shop. So, rather than staying another day in the city, we left the following morning for Inverness to the north.
On our way, we came across Blair Castle, ancestral residence of the Dukes of Atholl. A solitary piper stool at the door piping “Annie Laurie,” and “My Bonnie Lassie,” as we entered. The place was a beautifully kept museum, from the knight’s shining armor in the entrance hall to splendid collections of muskets, swords, and military uniforms over the centuries. This was a remnant of the tradition where each duke had his own standing army, suitably fortified and equipped against all comers. The grounds were magnificent as well.
From there, we moved along less-traveled roads toward Inverness. Our reservation at the hotel in the city center was not till the following night because we left Edinburgh a day early, but we hoped there would be room; there was not. All along the way, we had seen numerous signs for Bed and Breakfast, but now when we were looking for one, there were none to be seen. We headed along Moray Firth toward the northeast, taking narrow country roads in hopes of finding lodging off the beaten track, but without success. We wandered past farms with rolls of hay, each with its resident pheasant pecking at seeds. Finally, I spotted a sign directing us to the Covenanter’s Inn. There, in a tiny village, we found a 14th-century mill that had been converted into an inn, and they did have a vacancy for us. The mill was now the restaurant and bar, with thick stone walls and a vaulted ceiling. The bar had a slate with all the single malts in stock listed, along with their prices. I ordered a local ale, and we settled into a cozy table next to the woodstove, which felt good on a frosty evening. After dinner, I took a stroll through the village, but the sidewalks had been rolled up and there was nothing to see–only a handful of shuttered houses on the single street.
The area had a lengthy history. The Covenanters were those who insisted on retaining the original Presbyterian prayers and worship when a dispute erupted in the 17th century. This was also the site of Culloden Muir, the scene of the last battle between the clans and English troops in 1745. We toured the battlefield next day, and saw stones commemorating where the various clans had fallen to the well-armed, disciplined redcoats.
We walked about Inverness next day, seeing the local sights and visiting a woolen mill where I bought a plaid tie. There were hundreds of ties on display, each with its own colors and pattern for its clan. I was simply trying to match a tie to the color of my camel’s hair sportcoat, with a little red and green added–it does not conform to any clan. That evening, Saturday, we walked the footbridge across the canal to the other side of town to attend Mass–there had been a wedding at the church earlier in the afternoon.
Inverness lies at the head of Loch Ness, famous for the monster supposedly lurking within. On departing Inverness, we drove along the northern shore of the loch (it stretches from southwest to northeast) past the Loch Ness Center where the legend of the monster is sold to tourists–we didn’t stop. A little farther down lie the ruins of 16th-century Urquart Castle, frequently depicted on calendars. After 20 miles, we reached the end of Loch Ness without any sightings, and continued southwest toward Glasgow.
The road continued past Loch Lochy, approaching the Lochaber Range, the highest mountains in Scotland. We stopped at a little inn on the side of a hill overlooking the loch, and had a sandwich while clouds thickened over the mountains. The mountains were completely socked in as we passed Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest at 4400 feet. The landscape was much like tundra, in that trees were almost nonexistent. Stony trails shining in the rain wound through the rusty turf up and up until they disappeared in the clouds. It looked like an interesting place to hike, but not that day. Here and there, an isolated stone house clung to the hillside, forlorn in the gloom of the afternoon.
Partway down Loch Linnhe, we turned east and passed through Glencoe, where the MacDonalds were massacred by the Campbells in 1692. This was the prettiest part of Scotland, with deep valleys surrounded by mountains, and rocky streams feeding the lochs. The road turned south to Loch Lomond, famous in song, and indeed, it was the most beautiful of any of the lochs we had seen. The two-lane road clung to its western shore, following every cove and inlet and bay, so that I had to drive carefully, fearful of oncoming traffic. We continued south along the loch until we finally left it behind, approaching the Firth of Clyde, also renowned in song: “Roamin’ in the gloamin’, on the bonny banks of Clyde...”
Although Glasgow lies on the north side of the Clyde, its international airport, and the location of our hotel, were on the other side. So we crossed the bridge and drove directly to our hotel. I unloaded our baggage and turned in the rental car. We then retired to the restaurant for a very good roast-beef dinner. Next morning, we returned home.
Wales was conquered by Edward I of England in the 13th century, who then constructed a series of castles where garrisons were left to maintain control of the populace. Many of these castles remain in various states of ruin, and are open to the public; but the Welsh are not keen about them, remembering the history of how they came to be–they are English castles. The Welsh language–of Celtic origin–is still spoken there, and taught at the schools on an equal basis with English. My friend Harvey lives there, and his wife Linda speaks Welsh (he does not), a most unfathomable tongue–it does not sound like any other language I have heard. The visitor to Wales must first learn how to pronounce the place names. The Welsh name for Wales is Cymru, pronounced “Cumree.” Highway signs are all bilingual.
The double-l is pronounced as “cl,” so that the city of Llandudno is pronounced “Clandeedno.” It is situated on a crescent of beach facing north to the sea, hemmed in by the Great Orme Head to the west and the Little Orme Head to the east. These Ormes are rocky, spherical promontories jutting out into the sea and protecting the beach. The Great Orme is grass-covered, has a road encircling it, picnic areas, and a monument; the Little Orme is much smaller, and mostly rock. Harvey lives on a hillside overlooking the sea and the Great Orme.
On my first visit in March of 1990, I had flown into Manchester and then proceeded to Llandudno for the weekend. Harvey booked a room for me at a hotel on the beach, which was very nice. But after our meeting in Manchester, I moved in to Bodysgallen (Pronounced “Bodesgaclen”) Hall for the next night. This was by far the best place I have ever stayed. The building began as a watchtower in the 13th century, with rooms added through the 17th century, and now is a fully functioning hotel and restaurant. My room had walls of stone two-feet thick, and casement windows which looked to the east across the Conwy (pronounced “Conway”) River to Conwy Castle. The spacious grounds were emerald green, and dotted with sheep and a few spring lambs frolicking in the grass. The gardens were glowing with daffodils and other spring flowers under the tender care of a crew of gardeners toiling in the cold drizzle. Dinner was excellent, and we took port in front of a massive fireplace in the main entrance-hall. It was a place not to be forgotten. The following week, I returned with Betty and Jeanne, not to stay at the hall, but just to show them where I had stayed. We then moved on to Conwy Castle and Betws-y-coed.
Immediately to the west of Llandudno, we crossed the Conwy River and entered the old town guarded by its castle. Originally, it was completely walled, with the castle located on the eastern wall over the river, but the town has now spilled beyond the walls. The castle suffered from fires over the years, so that there is no longer any wooden roof or floors, but the stonework is still in good condition. The towers are especially interesting, containing winding stairs cantilevered from the walls, with no center support. It is possible to see from top to bottom down the center, and there are no guard-rails either. Apparently this construction was necessary to hoist ammunition, etc., to the top from below. Not all the towers are sufficiently complete to be open, but most are, at least part of the way.
We later visited Harlech Castle on the western shore, and it was not as complete, but of roughly the same period. With Harvey, I viewed Caernarvon Castle on Menai Strait, but only from the outside. Also from the 13th century, it is much larger than the others, and appears to have been completely restored. Its towers are distinctive in being octagonal rather than round, and there are many of them of different widths and heights.
I returned to Llandudno from Oxford in October of 1995 to spend the weekend with Harvey and Linda. The afternoon of my arrival, we walked in the hills above the town, through the sheep pasture to a point where Conwy Castle was visible. We then descended through a dark wood. The next day after church, we drove to Anglesey. Linda stayed there visiting her parents, while Harvey and I returned to the mainland. That evening, we met with his boss at The Groes Inn (first licensed house in Wales—1573) a mile south of Conwy at a crossroads named Tyn-y-Groes. We relaxed next to a log fire with a pint of ale and a hearty dinner— a delightful end to the week. Next morning, I drove to Leeds.
Further south along the Conwy River lies the charming little village of Betws-y-Coed (pronounced “Betoosi-coid”). It is a popular destination for tourists during the summer months, but in March, we had the place to ourselves. We had not booked lodgings in advance on this trip, but it all worked out quite well. We found a three-story stone house perched right above the bridge over the river, which offered bed and breakfast, and they had room. Jeanne occupied a third-floor room, while Betty and I settled in on the second floor, overlooking the river.
After checking in, we went for a walk along the river through the green valley, being careful to close the sheep-gates behind us. Jeanne walked on ahead of us, content to be in her own world of green pastures and hedgerows. Eventually, we had to call her back to return to our lodging before darkness set in. Next morning after breakfast, Betty and Jeanne went browsing through the local shops while I hiked uphill to the site of an abandoned slate mine and mill. The time went all too fast, as we had to be on our way. But this little village was one of the most memorable in my travels.
To the west of Betws-y-Coed lies Mt. Snowdon, the highest in Wales at 3560 ft. On my first arrival from Manchester, I could see its snow-covered summit, but only briefly. When I later approached it from Betws-y-Coed with Harvey, and still later with Betty and Jeanne, we reached a tiny village called Dolwyddelan when the clouds let loose with torrents of rain. The mountains might have been there, but we couldn’t see them. There is an old saying in Wales, that if you can’t see the mountains, it’s raining, and if you can see them, it’s going to rain.
Betty, Jeanne, and I continued on to Harlech Castle, and then to the southern tier of mountains known as Cadair Idris, stopping overnight in the little mining town of Dolgellau. We could see these mountains on our departure next morning, but their rounded 3000-ft peaks were not very spectacular. From this point, we continued uneventfully back into England and on to Bath.
Anglesey is an island separated from the northwest coast by the Menai Strait and connected by two bridges. During my visit in October of 1995, Harvey took me to Penryth Castle and to the residence of the Marquis of Anglesey. Penryth Castle, although appearing like a medieval fort, was built in the 19th century by a wealthy owner and developer of the slate business. The interior is marvelously decorated–the stonework especially. Mantlepieces and even bedsteads are carved from single pieces of slate in beautiful curves and precise detail–work that I didn’t think possible with slate. Other works in marble and granite are equally impressive, all obtained from Anglesey.
The manor house of the Marquis of Angelsey rests at the foot of a long meadow, on a bluff overlooking the strait. It is a long edifice, spread out along the overlook, in a magnificent setting. But more impressive are its art treasures. The greatest by far, is a huge painting covering an entire wall, describing the battle of Waterloo, Napoleon’s final defeat. The First Marquis of Anglesey is at center astride a magnificent steed, directing his troops at the height of battle. Somewhat off-center is the Duke of Wellington, usually given credit for the victory, but in this instance, second in command to the Marquis.
On that June evening of 1815, the Marquis and Duke were retiring from the battle scene with the contest won, when a French cannon discharged a load of grape shot which shattered the Marquis’ leg. With stiff upper lip and supported by the Duke, the Marquis rode the remaining distance back to the camp, and there submitted to amputation without anesthetic. Deprived of his command because he was unable to ride, he commissioned the manufacture of an articulated artificial leg, the first of its kind. With its aid, he was able to ride again and to resume his command. The wooden leg is on display along with his uniforms and trophies. This was of especial interest to me, because my father also wore an articulated artificial leg after his own was amputated in 1944.
My first trip to Ireland came after a seminar at Leeds in October, 1995. The flight took me along the coast of North Wales past Llandudno, Menai Strait, over Anglesey, and leaving Holyhead across the Irish Sea to Dublin. There I changed planes for Cork. I was met at the airport by my host, Malachy, and driven directly to the hotel in Blarney, only a few miles away.
I seem to remember a picture hanging in my grandparent’s (Niland’s) house showing a young lad wearing a broad-brimmed hat, looking kind of forlorn, with a tall block of a castle looming in the background. This I believed to be Blarney Castle, and that the lad was one of the Niland clan. So while in Blarney, I looked for the Niland name, but did not find it, although there were a few listed in the Dublin phone book. The morning after my arrival, Malachy and I took a brief walk about town (it is a small town), and he even inquired of one of the locals about the Nilands, but the name was not known thereabouts.
My seminar was in a large meeting room in the hotel, which, on this chill morning, had been provided with a coal fire. The fire was not properly tended, however, and began to smoke badly, causing the staff to open windows and turn on fans. It was remedied simply by stirring the coals enough to get some air flowing through them. The seminar went well enough, although it was difficult to get them back after a break–the Irish would much rather talk among themselves than learn about my subject, it seems.
That evening, we stopped in a popular pub in Cork, where I decided to try the whiskey. Malachy told me there were two main brands in Ireland: the Catholic brand was Jameson’s, and the Protestant was Bushmill’s. So, being Catholics, we drank Jameson’s. Later, we went to dinner, accompanied by wine, and followed by more Jameson’s. We shared many stories of being brought up by an Irish mother who thought no girl was good enough for her son, and had more than a few laughs over it. This went on until almost 2 A.M., at which point my host decided he was in no condition to drive back to the hotel, so we returned by cab.
Back at the hotel (at 2 A.M. on Friday), he informed me that he would be leaving for Dublin in the morning as soon as he picked up his car, but that I would be taken care of by his local office. I must check out of the hotel in Blarney and take a taxi to my next hotel in Cork, where I was booked for only one night, as everything was full for the annual jazz festival. I was to await further instructions when I got there. I discovered that this is quite normal for Ireland–living is day-by-day. The only thing I knew for sure was that I had another seminar scheduled for next Tuesday somewhere near Dublin. What was to happen between now and then was up in the air.
When I awoke next morning for breakfast, Malachy was gone. So I decided to spend the morning sightseeing Blarney Castle, a short walk from the Hotel. The castle is a ruin–all the floors are gone, but the stone stairs remain, so it is possible to walk through the entire structure, and even kiss the Blarney Stone, accessible from the walkway around the top. The castle dates from 1446, consisting primarily of a square keep rising vertically four or five stories, once containing two grand halls, one above the other, whose floors are missing, but whose supports and fireplaces remain. Adjacent stairways contain smaller rooms, and there are two outlying watchtowers. The castle was defended from the walkway around the roof. To kiss the Blarney stone, one must lean backwards over the edge with feet held down. It’s not free, as a vendor occupies the place, and is accompanied by a photographer. I elected not to try it, to save both my money and my back.
The castle is set in a beautiful park with huge, ancient trees, rocky overhangs, and dark nooks where devils and witches may still lurk. But it was most enjoyable to spend that beautiful fall morning walking there. Afterwards, I visited the Blarney Woolen Mill, coming away with a multicolored tweed cap, and a white cable sweater which I intended for Betty, but ended wearing myself. Then, I checked out of the hotel and took a cab to my next hotel in Cork to await further instructions.
After checking in, I found my way to the bar where a band of loud young Irishmen were drinking, and ordered lunch and a pint of Guiness, charging them to my room, 204. “Hear that, boys?” asked one of the revelers rather loudly, “The next round is on Room 204!” followed by laughter. “Friendly bunch!” was all I could think of in reply. While I sipped my stout and finished my sandwich, I listened to a young man tune a grand piano in preparation for that evening’s concert.
After lunch, I walked a couple miles to the train station, knowing I would have to leave from that point on Monday for Dublin. On my return walk, I left the main road, going to the top of a ridge which would descend back to the hotel. The road was somewhat mysterious, however, with high walls on both sides to protect the privacy of the affluent residences behind them.
After returning to the hotel, there was a message that I was booked into the Trident Hotel for Saturday and Sunday. I had to ask the desk clerk where the Trident was, and learned that it was in Kinsale, a small fishing village to the south, half an hour by taxi. I also learned that the boys from our local office would pick me up at 7:30 to go to dinner and a concert at one of the downtown hotels.
When we arrived there, the bar was almost empty, but quickly began filling. A black piano player from the States began to entertain with some ragtime melodies. After a Guiness, one of the boys from the office let on that I had been drinking Jameson’s at the pub the night before–it seems that everyone knows everything about everyone in Cork! So I countered with something they didn’t know–that Malachy had to leave his car in Cork all night–that raised quite an uproar! From the bar we went into the dining room, a party of about a dozen, where we ate heartily, and the wine flowed. After dinner, we retired to a theater where a rock concert was about to begin. But a few minutes of that pounding was all that I could take, and one of the couples from the office brought me back to the hotel in a taxi–being my age, they couldn’t take it either.
At the outset of World War II, a German U-boat sank the passenger liner Lusitania off the southern coast of Ireland, and members of the fishing fleet from Kinsale participated in the rescue. Its present attraction is simply being a picturesque fishing village a short distance upriver from the sea. The Trident hotel is located on the waterfront at the end of the wharf where the boats are moored. After checking in, I found a place for lunch and a Guiness. Later, I strolled about town, taking in the scenery–the shops and residences are tightly packed together, all different colors, on winding streets, and at several different elevations above the waterfront. From the highest of the streets was a view of the sea. I also had to find a church and its Mass schedule.
Across the river from the town was a spit of land bearing a ruined farmhouse. It was quite a walk from the hotel, but next day I went across the bridge that linked it to the town, and across the fallow fields to the ruin. It was a small stone building, beautifully constructed, with but three rooms and a loft, and a rough but attractive fireplace. The roof was long gone, as were the windows, but at one time, it must have been a cozy dwelling for the farmer. Now it was covered with vines and brambles, a dwelling only for the birds. I also had a chance to visit a ruined abbey, which in more recent times was used as a burial ground for the townspeople–gravestones covered the inside floor of the abbey as well as the outside.
On Sunday evening, as I was enjoying a marvelous dinner at the Trident, a waitress called me to the telephone and returned my plate to the kitchen to keep it warm. The caller was Malachy with further instructions. I was to take the noon train from Cork to Dublin, and then a taxi to the Grand Hotel in Malahide. There, I would be taken to dinner by a man from the Dublin office, who would have more details. Be sure to buy a Golden Pass ticket for the train. After dinner, I took one last stroll through the downtown area, listening to jazz strains coming from some of the restaurants and pubs, but not inclined to enter.
Monday was a bank holiday, and I had some difficulty getting a taxi to Cork. I bought my ticket as instructed, but had to wait in a long queue to board the train. The conductor looked at my ticket and sent me to “...the third car from the end.” but failed to specify which end. I boarded the third car from the near end, and struggled to put my luggage aboard and find a seat. As we were leaving, it occurred to me that I was probably in the wrong car–my ticket was surely first class, and this was no first-class car. Eventually, the conductor confirmed my suspicions, but by that time, I was too tired to move, and so spent the remainder of the 2-hour trip where I was.
Upon arriving at the Dublin station, I proceeded to the taxi queue where I waited for nearly a half hour. While I was still far from the end, a driver came from behind me and inquired where I was going. When I replied, “Malahide,” he drew me to his cab and we left. He probably was looking for a fare in the general direction of home, and so didn’t go to the head of the queue, where he would have to take the next fare which might take him in the other direction. There was a marathon in progress in Dublin, and many of the streets were blocked to traffic, so that we had to take the long way around. Eventually, I was discharged at the Grand Hotel, at the shore of an inlet to the sea, on the east coast.
After checking in, I walked around town, which was a small, prosperous resort, with many attractive shops and a lovely residential area. I was looking specifically for a church, as I would be going to Mass on Wednesday, November 1st, All Saints Day. I found one on the main street, and checked out the Mass schedule.
Malachy had promised me that one of his assistants would meet me at the hotel for dinner. But after 8 o’clock came without a call, I called Malachy. He apologized for the mixup, and told me to go ahead with dinner, and his assistant would meet me afterward. Accordingly, I went to the dining room, and ordered a whiskey, trying Bushmill’s this time. As I was finishing dinner, the man arrived, and asked what I was drinking. When I said Bushmill’s, he ordered me a Black Bush. It was a very enjoyable drink, and we talked about arrangements for the next day’s seminar.
In the morning, Malachy’s secretary arrived to help with the registration, and the seminar went off well. Later in the day, Malachy made his appearance, with a gift under his arm, and a birthday card for me. It was expressly for engineers, and congratulated me on reaching the age of 26 years (64). Then he cajoled me with, “I understand you’ve had a religious conversion!” At first, I didn’t get it, until I unwrapped the gift—a bottle of Black Bush—the Protestant whiskey! And a very good one, too. That evening, I sipped some while reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, given to me by Harvey when I left Wales. Now, at each birthday, I give myself a gift of Black Bush, and sip a glass in remembrance of the birthday I spent in Malahide.
The following morning, I went to Mass on All Saints Day, before calling a taxi to Dublin airport for my Aer Lingus flight to Boston.
Betty and I returned to Ireland in July of 2003, on a Tauck “Best of Ireland” tour. We drove to Logan Airport on Sunday, July 6, in some heavy traffic, and dined at the international terminal. Our Aer Lingus flight left about 8:40 PM for the five-hour flight to Shannon. We arrived shortly after 7 AM, which was 2 AM our time. We were met by Melissa, our guide for the next 12 days, but had to wait until 10 AM for another flight to arrive before we could leave on our tour. We drove in a light mist north, stopping an hour later at the Cliffs of Moher, several miles of cliffs as high as 700 ft, facing the Atlantic. Nothing spectacular. We then drove on to Ballyvaghan for a lunch of seafood chowder and Irish stew, which was excellent. Our course continued through an area called the Burrens, a series of bare limestone hills with horizontal striations, where there is never a frost. As a result, there are palm trees and other Mediterranean species growing there,
along with Alpine and even Arctic plants.
Our journey took us through Galway City, which did not impress. (Later, I found out about a Niland’s pub there.) Late in the afternoon, we finally reached our destination of Ashford Castle in Cong, County Mayo. The castle was built circa 1248 AD by the O’Connor family, but had been owned more recently by the Guiness family of brewing fame, and now by a group of private investors. The stonework around the rambling structure dates to various ages , with so many entrances and dark wood-paneled hallways that it is easy to get lost. We had a beautiful room on the second floor (punch 3 on the elevator) that looked out through leaded-glass windows over a fountain onto Lough Corrib.
The evening began with a coat-and-tie reception where we all introduced ourselves and chatted over a drink, followed by dinner in the Connaught room, where celebrities and heads-of-state have dined before. Betty was very tired, and left for bed before dessert, but I got a second wind and finished dinner. Since it was still light, I lit a cigar and explored the grounds. It was laced with paths through groves of enormous trees, tunneling through stone walls and into secluded gardens. Bushes of hydrangeas, and hedges of fuschias grew eight-feet high, and mammoth cedars and yew trees cast dense shade–a strange and enchanted land. I found a stone wharf with a good view of the entire castle across the corner of the lough, and snapped a picture; although it was nearly 10 P.M., the skies were still light enough to read by. What a fascinating place!
Next morning, after an Irish breakfast of eggs, bacon, and mushrooms, the tour took us to Conamarra County, to the west, bog country. When Henry VIII forbid the Irish to cut wood, they dug peat for fuel, and the practice continues. Peat bogs are as deep as 18 feet, but, like coal, it is a non-renewal resource, and is being depleted. Chunks the size of bricks are stacked in hills the shape of beehives, where they dry for months before being bagged. Peat is 95-percent water, so it takes a lot of drying. When finished, the bricks are lighter than charcoal–almost as light as foam insulation–and each burns for only about 20 minutes, far less than wood or coal.
We continued to Kylemore Abbey, a castle built by a wealthy English businessman on several thousand acres of land. After the death of his wife and daughter, he never returned. During WWI, a Benedictine abbey in Ypres, Belgium, was damaged by German shelling, and the nuns were relocated to Kylemore. Today they run a boarding and day school there, and a craft shop. We visited their restored Gothic church and parts of the abbey, and lunched in the cafeteria. It is a peaceful spot.
After arriving back at Ashford in mid-afternoon, Betty and I took the short walk down the road to the village of Cong, where the movie, The Quiet Man, was filmed, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. In the center of town is a ruin of a 12th-century abbey, now a graveyard. Next to it is a low, modern, stone Catholic church which doesn’t seem to belong there. We returned along a forested path on the far side of the river, under enormous trees covered with ivy, and past a family of swans. After dinner, we strolled the castle grounds before retiring early.
The next day, our tour proceeded north, stopping first at Knock (Cnoc), where Mary appeared with St. Joseph and St. John in 1879. We were not able to stay long enough to hear Mass, but had to push on to Sligo city, where we had a “scatter” lunch (everybody on his own). From there we continued north to Drumcliff, where the poet W. B. Yeats is buried in the yard of the Church of Ireland (Protestant) where his great-grandfather was once pastor.
We continued north to Mullaghmore head, where stands the imposing Classiebaum Castle on a treeless promontory. The castle once belonged to Lord Mountbatten, before he was killed by an IRA bomb a few years ago. A short distance further and we were at our quarters for the next two nights, the Sand House Hotel on the beach at Rossnowlagh, overlooking Donegal Bay. This is a resort area for visitors from Ulster, but the beach was almost empty. Our room faced due west, but we were not to see the sun set, or in fact see it at all for the next two days. The tide was going out when we arrived, a quarter mile or more.
Next day, we drove along the north shore of Donegal Bay, stopping briefly at Killybegs, the largest fishing port in the country. I searched the map for Glocca Morra, but couldn’t find it–it is an imaginary place. From there we went to the westernmost point on the peninsula, to Glencolumbkille, where St. Columba founded a village back in the 7th century–he is believed to be the author of the Book of Kells. On this site, there is a restored village of thatched-roof stone cottages, representative of life in the 17-19th centuries. The Penal Laws were tough on the Irish–they couldn’t cut wood, attend school or the Catholic church, own land, were forced to speak English instead of their own language, and were heavily taxed. During the time of famine, they had to renounce their religion to receive a bowl of soup.
From there we drove through Glengesh Pass and on to Ardara for lunch–this would be the northernmost point on our journey, at about 54̊47' north latitude–still we saw palm trees. We had a hot buffet lunch at a private residence, while an old gent entertained us on the fiddle. Afterward, we stopped in Donegal city, where I bought a tweed hat. On our return to our beach hotel, the wind and surf were up. We could see the ruins of 13th-century Kilbarron castle on a cliff about 5 miles to the southwest.
The net morning, we left the beach in the rain, headed southeast toward Dublin. Mid-morning, we stopped at Carrick-on-Shannon for a short cruise on the Shannon aboard “Moon River.” It began with tea and scones, with the customary clotted cream and strawberry preserves. The boat proceeded an hour up-river to a lake and then returned. The docks were crowded with 600 cabin cruisers rented weekly to vacationers. There is no private shoreline–anyone can park anywhere. Our host entertained us with Irish humor and songs on an accordion–he had us in stitches before long.
We arrived at the Westin Hotel in downtown Dublin in the early afternoon and had lunch. Afterward, we walked to the National Gallery and viewed a couple wings of art by Irish and English painters, several by Joshua Reynolds and Gainsborough. In the evening, we all went to an Irish cabaret for dinner and entertainment–step dancing, singing, and humor by a stand-up comic–Noel Ginnity. We bought a CD from him after the show and he autographed it for us.
Saturday was bright and sunny, with the temperature reaching the upper 70s–quite a change. The city was very crowded, mostly with young people. We took a bus tour of the city, home to almost half of Ireland’s 4-million people (the population was twice that before the great famine of 1845-48). We stopped at the Trinity College library to see the Book of Kells, in its darkened repository, where no photos are allowed. It was written under the direction of St. Columba at the end of the 7th century. The pages are made of calfskin, and the ink of mineral colors. It is the New Testament transcribed in Latin, and beautifully illuminated. Just one pair of pages are open to view, but magnified reprints of other pages around the room show the fine detail of the engraving. We then visited St. Patrick’s cathedral, which belongs to the Church of Ireland (not Catholic).
We attended afternoon Mass at St. Teresa’s church downtown, and then retired to our room for a room-service dinner. Dublin wasn’t all that interesting, but it certainly was developing. From our hotel window, I could count 17 cranes erecting new buildings.
We left Dublin Sunday morning, stopping first in the Wicklow Mountains at Glendolough, the largest monastic site on the island. It was founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century, consisting originally of wooden buildings. After being destroyed by fires, the buildings were rebuilt in stone through the 10-12th centuries. There remains a 90-meter tall circular tower in excellent condition, whose circumference at the base is exactly half the height. It has several windows, where candles guided pilgrims to the site. Nearby is the ruins of a small cathedral, and a 6th-century Celtic cross marks the tomb of St. Kevin. A smaller church with a stone roof and circular tower is intact. Modern engineers have attempted to reproduce the same construction with the stone roof, but were unsuccessful–the roof kept falling in. The inside of the church has a vaulted ceiling.
For lunch, we stopped at Kilkenny, briefly touring its restored castle. The town was not particularly memorable, nor was lunch. Afterward, we drove on to Mt. Juliet, for our night’s lodging at the highest rated golf course in Ireland for the year 2003. Our own accommodations were in a rose-garden cottage, on the second floor. It had two king-size bedrooms with individual baths, a living room with fireplace, a dining room and kitchenette, and two balconies. The fireplace had a few bricks of peat. We dined in the country club rather than the manor house.
That evening, I lit a cigar, and strolled the grounds, past the manor house, downhill to a stream crossed by a bridge leading to a stud farm, all part of the property. A fisherman was casting flies upstream as the sun slowly set in the west–it was an idyllic setting. A wedding party dining on the lawn outside the manor house echoed laughter through the still air. Some of those staying in the manor house did not appreciate the partying late into the night, however.
After breakfast, we left for Waterford and a tour of the crystal factory, where we watched crafstmen blowing, cutting, and engraving crystal. We didn’t buy any. After lunch, we stopped at the visitor center at Cobh, pronounced “Cove,” Ireland’s deepwater port on the south coast, where most of its emigrants left the country. It was called Queenstown during those years, after Queen Victoria visited. It was the last port of embarkation of the Titanic, and also where survivors of the Lusitania were taken after it was sunk by the U-boat in WWI. Palm trees line the waterfront.
Next on our route was Cork, where we stayed overnight at a manor house, uneventfully. The main part of the city looked familiar form my previous visit. We did not venture out. The following morning, we visited Blarney Castle and the Blarney Woolen Mills nearby, both quite familiar to me. We stopped at Kenmare for lunch, a delightful town with many colorful pubs. All the downtown stores were decorated with overflowing flower boxes. We decided on Foley’s for lunch, and were not disappointed–a Swithix ale and bowl of mussels hit the spot. A young lady entertained us with traditional Irish songs on the piano.
From there, we approached the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive of 100 km surrounding a mountainous area bordered on three sides by the sea. This day we covered only a small section on the east side of the ring. Tour buses must travel the ring in a counterclockwise direction, as the road is too narrow for them to pass easily. We stopped for a visit at Muckross House, an 18th-century manor house on the southeastern shore of Lough Leane.
From there, we passed through the city of Killarney, and some thick traffic due to horse racing, and on to our home for the next two nights, Aghadoe Heights Hotel, a disgustingly modern edifice on the north shore of Lough Leane. The locals referred to its appearance as the “Titanic. Sinking.” Directly across the road were the ruins of an 11-th century abbey and graveyard, and in the distance across the lake, the white ruins of Ross Castle.
Next day, we toured the Ring of Kerry. As it was a dismal morning, our tour director brought us first to a pub along Dingle Bay for an Irish coffee. While parked there, we noticed a sheep with three horns grazing with a flock along the shore. Continuing west , we passed an ancient ring fort, which are said to be the realm of fairies, and are not to be disturbed lest bad luck ensue. (It is said that the Kennedy family was cursed for taking down a ring fort.) At the western end of the ring, we passed Ballinskelligs Bay, where the Skelligs Islands could be seen out to sea. They are mountainous islands once occupied by friars who carved abbeys out of the stone. We stopped for lunch at Waterville, former home of Charlie Chaplin. The road then rose high above the shore, where only scattered cottages and sheep dotted the green slopes. Stone walls ascended the steep slopes right into the clouds.
The last leg of the ring passes through Killarney National Park, where rhododendron cover the slopes, blooming pink in May. But it is an imported species, and is crowding out the native oaks, so it is systematically being destroyed–too bad.
By dawn the next day, the clouds had lifted enough to expose the peak of Mt. Carrantouhil, Ireland’s highest peak at 1038 meters (3405 ft). After breakfast, we left for County Limerick, where we toured a dairy farm and lunched. The old farmer who was our host told about his family who had farmed the land for several generations. He also entertained us with his wit. Among his bits of wisdom was the secret of a happy marriage: “Do as you’re told!”
Mid-afternoon we arrived at our last stop, Dromoland Castle, where we walked through the gardens in a light rain. Neither the buildings nor grounds were as impressive as Ashford Castle. Our room was in a wing surrounding a separate courtyard. The corridors were long and narrow, like a maze, requiring assistance to find our room. We had a reception in an elegant drawing room, and were led to the dining room by a bagpiper in kilts. It was a most enjoyable dinner.
Next morning, I walked the grounds before leaving for the airport, and found some interesting sights. The path I took encircled a large wooded area, the center of which was marked by a wide swath of grass in the form of a cross. In the center of the cross on top of a hill was a pillared rotunda of fairly recent construction. At the bottom of the hill, on the east side, was a small dolmen and a pond, with a stone walk leading to its center; at the center stood a pedestal such as might have held a sundial. The pedestal and dolmen lined up perfectly with the rotunda–odd. Near the dolmen and tucked under the hill was an ancient stone cottage of just one room. Its ceiling was of the same rough stones as the walls, wedged together and covered with sod–there was one window and door. Most of the rest of the grounds were devoted to golf.
We then left for Shannon Airport and our flight home, with time to buy some duty-free Irish whiskey.