In the footsteps of the famine


by Terry Ballard

My connection with Ireland went back more than 25 years - we had travelled there for a week as part of a visit to the British Isles in 1976. Even though it's been more than a quarter century, the place made a huge impression on us. In early 2002, I was able to begin a project of scanning and digitizing 19th century titles from the Arnold Bernhard Library's collection of materials concerning the Great Irish Famine. The existing ebooks on the web were so diffuse that we became the world's largest supplier of etexts about the famine when we published the second book. In some cases, I was able to enhance the web pages that we created with images from photographs that I had taken in 1976.

In the summer of 2002, I was made aware of a grant that would be awarded to two faculty members to pursue projects in another country. I thought of the ways that a visit to Ireland could enhance the work that we were already doing in digitizing Irish famine-related materials. Fortunately, a teaching colleague had sent me a proposal that he had made concerning the university's relationship with the Kerry County Library. He proposed that in a few years, Quinnipiac might send students to scan source documents there, using skills that they developed in Hamden. I wrote my proposal as a prequel to this plan - investigating the resources and technical capabilities of the library, as well as their interest in working with Quinnipiac on a joint web venture. I also proposed visiting some of the key players in the realm of providing historical Irish documents on the web. Surprisingly (since I had never won a grant before), the proposal was accepted. I was given $2000 to cover transportation and lodging, but not meals. I learned in the 1970's that the optimum time to visit the British Isles is May - daylight from 5 AM til 10 at night, and nice weather.

In the months of preparation, I learned many things. Good lodging was available if you shopped for the bargains. My wife was able to find a cottage on the Dingle peninsula for $325 Euro per week, due to the fact that May was still a bit off-season. Fortunately, we paid a deposit on this just before the dollar started falling against the Euro. Since this was about a half-hour's drive from Tralee, it seemed like a good place to be. Rental cars were another matter. For that two week period, a car would be essential, and the rates for any automatic transmission car were through the roof. Even standard transmission cars were expensive, so I finally settled on one. This led to months of trepidation over the thought of driving a stick shift, which I hadn't done for decades, along with driving on the left. I found that when I contacted people to set up meetings, most of them looked at the work we've done, and were happy to talk to me. While it was not in the grant proposal, it became clear that I'd be evaluating the library services situation with our affiliate school in Tralee.

With the last week of the semester, I concentrated on moving my son back from college. Two days later, I was waiting at JFK to board the plane. I had already made my first mistakes - Do not buy Euros from the money services at the airport. The second mistake was not buying a bottle of liquor at the duty-free shop. Package liquor stores in Ireland charge four times more than the stores in Connecticut. The daily flight from JFK leaves at about 9 PM, and is almost entirely in the dark. This was exciting for me, because I cannot sleep on a plane to save my life. On the whole, I was quite pleasantly surprised by Aer Lingus - very comfortable flight and good food, although served at 3AM. About an hour after daylight, and just before landing, we got our first view of the Kerry countryside.

In estimating my arrival time in Tralee, I had assumed that it would take me at least an hour to get through luggage and customs at Shannon airport. It really took about 20 minutes, and I was soon on a bus to Limerick. We drove through Limerick in the 1970's and found it bewildering. So it was in 2003, as it took about 45 minutes to get the last 2 miles during school drop-of hours. Once there, it was pretty easy finding the bus to Tralee, although the ride seemed to take forever after being awake for 24 hours straight. Once there, I found a taxi to take me to Conn Oriel, the B & B that I would be using for the next 4 nights. The room was pretty basic, but it had its own bath, and a TV mounted on the wall. After changing and cleaning up a bit, I was given the conflicting choice of looking around town or sleeping. For the moment, curiosity won, and I was able to find a pub to try my first lunch, where I experienced my first case of sticker shock at the prices. A lunch with vegetable and potato and a glass of Guinness ran over $15 when you accounted for the Euro. It didn't do any good to shop around because every pub had pretty much the same menu and the same prices.

After lunch, I walked back to the B&B and had a nap. Then I went out again and explored the bustling town of Tralee. At first, I couldn't help looking at the architecture of the business streets - of course this becomes a dead giveaway that I am not a local. That's not much of a sacrifice because as soon as I open my mouth they know anyway. Taking pictures just ices the deal. After the second walk, I began to look for ironies, and didn't have much of a wait. My jetlag strategy was to keep active and stay awake until at least 9 at night (actually, in the British Isles in May, it's 9 in the afternoon because the sun hasn't set yet), so I took a third and final walk. I made it as far as the Kerry County Library on the East end of the downtown area. I didn't go in and introduce myself because I wasn't dressed for it, and I know the special collections people that I'd been in contact with would be gone by now. After going back, I just made the 9 PM deadline I'd set for staying awake. The Irish tv didn't help - there were only two channels, plus a few more of BBC.

At 3 AM, I learned something about the other occupants of the B&B - a large group of young gentlemen who came back to the house after a hard night of lifting glasses in the pub, followed by a life-or-death struggle to make it up the stairs. Other than that, I was up at 7 AM and ready for my first Irish breakfast. I told the landlady that I wanted the full thing, which included eggs, sausage, Irish bacon (I thought it was ham at first), and black and white pudding. This certainly ensured that I would not be hungry anytime soon. Soon, the dining room filled with the young men who ignored me altogether, and spoke only in low grunts to each other- the main thesis of their conversations seemed to be that life was unfair. Fashion has come exactly 180 degrees in the past 40 years - now hair is something to be ashamed of and cut down to the minimum at all times. At first I thought they were some sort of travelling rugby team, but it turned out that they were students. Afterwards, I went back to the library - hesitating by the door to the local history room as I began the real adventure. I was met by Michael Costello, who had been in contact with me for the past year. He made me coffee and showed me the key features of the room. Later, I met Michael Lynch, who is the new archivist for the library (on the left in the picture).

I spent the morning getting to know the special collection. Most importantly, and this ties into the initial proposal, the library owns a substantial collection of source documents - logbooks of the local workhouse, beginning in 1840, and covering the years of the famine and decades afterwards. In all, there are more than 70 volumes of this unique source. Also, Costello mentioned a collection of historical photographs. This was new to me, and seemed like a good prospect for digitization. Michael Lynch then took me on a thorough tour of the archive room and the preservation room. This included a collection of the complete documents of a local 19th century lawyer, and a vast collection of county government documents. I asked about documents relating to the great statesman Daniel O'Connell, but most everything about him ended up in Dublin. Mr. Lynch also showed me some land deeds with very fine color and calligraphy - these might be candidates for digitization using digital cameras and a copy stand - due to their unusual size and the necessity to shoot them in color. Another candidate for eventual digitization was a bound paper newspaper that began in 1847 or 1848 - right in the midddle of the famine. Since this was the establishment press, it glossed over the fact that people were dying in the streets and concentrated on social events in Tralee and the garden parties being thrown by Queen Victoria. I mentioned that the more I learned about the famine, the angrier I became at the treatment the Irish were given by their government. They nodded - it made them mad too.

By now, it was lunchtime, and I realized that I had planned to spend time in the afternoon at the Irish College for the Humanities, Quinnipiac's partner institution in Tralee. I knew that Michael Costello and Kathryn Kissane knew each other, but I was surprised that Michael wasn't sure where the facility was located. I left the library, and eventually contacted Kathryn by phone. We set up a time after lunch for her to meet me and take me out to the school. In that time, I discovered that the Grand Hotel had lunches that were no more expensive than the pub lunches, but they were much better. Kathryn picked me up at the steps of the cathedral, and we were off to the supermarket on our way back to school. I was frankly surprised by the size of the facility - they were operating the school out of a giant 1830 house that had been a bed and breakfast - the maximum number of students they can handle is 12. However, once I started getting to know Kathryn and her husband Michael, I knew that our students were in good hands.

Michael (is everyone named Michael here?) has a PhD from Oxford in Art History, but he is also a walking tour guide of Ireland with advice about where to go and what to eat that is always right on target. Kathryn had been involved in educational digitization projects in Dublin in the 1990's, so she was very well versed in the work that Quinnipiac was doing. The cast of characters in complete with two bright and pleasant teenaged sons, their all-purpose facilities man Brian, and Sheeba the Wonder Dog. As we toured the facility, I learned a lot about the culture of the Irish semester. Because they live and work in one building, the students learn that they can get away with going to class in their pajamas. Breakfast and dinner is served in-house, but they usually make the 15 minute trek to town for lunches.

I set up a cable connection in the small but well-provisionsed computer lab for sending pictures back to campus. That way, I was able to take about 500 pictures, even though the camera only holds 160 at a time. That first night, a wonderful dinner was followed by a visit to the pub with Kathryn, Michael and Brian. After an hour, the effects of jet lag started working wonders, and I had to leave after an embarrassing single drink of Harp. The next morning, I started with another full breakfast and headed out to spend more time at the library and at ICH. I was hoping to meet their systems librarian Tommy, but didn't achieve that on my second day. It was fascinating to see how the local history room was thriving - there were always people there looking through the microforms. On the other side of the room, there was a bank of computers containing some CD rom databases of images - I believe this was a government project containing historic maps, and I remember that the images were a bit muddy.

Afterwards, I walked for 20 minutes along the south side of the city to get from the library to ICH. Along the way, I spotted an area by the side of the busy road where cows were grazing lazily and looking at me as if I were some sort of space creature.

Once I got past the Aquadome, an aquatic family park, I was briefly in a countrified setting that allowed me to take the first landscape pictures of Ireland with the digital camera. Even with the tiny display visible at the back of the camera, I knew this was going to be golden. The last few blocks are up a hill - something I didn't notice while being driven, but I certainly did notice when walking. Catching my breath did give me an opportunity to take more pictures.

I was met at ICH by Brian, who offered me a cup of tea. Brian's cups of tea would be a continuing source of comfort for me in the weeks ahead. Brian was the glue that held ICH together - keeping up the gardening, the wiring in the building, and bonding with Sheba the Wonder Dog.

One of the main objectives for my dealings with the ICH was getting them on board with the library's databases. I had been sent over with a disk to load the Virtual Private Network (VPN). On my second visit, I began to install that in their machines. The directions that came with VPN say that you cannot run this inside a firewall. In ideal situations, the program pretty much loads itself, but I was having all kinds of problems here - likely because every machine in the building was running through a firewall that Jim Trella had set up a few months before. First of all - the machine in the student lab had an extra layer of security to keep people from loading new programs. Let's see now - VPN is a program, so I got nowhere with that. One of the Kissane's laptops did allow me to load VPN - problem was that it still didn't work. After a second day of struggling with this, I set them up to get the major databases through the proxy server in QCat, which works anywhere. By now, I was spending so much time working there, that I was starting the process of being accepted by Sheba the Wonder Dog.

On Friday, I once again looked in on the Kerry County Library. This time, I got to meet Tommy O'Connor, the Information Technology librarian. Tommy was particularly enthused with our ideas of sending students with digitization know-how to Kerry, and told me that he would begin the process of arranging for grants with this possibility in mind. I was able to show him some of what we had done in publishing famine-era source documents, and he seemed to find the possibilities mind-boggling.

Afterwards, I visited Kilteely House again for another round of frustration in getting their VPN to work. By now, I had become convinced that it was never going to work until the tech that ran their network in Limerick came down to get this in sync with the existing firewall. I was able to talk some to Shane, who agreed on the nature of the conflict. Unfortunately, he was not able to come down during the time I was there, so the access seems uncertain at the moment. Just as I was finishing up, Michael came down, and I mentioned that I'd been thinking of taking a small bus trip to Killarney in the afternoon. Michael and Brian suggested that I make my way to Ross Castle, and check out the scenery along the way. As usual, their advice was right on target. The bus ride was about 40 minutes, and I began by having lunch at one of the hotels that populate the Main Street. Afterwards, I asked a booth attendant at a tourist information center for the directions to the castle. She told me that it was an easy walk, so I headed down the road. A sign for the castle said that it was 1.3 kilometers away, which would be less than a mile. Either I'm slowing down in old age, or it was longer than that. I couldn't complain though, because I was treated to some really spectacular scenery by the side of the road.

Finally, after some 45 minutes, I was in view of the castle - a wonderful partially reconstructed ruin. One can poke around the ramps and turrets all day, and only need to pay if one takes a guided tour.

Somebody had told me that the preferred way of walking home was to take the forest path. True, but it was even longer than the initial walk. Still it gave me lots of nature to appreciate, and some great views of the castle. This was on the main route for pony carts, which made for some fun pictures. One of the pony cart drivers was wearing an American baseball cap. While I had not thought of Ireland as a hot spot for baseball, I would see at least 50 such caps during my weeks there. Out of that, 48 were Yankees caps, with one White Sox and a Mets thrown in for good measure. Some enterprising soul designed caps that seem identical to Yankees caps, except they read KY for Kerry.

By the time I made it back to Killarney, I was so tired I could barely stand. After a certain amount of trial and tribulation about the bus schedule, I got on for the quick ride back to Tralee. For dinner, I'd have settled for fish and chips at a takeout place that the Kissanes had recommended, but after 5 minutes of being ignored by the counter help, I decided that they were rude and walked out. I went back to the B&B and freshened up and went to a nice restaurant called the Cookery instead. They were on one of the many discount card programs that we had purchased in advance, and that turned out to be one of the really excellent meals I would have in Ireland. The next day, it would be time for the thing I had been dreading - renting a car.

Kerry County Airport is located halfway between Tralee and Killarney, so the bus ride to get there didn't amount to much. I had specified in my car rental agreement that I would pick it up at around 9. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at 9:30 or so and found that the desk for that rental agent was empty. I checked with the Information Desk for the airport, and got the services of a very helpful woman who called the company and determined that the regular agent had taken this day off on vacation, and God only knows where the substitute was. Eventually, she arranged for me to get a refund from them and a car from Avis, but I had to wait more than an hour even for that. Apparently rental agents tend to show up when planes do, and nothing much was happening this Saturday morning. Eventually, I got into the car and dealt with the dread prospect of driving a standard transmission after 30 years and driving on the left. I adjusted to both things within about 5 minutes. I drove back to the B & B to get my bags, and then headed on out to the end of the Dingle peninsula to take possession of the cottage I'd be renting for the next two weeks. It had looked good on the web page, but in person it was absolutely magnificent.

The landlady was in a B & B next door, and she showed me the various complications with hot water and electricity. I decided to go to the town of Dingle, which was only eight miles away. Problem was that you got to it by driving up and then down the Conor Pass Road - probably the scariest road that I have ever seen. It was about a foot wider than my car, and served two way traffic. This means that there is a decision you need to make almost every time you see another car coming from the opposite direction. It was terrifying, but it made me a stronger person. The town of Dingle is clearly tilted towards serving the every need of the tourist, but that means that you could find the necessities of life there - bookstores, liquor stores, and an Internet cafe.

The next day, I had to wake up at 6 (neat trick with no alarm clock), and drive down to Shannon airport to meet my wife and son, who would be spending the next two weeks in Ireland. Bob is a history major, so he jumped at the chance to make his first European trip, even though he hates to fly. The trip down was long and mostly uneventful, except for two oddities on the Dingle Road. The first was a sheep standing alone atop a stone wall next to the road. The next was a rabbit, who ran a race with my car for several blocks. Otherwise, I made it past Limerick without incident. After much pacing, I finally found my wife at the far end of customs. My colleague at the Law Library, Mike Hughes was coming in on the same flight with his wife. They had made arrangements to share the cottage with us for the next week. After they got their car rental, they followed me down to Tralee, and across the peninsula. Stopping in Tralee, we had the only mishap that would occur with the car - I hit a curb too hard and shredded a tire. Amazingly, Avis had somebody out (on a Sunday) within 15 minutes.

That night, the Hughes' took us for a wonderful dinner at a restaurant/pub halfway back to Tralee. On this drive, Mike also saw the sheep on the wall. As the weeks wore on, everyone would see him. I was so inspired that I wrote a lyric in his behalf:

Day after day, from spring until fall,
The lamb with the sheepish grin is standing up on his wall.
Everyone always sees him for the mutton that he'll provide,
An he never shows his feelings but the sheep on the wall
Sees the cars going by and the eyes in his head
Sees the world on its side.

Scorid Cottage is situated on the slopes of Mt. Conor, about a half mile up from the bay, with a magnificent view to the north. A few miles further in the water was a collection of small, stony islands, known as the Magharees (Pronounced "Maori's"). I noticed that one could sit in the living room and watch breakers hit the west face of these islands. Given the distance, each of these waves must have been at least 60 feet high. For sheer entertainment value, this easily beat the television, which only had two channels. In the evening after dinner, it was just cold enough to try burning some of the peat that had been left in a bag next to the fireplace. I was clueless enough to assume that you could just light a match and it would burn. Not so. We then tried burning newspaper under the peat in hopes that it would get the idea. The newspapers burned in a brilliant display, leaving the peat sitting there, mocking us. The next day, Mike went to see the next door neighbors to ask about peat, and they gave him a box of "firestarters." Even these gave mixed results. Eventually we found out the trick: starter logs. Newspapers started the firestarters which started the log, which created an absolute firestorm that burned the peat to dust. This was untreated peat that had a notable pungent smell when it burned. We were told we could pick up extra peat at the Post Office and General Store in nearby Cloghane (pronounced Clo Han). We did this, but found that commercial peat is sold in highly pressed bricks that look like strips of mahogany, and they aren't nearly as pungent as the original form.

The next day was slated for one of the visits that had been in my original proposal - The University College of Cork. I had met their systems librarian at the Innovative Interfaces meeting in San Jose a few months before. Originally, I had imagined that I would drive to Cork that day, but I decided to take the bus instead. It looked like a 90 minute ride on the map, but it actually took more than 2 hours, so it was noontime before I made it into the library. I had a brief but useful meeting with Catherine Sanborn. I found out that there is now a Z39.50-driven opac for all of the universities in Ireland, named IRIS.

Afterwards, I crossed the street to meet with Beatrix Farber and Peter Flynn from CELT - the Corpus of Electronic Texts. This is the premiere digitizing project in the country. In a very wide-ranging discussion, I discovered that we had a lot in common. They told me that they had a very large backlog of materials that had been scanned but not yet converted to text and published. While the project had mainly been founded for the purposes of providing medieval materials, Beatrix told me that they would be interested in broadening the scope of their collection, and they agreed to stay in touch to ensure that we don't step on each other's toes and digitize the same thing. Peter told me that they had been running on the same server for more than a decade, and that he would like to convert the collection from SGML to XML, but didn't feel that it was feasible to make the switch yet. He should know, because he has written a book on the subject of SGML/XML. I told them that a long term goal of mine was to publish something from the Kelmscott Press. They said that the artwork in these might still be copyrighted, even though the text is not. I need to find out the facts of the matter here.

By the time I caught the bus, got to the car, and made the 40 minute drive from Tralee Train/Bus station, I was good and late, and my family was hysterical, since I am usually very prompt. Since there is no phone in the cottage, there was no way I could get any information to them. Afterwards, we went on a ride to the Strand, a publicly accessible beach on the north side of Dingle. Accessible if you didn't mind driving on a rutted dirt road filled with standing bodies of water at several points on the way down an 80 degree slope. While we were walking around and admiring the firm sand and waves, we happened to look up and behold the most magnificent rainbow I've ever seen.

On Tuesday, I drove to Kilteely House, and worked some more on downloading pictures, as well as starting to create web pages of my first shots. I mentioned to Michael that we were considering visiting the Ring of Kerry, since we saw nothing but fog in 1976 when we went there. Michael recommended a few things to look for - particularly a restaurant in Sneem called the Blue Bull. On the way up the mountain passes (it would have seemed a scary drive if I hadn't already done Conor Pass), you drive past lakes and rivers until you are practically airborne.

By the time we got to Sneem, we were certainly ready to eat, and it didn't take long to find the Blue Bull Pub. This would probably be the best lunch we had until we got to Dublin. Afterwards, we walked around the thriving downtown area for a few minutes. I had to check out the Irish music store, but found it somewhat disappointing. As time went on, it was becoming clear that we have a better selection of Irish traditional music available in America than they do in Ireland. That is because many or most of the Irish feel like they should move past the old music and become part of the Euro Pop scene. When driving through the countryside and listening to the radio, you were much more likely to hear Madonna than Mary Black.

In listening to the radio, we kept hearing stories about the Euro Song competition that was coming in the next day or so. In this contest, each nation had one entry, and Ireland's was a new singer named Mickey Harte (no relation to Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead drummer). To hear them talk, Mickey was a sure lock on winning, unless the Russion group Tatu prevailed. It turned out that we were home the night of the contest, and it was on one of the two channels that we got at the cottage. Most of the acts were slick and upbeat, but the one that really caught my attention was from Belgium: a group called Urban Trad. They had more of a folky, and almost medieval sound. At the end, I liked them by far the best of the 25, but thought they had no chance whatsoever. When the voting commenced, we found out that you could only vote for the acts outside of your country. To my astonishment, Urban Trad quickly shot up to the top tier as the votes came in. The other two contenders were Turkey and the Russians. Ireland's act fell into the middle of the pack and stayed there. The lead changed hands between the three leaders all night, and it took the last vote before Turkey beat Belgium by a single vote. For the first time in history, the British entry did not get a single vote. True, the singers weren't that good, but there was plenty of speculation that this drubbing had something to do with Tony Blair's alliance with Bush in Iraq. I suspect that Urban Trad came out of this in good stead, because they made many new friends - we sent for their CD the month after we got home.
After lunch, we circled back towards Killarney and stopped in Kenmare. We found this to be a beautiful, and thriving village. In the 1840's it was a very different story, as attested by the Famine in Kerry website: "Visiting Kenmare, William Bennett wrote, "The poor people came in from the rural districts in such numbers, in the hopes of getting some relief, that it was utterly impossible to meet their most urgent emergencies, and therefore they came in literally to die in the open streets, actually dying of starvation within a stone's throw of the inn." We fared much better there, stopping at the butcher shop to pick up a chicken to roast at home. By this time, it had started to dawn on me that beef here was to be avoided at all costs. In restaurants, and even at home when we cooked beef from the grocery store, it was tough as a boot.

The next day was devoted to seeing more of the Dingle peninsula. This started with another trip over the Conor Pass. It started well enough, and by the time we got to the waterfall on the North face of Conor, we were enjoying the relatively light weekday traffic.

Afterwards, we were driving into ever-denser fog, and by the time we reached the top of the pass, one could hardly see anything. Even though the south drive is relatively easier, it was simply terrifying, and we almost kissed the ground when we rolled into Dingle. After walking around town and having lunch, we headed west to see the Slea Head and Blasket region. The road followed the south coast, and one of the attractions is a house that was built during the Famine period and restored to look like it did back then.
Originally, this would have had the traditional thatched roof, but nearly all such roofs are gone - partially due to a government program to eliminate them because they are too "quaint." This was actually one of the more prosperous houses in the area, but you can see from the picture below that life was fairly crude for 19th century farmers here.
As we approached Slea Head, the road got more winding, and hugging giant rock cliffs. At one point there was a fairly substantial river running across the road. I didn't have much choice but to grit my teeth and drive through it. I found out later from Michael Kissane that this was deliberately built to do this - he said it's the only bridge in the world where the water runs over it. Sounds strange, but if Michael said it, I'll believe it. Just before Slea Head, there is a giant statue of Christ carved into the side of the cliff. Seeing this either tells you that you made it, or perhaps that you didn't. We stopped at the wildly beautiful Slea Head and dove in to the snacks at the well-provisioned store there that faces out to the sea, where you can catch your first glimpse of the Blasket islands.

The Blaskets are a small gathering of islands that were occupied for centuries by a small but determined band of settlers before being abandoned in the early 1950's. During the famine, the islands got off better than most in the west of Ireland because their industry included fishing, not completely relying on the potato crop to survive. In the early 20th century, the islands became host to a literary renaissance of sorts when they began to be visited by scholars interested in studying the traditional way of Irish life that was fast disappearing. Not only did they write books about the Blaskets, but they encouraged the islanders themselves to write about their lives - no small feat when you consider that formal education there was more scarce than prime rib. A few miles past Slea Head, there is a major museum devoted to the Blasket Islands. The first thing you see when you walk in is a giant abstract mural. The scene below is a small portion of that.
The video effectively used color photography and music to immerse one in the Blasket lifestyle, and told of the major players in the islands' story. Afterwards, you can walk down a very long hall, where a Hall of Fame-style series of placques described the contributions of former Blasket Islanders. Only a couple of these people were still alive, and one had just died a few months before. At the end, there is a giant picture window where you can look over to the islands.
Afterwards, we drove through a series of more and more obscure roads. Just at the point that I'm feeling totally lost, we rolled back in to Dingle. This time, we were determined to avoid the Conor Pass Road, so we drove East along the south shore, and turned left to take a more gentle, but much longer way home. Just before you pass through Camp and reconnect with the north road, there was a place to pull over and admire the rural scenery.

On Thursday, I spent the day working at Kilteely House, while Donna and Bob visited the museum in Tralee. Afterwards, we had an excellent dinner at the Cookery, while waiting to see the performance of Siamsa Tire (pronounced shimsa toura), Ireland's National Dance theater, which is on the park grounds adjacent to the museum. Even off season, every single seat was taken, and the performance was spectacular. It was a wordless tribute to the Blasket Islanders. It began with an other-worldly looking woman walking out and staring at the audience and then walking in a pattern of rectangles. She is joined by other people who go through their patterns, narrowly missing collisions (All of this symbolizes modern urban life). The most memorable scenes were of the joy that spread though the island when the fishing boat came in with all hands safe.

The next day we headed back up towards Killarney, and visited the Muckross House. This vast mansion and estate was completed in 1843, two years before the famine. The lavish lifestyle in the house could not possibly be more at odds with the reality of the famine, but the owners of Muckross were known to be some of the most sympathetic landlords on the island, and helped their tenants any way they possibly could.

Over the weekend, we took a long trip north, visiting the Bunratty folk park. Since thatched huts had all but disappeared, this would be my best shot at getting images of the kinds of cottages that were inhabited during the famine years.

One thing they did at Bunratty was furnish the cottages to replicate the way they would have looked at the time that they were inhabited:

We headed further north, through County Clare. This area may have been the hardest hit by the famine - I remember that the book of Irish pictures that we just digitized had a long series of eviction scenes, all from Clare. We were hoping to see the Burren before we headed back south. Even when you are driving through it, the Burren is rather elusive, but when we saw a sign for the Aillwee cave, it looked pretty tempting. While my family took the cave tour, I wandered up a long trail to get a good look at the Burren, which is a landscape of almost pure limestone. Michael Kissane said that he had a student who was so disoriented by the Burren that she nearly fainted. I, on the other hand, felt right at home in this desolation, because it was similar to parts of Arizona. This area also illustrates the achievement of Irish agriculture. At one time, much of the west was this barren, and they created soil by turning big rocks into little rocks into sand into dirt and then planting things.

The road we took up from Lisdoonvarna did not give a real sense of the Burren, so I took a minor road back to Ennis, and stumbled upon the most spectacular eye-popping scenery of the entire trip. At one point the road was almost blocked from cars and tour buses at the sides of the road. It turned out that the attraction was a famous prehistoric stone relic. The picture I took evokes the empty classic spaces of the Burren. If I'd taken it 10 seconds later, it would have included 27 German tourists:

On Sunday, we had a quiet day, driving to Ballybunion, a great old beach town that Michael Kissane told us was the best beach around. We had a nice and inexpensive lunch at a bakery/restaurant next to the beach parking. Afterwards, we wandered down the beach path, past the "Seaweed bath" facility, and onto the beach, which was surrounded by cliffs on one side and a castle ruin on the other. In Castlegregory, a town on the peninsula, we had seen a sign at the pub promising traditional music from 2-4 on Sundays. That sounded good, so we showed up, naively, at 2, and heard nothing but excuses. It turned out to be 4 before the music started at all, but it turned out to be worth the wait. I was wearing the only New York t-shirt that I had brought - advertising the Bronx. A woman behind me asked if I had ever been to the Bronx. Pretty funny, to say the least. It turned out that she was a Manhattanite who was in town for the wedding that had delayed the music at the pub. The band skipped between bluegrass and traditional Irish, but it was all sublime. One of the many people we got to know what waiting for the band asked us if we'd been to the lake. What lake? It turned out that one of the small roads that wind of the mountain went to a high mountain lake that was worth seeing.

We got up early on Monday and caught the bus to Dublin for a 2 night and 3 day visit. This would be my chance to visit the librarians who were working up a massive Irish digitization project that coordinates work among the county libraries, Ask About Ireland. Also, I had made contact with several of the people at Trinity who are affiliated with our law school. One of them said he'd like to get together with me. It looked like a full slate of days facing me, as the bus trundled along the Irish midlands at what seemed like a snail's pace. However, I never considered driving - Dublin traffic is legendary, and the two tanks of gas I'd need to buy would cost more than the bus tickets. After six hours, we were finally within sight of the River Liffey, and in the land of Bloomsday walks. I had learned before that in the era of the early English conquest, they only occupied Dublin and about a 30 mile radius beyond - this area was known as the "Pale." Anything past that was "beyond the Pale," so we were inside for the first time in our lives.

By an almost cosmic coincidence, the Hughes' had decided to spend the same two nights in Dublin before they flew home, and picked the very hotel that we were at - staying 3 doors down from us and across the hall. That worked well because the Hughes and Ballard families were able to see the sights on Tuesday when I was off doing business. Monday evening was spent getting to know the Temple Bar - an area of restaurants and pubs and, especially music. For years I had been reading about the famous "Dublin Doors," with their Peacock windows, so I enjoyed the chance to take a few pictures of the more striking examples.

My first stop on that Tuesday morning was Trinity College - I naively thought that I could just find the Law School building and get in touch with our affiliated teacher. Trinity doesn't work that way - it fills an entire city block and seems to be built along the general plan of a castle - there is only one entrance, on the south side, that leads straight to the number one attraction - the old library with its Book of Kells exhibit. All other buildings are only identified by numbers. If you don't know what the number means, then you don't belong in the building. The nice people at the book store helped me find the faculty member in the campus phone directory, and I left him a message, and that would be that. TUrns out that Tuesday was not a good day for him. When I first entered the campus, I noticed a sign that said "Samuel Beckett Center," with an arrow pointing north. Being a fan, I thought this would be something I'd like to see. I walked around campus for ten minutes with no luck, and finally asked a security guard. He said to walk past the library, and it will be the wood frame building. Simple enough. I walked past the library, passed many stone buildings, and out a delivery gate. When I realized that I had been given directions that were less than perfect, I turned around to discover that the delivery gate had just closed. Next I turned my attention to finding the offices of - Annette Kelly had written me that the library council's office was on Upper Mount Street. Normally in Dublin, "upper" means a street that crosses the Liffey and would be north of the river. After much map-scanning and trepidation, I disovered that Upper and Lower Mount streets were both south of the river, near Trinity. Not only that, but Upper Mount Street was south of Lower Mount Street. On my way between Trinity and the various Mount Streets, I walked through a rather lush garden.

I was met at the Library Council by Annette and her colleague Joan, who filled me in on the rather mysterious national digitization project. What they had done so far was a trial project, granting monies to local libraries who owned historical materials and funding efforts to get source documents up on the web. They said that the moment of truth would be in a presentation to the government in the next week - this would determine if they would be a full-fledged go-ahead project, or a virtual footnote. I have not heard from them since my return, but looking at their website makes me suspect that the full funding eluded them, although they felt fairly confident at the time. Too bad. They showed me their latest project, which was taking one of the grand homes of 19th century Ireland, and including enough detail about it to make it a "virtual manor house." I asked them if they'd seen the wonderful BBC/PBS "reality" show that inhabited a grand manor house with volunteers to play various roles, most of them of a downstairs nature, but this drew blanks. They recommended an antiquarian book dealer, who I visited afterwards, getting a lead on a famine title that would be perfect for us - a 50 year retrospective of the Famine published in 1895. I also went to the National Library of Ireland. I spoke briefly with the man at the Reference desk and told him about our digitization project. One quickly got the impression that a digitization project here was in the unthinkable stage. Too bad, because they had many reference works that are far out of copyright that would be an incalculable resource. If you follow the lead above, you will see that they have begun to publish web samples of historic photos, so there is hope. Across the parking lot, you could see the National Museum of Ireland, but I didn't have time to see it.

I covered quite a bit of Dublin looking for a place to eat. Again, each restaurant seemed to have about the same menu - Guinness beef, Fish & chips and Shepherd's pie. Just past a Mexican food eatery, I looked at the menu I had been waiting for - full of interesting traditional Irish cooking. I looked up and found that I had stumbled upon the Boxty House - the restaurant that Michael Kissane had recommended, and I got the best lunch of my stay. Afterwards, I went back to the room to rest up for the play. I had arranged for tickets to the Abbey Theater's experimental theater, The Peacock. The play was Doldrum Bay, a comedy by a playwright who didn't ring a bell with us. It was the story of an advertising executive who had quit his job and decided to try life as a writer. One of the supporting actors got an unusually good response when he made his first appearance. More about that later.

The next morning we walked back to Trinity, because in all the excitement, I had not seen the Book of Kells. Donna had seen it the day before, so when we got past the ticket gate, she knew how to maneuver me past the swarms of tour bus occupants (who had been moved to the front of the line), and straight to the good stuff. Two pages of Kells were open, along with another work from the same time period. They have digitized this, but it is only available as a CD-ROM. Upstairs, there was an exhibit that included the harp that is the national symbol of Ireland. It was in the reading room - I couldn't take a picture, but it doesn't look much different than it did in the 19th century when it showed up in a book that Quinnipiac digitized last year:

Afterwards, I went to the new College Library, because Donna told me the Samuel Beckett Center was there. I did find a Samuel Beckett classroom, but signs on the outside said that tests were being given here, so nobody could come or go. On the way back to the hotel, I took pictures of the Famine Memorial, which is situated right across the street on the river bank. If these six starving victims seem uncomfortable walking through the very prosperous 21st century city, they aren't letting on.

For our last thing in Dublin, we chose the Music Museum that the Fodor's guide absolutely raved about. Unfortunately, they forgot to mention that the museum had closed years ago. Instead, we got tickets to the "Dublin Tower," an observation platform that is 7 or 800 feet high. While waiting for the elevator to arrive, I had time to check out the construction site across the street with its wall of graffitti.

Finally, the elevator came for us, and I got a few aerial shots of Dublin:

After we returned to earth, we still had about an hour before we needed to start heading back, and we noticed that the Jameson distillery was just across the alley. Since we had a coupon, we signed up for the tour. At the beginning, the guide asked for volunteers to be expert whiskey tasters at the end - my hand went up due to the fact that Donna had grabbed it and volunteered me. In making the rounds of giant kettles and pots, we learned that Irish whiskey is distinct because it is distilled three separate times. The reason for this was, as our guide pointed out, "To be sure, to be sure, to be sure." At the end, we were taken to a tasting room, and everyone got a glass of Jamesons, but I got a tray with 6 samples - 4 kinds of Irish whiskey, 1 sample of Johnny Walker Red, and a sample of Jim Beam. We were told to pick our favorite Irish, and then match it to the Scotch and Bourbon samples and honestly say which we liked the best. I picked Powers Irish, which is a sweet whiskey that is chiefly used in making Irish coffee. Being a polite guest, I finished all of my samples, and afterwards I got my certificate as a master taster, and I was very happy:

There were still two hours to wander around Dublin, and our path just happended to go past the Boxty House, where the rest of the family got to find out what they had missed, and I got to pick up where I left off. I was able to get a pint of Harp to take away the taste of all that Irish whiskey. Afterwards, our waiter was good enough to take a family portrait:

We got to the bus station in time for the 3PM bus on the Internet schedule. We should have known better than to trust any schedule found on the Internet - that cost us several hours. When we were finally in Limerick, waiting for the 9PM bus to Tralee, we noticed a familiar face in the terminal waiting for the same bus. It was the other-worldly lead dancer from Siamsa Tiera. We got into the cottage well after midnight, and promised ourselves a more relaxing day on Thursday.

This started with a trip up to the mountain lake that we had found out about at the pub, although the drive wasn't exactly relaxing - as I was driving over tiny bits of gravel, I was wondering how long it would take Avis to get someone up here to change a tire. The lake was, however, at least as beautiful as we had been told.

Also, we visited the Blenerville Windmill Museum, which is just outside of Tralee on the way to Dingle. This museum could have been important to Quinnipiac because there were negotiations at one time for Quinnipiac to buy the museum, but the deal fell through.

Blenerville was one of the chief departure points for Irish escaping to America and Australia, and it was also home port for the recreation of the Jeanie Johnston, a famine ship. We did not see the Jeanie because she was on her way to America (3 years late - she was supposed to be part of the Y2K flotilla, but political problems bogged down the project).

The museum has a collection of documents from the Famine era, and a recreation of a cottage interior from the period. We all climbed up the windmill and looked out over Dingle Bay while catching our breath. The museum gift shop was particularly well-stocked and the people were pleasant, so we bought a fairly large supply of gifts for the less fortunate who couldn't be here. Michael Kissane recommended a graveyard just past Blenerville as a particularly good example, so we stopped by there, and caught the late afternoon light:

On Friday, we headed out for our longest drive - first to Cork and its suburb Cobh for a look at the museum. Even though it is a very famous museum, the Cobhans spared no expense in keeping its location a secret. Finally, on the third pass, we checked at the tourist information center, and were told that it was the next building over. Cobh was another major departure point for the famine refugees, and the first part of the museum recreates the scenes in a famine ship. As one can plainly see, the eating accomodations in these vessels left something to be desired:

Even so, the travellers still brought their love of dance and music to their new locations:

Cobh was an interesting place far beyond its famine connection. For most of the 19th century, and some of the next, it was known as Queenstown - merely because Queen Victoria rode through the streets one day. Once the Irish took over their own country, it reverted to its original name (Pronounced "Cove"). It was the last port of call for the Titanic, and it was also the nearest port to the Lusitania when that ship went down. We tried the snack bar after touring the museum and found it to be an extraordinary place. I had a really delicious Cornish meat pie for about two Euro.

Afterwards, we drove further East to Waterford, and found the crystal factory on the west side of town. We signed up for the factory tour, which began with a multimedia presentation starring a replica of the Times Square ball. I'd seen the real thing, but from quite a bit further, so it was fascinating to see this one. We were impressed that glass blowers here had to go through as much formal training as surgeons. I'll never complain about the price of Waterford, having seen what every piece goes through before it hits the market. We spent just a little time in the gift shop at the end, because they only sold the high end pieces, although with the price of a Euro, everything seemed high end.

We decided to go back on a more northerly route, and aim to stop at Cahir Castle (pronounced Care) in County Tipperary. After several trials and tribulations, we arrived at 4 PM, just seconds from their stated closing time, but they were perfectly good about letting us look around for as long as we pleased. This is a castle that had impressed us in the 1970's, even before it showed up in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

The next day it was time to pack up the car and leave Scorid Cottage. We would be spending the next two nights at the Quinnipiac Faculty facility at Kilteely House. Once we found our way around the kitchen and chose bedrooms, our first question was the television. It turns out that the set here only gets one channel. We were watching a very well done comedy/drama series when we noticed that one of the actors looked familiar. He was Owen Roe, who played the writer's best friend in the Dublin play. We were completely delighted with the show, Ballykissangel, which has since shown up occasional weekends on our PBS stations. I was supposed to drive back to Kerry County airport this day and turn the car back, which would have left us Sunday without wheels. Kathryn talked me into negotiating with Avis for two more days and turn the car in at Shannon. That was agreed, so we had one more day to catch up before we went back to America. Michael said he always finishes his visiting students with the Gap of Dunloe, which is not far from Killarney, so we followed his lead. We got to the point where the road dwindles to nothing, and one gets entreaties from pony cart drivers to take you the last dozen miles to the top. We knew we wouldn't walk it, due to the number of drivers who left common sense behind and kept driving up the mountain. The price turned out to be prohibitive, so we just enjoyed what we could of the Gap, and headed on. I remember seeing a young Irish woman walking up the hill as we were leaving, her red hair blowing in the wind and a cell phone at her ear. If anything, the Irish are even more cell phone addicted than we are.

We decided to return the scenic route and visit Inch, the locale where "Far and Away" was filmed. This spectacular beach is so wide and firm that people drive their cars along it. I sat by the water for some time, trying to get an action shot of surfers, but no luck.

Heading back inland on the peninsula, we stopped at Anascaul, the home of the famous South Pole Inn, which was founded by Tom Crean, an arctic explorer who served under Scott. The pub has walls filled with original photos of Crean's exploits. It also had a very welcome lunch menu.

Once back to town, we stopped at the supermarket to pick up ingredients for a spaghetti dinner. We decided to turn the tables on the Kissanes and have them over for dinner. Figuring out the equivalent products turned out to be an adventure, but I was able to make a spaghetti dinner that was pretty close to what I serve back home, and it was well received by all four Kissanes. During that dinner I learned that Michael was also interested in astronomy. More memorably, we found out that Kilteely House was haunted by a ghost named Cedrick. Cedrick was a proper British ghost who performed mild feats of rattling things about, but never did anything really threatening.

On our last morning, I walked down from Kilteely to take a few final pictures of the area.

On my way back down the road, I encountered a pedestrian coming the other direction, who called out my name. It turns out that Brian had shown up for work, even though this was a Bank Holiday, just to see us off. "I'll go and get Kathryn and Michael," he said. Twenty minutes later, the Kissanes came out the door, somewhat bleary-eyed, to wish us a safe journey home. The drive down to Shannon was utterly uneventful, and we got the car turned in. In the procedures that one follows in getting a flight home, the smart people at Shannon make sure that you walk through the duty-free shop, which had liquor bargains that I could not believe. They also had the kind of small Waterford items that they didn't sell at the factory. We managed to spend all but about two Euro of our Irish money. Three weeks is long enough to start feeling like a temporary resident, so it was rather jolting to be back home in New York. Suddenly, the only real place was Long Island, and the experiences of the past 3 weeks were a dream. As my wife said, it was a life-changing experience, and a part of me will always be lazing on the lawn of Kilteely House, waiting for the sun to set.

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