Burning Desire For FIRE

Financially Independent, Retired Early(ish) at 57.

Day 28: Audley End, Saffron Walden and other chocolate-box villages.

We drove through the pretty little village of Thaxted on our way to see Audley End. Here are some snaps from the car:

Look at the THATCH!

I remember Ben saying, “Once, you lived in a thatched house if you were poor. Now, you live in one if you’re rich.”

We were on our way to the prettily- named town of Saffron Walden, where the grand house of Audley End is located. Scott took this photo of one of the Audley End swans.

We knew that the house was going to be large as we drove around the perimeter of the property to get to the front gate. The old brick fence that surrounds the house is HUGE.

Audley End was built in 1605, on the site where a 12th century abbey used to be.

The first lord of the place was Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, and he was content to live in the old abbey buildings. However, a couple of generations later, the lord of the manor had more grandiose ideas.

The current house that we see today is only a third the size of the original. This guy built a MASSIVE house. It was so large that when the king, James I, came to stay, he knew something was up.

“This house is too grand for a king, but not grand enough for my lord Treasurer,” the king said, and promptly threw him in the Tower.

He had to pay a fine of £30,000 to get out. This, of course, would be worth millions today.

No, we’re not laughing at his misfortune.

But really, what a doofus. His family never recovered financially.

(Picture taken by Scott.)

I stayed down in the Great Hall for quite a while talking with one of the guides. He gave me the information I’ve just told you and we also talked about Ireland. Turns out his name is Sean O’Sullivan, so we had a great chat.

“These old houses have so many things packed away that everyone has forgotten about,” he said. “One day, I was called over and told to open up an old book very carefully. There, written just like you or I would write our name in a book, was ‘Walter Raleigh.’ I tell you, it gave me chills to think that he had touched this very same book.”

They didn’t allow photos in here, so we had to be sneaky. (This one was taken by Scott.) Look at the ceiling!

The first room up the stairs was a sitting room. The girls of the household used to practice their watercolours here, so there’s a record of how things have changed in the room over the years, from furnishings to the size of the panes of glass in the windows.

(Photo taken by Scott.) The next room was the lord’s sitting room, which has the truly idiotic features of two fake doors and one hidden one. This is in addition to the two doors that already led people from one room to the next.

Seriously? How many doors, real or otherwise, does one lord need?

It was full of paintings. The guide said that in Victorian times, some art critic came around and was convinced that every second painting was an old master. “Nowadays, “ he said, “We have a much calmer idea about who painted what.”

There was a Van Dyke self portrait in this room, which shows him pointing to a sunflower. The room guide explained that Van Dyke was Charles I’s court painter. A sunflower is a symbol of loyalty, so he was professing his loyalty to the king.

The nursery was interesting.
The first indication we had that we were getting near was this bell high up on the wall.
The mother of the children, in Victorian times there were 8 of them, would ring the bell from her sitting room when she was ready to see the children before dinner. Their governess would have to make them presentable and deliver them to see their parents for a little while each day.

The boys were sent off to Eton when they were 11, while the girls were allowed to actually dine with their parents once they were in their late teens.

During WWII the house was used for training soldiers and the nursery wing was used for officers. When restoration work started, they found the ivy wallpaper and other colour schemes from the girls’ sketches.

Think that the carpet is hideous? Take a closer look at the drawing on the wall. It’s authentic.

Here’s the governess’s room. It’s right in the centre of the nursery wing. There would have been no escape from the kids at any time for the poor woman.

(Photo taken by Scott.) The main library was a very pleasant room, where the ladies would have come to work on their embroidery and such. It had huge windows looking out onto the gardens.

There was a formal garden around the back of the house. This was a view from one of the windows.

I liked this little side table in the dining room.
“I like the look of the cakes!” said a young man walking through.

Here’s the back yard. When you think that this used to be three times bigger than it is now, the mind boggles.

Keen eyes will be able to spot an actual bumblebee.
I bought a bumblebee ornament for my Christmas tree from the gift shop here.

We were feeling a little bit peckish by now, so we drove into Saffron Walden to have a look around.

Saffron Walden used to be called Walden, but the for a long while in the Middle Ages there was a thriving saffron growing industry here.

It’s a very pretty town, with many old buildings still in use today.

It was in this shop that I realised that my sense of smell was back.

I mean seriously. Look at that.

But in some ways, time has marched on.

A short walk away from the centre of town is the ruins of Walden Castle. It was built in the 1100’s.

I was able to walk underneath the second story of this house without ducking my head. I’m 5’2”.

The roof. The plants…

Zero in on the date above the door. Amazing.

There’s a dachshund behind the man. The dog’s name is Banger.

I just had to snap this picture. You can just see how this used to be a shop window, with all the wares spread out where people would walk right by.

What a vista.

Then we went to find a church that had Lord Audley buried in it. He used to work with Thomas Cromwell during Henry VIII’s reign.

The church was impressive enough. But where was The Great Man’s tomb?

Here. In a side office where the church files and day to day operations are carried out. How the mighty have fallen, We had to look past a curtain and push it aside to get to him.

He was actually a huge deal in his day.

Thomas Audley was appointed Speaker in the House of Commons in 1529 expressly to preside over the Reformation Parliament that authorised the break with Rome. He worked with Thomas Cromwell to take control of the king’s legal and parliamentary affairs.

The Reformation Parliament was summoned by Henry VIll in 1529 to settle his ‘Great Matter’, his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Henry’s case was championed in the Commons by the Speaker, Thomas Audley.

Lord Chancellor Audley passed judgement on Sir Thomas More and John Fisher for their refusal to swear an oath recognising the king’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.

This made me cross. I love the play/movie ‘A Man For All Seasons’ about Thomas More. Audley is an arse.

At the time of Anne Boleyn’s arrest he was known as ‘Cromwell’s creature’ but when the King became unsettled by Cromwell’s ruthlessness, pursuit of reform and the unsatisfactory marriage to Anne of Cleves, trust between Cromwell and Audley broke down.

In 1540 Audley announced Cromwell’s arrest to the House of Lords and after his execution, his judicial responsibilities were given to Audley.

Lord Audley and Henry VIl’s queens:

Lord Chancellor, Thomas Audley sanctioned the King’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon.

He investigated Anne Boleyn’s alleged crimes and accompanied her to the Tower of London in 1536 prior to her trial and execution.

He was instrumental in obtaining the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves in 1540 and presided over the trial of Catherine Howard in 1541.

So, basically he enabled Henry VIII in all the dodgy shenanigans that he got up to. How funny that he’s now shoved aside in a local parish office.
I bet he’d be furious!

As if all this prettiness wasn’t enough, we stopped in the chocolate-box town of Finchingfield on the way home.

All we had to do was walk around the town square…

The town windmill.


Scott took this one with the reflection in the water.

For dinner we went to a lovely Italian restaurant in Maldon, housed in a 1500’s building with oak battens and rafters from sailing ships.

The lights were quite blinding from the candles on the tables and the many electric lights in the ceiling. How fortunate then, that they sat Scott right next to the dimmer switch.

Over time, the lighting in the restaurant mysteriously changed to be more flattering to many of the patrons. I’m sure our waitress knew what was going on. She enjoyed it.

Day 27: Goodbye to Ireland and hello to Maldon.

Four of us were on the bus at 7:15 for our drop-off to the airport. Single Carol and I chatted happily, while Fred and Wilma, an American couple who had been friends with Cornelia sat silently. Fair enough… it was early.

Then as the bus stopped at the terminal, the wife handed Ben a small stack of COINS and said, “Thank you for your work on the trip, Ben.”

Now, in Australia we don’t tip a lot, but even for us, that is an insult. Good lord, at least give the man some folding money!

Do you know the worst of it? After Ben got their luggage out of the bus, he got Carol’s and mine out, then looked around and said, “ Where are Fred and Wilma?”

They’d gone into the terminal without saying goodbye.

“I feel terrible about not saying goodbye,” Ben said. “Let me quickly see if I can find them.” He dashed into the terminal to try and say goodbye to the couple that had stiffed him on the tip.

They’ll never know it.

Single Carol and I had a couple of hours to kill at the airport, so she found a table and a couple of chairs while I was held up in security. My pottery woman caused me some difficulty. They couldn’t work out what she was. I hope that doesn’t also happen at Heathrow and Singapore. It was a bit nerve wracking, especially when I only got one of my boots back, so I was hobbling around with only one shod foot while they were elbow-deep in all of my things.

She and I swapped travel stories until it was time for her plane to board. Then it was just me, happily dropping photos onto the blog until it was time to go.

The flight between Ireland and England is just right for a little nap. Then before I knew it I was in the car with Scott and we were headed for the bed and breakfast in a little town called Maldon.

The plan for this leg of my holiday is for us to drive around and explore Essex. Deana and Kathleen have shown me a bit, and now it’s time to see the rest!

The b and b is directly across from the river, where these sailing barges are moored. My window overlooks the river and the wetlands beyond. The house is filled with bowlfuls of lollies and chocolates, with nice little touches like some binoculars by the window for birdwatching and a rubber duckie for the tub.

After we settled in, we took a walk around the place to orient ourselves.

We were looking for a particular church. In a surprise to no one who knows him, Scott had done a bit of research on the places we were going to visit and this church has a link to the first president of the United States.

There was a window in here…

… which was donated to the church from the USA because…

… George Washington’s great-grandfather was the rector here.

I’m tipping that the rector would never have dreamed that he’d be honoured by a window in the church, though really, it’s not himself it’s really honouring.

After walking around the town a bit, we went for a meal on a quayside pub that our hostess Kim recommended, and then it was home to bed.

Scott took this photo of the Orange moon.

Day 26: Dublin Day!

Today is the last full day of our tour. It’s a day in Dublin, with four major stops.

The first was a museum called EPIC, which is all about Irish migration across the world. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to this because it sounded a bit dry. But this museum is really good.

It was all technology driven. There’s lots of films and stuff to watch and interactive screens you can use it you want further information.
The first section is heartbreaking. It’s all about Ireland’s past and why millions of people have up stakes and moved elsewhere..

I tell you, it all made me very glad I don’t have a drop of Irish blood – these people have had it ROUGH.

The second part was all a celebration of Irish achievements around the world

It was so much better than I thought it would be. If you’re ever in Dublin and have a couple of hours to spare, it’s worth a visit.

Ben enlivened the bus trip towards the next attraction by turning the wrong way up a one-way bridge. A yell from the whole bus alerted him.

“Christ,” he said as he frantically backed up as the traffic advanced towards us. “I’d better get out of here before the Garuda come!”

On our way to Christ Church Cathedral, we passed this clock.

“Clery’s clock,” said Ben. “The tradition is to meet under there for a second date.”

We began talking about the nicknames all the statues have. There was one, whose real names escapes me now, that was a woman rising from water. Ben said that it had to be removed because people kept adding dishwasher detergent to it. She got the name of “the floozy in the jacuzzi.”

Look at where the bullet hole is. It’s not an accident.

Ben gave us a potted version of the 1916 rebellion and urged us all to go home and research it further. Basically, what happened was that in 1916 there were many young men off fighting for the allies in France. Back home in Ireland there were some freedom fighters in Dublin who decided that now would be a good time to fight for their cause upon the world’s stage.

They organised a shipload of weaponry which was then cancelled. Half of them pulled out, while the other half wanted to go ahead. So they did.

They barricaded themselves in a block or two in Dublin. I’m a bit hazy on the details. The town of Dublin didn’t know about it until it happened and there was very little support for it.

The English were not impressed. They diverted a ship full of 17 year old soldiers who thought they were going to France over to Dublin. The ship sailed as far as it could up the river and then opened fire.

The regular people in Dublin were NOT impressed and after 3 days convinced them to surrender. As they left the GPO people spat at them.

Then, here’s where it gets interesting. A guy called Maxwell was the leader of the English. He started executing the freedom fighters

By the time Asquith, the English PM at the time, heard about it and told him to stop, 16 of them had been killed.

Of course, public opinion immediately swung around and the English had 16 dead martyrs on their hands.

The paperwork for the Irish republic was signed in 1922 by Michael Collins.I’m going to track down that movie when I get home.

When we got to Christ Church Cathedral, I was in a Messenger conversation with my sister Kate.
“They’ve just told us that the toilets are located down in the crypt!” I typed.

The answer came back immediately. “We’ll you have to go now!!!”

As soon as I heard about the cat and the rat I headed straight down to the crypt to see them for myself. Here’s the info board:

But wait!

There’s more…

Here’s what the brochure said about this artifact:

“Here you will find the heart traditionally associated with St Laurence O’Toole, patron saint of Dublin.Laurence was buried in France in 1180 and his heart was reputedly brought back to Christ Church soon after. It was stolen in 2012 but recovered in 2018 and restored to its home in the cathedral.”

First of all… how’s the symmetry???

At the beginning of my trip to Ireland I see a head in a box. Now, at the end, I see a heart in a box. Both in cathedrals. Amazing.

Beautiful floor.

Here’s the Magna Carta. It’s one of the oldest copies of it in Ireland.

We were taken up lots of spiral steps to ring the actual cathedral bells. I had a go and they actually lifted me right off my feet. Single Carol is a bit claustrophobic, so she went up first and down first, so all she had was the guide in front of her instead of being hemmed in by a lot of people.
For some reason, the bells and the ancient stone stairs had the reeling with excitement. This was the highlight of her tour. I heard her say to the church guide, “ This has been the best thing on the trip.”

He replied, “Oh dear!”

After ringing the bells so that all Dublin could hear us, it was off to the Guinness Storehouse.

Now, as you might remember, I hate Guinness with a passion. However, one of the American couples, Doug and Cindy, have been absolutely lovely on this trip. I gave Doug my free pint of Guinness voucher.

He was a little bit happy.

Yeast. Not just used for sourdough.

This tour was self guided, ending up in the Skybar where people could redeem their vouchers. I dutifully wandered along. I had 2 hours to kill in here.

Bright lights.
I saw an interesting video from the 1950s about how the oak barrels were made. It was eye-opening just how skilled the coopers were. Unlike the whiskey distillers, Guinness now uses stainless steel for their barrels.

Here’s the movie theatre that they showed ads for Guinness on repeat. I had a little snooze in here…

Then I popped up to the Skybar. Dublin was laid out before us. There were a lot of happy Guinness drinkers here.

Then it was off toThe Merry Ploughboys’ pub for our last dinner.

The men in the band own the pub. They have an excellent business model. Play good Irish traditional music. Pay some Irish dancers. Serve good food. Get the coach companies in.

The evening was excellent. Here’s some dancing for you:

In the second half of the night, the band started playing nationalist songs of reunification of the whole of Ireland. When the singer started his introduction of one of the songs by saying how Ireland had been ruled for 800 years by England, I couldn’t help myself. I glanced over at the other end of the table where Cornelia was sitting.

I laughed out loud at the sour expression on her face. She didn’t see me but I think her meek husband did.

Anyway, who cares what Cornelia thinks? Tomorrow I’m flying back to England to spend a week with Scott!

Day 25: the reason Ireland is so green.

We were supposed to see The Rock of Cashel this morning.

Unfortunately, Ireland was dealing with the aftermath of a little storm called Cyclone Agnes, so the winds and rain were dreadful.

While we were sitting on the bus, which was being buffeted by the wind and rain, Ben told us the story being depicted here.
St Patrick was visiting the monks at the small wooden chapel there, and the devil was on the next mountain. He was furious that St Patrick was preaching Christianity, so he bit off a piece of the mountain and threw it at St Patrick.

This is the Rock of Cashel where the church is built.

Unfortunately, one part of this legend is limestone, while the other is sandstone, so there goes that story!

When James heard that we’d been washed out, he sent some photos so I could see what the Rock of Cashel is like.

Now I wish we had’ve been able to see it. It looks amazing.
The town itself looked pretty, glazed with rain.

We had lunch in a nice little pub.

This was the picture waiting at the foot of the stairs.

There was also a newspaper clipping of a newspaper advertisement offering a reward for Daniel Breene.
£1,000 reward . He was a member of the 1916 rebellion and the Civil War.

He was interviewed when he was much older and he said,, “Of course I regret the violence, but I’d do it all again. The British went down in the gutter and we went down there with them.”

Then it was off to the Irish National Stud.

As you would expect, it has horses in it. The guide showing us around was mainly talking about how much each stallion earns every time he covers a mare.

These are the yearlings. The ducks ended up taking more than their fair share of the food.

Unlike the stallions, who have double fences around them to keep everyone safe, these retired race horses are geldings and so are friendly. It was clear how much the guide cared for this on, in particular.

I went a little nuts in the gift shop and bought a silver Ugly Christmas Sweater ornament for the tree.

And look at these! They’re in the middle of the roundabout where the horse stud is. There are 5 of them in total and they’re made of Bog Ash

When we got to the hotel, all we wanted was to get to our rooms. We were all taken to the side in one group and the hotel door guy said that we should call out our names and he’d find our room keys. ‘Strangely inefficient’, I thought, but after one couple called out and got their keys, I called out “Frogdancer Jones” at exactly the same time as Cornelia called out her name.

You remember her,? The English woman in her 70’s who started out professing sympathy for the Irish but was unprepared for the level of hatred towards the English and to cope, is now saying that the Irish should just get on with it and move on. The one trying to get people to give little or no tip to Ben.

The doorman began looking for my key as Cornelia started repeating to me, “Wait your turn.”
After the third time, I turned to her and said, “Calm down Cornelia, you can get yours next.”

Now, I know I shouldn’t have chosen the words ‘calm down.’ They always have the opposite effect. But I hadn’t done anything wrong and perhaps SHE could learn to wait her turn?

If looks could kill, I would have been in need of an ambulance. She’s an entitled little woman who’s very used to getting her own way and I didn’t back down to her when she demanded it.

Anyway, I got my key and escaped to the lift. I knew in my bones that I was going to hear more of this.She was going to try to teach me a lesson, I was sure of it.

Not altogether to my surprise, just before dinner I arrived in the hotel foyer to find her waiting for me.

She hissed something at me and I said, “Let’s not do this, Cornelia,” and she looked at me, narrowed her eyes and said, “, Oh we ARE going to do this.”

I smiled at her, and said, “Ok then.”

And that’s when she fucked around and found out.

I hate confrontation and I’ll do my level best to avoid it. But when you bring it to my door? You’ll get the Frogdancer Jones who will not roll over and let you turn me into a doormat.

You all know that I wasn’t unprepared about the type of person she is. Plus I’m a secondary teacher… I know how to deal with bullies.

So when she came up close, leaned in and said in a voice so furious it almost trembled, “Don’t you EVER try to push in front of me again!”, all I did was smile and shake my head.

“I was just doing what the man said to do,” I said. “You know that.”

She blew up like a puffer fish and said, “You’re a VERY IGNORANT WOMAN!” and she turned on her heel to walk away, as if she clinched the whole conversation.

So ok, I could have let it go, but I thought I might see how she handled it if I reflected what she’d just said back to her.So I leaned forward and said earnestly, “Oh my god, I was just thinking the same thing about YOU!”

Well, that opened the floodgates. She gasped as if I’d just stabbed her and she said a few things that I can’t remember, while I just put on a patient look, raised my eyebrows slightly and nodded every now and then. (Ok, I knew how annoying that would be.)

Finally, she stopped, took a deep breath and said, “And you can FUCK OFF!”

I grinned because with that outburst, I’d won and we both knew it. As I grinned I said, “That’s the first honest thing you’ve said to me all night, Cornelia.”

She started to walk off, turned around and ferociously gave me the finger and stormed off.

I know I could have defused the situation but for once in my life I simply didn’t want to. Once she made it obvious that she was in for a fight, she was always going to lose, because I didn’t care and I had zero interest in pandering to her.
Besides, if she spent her time stewing over me instead of Ben for a change, then it would be time well spent.

Day 24: Kinsale, Fort Charles and Cork.

I write these posts by taking photos as I go, of course, but also writing notes. As I was getting ready to do a preliminary draft, I realised that the only notes I took today was when I was at the Fort. Today was a leisurely day, where we wandered around the enchanting ( and for me, expensive) towns of Kinsale and Cork. It was the closest thing to a free day that you can probably get on a tour.

Ben parked the bus at the harbour and told us to be back in two and a half hours.

I set off by myself to the left.

This place is built on and against a hill, with many tiny and windy streets.

A few GRUFF drivers. At least that’s what I think he said to me.


The colour in this place is amazing.

I wandered around by myself for most of the morning. Every now and then I’d see a couple from the tour, but we all seemed to have scattered to the four winds.

There were many little souvenir and arty shops. I am trying to avoid buying any more art… I don’t want to fill up the walls too quickly. I have many more countries to visit!

It’s worth enlarging the photo to read the legend. I tell you what, I don’t blame that girl for becoming a ghost after all of that tragic palaver.

Anyone would.

What I’m looking for is some sculpture or pottery.
But it has to not weigh too much…

It’s a big ask.

It’s the one downside of only taking carry on luggage.

And then I saw little Sean Murphy.

Look at him!

He’s a good boi who just wants his tummy scratched,.He’s brass, but weighs hardly anything. I love him.

Them, not 10 minutes later, I saw a pottery lady with a bright red coat.

I loved her on sight, then picked her up and she failed the carryon test – she has some weight to her. I walked out of the shop but after ten minutes and a chat with Roy from Traralgon who enabled me, I went back and bought her. It might take some creative packing, but I’ll make it work!

After we all made it back to the bus, we made our way up the hill to Fort Charles.
Incidentally, make the photo bigger until you can see the yacht sailing near the headland. It made my heart sing to look at it.

The fort tour was interesting. Dierdre, the guide, was not backward in coming forward as to how she felt about the English, which made Cornelia, one of 3 English people in the tour, huff and puff a bit later, coincidentally not anywhere near where Dierdre could hear her.

Obviously they had a lot of military blah blah blah, but here are a few facts that were mixed in that I deemed Blogworthy.

In 1601 two Irish chieftains sought an alliance with Spain because Spain was Catholic and would help get rid of the English from Ireland and then all would be wonderful. The Spanish sailed in and took the town of Kinsale.
The English lost their shit over this. Kinsale is 2 days’ straight sailing from England. Something had to be done… and fast.

The English fleet hurriedly sailed across before more Spanish ships could reach Kinsale and they blockaded the town. Meanwhile, the 2 Irish chieftains lived nowhere near Kinsale, so by the time they got their men together and headed down to the other end of Ireland, the English were in position and were ready. The Irish were decimated. The Spanish were drummed out of the town and the two chieftains left Ireland , never to return. It’s called the flight of the earls.

This is thereason the fort was built in 1677 -to protect against the Spanish.

After theBattle of the Boyne in 1690, a whole heap of the losing James II’s soldiers took shelter within the fort. William of Orange came here and put the fort underseige. He took the high ground, bombarded the fort and after 3 days it surrendered.

The catholic soldiers were offered their lives. Most took the offer and sailed away to Europe. This is called ‘The flight of the geese.’

Once the fort was built, it was run under very strict rules. Life was hard within the walls, but a soldier was guaranteed 2 meals a day, so in a time when many Irish people were starving, this was a definite inducement.

12 soldiers lived in each room, cooking their 2 meals a day there and eating there. They slept on straw bolsters, with the straw being changed every couple of months.

Very few soldiers got married. Only 6/100 were allowed to do so and it was a ballot system. For the first 50 years the woman had to share the bunk rooms with the rest of the soldiers. The happy couple were probably given a privacy blanket.

It was hard life for a woman. The army provided half the food rations as they did for a man, and they were expected to work as either a nurse in the hospital or in the laundry.

It all made me glad to be in the here and now.

We drove back into Cork and Ben dropped a few of us off in the city centre while a lot of people, with either themselves or a spouse still battling the lurgy, went back to the hotel.

Married Carol from Brisbane was alone on the bus today, with her husband Jeff, (great name!), feeling too tired to come out. She and I happened to hop out of the bus at the same time, so we spent a pleasant couple of hours together, just walking around Cork and nattering away.

This photo is of The English Market. It’s very much like the Queen Victoria market in Melbourne or that one I visited in Adelaide on a Little Adventure.

I took this photo to send to James. His Mum made brack for me when we went there for morning tea, so I sent it with the caption, “Your mum’s brack is obviously the best in Ireland. Nice to see she has a little side-gig going!”

His reply? “Christ, they know how to charge!”

This church had a lot of confessionals lined around the outsides. When I say a lot, I mean MANY.
What on earth are they doing here that requires so much forgiveness?

I had a companion shot here of Married Carol holding the ice-creams we bought, but I wasn’t sure if she’d want to be in the blog, so I chose the photo with no people. She took a photo of me outside a shop with my name on it.

These lanes look so interesting when you’re at the mouth of them, but when you’re walking along them they’re pretty dull. Ah well, at least we’d been to Kinsale.

This is the first tin I’ve bought as a souvenir this trip that I’m not going to give away the contents. I’m dying to know what Shamrock tastes like.

I asked the guy stacking shelves in the shop and he said, “How do I explain it? It tastes… fresh, like.”

And then, as we were walking along, I discovered what the sickness was that had been going through the coach. I had my suspicions… some days we were down as many as 9 people who were too sick to leave their beds.

Married Carol and I walked past a Lush shop. Anyone who has ever been anywhere near one of these shops knows how much they smell. Married Carol wanted to look around, so we went in.

I couldn’t smell a thing.

Ah well. Two and a half years into a pandemic before finally getting COVID isn’t bad going.
But it’s really proved the worth of the vaccine. I had three straight nights of 11 hours sleep and a runny nose and sore throat for three days, but every morning I was up and ready to go. Quite a few people in the bus have missed anywhere from 1 – 3 days of sightseeing.

It hasn’t spoiled my holiday.

(Though when I realised I’ve lost my sense of smell, I washed every single one of my clothes!!! Better be safe than sorry!)

Day 23: a kiss of the Blarney Stone.

When we’re riding from place to place in the coach, Ben sometimes sings songs or tells stories to pass the time. Today he told a sad story about what happened to his grandmother’s brother just over 100 years ago.

Michael O’Sullivan was 22 years old. He was in the hills with a friend during the civil war, (which was in 1920 – 1921), when they saw some Unionist troops. The friend shot at them, and ran. Michael was shot in the shoulder and managed to find shelter in a friend’s house. But the troops knew where he was. They called out to him that he could go free. All they wanted was his gun.

He bent the barrel of the shotgun in the bannisters so it would be useless to them, so he was dragged out of the house and shot in the chest. One of the family rode to tell the O’Sullivans and they loaded up a wagon with straw, because they knew they’d be bringing him back. He rode home in the wagon lying in his mother’s arms and died 12 hours later.

A few years after, the man who had shot him was recognised in America and a letter arrived, asking if the O’Sullivans wanted him dead. They wrote back that no, leave him be. By now it was over and done with.

“That was 2 generations ago. Every Irish family has stories like this one,” said Ben.

I put this photo in because I was so pleased to get a shot with the ravens in the photo. You know how it is… you see heaps of ravens flying around being all atmospheric so you raise your phone and wait… and wait…

Anyway, Blarney Castle was built in the 1500’s by the McCarthy family. I couldn’t make head or tail of how or why the Blarney Stone was brought to the castle and mortared into the very top of the damned thing, but I guess it doesn’t matter.)

The point is: if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you have the gift of the gab for life.

Now, my previous students might say that I’ve already swallowed it whole, but in all honesty, I have to say that on this tour I’ve been fairly introverted. People who’ve read my previous travel blogs would know that I’ve travelled with some interesting characters *coughSamFrankcough* but this group of people just haven’t brought out the glorious delight that is Frogdancer Jones.

Ok, maybe that’s a good thing, I hear some of you say…

Don’t get me wrong. They’re perfectly fine people.

(Except for the overtly Christian farming couple who, when I mentioned in a general conversation that I was atheist, never looked me in the eye or spoke to me unless I spoke to them first, and then with the wife, she answered only in monosyllables. Very Christian of them… Christ would probably slap them.

(Or the elderly English woman, let’s call her Cornelia, who after telling us all how ‘leftie’ she is and how awful she feels about what the English have done in Ireland- to the point where she was apologising to the guide in Belfast – evidently realised that the feeling against the English ran far deeper than she realised. She got uncomfortable.
Less than a week later, she’s railing against our driver and the men at a bar she’d been to, saying that “the Irish should just let it go”, and “it’s about time they did.”

That’s all fine… it must happen a lot here I guess, but then I heard how she was starting to badmouth Ben, our driver, and trying to manipulate people into lowering the tip they were going to pay him at the end. Well, there’s some modern-day English landlords taking the money from their Irish workers behaviour right there. What a hypocritical way to act. I’m trying to avoid sitting anywhere near her.)

But apart from that, everyone is nice and very agreeable.

We set off hotfoot from Kilarney this morning, hoping to get to Castle Blarney before coaches full of cruise ship tourists descended upon it. Ben heard that a huge ship had docked at a port nearby.

Sadly, no such luck. When we got there, the place was seething with tourists, like as like someone stuck a stick in an anthill. But all of that was forgotten as I walked towards the castle.

I walked over a bridge with a stream flowing merrily underneath. I could hear the sound of a piper coming down from the castle. With the river, the blue sky, the green of the garden and the medieval building in front of me, it was perfect.

As I walked, the piper finished his song, there was a scattering of applause, then he began another song. I knew the tune… it was very familiar… hang on, it’s’Scotland the Brave.’

When I reached the castle, the piper was just finishing up his song. I told him how wonderful it sounded, and asked if I was correct in thinking that it was’Scotland the Brave’ he was playing.

“ I wondered if I was still in Ireland!” I said.

“Aye, we’re like two brothers, but with one common enemy,” he said with a wink.

The queue to kiss the Blarney Stone was extremely long. Like, over an hour long, winding down from the Blarney Stone, all down through the castle with its winding spiral stairs, then down the slopes.
It took over an hour to get to the stone.

There was a very irritating woman behind me from Minnesota. She had a few friends with her and honestly… she didn’t shut up. All the way up to the Stone, she kept braying her vacuous stuff.

And then, of course, at the Blarney Stone, she was the one who asked me if I wanted her to take a photo of me kissing the stone.

So now I owe her… I feel bad for all the impatient things I was muttering underneath my mask.

As my sister said when I posted this picture on Facebook, “Oh! You get a kiss AND a cuddle!”

There’s quite a gap, as you can see from the left of me, and some people get a bit scared. But as one of the lads said, “Don’t worry. We haven’t lost anyone so far this morning!”

On an aside, we had dinner with some Canadians who arrived at Blarney Castle at 4:30. No queue, they just walked straight up and were done in about 10 minutes…

No words.

As I left my intimate encounter with the Blarney Stone, I stopped at the top of the spiral stairs to show you what they’re like.
The medieval builders made them steep and narrow, so that if the castle was under attack only one soldier could come up the stairs at any one time. They also made the spiral turn to the right, as most people are right handed. A soldier can’t wave his sword wildly if the wall is in his way, but it gives a person standing facing him on the stairs the best chance of getting him first.
They were violent times back then.

I saw this good boy in the cafe garden. Isn’t he great?
I bumped into Single Carol from the tour in the upper cafe and we had lunch together. She’s booked to do a tour of some American National Parks and the Americans on the tour were really excited for her when they saw the tour. She and I are the only singles on this tour and we often have dinners together, because the couples absolutely want to sit together at all times.

The gardens around the castle are stunning. After such a long queue for the Blarney Stone, I didn’t have time to see it all, but I had a good walk around as ai gradually headed back to the bus.

I was keen to see’The Seven Sisters’ because I liked the story, but first I went through the Poison Garden, which is exactly as you’d expect, then through the fairy grotto.

Here are some shots of the grotto. There’s a witch who lives in there, but she only comes out at night but they close the park at dusk, so she can’t do any harm

Here is the legend of the Seven Sisters stones.

Many, many years ago, there was a proud king who lived in these parts. He had two fine sons and seven daughters. Everything was going fine until the day the king rode out to battle and both his sons were killed.

On the way home, the grief-stricken king passed by a circle of 9 standing stones that had been in place for far longer than anyone could remember. As he rode by, the king commanded his men to push over two of the stones in memory of his sons. To this day, two stones lie flat… well, flattish… while the Sisters stand tall.

The gardens also had an exhibition of sculptures.

I bought a hat!

As we were in the bus driving towards our next destination, one of the American guys told us all about another snippet about the Choctaw Indians that I was talking about a day or two ago. They were used in WWI as ‘code talkers’ because they’d communicate in their own language and the Germans couldn’t understand it. They thought it was a code and try as they might, they couldn’t break it.

I found that interesting.

We arrived at our second distillery, Midleton’s, where they make, among other things, Jamison’s Irish whiskeys. I wasn’t expecting to find this as interesting as the first because we’ve already heard how Irish whiskey is made. But our guide was great. We were also allowed to take photos here.

I tell you what, they were certainly pumping the tourists through here! There may be money to be made in liquor, but there’s certainly a quid or two to be made in whiskey tastings as well.

I thought I was coming good from the cold I’d been wearing a mask for for the last few days, but as we were standing outside the mill wheel waiting for the slow people to catch up, I suddenly thought, ‘ Frogdancer, you’re tired.’
Scampering up and down a castle and then walking around the gardens was enough for me for today. I sighed and resolved to have another early night.

Midletons have what they call the ‘Very Rare’ release every year. The first one was in 1882, but it was the result of massive forward planning by the management in the 1960s. Sales of Irish whiskey were plummeting in the US, so they decided to lay down a drop that would be matured for around 28 years and would be a drop to be treasured.
But of course, they had to wait twenty- plus years before they could release it…

Nowadays, it’s regarded as the most bought Irish whiskey in the world, and the least consumed. By coincidence , today is the release date of the Midleton’s Very Rare 2023.

I think the main difference between the two distilleries is that Bushmills stay close to the traditional ways of brewing, while Midleton’s is happier to try new things sometimes.

An example was their micro distillery, where they make a whiskey called ‘Method and Madness’ that our guide highly recommends.

For a whiskey to be legally labeled as Irish, it needs to be triple distilled and it needs to be matured in a wooden cask for a minimum of 3 years.

‘The Angels’ Share’’ is a real consideration. Every year 2 percent of the barrel’s contents is lost to evaporation. This doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that some of these barrels are untouched for 20 years, that becomes a significant amount. They could cover the barrels, but then the whiskey wouldn’t mature. It needs the mix of oxygen the evaporation brings. The barrel needs to breathe.
I love that they call it the ‘angels’ share.’

Afterwards, we were given a taste test of 3 types of whiskey, then we were let loose in the gift shop. I bought a tiny bottle of Red Breast, because James said it was a good drop. I’m planning to drink both little bottles, one from Bushmills, one from Midleton’s, on my second-last night of the tour.
I wonder which one I’ll prefer?

Day 22: The Ring of Kerry. A bit of a fizzer…

If I’d known that this was going to be the best view we’d see today, It’d have enjoyed it a bit more. I suppose the luck of Fortunate Frogdancer couldn’t be expected to go on forever, and today at the Ring of Kerry was where it ran out.

Ah well. When I consider all the amazing pieces of good luck I’ve had in my travels, I guess I can smile and take one for the team.

This lake is right where the ruins of a 4th century abbey lie, called the Abbey of the Yew trees. Say what you like – those monks picked some picturesque places to build their abbeys.

This is Laugh Layn, above Kilarney.

Ben said, “ See the third island? It had a book as richly decorated as the Book of Kells. Cambridge University has it, but they really should give it back.”

This is the photo I sent to James from Dublin/North Korea when he sent me a message asking how the Ring of Kerry was going:

I said, “This is a view of the rocks of Skellig.”

Poor Ben. He knew going in that this was going to be a total washout of a day, but he kept on going, regardless.

The town here that we drove through has a goat festival each year.

Apparently, way back in the mists of time, there was a tiny village on an island who had built a wooden bridge/ladder over the river that they could move around. Early one morning, the people were awoken by the mad bleating of a goat racing through the town. They woke up and realised that they were about to be attacked, so they were able to draw up the footbridge and survive.

Now, they go up into the hills each year, find a goat, wash it and make it look Schmick, then they parade through the streets, feed the goat a whole heap of hay and generally have a fine old time.

Animal activists tried to stop it, but all it did was swell the numbers because the headline in the papers read: ‘Goat Festival in Blahblahblah’ (sorry, I don’t know the actual name of the town) and everyone just read the headline and thought, “That sounds like fun. Let’s go!”

This is the only Catholic Church in the world that is not named after a saint. Instead, it’s names after a man called Daniel O’Connell.
Reared by his uncle after his parents died, he was involved in the smuggling trade, bringing Illegally imported brandy and wine in from France.

Clearly, at some stage he stopped this because in the early 1800’s he was a member of parliament in the UK, where he successfully brought about the repudiation of Cromwell’s laws banning the practicing of the Catholic faith in Ireland.
This, of course, makes him a hero here.

“How did he manage to do it?” I asked Ben.

“Ahh, he was a very clever man, a very clever man indeed. He run rings around all those hereditary lords who were there just because they were born to it. “

He paused, then said almost as an afterthought, “Plus he had the backing of the Americans.”

We had a quick “splash and dash” in Waterville, which certainly lived up to its name.
We stopped for lunch at a great little pub called TheBlind Piper.

According to the story, a blind piper went to America and someone sent him a letter saying to come home and claim his inheritance. He stupidly did. 

He didn’t have the money to go back and he died in the workhouse.

Some of these Irish stories are absolutely brutal.

The pub was great and the food was lovely.

The town is very health-conscious…

… or something.

Remember when I bought a picture of a Fairy Tree? This is one we saw from the bus. See how the Hawthorn tree is all alone in the field?

Ladies View.

Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting saw it when they were over here preparing for her visit and told her she had to see it too. It clearly wasn’t the same weather as we have. We nearly got blown off the cliff!
It’s one of the main attractions of the Ring of Kerry.
It was raining so hard that I enthusiastically leapt off the bus, landed by the door, took this photo and then disappeared back into the bus. The rain was coming at us sideways.

We drove past. Ghost village… a place that had been abandoned during the Great Famine. “This place will never be touched,” said Ben.

As we were driving to a place, not on the itinerary, that Ben wanted to take us to, he told the story of a church haunted by a woman in a wedding dress. It has to be a rainy night and you’re all alone in a car. You feel a presence and she’ll be in the back seat. She was jilted by her lover at the altar so she jumped in the river and drowned.

Water is flowing either side of the road. It’s WET. Bus driver creeping very cautiously past each car. The road is very narrow and slippery.

Then we reached Torcasio Falls.
And it was the best thing of the day.

Suddenly, all the rain was worth it.

Here are some photos of the walk up to it.

This tree made me understand why so many fairy tales from Europe have haunted forests.

I just love this. Like, come on. How could this be natural?

And again, just to prove I’m really here and to show James that I’m still showing his sheep brooch around the Emerald Isle.

On the way home we saw a modern Celtic Cross on a hill overlooking the park. The lord of the manor wanted to be buried overlooking his land, so he was buried there standing up.

You’ll notice I’m wearing a mask. Scott says that he doesn’t think I had Covid because my symptoms don’t match up. He says I probably have a cold, which I’m happy about.
Well, I’d prefer to be fighting fit, but you know what I mean.

Tomorrow we visit another distillery. That should get rid of any lingering germs!

Day 21: The Cliffs of Moher.

“On the coast, you will travel to the Cliffs of Moher. Braced against the ocean, on the coast of County Clare. Here you will stand on the dramatic 702ft (214m) high and 9 miles (14km) long cliffs, a Wild Atlantic Way signature discovery point, to gaze out on the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.”

This was the spiel for today I the itinerary.

What an incredible place. Patrick, a young man on the tour here with his wife on their honeymoon, said, “I’m relieved. I was scared the fog would roll in and it’d all be hidden.”

Here it is in all its glory.

Just to prove I was here.

Here’s what greeted me at the entrance to the Cliffs of Moher. A raven, cawing loudly. It seemed somehow appropriate.

The weather wasn’t kind to us. It was rainy and very windy. On the way, Ben reminded us a few times not to get too close to the edge of the cliffs. I wonder if many tourists have started to fly, or if it’s just a myth that the tour guides tell amongst themselves to feel a frisson of fear running down their backs.

Beautiful, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Remember when I had a Little Adventure there a year or so ago?

This little fort was interesting. Apparently when Napoleon was rampaging around Europe, they were scared he’d try and invade Ireland. They built a series of these forts all around the southern coast, enough forts so they collectively had eyes on every part of the coast.
However, it was a wasted effort because Napoleon didn’t try to invade.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget how it felt to be there on the cliffs, my face being stung by the rain but seeing that incredible view stretching out before me. 

My Antarctica jackets… both my warm and my cold… certainly proved their worth today, as I felt perfectly warm. Most people around me were miserable, with one woman on our tour saying, “Fastest trip ever. Walk up to the top, take a look, then straight down again!”

What a waste. When are we ever going to be here again? 

So I stood there, leaning against the wall, soaking it all in. It was hard to ignore the excited Argentinians singing Happy Birthday to someone right beside me, but I did my best.

Even though the weather was wild, it seemed to somehow suit this place. It was stern and unmoving and beautiful.

The roads here are so narrow. There is a lot of tourism going on and the coaches are everywhere.

The Burren is a limestone area around 80 square miles wide. It used to be under the ocean near the equator in millenia gone by, as they’ve found fossils of warm water fish among the rocks.

In the 1640s, Cromwell’s surveyor Ludlow described it as “a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury him.”

That didn’t stop him burning villages and then leaving the people nowhere to go but the Burren.

This is Kinvarra’s 11th century intact castle. That means that Cromwell was welcome. Any place that had Catholics living there had a very different response…

We drove past a memorial to the famine victims. This part of it is a little boy outside the workhouse doors. You can see the big hinges to the side.

This is a sacked Cistercian abbey. It was established in the 11th century, before Cromwell came over in 1649 to fuck things over for the Catholics. He only stayed a year, but he certainly made his mark on this country.

We passed by a golf course on both sides of the road. Ben mentioned “the love grass.” When someone asked what that was, he said, “They call it the Love Grass, because if you go in there you’re fucked!

I bought some stainless steel earrings with some Connemara marble in them.

We stopped at Adare village for half an hour.

(Incidentally, if you’re a member of my family reading this, please send me a message on Messenger.Just curious to see if anyone is following me on this trip. )


It’s such a pretty place. I think we all wished we could have stayed longer.

We headed off for 2 nights in Kilarney. This is Ben’s home town. You could almost see him swell with pride as we entered the town.

Not a bad welcome. This was right outside our hotel.

This was when sickness started to rip through our coach. Over the next few days, as many as 10 people were staying back at the hotel to spend a day in bed. Of course, when people started feeling bad, they didn’t wear masks to protect the rest of us.
I woke up this morning not feeling 100%, so I popped a mask on. I was hopeful that the Cliffs of Moher had blown the germs right out of me, but no such luck.
I didn’t have to miss any days on the bus, but I was certainly putting in marathon nights’ sleep for the next few nights. No going out and partying for Frogdancer Jones!

Day 20: Connemara, Kylemore Abbey and a fjord.

Connemara was beautiful and wild.
It’s harder country here than where we’ve been so far. Ben was telling us about the Connemara ponies, small white hoses, legend has it, were brought over by the Spanish Armada. They are highly prized for their jumping and racing abilities. Their foals are born brown and then turn white as they mature.

Along the way, we passed by two big hotels. “ Normally we’d stop at one or t’other for a toilet break,” said Ben, “ but we can’t now. They’re full of Ukrainians fleeing from the war.”

It brings it home a bit, how close everything is here to one another.

Lough Inagh

As the sun came out, it lit up the colours on the shore on the other side. The heather was glowing a reddish/brown colour, the grass was – of course- green and the bleating of the sheep wanting to be fed by the tourists and the sound of the wind was the only things I could hear.
( I blocked the tourist chatter out.)

There were a couple of houses on the road with big picture windows looking out over the lake. What a view to see every day!

Ben said that the EU are paying farmers to run sheep on the Connemara hills. They have to state how many head of sheep they have and are paid accordingly.
The EU keep a watch on them by using satellite technology. “ But the farmers, if they’ve over-estimated their sheep, they do things like paint the rocks white, or borrow some sheep from a neighbour.”

After our lit stop by the lake, we were off to Kylemore Abbey. This place has an interesting history.

A rich politician called Mitchell Henry, who was a really good landlord and fought for the rights of his tenants, fell in love with this place and decided to build a grand estate for his wife Margaret.

He certainly did.

The house looks like a fairytale castle as we crossed the bridge towards it. I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say that we all gasped when we saw it. It’s worth enlarging it to have a good look at it. Stunning.

He built the grand house – which, disappointingly, was a little boring when I went into it – but the gardens would have been superb. They were still amazing, even though the passing of time has not been kind to the scope they used to have.

Sorry about the weird photo. I’m learning how to transfer photo’s from my phone to my iPad because they haven’t all synched. Once I put them here I can’t delete them, so here is one I had second thoughts about but can’t get rid of. You’re welcome.

This is a portrait of his wife.

They lived there happily until, on a family holiday in Egypt, his wife died of dysentery. She was only 45.
My grandmother, who was a superstitious woman, would have said that the family was asking for misfortune, by having peacock feathers inside the house.

He ended up losing his fortune and, after changing hands a few times, the property came to the attention of a group of Irish Benedictine nuns who used to have an abbey in Ypres. They were evacuated to England by some Irish fusiliers when their abbey was bombed into oblivion, and in 1920 they came to what is now called the Abbey.

The Benedictines are an enclosed order. It was suggested to them by the Irish Archbishop in 1921 that the mountains be their walls. I like that. They still live here today, though their numbers are fewer.

They make heather honey, which has same healing properties as Manuka honey; handmade chocolates and they bake for the cafe. I had the best blueberry muffin I’ve ever eaten in my life here!

After looking at the house, I took the shuttle bus up the hill to the gardens. There, I saw a pig and them made my way towards an unassuming doorway towards the walled gardens.

This was what greeted me when I went through the gate.

Herbaceous border, anyone?

The gardens seemed to go on forever.

They have pops of turquoise which looks really good. I’m filing this away for use in my own garden…

A Monkey Puzzle tree. Originally from South America, for some reason they became a real “must have” in fashionable Victorian gardens.
I’m not really a fan, myself, but I grew up reading about Monkey Puzzle trees and at least now I know what they look like.

The roof in the back is the groundskeeper’s house. Not a bad job to have.

Naturally, I spent a lot of time wandering through the vegetable gardens, feeling a bit guilty that mine isn’t anywhere as beautifully tended as this one.

Nuns evidently eat a lot of rhubarb, just saying.

Even the walls were used, with espaliered fruit trees to catch every bit of the warmth from the sun on the bricks.

Could you grow enough to feed a family in a garden this size? I think so.

A fine lot of cabbages with marigolds interplanted within them. I started doing interplanting with flowers last year.
Looks like I’m onto a good thing.

Another nicely ordered bed. Butwhat is that furry looki Branch poking in at the top left side?

It’s an apple tree. I’ve seen one that’s covered with fur like this.

Can you imagine the nuns working in their garden, seeing the mountains surrounding them and feeling safe and enclosed?

The sound of swiftly running water made me peer through the fuchsia hedge. There was a stream.

There’s something about the sound of running water, isn’t there?

I saw my second robin red breast in the kitchen garden. It was happily flying in and out of the fuchsia hedge. I talked with an Irish couple who laughed when I said that I was excited to see the robin.
“They’re all over the place in Ireland,” he said.
It seems that I should keep a sharper look out.

I’m going to buy a red and purple fuchsia when I’m home. It’ll remind me of the fuch Hedge where I saw my robin.

This garden has everything – even Connemara ponies.

You can see the difference in the colour between the mother and her baby.

As I sat in the sun, waiting for the shuttle bus, I began to think of what life must have been like for the people who built this place.

The 27 hot houses where the ladies could take their walks when it was cold and wet. They’d likely take a pony trap or something to get them up here. It’s quite a hike for ladies with long skirts to do.

When they were in the hot houses they could eat a home-grown banana, which would be my idea of hell, but for them would be an unbelievable luxury.

There are only 2 hothouses here now and they’re tiny. But in his day, they were huge and were heated by pipes of hot water, which was also used to heat the house.

There were no trees here before he started the garden.

The hills around us are bare of all but grass, heather and sheep, but around the house and gardens are hundreds of trees. He certainly had the long game in mind when he planted this garden. One hundred and fifty years later, we’re getting the benefit.m

We slowed down beside the only fjord in Ireland, Killarney Fjord. During the Second World War, pilots would use the fjord as a line to guide them through to Europe.

Once during the war: there was a huge storm in the Atlantic and a British submarine took refuge in the fjord. They got a ping that a German submarine was right beside them. Neutral waters so they didn’t fire on each other, and when  the storm abated, they went their separate ways.

Ferry used to travel faster and the dolphins used to play with them. Now that petrol is so high, the ferries have slowed down and it’s no fun for the dolphins anymore.

Peahen and chicks, just wandering around the road in front of us.

Lines in the land means potatoes. The people who lived on these hills were a driven-down race of people who were driven from their ancestral lands and ended up here. It was poor land, so the displaced people were left alone.

They used to drag seaweed up to the top of the mountains to fertilise the potatoes. Over time they became experts on growing potatoes and that’s all they grew. When the Famine hit, they were decimated.

In the famine, 2 million people died and 2 million left. Those who could afford to, left. Those who couldn’t were left to take their chances. The population of Ireland hasn’t yet recovered since the famine. They’re still a million people short, even now.

The queen sent an envoy who wrote that the Irish were simply being lazy. Ben pointed to the lines in the mountains and said, “People who wouldn’t farm like this, do you think they would be lazy?”

Queen Victoria sent a shipload of corn. The trouble was, that corn was totally unfamiliar to the Irish. She helpfully included recipes, but they were written in English when everyone only spoke Irish. Plus they were illiterate, because they were forbidden to go to school.

The Choctaw Indians sent $450. They’d been through their own troubles with white settlement. Then during Covid, the Choctaws set up a Go Fund Me Fund an A million and a half euros sent back to return the favour. I guess the Irish never forget.

 Village of Cong, where The Quiet Man was filmed.

This place was doing a roaring trade with people just wanting to sit at the bar and drink a pint of Guinness.

Gayle was so happy. ‘The Quiet Man’ is her favourite movie so she was pretty much in heaven.

Cong is certainly living off the back of this movie! It’s a pretty little place though.

Turn your head to the side…

I bought this little card. It reminds me of the photo at the top of this post.

Day 19: a boat ride and a grave.

Do you remember the two church spires from the last post? Here they are from the lake. Queen Elizabeth walked from one to the other (don’t ask me which is which) in that painting I showed you, which is currently in my suitcase.

Yes, we went on a boat ride to look at the ruins of a 6th century monastery on Devenish island.

However, before we got there, Ben the driver got the head count wrong and we drove off without the Canadian couple. It only took a few minutes before someone in the back raised the alarm, then just after that Ben said, “ And now here’s my phone ringing.”

When we got back to pick them up, someone said to the guy left behind, “You must’ve been worried when you saw the bus disappear.”

“Not really,” he replied. “ The bar was set to open in an hour!”

Once we got on the water it was serene and beautiful.
Along the way we saw a mother swan with her grey cygnets.
We heard about Eneskillen castle, we passed by a very medieval looking building with turrets.
“You see that building there, jutting out from the castle? “ said our guide on the boat. “ It’s called the water tower, but that’s just to confuse people because we never built one!”

We passed by a neighbourhood of pleasant looking semi-detached homes. “There were many years that we couldn’t see these homes from the river. Here was were the police lived and we had great shutters up to stop people shooting at the police. Now they’re down and we all hope it stays this way.”

Oscar Wilde and Samurai Beckett attended school here. “ Less famous are the 3 of us but give us time… you never know.”

Cows happily eating the impossibly, brilliantly green grass.

Looking at birds soaring overhead , the last time I saw birds from a boat was in South America. How lucky I am!

We arrived at the monastery on Devenish Island.

All we could hear was the wind and a few bird calls.

Legend has it was if you climb into this grave, lay down, and turn around 3 times you’ll lose any ailments you may have.

I suppose if you don’t have any, then you’ll pick up all the ailments that everyone else left behind.

We couldn’t climb the impossibly high tower, but we could climb this building. It used to hold the bell the monks would ring to mark their prayers.

I’m only 5’2” so I can pass through a lot of old doors pretty easily. But this door up to the top of the bell tower was tiny.

The spiral staircase was also not built for modern-sized humans.

Looking down from the tower, I closed my eyes after gazing out across the view to the mainland. I could imagine back in the olden days, toiling away at my farm over there, and the hearing the clear sound of the bell floating across from the monastery on the island.

It must have been greatly cherished.

I’m still very glad I was born now and not then. Even with these beautiful blue skies, the rain was approaching. Life would have been really hard back then.

The sound of the wind through the rushes is something I’ve never heard before, though I’ve read about it many times.

It was a long day of driving. Along the way to Yeats’ grave, there were roadworks and we were diverted into a series of narrow lanes…

… when the almost inevitable happened and a car came up the road towards us.
Did you notice the rubbish bin?

Yep, she backed straight into it. She was Not Happy.

As we drove past her, someone asked Ben why he didn’t back up to let her car go past,

“I might have done, but there was a wee bend behind us. If I’d started going backwards and a car ran into the back of me, I’d be in a world of pain. I don’t go looking for trouble because enough of it seems to find me without it.”

Prophetic words indeed. Today was not to be Ben’s best day.

The next stop was a visit to Yeats’ grave. The ‘George Yeats’ is his wife, who was called Georgiana but preferred to be called George.

He’s known for his poetry, and I love how he wrote a poem called ‘Under the shadow of Ben Bulben’ that details exactly how he wanted to be buried. When his body finally made it back to Ireland, they respected his words. Here they are:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head

In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,   

An ancestor was rector there

Long years ago; a church stands near,

By the road an ancient Cross.

No marble, no conventional phrase,   

On limestone quarried near the spot   

By his command these words are cut:

               Cast a cold eye   

               On life, on death.   

               Horseman, pass by!

It’s just an ordinary plot, u der the shadow of the mountain Ben Bulben.

Then I went into the gift shop, because it started raining, and I hit the JACKPOT.

Not this one.

Omg. I have been looking for a painting to represent my Antarctica trip. Here, in a churchyard gift shop in the middle of Ireland, I find it.

I was so happy.
I still am.

Here’s the ancient cross that was mentioned in Yeats’ poem. It was buried in Cromwell’s day to protect it.

Here’s something unusual that we saw at a’splash and dash’ stop at a roadside petrol station.

it’s a set of washers and dryers.

Today was definitely not our driver’s best day. After forgetting two people this morning and having to go back for them, he missed the turnoff to Galway and we were halfway to Limerick before the people at the back end of the bus alerted him.

It was an extra 40 minutes of driving time to retrace our steps.

He was trying to tell us jokes and information along the way, but in the end he said, “Come on Galway, I’m running out of material!”

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