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Published: September 26th 2013
Greetings! Haven't done this for a while as I've been a bit under the weather and haven't had the oomph to get off my bum to write. Lyn tells me I am a typical man as when the least thing goes wrong I fold. I protest but enough of that.
Frankfurt to Dublin with Aer Lingus. A two hour flight with a landing that was a bit rocky and rolly coming into Dublin. Nothing too bad so we were bemused when the passengers applauded after the wheels hit the ground. We looked at each smugly as any Kiwis would who've landed at our airports in a bit of a blow.
Laura and three and a half year old Clodagh, were there to meet us. Immediate rapport even though we'd only met fairly briefly a year and a half ago at Pip and Stu's wedding. Off to Skerries which is a small town north of Dublin. Laura and Shaun live 10 minutes out of the town in a country area on a shared piece of land with her Mum and Dad, Mary and Nicky, her brother Bobby and his partner Lorraine, and sisters Michelle and Audrey, who, although they don't
Shaun with Clodagh and Rhys
live there at the moment, have some arrangement to do so I think. It's a great set up with good separation between households but close enough for all to support each other when necessary and drop in easily.
Shaun was at the house with son, Rhys and had he changed since we last saw him! Only a baby then but now a very fluently vocal toddler. Lara, the au pair was there as well. She's Spanish and was there to improve her English and have an experience which, I'm pretty sure, she was having. Nicky and Mary also dropped in to say hello so we felt very welcomed. The kids were great. Outgoing and energetic, they didn't take long to accept us as part of the household.
Laura had given some thought to our few days in Ireland and suggested that we head to Belfast the next day by train to catch a quick glimpse of Northern Ireland. So we did. A two hour train ride and we were in Belfast. The day wasn't great - windy, a bit drizzly and cool but we did a couple of memorable trips.
The first was a black cab tour
Clodagh and Rhys
Lyn had given Clodagh a new bag for preschool.
of the "Troubles" areas. Laura had suggested it and we were so pleased she had. We walked out of the station, asked the first black cab driver we saw, "Do you do Black Cab tours?" Sure enough he did and I think we struck a good one because he was a superb narrator, knew his history, gave us a real insight into the background and the aftermath right up to the present day of that sad, mad history. Shankills Road, Falls Road; he stopped at various places to emphasise points, we got out and walked around, stopped for photos - really good. We were amazed that a 20 metre high wall had been erected between the Catholic and Protestant areas back in the day and it was still there, still being maintained and neither party wanted it pulled down as they felt that without it there would be those who would see that as an invitation to start violence all over again. Our driver said it would take generations for the underlying festering sores to heal. So, worth doing if you're in Belfast.
Our driver dropped us at the Titanic Museum. Ho hum you might say, as I may
The wall - Catholic side on the right
well have until I visited. The Titanic has been done to death as you know but this is a new take on it. The Museum opened last year and because the Titanic was built in Belfast it also tells the story of the development of Belfast from the industrial era leading into the shipbuilding industry and hence, the Titanic. The exhibits are state of the art. A ride through a shipyard half way through was brilliant. The museum is interactive, colourful, moving, informative.....at one point during audios of survivors talking of their experiences I was pricking back a few wet ones. So, we'd recommend that as well.
The city has established a walk from the city to the Museum quarter which passes though what used to be the huge ship building yards of the mid-nineteenth, early to mid twentieth centuries. On a good day it would be a scenic and relaxing walk. Our day was not one for a relaxing or scenic stroll unfortunately. We did walk back into the city though and you could see the potential of the area. And that was pretty much it for us in Belfast. We just had time to walk through some
Both sides have murals painted on the ends of buildings which they keep in top condition. This one of Bobby Sands, Catholic martyr.
of the city on our way back to the station and the train back to Skerries.
Next day we were up early to join Laura on the commuter train to Dublin. It turned out to be standing room only for forty minutes through the rain spattered greenness of the country side until we pulled into Connelly Station. Laura took us through Trinity College and pointed out some famous landmarks as we walked with her to her workplace. It was raining but we were told that this was normal by everyone we met although they all made comment about their great summer of only a few weeks back.
Lyn and I left Laura and went on up to Kilmainhim Jail where many of the 1916 Easter uprising ringleaders had been held after that uprising had failed. And where most of them had met their deaths by firing squad at the hands of the English. The tour of the Jail, which is vast, is conducted by historians so we got heaps of detail about the background to the jail itself and of the many different types of prisoners that were held there. Stories of the poor being thrown in jail
The Titanic Museum building
for stealing a turnip from a field to try to feed their starving family, of young kids, the youngest five years old, getting sentences of anything from two weeks and up for stealing a loaf of bread because they had nothing to eat....it was a good tour with all the political stuff thrown in as well. I enjoyed it.
What a contrast - the Guinness tour. It was interesting without being riveting, very high tech, but I enjoyed my free pint of Guinness and we met Laura for lunch there. Afterwards Lyn and I walked through Dublin looking at sights, and soaking up the atmosphere, literally, as the rain got heavier and it grew colder and gloomier. We'd like to go back and see Dublin in the summer when the sun is shining and the walking a little easier. Met Laura at the station and back to Skerries where Shaun and Lara had the kids under control and tea on the go. It was good to get to know Shaun better after only spending a short time with him at Pip and Stu's wedding. I reminded him that he was still on my blacklist for hitting me for 20 odd runs in the only over I bowled in the cricket match the day before the wedding. Hardly surprising as he's been in his club's All Ireland League winning teams four out of the five times they've won it. For those of you who follow cricket and know the name Eoin Morgan, now playing for England, he was in Shaun's club team as well. Anyway, Lyn and I found Shaun to be a very personable and friendly young man who it was a real pleasure to spend time with.
We were being totally spoilt. The next day Laura was lending us her car, a VW diesel Polo, so that we could drive across the country from east to west to Galway for a couple of days. Off we went mindful that we weren't the greatest of navigators in strange lands but thankful the gearstick was in my left hand and the steering wheel on the right. We'd been given clear instructions on which roads to take and amazingly we got it right and there was even no swearing or harsh words exchanged. Easy driving - 120ks on the motorways and not vast amounts of traffic. We veered off the motorway at one stage because Lyn needed a pee and I said confidently that there'd be a small settlement just up the road. Up the road, further up the road, even further up the road, miles up the road, no settlement. My wife is ever resourceful. She spotted a small country school, we hauled off, she went in and spoke nicely to the teacher and hey presto, problem solved. On the plus side we saw some beautiful Irish countryside.
Galway turned up. Our hotel was brilliant. An elegant, gracious place with a room that we relaxed into immediately. The Westwood House Hotel - recommended. We got a great deal through Booking.com of €59 per night. A bus into town and a wander. Unfortunately, by this time I wasn't feeling great so it sort of dampened the experience for both of us. I tend to go right into my shell when I'm not feeling well and that leaves Lyn with not many options for conversation so it wasn't a good time for either of us and we didn't do Galway justice. What can I say about it? I kept thinking of the song Crosby made famous....
"If you ever go across the sea to Ireland,
Then maybe, at the closing of your day,
You can sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh
And see the sun go down on Galway Bay." Etc.
We weren't there long enough to feel the sentiments in the song.
The next day we left Galway and headed for Connemara, a wilderness area with renowned scenery. It wasn't the day for it. The clouds had lowered, the rain was persistent, the wind was blowing, we took the wrong road we couldn't see much...shall I go on whinging? No. What we did see was a wild and relatively deserted area with lakes, rivers, moor/boglands, glaciated round domes of hills tussock clad, small villages, isolated hotels and a place that probably lives up to its reputation. Maybe it was the day for it. It was a good drive through winding and bumpy narrow roads that we were pleased we did. On our "wrong way" road we ended up in Clifden and Lyn had an animated conversation in a shop with an Irishman who fondly recalled the 1973 All Black tour and his sitting on his father's shoulders as he watched the AB's draw with Ireland at Lansdown Park; Grant Batty, Stu Wilson, Graeme Mourie, he knew all the names.
From Connemara we drove across Ireland again to Skerries for our last night. The mood in the house was a little sombre as the kids had had a a meltdown that day. They were subdued. Laura and Shaun and us sat around later and talked over a glass of red and it was a nice way to finish our time with them as we were on another Aer Lingus flight the next day to Bristol.
It was a quick goodbye to Laura the next morning as she left for work. She had been a fabulous host. Couldn't do enough for us. We we truly spoilt. Lyn and I took Clodagh and Rhys to the park just up the road and spent a fun time there with them before Shaun came home from work (he works a night job) and took us to the airport with Clodagh along for the ride. He had been a really good guy to spend some time with and we both felt we had got to know him this time round.
And so, on a small plane to Bristol, England, where we were going to meet Dan Dewes, an old family friend.
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