Ireland 2012 Friendship Force

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July 1st 2012
Published: July 1st 2012
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Day 2 & 3 - Laurie Ann S & Penny S

Day 2. Dublin to Waterford via Glendalough, Wicklow Mountains and Kilkenny –

Day 3. JFK Aboretum, New Ross and Waterford Crystal

Lodging: Dooley’s Hotel, The Quay, Waterford

“The Valley of the Two Lakes” or Glendalough. St. Kevin’s Monastery stood on this site in the 6th century. This monastic settlement stood up against the Viking attacks, English attacks and finally was abandoned with the 1539 Dissolution of Monasteries law. It is so cool to walk through the remnants of a medieval settlement: the tiny stone hovels, the church, and the 110-foot high intact tower. The surviving buildings date from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. The original settlement would also have included workshops, areas for manuscript writing and copying, guesthouses, an infirmary and farm buildings.

Although Irish coach drivers tend to avoid it, we set out over the Wicklow Gap. What a treat! Like crossing one of the passes in the Rockies, only a fourth as high. We have a beautiful view looking down through the valley and we take pictures beside a stream, an old bridge, and another ruin, presumably a continuation of the Glendalough settlement. Edward Rutherford’s Princes of Ireland featured this area quite intensely as it was integral to Irish history.

We enjoyed lunch in Kilkenny at a pub called The Field. It was kind of a sports bar and we took a photo of a lady putting up shamrocks and leprechauns in the window. She turned out to be the owner of the pub, Sallie-Anne McDonald. She proudly showed us the largest Hurley in the world hanging over the bar. A Hurley is the stick they use in hurling, and by now, you all will know that it is a beloved sport in Ireland. Fellow patrons begin to cheer on a horse called Bob’s Worth as the Cheltenham Races are being telecast and this is BIG here. We join in the cheering and find out that it is the Irish jockey, riding Bob’s Worth, Barry Geraghty, who is being specifically cheered! He ended up winning three races in 80 minutes. We explained Friendship Force to Sallie who was very positive about the idea of having future groups visit The Field and she would be glad to share about their life running a pub…. a 24/7 operation with many responsibilities for not only the drink and food, but also the entertainment at night.

Kilkenny Castle. Once there were four towers and four walls, but Oliver Cromwell saw to it that his cannon was used to destroy one wall in 1649, and thus it stayed. The original Anglo-Norman castle was built by William Marshall, 4th Earl of Pembroke. Strongbow originally built a wooden fort on this site in 1172, giving a history of over 800 years to this castle. The earls of Ormonde (Gaellic word that meant East Munster) were very good to the tenants during the famine years (unlike most landowners) lowering or even eliminating rents for a time. In 1967, Arthur, the sixth marquess of Ormonde, gave the castle to the people of Kilkenny. The contents had been sold at auction but an effort has been made to replace with the originals where possible and historically accurate pieces if not. Some of the rooms are beautifully restored.

Waterford, dating from the year 914, is older than every European capital but Paris and London. It’s Viking name, Vedrarfjordr, meant, “haven from the windy sea” or “winter port.” It is bound on two sides by water, a tidal marsh harbor and the River Suir. Our hotel faced the River Suir, where once great long Viking ships were moored.

In 1783 the Penroses began manufacturing glass and exported it to the Americas, Nova Scotia, the West Indies and Spain. By then Waterford was the largest port. The manufacturing plant closed recently after New York investors bought it. Glass continues to be manufactured here in Waterford, but they also have plants in Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic. We toured the plant. Interesting factoids:

It takes 20 tons of hard wood to make three tons of molten crystal.

American collegiate trophies and the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy are made here.

The blowers are the last of a breed. They work four days on and three days off. They must serve a 5-year apprenticeship and 5 additional years to become a master blower.

The cutters Thomas, Joseph and John were doing the very exacting work and we were able to watch them very close up.

The engraver uses wheels made of copper…some from American pennies. Pat Brophy was engraving while we were visiting. He has worked there for 37 years and was once a hurler for Kilkenny.

The name Waterford is engraved on the coat of arms given to Waterford by King John in 1204 as a chartered city. It has been under Viking, Norman and English rule.

We next visited a different shop where Sean Egan works. He was one of the displaced workers, however, he had been quite affected by 9/11 and spent 100 hours of his own time making a beautiful tribute crystal piece honoring Father Michael Judge and the fallen who died. A New York City fireman, Mickey Cross, happened to see his creation and made arrangements for Sean Egan to make a masterpiece for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Sean was brought to NYC where he met with families of victims, the mayor, countless fireman, and was astounded when a group of pipe and drummers began a parade in his honor. The current owners of Waterford crystal would not let him keep his engraving tools, which he had made and they did not want him to keep the 9/11 tribute and threatened to sue him. In NYC the firemen told him to go back and tell them to “bring it on” as he would have thousands of supporters to defend him. He did just that and the “boss” said, “Oh, I was just kidding.” You can read about his story at

Next we strolled through the JFK Arboretum, located near the ancestral home of Kennedy’s great-grandfather, Patrick. Although still early, magnolias were in full bloom and even some rhododendron. We saw a shaggy Irish horse named Sam and his owner Michael Full-a-Blarney who told us that Sam had just won two races at Cheltenham and then asked if we’d like to buy a couple of horses to take home! The shaggy horses are actually smaller Clydesdales.

We decided to stop at New Ross to see the Dunbrody famine ship, a full-scale reproduction of a three-masted bark. It seemed so small that one would wonder if going in would even be worthwhile - but was it ever! For 30 years, the Dunbrody shuttled Irish passengers to America and returned laden with timber, cotton and grain.

The Irish poor had a diet of potatoes and little else. One acre of potatoes could feed a family of six for a year. The potato crop was struck by blight in 1845 and did not recover until 1849, during which time countless starved and millions emigrated to Britain, Australia, and Canada, but mostly to the US.

The night before leaving, neighbors held a wake for them, a mixture of joy and sorrow. Some landlords paid their passage if they would just leave and free up the land. One landlord said he would give the tenants provisions, but only if they would agree to give up their Catholicism. The Dunbrody was converted to hold passengers. Each family in steerage was given a bunk about the size of a king-sized bed. There could be anywhere from six to sixteen people sharing this space in near darkness. Steerage passengers were allowed to go on deck for thirty minutes a day to cook their grains providing it wasn’t raining. They took oatmeal flour and rice with them and sometimes had to eat it raw. Music and dancing gave way to misery as many people died. Although the Dunbrody captain treated his passengers kindly, this was not always the case and many of these ships became known as “coffin ships” as up to half of their passengers died. President Kennedy’s great grandfather, who had once been a cooper (barrel-maker), left New Ross on the Dunbrody as a steerage passenger with hope in his heart. Obviously, his fortunes were changed by emigration.

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