Monday, December 19, 2022

Escapades in Ireland and the UK with Calhoun (Part One of Two Blog Entries)


Located in Howth, Ireland, this monument is titled The Lost at Sea Memorial. This monument originally honored the five killed crewmembers from The Geraldine, a non-military vessel sunk by a U-boat on March 30, 1918, during World War I. The statue now commemorates all individuals lost at sea for any reason. The picture states the following inscription. The second verse below is written in the native Irish language.

“The Cross represents the Love of God,
The rope edge and shell motif, His nets.
The anchor reflects our dependence on Him,
The rock…the safety of the land,
The swirling stones…the dancers of the sea
The 12 sides…the months of the year
The hooped railing…the rise and fall of the waves.

Ag Chíost an mhuir
Ag Chíost an t-iasc
I líontaibh Dé go gcastar sinn.

Christ of the sea
Christ of the fish 
May we be gathered in the nets of God.”

Mathew Calhoun and I were touched by the monument previously mentioned, especially with the symbolic Christian motifs from the etched verses. I will emphasize more details about the Irish fishing village of Howth and the elegance of this memorial later in the blog entry.

Mathew and I began our recent adventure overseas in Dublin, Ireland, arriving on a Tuesday during the last week of July. We booked a red-eye flight and were therefore very tired when we first arrived in Ireland. An unexpected blessing occurred at Egan’s Guesthouse, the small boutique hotel where we stayed. The hotel staff permitted us to access our room at 10:00 am in the morning, so we could rest to eventually enjoy the latter half of the day after staying up most of the night on the plane. We stayed in this guesthouse twice during our travels. We thoroughly enjoyed it each time, especially with these excellent acts of customer service.

While slowly waking up in the late afternoon, we got ready to take a leisurely stroll through the city to enjoy our surroundings. We made our way to the Jameson Distillery at Bow Street. While I do not typically drink a lot of liquor, I enjoyed the décor of the distillery and the history of the company, especially the information about the family who started the business. The distillery was first named The Steins Family Bow Street Distillery in 1780. John Jameson first served as the general manager and then eventually took over ownership of the entire operation. This entrepreneur's last name then became the company's title, Jameson Irish Whiskey. The Jameson tour reminded me of the bourbon trail in Kentucky, where you can similarly tour multiple distilleries.

On this first day in Ireland, we also climbed the Skyview Tower, adjacent to Generator Dublin, an uptown hostel with contemporary decor and hipster travelers spending time together in the lobby bar areas. The tower provided a brilliant glimpse of the city skyline and some landmarks we hoped to visit in the first week of our trip. From there, we walked a short distance to the Temple Bar, a riveting riverside community with quirky boutiques, live music venues, and crowded restaurants, filled with visitors from all over the world. You could hear various tunes in the bars, including pop, Metallica, and traditional folk Irish music. It was a diverse scene of celebration for individuals drinking, eating, and generally enjoying themselves. We ate at the Temple Bar Pub (a restaurant in the Temple Bar community with the same name) and then walked back toward the hotel, still a little tired from our red-eye flight the day before. 

On Wednesday morning, we scheduled a historical walking tour through a company named Sandeman’s New Dublin. Instead of an upfront fee, the tour guides on these walking ventures live off the tips tourists give them if they enjoy the experience. Our stops on tour included Dublin Castle, the Chester Beatty Museum, the Dubh Linn Gardens, Trinity College, the Spire of Dublin, and the Molly Malone statue. John, our guide's name, constantly described various parts of the tour with references involving the word, “craic.” “It was a craic’in good time last night.” “That is a craic’in good club that gets busy around midnight.” “That was a craic’in good memory when Queen Elizabeth delivered her speech in the Dubh Linn Gardens.” I asked for an explanation since this term is most often associated with illegal drug consumption in the United States. John replied that “the craic” referred to “having fun” or “having a good time.” After our tour, at the recommendation of the guide, we visited a restaurant near the Temple Bar district named Mulligan and Haines. Both Mathew and I ordered the famed Irish dish, fish and chips. Given the late afternoon hour, there were few people in the restaurant. The food and service were exceptional, and the restaurant's décor was simple yet uncommon.  

On Thursday, Mathew and I visited the Guinness Beer Storehouse. The building encompassed seven floors combined with a beer factory, a museum, a large gift shop, and a gravity rooftop bar. The immersion interactive experience involved the science behind beer-making and the extensive history of Arthur Guinness and his family line. Arthur started brewing his porter-style beverages at St. James’s Gate as early as the 1770’s. Guinness is known for its creation from roasted barley, creating a rich aroma and a dark ruby color. This original Arthur beer recipe now accounts for 45% of the company’s global sales. 

I am a huge fan of lighthouses for their beauty and the symbolic nature of light in the darkness of a storm. Perhaps better said, semiotically, lighthouses represent images of hope to me. At night, a ship finds refuge when these symbols signify shallow waters that potentially could cause harm to the boats. 

As a result of my fascination with lighthouses, after our tour at the Guinness Beer Storehouse, we visited the Poolbeg Lighthouse on Friday. This structure sits on the outskirts of the city along the coastline. The retaining harbor wall to reach the lighthouse stretches almost a mile and a half long one-way. Upon the wall's initial construction in 1786, it was the longest of its kind in the world and remained one of Europe's longest seawalls to this day. The Poolbeg lighthouse structure is painted a distinct red, visible from afar several miles around on a bright day. From the retaining wall, one can also clearly see the North Bull Lighthouse (built in 1880) and the North Bank Lighthouse, which is nicknamed The Tea Caddy due to its architectural shape. Initially built in 1882, the North Bank Lighthouse looks like a giant mailbox on four enormous stilts. The North Bull Lighthouse resembles a classic cylinder-shaped lighthouse with a hazel-green tint.

On Friday morning, Mathew and I boarded a train to travel across Ireland to Galway, a coastal city on the west coast. Before heading to Galway, Mathew and I experienced a hiccup in our travel plans. Literally, less than forty-eight hours before our trip from Dublin to Galway, our tour company canceled our accommodations and planned itinerary for the next two days. We paid a flat fee for a company to escort us on a bus to multiple destinations on the west coast; however, I had to improvise with the sudden change. The Galway Races Summer Festival (perhaps Ireland's most famous horse races) occurred this same weekend we had planned to visit Galway, which certainly made for a festive experience. However, the last-minute accommodation took a lot of work to find. Thankfully, we found a modest-priced Airbnb to replace our original accommodations. 

We arrived in Galway around lunchtime, dropped our luggage off at our host home, and walked to a local eatery named The Full Duck Café. Our Airbnb host recommended this restaurant, known for its homemade cuisine and gourmet coffee. Mathew and I both enjoyed the meal and ventured into the main square again, where we stopped at the Galway City Distillery for a few specialty mixed gin drinks. In addition to rum and vodka, the distillery created multiple flavors of gin with different plants, organic ingredients, and natural oils. The business owner provided us with a free tour, an oral history of the company, and some local history about Galway as a city. We walked to the Spanish Arch, a famous archway in the original city walls from the 1700s. Mathew and I split up for a few hours to explore the city on our own.

I walked on the city's south side along the waterfront through a green space called South Park, along the River Corrib (a small water passage that flowed directly into the city from the ocean resembling a river). From a far distance away, I could see another lighthouse. As previously explained, I fancy a scenic lighthouse. Once through South Park, I reached the Mutton Island Causeway. It was approximately another half mile to the island, where a water treatment plant blocked access directly to the lighthouse; however, one still had a pleasant view of the top of the lighthouse. The scenery was majestic! It was getting dark, and I had several more miles to walk back and meet Mathew for a few beers before returning to our Airbnb residence for the night. Late into the night, the city thrived with eclectic pubs, local boutiques with handmade products, specialty coffee shops, and restaurants with exquisite cuisine. The town felt homey, sitting on the seaside, where most local landmarks were within walkable distance from each other. I walked a little over ten miles for the day. Exploration requires intense legwork. My heart was whole, and I was grateful for another abundant day with my friend. 

While Mathew stayed in Galway the next day, I booked an excursion to the Aran Islands and the Cliffs of Moher, which would last most of the morning and afternoon. My bus first left for Doolin, where we would take a ferry to the first of the three Aran Islands, Inis Oirr (also known as Inisheer in Irish). As one might suspect with Irish weather, this day was rainy and foggy, making visibility difficult in some areas. The thirty-minute ferry ride to the island made my stomach churn. Thankfully, I did not vomit off the side of the boat or on anyone’s lap. I was sitting next to a friendly, loquacious girl from Wales. So, my spit-up would definitely have been unfortunate.

When I arrived on the island, local tour guides offered rides to the arriving tourists with horse-drawn wagons. The island is only approximately three kilometers by three kilometers, meaning one can easily ride a horse, a bike, or take a walk around the inlet in a short amount of time. During the horse buggy ride, we visited a wrecked cargo ship, the Plassy, which wrecked into the island's rocks in the 1960s. The ship still sits on the wreck site with an old iron, rusted edifice. It resembles a true ghostship visual experience with an exciting tale. No lives were lost in the accident due to the bravery of local islanders. We also visited an ancient graveyard, where an old stone church was built into the ground. This in-ground design was meant to provide shelter from fierce winds and rain many years ago when people actually visited the church. The structure had been vacated for several decades and is known as Tiemphall Chaomha (Church of St. Keevauns or St. Kevin’s Church). Still, it provided another example of beautiful, Irish-aged architecture that weathered rainy storms and seas. Our ride ended at the bottom of a steep hill, where the ruins of O'Brien's Castle provided a 360-degree panoramic view of the island, the village, the docks, and the surrounding ocean. The island was one large rock, where locals broke up the rock and built several square fence structures to place soil and grow grass for livestock. So, much of the island looks like a checkerboard with stone fences everywhere, adding to the scenery's unique charm.

The island’s population is approximately three hundred people, with some churches, a school, stores, and a few café type restaurants. I gathered much of the island depended on tourism, including our guide with the horse-drawn wagon business. The island's first language was Irish, not English, even though most were fluent in both languages. Irish was taught in the local school. The island encompassed a freshwater lake centered in the middle of the landscape that my guide said an endangered eel species lived in, but could no longer be fished since now endangered. There were no other fish or major living organisms now in the small lake. Inis Oirr was a unique landmark with many captivating features that provided a glimpse into what some of Ireland might have looked like thousands of years - rugged, seaworthy, untouched, and splendid scenery.

The ferry ride back to Doolin stopped at the bases on the Cliffs of Moher, a UNESCO global geopark and Irish National Park. The heights reach as high as seven hundred feet in elevation. Ocean waters crashed against the rocks below as my eyes soared to the cliffs above. I steadied myself, so I did not get sick from the rough waters of the boat. After the ferry returned to the docks, the bus stopped at the Visitor Center at the Cliffs of Moher. Unfortunately, the weather had gotten so bad that you could not see any mesmerizing vistas. The tops of the cliffs have a lookout area known as O'Brien's Tower; however, again, nothing could be seen in the distance. Upon my return, Mathew and I had a restful evening because we would take an early train back to Dublin the following day.

We arrived back at Egan’s Guesthouse for our second stay in Dublin mid-morning. Because we had such a wonderful time during our first stay at Egan’s, we looked forward to seeing the staff and staying there again. We wanted to make the most of our second stay in Dublin by visiting a local, coastal fish town known as Howth, another popular destination many advised us to explore. It took about ten minutes via taxi and then thirty minutes via train to Howth from the Dublin city center. When we arrived in Howth, we grabbed lunch in The Oar House, where I ordered calamari and fish pie (naturally smoked Haddock served in a creamy vegetable horseradish sauce topped with mashed potato). The meal melted in my mouth like a milkshake on a hot Alabama summer day.   

In a smaller fashion, compared to Galway, Howth comprised one-of-a-kind seafood restaurants, craft vendors, and open green spaces. Along the waterfront edges, Pier Street connected to Howth Pier Park, which neighbored a picturesque yacht club and marina. The park led to another longer seawall that reached toward the Howth Lighthouse. These areas were easily walkable, surrounded by the townscape. Ireland's Eye is an island nature preserve with several protected bird populations, a grey seal colony, and several hiking trails. Ireland’s Eye was easily visible from the Howth Lighthouse. The town felt like a majestic scene in a movie!

Howth is also known for a famous hike known as the cliff trail, which circles the peninsula. Several planned loops range from approximately four to seven and a half miles (six to twelve kilometers). We had to walk a mile and a half uphill to reach the start of the trail. The trail was hilly, with several ocean cliff views and waves crashing several hundred feet below. For those who have not visited Ireland, it resembled many of the California coastline hikes and landmarks along the Pacific Coast Highway. For much of our hike, we could look back on the town of Howth, where the seawall enclosed the marina and highlighted the features of Pier Street and the lighthouse. It was a spectacle where the most detailed photographs might not capture the illustriousness of the moment.

On our way back to the Howth town center, after hiking several miles, we were hungry again. In addition to a few local beers, Mathew and I shared a joint order of crab claws in savory butter and homemade cocktail sauce at King Sitric Seafood Bar. We felt blessed to eat in this restaurant because it was clear most patrons had reservations, and our wait time was minimal. My mouth continues to water, recollecting and writing about our cuisine experiences in Howth. Our day in Howth might have provided the best food we had during our trip with these two meals.          

Mathew and I felt strongly connected to Dublin and the specific individuals we met during our first week of adventures. Thus, we decided to tour Trinity College at our own pace in more detail than the previously mentioned tour given by Sandeman’s New Dublin. As a prestigious university known by name around the world, Trinity resembles a campus with architecture similar to the Harry Potter school, Hogwarts, which is vividly depicted in the movie series. We then visited the Dubh Lin Gardens one more time before heading back to Egan’s, another distinct famous landmark of the city.

When I was a child, I remember walking through plush, soft grass at my favorite parks, massaging the bottoms of my feet like pillows on my face. The sensation makes me feel connected to nature; the experience created a spiritual connection between my childhood and that present moment in those dignified Dubh Lin nurseries. The grass freshly soothed my feet as I danced around the lawn like a sprite. On this occasion, I felt led to pray that God would bless this stunning place and express my gratefulness for the singular, unprecedented Irish personalities we encountered. On this last day of exploring Ireland, we easily walked (and hiked) another ten-twelve miles in total distance through Howth and Dublin.

Throughout my life, I have learned several lessons from my adventures with international traveling. I have navigated all over the world and thus experienced many different life perspectives. Sometimes people tend to see the world as they want to see it, rather than for what it is. Traveling breaks down a person's paradigm and allows an individual to see the world from other viewpoints. An encounter with culture opens a person’s eyes to real life, and these experiences, therefore, educate a person. It shows the beauty in the shades of gray that define who we are as individuals.

These experiences exhibit that a world exists outside of the United States. To be changed by this external world, an immersion experience in a culture other than your own benefits the traveler with newfound knowledge and information. The distinction between the well-traveled adventurer and a local stateside inhabitant becomes noticeable in how a person communicates, how they behave, and more importantly, what they think. International excursions open a mind to consider the world through the lens of another person’s journey. That open-mindedness is often visible in how an individual addresses another person in conversation.

Traveling outside of the United States enhances personal and professional relationships. When building relationships through cultural experiences, an individual realizes people with opinions other than their own might see things differently yet still live in harmony. In this approach to diplomacy, by the very nature of conflict, discord takes a backseat in efforts extended by people to understand each other. Sometimes there is more than one way of doing things well and maybe even a better way than initially perceived.

Finally, when shared with the right person, these experiences become lifetime memories. Mathew Calhoun is one of my closest friends. On multiple occasions, when I have felt a little down in the past, Mathew has spoken words of hope into my spirit. While together these few weeks, we became close and got to know each other even more than we previously did. 

(Portrait of James on the cliff trail in Howth, Ireland.)

(The Howth Lighthouse and the surrounding waterway on the edge of the town and the marina.)

(An emblem on the stone inside St. Kevin’s Church at the first of the three Aran Islands, named Inis Oirr.)

(The Mutton Island Lighthouse on the outskirts of Galway, Ireland.)

(Another view on one side of the Dubh Linn Gardens.)

(A camera self-portrait in the museum at the Guinness Beer Storehouse.)

(The Poolbeg Lighthouse – tall, bright, and red.)

(A glimpse of the North Bull Lighthouse from the Poolbeg Lighthouse seawall.)

(A sailboat in front of the North Bull Lighthouse, visible from the Poolbeg Lighthouse seawall.)

(A cross tombstone at Inis Oirr.)

(A view of the countryside at Inis Oirr.) 

(A view of the Galway, Ireland coastline.)

(The Dubh Linn Gardens walkway.)

(Mathew and I in the Gravity Bar, atop the roof of the Guinness Beer Storehouse.)

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