Ireland


Temple Bar pharmacy

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Purple, so here’s a rerun of an image I showed you in February, 2006, after a whirlwind weekend trip to Dublin. This weekend I’m taking a whirlwind weekend trip to New York City, where I’ll be spending time (and sleeping on the floor) with a bevy of bodacious blog-buds in Brooklyn. Although I’m taking my laptop in order to keep in touch with two online classes I’m teaching, I don’t expect to blog until I return to New Hampshire on Monday night. In the meantime, enjoy your own weekend whirlwinds.

Resting by the Black Fort

By way of follow-up to Wednesday’s post on Inishmore’s Black Fort (D�n D�chathair), here’s a shot–taken to give a sense of scale–of two tourists resting within its wall. Since these adventuresome tourists have varying shades of silver hair, this is my submission for today’s Photo Friday theme. Come to think of it, D�n D�chathair’s gray stones, when viewed at close range, look more silver than they do black…

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

Approaching the craggy Black Fort (Dún Dúchatair) on Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, feels a bit like walking on the moon, the landscape underfoot being almost entirely stone.

The first time I visited Ireland, I was surprised by two seemingly contradictory things. First, the Irish countryside was just as green as photo postcards suggested, something I always thought was a tourist-luring exaggeration: the landscape equivalent of the mouth-watering photos you see on packages of instant foods that inevitably disappoint. The Irish countryside, though, was just as green as I’d seen it, which was greener than I thought possible, never having seen the likes of Vermont in spring.

The second thing that surprised me on that first trip to Ireland seemed to contradict the first: for all her verdure, Ireland was much rockier than I’d imagined. Looking at photos, I’d imagined that Ireland was an island of earth sprinkled with stone. What I learned as an undergraduate careening across the countryside in a minivan, though, was that Ireland (at least on her craggy western coast) is predominantly stone with only a thin layer of velvet green to cover her. The Emerald Isle is emerald not merely in color but also in consistency: a landscape chiseled from stone.

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands in Galway Bay off Ireland’s west coast, is liberally studded with stone. Like their counterparts here in New Hampshire, Irish farmers de-stone their fields by piling the rock walls that crisscross every conceivable inch of acreage…except Inishmore rocks are as angular as New Hampshire stones are round.

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

The road to the Black Fort is too narrow and bumpy to allow busses, so few tourists brave it on bicycles. When you get tired of rattling your brains on a increasingly rocky road…

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

…you abandon your bicycle and set off on foot on a stone-strewn route where crowds of bus-tourists fear to tread.

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

After crossing a veritable field of stone, you come to the cliff where crashing waves remind you that only water can wear away rock.

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

Along Inishmore’s outermost edge, irregular stone walls look natural, mirroring as they do the contours of earth and sky.

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

Like water, time too can wear away stone, for only the hand of history can rupture a wall made of rock.

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

At first sight, Inishmore’s edge seems too stony for souls: how could any living creature abide a landscape that looks as barren as the moon? And yet, within her rocky crevices, even Inishmore harbors fecundity.

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

The unnamed ancients who built Dún Dúchatair were fortifying themselves against invaders, of which Ireland has had many. In A Book of Migrations, Rebecca Solnit suggests that tourists are the latest invaders upon Irish soil, Ireland being a place both frequently attacked and often visited. On the outermost edge of Inishmore, Ireland seems both impenetrable and entirely inhospitable: a hard-scrabble, inscrutable place. And yet even here, vegetative invaders find creases and crevices into which to settle their invasive root-hold.

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

Life on the rocks is a shallow, tenuous thing, the ephemeral existence of plants and insects merely scratching the eternal surface of stone.

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

Plants can’t grow on the moon, for you can’t set down roots in a world without gravity. On Inishmore, Iron Age warriors left their mark not by setting down agricultural roots but by piling up edifices of stone.

On the way to the Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

Instead of carving their place in history, the builders of Dún Dúchatair piled up time, heaving muscle against stone to create a sinuous black curve hugging a sheer rock cliff. (Click on the image below for a panoramic view.)

Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

With no warriors left to defend her, the Black Fort is now easy to breach: having made the walk from your abandoned bike, you surmount her side then descend a regular stair of meticulously positioned stones.

Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

What awaits you at the end of this rock-strewn way is the Emerald Isle herself: a spot of God’s green earth hidden on the edge of an almost lunar landscape. (Click on the image below for a panoramic view.)

Black Fort, Inishmore, Ireland

Click here to see Gary’s version of our trek to Dún Dúchatair.

Inishmore graveyard

Today I taught my first fall semester classes at Keene State and submitted the latest batch of end-term grades for SNHU Online: the official end of my summer vacation. How odd it is to realize it’s been less than two full weeks since I was perusing weathered tombstones on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands off the coast from Galway. Today’s classes, gradebook, and day-long drizzle seem very far indeed from the partly cloudy verge of sea and stone.

Celtic cross at Monasterboice, Ireland

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Ireland was a trip to Monasterboice, where Gary and I admired (and took many pictures of) the 10th century high crosses there. Long ago as an undergraduate, I wrote a research paper on the iconography of Irish high crosses, so it was a thrill to visit several outstanding ones, including Muiredach’s High Cross, which is generally agreed to be the finest example in all of Ireland.

I’ll have much more to say (and show) in a future post about the high crosses of Monasterboice. For now, though, I’m using today’s Photo Friday theme of Circle as an excuse to share this image of the east face of the Cross of Muiredach, which depicts God standing in judgment above the scale where the souls of the dead are weighed. (Click on the image for larger version.) In Muiredach’s cycle of life and death, souls enter the world and then exit it, being weighed by the scales of judgment according to their earthly deeds: a sober story captured in a circle of stone.

Contented cat with well-fed pigeons

Last weekend, in the yard of Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, I learned an interesting albeit all-but-useless lesson. If you offer a cat a heap of sliced turkey, said cat will drowsily ignore a nearby flock of fattened pigeons. Perhaps the peaceable kingdom isn’t so unattainable after all…unless, of course, you’re a turkey.

Reflective self-portrait

When Ivy heard I’d be in Dublin for the weekend, she recommended I try the hot chocolate at Butler’s Chocolate Cafe. If anyone knows her way around a cup of hot chocolate, it would be Ivy: when she was in New Hampshire last year doing a month’s residency at the MacDowell Colony, Ivy and I met up for hot chocolate in Peterborough. The woman is a chocolate connoisseur!

The above reflective shot (which is actually a panorama joining two separate pencam pictures) shows me enjoying my second cup of Butler’s hot chocolate: I imbibed my first take-away cup during that Viking splash tour with that girl on Saturday, and I fueled my postcard-writing muse over a second solitary cup on Sunday. Ivy’s right: the hot chocolate at Butler’s is damn fine, and I’d gladly treat Ivy to a dose of chocolate goodness if we’re ever in Dublin at the same time.

Next Page »