Co. Kildare

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Last Saturday was the annual (River) Liffey Descent race in Ireland, the biggest canoe and kayak event in the country, and one I know intimately.

liffey descent 2014In my teenage years, I was a keen white-water kayaker. [Jargon alert: in the US, people tend to refer to the sport as kayaking, in Ireland they refer to it as canoeing.] I paddled several times a week and competed around the country on my school team. The highlight of the year was the School’s Liffey Descent, which takes place a week before the “real thing,” the adult race. Over the years, I’ve paddled the Liffey several times, and the river still holds a certain mystique.  Read the rest of this entry »

October sees a variety of festivals celebrating Irish food, world-class opera, and great jazz, as well as two of the most popular participatory sporting events in the country. (Can you guess what they are?)

Seaweek-poster-2014

Dromineer Literary Festivaldlf-logo-web

Dromineer, Co. Tipperary – 2-5 October, 2014

The Dromineer Literary Festival is an intimate event held in a beautiful lakeside village in Co. Tipperary. This year’s authors include Medbh McGuckian, Nuala Ní Chonchúir, Booker Prize-nominee Donal Ryan and celebrated newcomer Liz Nugent.  Read the rest of this entry »

While Ireland has a wealth of round towers surviving in various states of disrepair, only two can be climbed, and Kildare is the best of these. 

Kildare Round Tower

Kildare Round Tower
(Photo: atriptoireland.com)

The second tallest tower in the country (108 feet/33 meters), it is thought that the original round tower was constructed on the site in the 6th century. At some point, the upper two thirds of this tower seems to have collapsed — either as a consequence of assault or the forces of nature. The tower was rebuilt on the original base in the 12th century. You can see where the size and type of stones used changes as you examine the exterior of the tower. The elaborate doorway and windows are all from the 12th century. The doorway is constructed of red sandstone in the romanesque style, and is ornately carved (as always, some of the carvings are a bit weathered after 800 plus years) in four receding “steps.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Just outside Kildare town you’ll find not one but two wells sacred to St. Bridget.

Sr. Bridget's Well

St. Bridget’s Well (modern) Kildare, with clotties on the wishing tree behind. (Photo: atriptoIreland.com)

Holy wells were once common throughout Ireland. Before the invention of plumbing, fresh, clean water was of primary importance, so naturally spring-fed wells were valued, even revered. The water was thought to come directly from the underworld, courtesy of a god or, more commonly, a goddess. It’s thought that in pre-Christian times the wells each had their own deity, and over time these were replaced by the Christian saints. The number 3000 is bandied about as representing the historical total of holy wells in Ireland, although many of these are in disrepair or overgrown at this point, and many that are mentioned in ancient texts are now lost.  Read the rest of this entry »

The stories of the goddess Brigid and the later St. Bridget are so intertwined as to be nearly inseparable. The ancient feis of Imbolc was co-opted as St. Bridget’s Day, one of the most-popular saints days in Ireland and the Irish diaspora.

Saint Bridget  (Photo: St.Joseph Catholic Church, Macon Georgia)

Saint Bridget
(Photo: St.Joseph Catholic Church, Macon Georgia)

Bridget’s Early Life

Born c.451 near Faughart in Co. Louth, Bridget was the daughter of Dubtacht, a druid, and Brocca, who was either his wife or a slave, and possibly a Christian.  Bridget eventually became a Christian (probably after absorbing druidic teaching from her father) and founded a number of monasteries, including the famous one at Kildare. It’s possible she entered religious life after losing the sight in one eye (although some stories hold that she put her own eye out rather than enter into an unwelcome marriage, and once the marriage had been called off — Celtic tradition would not allow one to marry somebody disfigured — she put it back in and was miraculously healed).  Read the rest of this entry »

Imbolc (celebrated January 31-February 1) is an important feast day in the Celtic tradition.

Here comes lambing season!  (Photo: Nicola Stathers via cc license on Flickr)

Here comes lambing season!
(Photo: Nicola Stathers via cc license on Flickr)

The mid-point of winter having been passed at the winter solstice (Dec 21), the days are now slowly growing brighter. Imbolc is often called the “rekindling of the solar hearth” and celebrates the returning sun, the promise of spring, and the steadily improving weather. It’s a very important time for farmers, who depend upon the whims of the weather. Tradition holds that the weather on Imbolc is a predictor of the year to come: too cold/wet/stormy and a bad year is predicted (although in typically pessimistic Irish fashion, if the day is too nice that’s thought to presage even worse conditions!). Weather that’s just a little better than expected is thought best, promising a mild conclusion to winter and a fertile year.  Read the rest of this entry »

First, I have to say that Leap Year is a crime against geography and my 5th-grader has a better grasp of map reading than whoever wrote the improbable screenplay. Despite all that, Leap Year is a strangely charming romantic comedy, and has become a favorite over the years.

The Rock of Dunamase, which provides part of the location for "Ballycarbery Castle" in the film Leap Year.

The Rock of Dunamase, which provides part of the location for “Ballycarbery Castle” in the film Leap Year.

Amy Adams and Matthew Goode play the cliched mis-matched personalities falling in love through adversity, and mostly get away with it because the scenery is breath-taking — the music’s pretty good, too. Read the rest of this entry »