Co. Meath

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Some say Irish dogs are different from other dogs: more soulful, wiser, friendlier even. Hmmm, maybe… maybe not… However, let me tell you about one fabulous Irish dog!

Years ago, I was traveling around Ireland with several American friends, one of whom had lived in Dublin as a child for several years. She observed that Irish dogs were quite different to dogs in other countries, they were “purposeful.” Rather than wandering or straying, Irish dogs appeared to do things deliberately, purposefully, with their tails high and a definite goal in mind.

official neighborhood greeterAs we explored small towns and villages, we began to see the local dogs through her eyes. They did indeed seem very busy, and appeared to have goals and direction. They’d trot down the street, stopping to greet people and other dogs, tails wagging, a glint in their eyes, and after a moments’ connection, would resume their course with every appearance of purpose.

Every year, I’m reminded of purposeful dogs because, as my family prepares to spend the summer in Ireland, one of our children will comment, “I wonder if Prince is still there?Read the rest of this entry »

One of the biggest tourist attractions in Ireland is Tayto Park, but it’s one that many overseas visitors skip because they haven’t the faintest idea what it is.

Tayto Park Bus

Tayto Park is Ireland’s answer to Six Flags or Disneyworld. It’s primarily a theme park, but it also involves a small zoo, and was conceived as a marketing stunt for a potato crisp company. (In America, they’re called potato chips, but in Ireland they’re crisps.) Consequently, nobody but Irish residents know what the heck Tayto Park is… After bringing my two kids there this summer, we can all vouch for the fact that Tayto Park is tremendous fun! Read the rest of this entry »

The best illustrated histories and coffee table books about Ireland and the Irish.

It’s no secret that Ireland is a photogenic country, so there are many glossy coffee table books published every year showcasing our gilded country houses, unbelievably tall cliffs, crumbling castles, and scenic vistas. Here are a few of the ones you’ll find on my coffee table, and that visitors are always drawn towards.

Vanishing IrelandVanishing Ireland: Friendship and Community by James Fennell & Turtle Bunbury

The Vanishing Ireland series focuses on interviewing the oldest and most-experienced members of the Irish community. The reminiscences they unlock are a fascinating chronicle of how the country has changed multiple times over the last century, and the wonderful photography reminds us that a vital generation with first-hand memories of rebellion, independence, emigration, the arrival of automobiles, phones, televisions, and computers are still alive and well, and are a vibrant part of their communities.  Read the rest of this entry »

Just who was Jonathan Swift, political satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels? A new biography by Leo Damrosch paints a vivid and most compelling picture of a multi-faceted and contradictory individual.

Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Leo Damrosch’s new biography of Jonathan Swift, Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, is clearly an attempt to write the definitive work. The previous incumbent weighed in at 3000 pages, so its approach was clearly to overwhelm the reader with detail and sheer volume of material. Damrosch is more selective, and turns the copious material of Swift’s life (letters, diaries, account books, pamphlets — acknowledged and anonymous — books and more) into a vibrant and colorful life.  Read the rest of this entry »

May is a very good month to visit Ireland. The average temperature is in the low 50s, with occasional highs into the 60s (F). Spring is turning into summer, so the magnificent landscape is dotted with new-born lambs, at least 35 of the 40 recognized shades of green are in evidence, and wildflowers are blooming in abundance. Ah, it’s grand, so ‘tis.

 

Ireland May Festival MapTo launch the summer in the best way possible, the first weekend in May is a bank holiday weekend (meaning most businesses and schools are closed on the Monday) in celebration of May Day or the ancient feast of Bealtaine.

Here are the best of the festivals and major events taking place in Ireland during May 2014. Enjoy!  Read the rest of this entry »

There are several stories and rumors concerning the death of Hugh de Lacy, the first Norman Lord of Meath. 

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Norman view of warfare (from the Bayeux Tapestry)

The less-colorful tale holds that he died in 1186 after being hit by falling masonry while inspecting work at Durrow. The more-colorful and nationalistic version credits a young stone mason with an opportunistic ambush. While inspecting work on the former abbey at Durrow — once the foremost early Irish university in the early days of the Brehon laws — de Lacy was distracted and bending over to peer at some stonework. A young stone mason, a local man, pulled a battle ax from beneath his tunic and quickly cut the lord’s head from his body. The mason then escaped into nearby woods, and presumably was a hero to the native Irish.

De Lacy’s body then became a literal bone of contention between the natives and the Norman forces, and it was almost a decade later, 1195, before the Normans finally secured his remains and removed them to Bective Abbey, where his body was finally laid to rest. His head was later brought to Dublin and interred with his wife in the Abbey of St. Thomas.

But things still may not be as simple as they appear. Hugh was rumored to have ordered a crown and been making plans to declare himself King of Ireland at the time of his death — introducing the possibility that his assassin may not have been an Irish rebel at all, but was possibly acting on Henry II‘s orders.

With this rumor in mind, King John’s alarm at seeing Hugh’s son Walter harboring enemies of the crown in 1210, which motivated John’s marching on Trim at the head of his army, is a little more understandable. You can read John’s action as decisively moving against a potential rival, and less as the act of an insecure king. John may have felt the possibility of a rival Norman king setting himself up in Ireland was once again in danger of becoming reality, and acted quickly to nip that eventuality in the bud.

Two decades after his death, the specter of Hugh de Lacy still seems to have cast a long shadow across the Irish Sea.

 

 

Trim Castle, the largest Norman castle in Ireland, is often known as King John’s Castle. The story behind this “honorific” title is not what you might expect.

King John's Castle, Trim

Trim Castle on the banks of the River Boyne
(Photo: infomatique via cc license/Flickr)

When the Normans arrived in Ireland in the late 1100s they claimed the best land in Meath and Dublin, and made Trim the center of their administration north of Dublin. Responsibility for the area was granted to Hugh de Lacy in 1172, and construction began on a fortress on a high point overlooking the River Boyne (which, at that time, was navigable as far as Trim). The castle on the site today, one of the largest in Ireland, was largely built by De Lacy and his son, Walter, and is officially known as Trim Castle. However, many people refer to it as King John’s Castle. Read the rest of this entry »

The Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site is made up of three major passage grave sites: Newgrange, Dowth, and Knowth. I’ve written about the first two already, so it’s time to explore the most-complicated of them all, Knowth: quite literally, a city of the dead.

Knowth passage grave

One of the satellite tombs at Knowth.
(Photo by Photolifer/Marc Gautier via cc license/Flickr)

Constructed contemporaneously with Newgrange, the Knowth site consists of a cluster of 18 smaller tombs around one huge central tomb. When I was a child, I used to peer through the gate to the site at the huge network of rectangular pits that marked the excavation that continued for decades before the site was finally open to visitors. It took the archaeologists five years of digging to discover the entrance to the first passage, and then another year before they found the second one. Eventually, archaeologists would spend over 40 years excavating Knowth, and the story they discovered was extremely complex.  Read the rest of this entry »

What is an age-worn statue of the Duke of Wellington doing atop a pillar in the small town of Trim, in the County Meath countryside?

View of Trim with the statue of Wellington keeping watch. (Credit: Diego's Sideburns/Flickr)

View of Trim with the statue of Wellington keeping watch.
(Credit: Diego’s Sideburns/Flickr)

Many visitors to the small town of Trim in Co. Meath do a double-take when they first realize the statue on top of the huge plinth near the center of town is none other than Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, Vanquisher of Napoleon and symbol of a British Empire on which the sun never set. They plaintively cry, “Oh, you poor oppressed simpletons, do you not know who that man was?” Some take to the letters pages of the local or even national newspapers and vent their spleen: “How can the Irish literally put a British aristocrat on a pedestal in this way?” Read the rest of this entry »

The Yellow Steeple is all that remains of the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin, which once stood on the bank of the River Boyne opposite Trim Castle. Founded sometime in the 6th century AD, the story of the Abbey serves to illustrate just how crazy violent life in Ireland was in ancient times.

Awesome photo of the Yellow Steeple in the early morning (credit: trimcountrymeath.com)

Awesome photo of the Yellow Steeple in the early morning.
(credit: trimcountrymeath.com)

In times of trouble, churches and abbeys were the refuge of last resort for the ordinary people, someplace where they trusted to the thick walls, stout doors, and the will of God when Vikings or rival tribes appeared on the horizon. However, the concept of sanctuary often didn’t account for much, especially when the barbarians didn’t believe in the same god. Every parish in the country has records of churches being burned with a couple of hundred people inside, and Trim is no different. The Boyne river is navigable from the coast as far inland as Trim, where a ford allowed easy crossings, and around which the town grew up. The Abbey of the Blessed Virgin was burned at least three times (that we know of) between 1108 and 1368, each time full of people. The Yellow Steeple is thought to have been built (along with the rest of the abbey) following the 1368 attack. Read the rest of this entry »

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