Friday, May 28, 2010

Benedictine student tour of Ireland - 1 of __

First of ____ posts with notes and pictures taken during a tour of Ireland May 18-27 by students, teachers, alumni and friends of Benedictine University at Springfield. The itinerary, arranged by EF Educational Tours, took us through Co. Kerry, Cork and Dublin.

First impressions, Tuesday, May 18 (or is it Wednesday, May 19? I'm jet-lagged and disoriented by the time change). Very first impression is of the kids in our tour group in Dublin airport whipping out their cell phones - uh, mobiles - to see if they'll work in Europe. Part of the fun of tagging along on a student tour, I sense already, is going to be seeing the world through the eyes of two generations - my own and my students' ...

Massive confusion at the airport over construction, long lines at customs and security and I'm reminded the Dublin Airport Authority is staffed by the ethnic groups that has run the city of Chicago and O'Hare airport for generations. After waiting for a delayed Aer Lingus flight from the continent, no doubt caused by lingering effects of the shutdown in air traffic over Europe during the weekend, caused in turn by ash from Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, we catch a domestic flight to Shannon. Eventually we get our bags and hassle them onto a bus.

More first impressions, looking out the bus window from Shannon to Limerick and down toward County Kerry ... in Limerick town there's lots of new housing, quite a few two- and four-flats and single-family with a car parked in a tiny front yard, also a noticable amount of half-completed construction, mostly apparently residential, not a whole lot but enough to serve as evidence of Ireland's housing bubble that burst soon after ours did in 2008? ... in the countryside it's all dairy, compact pasture fields separated by hedgerows, which Jonathan says are ecologically diverse and protected in recent years by European Community ag policy ... very few row crops in this part of Ireland ... traffic flow opposite ours ... narrow lanes, cars coming at us from where we don't expect them and traffic lanes splitting off in what seems like the wrong direction (see photo at left). The fields are green, it is an emerald isle. They're smaller than we're used to in the American Midwest, everything seems to be pasture land. First glimpses of furze, called gorse in the east of Ireland, a yellow flowering ground cover that grows everywhere and practically takes over even in the poorest soil ... Jonathan, our tour guide, says legend has it that gold might be found under the furze. It flowers all year. Very pretty.

In a touristy little village named Adare, we meet an engaging old busker playing mostly Irish-American show tunes on the accordion ... we crowd into a pub, seeking a first taste of pub grub and - for students with parental permission - a chance to drink beer legally in the Republic of Ireland. It's crowded, it looks like a long wait for food and we have to get back on the bus in a half hour. So Debi and I wander up the high street and find a little restaurant where we're assured the bacon and cabbage won't take long. It doesn't, and it's delicious - a lot like corned beef and cabbage (which we will learn is probably an Irish-American innovation), but the bacon is more like like boiled ham. At the suggestion of an Irish couple about our age, who are amused by our just-off-the-plane, obviously jet-lagged enthusiasm but are very gracious and welcoming, we get our first introduction to drinking hot tea with plenty of sugar and cream.

Jonathan says the landlords at Adare, the earls of Dunraven, were more socially conscious than most and even donated a Catholic church to the town. According to my guidebook, the "Rough Guide to Ireland," Adare has more than its share of neo-medieval kitsch, also courtesy of the earls of Dunraven, but it's a pretty little town. Altogether a nice welcome to Ireland.

Sports are different, Jonathan tells us. Football, of course, is what we call soccer. Well, we all knew that. But football shares its place in Ireland with other sports ... notably Irish, or Gaelic, football and hurling. Gaelic football is kind of a hybrid of soccer and rugby, and hurling is more like lacrosse or field hockey. Jonathan says the joke is that hurling has one rule: If you can't hit the ball, hit the man nearest it. Co. Limerick is hurling country, and Co. Kerry is a Gaelic football stronghold.

On into Kerry. The terrain gets a little more rugged, kind of hardscrabble with lots of upland pasture interspersed with occasional tree plantations. More furze, broad swatches of yellow on the hillsides. Beautiful. Sometimes interspersed with brown strips where peat is being harvested. Jonathan explains how peat is formed from the furze and other upland plants as their roots intertwine and decay in boggy soil. "Peat" is an English word, though. Irish speakers are more apt to call it turf. There's been more interest in commercial harvesting of turf in recent years, he says, since the price of oil went sky-high in Europe.

Once a kingdom, Kerry is proud of its heritage. Still called "the Kingdom." Another regional trait, I'm guessing. They're all proud of heritage - and they seem to enjoy slagging off on each other's heritage. A joke:

Q. How do you confuse a Kerryman?

A. Stand two shovels against the wall, and tell him to take his pick.

I'm beginning to like Kerry! From the first moment I laid eyes on it, it's all reminding me of East Tennessee, where I grew up. Sure, the vegetation is different. We didn't have furze down home. But we had plenty of upland pasture. And both places seem kind of hardscrabble - and proud - in a way that's hard to define but almost has me feeling like a Kerryman right off the bat. A website for tourists:

The Kerry we all love is not just the Kerry of landscape, glorious and varied though it may be, but the Kerry of language, song, story and personality.

You won't be short of entertainment in Kerry: in between, people keep each other entertained with talk! It is not that the actual range of topics are all that wide or startling either. Because Kerry is overwhelmingly an agricultural society there is endless talk about the Land itself. To hear farmers talk about land and grass is an education in itself; you immediately understand why generation after generation fought for the Land. Land brings the deepest passions into play. Of course Kerry people's conversational obsession with football and footballers is also an event to be witnessed.

There is a sense in which this way of life , or rather this way of expression, adds up to a cultural reality. "A Visitors Introduction to The Kingdom of KERRY, Ireland," Kerry Insight. Insight Web Marketing Ltd., Killarney.



Killarney. We stay at the Lime and Lemon, a delightful bed and breakfast on Muckross Road, the main drag out of town in the direction of the Macgillycuddy Reeks - highest mountains in Ireland - and the lakes of Killarney. My guidebook, the Rough Guide to Ireland, says Killarney is sort of a "kiss-me-quick" tourist trap. I guess it is. But, what the heck? We're tourists. After supper, half the students make a beeline for downtown Killarney seeking pubs where they can legally drink. I celebrate my 22nd anniversary (last drink May 17, 1988) by staying at the B&B and falling asleep with my clothes on, something I haven't done very often in the last 22 years.

Jonathan says Killarney was popularized when Queen Victoria visited during the 1840s. Something decent the English did for the area, I guess, and apparently one time the good Queen was "amused." It strikes me as a gateway city, like Gatlinburg, Tenn., or Cherokee, N.C., with the mountains beckoning in the distance, and the Rough Guide suggests its appeal long predated Queen Victoria.

Killarney was developed as a resort on the doorstep of Ireland's finest lakeland scenery in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and remains a popular tourist town, busy, lively and easily accessible, with hundreds of places to stay in all price ranges. ... The town's kiss-me-quick hedonism and souveiner shops are not to everyone's taste, but the attraction of the place is stil the same as three hundred years ago: beginning in the very heart of town, Killarney National Park encompasses three beautifuyl lakes, beyond with rise the splendid Macgillyduddy's Reeks, Ireland's higest mountain range. Paul Gray and Geoff Wallace, "Rough Guide to Ireland" (2008).

Pictures in front of the Lime and Lemon. First, an EF Tour group from Florida who joined ours:


Students from Benedictine and Ivy Tech in Terre Haute, Ind.


Representing BenU's communication arts department:



Thursday, May 20. Lough Leane and the Ring of Kerry. We're up early for a ride through town in horse-drawn jarveys, or jaunting cars. (Note to self: Learn to play "The Jaunting Car," now that I know what one is.) We clip-clop through Killarney town, passing the offices of The Kingdom newspaper.


Then a boat ride on the Lakes of Killarney. We take the boat on a landing at Ross Castle, probable seat of the Ross O'Donoghue chieftans and, according to the guide who is piloting our boat, "one of the last to fall to the Cromwellian forces." This isn't the last we will hear move about English ruler Oliver Cromwell's invasion of Ireland in the 1650s.

Lough Leane, the largest of the lakes, is beautiful under gray skies with the sun trying to break through. We pass by the isle of Innisfallen, which was a monastic center from the 7th century until the monasteries were dissolved under English rule in the 1500s. It was one of the seats of learning during the dark ages - the name means island of education - and the Irish high king Brian Boru is said to have studied there. In fact, Lough Leane means "lake of learning," so it's named for Innisfallen monastery. Our group shares the boat with another EF Tours group, of about 40 nursing students, from Casper College in Wyoming. The tourists' website hints at how much tradition there is in these parts.
Christianity came to Kerry in the 5thcentury AD, and much of the remains of the past now to be seen dates from the following centuries - monasteries, hermitage, inscribed crosses, tomb shrines and much beside. During the 6thand 7thcenturies there was an astonishing growth of these religious settlements mainly along the coast and on the islands, some 100 in all. The most spectacular is, of course, the almost perfectly preserved monastery on the Great Skellig [off the south coast of the Iveragh peninsula]. History deriving from contemporary written sources begins in Ireland with the coming of Christianity. ...

Early in the 13thcentury the Anglo - Norman Fitzgearlds who became palatine earls of Desmond - established major strongholds in the rich limestone areas of Castleisland and Tralee. They planted their territory with tentants from abroad - hence such names as Brown, Landers, Ashe, Ferriter. Until the end of the 16thcentury they maintained a feudal independence. Then a combination of the centralising government of Queen Elizabeth and land - hungry adventures from England goaded the last palatine earl into rebellion and he lost his life and his lands. The county, as we know it, was finally defined in 1606 when, as part of the general post - Elizabethan settlement, the northern and southern parts of the present county were joined together. "Kingdom of KERRY" Insight Marketing Ltd.

Some pictures of the EF Tour group taken on Lough Leane:

Some more of the Benedictine group:


Still more of our group:

Isle of Innisfallen, with 13th-century ruins of Augustinian abbey:


And a 21st-century ruin, at right, with wife:


Back on the bus and out onto the Ring of Kerry. It's a four-hour road trip around the Iveragh peninsula ... stopping at Glenbeigh for lunch at the Red Fox Inn, and a look around the adjacent "Bog Village," a cluster of reconstructed peat-cutters' cottages. [See Bog Village post to be added later.] We pass through the town of Killorglin, which the Rough Guide dismisses as "a distinctly missable town on the Rive Laune apart from three mad days in the middle of August during the Puck Fair."
First a wild goat is stalked in the mountains, then caged and crowned as king of the town, the signal for a Dionysian festival of wine and song, plus a traditional horse fair. The event has pagan roots in the Celtic harvest festival of Lughnasa, though these particular ceremonies are meant to commemorate the herd of goats that ran down into Killorglin, to warn the townsfolk that Cromwell's army was on its way.

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Jonathan says tradition is to give the goat "the oldest of drink and newest of food" in memory of the time Cromwell "frightened the herd of goats, and [townspeople] hid all their goods, their chattels and their daughters." We miss Killorglin, or at least pass through without stopping. But they have a statue of King Puck at the edge of town, and we manage to snap a picture of the goat out the bus window.



As we proceed out the Iveragh peninsula, we're on a gradual escarpment where the Macgillycuddy Reeks, the highest mountains in Ireland, slope down into Dingle Bay. The countryside is reminding me a whole lot of the East Tennessee and western North Carolina mountains now. The vegetation is different. More yellow swatches of furze, and strips of brown where the turf is being turned out commercially (see photo at left). It's a windswept, rocky seacoast instead of windswept, rocky mountains ... but it's hard-scrabble country. Up on the hillsides we see stone walls, and the ruins of stone cottages ... some of them the remains of farms abandoned since the great potato famine of the 1840s.

More Kerry history:
The wars of the 17thcentury saw the end of the political and economic power of the great Gaelic families and the establishment of the protestant ascendancy of the 18thcentury. However already by the end of the 17thcentury an old Gaelic and catholic family, the O'Connells, had, in the remote fastness of the Iveragh Peninsula, begun the long journey back, by way of trade with the continent, poetry and politics, to affluence and fame. These culminated in the great Daniel O' Connell, the main founder of Christian democracy not only in Ireland but in Europe, who in 1829 achieved for Irish Catholics the freedom from the last of the penal restraints.

The great famine of 1847 and the heavy emigration that followed reduced the county's population over the next century by almost two-thirds. The mountainous, beautiful Iveragh and Beara peninsulas lost, over the same period, about three- quarters of their population. Notwithstanding the political destruction of the 17thcentury, Kerry during that time remained a centre of Gaelic culture, largely in poetry and music. This continued through the 18thand 19thcenturies, to the present revival; but the Gaelic language itself remains as a vernacular only along the tip of the Dingle peninsula and in isolated parts of the Iveragh peninsula. "Kingdom of KERRY" Insight Marketing Ltd.
We pass Daniel O'Connell's childhood home near Cahersiveen, but it's a ruin - a white stone building fallen in and overgrown with vegetation from the looks of it - and we're bouncing along the ring road too fast even to get a picture. O'Connell, the "Great Emancipator" who won several basic civil rights for Catholics in the 1830s, is commemorated by a Catholic church in Cahersiveen named for him ... an unusual tribute for a politician, even one of O'Connell's caliber. His real monument, I think, is O'Connell Street in Dublin. But surely it means something he came out of this hard-bitten mountain country on the farthest reaches of Ireland's west coast.
The crafty O'Connells [were as] wise as the old dog on the hard road ... Though tucked away behind the shadows of their mountains on their lonely peninsula that is the hell of Ireland they exhanged the dangerous, because precarious, tradition of farm-work for the methods of modern business. They bought, and sold, and smuggled. They made money and put it safely away. They bided their time. ... Sean Ó Faoláin, "King of the Beggars: A Life of Daniel O'Connell" (1938).
Smuggling. Something else that reminds me of home. Except instead of the Atlantic, we had bootleggers plying their trade between Cocke County, Tenn., and Madison County, N.C.

Off to our right and down the escarpment is Dingle Bay. It's beautiful seacoast country, wild and windy with the clouds scudding off to the east. The sun comes out.

We're past the mountains after a few miles, but it's still water to our right and upland pasture to our right. Peat is harvested where the terrain permits (see picture at left). More forestry, too, largely Sitka spruce - which thrive in the northern reaches of Europe as well as Alaska. Environmentalists object, saying conifers make the soil too acidic. But we're talking about soil that not fit for much other than sheep pasture anyway.


As we get to the western reaches of the peninsula, the hills flatten out and we slope down toward the Atlantic Ocean. Off in the distance are the Blasket Islands, an important source of oral tradition and storytelling in Irish. Many of them emigrated to Springfield, Mass., where until recently they formed a distinct community and still took The Kerryman, local newspaper published in Tralee.


We turn south and reach one of the nicest little surprises of the whole trip, an unannounced pit stop in the seaside resort town of Waterville. There's not much there except a few hotels, a golf course, a rocky beach and a statue of Charlie Chaplin. And the sea breeze.

The beachfront at Waterville:



Looking out to sea from Waterville, toward Ballinskelligs Bay and the Atlantic Ocean:


Charlie Chaplin of silent movie fame spent a lot of time in Waterville, and there's a statue of him along the waterfront.


The inscription on the statue is in Irish and English:
"For the man who made the movies speak in the hearts of millions. Charlie spent many years in our midst as a welcome and humble guest and a friend to many ..."
I can't help but think the Irish have a gift for moving and appropriate language.

Hospitality, too.

On the bus again, to a town named Sneem where leprechauns are reputed to walk and where we find a really knowledgeable music store owner. "The Chieftans? I've got better than the Chieftans." I decide to trust him, ask him to recommend a traditional band that plays in the style of Kerry. He thought a minute or two, and pulled out a compilation "15 Times Around" by Tim O'Shea and Friends. [After listening to it at home, I won't be disappointed.] From Killarney, O'Shea according to his website "has been working solo, and in several bands since the late 1980's. Tim's repertoire draws from the dance music of his native Sliabh Luachra [pron. shleev lu-cra, an area where Cos. Kerry, Cork and Limerick meet east of Killarney famous for its polkas and a type of jig known as slides] and West Kerry folk traditions and the singing of Irish and Scottish performers ..." Mitch, a recent BenU alum who's more into groups like Flogging Molly, leaves the store with something suitably edgy.

Back to Killarney in the afternoon, through the Macgillycuddy Reeks. We stop for pictures at the Gap of Dunloe, which overlooks a couple of small lakes, and wind back down into Killarney.


Two outstanding students

Thursday night. The craic at Kate Kearney's shebeen. Jonathan has arranged for Debi and me to accompany the Wyoming group to a "Traditional Irish Night" of music and step dancing at Kate Kearney's, a former shebeen or illegal tavern that has morphed into an upscale restaurant featuring a choice of Kerry lamb or broiled salmon, also a speciality along Ireland's Atlantic coast, and performances by local musicians and dancers. It's located in the foothills a few kilometers south of Killarney, and it promises "Ceol, Craic agus Bia!" Which translates loosely from the Irish as music, fun and food. Ceol and bia are easy, every culture has music and food. But craic has a more convoluted, and controversial, history. According to Wikipedia, my initial source for all knowledge, it's a "term for fun, entertainment, and enjoyable conversation, particularly prominent in Ireland." But it's hard to translate, and it's debatable. Wikipedia notes that Irish musician and writer Fintan Vallely says the "use of craic in English is largely an exercise on the part of Irish-themed pubs to make money through the commercialisation of traditional Irish music." The spelling is Gaelic, but I've also heard somewhere that "crack" was a common enough lowland Scots and northern English word long before advertising copywriters latched onto the Irish spelling to ensure the Gardai or police wouldn't think anybody was dealing crack cocaine in the pubs. Be all that as it may, Kate Kearney's Cottage has a heritage to boast from the old days in Co. Kerry. And its website shows some influence of the copywriters.
Kate was a well known beauty in Ireland in the years before the Great Famine (1845-1849). The legend of Kate has captured the imagination of people far and wide down through the years.

It was at this síbín that Kate distilled her famous poitín, 'Kate Kearney's Mountain Dew', which was "very fierce and wild, requiring not less than seven times its own quantity of water to tame and subdue it." It was of course illicit. However, Kate flouted the law and invited the weary traveller to partake of her hospitality. "History". Kate Kearney's Cottage website.



The band is a local group called Tuatha (which means the people of a country or a clan), Donal Moroney on fiddle, guitar and Irish bouzouki, and Barry Lynch on uilleann pipes, bodhran and other instruments. Sitting in with them is a button box player whose name I don't catch. They're consumate pros, to judge by their playing, and the music gels as they listen to each other, improvise, play rhythm to each other's solo breaks and make music together. Less craic here, I'm thinking, than disciplined ensemble playing. The audience, 25 or 30 people, is about half the EF Tours group from Wyoming and about half older couples from American. Some, we learn, are celebrating their 30th and 40th wedding anniversaries.

The music is mostly Irish traditional. The Americans request "Galway Girl," which I've never heard before, and it turns out to be a lively, lilting, hard-driving fusion of country rock and traditional Irish by American singer-songwriter Steve Earle. I make a note to track it down and to learn it when I get home. Tonight I'm in the market for traditional, though, and I hear enough Kerry-style polkas and slides to keep me more than happy.

It's a pricey evening, and the performance is, well, a performance. The band plays, and two young women come on at intervals to offer brief demonstrations of step dancing (photo at right), which is exactly like what we see American youngsters learning in church basements, talent shows and demonstrations in the Ethnic Village at the Illinois State Fairgrounds ... and something called a traditional Kerry broom dance (left), which looks a little bit like the sword dances I've seen from venues as diverse as Scotland and India but which in this case has all the appearances of a traditional folk dance that could have evolved just about anywhere that brooms are used ... and probably did, too.

You can't really say anyone fronts the group, but Moroney introduces the songs. He's nothing if not multifaceted. His website is like a seminar in the musical trends and influences going around Ireland in the last 20 to 30 years.
Donal was born in Manor Kilbride, Co. Wicklow, where he lived until the early eighties. Living close to Dublin city, where he attended secondary school, his musical influences were many and varied. He is a self-taught musician, with an interest and experience in many genres of music. The first major musical influence, at a personal level, was a local jazz musician ...

Up to this time his major musical influences would have been – the blues , jazz and rock legends of that time and previous generations , with the music of such luminaries as Rory Gallagher, Hendrix, The Beatles, Thin Lizzy, B.B.King, John Coltrane, Fats Waller, Peter Green, Pink Floyd, Led Zeplin, Jethro Tull and The Beatles vying for his attention. At the same time the great wealth of guitar-playing folkies were leaving their mark, among them – Dylan, Young, Mitchell, Donovan, Colins, Cohen, Baez and Sonny Condell - a fellow Wicklow musician, who fused jazz, folk, pop and trad. rhythms with brilliant lyrics in the groups ‘Tir na nÓg’ , Scullion and is still playing great music under the name ‘Condell’.

What caught his attention more and more however was the ongoing revival of traditional Irish music and folk-song , which had started in the late fifties and early sixties, with Sean O’Ríada and was developed in different ways by The Chieftain, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, The Dubliners, The Fury Brothers and Davy Arthur, Clannad, Planxty, The Bothy Band and Horslips, among others. Also across the water [Irish Sea] artists such as John Martyn, Ralf McTell, Ewan MacColl, Dick Gaughin, John Renbourn, Sandy Denny, Richard Thomson, Martin Carty, Dougie Mclean and groups such as Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span were fuelling the resurgence of English and Scottish traditional music and folk song. Firstly, O’Riada’s idea of the rehearsed ensemble playing traditional. music with arrangements , harmonies and orchestration was developed in different ways by the above mentioned groups. Then the inclusion of new instrument combinations – Uilleann Pipes, Harp, Fiddle, Flute, Tin Whistle, Guitar, Drum kits, Acoustic, Electric and Bass Guitars, Keyboards, Bodhran, Bones and all kinds of stringed- backing and melody playing instruments (such as mandolin, mandola , the Irish Bouzouki, which replaced the Greek Bouzouki) opened up all kinds of interpretative possibilities. "About Us" Tuatha Ireland website.
Between sets, a member of the audience engages Moroney in earnest conversation. And as the second set begins, he's called up to join the band for a song. His name is Bob, and he's from the United States. He sings "Danny Boy" - what else? - with a swooping enthusiastic vibrato that wanders off pitch and back on again. Bob's loving it, though, and he clearly loves the song. Enthusiastic applause, and Bob decides to sing "Mother McCree" too. He speaks of the couples who are celebrating their anniversaries, and he dedicates the song to his own mother now departed who raised her 12 children to be successful in life, and it's impossible not to really, really like this guy. More applause, and he's basking in it as he hands the mike to Moroney and walks back to his table.

And it dawns on me, Irish-Americans like Bob help create the market that allows businesses like Kitty Kearney's Cottage to flourish and provide the venues for traditional Irish musicians.

And it also dawns on me, what we've been experiencing is the craic the copywriters speak of in Irish pubs, and there's something real here even though a degree of commercialization is obviously here, too, and it can't be denied. "The craic has become a vital part of Irish culture," says the same Wikipedia article that quoted Fintan Vallely on what commerical Irish-themed pubs have done to the craic. The article goes on to cite Penn State information sciences professor Eileen M. Trauth, who says "craic [is] an intrinsic part of the culture of sociability that distinguished the Irish workplace from those of other countries" and adds, "as transitions away from an economy and society dominated by agriculture, the traditional importance of atmosphere and the art of conversation – craic – remains, and ... the social life is a fundamental part of workers' judgment of quality of life."