Tag Archives: #Ireland

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

I kissed the Blarney Stone! Well, almost. 
Last June my travel companions and I arrived at Ireland’s Blarney Castle in a downpour. Since rain isn’t unusual for the Emerald Isle, we were prepared and dressed in our full rain gear.   

The weather prompted us to duck into the castle, rather than stroll through the extensive gardens. We joined the line for the climb up a narrow, winding staircase to the top of the tower. Along the way, we enjoyed occasional views of the grounds and noticed the rain was letting up.   

Our goal was the legendary blarney stone, which was built into the castle battlements. Kissing the stone is said to grant someone the gift of the gab. Eloquent Irish politician John O’Connor Power defined gab as “flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit.” Myths abound about the blarney stone’s origins. Some say that Irish chieftain Cormac MacCarthy asked a goddess for help with a lawsuit when he was on his way to court. She told him to kiss the next stone he saw. He followed her advice, won his case, and incorporated the lucky stone into his castle. A variation of this myth is that MacCarthy was en route to plead his right to keep his lands and title to Queen Elizabeth I. He met an elderly woman advisor, kissed the stone, and, thanks to his brilliant ‘gab’ convinced the queen to grant his wish. Other stories claim the blarney stone is a magical rock brought to Ireland from Stonehenge, Scotland, or the Holy Land during the Crusades. Scientific studies have determined the stone is local Ireland rock, but who can argue with legend?

Judging from the crowds on that rainy day, the stone’s blarney works for drawing tourists. The long lineup snaked slowly towards the top of the castle. We paused at this warning. 

As we drew closer, we wondered if we’d have the nerve to lie down in front of all the tourists and kiss the stone. We saw an attendant give the stone a quick wipe between people, but was kissing it sanitary in this day of COVID-19?  

I decided I couldn’t come this far without trying. Here I go – awkwardly. In addition to virus concerns, in order to touch the stone with your lips you have to lean your head way back through the gap along the castle edge. A man holds your body and bars prevent falls to the ground. At worst, you’d bang your head. But arching backward over a high drop-off is a creepy feeling of letting go. Did I really need any more gab to write my novels? Hundreds of lips had touched the stone already that day. I blew the blarney stone a kiss and was content with getting close. 

The view from the top was worth it. In the past, Blarney stone kissers didn’t have bars for a safety net. Here’s how far they could fall. 

By the time we returned to the ground, the rain had stopped and the sun came out. A fellow tourist snapped a picture of our group, with the castle in the background. It’s the only picture of all five of us we have from our two-week tour of Ireland. 

The Irish are known for their sayings, blessings, and proverbs. I’ll leave you with a few. 

May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.

May you get all your wishes but one so that you will always have something to strive for. 

Every man is sociable until a cow invades his garden. 

May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.

A kind word never broke anyone’s mouth. 

May your thoughts be as glad as shamrocks. May your heart be as light as a song. May each day bring you bright, happy hours that stay with you all year long. 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 

A Literary Tour of Ireland

Irish writers were hot in in the 1960s and 70s. My university friends and I read Joyce, Yeats, and Beckett. My Fair Lady, based on the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion, was a hit musical movie. Oscar Wilde was and still is remembered as a larger-than-life character even though he died in 1900. I encountered these authors and more during my visit to Ireland in June.   
On our first day in Dublin, my husband Will and I wandered by the colourful statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square. 

Monuments near the rock depict Wilde’s numerous witticisms. “Always forgive your enemies: nothing annoys them so much.” 
A few blocks away, in St. Stephen’s Green, we met James Joyce. 

Jonathan Swift, author of the satire Gulliver’s Travels, was our third Dublin writer that day. Swift served as Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and was known for his controversial opinions. He’s buried in the cathedral along with a woman, Esther Johnson, with whom he shared a mysterious relationship. 
 Swift in St. Patrick’s Cathedral
The next day, we boarded our tour bus and drove around the island. Our guide mentioned several times that Ireland has four Nobel Prize Winners for Literature, a lot for a small country. They are William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Seamus Heaney, and Samuel Beckett, “who wrote the most boring play ever written,” she said about Waiting for Godot. We met Yeats in his home County Sligo on the northwest coast. 

I find Yeats’ 1919 poem, The Second Coming, written during the aftermath of WWI, sadly relevant today.                                             “The best lack all conviction, while the worst                                            Are full of passionate intensity.”
At the end of our trip, we returned to Dublin. Will and I went to MoLI (Museum of Literature Ireland), housed in the city’s former Catholic College, which James Joyce attended. Inside there’s a photo of Joyce and his fellow students sitting under this tree that still stands in the back garden. 

The museum includes past and present Irish writers, but the focus is James Joyce. A movie and wall panels portray the author’s life. 

A 3-d map of Dublin marks locations in Joyce’s short stories and novels. 

The first draft of Joyce’s most famous novel, Ulysses, is displayed, showing the author’s colour coding method.

And here’s the first copy of the first edition of Ulysses. 

In my youth, I enjoyed Joyce’s first two books, but didn’t tackle Ulysses because everyone said it was inaccessible.  After my trip, I skimmed the first fifty pages and can boast that I sometimes understood what was going on. I see on the MoLI website they offer an online book club this summer called Ulysses – for the rest of us! The fortnightly sessions promise to demystify the novel. I’m not quite up to the challenge this summer, but maybe next year.