Saturday, September 21, 2013


I decided to go to Dublin for a couple of days - might as well step foot in a new country before flying home. Of course, two days are not enough to really see anything and I didn't really like Dublin. It may have been that I wasn't there long enough to feel even remotely comfortable there - cities take a little time - but I didn't see anything that would inspire me to go back. I may have been too close to the rowdy frat boy pub culture of a city (as opposed to a small town pub).

Huge trunks at Trinity College

I stayed in the dorms at Trinity College and I was immediately turned off - arriving in the evening - and finding out it's a semi-fortress with only one entrance at night. I don't know the reason for this, but it felt as though the college doesn't like its city.

View from my window - The Ireland Institute
didn't take down the old sign

My dorm room was fine except for the toilet. It was so close to the sink that I had to put my hand on the sink each time I sat down so as to avoid knocking my chin on it (the sink, not my hand). My knees weren't thrilled with climbing fifty stairs, either. Let alone with my suitcase in tow!

Building detail - foxes or cats?

At one point, while crossing the campus (I was about as far as you could get from that one evening entrance), a guy stopped me and asked if I had been a student in the 70's. He was there taking a trip down Memory Lane, reliving his school days (and thinking I was younger than I am). But eating in the cafeteria at breakfast did remind me of working in the dining hall at Pembroke. I picked up a tray, found it covered in crumbs (and the next one and the next one), so I asked where the clean ones were and was told those were the clean ones. Of course.

The Book of Kells -
not my photograph

Staying on campus did not keep me from having to wait in a long line to see the Book of Kells  - worth it, by the way.* No photos allowed, so these are off the internet. I have always loved the Book of Kells (and the Lindisfarne Gospel and the like) in the same way I love cathedrals. These people really know how to reel you in! Were they conscious of playing with our minds? I don't know, but I assume they must have been.

Probably the most famous page -
not the one displayed that day

It is currently bound in four volumes with two on display. The pages shown are changed regularly. Not to worry - they are all beautiful. When you stand there and look at them, you are overwhelmed with thoughts of the devotion and skill that went into their creation!

The Long Room

The Book of Kells is in the Old Library. In the same building is the Long Room. Most old colleges have beautiful central library rooms - I used the one in the Widener Library at Harvard as a high school student. My mother was a graduate student there and that gave me access to the stacks. It's where I learned to love just staring at shelves of books.

The Long Room again


This is why I "liked" the Facebook page "No I Do Not Have Too Many Books!" - so many great photos of books. Needless to say, I ended up with lots of photos of the Long Room.

Just books!

*Worth the wait if you aren't surrounded by rich Americans discussing their retirement homes near golf courses, the values and whether they had lost money or not in the Recession, investment portfolios, yadayadayada. I hadn't had to hear anything like that in a long time. I used to take my dogs to a dog park where there were similar conversations. Ugh!

Good idea for those without retirement homes

I had a map of the city from the tourist office nearby. Turned out it was completely out of scale! I wanted to go see Kilmainhaim Goal - now a museum to commemorate the struggle for national independence. It looked like quite a walk, but I'd taken plenty of long walks, and there were a number of things to see along the way.

Spotted along the way

I planned to go to the choir practice at Christchurch - turns out it happens every month except August - which I didn't find out until I got there.

Window at Dublin Castle

I stopped to see Dublin Castle, but wasn't interested in going inside. It was the seat of British power when they were lording it over the Irish. Now, aptly, it's home to the Irish government.

More Dublin Castle

Then I stopped at a very old - 12th or 13th century church - I don't remember the name - with a wild garden, which I enjoyed very much.

Window of the old church
with grasses from the garden

I walked and walked and was planning to stop at the Guinness Brewery, but I was running much too late because the map was so crazy. The mapmakers had just squished up the western end of Dublin.


By the time I made it to the jail, it was closed! I was quite cranky by then, so I headed for a half pint of beer across the street and watched show jumping (horses) on the television.

Kilmainhaim Gaol -
entrance where they held the hangings

I was so far away that I took a taxi back to Trinity - good thing since it started to rain - and had a good political conversation with the cab driver. His brother lives in the U.S. and is wealthy, but he plays soccer with a bunch of working class guys who vote Republican. The cab driver said he's stunned by how conservative the working class is in the U.S. - that they just don't understand what's wrong. His brother is a liberal and votes Democratic and the working class guys are stunned that he's not a conservative. The cab driver was also horrified to learn from his brother that in the U.S. you can have your health insurance cancelled for using it. He thought Obamacare was a great improvement. I told him that it just entrenched the private insurance system of handling health insurance and was Obama's attempt to head off health-care-for-all at the pass. He would have none of it because he was so fixated on the fact that your insurance can be cancelled. He wasn't getting the bigger picture.

A sign on the way to the jail

The next day I got out of town  - so I really only spent one full day in Dublin, but it had made me cranky! I took a tour to Tara and Newgrange. The woman who led the tour has been doing it for years. She repeats herself quite a bit. Maybe it was helpful to those who don't pay attention, but I found it annoying. I also almost missed the whole thing because she changed the time of the tour and never notified me. I stood in front of a Dublin Pizza Hut for more than half an hour, rechecking my email from her several times. Just as I was giving up, a young woman arrived who had the correct time.

The oldest site, a passage tomb - being worked on - off limits

The Hill of Tara is now a large grouping of earthworks, but it is about 5,000 year old and was the site where pre-Christian kings were crowned, among other things. It also has much newer Christian artifacts. Tara in Gone With the Wind is named for it. It has a commanding view of a large percentage of Ireland.

View from Tara - earthworks in foreground

Next we headed for Newgrange - unfortunately referred to by its British name rather than its Irish one - Si an Bhru. It is an ancient "temple" with a commending presence on a hill. I put quotes around temple since there is disagreement about what to call it.

Newgrange from the visitors' center

It is in the Boyne Valley, which has three large "temples" and thirty-five small ones. They all have astronomical, astrological, spiritual, and ceremonial importance.

River Boyne 

One of the "temples" has yet to be excavated (Dowth) and you can't visit it and it is assumed to be, in part, for the celebration of the Summer Solstice (my birthday!). The other has more limited tours (Nowth) and is connected to the two equinoxes.

I like this photo from 1905 before reconstruction

Newgrange is older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. It has a lot in common with Bryn Celli Ddu, which we saw on Anglesey in Wales (photos in a previous post), though this is much larger, covering more than an acre. The society was agricultural and did not yet use metals.

Looking out from the entrance of Newgrange

Entrance to Newgrange -
a reconstruction except for the large stones

It is known that Newgrange was used as a calendar to register the Winter Solstice. For a few days on either side of the solstice, the temple is aligned with the rays of the rising sun and the interior chamber is lit up for 17 minutes.

On the Newgrange hill

The entrance is low and narrow and small groups are squeezed into the passage and into the dark and then there is a simulation of what the solstice illumination is like. There is a national lottery every year for the few lucky people to get the real experience. I wonder how often there is sun.

Very much like the carvings in Central America

It is assumed that this event was seen as the beginning of the new year and a celebration of the end of the longest night. 

Entrance stone

There are many theories about the carvings on the stones, but no agreement. Other carvings in the area are believed to be maps of the path of the moon. As beautiful as this place was, it didn't feel as powerful as sites I visited in Scotland or Wales, I imagine because I couldn't just be there on my own or with a small group of friends. The others had greater intimacy.

Sheep are everywhere - why not Newgrange?

And so back to Dublin for a bit more wandering and, of course, packing. I had thought about going on a musical pub crawl, but decided I wanted something quieter. 

Whiskeys at The Green Hen

I had good food every night in Dublin - just had to go to the green, organic, locally sourced places. For some reason they were easier to find than in Paris and a little less expensive and all near Trinity. Though in one I was near a loud guy from Texas. I preferred the small towns of Wales and Scotland where I didn't hear so many American accents. The people in the line for the Book of Kells - the retirement home people - all had New York/New Jersey accents. Ugh!

George Salmon

And I can't leave Trinity College without showing George Salmon, who spent his whole life there and was provost. He swore that women would only be admitted to Trinity over his dead body. He died in January of 1904 and the first woman entered that same month! Take that, George!

Revolving sculpture at Trinity

Some of you know about the fox that sniffed my toes on my vision quest and about the fox that ran down the road beside my car under a Hunter's Moon in Occidental after listening to Mike Tuggle read from What Lures the Foxes. Well, on the morning I had to head to the airport to go home, I was crossing the main quad of Trinity at 6:00 a.m. and what should cross my path, but two red foxes!

Red fox at Trinity

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Chester, England

I've gotten more information from my friend Dave about Blackthorn, so I'll be dipping into The White Goddess by Robert Graves. It's great when people have information to pass on and are "reading for content!"

Swans on the River Dee

Jodi, from the Wales workshop, came to the most recent protest against bombing Syria (note: I don't trust Obama, Putin, Assad, or the rebels, so we need to watch what happens next very closely). Thank you, Jodi. We'd had about 60 at each of the previous three protests, but this time there were only five of us. But the other three attendees were delighted to meet Jodi, especially when they heard she'd been on the trip to Wales. And she and I got a chance to say how much we had enjoyed it.

A window in Chester

Getting to Dublin from Bala was going to take so long on public transportation and get me there late, so I decided to just spend an extra day in Great Britain and go to Chester (with its more direct line to the ferry to Dublin), since it is essentially the family seat of my ancestors, the Eatons. My friend, Dave (same Dave as above), whom I met through Occupied Press/Prensa Ocupada, is a Chester Eaton, too, but not the line that went to Philadelphia.

The Pied Bull, Chester

I was dropped off by others on their way to Manchester Airport. We'd stopped in Chester for lunch on the way to Wales, but hadn't had time to look around. When I was picking a place to stay, I wanted one within the old walls and the decision was easy when I saw the name The Pied Bull. After all, I love Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem Pied Beauty, so it seemed a fit.

Bullet glass window

There has been a pub on the spot since 1155, so it has just a bit of history. My room was classic motel and looked on an air shaft, so I think this is the only place I stayed on the whole trip that doesn't have a photo from the window - hence the window in the pub.

Stairway from 1533

So the building doesn't go back to the 12th century, but some of its components go back to the 16th century with considerable remodeling around them. And since my strain of Eaton ancestors is tentatively traced back to 16th century Cheshire (the county), this really felt right. They also claim that it's haunted. People wake up to find ghosts sitting in the chairs or some such. Needless to say, I didn't see a ghost. Maybe you have to believe.

Cauliflower across the street

I took lots of photos of windows and stores in Chester. This cauliflower display was just down the street from The Pied Bull and cauliflower did seem to be attracting a lot of attention. Right next door were those awful hats English women wear - called Fascinators - yes, I'm fascinated to know why you wear them. The hats were getting a lot of attention, as well. And I did see women going to a wedding wearing them. They are little and flat with things sticking out all over them and they perch on the head as though they were magnets and your head were metal.

A "Fascinator" (lower left)

And just down from the hat store was a cheese shop that does wedding cakes.

For the gluten intolerant, I guess,
but not dairy intolerant

And I seem to be pretty good at knowing when to look up and see animals in the window.

He looks perplexed

Two blocks down was Chester Cathedral and I took my requisite mass of photos of interesting details inside and out. It was certainly not where my branch of Eatons worshipped, since they were non-conformist Baptists and prey for imprisonment and sometimes death.

Chester Cathedral

It was quite a surprise to enter a small room in a corner of the cathedral and find the Consistory Court where "all cases dealing with Church life in the Diocese" were tried. Prominent leaders of the Baptist faith were tried here and some were executed, causing the Baptists to flee to Wales and, eventually, the Colonies.

This chair in the court dates to 1635

They were setting up for a wedding - the one where the Fascinators would later appear. And I had a great time wandering through. I don't have much commentary on the cathedral itself, so I'll just show a few of the photos.

Window onto the cloister

Angels on high

Ornamental detail

Exterior details

Side door - I just love the colors

Chester is a bit of a theme park town. It has a lot of very old, half-timbered buildings, but most of the half-timbered fronts were built at the end of the 19th century. I haven't read up on it, but I would guess it was for the tourist trade.

Chester half-timber

They are a lot of fun to see, but since they aren't "original," the town does have an amusement park atmosphere. There are even people walking the streets dressed in period attire pretending to be town criers and such.

One of the main drags

As you can see, it's quite a hodge-podge and, in summer, a bit of a circus. The town is really all about shopping - these are arcades and there are stores on multiple levels and every chain store is here. I usually walk around looking up so as to avoid the world's generic stores, but looking up here gets you another level of the same stuff, punctuated by reconstruction half-timbers.

Half-timbered Starbucks

I did try to do some genealogical research - there is an office right in the middle of town with volunteers to help. But everything they had, I had already found online, but I did buy a pamphlet on how to do research - which I haven't even opened yet.

City wall and the River Dee

Chester has the most complete medieval wall of any city in Great Britain. Except for one very short break, you can loop the whole place. Some of it is smack in the middle of everything and some is very quiet and relaxing.

Quiet stretch of wall

And sometimes it gives you a great vantage point into people's windows and easier picture taking.

I think these people wanted me
to take a picture

This one felt voyeuristic

The whole thing only took a few hours with all my stopping. It passed through shopping, by the cathedral, along the river, along the canal, through residential areas, past Roman ruins and was a great way to spend an afternoon - much better than down among all those shops. And I could imagine a nice stroll with cousin Gillian - we walked the walls of York a few times, as kids.

Like being in the country

Lock on the canal

I couldn't tell if the canal is used for anything besides houseboats and recreation. Some of the stretches along it were commercial and others lovely and residential.

House along the canal

You can't see it in this picture, but this house sits above the canal. It has a greenhouse, an art studio, a beautiful garden, solar panels - all a remodel of an old building. An elderly (that just means older than I am) man was outside working on a project and it certainly looked as though he had an idyllic life.


Not only do you get to look at human residences, but there are bird residences, as well.

The fear of the lord is a fountain of life.

That's just plain crazy. Who thinks like that? But the wall puts it all at eye level.

More half-timber

I had never seen these designs pressed into the plaster (or whatever it is) and I have no idea whether they are purely a 19th century fantasy or have an older precedent. A lot of buildings had this.

A gift to the city from the Chester zoo

A choir, that was part of a festival at the cathedral, was staying at the inn. I don't know where they were from, but they were having a grand time, but if anyone wants to sing in England "we're going to be short first sopranos come September." I was in Chester just over 24 hours and then took a train back along the northern Welsh coast to get to the ferry in Holyhead (on Anglesey), where I caught the ferry to Dublin.

Pastel houses in Holyhead

For a good stretch of the ride, all the detritus of Wales was laid out along the tracks. Eventually we got to miles and miles of mobile homes - the modern cheap substitute for beach cottages - and small amusement parks fronting very narrow pebbly beaches looking out on wind farms in the water.

Celtic imagery in the paving

The reward of the train ride was going through Anglesey which is elevated just enough to look back at the mainland and see most of the mountains that stretch down it near the coast. It was a clear day and it was just beautiful. It was the clearest view of the mountains that I'd had on the whole trip and I could see quite far south (no photos - I wasn't taking pictures on the train).

Industrial Holyhead meets historic Holyhead

I didn't get to wander very far afield in Holyhead and the part that I saw was very depressed, with lots of empty store fronts. There was an small, ancient church (not open) and cemetery looking out on the docks. I wasn't in a position to make it to the part where you can see puffins. Too bad. And lunch was a packet of crackers in the ferry terminal. And on to Dublin.

Roof peaks in Holyhead