Ireland Memories

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 - written by Jan LaDuke and Katrina Cessna

On this glorious morning a voice from the back of the bus is heard quoting John Masefield’s poem Sea Fever... “I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky. And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.” This group wasn’t headed to a tall ship but rather the lovely vessel “Pride of the Lakes”, registered in Tralee and handled by a crew of two. Ross Castle offered the perfect backdrop for our departure.

Ireland pic 11

A relatively early morning cruise found our group impacted by a spectacular view - little red boats, green boats, and blue boats along the shore, and special water companions in a family of swans with six cygnets. We motored over placid Lough Leane with Killarney National Park on one side, fog shrouded mountains on the other, and Ross Castle disappearing behind us. Our water journey took us by the prison island, a 75 million euro hotel, and a monastery island with ruins. Innisfallon is the second largest island in the lake and features 6th century monastery ruins, an 11th century Celtic cross, and gray limestone towers. Red deer and eagles (imported from Norway some 100 years ago) are the only inhabitants of the islands now.

The Macgillycuddy Reeks overlook this placid scene. The rhododendron bushes are like weeds on the mountains, smothering out the trees. But they are very pretty - purple against the green of the hillside.

The boat goes up to the shore, and all we can see is green growth reaching straight up. As we move along the shore...sometimes rocky...our voices become calmer, the sound dying down as the peace of moving along the water enfolds us. Everything takes one step back from reality: the big things now are the sound of the engine, the roll of the boat, and the motion of the waves on the shore. Even our laughter is subdued. The mountains rise up, dwarfing human beings.

There are little swells in the lake now - not quite white caps, but the wind is freshening. Scarves are pulled closer and zippers inched higher. Surely this is the right time for singing! Nelly Bly joins us on our cruise while our doubting captain and his mate succumb to our dulcet tones and even pull out cell phones to send our offering over the air waves. Despite lack of music and occasional forgotten words, Away from the Roll of the Sea seemed to be the perfect song for this morning’s adventure - until the boat alarm went off in the middle! The impudent alarm even interrupted our Irish blessing...how rude.

And then our lake voyage was over and we were on land once more. What a nice way to begin an Irish day.

Soon Chris and Patrick’s brood was herded into the bus and off on a day’s adventure around the Ring of Kerry. Somehow the limerick bug lingered in the group as Jean offered us her newest creation.

Through Shannon and Kylemore and Laggan
Of our driver we’re constantly braggin’.
Pat handles this bus
Without feathers or fuss
Sure, you’d think it was just a Volkswagen.

Groan... but so true.

This day could best be described as the quintessential Irish day of picture postcard fame. Large, poofy clouds scudded across the blue sky while dappled sunlight provided racing shadows across the rolling green hills. Sheep with colored blazes on their haunches clung to rocky outcroppings, munching through the daylight hours. Another perfect day in Ireland!

Ireland pic 12

Our adventure of the day was a trip around the Iveragh Peninsula commonly referred to as the Ring of Kerry. This 179 km tour included scenic vistas that defy words: quaint towns with funny names like Sneem and Cahirdaniel, mountains and lakes, islands and deserted stone houses. It wasn’t difficult to imagine that making movies in Ireland is a natural when picturesque is your objective. The powerful storm scene from “Ryan’s Daughter” was shot in part around Dingle Bay - a placid stretch of water on this beautiful June day. And the distant Skellig Islands silently testified to the significance of monasteries in the history of the Irish people.

Valentia Island is one of Europe’s westernmost inhabited locations. This “doorstep of the world” was the eastern terminal of the first commercially viable transatlantic telegraph cable, commencing operations in 1866 and serving until Western Union International terminated its cable operations in 1966.

The rest of the day was an interesting mix of light-hearted vistas from our bus windows and the stark historical significance of where we were. Chris’s history lessons and the rock shells of century and a half old houses were sobering reminders of the tragic events that led to the huge emigration from Ireland to America in the mid-1800s. He reminded us that the north and east of Ireland have always had a high concentration of wealth while the western part of the country depended on the land - farming. Such dependency resulted in the displacement of people primarily from this region due to a potato blight that attacked the staple food crop of the country for a period of years from 1845-1851. Approximately one million people died from disease or starvation during this time frame while another million and a half emigrated. Many of us have personal family stories of ancestors who traveled to our country to escape the terrible potato famine.

A footnote to this historic period is that a country took stock of its situation - a dependency on the potato - and changed its food chain. The backbone and determination that enabled folks to survive during those times affected all elements of society from the political and economic spheres to the social and religious sectors. Out of adversity came opportunity. The winds of change swirled through Ireland once more.

Lunch at the Scarriff Inn was a welcome respite for hungry travelers, but our pockets were certainly lighter after the experience. Perhaps the bobbing boats in a small bay just over the wall and down the hillside were the inspiration for our improved interpretation of “Away from the Roll of the Sea” at a later concert.

Onward, ever onward as the afternoon sun urged us on to multiple “picture opps” and the shared delight of watching Hayley run full-tilt - and bare footed - down a road to a beach and the ocean. If George can wade in Scotland, Hayley can certainly wade in Ireland. The beauty and pleasure of the day brought out the child in many of us as we laughed and shared with each other. We giggled at the town name of Sneem and tumbled off the bus to scatter to tourist traps laden with treasures for our suitcases and ice cream for our tummies. This picturesque town was just perfect for this magical day. We even oohed and aahed as Pat put our bus into an incredible turn to get through a tunnel on our way back to Killarney. That was really the icing on our trip around the Ring.

This was also a concert evening, and our venue was St. Mary’s Church of Ireland, located near the center of Killarney. The church is located on a site that has had a church on it since the 9th century. Obviously, the structure has been razed and rebuilt or remodeled many times. The current church was built in the 1870s in an English Gothic style. The interior is architecturally rich with impressive stained glass windows and gothic details. And the organ was placed in the church in 1876. Memorial stones in the walls reminded us of the people who lived and died during an earlier chapter of the church’s history.

As always, the opportunity to sing in a beautiful venue such as this is a gift that has no price and is of immeasurable value. As the sounds from our voices swirled in the vaulted space above the audience’s heads, it was not difficult to imagine the thousands of musical offerings that have preceded ours. What a privilege to join our voices with theirs. The magic that always surrounds Jean’s singing seemed to rub off this evening as we provided her “backup group”.

The soft Irish night greeted us after the concert. A day filled with a wide variety of colors, locations and sounds had come to an end.