My Ireland Travels-day two

The morning started (early) with a round of goodbyes to the 25 American ladies on the People to People trip. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, tomatoes and smoked salmon, served over toast (gluten-free, of course). Delish! (Nice job, Mike! You showed me I actually like smoked salmon…who knew??)

In the morning, we visited a little town called Rathmore (pronounced “rat-more,” as the Irish never make the “th” sound. For example, three is “tree” and thirty three is “terty tree” and Matthew is “Matchew” and you get the picture ).

I ate a mid-morning snack at a little cafe, in Rathmore. Did you know that vegetable soup, in Ireland, is not a clear broth type thing with pieces of veggies floating around (I’m not a fan of that kind of veggie soup) but instead, it’s puréed and creamy and absolutely yummy!

My plan for the afternoon had been to take the hour-long train ride into Cork City and wander around on my own…you know, a proper adventure. But true to their incredibly hospitable nature, the Thorntons (Pam and Mike) offered me a ride, since they were heading to Cork, anyway.

If I had realized that would mean Pam was squished in the back between two car-seats, I would certainly have declined the ride. But despite my strenuous requests to let me sit in the back, she refused and off we went. I am glad we got to drive together, though, because it was the first time I’d had much of a chance to talk with Pam. She has a dry sense of humor, and I loved hearing the story of how they met. It’s a good one. (Hmmm…may have to ask her if I can use it in a book!)

Mike explained that the road into Cork was called the Butter Road. It actually ran from Castleiland, in Kerry, to the Butter Exchange in Cork and was a main thoroughfare for farmers bringing their goods to market, in the 1800’s. At the time, Cork was known as the world’s butter capital, exporting to every corner of the world.

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The “Kerrymans Table” is a spot on the Butter Road that lies exactly half-way between Killarney and Cork. It’s a large flat rock that was often used as a place for travelers to take a breather and rest their horses before continuing on their journey.

The Butter Road turned out to be a wonderful place to get a view of the countryside, with all the patchwork hills and multiple shades of green. Mike and Pam probably thought I was going to have a heart attack because I kept exclaiming, “Oh, look at that view!”  “Oh, I have to get a picture of that!!” It was like I’d never seen green before. Haha. So, I kept sticking my iPhone out the window, praying I wouldn’t drop it, and snapping pics along the way.

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Soon, we were in Cork and the Thorntons dropped me off outside a Tourist Office. I waved goodbye and swallowed a little bit of panic as I realized this was the first time I’d ever been completely alone in a foreign country. (Thankfully, one where I can understand what people are saying.) I shook off the uncomfortable feeling that tried to rob me of the joy of the moment and took a look around me. A map. I needed a map.

Into the Tourist office, I went. I loaded my back pack with all sorts of free maps of Ireland (not considering that I would be lugging said back-pack for the rest of the day) and consulted one particular one that showed the paths to take on a walking tour of Cork. Seemed like a good place to start. 

I left the Tourist Office and noticed a double-decker tour bus, just across the street, taking on passengers. That seemed like a better place to start! (My motto: Why walk when you can ride?)

View from atop the double-decker bus
View from atop the double-decker bus

I hopped on and paid my 15 Euros, which would allow me to get off and on as many times as I wished. Mike had suggested I visit the older part of the city, near the Shandon Steeple. The Steeple is part of an Anglican church, reaching 170 feet in the air and is a beloved place in Cork.  So, I rode on the top level with the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, taking pictures every thirty seconds.

Look! It's a pink house-ish...
Look! It’s a pink house-ish…
Love the look of European streets. At the end, you can just see the top part of Shandon Steeple.
Love the look of European streets. At the end, you can just see the top part of Shandon Steeple.

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Earlier in the day, I had told Mike that I wasn’t good at walking up to strangers and introducing myself to them. I don’t think he could really comprehend that, as he’s one of the most outgoing, friendly people I’ve ever come across. And I couldn’t really comprehend it either, as I really like people and I’m always glad to get to know someone new. But as I thought about it on the top of that bus, I realized what it was. If I have a specific reason to introduce myself to someone, it’s not hard at all. If someone introduces themselves to me, that’s not hard either.  But if I have to approach someone with no other purpose than to say, “Hi, I’m Rebekah,” most of the time, I won’t do it. I keep to myself, because I don’t want to impose on them or assume they want to talk. The irony of this is that I want them to approach me. I want them to do exactly what I’m not comfortable doing. Weird. I know.

So, I challenged myself (okay, Mike may have challenged me) to talk to some strangers while I was in the city. Yes, this is the exact opposite of the advice all well meaning parents give their kids. Stranger danger, and all. But I’m 41, not four, so I should be able to handle a little talking to strangers.

When I got off the bus at Shandon Steeple, there was a classic red jaguar parked on the side of the road, and a sixty or seventy-ish man was standing beside it, selling souvenirs from its trunk.

Pat at Shandon Steeple
Pat at Shandon Steeple

So, I approached him and introduced myself (aren’t you proud of me?) and we proceeded to have a lovely 30 minute conversation. He was a wealth of knowledge, having had a long career, first in the military and then in journalism.

After he retired, he secured a patent for the design of a souvenir in the shape of Shandon Steeple and had been selling his wares, ever since. I truly enjoyed our talks about his life as a newspaper man and beyond. I bought one of his heavy little Steeple souvenirs and headed toward the entrance to St. Anne’s Church, home of the Shandon Steeple.

The Shandon Steeple, AKA "The Four Faced Liar" due to the fact that the four clock faces all tell different times.
The Shandon Steeple, AKA “The Four Faced Liar” due to the fact that the four clock faces all tell different times.

I was given a pair of noise blocking headphones on my way in, (They came with the price of admission.) and told I should be sure to wear them as I got closer to the top of the bell tower. Partway up the nearly vertical steps, I came out into a little room with a spot along the wall where tourists were ringing the Bells of Shandon, using note sheets provided for a variety of songs. (I may or may not have been out of breath by this point.) I continued on without playing a tune.

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These were steeper than they look
These were steeper than they look

From the top, I saw all of Cork in a breathtaking Panorama. It was worth the tiring climb!

Bird's Eye view of Cork City
Bird’s Eye view of Cork City
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Fun effect, using the panoramic mode on my iPhone

After my time at Shandon, I hopped back on the bus and got off at the Tourist Office stop. From there, I headed into the English Market, where I found all sorts of fun things for sale and a few funny signs. But I only bought a couple of jars of marmalade for my Irish grandmother.

You can just see the arched entryway to the English Market on the left
You can just see the arched entryway to the English Market on the left

After a few more stops, I took a seat at a little restaurant called Clancy’s and had an amazing meal; pan seared chicken over chive potatoes with a whiskey sauce. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It was.

I received a few strange looks as I sat at a table by myself, because my friend, Heather, was texting me and I was laughing out loud. Before I left home, we had joked that she discovered she was a very small, teeny percentage Irish, which meant she kept calling the Irish “my people” and asking me if I thought she should go find her ancestors. So, here’s the text she sent me. You may not find it as funny as I did. That’s okay. I still laugh when I look at it. 

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The full pic said, “A good laugh and a long nap are the two best cures for anything ~Irish Proverb”

 

After dinner I had a very fast paced walk to the train station, which turned out to be at least ten minutes further away that the nice lady at the tourist office had said. Which meant that I barely caught the last train back to Millway. Phew! I had no desire to hitch-hike along the Butter Road.

Less than an hour later, I was back in Millway. The Thorntons were expecting another People to People group…only about 15 this time around. So, it was another round of hot chocolate and pancakes and pretending I was the Irish neighbor, Mary.

I met Kevin and Isaiah, the group leaders. They were really interesting to talk with and I was so impressed with the heart they had for the kids in their care. Apparently, the kids called Isaiah, LeBron, saying he looked just like LeBron James. I wouldn’t have known, I’m basketball ignorant. (I had to look him up or I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out in a crowd.) Kevin was obviously a dad because he allowed the littlest Thornton to paint his nails (and his fingers) a lovely shade of purple.

Ava's Nail Salon--open for business but dealing strictly in purples or yellows

Day two ended with the adults having conversation way too late into the night. I imagine Mike, Isaiah and Kevin regretted the late night, when their alarms went off at O-dark-thirty. I, however, was on an adventure and I’m pretty sure the rule book says alarm clocks are not allowed on adventures. (I mean, hello? Do you think Bilbo had an alarm clock? Please.)

That’s all for day two. Here are some more pics from Cork City:

The River Lee
The River Lee

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Had to snap a shot of this. My mom works at Gloria Jean's in Rochester. Who knew they were in Cork, Ireland, too??
Had to snap a shot of this. My mom works at Gloria Jean’s in Rochester. Who knew they were in Cork, Ireland, too??
You can see Pat's red jag quite clearly from 170 up!
You can see Pat’s red jag quite clearly from 170 ft. up!

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Yes, that is actually a Pink House! (That's cuz Ireland is Where the Pink Houses Are ;)
Yes, that is actually a Pink House! (That’s cuz Ireland is Where the Pink Houses Are 😉

 

 

 

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My Ireland travels—day one

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July 10th, 2013

This day started early. Well, I don’t think it really started since I’d been flying since the night before. But I arrived at the Shannon Airport around 5:30 a.m. I expected to nap on a bench until my ride (Mike from the B&B) could arrive around 9 a.m. Instead, he was there by 6:15 a.m., totally shocking me and giving me a glimpse of Irish hospitality, right at the start of my trip.

I was somewhat out of it—I wasn’t sure how long I’d been awake—so making conversation was difficult. My brain just wouldn’t work to answer simple questions like, “Does Ireland look like you expected?” or “How was your flight?” or “How many fingers am I holding up?” (Okay, he didn’t ask that last one, but I probably would have given him a glassy-eyed stare, if he had.) I apologized to Mike, and promised I would be better able to speak after just a wee bit of sleep.

So, even though I was half-brainless, we made a quick stop at Bunratty castle, because it was so close to the airport. I had mentioned Bunratty in my book, so I was excited to see it, first-hand. It’s an impressive sight. I had to laugh at the name of the pub, Durty Nelly’s, located right outside it’s walls. As we walked past the front of the pub, there were two men on the front deck. Mike asked them if they were open (not likely, as it was before 7 a.m.) and they laughed and said they’d just finished their shift! (I discovered during my stay that people there stay up really late! I fit right in :))

Bunratty Castle...and Durty Nelly's Pub
Bunratty Castle…and Durty Nelly’s Pub

Once we left the main highway it was about an hour of driving on country roads. I wouldn’t say they were really two-lane roads—more like one and a half lanes. So every time a car was coming toward us, I secretly wondered if we would both fit on the road at the same time.

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Someone in an online review had called Mike “a walking wikipedia of all things Irish.” And she was right. He was able to fill the hour of driving with interesting facts and tidbits about the areas we were driving through. He asked if I’d like to see the town of Millstreet (the inspiration for my fictional town of Millway) before we went to the B&B. I agreed, although I was so brain-dead by that point that I knew I may not remember it later.

But then I had a thirty-second panic—what if the town I’d chosen to model my fictional town after, was ugly? What if it wasn’t the quaint Irish town I had pictured in my head? I reassured myself that was why I’d chosen to make it a fictional town and I could make it as cute as I wanted. My momentary fear was unwarranted, though. It’s a lovely little town:

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The above pic is the view leaving the town and heading toward the Coolefield B&B, where I made my home for a week.

After meeting Pam and the kids at Coolefield B&B (you can see the B&B here), I took a much needed nap. Afterward, Mike thought I’d want to see Mountleader. And he was right. It was probably one of my favorite places during the week, although I never made it back after that day. He explained that the Leader’s had been a prominent family in the 18th and 19th centuries. The great house in now in ruins but the land is beautiful and with the Pride and Prejudice movie rolling in my head, I could easily imagine what the house and grounds may have looked like in their prime:

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Mike insisted on taking a picture of me in front of the Leader home, saying that my friends and family would want to see me in some of my pics. I reluctantly agreed. I always love having my picture taken. Especially after I’ve been awake for 28 hours! 😉

 

 

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This is one of my favorite pics from my trip. It’s the view from the front of the once-great house. I can just imagine the “ladies” of the family setting up their easels beside that tree and painting the countryside. Makes me think of a quote from the aforementioned Pride and Prejudice:

“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”

“All young ladies accomplished!  My dear Charles, what do you mean?”

“Yes, all of them, I think.  They all paint tables, cover screens, and net purses.  I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time without being informed that she was very accomplished.”

 

My how times have changed. Of course those ladies were accomplished in those things. What else did they have to fill their days? But I digress. Back to my first day in Ireland…

Next we went to see Tubrid Well, a Holy Well right in Millstreet. I’d never seen a well that looked more like a pond. (Is that the same as a spring? I don’t know. May have to google that.) It was a peaceful place where many catholic pilgrims come to pray for healing. There’s a grotto where people have left crutches and other things to show they’ve received healing. As tradition dictated, I took a sip of the cool, flowing water.

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Another thing I learned during my time in Ireland was that everyone knows everyone, somehow. See the couple sitting on a bench way on the other side of the well? As we walked out, Mike struck up a conversation. The couple, Donal and Ann, didn’t live in Millway. But it turned out that Mike knew people Donal knew and they talked for a good half an hour. I didn’t understand most of what Donal said, so I just laughed when Mike laughed and played along as best I could. I know there was talk of kilts and bagpipes. Something about playing in a band. And that was about all I caught. Then a woman came in with her elderly mother, and of course, both Mike and Donal knew her! Mike says, “It’s a small world…if you talk.” I like that. (Expect to see that quote in book #2!)

The rest of the day was spent resting and getting settled. And drinking lots of tea. That night there were 23 teenaged girls from America and their two leaders, checking in. They were from the People to People organization. They arrived after nine and Mike thought it would be funny to introduce me as the neighbor, Mary, and tell them I did an amazing American accent. I hate “tricking” or “fooling” people. I’m not good at keeping up a joke or charade very long. But I went along with it because I was on an adventure and trying new things. Well, it was hysterical to see their reactions to my “American” accent, knowing they had it backwards and the real trick was my Irish accent. I could’t keep it up for long and fessed up that I was from New York. All laughed and I have to admit, it was so funny that it was one of the highlights of my trip. Next time you see me, ask me to re-enact it. I promise you’ll laugh.

Well, that’s day one. I don’t know how quickly I’ll get posts written about each of my days in Ireland, but I plan to show you pics from the whole trip. So, stay tuned 🙂

 

 

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My Irish Home Away From Home

Coolefield House from the lane
Coolefield House from the lane

Okay, I occasionally review books on here and this is not a book review. It’s a Bed & Breakfast review. Very different, I realize. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell everyone what an amazing time I had at the Coolefield House in Millstreet, County Cork. I will soon be posting a bit of a travelogue from my wonderful trip to Ireland but I wanted to tell you all a bit about where I stayed, first.

From the first email, I was charmed by owner, Michael Thornton’s hospitality and willingness to help. In our first phone conversation, he told me not to think of it as visiting a B&B but as my home away from home. Anyone could say that…but not many would deliver. Pam and Michael Thornton did. They made me feel at home from the first moment.

First, the rooms. They are spacious and bright with natural sunlight. (Well…it was unusually sunny when I was there.) The bed was extremely comfortable. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I ever woke up in the night. (That could also be because I couldn’t seem to get to bed before 2:30 a.m….but I’ll give credit to the bed. It was cozy!) The en suite bath was also spacious with a fabulous shower.

My home for a week
My home for a week
Such a spacious room!
Such a spacious room!
Water pressure was fabulous in this shower!
Water pressure was fabulous in this shower!

Knowing I’m a writer, they had a writing table put into my room in front of a cheery window. There was a huge closet where I could hang my clothes and more than enough space in the two antique dressers. The room was very comfortable.

The common areas were also lovely. The library is another cheery room, with several couches and loads of books to peruse. Michael recommended a few of his favorites, so I was never without something to read. The front entry, although I guess it wouldn’t be called a room, per se, needs mentioning because it is really beautiful. The gorgeous dark wood banister of the large staircase makes quite a statement upon entering Coolefield House.

Books, books and more books
Books, books and more books
What more could an avid reader ask for?
What more could an avid reader ask for?
I love this front entryway. So pretty!
I love this front entryway. So pretty!

The dining room holds fond memories because Michael and Pam make delicious breakfasts and baked goods. From the piping hot scones with tea to the caramelized brown-sugar porridge to the scrambled eggs with smoked salmon…everything was fresh and delicious. I think they offered me tea just about every time they saw my face. The hospitality was unbelievable.

"Will you take some tea?"
“Will you take some tea?”
Farm fresh poached eggs. Yum!
Farm fresh poached eggs. Yum!
My first ever smoked salmon...I was surprised, I loved it!
My first ever smoked salmon…I was surprised, I loved it!

And now to the house itself. It looks like a Georgian manor house built circa 1800 with its wide window sills and double chimneys, antique furniture, beautiful entrance way and wide-planked dark-wood floors. Yet, it has all the conveniences of a new build (which it is, but you’d never know it). The kitchen has state-of-the-art appliances hidden behind charming cabinetry. There are conveniently placed outlets throughout the home for the occasional charging of phones and computers.

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Lastly, I end where I began…with the incredible hospitality of my hosts. I have to eat gluten-free but I didn’t want them to make anything special for me. I only told them because I didn’t want them to waste their baked goods on me. But Pam insisted on stocking gluten-free goodies for tea time and even made a special trip to the market to buy gluten-free flour so she could try making her delicious scones gluten-free for me. (And I thought they were fabulous.) And Michael was a tour-guide extraordinaire, going above and beyond to introduce me to local people and places as I did my research for my next novel. He is a fount of Irish information and truly wanted to help me get all the information I needed.

Welcome Home...
Welcome Home…

 

Michael, Pam, their two small ones…Michael and Ava (and even the two dogs, Jack and Penny), truly made me feel like I was visiting old friends. I look forward to my next visit with them and I hope, if you’re planning a trip to Ireland any time soon, you will spend a couple days at this lovely country house. Click here to see their website: Coolefield House

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Ireland…With All Five Senses

I’m taking a leap. A few weeks ago I wrote about the word Jump (thanks to Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday prompt). I said that jump made me think of standing on the edge of a cliff knowing I was supposed to take a leap.

The Cliffs of Moher by sedoglia on Creative Commons
The Cliffs of Moher by sedoglia on Creative Commons

Well, I think I just did that. I booked a flight to Ireland. Not a sightseeing trip. Not a getaway with hubby. Just me and my computer heading to the Emerald Isle to write. (It’s a dream come true and without an amazingly supportive husband, it wouldn’t happen. Thank you babe!)

 

So, why Ireland? A few years ago, I wrote a novel called, Where the Pink Houses Are, set in a charming Irish country town. Thankfully, it seems some people really loved the book. (click the title above if you’d like to read a review ;)) The comment I most often hear is, “When are you going to write the next one?” My response has always been, “I’m working on it.” And that’s true, to an extent. I have written some chapters. I have some ideas.

 

But for almost two years now the nagging feeling in the back of my head is that I can’t write book two until I’ve been to Ireland. I can only “fake” it so long. Anyone I’ve talked to who has read my book and also been to Ireland tells me they can’t believe I haven’t been there. But I think that’s because their minds fill in the blanks. They are seeing it vividly because they have already seen it! I haven’t. And it handicaps me.

 

When I decided to set my book in Ireland, I knew it would be difficult, never having set my eyes on the multi-hued green hills. I chose a fictional town and called it Millway. But I actually based it off of Millstreet; a real town, location-wise, so that distances to Cork city & Limerick, etc. would be consistent. I wanted a reference point.

 

I figured google would be my best friend. And it was. I was able to look up any locations my characters visited and describe the scene from pictures. But I didn’t even try to describe the actual town because it’s not a tourist area so I didn’t have pictures. I just used my imagination. It was the best I could do and it worked, mostly because my main character, Brenna, was an American tourist. She didn’t know the town well, either. It was fine. But this time around, she will have lived there for a few years. It will be her home and she will know it better, so I should too, right?

 

That’s why I’m going to stay for a week in the very town I set my novel in. How cool is that?? This time around, I will actually be able to infuse the real town into my book. I will have a feel for the “personality” of the place. It will still be fiction. But it will feel so much more real to me…and hopefully to my readers!

 

But confession time…I’m a little scared. Not of traveling by myself. Been there, done that. I was scared of driving on the wrong side of the road trying to leave the Shannon Airport, but Michael, the charming B&B proprietor, assures me I won’t need to “hire” a rental car. His wife will be on “holiday” and will gladly drive an hour to the airport to get me. Really? (I’m already blown away by the Irish hospitality.) He also assures me I’ll have “the life of Reilly” while I’m there. And I believe him. My father’s from Ireland, as are all his relatives. In a way, this feels like a home-coming for me. So that part…doesn’t scare me.

 

Why am I scared then, you ask? Well I imagine it’s a fear that every writer has at some point; what if the words don’t come? What if I spend the money and take time away from my family and I still don’t come away with my story? That’s the scary part. There’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to trust that it will be there. That my story is waiting for me.

 

Before I booked my flight, I was still a little hesitant to make the jump. I thought maybe I was just making excuses; I should just try writing book two from home. And then, last night, I was reading a book my sister, Sarah, recommended to me years ago. A Circle of Quiet by Madeline L’Engle (think A Wrinkle In Time…one of my fav books as a child) is a must read for any writer or artist. Sarah told me that back then but I never got around to reading it. Now I know that I was just saving it for the right time. I have highlighted it like crazy, but one particular line jumped off the page last night.

 

Madeline was talking about how her characters often do things she doesn’t expect. That even if she has everything mapped out, she will sometimes have to change huge sections of her book if the characters surprise her with something. (That’s one of my favorite things about writing fiction!) So, her point was that her characters were fluid, unpredictable, changing and that was okay. But the next sentence was, “But I do have to know, with all five senses, the places in which these unpredictable people move.” Yes! Yes. That is what I needed to hear. I need to know Ireland with all five senses. So I’m taking the leap. I’ve booked my flight and I’ll just have to see where it leads me…and my characters.

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Acknowledgements: Quote from A Cirlce of Quiet, page 94 more...