Sunsets and Clouds in September

Due to wildfires in the western part of the United States, we had a lot of smoke that blew over the Midwest. This allowed us to have spectacular sunrises and sunsets…with brilliant red colors reflecting through the smoke from the sun. Although we pray for the people affected by these wildfires and those fighting them, I wanted to share God’s beauty that gave us this amazing sunset a couple of weeks ago.

Notre Dame

While we were in our final days in Ireland, we got news that Rich’s Uncle Chuck had passed away. He had been sick for awhile now and had valiantly fought cancer for many years. We both flew to DC from Ireland and while I flew home the next day to Omaha, where my parents were watching Lily as she started her senior year, Rich flew to New England to be with family as they said goodbye to Uncle Chuck. Rich wasn’t gone long. He came back about 2 days later, the same day that I left with my parents to drive 9 hours to Elkhart, Indiana, to see my sister, Pam, and her family. We drove there on a Friday, stayed through Monday and drove back to Omaha on Tuesday. Of all the times I have visited my sister in the decades she has lived in that area, I have never been to Notre Dame. The Saturday morning we were there, Notre Dame was playing Ohio in Ohio at night….so the campus was pretty quiet. I had three things I wanted to see. I wanted to see the on the campus: the Golden Dome (Main building), the Grotto, and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. My mom hadn’t slept well and was looking for a nap. My dad was looking to get some exercise, so I brought him with me. My dad has pretty bad eyesight due to a stroke, and so we walked around the campus with me explaining to him what I was seeing. Luckily, the three things I wanted to see were right beside each other. What I didn’t think of was the fact that it was an away game weekend, so there would be weddings on campus. Sure enough, one was just finishing as we arrived. We walked around the campus grounds for awhile and by the time we got back to the basilica, the bridal party was taking photos outside and we could go inside. I just wanted to share some photos from that morning. We had a really nice time.

Dublin, Ireland

Our last couple of days in Ireland were spent in Dublin. We parked the car in a car park and left it there until we needed to head to the airport. What’s worse than driving in Belfast? Driving in Dublin! We spent Saturday walking around the city and seeing lots of Husker fans. Evidently there were 10,000 husker fans that flew to Ireland for the game. Only about 3000 Northwestern fans attended. There were several pubs who were in the Temple Bar area that were designated Husker or Wildcat areas. It was a lot of fun and it was even more fun to see the puzzled looks on tourists’ faces in the area from other countries. We had a long talk with a lovely couple from Switzerland about Husker pride. Our “Sea of Red” may have looked and sounded impressive, but it didn’t help our team, unfortunately. We walked about 30 minutes or so to the Aviva Stadium for the night game. It is a cashless stadium and all the credit card terminals went down shortly after the game started. Instead of closing down the concession stands, they literally gave out free food and beer to everyone. I felt pretty bad for the stadium. The fans actually made a “snake” out of stacked plastic cups that reached from the field to nearly the top of the stadium. This is what drunk Nebraskans will do when they have free beer and their team is losing.

We again stayed over what I thought was a pub. It was more of a nightclub. We should have guessed there might be an issue when we entered our room and their where disposable ear plugs on the nightstands. As we were walking back after the game at around 9:30 p.m., we notice this long line….nearly a block long….that is to enter the nightclub under our room, which is now thumping to a techno beat that you could feel in your bones a block away. Fantastic. Did I mention there isn’t AC in Ireland in most places? The windows are left open at night to let the cool air in…because there was a heatwave going on at the time. I was able to sleep okay, but Rich wasn’t able to fall asleep right away. This was good because at midnight, a random French woman from a room near ours knocked on the door needing to borrow our hair dryer…as she was getting ready to go out on the town….at MIDNIGHT. The next night must have been karoke night or something because I was able to sing along to the people at the bar that were singing songs. I was particularly surprised to hear “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver being sung at the top of their lungs. I told my son, Tim, who used to live in West Virginia, about it and he dared me to go down and ask anyone there to point out West Virginia on a map. LOL

We spent our last day on a walking tour of the grounds of the castle and Trinity College. Our guide, Brian, was exceptional. Again, there was a lot of history involved. History in the U.S. in NOTHING compared to Irish history. They have working buildings older than our country. We learned a lot about the Book of Kells, which is housed at Trinity College. It is an illustrated manuscript of the Gospels from 900 AD…and it is in remarkable condition with vibrantly colored pages. Trinity College has been its custodian since the 1600’s. We also looked at the Long Room, a library of antiquated manuscripts from all over the world. It also holds the Brian Barue harp…the symbol of Ireland. (and when turned the opposite direction, the symbol of Guiness beer).

We spent the afternoon touring the city on the hop on/hop off bus. I highly recommend this mode of transportation and as a way of getting to know the city you are visiting. We have been on probably a dozen of these buses in cities around the world. You learn a lot of random facts on these buses. Dublin is the 2nd most expensive city in Europe to live in. Guiness is the largest exporter of beer in the world. Three million pints are made a day and two million are exported. Arthur Guiness and his wife, Olivia, had 21 children and was the 23rd richest person in the world at the time of his life. They cared very much for their employees giving them their own housing and hospital. Most employees worked for life for the company as they were treated so well. There is another distillery in Dublin called Pearse Lyons and it is located in St. James Church…the only distillery in a church. To continue on with drinking…Jameson Irish Whiskey did so well with his whiskey because he triple distills it. Queen Elizabeth II visited Ireland in 2011. That was the first time a British monarch had visited Ireland in 100 years. There are approximately 6 million people who live on the Irish Island – 4.5 in the Republic of Ireland and 1.5 in Northern Ireland. Ireland averages about 7 cm a month in rain. No wonder it is so green! Last tidbit of random nit noid information…the explanation of the Irish flag. The top stripe is green to represent the Catholics. The white stripe is to represent peace between the green and orange stripes….because the orange stripe represents the Protestants.

We went by a lot of beautiful places with a lot of history involved. The statue of Molly Malone….and the Church of St. Patrick. I would have really loved to have gone in and looked around, said a prayer…even looked through their gift shop. However, they had a steep fee to enter the church…an actively used church, I might add, and I had a flashback to the Bible and Jesus overturning the money changing tables in the temple and I refused to pay to enter into a house of worship to pray. I did take photos outside though.

Ireland Day #7

We spent most of the day in Northern Ireland. We drove down the east coast along the Glens of Antrim to Belfast, the capitol city. 60% of the population of Northern Ireland lives in Belfast. The traffic and the rows and rows of houses attest to that. Northern Ireland consists of the 6 most northeastern counties in Ireland. These are the counties that chose to stay British and the other 20 remained Irish. To this day, there is a deal in place that will allow Ireland to peacefully absorb Northern Ireland into their fold….if Northern Ireland requests it. When we went to Belfast, we quickly found a black cab and asked for a tour of Belfast. It is a 2.5 hour history lesson that goes back centuries, but really focuses on the last 50 years or so. Our cabbie kept repeating this mantra….”To kill for a cause, you are called a patriot. To kill for no cause, you are a serial killer.” In Belfast, 90% of the west side is Catholic (or Irish, as these seemed to be used interchangeably) The other areas are British (or Protestant). There are these “Peace Walls” that are put up all throughout the working class areas of Belfast. They are locked at 4:30 in the afternoons and only first responders have the keys. To get around the walls is quite a task. The parents request the doors between the walls be locked to keep their teens safe from violence. Over the nearly 30 years of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, there were over 3000 people killed and over 35,000 people injured in bombings, shootings, and other forms of violence. Most of those people were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and a majority were working class citizens. These working class families were given no closure or justice on the deaths of their loved ones and therefore, the hatred for each side has been passed down through the generations. When the peace accords were signed, they wanted to have all the Peace Walls down within 25 years – which is up in 2023…next year. However, there are now more than 3 times as many Peace Walls as there were when the accords were signed. Depending on which neighborhood you are in, you can see murals painted on the sides of buildings depicting heroes from one side (who to the other side are considered murdering criminals). The Peace Walls are signed by well-wishing and peace-loving tourists, who, like us, couldn’t comprehend the amount of hatred for your neighbor. We each signed the wall…Rich with his name and the year…me, with Dona Nobis Pacem and my name. Dona Nobis Pacem meaning in Latin, “Grant us peace.” Rich also put Joe’s initials and Recordado Per Sempre (Italian for remembered forever), which Joe had tattooed on his arm…and Rich does as well. In 1921, there were 70% British/30% Irish in Northern Ireland. Today, it is slightly more Catholic than Protestant. Our cabbie seemed to think that changes may be afoot when Queen Elizabeth II died (as obviously this was about a few weeks before that happened). He said they respected her too much but didn’t care much for her son. So stay tuned in to Northern Ireland and see what happens. The Catholics were treated horribly….not able to get choice jobs or housing simply because of their faith.

We left Belfast, deciding that is was one messed up city. The Peace Walls didn’t seem like they were keeping peace…but making a community separate. That was my take on it. We kept driving south and into County Meath, Republic of Ireland. There we stayed in a bed and breakfast in Trim, Ireland. Trim is known for their beautiful castle – the largest Norman castle in Ireland, in fact. It was used in the shooting of the film, “Braveheart” in 1995. We were again able to catch photos of the castle as the sun was setting. It was worth the mosquito bites…you can actually see some swarms of them in the sunlight in some of the photos.

Ireland Day #6

This was a a long day. We saw A LOT. We stayed in a room above a pub in Dungloe in County Donegal in the northwestern part of the Republic of Ireland. We drove to Dunfanaghy and hike up to see the cliffs at Horn Head. It is a peninsula now but used to be an island. There was a lot of heather making the tops of the cliffs appear purple and LOTS of wind. This is part of the Wild Atlantic Way and the roads to get to these far-off places are incredibly narrow. We also trekked to Murder Hole Beach. When I say trekked…well, it included going up a few hundred steps…a few steep sandy hills, crossing a cow pasture with LOTS of cows and sheep in it, and traversing a few sand dunes. The surf was, of course, cold and crashing. We stopped in Letterkenny for lunch at Mr. Chippies, where I had the Irish version of a Cajun chicken sandwich. My Louisiana friends would shudder at trying it. When I think of Cajun, I expect a bit of a kick and some tingling lips afterwards. That is Cajun. This was more like watered down Thousand Island dressing. I was a bit underwhelmed, however, after the sandy climb to and from Murder Hole Beach, I was pretty hungry! I put a picture of the Letterkenny sign because it was something special for my Joe. He loved a show by that name…a slapstick comedy about a Canadian town by that same name. Joe always asked me if I had watched the latest season (it was totally out of my wheelhouse) but he talked about it a lot. When I saw there was a town in Ireland by that name, I wanted to make sure we stopped there and took a photo of the sign. If Joe was alive, I would have done the same thing. It was just a little bittersweet this time.

We crossed into Northern Ireland….for those of you who aren’t up on your geography or European history, that is a separate country. The money changes from Euro to pounds and so do the signs…from Irish to English and from km to miles. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom (to include Wales, Scotland, and England). When you think of the “Troubles” – the time from 1969 to 1994 when the Protestants and Catholics were bombing each other and couldn’t live side by side….Northern Ireland is where you are thinking of. Our first stop was in Derry or Londonderry (depends on who you ask as to what they call it). This is an old walled medieval city with canons on the walls. We walked the walls of the city and also toured the old cathedral in town, which they have reverted to the city hall. We crossed the Peace Bridge and took photos of St. Columb’s Cathedral. After spending a lot of time walking in Londonderry, we drove east towards the Giants Causeway. This natural phenomenon is comprised of over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. There are a lot of myths about how the Giant’s Causeway came into being. The one we heard went something like this:

There was once a giant who lived in Northern Ireland named Finn McCool. There was another giant who lived across the Irish Sea in Scotland named Benandonner. He had threatened Finn and so Finn ripped apart the rocks along the Antrim coast and flung them into the sea, making a walking path to Scotland, to attack. Benandonner. Finn went across the sea on the rocky path and spied on the Scottish giant, finding, to his dismay, that Benandonner was much larger than him! Finn went back to Ireland and with the help of his wife, donned the outfit of an infant. He curled up and pretended to be sleeping when Benandonner came to spy on Finn. Benandonner was shocked at the sheer size of the infant he saw….thinking his father must really be ginormous! He hurriedly went back to his home in Scotland, and tore the walkway away as he went, hoping the Irish giant Finn McCool wouldn’t follow him. Hence the story of the Giant’s Causeway.

Rich and I agreed that if we hadn’t seen so many of these formations along the coast of Iceland, we would have been in total awe of the Giant’s Causeway. It was spectacular though and we were, of course, in the wind and rain and the sun was just starting to set as we left. However, we made one more stop for me. Ever since I saw a photo of the Dark Hedges online several years ago, I wanted to photograph them. I thought we would have a hard time getting photos in as it is a pretty popular place to go now that Game of Thrones has its stamp on it. However, the weather was rainy and windy. The sun was setting….fog was rolling in. Not many people were there. Photography-wise, it was perfect. If you know me at all, you know I love trees. The more gnarled the better. I loved it!

Ireland Day #5

We woke up in the morning and decided to start our day taking a walk along Bertra Strand, a nearby beach. Unlike Iceland where we didn’t see many dogs at all, the Irish seem to love their dogs and they were all on the beach that morning, living their best lives running in the wet sand.

We then packed up and took off, stopping at the National Famine Memorial to see the Coffin Ship statue. This commemorates (if that is the right word to use in this situation) the Great Famine of 1845-1850. Evidently a lot of the workers in the countryside came to the town to see their “Lord” in charge of their land because they were starving. Instead of helping and feeding them, he put them onto boats going to America. Most of them died of “starvation sickness” prior to landing on the shores of America. It is a horrible story that is still very close to the surface in Ireland. The statue of the Coffin Ship was put up in 1997 in a large park and garden.

We continued on through Donagal and the Slieve League Loop and traveled to the top of the cliffs there. The coast is not usually beaches in Ireland…but towering cliffs with a fierce, churning sea far below. I mentioned that the weather was also moody in Ireland…we hiked up to the cliffs in County Donegal in a driving mist…. then the rain stopped…then was off and on again the whole time we were up there. There were a few moments where the sun broke through the clouds and sent gorgeous sunrays onto the ocean’s surface. These are moments are when I think Joe is showing me that he is with us still. We weren’t the only ones who noticed the beautiful sight. As we drove towards our stop for the night, we got to see several rainbows…even a double one!

Ireland Day #4

We started the day driving to Adare, where we looked at a beautiful walking garden trail in the city centre and then on to Limerick. We stopped at Bunratty Castle as it was in the tourism books, but it was $17 a person to enter. We thought that was quite a bit to pay. Instead, we walked around the shops in the area and got some really good Irish chocolates and a couple of sweaters at an end of summer sale. We got a kick out of the “Tidy Town” signs in many of the towns we stopped in. They were pretty tidy. I guess it is a big award and something to be quite proud of. (I would be!). We drove up the western coast of Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW). I love the names of the pubs and stores in Ireland. One of my favorites was a clothing store called Earls and Pearls. It had clothes for men and women. There are golf country clubs, full courses, and pitch & putt courses everywhere.

This was one of our sunniest days on our whole trip. It was also the day that we walked 6 miles along the Cliffs of Moher, which was slow going but so beautiful. We saw a lot of husker fans there. In fact, in my notes for the day, I wrote that the people we saw along the Cliffs of Moher were German, Italian, Spanish and Nebraskan. We parked about a mile south of Hag’s Head and then walked to Hag’s Head and then 5 miles on to Brian’s Castle…and a bit beyond that as well. There is a small area (well, it isn’t THAT small) where there were hundreds and hundreds of cairns – piles of stones – that people had constructed. I constructed one for our family, with a stone (from bottom to top) to represent Rich, me, Tim, Lily, Michelle, and Joe. His was a pretty red color. The last photo on this post is that Messina family cairn on the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. We had an ongoing joke with Joe because he was just sure he had been to Ireland before and I am just positive he hadn’t. The discussion started when he wanted to get a shamrock tattoo from when he was in Ireland. Hmmmm…he had been to Scotland, but not Ireland. We teased him all the time about that. I carried him with me in my heart there, so now I can say he has been there.

We met a lovely man from Omaha who was not there for the Husker game but on a pilgrimage to see Father Flanagan’s hometown (the founder of Boy’s Town in Omaha). After leaving the Cliffs of Moher, we went just around the corner to St. Brigid’s Well. We then headed to Murrisk, Ireland, where we saw an amazing sunset off the water. We saw but did not hike the Croagh Patrick. It was a very triangular hill in County Mayo where St. Patrick climbed to the top and stayed up there to fast for 40 days during Lent. Evidently pilgrims hike the path barefoot and often don’t make the steep, rocky climb up. We stayed at another bed and breakfast and the older woman who owned the place had avocado-colored toilets and flower-printed everything – the bedspread, the sheets, the wallpaper, the tablecloths, and the teacups in the room. We met some lovely people from Northern Ireland who were vacationing in the area, and we were able to talk to them at great extent about where to go in Northern Ireland. So, thank you to the MacKenzies for helping guide us across your country!

Ireland Day #3

This was a very long day in the car but we saw a lot! We left early from our bed and breakfast in Killarney and drove the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. We went on a car ferry and to the island of Valentia Island and spent time on the Skillig Ring and Kingstown as well as the Cliffs of Kerry. This is usually a day long trip but we left early enough to also squeeze in a tour of the Dingle Peninsula as well. It is further north and the countryside is breathtaking. The very narrow country roads are not for the faint of heart though. We saw the Blasket Islands and the Inch Strand (beach). In the Dingle Peninsula, the majority of the population there spoke Irish. There are areas within the Republic of Ireland that are given extra money by the government to make sure that the Irish culture is preserved. This means that classes are taught in Irish (Gaelic) and all the signs, etc, are also in Irish. Whereas all students take Irish classes, these particular areas are immersive. One thing that the Irish do well are stone walls. The amount of stone walls in the pastures were AMAZING. While we were looking around the Ring of Kerry, we came by a few odd (we will call them rare breeds) of sheep. We saw a couple of 4 horned sheep and one of the biggest rabbits I have ever seen. That whole hike, I was trying to decide which I had more of on the bottom of my shoes….sheep poop or slimey slugs (because they were everywhere). Rich’s opinion was an even 50/50. Rich and I were pretty sure that the Old Irish Farmer’s Almanac must have told all the farmers it was the day to spray liquid manure. We had pleasantly blocked those olfactory memories from those times in Norway the farmers used the poop sprayers…..but we saw nearly a dozen of them on the road and in the fields.

So to talk about something more pleasant…let’s talk about a full Irish breakfast. At this bed and breakfast, it consisted of a runny sunnyside egg, 2 huge very salty slabs of what they call bacon but is more like a skinny slice of ham, and 2 large sausages. Other places also included blood pudding. Yep. Sounds as good as it looks. The houses don’t have dryers either. All laundry is put out on the line in the garden or in the living room if it is raining.

Ireland Day #2

We started our 2nd day in Ireland in Kilkenny. We went into town and took a trolley ride around this adorable town. It is a 9th century medieval city with narrow cobblestone streets, castles, an abbey or two, and a lot of beautiful flowers. Actually, there were so many lovely (pronounced Loov lee) flowers everywhere we went in Ireland. I had forgotten how the Europeans really pride themselves on how their towns look and their gardens (yards). Kilkenny also has the dubious distinction of being the hottest spot in Ireland. After three windblown, rainy, and cold days in Iceland, we were sweating. Layers in Ireland were a must. I felt like I always had a sweater and then a rain jacket along with me. This made me very thankful for not being on a tour bus or something like that where I had to carry all of this all the time. Having our own car was wonderful. We took a trolley ride around the city of Kilkenny and got to hear more about the city before we were on our way again to the Rock of Cashel. This is a huge medieval church were St. Patrick baptized the Irish king. There were graveyards and a fortress on a hill that overlooked pastures of cows and lambs on the countryside. We took a walking tour of the Cashel Rock Cathedral and then made our way to Killarney, where we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast for two nights.

Rich and I are both big sports fanatics, so we were paying close attention to the sports the youngsters were playing while we were traveling around Ireland. We also took the opportunity to ask locals questions as well. The top three sports in Ireland in the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) are #1 Gaelic football (which is nothing like anything I have ever seen. They can run and carry the ball as well as kick. The rules are quite extensive, but we stopped to stretch our legs and watched some practices and then looked up the rules when we had wi-fi at night.) #2 hurling (this looks like a death wish for all players involved. The injuries received from smacking this hard ball (sliotar) with a bat called a hurley or caman in Irish language, seem like they would be plentiful. It dates back to 1272 BC. The female game of hurling is called camogie. Google it….is INSANE.) #3 Rugby (we actually know this one pretty well!). I was able to get a few boys practicing hurling.

Ireland Day #1

We arrived in Dublin mid-day on a Saturday. Let me tell you, driving in Ireland is a nightmare. Driving in Dublin is a special kind of horrifying experience…especially on a weekend. We rented a small car. If you didn’t realize it, Ireland drives on the left side of the road from the right side of the car. This means everything is backwards. Luckily, we lived in Okinawa, Japan for two years and were relatively well-versed with driving on the opposite side of the car, on the opposite side of the road. They actually put a sticker on the dash of the rental cars that remind the driver to drive on the left side of the road. It actually was kind of handy. Add to the charm of these driving conditions, the car was also a stick shift…shifting with your left hand. The car rental place generously (or so we thought) gave us a Garmin for free to use whilst in Ireland. It didn’t speak…didn’t give us the most direct route or easiest one, for that matter. It was like stepping back in time 15 years. We were trying not to use our phones as the roaming data fee would have been crazy. It was a lot. Rich was exhausted every night just from concentrating on the driving. We took 9 days to travel around the perimeter of the enter island, hitting most of the highlights of the Republic of Ireland and of Northern Ireland, which is a separate country. We didn’t go to some of the more popular places like the Blarney Castle and Blarney stone. We instead went to the countryside and the coastal areas and enjoyed the views without the crowds. We spent very little time in Belfast and Dublin, which we preferred. Most of the places we stayed were bed and breakfast homes where we were able to get to know some of the local folks. Evidently in many of the cities, the hotels were filled with refugees that Ireland had taken in from the Ukraine. Either way, this gave us the chance to see how people in Ireland live and we had a great time getting to know our hosts and the other guests.

In the airport in Iceland, you did everything yourself. You checked yourself in, printed your own bag tags, took the bags to the belt and scanned them yourself and loaded them on the belt. There were really very few workers – they were only there to float around and answer questions and guide people. It actually ran really well. Not quite the same in Dublin. We landed in Dublin and got to sit on the plane on the tarmac for nearly an hour as we waited for someone to come and bring airstairs so we could get off the plane. We then waited quite a while for our luggage to be unloaded. I was missing my luggage….and much later they announced they found a group of other suitcases which belonged here in Dublin. Thankfully mine were included in that group. They just kept saying that they were very understaffed. On day one, we stopped to have lunch in a small pub (imagine that) and had our lunch while watching premier soccer with some really avid fans. We then parked the car in a car park and headed to the Gaiety Theatre in the city centre of Dublin to watch the 25th anniversary of River Dance. Rich had never seen it before. The most enjoyable part of the show for me was watching a little girl, maybe 6 years old, watching from the front row. She was so moved by everything she was seeing, she had to stand for the majority of the show, her eyes just alight with the magic of it all. Times have changed since I watched this show 25 years ago in Fargo, ND. There is more music and singing…and the lead performer is a female. Watching the cast and crew smiling at this little girl beaming up at them through 2 hours of singing and dancing was magical. We spent an hour walking around Dublin and finding their city park to stretch our legs in before heading to the car and going to Glendoloch, a medieval castle and church with upper and lower lakes. We spent quite a bit of time hiking around the area as the sun began to set. We then headed to Kilkenny, where we stayed the night.