Fairies and leprechauns and witches, oh my!

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The Molly Malone statue on Suffolk Street is the meeting point for most tours. In Dublin, she’s known as “the tart with a cart.”

Dia dhuit!

Leslie and I are excited to be in a country where they speak English. (Irish too, such as the “hello” greeting above and “goodbye” at the end, but mainly English.) We decided to close our second European visit with a few days as tourists in Dublin. We’ve learned a lot about the home of some of our ancestors (Mike: Ireland, Scotland, Wales; Leslie: Ireland, Scotland, Hungary).

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Some very old books on the shelves behind us, and busts of important people such as Plato and Sir Isaac Newton.

We started out at Trinity College Dublin to see The Book of Kells, a ninth-century illuminated version, in Latin, of the four New Testament gospels. It’s hard to believe, as you gaze upon this treasure, that someone did this intricate work over 1,000 years ago. It’s beautiful. After you see the book, you can wander in The Long Room section of the college’s Old Library and see books that date back hundreds of years.

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The Cliffs of Moher, after the fog had lifted just a bit. There are many species of bird living among these cliffs, but we only saw a few sea gulls.

From Dublin it’s a very long bus ride to the Cliffs of Moher, a stunning display of God’s handiwork along Ireland’s wild west coast. The visitor center has videos to watch and displays to peruse. This can be helpful when it’s cold and rainy and the clouds drift down toward the sea, restricting visibility. We spent a few minutes checking out the center, then wandered outside to find “peeks of sun,” as we say in Chicago. It wasn’t long before the clouds parted and the views were awesome! We were forced to take off our rain gear because it was getting too hot. Just like Chicago — if you don’t like the weather, wait. It’ll change.

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A monument to the 400 rebels who died defending the Hill of Tara in the Irish Rebellion of 1789.

Then we visited the Hill of Tara, the political center of ancient Ireland, and also Uisneach, the spiritual center. Tara is where the Irish High King ruled. We saw a neolithic burial mound as well as a ring fort where the High King’s family may have lived. Our guide, John, said the Irish kings were chosen to be tribal leaders. It was not necessarily a hereditary office. The king was merely the best person for the job at the time. The Hill of Tara is important to Irish politics because it was central to the Irish Rebellion of 1789. British forces won a battle at the Hill of Tara, killing almost 400 rebels. A plaque commemorates their loss.

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An artist’s concept of Eriu, from whom Ireland gets its name.

Uisneach is on private land, owned by the family that runs the largest dairy farm in Ireland. Here we were joined by Simon, whose knowledge of Irish mythology and folklore is amazing. He loves telling the old stories of Lough and Èriu. Uisneach is also the site of an annual fire celebration, such as the 2017 event in the video on this site. Watch the video carefully at the :36 mark and again at :57 to get a glimpse of a very short man with white hair on the sides of his head and none at all on top. That’s Michael Higgins, president of Ireland.

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Simon tells stories of the fairy trees, while standing under a fairy tree. 

In Ireland, fairies are an important part of the culture and the folklore, but they’re nothing at all like Tinker Bell. Simon showed us a fairy tree, which is merely a hawthorn tree standing in a field by itself, sometimes with large stones underneath. Simon said the Irish are not superstitious, but they will never cut down a fairy tree. He told us two stories. One was about a motorway (we call it a tollway) the government wanted to build. But the plan required cutting down a fairy tree, and none of the site workers would do it. Eventually they changed the motorway route and the tree still stands today.

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Legend says Lough was killed in this lake, nearly dry now because of the drought. Behind the lake is a mound, which Simon says is scheduled to be excavated soon.

The other story is about how a fairy tree was actually cut down to build the DeLorean Motor Co. plant in Ireland. Is DeLorean still in business? Of course not, and the Irish say it’s because the company cut down a fairy tree. No, the people of Ireland are not superstitious, but they will not mess with fairies. Better to be on the safe side.

They don’t mess with leprechauns either, and while we didn’t get much instruction in these little fellows, Simon did say that they cannot be trusted. If you catch one, he must give you his crock o’ gold. But they’re crafty and will try to cheat you out of it. Simon’s advice was: If you see a little man in a field or a wood repairing shoes, just keep walking.

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The Hag’s Bench at Cairn T. It’s a long climb up a hill to get here, but the view is great!

Loughcrew is yet another spot that evokes ancient Ireland. We had to climb a sizable hill, dodging sheep (and sheep droppings) on the way up, to see Cairn T, also known as Hag’s Cairn. It’s called that because of a large stone bench used by a giant witch who wanted to rule all of Ireland. The people agreed, provided she could leap from one mountain to another carrying rocks in her skirt. She failed, and you can see where she spilled the rocks all over what’s now Hag’s Cairn. Our guide, John, said many burial sites have been robbed of stones over the centuries, mostly by people who simply wanted to build a stone fence and were unaware of the historical significance of these tombs. But all the stones are still on the Hag’s Cairn. Remember, Irish people aren’t superstitious. They just won’t do anything that might make the witch mad. Why take a chance?

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When the sun hits the entrance to the Cairn T burial chamber on an equinox, it moves from one symbol to another, straight up.

We squeezed into the small megalithic burial chamber under the mound to see symbols carved into the rock. As dawn breaks on the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun’s rays fall perfectly on the the first symbol, then move up the rock to the next ones. John said this was a calendar for the ancient people. It told them when to plant and when to harvest.

Leslie and I got our fill of great Irish food in a few Dublin pubs John recommended on the bus ride back from Loughcrew. The Oak dates to 1860, and Stag’s Head (which has an actual stag’s head over the bar) is in Dame Court where a pub has stood, in one form or another, since the 18th century. I admired the wood, mostly original, used to build the bars in these two pubs. Outstanding craftsmanship. But if you ever get to Dublin, go to the Temple Bar area and look for Boxty House. Best corned beef I ever ate.

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Tourists gather at The Oak for a pint and some history. The wood in this pub was beautiful.

We head back to the U.S. to visit family and friends, see some doctors and decide where we’re going to live now that the two-year Vagabond mission is over. What will our choice be? Looks like it’s down to two very different cities. It’s not going to be an easy decision. We’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, enjoy more photos of Ireland.

Slán!

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The banquet hall at 12th-century Castle Trim. There would have been a roof, of course, over the open area. The stairway at the bottom of the photo leads to what was essentially a 12th-century refrigerator.
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Castle Trim, where several scenes of the movie, “Braveheart” were filmed.
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The Oak pub, the newer part of which is on the corner. The red building is the older bar. Leslie and I had dinner there one night.
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Stag’s Head has an actual stag’s head over the bar.
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Neolithic carvings inside a burial chamber at the Hill of Tara.
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Our day at the Cliffs of Moher began like this, with fog, rain and chilly temps. After just about an hour, the sun peeked through the clouds and it was a nice day. Many species of bird and waterfowl live here, but they must’ve been hiding. We saw a few seagulls.

Fires, househunting and Christmas

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Stephanie’s Christmas tree, overlooking the corner of 9th and Island. 

Once again I’ve taken a long time to put up a new post. But I’ve got a lot of very good excuses for my procrastination! We continue to look at possible retirement locations, but we’ve been doing some Christmas shopping too.

First I should tell you that Leslie and I are not in any danger from the wildfires ravaging Southern California. Most of the fires have been north of Los Angeles in Ventura County. The biggest and baddest of them, the Thomas Fire (they name fires like hurricanes here in California), is one of the worst in the state’s history.

The Lilac Fire (now fully contained) was the only one in San Diego County. It hit the North County area pretty hard. You may have seen national news reports about a number of thoroughbred horses being killed when this fire swept over a stable complex. Heroic efforts by horse owners saved many horses. Two people trying to save them were seriously injured, but it looks like they will both recover. Fortunately, the Lilac Fire never came near downtown San Diego. We didn’t see or smell smoke at any time, and we didn’t venture north while the fire was at its worst. We saw the effect of the Santa Ana winds, though. Nasty stuff. And humidities were below 20 percent most of last week.

Leslie and I have visited a few more places we could consider living, provided we’re forced into Plan B for whatever reason. Escondido is in North County (that’s what they call the northern part of San Diego County). It’s an inland town of about 150,000 that has a few 55-plus communities. Nice town, roughly 30 to 45 minutes from downtown San Diego. We also spent some time looking around Solana Beach, an upscale community right on the Pacific Ocean. Both are places we could definitely afford to live. We just wouldn’t be able to buy food or clothing or anything else for that matter!

That’s the big drawback to Plan B. Rentals can be $3,000 to $4,000 a month, or higher, for a two-bedroom apartment. Buying a condo means shelling out upwards of $500,000 in the downtown area for a two-bedroom — more if you want a view or an upper floor in a high-rise. And it’s not much better in the outlying areas where we’ve been looking.

 

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The North Park neighborhood, an older area just north of Balboa Park. Costs are a bit lower here than in downtown, and it’s a neat area. A possibility.

There is a way for us to pay for housing here, but it involves dipping into investments way earlier than planned. That raises the specter of outliving our money, which is not something we even want to think about.The other downside, especially to apartment rentals, is that everything is so small. We’ve seen two-bedroom apartments in North County that are about 850 square feet. The bedrooms are too small for our king-size bed.

Gotta go to the upside, though. On Tuesday I met with some guys at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. It was noon, and we were sitting outside. I admit, I wore a long-sleeved shirt. But my new friends Tom and Lee were both wearing shorts! Looking for “normal” temperatures in the low 60s F. for Christmas Day.

And so it goes.

That’s all for now. Merry Christmas to all our family and friends, and Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends. Happy New Year to all!

More in 2018.

I leave you with this photo, taken at the North Park Farmer’s Market last Thursday afternoon:

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Yes, that is a chicken on the woman’s shoulder. A pet? Maybe, we didn’t stop to ask. Most people have dogs. But hey, it’s California.