Ireland This Summer

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I’m returning to Ireland for the summer if all goes as planned. I will be there for three months staying at Fruit Hill, the old farm with rental cottages that I enjoyed so much last year. It was so hot in New Bern last year that in August I wrote to Susan, the owner of Fruit Hill, asking to book the smallest cottage for three months in 2017. Ireland’s weather is much the same throughout the year: neither too hot nor too cold – often “just right.”

Springtime is Sheep Season in Ireland

Several people have asked me about trips to Ireland recently. More have said, “I’ve never been to Ireland but I’ve always wanted to go there.” This is a great year to go and spring is the perfect season. The euro has fallen against the dollar, down to about $1.06 this morning. Airfare is much lower to Europe for the coming summer. I plan to fly from Boston (I have family in New England) to Dublin on a new airline called WOW and my summer round trip fare is only $609! Wow!

Thousands of daffodils bloom in the JFK Gardens and Arboretum.

Both the beauty of the green isle and the friendliness of the Irish people call me back to Ireland. This will be the third time I’ve gone there for a months-long stay. There is an old-fashioned comfort that makes it very easy to just be there. The narrow roads in the countryside are surrounded by low green hills. The network of newer highways make it easy to visit distant parts of Ireland. Last year I drove from the southeast corner to visit our cousins at the top of Northern Ireland in just four or five hours – it’s a small island.

Wide beds of narcissus bloom in the beds in front of the old mansion house at Altamont Gardens, now owned by the Republic of Ireland.

The combination of history and good growing weather have endowed Ireland with many ancient gardens. For centuries the British made Ireland a colony. A few wealthy men controlled the island and built grand estates. They benefited from the exploration of the world in the 18th and 19th centuries financially and also by arranging to receive seeds and saplings from around the world for their formal gardens. Today you’ll find 160 foot tall California redwood trees and “monkey puzzle” trees from Chile as well as 50 foot wide rhododendrons from China. The cool, damp weather of the north Atlantic is perfect for nurturing many species of plants. Irish people plant daffodils in every available spot and from late January through late spring they bloom everywhere.

Huge, ancient rhododendrons blooming at Woodstock, an old estate garden in the village of Inistioge.

I am particularly fond of the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum near New Ross. You can read the blog posts I wrote last year about it, about Fruit Hill, and about the Irish gardens I love here:

Fruit Hill            JFK Garden & Arboretum               Some Gardens in Ireland

Resources:

Click “Ireland” in the contents cloud at the top right corner of this blog to find all my posts about Ireland.

Fruit Hill’s website

JFK Garden and Arboretum on Facebook

Discover Ireland’s History here

The photo at the top of this post was taken beside Ireland’s Tintern Abbey on a walk in the woods on a spring day. The path leads past an ancient Irish castle along a stream lined with millions of bluebells and wild garlic flowers.

Two New Resources for Those Who Love to Travel

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As you probably have guessed, my favorite part of Ireland is the southeastern corner. This area is called the “Sunny Southeast.” The weather is a bit better here than in other parts of Ireland. The hills are the amazing green that Ireland is famous for. This is where the gardens are most plentiful, where Irish history is about Vikings and monks, where castles and round towers pop up everywhere. (The picture above shows the Hook lighthouse which has been standing tall and warning sailors for 800 years.)

The Irish Tourist Board has begun to promote the eastern side of Ireland with a new marketing campaign entitled “Ireland’s Ancient East.” They’ve created an excellent website that begins with a video and extends through a number presentations featuring important periods of Irish history. I think anyone would enjoy this site but particularly for those planning to travel to Ireland, this is a not-to-be-missed opportunity for learning about this country before you arrive. Click here to when you have some time to explore historic Ireland: http://www.irelandsancienteast.com/

Islands Everywhere

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One of my favorite islands: Mykonos in Greece. I hope to return there one day to stay a while!

There’s something special about islands. Something about being cut off from the world appeals to me, at least briefly. Often the landscape is both wild and beautiful. The coast of Maine is famous for its fir-covered islands. Caribbean beaches and relaxed way of life appeal to many people. Every island seems to charm its visitors.

This weekend’s New York Times Travel section features island destinations including several in the United States. Click here for a good introductory article to American islands and then explore the Travel section for stories about islands in other places. (You can read up to ten articles a month on the Times website for free: NYTimes.com.)

Libbie

A Day at the Races

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We went to a steeplechase race yesterday. It was fun! The horses are beautiful. The race is exciting. And most fun of all is observing the other by-standers.

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As in the U.K., betting on horses is legal here. The race track has the betting windows that all tracks have but there are also representatives of the big booking agencies standing on “soap boxes” and taking bets. I suppose they give slightly better odds than the race track windows offer.

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The bookies have gone high tech with computers and cell phones.

Before the races the horses are paraded around for observation by the crowd. Young trainers walk them around in a circle, allowing an “up close” view of the animals. Some of them are quite rambunctious, challenging their escorts for control.

Clonmel P1150949 The track is long – two times around is more than two miles. It’s a grass-covered oval with two hurdles near the viewing stands. The horses are walked from the barns to the opposite corner of the oval for the start of the race. They thundered past us once then crossed the finish line in front of us to end the second trip around the track.

Clonmel P1160040 Bee placed a one euro bet on a horse. The odds on it were 13 to 1 so when it came in second we thought she had won a bit of money. Unfortunately she had only bet on it to win, not to place or show, so she didn’t win anything. If she had she was going to put her winnings on a horse named “Dixie Highway” but instead we left. We should have stayed and bet! Dixie Highway won that race at odds of 7 to 1. Since Bee had planned to put $7 on that horse we would have had a nice dinner on the way home! (Instead we had pizza.)

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Just placed her bet!

Libbie

Kilmokea Country Manor House and Gardens

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Deep in the countryside of the Hook Peninsula in Southeast Ireland is a beautiful old stone house called Kilmokea. It has been a luxurious six-room B&B for nearly 20 years. The property also features two very nice vacation rentals as well as a spa. A beautiful garden surrounds the stone house and there’s an adjacent mature seven-acre garden. There are tea rooms where visitors can enjoy meals made from organic foods grown on the premises.

The gardens are filled with trees and flowers of every kind including many tropical plants such as exotic palm trees. The garden near the house is in the formal style. Beautiful tulips bloom there in late spring. At the rear of the garden a gate leads to a country road and to the much larger garden with a pond on the other side.

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Mark and Emma, the owners of Kilmokea, are creating a garden that will appeal to children. They have a “fairy village” with small houses hung high on tree trunks and a red-fenced pond with what appears to be the fairies’ party house in the center. There’s a “Viking settlement” with a very old style house. A pirate ship has been built and installed in one corner of the garden. (I know my 5-year-old grandson Colin would enjoy that!) Another structure made of wood says “I am a Smaug from the Hobbit.”

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Houses in the Fairy Village. Note the entrances created at ground level. Irish fairies aren’t very big so these houses fit them perfectly.

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This is the sculpture of Smaug created from an old tree. Kilmokea has many creations that delight children.

Kilmokea is situated in one of the earliest-occupied areas in Ireland. A water mill with a chute made of an oak log has been found and carbon dated to the late 7th century; a small mill stone lies beside it. A tiny cemetery is adjacent to Kilmokea. Some of the gravestones have been carved with names and dates as long ago as the 1700s and other graves are marked only with large stones, some roughly engraved.

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What does this carving mean?

Find more information about Kilmokea at its website enhanced by 120 photographs of the gardens and the property. Wander in the gardens for a small fee from April through October. Kilmokea is a fascinating place. I’ve been there three times in the past ten days and every time I’ve made many new discoveries.

Libbie

 

 

Curraghmore and Mount Congreve

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Yesterday was beautiful in southern Ireland – a great day for me to show Bee some places that are among my favorites. I’d like to show them to you too!

Curraghmore is the home of the Marquis of Waterford, a home that’s been in his family since the Vikings arrived about 1000 years ago. It’s an enormous estate, located on gently rolling hills west of Waterford city near the town of Portlaw. The manor house has been built so that it’s attached to the original Irish tower house. It features a famous sculpture of a stag with a crucifix on its head. I love driving down the mile or two of dirt road, past the house and the small river, and to the huge dairy barns. The scenery could not be more pastoral. Cows and sheep are grazing here and there. Recently Curraghmore has become much more visitor-friendly. Learn more about touring it by clicking here.

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The white “cow” is pure bull!

Mount Congreve is located near Curraghmore. It too is an old estate. For more than 100 years it was the home of a renowned horticulturalist, Ambrose Congreve. Mr. Congreve began gardening at the age of 12 and was still actively involved on the day he died at the Chelsea Garden Show in London at the age of 104! He has turned acres of land surrounding his home into a magnificent garden. It features azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas (called “hortensia” here) and acres of lovely blue bells. Any gardener touring Ireland should be sure to put this on her/his “must see” list. Since Mr. Congreve’s death changes have been made here that make it much easier to visit. More information can be found here:

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Bee and the azaleas at Mount Congreve.

Dungarvan is a small Irish city located on the south coast, about 20 miles west of Waterford. I’ve added it to this post to tell you about the wonderful lunch Bee and I found there yesterday in a little restaurant called Ormond’s Cafe. Bee had “cottage pie” which is a casserole of ground beef, vegetables and mashed potato that she enjoyed. I had “hake” which is a very good white fish found in Irish waters but what inpires me to tell you about our lunch is my side dish called “ratatouille.” That’s a name that covers many variations. This one was two stacks of thinly sliced rounds of tomato, onion, zucchini and yellow squash that had been lightly oiled and seasoned and briefly broiled. The restaurant had a wonderful selection of desserts but we were too satisfied by our main course to try them. I took a picture of the ratatouille so I’d remember to try this when I’m home again. Here ’tis:

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A way with veggies to be remembered!

Today’s going to be another beautiful day and we’re off to enjoy it!

Libbie

Fruit Hill

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My friend Bee arrived yesterday! I’m happy to see her – I have lots of explorations planned for us in the next four weeks. I was pleased to introduce Bee to our “home” at Fruit Hill Self-Catering Cottages near Campile, Ireland. I’ve already been here for fifteen days and the longer I’m here the more I love it. There’s a delightful, old-fashioned air to the place that exactly fits my image of Ireland. Deep in the countryside, on a farm that’s hundreds of years old, the four homes that comprise the Fruit Hill property have served generations of Irish families.

Susan and Dick’s family has lived at Fruit Hill since 1995. Their six children, now teens and young adults, have grown up here. Three of the houses are self-catering cottages (vacations rentals). The fourth, the “big house,” was derelict when Dick and Susan came here – a tree was growing through the roof! After 18 months of absolutely necessary repairs they and their kids moved in. Work of restoring the house hasn’t stopped but they have created a beautiful and comfortable home.

Situated at the end of a lane off a typical narrow Irish country road, Fruit Hill is located near the village of Campile, about ten miles from the 800-year-old town of New Ross. This is Kennedy country: the graves of the president’s ancestors fill a nearby churchyard and their old home farm has become quite a tourist attraction.

I’ve tried to create a slideshow to give you a feeling for how relaxing and welcoming Fruit Hill has been for me. It’s the perfect place for a springtime visit to Ireland. I’ve had difficulty making the slideshow work. If I click on a picture it opens the slideshow but the images are blurry. Try it if you like or simply look at the parade of images that follows.

Libbie

Ros Tapestry: Telling the Very Long History of New Ross

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In 2007 the city of New Ross, Ireland, celebrated its 800th anniversary. One activity that occurred in conjunction with the anniversary was the creation of a series of 15 tapestry images that tell the very early history of the town. Actually begun in 1998, the project is nearing completion today. One hundred and fifty women have participated in stitching these panels which are six feet by four feet in size. Yesterday I visited the exhibition space for the Ros Tapestry and spoke with the two docents.

The image above is the first in the series and represents the Celtic world that was Ireland before the arrival of the Normans (Vikings from Normandy France) and the later arrival of the king of England. A link at the bottom of this post will lead you to the website for the Ros Tapestry project where you can see all the tapestries and read the full story of the meaning of each one.

Here are a few photos I took that will allow you to see the fine detail of this work. Click on the photos to enlarge them on your computer.

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Panel 9: William Marshall crossing the stormy sea to Ireland, dreaming of his bride-to-be and of the kingdom her dowry will grant to him. He is said to have promised God that, if he survived the journey, he would build the abbey which is mostly still standing today and which we call Tintern Abbey (named after the older one in Wales.)

 

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Panel 7: the marriage of Isabel de Clare, heir to the kingdom of Leinster, and William Marshall.

 

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Panel 13. This image represents William Marshall planning the wealthy port town of New Ross.

Be sure to notice the borders which were inspired by the famous Bayeux Tapestry. Each one expands the account related in the large central image. On each tapestry the women who stitched it embroidered their names in the space below the bottom borders.

The project’s website provides detailed information about the panels and the historical events portrayed in the tapestries as well as better images. Find it here. Note: the website’s images of the panels includes the story portrayed on the right side of the image but you must page down to find it; the text is dropped to the bottom of the space on the right side. Sometimes clicking on the image of a tapestry leads to the description of another panel. Using the numbered list at the left works better than clicking on the images.

The women who created these works of art and those who led and supported them are to be congratulated for their fine act of civic pride. May their work last another 800 years!

Libbie

 

 

 

The John F. Kennedy Memorial Park and Arboretum

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Shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 a number of Irish associations and societies in the United States began working together to create a living memorial to him in Ireland. With the generous cooperation of the Irish government (which contributed 252 hectares of land) the plan to create an arboretum was born. An arboretum is a park that holds a collection of trees. In this case it was decided to request trees from all the countries in the world as a representation of the late president’s internationalist philosophy. Planting in the park began in 1968.

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It seems it’s always springtime in Ireland.

The arboretum is huge – 252 hectares is more than 625 acres – it covers the top of a high hill. A three-mile long circular path leads visitors through the park. A natural woods and a small stream are in the center of the circle; paths crisscross leading in several directions. A small lake has been created which has become a nesting place for great blue herons.

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A heron caught during “take off” from the lake in the park.

Probably the most spectacular show is put on by the rhododendrons which are blooming now. A large number of them has been collected and the color and size of the blooms is remarkable. Because there are so many specimens from many places the blooming period is very long. When I was here in January there was one beautiful bright red rhododendron in bloom. There are eucalyptus trees, sequoia redwood trees, giant spruces and firs now more than 50 years old.

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In the rhododendron garden.

There are specimens of hundreds of kinds of trees. Thousands of daffodils planted in great drifts bloom each spring as do wild cyclamin and primroses which grown at the base of huge trees. There are beech trees and larch trees and others that were growing here long before the 1960s scattered throughout the park.

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A view of the center of the park and some of the thousands of daffodils that begin blooming in January.

The location of the arboretum is about two miles from the home of the president’s great-grandparents who are buried in a nearby church yard. (The Kennedy homestead is open to visitors.) One of the last trips President and Mrs. Kennedy made was to Ireland, and no town welcomed him with more love and enthusiasm than New Ross, the nearest town to the place where his ancestors lived. Recently, during the time of the 50th anniversary of the president’s death, Ireland created an audio-visual tour to honor him; it’s now permanently installed at the arboretum. Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, came here for the dedication and planted a young oak tree just outside the display’s location during her visit.

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The 50th anniversary exhibit now installed in the arboretum.

Today the Irish government maintains and grows the arboretum. Among their recent activities is participation in a European study of how global warming is affecting trees. Very nice people who are knowledgeable about the many trees are employed by the government to welcome visitors and provide two free guided tours each day. Many people are employed here to maintain the plants and grounds. A horse-drawn wagon is available at a small cost for those who want to make a full tour of the park but don’t want to walk three miles. A children’s play area and a tea house are located near the parking lot.

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This fountain at the center of the arboretum buildings has carved into it in Irish “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

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More of the many rhododendrons blooming now.

Southeast Ireland is a beautiful part of the country – it’s called the “sunny Southeast.” If you’re planning a trip to Ireland I recommend you spend some time here, and if you do, be sure to visit the John F. Kennedy Arboretum. And don’t miss a visit to the Dunbrody, a full-scale replica of the ship that carried the Kennedys and many other Irish emigrants to America in the time of the potato famine. It’s permanently docked on the riverside in nearby New Ross, a town founded by Vikings 800 years ago.

Libbie