Saturday, 28 July 2012

On the Emerald Isle (Part 2 of 2)

(Note: Most of the pictures
benefit from a double click
to enlarge)
Part 2 – Orlagh

Later in the afternoon it was time to press on.  After dragging Michèle away from the curio shops with her heels scraping along the ground, one hand clutching bags with presents for everybody she had ever known and the other raised in a V salute (at least that’s what I think it was), we drove to Orlagh on the outskirts of the city. 

The speed of transition from bustle and built-up areas to fields, grazing cows, peace and birdsong was astonishing.  One minute we were driving through a housing estate, and the next we saw was this -

The road winds its way up to the manor, which is situated at the top of a hill giving it a commanding view back down the green and gently rolling hills towards Dublin.  Cattle were in the pasture...
... and now in late May it was full of wildflowers and the hawthorns were in fragrant snowy bloom. 
The grounds have ancient plane trees beneath which benches have been thoughtfully placed, and from which visitors can gaze at the view and be lost in their own reveries...
... and a path has long ago been hewn through the wood, where it is shady and private...
...and is crossed by a small brook complete with a rustic wooden bridge.  A blue flower grows in the dell which not even the longstanding people at Orlagh knew about. 
The orchard is another quiet place baking in the sun and quiet except for the twitter of birds. 

We were greeted warmly by Fr John Byrne, shown round the beautiful rambling house and introduced to the few who live or work there – theological students of all ages and helpers, and two lady volunteers who gave up their time to entertain us. 

The view from my bedroom window -
Dublin in the background
John treated us to a most wonderful Irish folk evening at a local pub, the Merry Ploughboy...

...accompanied by one of the volunteers, a charming lady called Mary.  The band, five straight-talkin’, joke-tellin’, lustily singin’ men calling themselves the Merry Ploughboys are also the owners of the pub, and they put their heart and soul into giving us a cracking good show. 

As we were served beef cooked in Guinness (what else) they sang every foot-tapping Irish song I’d ever heard and many more, and they were followed by a group of five young people who’s heels thundered upon the little stage’s floorboards with an exciting rendition of classic Irish folk dancing such as has made the ‘Lord of the Dance’ show famous throughout the world. 

I felt weak with laughter when we left, but was still awake enough to notice with amazement that the Merry Ploughboys had morphed into conscientious hosts who saw everybody safely across the busy road to the car park on the other side.

On the following day it was another scorcher with nothing but blue sky.  (“Don’t get used to this” said John “Why do you think it’s so green – you think leprechauns come out at night and paint it?”).  He and one of the volunteers, a lovely lady called Bernadette, showed us the countryside of the peat bogs...

... and how they are under threat from people who help themselves and sell it at garden centres.  The gorse was in full bloom, filling the air with a gentle aroma of (unexpectedly) coconut.

And there was time for reflection.  We walked around the fairytale grounds, sat on every bench... For a while, field and wood were alive with the sound of my clicking camera. 

But if you find yourself sitting comfortably under a huge, ancient plane tree, the breeze swirling around you as you gaze at the green and pleasant view before you, your thoughts inevitably turn to the triviality of our everyday struggles and problems.  I remembered Max Ehrmann’s exhortation to ...”remember what peace there may be in silence...” and that ...”with all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”  (Desiderata).  It was a restorative day, and for which I shall always be grateful, and at times I return there in my mind.
We returned to a hot Dublin the following morning, back to map-reading and going round in ever decreasing circles trying to find car parks and notable features.  It’s a truly beautiful city and – bless its heart – not yet tired of tourists.   As Michèle remembered a few more dozen people she hadn’t bought presents for and rushed off, I took refuge at Madigans...

(I know, this one won't win any prizes...)

... the same pub where we had lunched a couple of days earlier.  Hauling myself onto a high stool I asked the barmaid for a long, cool glass of milk and realised later that the look she gave me must have been startled.  I drank it down gratefully and asked her how much I owed her, but she replied with a smile “Sure I’m not going to charge you for milk!  Would you like a refill?”  (Yes please)  I wondered if she would be telling the story when she got home, and I was reminded of HM Bateman’s famous cartoon –

The Man Who Ordered Scotch in the Pump Room at Bath
(HM Bateman)

The fact is that the only negative thing I noticed on my brief visit was the high consumption of alcohol around us.  Pubs were busy with no respite all day; by the river Liffey there were men slumped over with empty bottles beside them, and on our last evening I had my first experience of  ‘decent drunks’.  On my return to Bristol an Irish acquainance told me that as part of a campaign to stop people drinking and driving, many pubs subscribe to the custom of offering free soft drinks to the nominated driver of a group of people out for a boozy evening. 

We went out for dinner on our last evening with a young man, cousin of Michèle’s, who lives in Dublin, and I chose The Brazen Head, which dates back to 1198 and is justly famous for its Irish nights.  This one was more serious – over beef and Guinness (what else) they told us of ancient legends and the potato famine.  We had a the jolly Dutch family sitting next to us with whom we discussed common ground – the Argentine beauty Máxima who is married to the Dutch crown prince.

In no mood to carry on drinking but reluctant to end the evening, the three of us opted instead for ambling down the promenade by the Liffey, deep in conversation, and presently sat down on the low wall which runs parallel to it, to take pictures of each other. 

A while later a couple of young men stumbled towards us and asked between hiccoughs whether we had some money to spare so that they could buy themselves something to eat.  Clearly accustomed to this sort of behaviour, Michèle’s cousin said no, to which they bowed, doffed their caps and thanked us most politely, wishing us a very pleasant evening. 

We had barely recovered from this a few minutes later when we were accosted by an older man who slurred his way through an account of being Irish and having lived for forty years in the US and had now returned to his native land, land of the bards.  Still swaying on his feet, his English suddenly became clear and for several minutes he recited verses which sounded vaguely 18th century to me.  We were still staring at him open-mouthed when he finished, with one foot forward bowed down to the ground with a flourish of his invisible musketeers’ hat, said good evening most politely, and swayed off again. 

Used to the dangers of mugging in Buenos Aires, Michèle was still stunned as we took a taxi back to our hotel near the airport.  (“Do you realise he wasn’t actually asking us for anything?”)

Michèle and her cousin, by the Liffey, at midnight

If we returned to England with surprised looks on our faces, it could have been because of the Irish tan we sported – that was extraordinary enough.  But more likely it was the unfailing kindness, humour and whimsy of the Dubliner and the ability to make us feel welcome.  And I haven’t even mentioned the car park attendant who let us through the barrier despite the fact that we didn’t have enough coins to pay the fee, and the shop assistant who walked with us out of his shop and some way along the pavement, the better to point out a competitor’s establishment where a particular article could be obtained.  Or even the barman who having brought us our lunch sat down to chat to us to ask us what we thought of Dublin. 

What can you do after all these experiences?  Why, go back of course.


The experience at Orlagh has inspired me to learn more about St Augustine (354-430), the philosopher and theologian whose writings were influential in the development of Western Christianity.  I am reading some of his Confessions and am struck by how relevant they still are today.

Some links that might interest you:

The Orlagh Retreat Centre - They welcome people from all denominations for their retreats, and participation is not compulsory.  You can just go to have some quite time on your own - and we can vouch that the meals were terrific.  Do have a look at the website.

The Confessions of St Augustine:
The Brazen Head      


Photo Finish

A few more pictures from Ireland...


A view from inside

From the front of the house, on a hazy day



Lap Band Gal said...

Wow! What amazing photos! It reminds me of when I visited Ireland for a long weekend when I was living in London. So fun! :)

Lonicera said...

Thanks for the comment! Mine was little more than a long weekend too really - but enough to want to return for a proper holiday.

Reddirt Woman said...

Thank you for taking me along on your visit to Ireland. That is a place I've always wanted to visit so I wallowed in your photos, relished the feel of your word as I read them to myself to try to make my vicarious experience as full as I could make it.

You have such a way with words and you pair them so marvelously with you photographs. I'm terrible jealous! I hope that someday I can express myself nearly as well as you.

Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip with those of us who can only dream. You make our dreams more real.

Lonicera said...

Lovely to hear from you Helen! So glad you liked it - I can't wait to go back and explore the west coast perhaps.

Vagabonde said...

I did not realize that Ireland was so large. I would have liked to stop in either Ireland or Scotland when I visited my mom in Paris so many times, but it was always in the fall or spring and I was afraid the weather would be quite cool there. At first I thought you had a story about Italy as the flag is so similar-the green is a bit different and one has red and the other mostly orange. I thoroughly enjoyed your trip to Ireland – such lovely views! And the people – they certainly seem very friendly. It’s so nice that you had good weather and your friend had a good time, both of you had indeed.

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