When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 8: The Feast of Kings

We had a rather leisurely start to our day as we actually had the first few hours to ourselves.  I decided to take another walk around Killarney.  Specifically, I had wanted to get inside the nearby Church of Ireland to see what it looked like and to get some photos.

Eventually it was back to the bus where we headed to the tiny village of Adare, famed for its thatched cottages.  Again we were given a few hours to explore.  Adare marked the only place where I actually bought an item for myself.  The visitor’s center had a tiny bookstore and I found a book of Irish ghost stories which I bought for myself.

Aside from that I spent the time exploring the small museum inside the visitor’s center, visiting a nearby cathedral and cemetery, walking around the park across the street, and walking along the main street (pretty much the only street) examining the various thatched cottages.  I also bought a small cup of ice cream which was some of the creamiest ice cream I had tasted.

Once our time was up we were off to our final destination of the trip:  Limerick.

We took a little tour of the city and saw St Mary’s Cathedral and King John’s (as in the archenemy of Robin Hood) castle before checking into our last hotel.  We ended up going full circle as we stayed in another Clayton.  The building was actually a unique piece of architecture as it was designed so that every room had a view of the river.

At this point, I needed some time to myself so I ended up going for a walk around the neighborhood.  I stopped at a nearby convenience store where I sampled some chili flavored Doritos.  Ireland appears to be tamer with its spices as these Doritos were actually quite tepid.  After a walk to clear my mind, I went back to the hotel to get ready for the final optional excursion.

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This night found us headed to Knappogue Castle for an authentic medieval banquet.  The performers dress up in authentic period costumes and the evening began with a mead reception in the royal hall.

Mead is fermented apple and honey and it is a very sweet drink.  However, it also tastes very light and tame which disguises the fact that it is a very potent beverage.  Ten minutes after drinking it, I actually felt a buzz coming on.  Our tour director regaled us with a story about a previous tour where an Australian gent drank two jugs of the stuff at the banquet.  He passed out during the dinner and there was real fear that he would have to be taken to the hospital.  The gentleman regained consciousness and managed to get back to the hotel to sleep it off.  According to our tour guide, the gentleman was quite red faced the next morning and his wife didn’t speak to him for the remainder of the tour.

The night’s entertainment was a history of Ireland presented through music, song, and dance.  It was a great performance with a fabulous four course meal consisting of a seasoned tomato and basil soup, homemade bread, salad, chicken, and dessert.  It was a grand night and it seemed to end all too soon.

Once more, it was back to the hotel to ready ourselves for the final day.

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When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 7: Sailing into Mystery

Breakfast at the Trident was the only one that differed from the other hotels.  They did have a continental breakfast buffet with some cold cuts where I sampled smoked salmon, another stalwart of Irish menus.  But at this hotel, we were also permitted to order something off of the menu.  So for this breakfast I ordered Eggs Benedict.  Unlike the American version which is served on an English muffin with ham, this was served on toast with bacon.  But delicious no matter what way you slice it.

This day was the quietest that we had for the trip.  After checking out of the oh so wonderful Trident, we hopped on the bus and headed off to Bantry Bay where we were going to take a ferry ride over to Garinish Island.

Bantry Bay is known for its warm waters.  So warm are the waters that it often attracts seals to the outcroppings and we saw a plethora of these magnificent beasts as we slowly sailed over to the island.

Garinish Island was once the private paradise of an extremely wealthy family called Bryce.  It’s known for its lush gardens and opulent pieces of architecture.  Another fun fact was that the Bryce family was very close friends with Agatha Christie, the acclaimed mystery writer.  In fact, the Bryce House still exists on the island and it holds some of the original editions of Christie’s work.

I spent quite a while simply soaking in the beauty of the island as you can see from the below photos.

I did find the Bryce House, but had just missed the only tour I could have taken.  However, my parents did make it on the tour, so I entertained myself by making goofy faces at them whenever they passed by the windows.  Yes, I admit it.  I’m a big kid at heart.

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Bryce House

After a few hours on the island, we returned to the mainland and continued our bus tour along the Ring of Kerry which featured some of the prettiest scenery I think I’ll see this side of heaven.

We ended up stopping at a place called Ladies View which has some stunning views of the Lakes of Killarney.  Once upon a time, the queen of England and her husband had lunch at this spot.  Not only did we take a group photo here, but Mom and Dad bought some paintings from a local artist.

After our brief stop, we continued journeying to our final stop, but were met with a surprise on the road.  As we drove, we suddenly saw a group of people gathered on the left side of the road.  We all craned our necks to see and we saw a car precariously perched on its front after having gone over a cliff!!

Luckily, nobody was hurt.  The driver and passenger were staring forlornly at their car while the Garda (Ireland’s national police force) drove up to see what they could do.  A story in the next day’s Irish Times told the story that the driver had accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake which sent the car over the cliff.

In the afternoon, we reached the town of Killarney where we checked into the Scotts Hotel.  As fabulous as the Trident was, I rather liked the Scotts as I actually had my own alcove and finally had a bit of privacy for writing, though I was unable to make use of that.

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Scotts Hotel

After an hour of rest, we headed out to the corner where we took a jaunting car ride or a horse and buggy ride as we’d call it here.  These rides are famous for the jarveys (drivers) who provide a witty and entertaining stream of talk on the rides.  Ours was similar to Don Rickles.

We rode through the Killarney National Park and made a brief stop at Ross Castle during the drive.

My dad and I fell into conversation with our jarvey who told us about the education system of Ireland when we spotted some children walking home from school.  School in Ireland begins at 9am and ends at 4pm.  All schools have a uniform code and their students dress very elegantly.

As the drive continued, our jarvey asked us where we were going to eat and I mentioned that our tour guide had mentioned a place called The Meadows.  Our jarvey snorted and said it was a tourist trap that overcharged for its food.  Given my years of travel, I seized on the moment as I know the locals always know the best eateries and asked what he would recommend.  He thought for a moment and said there was a place called the Failte right across the street from our hotel.  It was a family run place and served good food at a good value.

So at dinnertime, we went to the Failte and this was my favorite meal of the entire trip.  We were served shepherd’s pie which is a lamb stew served in a mashed potato crust.  This was so good and so warm and filling and I was so glad to try it once.

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The Failte

With full stomachs, Mom went back to the hotel while Dad and I walked about the town.  We ended up stopping in a grocery store as Dad was looking for some aspirin for Mom’s sore feet while I continued my search for Mountain Dew.

I should explain.

For my regular readers, you may remember that on my trips to Japan, I had a positive knack for locating Mountain Dew for my friend, David Sundberg, who is a Dew junkie.  So I decided that any international trip I now take will now include a search for the beverage as a running gag/challenge.  I learned from our jarvey that Mountain Dew is called Poteen in Ireland, so I went to the soft drinks and began looking for Poteen.  But, lo and behold, I found the honest to goodness real thing, though their Mountain Dew had the qualifier of Citrus Blast and I immediately took a picture for Dave as proof of my victory.

Dad found some aspirin so we went back to the hotel and called it a night.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 6: A Day Full of Blarney

The next morning found us boarding the bus and heading down the Copper Coast which was just a lovely view and a splendid way to pass the time.

At 10am, we rolled into the port town of Youghal (pronounced Ya All) where we took a little break.  Youghal’s claim to fame is that scenes from the original version of Moby Dick were filmed in and around the town.  A pub of the same name opened up especially for us.  The pub has memorabilia from the film and makes a darn good hot chocolate.  One of the owners of the pub dressed up as the character Queequeg complete with harpoon and gave a little speech about hunting the white whale.

After our brief stop, it was back to the bus and more lovely scenery as we made our way to next stop:  Blarney, home of the Blarney Woolen Mills, Blarney Castle, and the Blarney Stone.

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Blarney Woolen Mills

Blarney Woolen Mills is considered to be the best store in Ireland.  I’ve never been much for shopping as I treat any shopping expedition as more of a surgical strike, but I did spend a brief time browsing around the store and seeing the glassware, music, clothes, and other sundry items.  Then I headed away towards Blarney Castle.

That is to say, I headed towards Blarney Castle right after I made a detour to a local grocery store.  Once again my batteries had exhausted their juice and I was forced to buy some more.  Luckily I found an Energizer pack that gave 2 packs for the price of 1 so I was set for batteries for the remainder of the journey.  As it was lunchtime and I was feeling a bit puckish, I bought a chicken and cheese sandwich and managed to score a bottle of Dr. Pepper as well.

Fueled by the sandwich, I made my way over to Blarney Castle.

I wish I had had more time here because one could spend hours visiting Blarney Castle with its caves, trails, and woodlands.  I got a crash course in the legend of Blarney.  As you may or may not know, the term blarney means clever, flattering, or coaxing talk.  According to legend, Queen Elizabeth I tried to get Cormac Teige McCarthy, Lord of Blarney, to give up his traditional land rights.  As he wasn’t a good speaker, he feared he would lose his lands.  On the way to see the queen, he met an old woman who told him kissing a certain stone at Blarney Castle would give him the gift of eloquence.  McCarthy kissed the stone and was able to keep his lands by flattering the queen and never surrendering his rights.  When Queen Elizabeth I realized Lord McCarthy had snookered her, she is reported to have said, “That’s Blarney!!”

I spend quite a bit of time exploring as much of the land as I could before tackling the climb to the Blarney Stone.  It’s a 130 step climb up a very narrow staircase with uneven stairs.  I sprinted my way to the top and enjoyed the view from the top before turning my attention to the stone.

We had been told that the queue (line) for the Blarney Stone can get quite long, but I was fortunate as there were only 2 people in line when I reached the top.  Or, to be more specific, I would have been fortunate if I had wanted to kiss the stone.  Kissing the Blarney Stone is one of the hundred things you should do before you die, but it is the fourth most unhygienic thing you can do on the planet.

I didn’t have much interest in kissing the stone.  I just wanted to look at it.  However, I did learn that kissing the stone requires a certain level of fitness as you have to lean over backwards and arch your back to reach it.

After watching a few people smooch the stone, I went back down the castle and headed back to the Blarney Woolen Mills where I found my pop at a pub smoking a cigarette.  Apparently Dad had ordered a sandwich, but a thieving bird flew down and started chowing down on it.

Mom had bought a few things from the stone, notably a set of Waterford candlesticks and we sat and shot the breeze with some of our fellow tour group members until it was time to head to the bus and head to our final stop:  Kinsale.

In Kinsale we checked into our hotel, the Trident.

The Trident was, easily, the best hotel of our trip.  It was home to the second best hotel room I had ever stayed in.  Tripling up in this room was a boon for my folks and myself as we were given a near suite.  It had a huge king bed for my parents and a large, comfy sofa bed for me.  There was also a 45 inch Plasma mounted on the wall and a luxurious bathroom with a deep bathtub with a waterfall faucet.  Heck, we even had a private balcony.

Dad didn’t want to leave as he liked this hotel so much.  He was so blown away by the opulence of the room that he had to know the retail price.  He went to the front desk and told me that the room retailed for a stiff 300 Euros a night!!

After settling in, we went back outside where we had a Heritage Town Walk and learned a bit more about Kinsale.

The most interesting thing I learned from our guide was that the Lusitania was sunk off the shores of Kinsale.  Like the Titanic, the Lusitania was supposed to be unsinkable, but a torpedo from a German U-Boat ripped right through it.  Now the ship should have sunk slowly, allowing all of the passengers to reach the lifeboats, but a second explosion inside the Lusitania tore the boat in two and it sank in 18 minutes, killing numerous people.

Germany greatly feared the United Sates getting involved in World War I and knew the sinking of the Lusitania would bring the USA into the conflict due to the American passengers who died.  So they tried to pacify the country with an alternative fact.  Germany claimed that, yes, it was their torpedo that hit the Lusitania, but they were not responsible for the ship sinking as the explosion was caused by smuggled arms onboard being sent to England.

One of the pieces of propaganda Germany put out to foster this idea was a two sided medallion.  One side showed Death selling tickets to the passengers of the Lusitania and the other side showed the sinking of the ship, implying that America was really at fault for the deaths of the passengers.

Whether or not arms were really onboard the Lusitania has been debated to this day, but, regardless, Germany’s gambit failed.  America entered World War I and the course of the war changed.

Shortly after our walk, we headed down to the hotel dining room for dinner.  For myself, this was the best hotel meal I ate during the trip.  I started off by having a local delicacy, seafood chowder.  Ireland’s chowder is one of the few soups that isn’t a puree and is loaded with chunks of fresh seafood.  Delicious!  I followed that up with a plate of lamb and cous cous.

That meal hit the spot and it was back to the room to relax and sleep for another day of adventures.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 5: Pardon Me, Boys, is that the Waterford Choo-Choo?

Another day, another adventure.

Today we started things off by taking a ride on the Waterford & Suir Valley Railway.  This 8.5 km train ride on an open car train takes you past the scenic River Suir (pronounced sure) as well as taking you to the land of the faerie folk.  At that stop one is supposed to make a wish.  It was a pleasant jaunt on a somewhat chilly morning.

We bused back to our hotel where we were given whispers (electronic listening devices) in preparation for a walking tour through Waterford.

Our guide for this tour was the affable Derek who was a knowledgeable and entertaining guide, if a bit blue in his language.  Our tour began right outside our hotel as immediately across the street was Reginald’s Tower which houses the Viking treasures of Waterford.  No, we didn’t actually go into the tower.

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Reginald’s Tower

From there it was off to the Medieval Museum.  The museum was actually built around the remains of a castle and held some amazing treasures.  Its rarest treasure was something that had been feared lost forever at one point.  Many moons ago, six priestly garments had been sewn out of solid gold.  It took 20 years to stitch these magnificent garments and they are worth many millions of dollars.  They are kept in glass cases with a special light to maintain them.  Pictures are allowed, but absolutely no flash photography is permitted as it will damage them.

Once we were through in the museum, we were taken to the 1743 Bishop’s Palace to learn a little more about Waterford’s history.  The ruler of this palace had been married to Letitia, the niece of Napoleon Bonaparte.  As such, the palace holds a Napoleon Clock (one of 12 left in existence) and a piano owned and played on by Letitia.

The palace also holds an impressive collection of art and Waterford crystal.  Below you’ll note the pictures of a chandelier and a table filled with crystal glasses and cutlery.  The chandelier is worth 100,000 Euros, but every single item on the table is worth more than the chandelier.  Derek told us how to recognize Waterford crystal and had an anecdote about a Waterford cross he found on Ebay.  He instantly recognized it as being made out of Waterford crystal and bought it for a few Euros, but flipped it for 700 Euros.

The museum also holds the oldest piece of Waterford crystal on the planet.  It is a decanter that was made in the 1780s.

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The oldest piece of Waterford crystal in the world.

At the front of the museum, we meant Sean Egan who is a master glassmaker.  He had worked for The House of Waterford Crystal for 25 years before getting laid off when Ireland’s economy went bust in the early 2000s.  He immediately went across the street to the palace where he was given a place to continue making his beautiful works of art.  Egan’s designs have been sold all over the world.  One of his notable works was a 9/11 memorial he designed featuring the rescue of Father Mychal Judge from the rubble.  Replicas of that work are present in Egan’s shop as well as in The House of Waterford Crystal.

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When the tour ended we had a little break where I dashed off to a local shop to buy batteries for my camera as my recharger had bit the dust the previous night.  After purchasing a pack I had to quickly go back over the ground of the tour and get the photos that I couldn’t take the first time around.

Once getting my pics, I met the rest of the group at the Druids, a pub famed for its Irish Coffee.  Each of us got a free coffee.  Now I don’t drink the stuff, but decided to have this famed local drink and I was wired after drinking it.  The coffee in Ireland tends to be stronger than its American counterpart and I agree with that assessment as the brew certainly seemed to overpower the whiskey in the beverage.

With the break over, we headed over to The House of Waterford Crystal for a tour.  Aside from being famous worldwide, the company also makes the actual prizes for the People’s Choice Awards.  It was a fascinating tour as we watched glass blown, sanded, marked, and etched.  Getting a job in the field is also interesting as one is apprenticed to a master craftsman for five years.  After that time, the apprentice has to make an item in their particular area and, if it passes, he or she gets to study for another 3 years and is then bestowed the title of master craftsman.

When this tour ended, we had the rest of the day to ourselves before embarking on another optional excursion.

We traveled to the village of Dunmore East which is by the Celtic Sea and home to Spinnaker’s, the #1 ranked pub in Ireland.  I spent an evening eating a gourmet beef burger with chips, drinking a Killarney Rutting Red, and listening to the house singer, Skinner, sing a barrage of classic rock numbers.  Our group really began to bond on this outing as well as the bus trip back to the hotel.  On the ride home I entertained our group with an acapella rendition of Jim Croce’s “Operator” which got a rousing ovation.

But it was time for bed as our group would be changing locales again the next day.

The Bird is the Word!

Conrad loves Nina who is smitten with Trigorin who is the boyfriend of Emma.  Mash adores Conrad, but is pursued by Dev and Dr. Sorn just wants a hug.  This is Stupid F@#!ing Bird, a sort of adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull written by Aaron Posner and currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This is one of the smartest, cleverest, funniest scripts I have ever seen produced.  Posner has a great gift for wordplay and his writing shows a love for and a frustration with the work of Chekhov.  A sort of adaptation is the best way to describe this piece as it is not a complete parody of The Seagull.  It mostly retains its story, but modernizes the language and peppers it with light-hearted comedy and fourth wallbreaking self-awareness.  But it also has its fair share of deep and serious moments as well.

Suzanne Withem deserves high praise for her direction of the play.  Her direction has a decisive energy which emerges in the constant movements of the actors, preventing the show from ever being static.  Her staging is precise and utilizes the full space with the actors even getting up into the stands with the audience.  Ms Withem has also done a sterling job leading her actors through this play as there isn’t a weak link in the lot.

Beau Fisher is quickly becoming one of my favorite performers to watch due to his naturalness and boisterous energy.  He scores another hit with his take on Conrad.  Fisher easily comes off as an innovator seeking to create new forms of artistic expression.  He is also the tortured artist who loves Nina too much and is frustrated by the fact the Nina does not love him back to the same degree.  Fisher skillfully vacillates between the emotional highs and lows of Conrad while deftly handling the character’s difficult wordplay.  While his love for Nina is a bit smothering, it does pull at your heart as it is a genuine love from a man who has never really known love himself.

Raydell Cordell III anchors the show as Conrad’s best friend, Dev.  Dev is the only truly likable character in the show.  He’s also one of two characters who end up truly happy at the show’s end.  Cordell brings a cute awkwardness to Dev with his pursuit of Mash and inability to say the right thing in a group setting.  Yet, in one on one conversations, he proves himself to be an able listener, a wise advisor, and a rock of support.

Sonia Keffer gives an eye opening performance as Emma Arkadina, Conrad’s mother.  Ms Keffer’s Emma is a slightly boozy, extremely cynical and successful actress who, like her son, doesn’t really understand love and happiness and readily admits to it.  She is content to live a life being hated quietly and filling it with money and men.  Emma does have a kind of caring for her son, but it never really germinated into love.  Instead it takes the form of a territoriality as she will fiercely protect what belongs to her when she sees it threatened or hurt.

Alissa Hanish cuts a very pitiable figure as Nina, the seagull of the play.  Hanish gives us a Nina who is a lost child who thinks she knows what she wants out of life, but when she gets what she thinks she wants, she learns that it was just poisoned fruit.  She is easily swayed by the illusion of the surface and cannot see the truth below.  Ms Hanish conveys these ideas not only through her delivery of the dialogue, but through her superior sense of movement.  Through movement, Ms Hanish displays comedy with her moves during the performance event “We.  Are.  Here.”; confusion, love, and a desperate search in a prolonged sequence when she constantly kisses Conrad, but blindly searches for something greater; and a descent into madness when she collapses into hysterics at the play’s climax.

Potent supporting performances are also given by Michael Markey as the lonely Dr. Sorn; Aanya Sagheer as Mash who sings depressing songs inspired by her unrequited love for Conrad; and Kevin Anderson as the pretentious genius writer, Doyle Trigorin.

The sounds of John Gibilisco and the lights of Darrin Golden become supporting characters in the play as they had a crucial extra dimension.   This is especially noticeable with the shadowy lights of Golden when the play veers into experimental performance art and Gibilisco’s mystical sound of the seagull.

The movement direction of Wai Yim adds a beautiful bit of art to the production while Lindsey Pape’s costumes suit the cotemporary feel of the show as the performers really seem as if they’re wearing their own clothes.

A couple of the actors needed to pump up the volume a bit, but all voices carried well and Jim Othuse’s simple set of a curtain and small stage lent itself well to the inherent creativity of the show.

In closing, all I can say is now you’ve heard about the bird and I’m telling you, man, that this bird is the word!

Stupid F@#!ing Bird plays at the Omaha Playhouse through Nov 12 at the Omaha Playhouse. Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students.  For tickets, contact the Playhouse at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to strong language and some mature themes, this show is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 4: A Day of Horses, Beer, and Hunger

The new day marked our exit from Dublin.  After breakfast, our group of intrepid travelers boarded the bus and began the drive to our next destination.

I had forgotten the simple pleasure of riding on a bus.  Although we sometimes traveled for a few hours at a clip, the drives never seemed boring with the lovely scenery.  I especially enjoyed driving through the small towns and villages where I soaked in the small town life with the quaint homes, B & Bs, and pubs.

Our first stop that day was the town of Kildare where we stopped at the Irish National Stud farm.  For an institution known for breeding champion racehorses, I was surprised by how few horses the farm actually housed.  Only 8 horses were kept at the farm.  Our tour guide, Chris, was a fount of information about the history of the farm.

It was founded by Colonel William Hall-Walker who was the son of a famous Scottish brewer and was a bit of a ne’er-do-well until his father had the talk with him (shape up or ship out) and he took up a very successful career in breeding horses.  Aside from his love of horses, Hall-Walker also had a keen interest in Japanese culture and astrology.  He often used zodiac signs to determine breeding times and purchases, often to great success.  His love of Japan is reflected in the Stud’s famed Japanese Gardens where we spent a bit of time at the end of the tour.

 

From the Stud, we continued heading south to the town of Kilkenny, where we had a tour of Smithwick’s Experience, the most successful brewery in Ireland.

The brewery actually had an interesting history.  The brewing process used by Smithwick’s was actually inspired by monks.  The water in the region was too hard to be drinkable.  In order to be able to drink the water, the monks brewed the hard water into beer which made it drinkable.  The lime rock in the region was especially suitable to the unique brewing process.

The company was founded by John Smithwick, but the family name was unable to be used for 120 years.  In John Smithwick’s time, Irish laws prevented Roman Catholics from owning land or businesses.  Smithwick’s business partner had to front the business while he ran it quietly behind the scenes.  Once Daniel O’Connell, the Emancipator and personal friend of the Smithwick running the business at the time, got the legislation through that changed the laws, the family name could finally be used for the business.

At the end of the tour, free half pints were given to us to sample.  I tried a blonde ale, but probably should have gone with classic red ale as the blonde was too weak for my taste buds.

 

After the tour, we had a bit of time to tour the region.  Mom and I stopped in a pub where I had a toasted ham, cheese, and onion sandwich with some chips and Dad got temporarily lost.  Luckily, he found his way back in time for us to begin the trek to New Ross.

 

In New Ross, we visited the Dunbrody Famine Ship.  This was one of many boats that helped Irish citizens emigrate to the Americas during the Great Potato Famine.  It was a very informative tour about what life was like on the boats.  There were two classes of passengers:  cabin (first-class) and steerage (everybody else).  Life was hard on the boats as the poor steering class passengers would be crammed into a single bunk and permitted a half hour a day on the upper deck solely to cook.  Cabin passengers had it a bit better as they got private rooms and were able to spend more time on the upper deck.  It’s very possible that the crew had it the best, at least in terms of eating.  The crew was fed extremely well and was the only group to get meat as they needed the strength to sail the ship.  They were also paid well, but wouldn’t get paid until they returned to Ireland for fear that they would jump ship once the boat docked in the Americas.

 

After the tour of the boat, we returned to the boat and drove to our final destination of Waterford and to the Tower Hotel, our home for the next few days.  We got into our rooms and then went to the hotel dining room where I enjoyed a meal of roast lamb and vegetables.  The rest of the evening was left to ourselves as we readied for another day of adventures.

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Tower Hotel

When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Day 3: Going Back to School & A Night at the Cabaret

A full night’s sleep did wonders and I was ready to attack a fresh, new day.  But, first, the inner man needed to be restored.

With one exception, all of our breakfasts were the same over in Ireland.  We always ate in the hotel dining room and enjoyed a breakfast buffet.  The food is pretty much the same as you’d find in America except their bacon is closer to ham, puddings (types of sausages) are available, tomatoes and mushrooms are big breakfast staples, a cereal called Wheatabix is common, porridge is common, and baked beans are often served in deference to British guests as that is a staple of an English breakfast menu.

After dining, we boarded our motorcoach and began a driving tour through Dublin.  Bill educated us on the history of the city, pointed out muse houses, directed our attention to the River Liffey which splits the town like Jekyll and Hyde (everything north of it is the bad side of town while the south is the good part of town).  He also pointed out a hotel owned by the group, U2.

We stopped off at St Patrick’s Cathedral where we spent a little time exploring the grounds and church.  Then it was back on the bus to our final stop over at Trinity College which educated luminaries such as Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett.

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The rest of the afternoon was ours to spend as we chose.  I decided to take a tour of the college.  Out tour guide was imminent graduate, Alex Gregory, who gave a rather eye opening view to life at Trinity.

For starters, undergraduate college education in the European Union is subsidized by the government which means the students pay no tuition, though Ireland does charge its students a student fee of 3,000 Euros a year.  Alex also showed us the dining hall where all students can eat lunch every day.  Supper is also served, but one has to be a scholar to get that.

Scholar is a designation given to students who score a minimum of 70 on the Scholars’ Exam which takes place each December.  It is an incredibly difficult comprehensive exam given in your major.  It’s a little easier for science and math students as those answers are objective.  As the arts are so subjective the last arts student to get a 70 was Samuel Beckett.  The perks for being a scholar are a dinner every night, a waiver of all fees, and the ability to live on campus for 5 years for free even if you have graduated.

The grounds of the college are immaculate and Alex told us that it is clipped and mowed twice a day every day.  As Ireland prides itself on its grounds, I imagine a good groundskeeper earns a pretty good living in Ireland.

When our tour ended, I visited the Samuel Beckett Theatre and then headed to the library to gaze on the Book of Kells.  It is actually 4 books (the 4 Gospels to be precise) and is the oldest, best preserved Bible in the world believed to have been written about 800 AD.  It is incredibly well preserved and only appears to be a few hundred years old.

I finished up my campus explorations and wandered down O’Connell Street which is a famed shopping district also known for its buskers (street performers).  As I walked down the street, I passed a McDonald’s and decided to stop in for a snack.  I had hoped to try their local sandwich, a Cajun Quarter Pounder, but they were no longer selling it.  I settled for a double cheeseburger and made my way to St Stephen’s Green.

St Stephen’s Green is the Central Park of Dublin and it is a gorgeous property.  The birds there also know no fear.  I could have jumped up and down and shouted, “BLBBBBLBBBB!!!!” and those birds wouldn’t have reacted.

I enjoyed a constitutional and then started hoofing it back to the hotel.  As I walked I made a few observations on Irish drivers and pedestrians.  The drivers seem to be a little hot tempered as I often heard honking horns and jaywalking is the national pastime.  Seriously.  Pedestrians often cross in the middle of a road and raise their arms and the drivers stop for them.

I got back to the hotel and puttered around until early evening as we boarded the motorcoach for our first optional excursion.

We drove to Taylors Three Rock, a famed cabaret restaurant.  This place is a complete sellout 364 days of the year.  The only day it doesn’t sell out is Christmas because it isn’t open that day.  They serve a fabulous meal and I enjoyed Atlantic salmon for my main dish.  The entertainment is also top notch as they use name Irish entertainers.  I chuckled to the jokes of Noel V. Ginnity, Ireland’s cleanest comedian, was enthralled by the harp playing and singing of Rebecca Murphy, swayed to the tunes of Rob Vickers, an Irish tenor who played Jean Valjean in the 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables at London’s West End, and thrilled to the footwork of their world champion Irish stepdancers.

It was a lovely evening that ended much too soon, but we needed to get back to the hotel as we needed our rest as we would travel to a new city the next day.