Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Emerald Shores of Ireland - Part 9

The Emerald Shores of Ireland
A trip journal by David Bowers
Part 9

We noted the castle to be towards the left, so we headed to the right. We first passed the closed main gates, and then signs for a shop dealing in heraldry and family crests, this seems to be a big deal in the area. We then came to an area with thatched roof buildings and vintage farm implements strewn amongst them. One of the thatched roof buildings housed a tea room, so we headed into another one that looked like it had some antiques in the lobby. We would later find out that we had ventured into the Corn Barn, which is where we would have eaten had we done the traditional Irish night. The building is done up to look like you are outside in an Irish village on the inside, complete with road signs and all. We headed further up the roadway and passed what looked like big haystacks on wood pedestals and eventually came to a village. Down ths nice cozy street you had the old schoolhouse, a pub, and a lot of stores that still do sell whatever craft they represent. Its an area sort of like colonial Williamsburg with character re-enactors and such. Past the village we came to what were clearly gypsy trailers, and reading the label, yes that's exactly what they are. We then decided to not get too far that way in case the rains came down harder, and headed back past the front gate the other way to where the craft demonstrations are like the blacksmith shop and the like. We had just gotten to this part of the park when the skies really opened up and a deluge of rain came pouring down. That was when we threw in the towel.

Ireland - Bunratty Folk Park

We headed to the park exit, which was in a building that flanked the entrance courtyard. The exit building of course contained a large gift shop that you were basically required to go through to exit. While in this gift shop, I did pick up a book about Bunratty Folk Park and Castle (€5), as well as an Irish flag (€7). I have a great interest in the flags of the world, and have a small collection of flags, so I thought an Irish flag, purchased in Ireland would make a great addition to the collection. Truth be told, its not a good quality flag, which for the price and the fact the packaging made it clear by the cartoonish design that it was being sold as a tourist novelty product. We made our purchases in the gift shop and headed out to the bus. We were not too surprised to already find a half full bus when we got there. With 15 minutes or so to go we were almost all there, and with 10 minutes to go everybody was back. Pretty much, just what Jerry thought would happen given the weather pattern.

Ireland - Bunratty Folk Park

We then headed back to the hotel to freshen up and relax before our banquet. On the way out Jerry pointed out Durty Nellie's and posited that it is a pub owned by a woman named Nellie who doesn't take much of an interest in cleanliness. The legend here goes that a gentleman once went in there and ordered a Guinness, which is a very dark solid beer you can't see through. Well the man is about a third of the way through his pint when he discovers a mouse in his pint. Horrified, the man calls the barmaid over and points out the mouse and asks "What are you going to do about this?". In response, the barmaid takes the man's glass back, plucks out the mouse, then takes the glass over to the beer tap, tops it off, and returns it to the man!

Ireland - Bunratty Folk Park

Speaking of Guinness, it is sometimes referred to as the "National Drink of Ireland", Jerry mentioned that in most countries you judge the state of the economy by the price of a loaf of bread, but in Ireland, the barometer is the price of a pint of Guinness. The going rate for a pint of Guinness during my visit seems to average around €4. He gave us the short version of the history of Guinness, or I should say how Guinness is no longer owned by the original Guinness family. The downfall came when the original Guinness wanted something more than money, more than a castle , more than influence, he wanted a royal title. He thought that with a royal title he would be even more powerful. So over the years he leveraged more and more of the breweries money, selling off more and more shares of it in what would ultimately be a fruitless attempt to obtain a royal title. What's in a Guinness, just your basic ingredients: barley, hops, yeast, and water. The exact mix, is of course, the secret, and apparently much of its unique taste comes from using roasted barley.

Ireland - Bunratty Folk Park

After our brief introduction to Guinness, Jerry also told us more about castles. Castles were, of course, more than just living and entertaining spaces, they were also strongholds for defense. Jerry went over some of the peculiar measures built into some castles. They seem to have an affinity for what they call the murder hole, which is an opening in the ceiling right about the castle entrance, where if they really don't like you when you come approaching the castle they can pour vats of red hot molten liquid on you from above. Architecture also plays a key role, and he said some castles even have false rooms, where the enemy would break into a castle and think they were inside but instead they would be in a sealed off isolated area, that just so happened to be open on top so that the guards of the castle could attack the invaders from a relatively safe position. The stairs also aided in the defensive effort, spiral stairways were the norm, and if done properly were built so you went up in a clockwise direction. That way a right handed attacker would find his sword hand in the tighter inner curve of the stairs, while the defender coming down would find his sword hand on the wider outer curve giving the defender an advantage. Another trick was the intentional variation in the heighth, depth, and even angle of some of the stairs. The adage was the more energy you spent having to watch your footing on the strange stairs, is less energy you can spent on attacking. Clever.

Ireland - Bunratty Folk Park

We then arrived back in Ennis, the road from the main highway into town featured several examples of a roundabout, which is a popular European alternative to intersections, they are even starting to appear here in the United States. The idea is instead of a hard stop and go intersection, you build a circular road with an island in the middle of it, then connect the various streets to it, much like spokes to a hub. Traffic is continually moving in one direction around the circle road taking people from one street to the next. The approaches are usually flared a bit to ease pulling into and out of the roundabout, often with a small raised platform in between the incoming and outgoing lanes to assist in pedestrian crossing. The rule is that those already in the roundabout have the right of way, so in the case of some busier sections where one or two entrances might monopolize the traffic in the roundabout they have resorted to traffic lights, similar to the meter spacing lights on busy highways. They also might have an outer lane which allows people going from one spoke to the next adjacent spoke to avoid the roundabout altogether. This may also be useful in cases where making the turn to the adjacent road may prove too sharp an angle, or if you are entering on an inner lane not having enough time to get over in time. This situation of making multiple trips around a roundabout has been a comic staple for movies set in Europe. In our case, having the particularly large bus meant taking an extra lap in the roundabout in order to get a more graceful curve.

Ireland - Bunratty Folk Park

Technically speaking, the island in the center of the roundabout is off limits to all traffic and pedestrians, and that has led to some areas utilizing the space for pretty floral displays, statuary, or other public art. The center also usually has a sign with the name of the roundabout, so I suppose you could give directions like "Stay on Main Street to the O'Brien Roundabout, then get on Central" As we got into town and the roadways got narrower, sometimes the center island gives way to a domed bump in the center, which is supposedly to give trucks and busses more room to maneuver around the tighter radius circle, as they can run with their inner wheels up on the gradual slope. I'm sure it also has allowed for some short circuiting the roundabout during those slow times with no traffic. Some don't even have the bump, they just have a large white painted dot in the center which serves the same purpose. A noted benefit to roundabouts is it forces people to drive slower, since they are always merging in and then having to curve around the roundabouts. In general we found drivers in Ireland to be much more courteous and patient then drivers back home, almost being too nice in yielding to each other. I don't even think they blow their horns, everybody just seems that much more relaxed and laid back at driving. In general, road signs, particularly those giving directions are written in both English and Gaelic with the Gaelic in top in italics and the English below in regular type.

Ireland - Bunratty Folk Park

We continue into Ennis and proceed to our hotel, the Auburn Lodge. We first stopped up at the front building for Jerry to run in, confirm arrangements, and get the keys. Owing to the layout of the hotel, which is a complex of several connected buildings, we drove around the outside of the hotel, where we passed a nice looking indoor pool area before coming around to the entrance nearest our rooms. Since it was still raining, we were told to collect our carry on bags and meet Jerry inside the hallway to get our keys. Once inside the hallway, we obtained our keys and then looked at the signage in the hotel. Interesting it seems that the first digit has no bearing on what floor you are on, contrary to many popular numbering systems. It would seem the first digit tells you what building you are in, but the second does not necessarily indicate the floor. So we followed the signs up the stairs to the upper level (recall they have no elevators), and into the first building.

Ireland - shower in Ennis

We get into our room, and Bob mentioned what a fantastic view we have, I look out the window to discover we have a nice view of the parking lot and the hotel service building. Can't get lucky all the time. The room is laid out almost exactly like the one in Galway, except with a hint of being older. Instead of the small wall mounted reading lights, there were nice lamps with older looking lampshades. The older mechanical key lock was still in the door with its bolt removed, so a slightly older place but still comfortable. Bob came out of the bathroom and warned me to watch myself with the sink. I went in and looked at the sink and I spotted the problem, the hot and cold water taps were reverse of what we are used to, and it was the type of sink where both the hot and cold water have separate taps that don't merge together. I was a bit dismayed to see the same shower faucet and pump bottle of liquid body wash. It took a bit longer for the bags to arrive, what with no elevators and all, but I could still repack my carry on bag to accommodate the days souvenir purchases. I also opened the flag I had just bought to take a closer look, the flag was folded in the package so you could see the whole design even though it was folded into a section just inches by inches, and it is a 3'x5' flag. This tricked me because I felt ridges where the colors changed and thought it might be sewn together, but it is in fact an all printed/dyed flag, with no label detailing manufacturer or country of manufacture. It will still go great in the flag collection, so I folded it back up, and it and all the other souvenirs went into the bottom of the carry on bag, so the stuff I need on a daily basis can stay on top.

Ireland - room at Auburn Lodge, Ennis

Eventually the big bags came and we freshened up. Bob had mentioned wanting to get some rest, so I headed down to the hotel pub. It wasn't hard to find with my internal sense of direction. I headed down a stairway at the other end of our building, then going through a really nice leaded glass door walked along a windy corridor that wrapped around the banquet rooms until it finally came to the lobby. The doors to the pub could be seen down a short hallway from the lobby. I entered the pub, and not seeing anybody from our group, did as so many country songs say "I ordered up a beer and sat down at the bar" The beer in this case was Guinness, and I was keen on watching the famous Guinness two part pour. You don't pour Guinness like most beers, you pour it about 2/3 or so in the usual manner, glass tipped at an angle to avoid forming a head. Then they stop the tap and set the glass aside and let the contents settle. If you are lucky enough to be able to watch it you can see the remarkable sight of the bubbles racing down to the bottom of the glass. After it has completed surging, as the call it, they take it back to the tap, but they pour it slower and with the glass straight up, intentionally causing the half inch creamy head you expect on a glass of Guinness, then they may set it aside again to let the surge finish before they serve it to you, or they may expect you to follow the protocol and visually enjoy the beer before actually enjoying the beer.

Ireland - room at Auburn Lodge, Ennis

As it so happens while I was watching my Guinness being prepared, two other people from our group came in and took up the seats next to me at the bar, and before my beer could be served we were already engaged in lively conversation. I'm used to bars running a tab and paying for everything when you are ready to leave, but apparently the Irish custom is to pay for each drink as it is served. They were nice about it though, a gentle tap on the elbow I had nearest the bar and when I looked over she handed me a check. So we paid for our first round, then since we were already up to 3 decided to move to a table.

Ireland - pub at Auburn Lodge, Ennis

To make a long story short, (too late!), it seemed that one by one at least 15 people from the group made their way to the pub, eventually allowing us to commandeer and entire corner alcove section. We were sharing the pub with a boisterous party that seemed to be involved with a wedding. This made things a bit busy at the bar, which is where you must go to order your drinks, no service directly to the tables. Somewhere between Guinness 2 and 3, Bob decided to come down and join the ever growing party, and some even ordered some appetizers so we'd have stuff to munch on while we sat and enjoyed some lively conversation, probably got to know people better here than anywhere else on the trip. So if we came looking for the "craic", I'd say we found it, even if just amongst ourselves. I also learned there were a few other Xavier University alumni on our tour, who had noticed my rather large class ring. Oh, and if you were wondering what was on the TV in the pub, it was the presidential conventions, yes back from the United States. That was odd. Bob joined me for my third round of Guineess and about when we finished that, we decided it was about half an hour to our pick up time for the evening banquet, so we all adjourned to our rooms to freshen up. Or tried to anyway, it seems all the meeting room doors are also leaded glass, and I think me must have tried every single one of them before coming to the last door, the one labeled "Bedrooms" We returned to our room, and I admit to being a little buzzed by the beer. Anyway time for a quick freshen up, then return back down to the hotel lobby which is where Jerry said he would pick us up, which is located next to the pub. Almost as if Jerry knew what people would do. In the hotel lobby, before boarding the bus, we did observe the last couple hands of an informal hearts game that had started in the lobby between tour participants, then at around 8:00 we boarded the bus.

Ireland - pub time in Ennis Auburn Lodge - Bob Hilvers and David Bowers have a Guinness moment


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