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Another Day, Another Peninsula

17 May

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Friar's Glen

Friar’s Glen

We started our last full day in Ireland by backtracking. After another amazing breakfast at Friars Glen we set off back down the Ring of Kerry in the clockwise direction toward Kenmare. Within about fifteen minutes we reached Ladies’ View. Ladies’ View is pretty much what it says on the tin, a scenic view. There’s a car park, a cafe and a gift shop, and a spot where you can look north across the Killarney National Park. The panorama takes in Black Valley, the Upper and Middle Lakes, McGillycuddy Reeks and the Gap of Dunloe. The location is named for Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting, who are said to have exclaimed and made much of the view when the Queen visited Ireland in 1861. After a brief stop we headed back toward Killarney Town.

We pulled over on the south side of the Upper Lake and walked a short distance through the scrub to the shore. The Upper Lake is one of the three in the park, the others being Lough Leane and Muckross Lake. We stopped just south of a short tunnel carved out of the side of the mountain that appeared to be nearly a feature of the landscape it looked so old. Indeed, I found an illustration of the same tunnel in The Scenery and Antiquities of Ireland, by J. Stirling Coyne and N.P. Willis, published in 1841.

The Upper Lake

The Upper Lake

We admired the view across the lake and I put a hand in the water (I have to touch everything), then we hopped back into the Suzuki Swift and scooted up to Killarney Town. We needed Irish stamps for a few postcards, and of course who can resist the “Everything’s €2” store? It was midday before we were on our way to the Dingle Peninsula.

The Beach at Inch

The Beach at Inch

Our first stop was the beach at Inch. It is nearly a mirror image of the beach at Rossbeigh on the Kerry Peninsula across the water to the south, a spot we had visited the day before, though the beach at Inch is sandy where Rossbeigh is rocky. We followed Bridget’s directions and after visiting the beach stopped about a mile outside of town to look back and take in the view. We drove west through the countryside, stopping occasionally to simply get out and stand and stare at the endless green patchwork of fields. After rain in London, rain in Paris, rain in Normandy, and rain in Amsterdam, we had a spot of good luck in Ireland. The weather was clear and stunning for the two full days that we were exploring the Kerry and Dingle peninsulas.

Strand Street facing the harbor in Dingle

Strand Street facing the harbor in Dingle

We stopped at Dingle Town in the early afternoon and did a little shopping. The shops and homes are painted lovely bright colors. From the look of it, Dingle is still very much a fishing town and is the largest settlement on the peninsula. Rather than stopping for lunch we simply snacked our way down the road. We purchased a few things for family and friends and then set out for the first real planned destination of the day.

I actually had a fair amount of trouble finding the Gallarus Oratory and it wasn’t the first destination in the area I chose. I wanted to see an ogham stone. I very badly wanted to see an ogham stone. There are a few websites dedicated to their locations and translations, and I had located one at the far west end of the peninsula. That the Gallarus Oratory was only a few miles away was an added bonus.

The often repeated story of the structure’s purpose is that it was a church for pilgrims. Séipéilín Ghallarais in Irish translates to “House of the foreigners” or “Shelter of the foreigners.” Like the stone forts we visited in Kerry, the oratory is difficult to date with certainty. The generally accepted time frame places its construction anywhere from 1,500 to 1,200 years ago, although according to at least one historian it could have been constructed a mere 900 years ago. I recall my humanities teacher touching briefly on the oratory’s construction in high school and I remember thinking it was a fascinating building.

Like everyplace else in Ireland the best I could manage as far as directions was a latitude and longitude obtained online (52°10’17.2″N 10°21’02.4″W, or 52.171440, -10.350660). This translated to a slightly less accurate location once it went into the GPS. This got us to a pull-off on the side of an unnamed road. I pulled over, looked left and right and directly ahead and saw hedges, fields and low stone walls. I knew I had to be in the right area but saw nothing to indicate where the oratory might be. I decided that this was a good spot to get the picture of the two of us in our tiny little rental car that I’d been wanting to take. I got out, put the camera on a handy stone wall, set the timer and then got back in the car. Smile! I noted that the car was all in frame and that we were both looking at the camera, and rolled on down the road. A short distance away I found the entrance to the Gallarus Oratory Visitor’s Center. What I did not notice until more than a year later when looking at the car selfie, was the little brown sign at the far end of the pull-off that pointed the way to the footpath that lead directly to the oratory.

So to be clear… you can park your vehicle on the side of the road and walk to the oratory any time, night or day, free of charge.

Or…

You can go to the visitor’s center and pay €6 per person. That may sound like a bum deal, and if you’ve studied and just want to have a look at the building I encourage you to park at the pull-off (It’s actually a shorter walk), but you do get something for your €6. There is a small gift shop, a cafe (Not open when we visited), a parking lot, a short film on Irish archeology, and toilets. We also got to meet Katy the Kitty, who was very sweet. As I understand it, the visitor’s center is a private venture put together by the fellow who owns the property adjacent to the oratory. Good for him I guess.

The Gallarus Oratory

The Gallarus Oratory

The Gallarus Oratory is of cut stone assembled into a single long corbel vault. Howard Goldbaum points out on his really really awesome website Voices from the Dawn, that this method of construction continued in Ireland with only minor alterations for thousands of years. At a glance it looks to have been put together with no mortar, although apparently a thin layer of lime was used internally to hold the stones in place. There is a single entrance just over 5′ tall and a narrow window set into the east wall. The roof has a just visible sag in the middle. I remember that in my humanities class it was introduced as an example of an “Upturned boat” building.

Katy Kitty

Katy Kitty

While it is traditionally said to be an early Christian church, the name suggests it may have been quite literally a shelter. A place for people from outside of Dingle to spend the night while in the area. The building bears no markings and practically nothing has been recovered from the sections taken in the area. It’s true use may remain a mystery.

After watching the film, seeing the oratory, using the toilets and giving Katy Kitty a scritch behind the ears we headed on to the Church at Kilmalkedar, about 4 km away in a loop around R559 through Murreagh.

The Church at Kilmalkedar

The Church at Kilmalkedar

I first learned about the church solely as the site of an ogham stone. The church itself is fascinating. The current structure is a ruined church from around the 12th Century with some Romanesque features. While the area is associated with Saint Brendan, it is thought to have originally been a monastery founded by the local Saint Maolcethair. There are finials atop the three gables (The roof of the church is gone), incredibly beautiful arches throughout, and a columned gallery.

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The Latin

The Latin “Alphabet Stone”

Inside the church is also an alphabet stone dating perhaps from the 500’s covered in Latin with an inscribed cross. One local legend has it that the church was built in a single night by the faeries. The church is surrounded by graves from various periods, and a modern cemetery that appears to still be in use sits adjacent.

Sun dial

Sun dial

In front of the church there is a huge rectangle stone cross of unknown age and a sun dial. The dial has beautiful carving on both sides and the dial face is divided into four sections, likely for the five canonical hours that made up the divisions of the monastic day.

And then there was the ogham stone. This was essentially the reason for our visit to the area. Well, what brought us to this particular part of Dingle at any rate. Ogham is the written expression of Primitive and Old Irish. The earliest inscriptions date from the 300’s, although the belief is that the form originated sometime in the 1st Century BC. It is composed of a series of slash marks along a vertical or horizontal line.

The ogham stone at Kilmalkedar

The ogham stone at Kilmalkedar

The vast majority of surviving inscriptions are proper names, and are believed to be funerary in nature. The ogham stone outside the Day15 Ireland (64)Church at Kilmalkedar bears a partial inscription on one face, and “ANM MAILE-INBIR MACI BROCANN” on another. This translates to “the name Mael Inbir, son of Brocan.” It is likely that this was a local religious leader of some import and there is the possibility that the inscription was made on an existing Standing Stone. The stone also appears to rest in it’s original position, something of a rarity.

You can download fabulous 3D PDF renderings of the ogham stone, the alphabet stone, and the sun dial at the Ogham In 3D project website, here.

We continued to the end of the peninsula on R559 and around Slea Head. We pulled over to admire the view of the Atlantic and the Blasket Islands from the cliffside.

The whole country s like this exercise caution.

The whole country is like this, exercise caution.

Further along are the Dunbeg Promontory Fort and several bee hive stone huts. I’d have loved to have visited them as well, but there are only so many hours in a day, even on the ould sod. There are as many as 30,000 ancient stone sites in Ireland. Not enough time indeed.

Slea Head

Slea Head (You can see Valencia Island and the Fogher Cliffs across the water to the right of the headland)

As you make your way along the southern coast of the peninsula you’ll also be treated to an up close view of a lovely stream that comes rushing down the hillside and crosses the road before continuing on to the sea. I’ve checked, this is a permanent feature. As if the narrow road loaded with tourists in rental cars (Like myself) wasn’t enough, you now have to contend with running water over a hairpin turn on a cliffside road. We learned pretty fast that in general you had nothing to fear if the folks behind the wheel were a little severe-looking and wearing a hat. They were locals. Four girls in a Kia looking EVERYWHERE but directly ahead? Tourists. Watch your butt.

It's not bug, but a feature.

It’s not a bug, but a feature.

We made our way back to Killarney Town, parked near the town center, and wandered about on foot until we found a likely looking pub. We had a nice dinner, throughout which we kept hearing shouts from the back corner of the pub. Bachelor party apparently, and the lads were having a grand old time. At one point I got up to use the gents and rounded the corner headed toward the gathering. There were two of them. I smiled and nodded and got the standard Irish greeting “Y’ aright?” (Gotta love a people who don’t say “Hello” or “Good evening” but ask “Are you ok?”)

I replied “Yeah. You?”

“Yeah.”

One of the things I find wildly entertaining about Ireland and the UK is their approach to bachelor and bachelorette parties. They are very, very, very easy to identify, and we encountered them everywhere. They wear shirts. We encountered far more “Hen Nights” than “Stag Do’s” while on our trip, but these guys were wearing the uniform. White t-shirts with photograph on the front and the groom-to-be’s name across the back with the date. But the guy on the front didn’t look like either of the gentlemen before me. I asked which one of them was getting married. Neither, as it turned out. The groom was stuck somewhere hours away yet and they had no idea if anyone else from the do was going to make it. They’d started without them. Congratulations, offers for me to join them, and fist bumps all around, and I went back to join Julia.

We finished our dinner and returned to Friar’s Glen. Mary was fantastic as always. We settled up our bill and she made sure there was a lunch packed for us in the mud room refrigerator, since we’d be up and out at fist light to make the drive to the Shannon Airport. We were heading into the last week of our trip, and the downhill run would begin… in Scotland!

Take good care

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

There’s Ancient, and then there’s ANCIENT

7 Feb

The sun came up on Day 14 of our trip. On the advice of our innkeeper, Mary, we slept in. She suggested we let the big tour coaches get a head start on the Ring of Kerry so we’d not be stuck with them on the roads or stopping at attractions swamped with tourists. We went down for breakfast a little after 9AM.

Breakfast at Friar’s Glen is a work of art. Traditional Irish breakfast as well as fruit, muffins, scones, butter, cream, oooooooooh just plate upon plate of fabulous food! This was the absolute best breakfast I’ve had anywhere in England, Ireland, or Scotland. Seriously. According to our waitress everything we ate for breakfast was made by Mary’s own hand. Her name was Bridget, and she was incredibly friendly. Bridget, like Mary, was full of helpful hints about the Ring of Kerry, excitedly giving us exact directions to specific locations and suggesting things to see and do that weren’t on the map.

As for Friar’s Glen… our room had what I consider a standard hotel room layout and was spacious and well-suited to our needs. You can control the radiator in your room but be advised that as with other places we stayed in Europe, the heat will shut off overnight during the hours that you are (Presumably) asleep. There was a refrigerator just down the hall in the mud room for guest use. I believe I mentioned in the previous post the common room that had a lovely peat fire burning when we arrived. The room is stocked with books and games and is quite cozy. Friar’s Glen does have WiFi, but I had trouble picking it up on my device.

I highly recommend Friar’s Glen for a number of reasons. It’s out away from Killarney Town and so very quiet and secluded. It is within the Killarney National Park, with a number of pleasant trails just across the road. The price was reasonable for what you get and Mary offered a cash discount. It is a great base of operations for both the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. Visit their website for information and reservations. 

Armed with Mary and Bridget’s recommendations and fortified by the amazing breakfast we marched out to the car and fired up the GPS. Since you can’t just tell the GPS “Follow the Ring of Kerry” we programmed Killorglin as our destination. This would start us on the Ring in the “Anti-clockwise” direction as per Mary’s recommendation. The tour coaches also travel anti-clockwise. This means that you are unlikely to encounter one coming at you on the very narrow cliff-side roads, and if you do… you’ll not be on the side of the road with the several-hundred-foot drop to the sea. (Having taken Mary’s advice about the late start as well, we hoped not to encounter them at all).

We made our way north through the countryside. It really is unbelievably beautiful. Much of the land is divided into countless stone-walled fields. Each field is often a fractionally different shade of green from its neighbor, making the whole of the landscape seem like a never-ending emerald quilt dotted with cotton-white sheep and golden flowers.

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Dingle Peninsula from the beach at Rossbeigh (You can always click on any picture to open a larger image in another window)

We made it to Killorglin without incident but even with the GPS we got briefly off the track, found our way back on, and proceeded to our next marker, Glenbeigh. Here we left the Ring and followed directions from Bridget to the beach at Rossbeigh. The entire time we were in the southwest of Ireland we were constantly amazed at the deep blue of the water. I’m not sure what I expected… green perhaps? Or maybe the gray of the Irish Sea I remembered from a very rough crossing 20 years before? Dunno. I just wasn’t prepared for the startling sapphire blue of the waters around the Kerry peninsula. It was windy and cold. There were a few whitewashed cottages nearby, and the ubiquitous sheep were scattered about on the far side of some sports fields near the rocky beach.

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It’s hard to capture an incline in a photograph when you’re sitting on top of it. Trust me… very steep, narrow road.

Rather than backtrack, we continued along R564 (A one-lane road over the mountain above the inlet) through the countryside. We hooked up with the N70 (The Ring of Kerry) near a place called Drom and continued on toward Cahersiveen. Once we reached the town we turned north on Bridge Street/Castlequin. There are signs for “Stone Forts” and in a few minutes we’d reached a wide spot in the road, the parking area for Leacanabuile (10º 15′ 43” W, 51º 57′ 30” N, if you took my suggestion and you are using a GPS).

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The interior of Leacanabuile

We’d found the location of the fort by searching Google for ancient sites along the route of the Ring of Kerry. As well as can be determined by the archeological research carried out thus far the small hill fort dates from the 9th or 10th Century. Habitation could stretch back as far as the 500’s, but there’s just no way to be certain. Inside are the low remains of several stone buildings. Day 14 (42)Within the circular structure built against the western side of the enclosure is an entrance to a narrow subterranean passageway that leads to a small chamber built into the outer wall, at least according to the information placard posted near the fort entrance. Day 14 (46)We had to take their word for it, because try as I might, I was unable to get more than my head and the top of my shoulders into the tiny opening. According to the really fantastic website Voices from the Dawn put together by Howard Goldbaum of the University of Nevada, an excavation of the site conducted over 1939-1940 records the passage as being one meter tall.*

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t dream of sticking my head (Or any other part of me) in a hole in the ground. Ah… but this is Ireland! No snakes! Unlike where I grew up, you may tramp through field and over rocky dale, even reach into dark crevasses, without the slightest fear of meeting a Copperhead, or a Water Moccasin, or a Timber Rattler. Nope. Not so much as a garter snake in the grass of the Emerald Isle, and it is a glorious thing! In fact, at breakfast that very morning two women seated next to us remarked upon the great number and diversity of songbirds they’d encountered on a hike through the Killarney National Park. I suggested that this may be in part because there were no snakes. One of the women said “Oh! No we didn’t see any. I didn’t think of that at all, we should have been more careful.” I explained that she’d mistaken my meaning, and that there are no snakes to be found. She had no idea. Neither of them had. I was frankly amazed. How does one grow to adulthood, make the conscious decision to travel to Erin, make arrangements and then actually board a conveyance and make their way to Ireland and not know this single, simple fact? I’m afraid I sat there staring at her with my mouth open for longer than is polite in anybody’s book.

I digress…

As much as I would have liked to make the trek to the wall’s interior it was not physically possible. Even Julia (Who is less than half my size) could not wriggle inside. I’ve learned now (Doing more detailed research almost 3 years after the fact) that had I exited the fort and walked down to the bottom of the western wall, I’d have found the other end of the passage covered by a (Most likely unlocked) gate.

While I was unable to make good a full impression of Darby O’Gill, we enjoyed looking about the interior of the fort, and looking off to the east we saw another. We descended the hill and walked a few hundred yards to Cahergall.

Cahergall

Cahergall

 

Cahergall stone fort is very similar in appearance to the Staigue stone fort on the opposite side of the Ring of Kerry near Sneem. Like Leacanabuile, this type of fortification is difficult to date with precision, one reason being that the naturally defensible sites were built upon again and again over hundreds, sometimes thousands of years.

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According to a placard at the site the upper portions of the outer walls have been restored.

Again I refer you to Voices from the Dawn for a high resolution photograph of the site as it appeared in the late 1970’s for comparison. While we stood atop the fort we looked to the south and saw…

A castle….

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… as it turns out….

… another McCarthy castle!Day 14 (77)

Ballycarbery Castle sits on a grassy hill on the north shore of the Ferthy River estuary that feeds into Valencia Harbor. There is a gravel parking area just at the bottom of the slope. The lot is at the end of an unnamed road that runs southwest from Castlequin about 100 yards east of Cahergall. There’s a brown sign on the south side of the road.

(n.b. While there are signs leading you to the castle, and a sign at the site giving some of its history, it is also surrounded by a barbed wire fence which you will have to climb over/shimmy under to access the site. Sooooooo, strictly speaking you’re probably not supposed to be in there. Explore at your own risk.)

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Looking out from the ground floor

Ballycarbery Castle was built in the 16th Century and is associated with the powerful Mac Cárthaigh dynasty (My wife’s ancestors), however habitation on the site goes back perhaps as far as the late 12th Century and Tagdh Mac Cárthaigh is recorded as having died in a residence on this site in 1398. Tradition says that the current ruin was constructed by Carbery O’Shea “Using the blood of bullocks to cement the stones.” However, the region was controlled by McCarthy Mor and a constable clan chief from the Clan O’Connell was installed in the castle.Day 14 (88)

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Arrow slit in the curtain wall

The castle was surrounded by a curtain wall but only a fraction of it remains. Even though half of the castle is missing, blown up by Oliver Cromwell’s forces (Curse his name forever) in 1652 during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms , it is an easy climb to the intact sections of the upper floors, and part of a stairway is still passable within the western wall. The weather was gorgeous and it would have been a lovely spot for a picnic had we thought to bring one. We pushed on, hoping to make a creamery and a candle maker on Valencia Island that Bridget had recommended.

We arrived at Portmagee and made a quick stop at the Village Public Facility (Runner Up for Ireland’s Top Toilet Award, 2002 according to the sign) and then crossed the bridge to Valencia Island.

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Keeping watch in Knight’s Town

Valencia is about 6 miles by 2. The modern spelling appears most places as “Valentia” while it is “Valencia” on tombstones on the island. I’m not sure exactly when the spelling changed. We drove to Knight’s Town and had lunch and a pint at The Royal Pier Bar then got back in the car and immediately got lost looking for the Fogher Cliffs. We found a ruined church and parish cemetery on the north side of the island before we found the road leading up to the cliffs.

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Looking north from the churchyard

 

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Many of the stones in the churchyard had a nautical theme

 

 

 

Geokaun Mountain is the highest point on the island. There’s a self-serve parking area where you feed €5 into a machine for a ticket to put on the dash. A short walk leads you to an overlook where you can view the cliffs. The Skellig Islands are visible in the distance, as well as the Dingle Peninsula, the Atlantic, and all of Valencia Island. There was a roaring wind coming off the water as we stood above the 600′ cliffs. Day 14 (115)We weren’t able to stay put for very long, and even taking a photograph was difficult as I could barely hold the camera still. Placards along the path relate the history of the area, along with tales of the Fianna and Fionn Mac Cumhail.

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The Skellig Islands from the path overlooking the Fogher Cliffs

 

We beat a hasty retreat to the warmth of our little rental car and drove back down the mountain. Next up on our list of things to see was a very ancient site… the Tetrapod Trackway.

After seeing it on the local tourist map of Valencia Island I recalled having watched a brief blurb about Ireland’s Tetrapod Trackway on PBS or some similar network not long after the prints were discovered in the 1990’s. It wasn’t something we’d set out to see, but we were in the area and I certainly didn’t want to pass it up.

The Irish just aren’t that interested in naming roads, so you’ll need to rely on your GPS again to get you into the vicinity of 10° 20′ 38″ W, 51° 55′ 51″ N, or ask someone local for directions. As you approach the radio station at the northernmost bit of the island there’s a car park on your right. From there you proceed on foot along a path right down to the shore.

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The Tetrapod Trackway

Back in the Devonian Period the land that would one day become Erin was situated down near the Equator. One day about 385 million years ago one of the earliest creatures to make their way out of the sea and up onto dry land was wandering about the tidal shallows. It was about a meter long, about a third of that length being its tail, and it had four legs lately evolved from fins. As it walked along, or perhaps pushed itself along the bottom in the shallow water just off shore, it left footprints in the soft mud. It’s belly dragged the surface and here and there it’s tail cut an S pattern as it trailed along behind. After these few minutes of activity our Tetrapod friend (Or friends) passed again out of our knowledge to whatever end, leaving behind only those few impressions in the mud. The impressions were filled in with silt and over the eons hardened into rock as the plates of the Earth shifted and Ireland wandered north. Eventually the stone with the prints was again exposed and a geology student discovered them in 1993. They are the oldest known in-situ tracks made by a living thing on earth.

It was getting on in the day and the sun was sliding down toward the sea. We made a circuit of the island looking for the candle maker and the creamery recommended by Bridget but neither were open, either due to the lateness of the hour or the earliness of the month (We were still a few weeks from the start of the high season). We did find a heard of deer and ever more stunning views of the Atlantic and the islands to the west. Day 14 (129)In season you can take a boat from the visitor’s center just by the bridge from Portmagee out to Skellig Michael, the site of an ancient monastery from roughly the 6th to 13th Centuries. Fun fact: Skellig Michael was used as a location for the filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens during the summer of 2014.

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Valencia Island. The white line center-left is the bridge from Portmagee.

 

We crossed the bridge, took a wrong turning, and ended up on the Skellig Ring track over the mountain to the south toward Ballinskelligs, which Bridget was horrified to learn of later and declared us to be “Very brave” for going that way. We survived the trip to the southern part of the peninsula and once we found our way back to the N70 we stopped in Kenmare for supper.

We had dinner at The Wander Inn, where the food and drink was very good. There was live music in the form of two young men playing original contemporary compositions on a guitar and accordion that I didn’t really much care for. We listened to a set and then decided to get on. Julia was disappointed for me that it wasn’t Irish music. Well, it WAS Irish music. They were Irish musicians. We were in Ireland… but her point was taken. Traditional Irish music had been the hope. The food was still good.

We had the last 20 miles to go back to Friar’s Glen. We’d saved the most twisting and mountainous leg to do in the dark. I’d built up a fair bit of confidence over the course of the two days I’d spent driving in Kerry and was feeling pretty good about it as we made our way.. SHEEP!!! All day they’d been fluffy white accents to the landscape but now that it was pitch black the sheep were no longer in the pens but out IN the bloody road! I had this picture in my head of them all looking around at each other once the sun went down and saying, “Farmer O’Connell is down the pub boys, over the wall!” then lacing their front hooves to boost each other over. They were around every 3rd or 4th bend in the road. It was nerve wracking.

We made it back all of a piece. We’d passed a spot with the intriguing name “Ladies View” just a few miles out of Killarney and decided we’d head back in the morning.

We’d spent the day driving back in time. From medieval Ballycarbery Castle and the more ancient Leacanabuile, to just about the deepest pre-history imaginable and the Tetrapod Trackway. For tomorrow there was the Dingle Peninsula, but before that another amazing breakfast!

 

 

*Much of the information for this post I obtained long after the fact. Several of the places we visited on this particular day became destinations only the night before and only the information printed on placards posted at the sites was available to us. We had a great time anyway, but maybe a third of the information in this post I discovered only recently. For ancient sites in Ireland I refer you again to the excellent site Voices from the Dawn. Loads of additional information on Ballycarbery Castle can be found there, as well as on the North American McCarthy Clan website.

 

Take good care.

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

Paris from top to bottom

21 Feb

Our last full day in Paris I was up and out the door early to grab some breakfast from the patisserie on the corner, pick up our laundry, and buy stamps at the post office.  This last errand filled me with dread since the single most unpleasant encounter during my previous visit to Paris in the late 80’s had been with a postal clerk.  (I really only had two unpleasant encounters during the months I spent in Europe in 1989.  The other episode involved two deaf-mute gentlemen in the pub near the university.  I held my ground long enough to finish my drink and then retreated with as much dignity as I could muster before I got a right kicking) My fears were unfounded however, as the clerk was pleasant and efficient and despite the fact that neither of us spoke the other’s language, the transaction was completed without any further rift in Franco-American relations. I returned to the hotel with croissants, pain au chocolate, a costly bag of my own clothes, and eight postcard stamps.

Today’s loosely planned outings would begin with a visit to Sacre Cour, the cathedral that sits atop the highest point in Paris.  It had not been part of my planning for the trip but we’d noticed it from a window at the Musée d’Orsay and decided to go have a look.  In fact, with the exception of a visit to the Tuileries, we’d hit all the locations I had planned on seeing in advance and now we were just winging it.

We took a crowded workaday Metro to the Anvers station on the 2 line.  If I have not mentioned it before I will do so now, the Parisians love their dogs.  Outside the patisserie where I had purchased that morning’s breakfast there was a steel plate with a hook for a leash set into the wall.  The plate was forged in the shape of a terrier and in fact that exact breed of dog was at that moment tethered there.  (No, I did not get my camera unlimbered fast enough to take a picture before the owner left with the dog).  I mention this now because we saw a number of dogs on the metro that morning.  Not just your standard purse-friendly Chihuahua, but respectable dog-sized dogs on their morning commute.

We arrived at the base of the hill and began to walk up the narrow Rue de Steinkerque to the steps leading to the cathedral.  The street was lined with several kitschy tourist shops and bakeries.

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Helpful hint: if you absolutely must buy a doughnut from one of these shops, request one from the case. 

There is an esplanade at the base of the steps leading up to Sacre Cour.  From this point you may make your way to the top via one of two sets of switchback staircases leading all the way to the cathedral, or purchase a ticket for an electric tram just off to the left (I do believe the price at the time of our visit was €2). As I took several photographs from this vantage point we were approached by an elderly couple who asked if I could take their picture.  I said that I would be happy to, took the man’s camera, took a photograph of him and his wife with the cathedral situated just over their shoulders and handed the camera back.  I gave him the standard admonishment “Have a look at that and make sure it’s okay,” and made ready to walk away.  I’m sure we’ve all been in his situation and what normally happens at this point is that no matter what the picture looks like you say “Thank you” and go about your business.  If the picture is dreadful you quietly wait a moment and ask someone else to take another photo.  At least that’s what I do.

That’s not what this guy does.  He had a look at the camera, shook his head, and said “No no no no no.  Here, let me show you how to take a photograph.  See we’re standing here, that tree should be lined up here, and then the building centered above, here.”  While he’s saying all this of course, his wife is looking absolutely mortified but not, I noted, particularly surprised.  I took the camera back, situated myself so as to line up the pertinent landmarks the way he wanted them, and took the photograph again.  I handed the camera back.  He said “Yes, yes, that is much much better,” as his wife grabbed him and hustled him away with quick thanks to me and Julia.  Well, now I know how to take a picture.

As we are young and spry (And I am cheap) we elected to walk up the steps to the cathedral.  It was a beautiful sunny day, the grass was green, and the terrace was bordered by thousands and thousands of bright flowers.  We made our way up slowly, taking our time and enjoying the view.

Approximately halfway up we encountered a large group of African men in plain clothing trying to get our attention with shouts of “Sir, sir, you want to be happy married man?”  I know a street scammer when I see one, and even though I didn’t know what his particular game was I knew enough to just keep walking.  We lived in New York for over seven years and we both have pretty good street faces and are pros at simply ignoring people and continuing on our way.  Not being certain what the particular game was I looked online later and discovered that these guys approach tourists and tell them it is tradition for lovers to bind their hands together and make the walk up to Sacre Cour.  This guarantees a long and happy relationship.  They offer to sell the band for a euro, a dollar, whatever, and if the couple agrees their wrists are bound together tightly with a heavy-duty zip tie plastic band.  The scammer then demands a larger amount of money to cut the band off.  A number of tourists have also complained of having cameras and smart phones stolen.  Simply keep an eye out and avoid them, or if you must walk through the group, ignore them and keep going.

Sacre Cour

Sacre Cour

We reached the broad terrace in front of the cathedral and looked out over the city.  Sacre Cour is at the highest point in Paris and you can see for many miles.  Several famous landmarks stand out; the Eiffel Tower of course, and Notre Dame as well as the Pompidou Center, but if I am being honest… as a skyline Paris is not terribly inspiring during the day.  We made our way around to the right side of the cathedral to a semi-secluded grotto where we found a statue of two lovers in an embrace.  I suspect that at twilight this is a romantic spot.  It appeared in the early morning to be the spot where all the local cats come to bathe.

We climbed to the top of the stairs and entered the cathedral.  The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris is a fairly “New” cathedral. Construction began in 1875 and was completed in 1914. It is constructed of travertine and is a blinding white in the sun. Video recording and photography are forbidden inside the basilica and visitors are requested to observe complete silence as perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has been ongoing in the Basilica since 1885.

We walked through, admiring the stunning mosaic ceiling and exited via a side door. We located a pub just outside. The Irish are everywhere.

We strolled through the Montmarte, an area famous at the end of the 19th century for its windmills and impressionist painters.  To this day the area retains some of the charm of a small village despite being well within the bounds of one of the greatest urban centers in the world.  We passed homes with beautiful architectural accents, Day9.P.5 Large Web viewstunning gardens, and even encountered a still-intact windmill (Moulin in French).  We continued along the streets, strolling mostly at random, and making our way ever downward.  We found a number of fascinating shops along the Rue des Abbesses and the Rue Lepic.Day9.P.4 Large Web view We stopped in to look at sculptures, soap, and teapots in little boutiques interspersed among the patisseries, dairies, and butcher’s shops.  We passed the Two Moulins Café, made famous by the movie Amilie, and eventually landed up at the intersection of the Rue Lepic and Boulevard de Clichy, directly in front of the Moulin Rouge.

Here we stood in a median to photograph the Moulin Rouge and chatted with a very nice couple from central England.  They were retired teachers, and the man was the living breathing model of the stereotypical older man from the Cotswolds.  Sturdy trousers, jumper and a hunting jacket topped off by his Barbour cap.  There was a truck delivering drinks to the Moulin Rouge, and his wife was waiting for it to clear out so she could get a good picture.  They were in France for the week, and he bemoaned the cost of bringing a vehicle over from the UK.  We learned all about their daughter’s upcoming wedding and the difficulties of the booking travel in and out of the UK during the Olympics.  We talked a little about the Moulin Rouge.  I mentioned the fact that Julia and I had looked into seeing a show, perhaps the lunch show, but even that was €50 per person.  The fellow smiled, and with a furtive look out of the corner of his eye to his wife confided to me “Oh I didn’t dare look into that!”Day9.P.6 Large Web view

We looked around the lobby at the posters and around the corner in a small gift shop that sold the usual fare, postcards, T-shirts and other accessories, pens and glasses all emblazoned with the name Moulin Rouge.  There were display cases with historical items of costume, headdresses, jewelry, shoes and the like.  There is a Metro stop nearby and we decided this was a good place to hop on and make our way to the Tuileries.

Day9.P.7 Large Web viewWe got off the Metro at the Tuileries station on Rue di Rivoli and walked west to Place de La Concorde, where you will find some really awesome fountains and the Obelisk of Luxor. We all remember the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror? Well this is where they set up the guillotine. We made our way through the Place de la Concorde to the western entrance to the park (Pay toilets!) and had a very nice picnic before it began to rain. The Tuileries were commissioned by Louis XIV in 1666. There are classical and modern sculptures throughout the park, reflecting pools and even a small pond where you can rent model sail boats, all situated around the broad central lane.

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Looking east toward the Louvre.

Fun Fact: We picnicked just about every day in Paris. Fruit, cheese, bread, and wine. It is actually illegal to have an open container in Paris parks. Ooops.

We passed through the Louvre’s Porte des Lions and crossed the Ponte du Carousel to stroll along the Seine, looking at the artists’ and booksellers’ stalls that were open all along the sidewalk. . The rain had cleared off and it was again a gorgeous spring day! We bought ice cream and sat eating it under a tree in the Square du Vert-Galant, a lovely spot at the very western tip of the Ile de la Cité. For you history-minded folk, this is the spot where the last Grand Master of the Templars Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake in 1314. We didn’t see any Illuminati. We might have been busy making out a little.

Day9.P.11 Large Web viewWe continued along the river looking at the stone details and stopped by the Zero Point in front of Notre Dame again (Just to be on the safe side). We crossed over to the Left Bank to Saint Michael’s Square. The fountain is very impressive and from the street you have a good view of Notre Dame. We meandered through the Latin Quarter, ducking into the shops whenever it would begin to rain again to find souvenirs for family and friends (As think I mentioned before, Rain = Purchases) before hopping on the Metro and riding out to Père Lachaise.

Day9.P.12 Large Web viewPère Lachaise Cemetery is likely known to most Americans as Jim Morrison’s final resting place. A massive garden cemetery (And, apparently, the first municipal cemetery), Père Lachaise opened in 1804. At the time it was considered to be too far from the city and garnered few burials. In a brilliant marketing ploy the cemetery administrators moved the remains of Moliere and other notables to the site and Parisians began to clamor to be buried among the celebrities. It is stunningly beautiful. We arrived late in the day and were unaware of the 6:00 p.m. closing time. I recommend leaving yourself at least half a day.Day9.P.13 Large Web view

You will find simple marked graves, small chapels, and massive mausoleums (All in various states of repair). The place is practically crammed with gorgeous statuary and unique markers. It was interesting to see trends in funerary across a couple hundred years. Plots can be leased for 30 years and often later deceased members of a family will be placed inside the same tomb when an ancestor’s body has decomposed. If a family does not renew a  lease the remains in the tomb are cataloged and removed to the Ossuary so that the site can be converted to a new grave. According to the City of Paris website one million people have been buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery. When the remains in the Ossuary are added, the number reaches perhaps to three million

Some of the notables interred at Père Lachaise;

Isadora Duncan

Edith Piaf

Proust

Balzac

Oscar Wilde

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After being pretty much run out by a security officer ringing a large bell we decided to simply walk back to our hotel (A distance of about a mile and a half). We made an early evening of it, since we had to pack up to leave Paris. The next day was going to turn out to be difficult.

Next time: Omaha Beach

Take good care.

© 2014 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

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13 Aug

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… and why is that, exactly?

No posts for a while, as work suddenly got very busy (Overtime! Huzzah!).  Speaking of work (Segues, still not my forte), a friend on Facebook asked me recently to recount how I became an investigator, given my background. I’m sure this isn’t exactly what he had in mind…

How far back can you trace the decisions that brought you to where you are today? Can you clearly identify the tipping point after which your life began to build momentum that, while perhaps not making the outcome certain, without which your current situation would be far less likely?

The life I’m living now I can attribute to a single decision in the 5th grade that I made solely on the basis that it would get me out of class for an hour three afternoons a week.  I think of myself in all the time before that as a marble rolling around on a plateau. On that day in the 5th grade the marble rolled to a particular crack in the flat tabletop and began to roll down a particular canyon.

I had all the standard little kid aspirations; Astronaut, Soldier, Garbage Man… and up until the age of 10 I had worked toward all these goals equally and in pretty much the same fashion. That is to say, I ran around a lot, climbed on stuff and got dirty with little thought for the next two hours much less the next day or year. Up until that point I was just as likely to become an insurance salesman or fix air conditioners for a living as become an astronaut. That is until Mrs. King handed out a mimeographed notice one day not long after the beginning of my 5th grade year at Dwight D. Eisenhower elementary school.

We were being given the option to be in the 5th Grade Band. The notice was a list of instruments we could choose from. The band practiced three afternoons a week for about an hour and played in two concerts a year. There in my hand was a golden ticket (Well, actually a white and purple ticket) that would get me out of the classroom for three hours a week. I leapt at the chance! I went directly home and told my mother I wanted to join the band and that I would be playing the drums and mom said “No.”

Mom didn’t say “No you can’t be in the band,” she said “You’re not playing the drums.” Now I don’t want to get the drummers out there all het up and thinking bad things about my mom because she’s a really nice lady and makes a mean chicken casserole, but I can tell you her two very clearly defined objections and you’re not going to like one of them.

1) Noise level. Mom was under the (Mistaken) impression that me learning to play the drums was going to be loud. Perhaps if I’d eventually shown enough talent to continue past learning the snare drum in 5th grade band she’d have had reason to be concerned. A full-on drum set isn’t subtle. But they don’t send ten-year olds home with a drum set, or even a snare drum… they send them home with a pair of drum sticks and possibly a rubber practice pad. I am positive that learning the drums would have been much quieter than the instrument I did settle on, at least for the first year or so.

2) Talent. Mom was under the (Also mistaken) impression that playing the drums didn’t take as much talent as playing a “Real” instrument. (Seriously, if I find out about any of you giving my mom grief I’m gonna be REALLY hacked off. Let it go).  Not that I’d displayed tons of innate musical ability up until this point, despite the fact that I did already own an instrument at the time (My father gave me a guitar when I was five for no apparent reason. Somehow over the next 36 years I never found the time to ask him why), but Mom was convinced that drumming was beneath my abilities.

So I settled on the saxophone and for the life of me I can’t remember why.  I can’t recall looking at the form and saying “Wow! The saxophone looks cool!” or anything like that. I’ve always thought the trumpet was pretty cool actually, and can’t think why I didn’t pick that, but there you have it. At one time I was a professional actor. I am married to a wonderful woman I love more than my own life. I am an investigator for a private detective agency out in the Wild Wild West. All of these things are because in the 5th grade I decided to play the saxophone in the band so I could get out of class three days a week.

Perhaps further explanation is necessary.

I joined the band.  To support my bourgeoning music career my grandparents gave me my own saxophone for Christmas on the condition that I learn to play “Moon River” for them at some point in the future.

I got pretty good at playing the saxophone.

I got really good at playing the saxophone.

I played in the band for the next few years and at the urging of my middle school band director entered competitions where I always came away with top rankings. Then it came time to go to high school.  My parents were concerned about the education I would get at our local high school and were particularly anxious about the level of attention paid to the arts given the emphasis locally on sports. A public performing arts high school had opened downtown only a few years before and I auditioned. I was accepted. After a summer at a camp at the local university for talented musicians I would be attending a performing arts high school majoring in instrumental music! I went there to see a performance of South Pacific. The program director wanted me to see the band performing and this was the end of the school’s season.

I was completely enraptured. Not with the band, they were in the orchestra pit and out of view, who cared about them? The actors! The actors on stage! I wanted to do THAT!

I had attended a couple of live theatre performances. There had been a school trip to see a production of Comedy of Errors and our 6th grade music teacher had taught us the libretto of the opera Tales of Hoffman before taking us to see it. But this, this was a performance by high school kids! These were people my age! This was something I could do!

I started school that fall in the concert band and took private lessons from a professor at a nearby university. I played alto saxophone but they didn’t need an alto saxophone so I was handed a baritone saxophone. I also signed myself up for an elective class in the American Musical Theatre which had a touring performance group. Shortly I was going with the group to other schools to perform for other students. It was all over. Within another year I had changed my major to theatre. My mother had always been concerned that I would starve being a musician and urged me to have another career to fall back on. Acting wasn’t on the short list of things she had in mind.

Of course there are multiple factors at play in everyone’s life. We get a nudge here, a shove there… that marble barreling down the canyon takes a funny bounce…

I finished up high school as one of a handful of very well regarded actors in the program and was all set to go to a very prestigious arts program when things took a very funny bounce indeed. I had been accepted into the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University. I had a full free ride. My girlfriend had been accepted there as well. Things were ticking along quite nicely in fact. Then it all went somewhat pear-shaped.

SMU’s football program got the “Death Penalty” for paying players. As a result of this the school’s admissions program came under intense scrutiny and independent auditors were called in to vet prospective students receiving scholarships. I had achieved a nearly perfect SAT score in math by filling in half of the test at random. When placed next to the D’s in physics and math and the F’s in chemistry on my transcript the test scores painted a picture (In the auditor’s view) of a wildly intelligent but lazy kid not working up to his potential. I was told to take two math and science classes at a local community college, pass them both, and then re-submit my application to be considered for the fall. I would be cruising into August not knowing where I would be going to college.

I started opening the mail I’d been getting from another university. Turned out they were offering less in the way of scholarships, but they had a very well-respected program and they didn’t care that I couldn’t add. I would have to take on  a good deal of student loan debt and work lots and lots an lots of workstudy hours, but I’d be off to school in the fall. I took it. Ended up meeting my wife there.

So while the immediate cause of the change in schools was a football scandal that had nothing to do with me, my path into the performing arts still goes back to that afternoon in Mrs. King’s class.

Moving on…

Through high school and college and after I worked at various children’s theatres, outdoor dramas (Large scale outdoor history plays popular in the South and Midwest), and theme parks. I did voice-overs, local commercials, and industrial films. My wife and I lived in the Midwest near our families and I was a working actor, but I wasn’t making a living at it.  We decided that we’d make a run at New York, feeling we’d regret it later if we didn’t give it a shot.

Before moving I wrote a postcard to a friend I’d worked with a few years before. He called to offer some advice on the move. I asked what he was up to and he said “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Turns out he worked for a detective agency as a “Spotter” looking for counterfeit fashion items in Chinatown.  They hired actors exclusively for this position, as most actors are literate, can memorize quickly, are able to change their appearance, and now and again go away for a few months at a time when they get a job.

The minute I got to New York I started pestering these people for a job. After about a year of day gigs as a lighting technician and actually acting from time to time I went to work as a spotter. Two years later I was made a full-time investigator. It paid more than I was making as an actor and was steady work.

Later the company imploded. I went back to acting for a while and then we decided that seven years was long enough and that I needed to leave New York before I killed someone (Likely a cabbie) or had a stroke (While beating a cabbie to death). I pursued a number of possibilities, but it was my experience as an investigator that won the day and we moved to the Wild Wild West.

And here we are. Along the way I’ve tried to be other things. I fought hard for several years to be a New York City firefighter. In the long, quiet watches of the night I sometimes fear I will lie on my deathbed regretting not becoming a blacksmith. But at the end of the day, here I am. I’m 43 years old. I’ve been married for 19 years. I’ve worked in the PI business for the last fifteen years because I needed a day job when I was trying to make it as an actor in NYC. I was a professional actor because I’d spent years training throughout high school and college where, by the by, I met the incredible woman who would become my wife. I’d studied acting after seeing a show at a performing arts school where I’d been accepted as a musician. I’d made it as a musician because of the support I’d received from my family and the excellent training from my teachers and band directors along the way, starting with Mr. Sloan in the Eisenhower Elementary School 5th grade band… that I joined so I could get out of class when I was 10 years old.

Take good care.

© 2012 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator