Lush green fields dotted with sheep, mountain high cliffs
overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and waves lapping at the foot of the cliffs.
Scenic views that call those with a bit of Irish blood from around the world to
come and visit. It’s a peaceful place. A place to sit on one of the hills and
listen to the splashing water, meditate, and wonder how life used to be in this
The windowless hallway leads the way; steel doors sealed
shut with padlocks. I bump into someone, a member of my tour. We are in prison,
but at the end of the tour, we will be out of prison. Unlike the men, women,
and children who spent days, months, and years in this prison for stealing food
because they were starving.
Ireland experienced a very dark time in its history. Men
could not make the payments on the rents of their homes owned by English
landlords who lived not in Ireland but England. The Great Famine also referred
to as the Great Hunger began in 1845 with a pest infecting the potatoes.
Potatoes turned black and the farmers lost their only source of income.
The English grabbed healthy potatoes and sent them to
England. The Irish had only the rotten potatoes to feed their families. Irish
men had only a few choices left for supporting their families. They worked in
pensions owned by the English. They gave up their land and possessions to gain
admittance to the pensions which paid little.
Irish women had to seek food and shelter for their children. They became
desperate and began to steal to provide food for their families.
The families were left destitute and ended up in prison.
This was a time when families collected money from their
relatives and took out loans to send their children to North America to find
jobs because there were none in Ireland. Tourists who visit Ireland go to the
Guinness beer museum, hike in the lush grass, and eat at the numerous bars and
restaurants. Not many people venture into the dark history of Ireland’s past,
something that should not be forgotten.
Early immigration began with the Irish seeking a better
life. No different than those traveling now to the US seeking a better
experience. No one wanted the Irish when they first arrived to the US. They
were dirty and known for drinking and being lazy. The same view people have of
the recent asylum seekers to the U.S. They are criminals, lazy, and must be
feared. These people are no different from the Irish. They are fleeing poverty,
political problems, and crime.
Tourists go to Ireland because they want to drink and have
fun. Some go to look for their roots, grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts.
Visits to cemeteries and small villages give them a small window to look into
and get a glimpse of what life may have been.
I saw people with freckles and red hair, and I found people
who were darker in color. Immigrants from Central and South America, Africa,
Asia, and Arab. East Indians owned the
local hotel where I stayed.
The US government has caused a severe problem. Keeping
people from crossing the border is no different than keeping the Irish
immigrants on their ships and refusing them permission to embark on American
soil. They were said to have diseases. Some of them died on the boat before
they were able to get much needed medical help.
Now, we celebrate the Irish. We have big parades on St
Patrick’s day. We turn many lakes and rivers green. Every one declares they are
Irish even if they aren’t. The US has more Irish living here than in the
country of Ireland. Some of these recent immigrants are returning to Ireland.
Life in the US is not what they want. Ireland has become more prosperous and
can offer high tech jobs.
The immigrants coming to the U.S. are of color. Our current
government wants to keep them out. This is sad and neglectful. We have no right
to discriminate against those who are not white.
Let’s not forget why Irish parents were willing to send
their teenage sons and daughter on a ship so far away. For the same reasons,
people do it today: better opportunities in education and employment. They want
their children to do better than what they can do in their own countries
because of corruption, crime, and poverty.
Think about that when you go to Ireland and drink glass
after glass of Guinness beer.
I am never late. I arrive thirty minutes early for lunch, dinner dates, lectures, doctor’s appointments, and classes. I arrive at the airport two hours before my flight is scheduled to take off. I want to avoid possible traffic tickets, flat tires, traffic jams, and car accidents. Today I am thankful to arrive early.
My flight from Heathrow airport was scheduled to take off at 8:30 am.
I got a hotel near the airport. I had to check in three hours before because it was an International flight. I scheduled the hotel shuttle to pick me up at 5:00 am. I didn’t sleep well.
I am always afraid I will miss the plane.
The alarm blasted at 4:00 a.m. I got dressed and went to the lobby to wait for my ride. I packed my bag the night before. I checked the areas around the room to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind and I felt confident everything was stored in my backpack and carry on lugage. I turned in my keys and waited for the shuttle to arrive. It was a fifteen-minute ride to the airport.
Upon arriving at the airport I unzipped my backpack to retrieve my passport. It wasn’t there. I kept it in a pouch that is thief resistant. That is what the advertisement said. I went into a panic attack. I opened up my suitcase which was locked. I located the key, unlocked the suitcase, and unzipped the entire bag and set it on the floor. There were a few people who looked at me as if I were crazy. I was crazy. What would I do if I couldn’t find my passport? Would I be delayed? How would I prove I was a US citizen? I would have to stay in London until I got a new passport. Maybe they would detain me. Would they put me in jail? My eyes filled with tears.
I took out all of my clothes and laid them on the unoccupied
seats. I put my hand in all of the pockets. I unzipped every pocket of the bag.
Nothing. I proceeded to pack my bag again. People were staring at me. I wonder
what they thought. What is this crazy lady looking for? I zipped up my bag and
locked it. What do I do now?
I dumped the contents of my backpack on the seat. I put my hand in every single pocket once again. Nothing. I couldn’t find my passport. I sat down and took and deep breath. I prayed to God and asked Sumio to tell me where it was. I reached over to my bag and gave it one last go over. I stuck my hand in the front pocket and there it was. Why was it there? I never put my passport in that pocket.
I cried. The people around me were relieved. I looked up and smiled. They smiled back. I thanked God and Sumio and went on my way clutching on to my passport never letting it out of my sight again.
The departure schedule with my flight number was not
available yet. I rushed towards the gate where it might take off. A young man was
sitting there with his cell phone in his hand.
I asked him “Are you catching the flight to Chicago?”
“Do you know the departure gate for the flight?”
“They don’t post until thirty minutes before the departure
time. It will be one of these gates.”
My stomach was growling. I hadn’t eaten anything all
morning. I located a coffee shop and ordered a coffee and scone. The scone was
dry and the coffee was bitter.
There was nothing more to worry about. It was now the
pilot’s responsibility to get me to Chicago.
I checked my bag one more time and grabbed on to my passport. I was safe!
Before I set off for England as a solo traveler, I tried to search for information on using trains and the subway for getting around. I wasn’t able to dig up any useful information. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places. After spending three weeks in England, I have the knowledge to give to anyone who is planning a trip of their own.
England was easy to navigate. I am one to easily get lost. I spent the first day wandering the streets for about eight hours. I got lost, but with the help of locals was able to find my way back to my hotel every night. I spent four days in London, three days in Cambridge, three days in Oxford, three days in Bath, and one week in Hebden Bridge.
1. The London Pass
You can buy the London Pass online before you arrive. Print out the receipt which will have a barcode. You must go to the London Pass office in Trafalgar Square to get your pass. You will not be able to use the barcode on the receipt for entry into any of the sites. You must have a blue card, the London pass. The pass allows you to visit up to thirty sites for free.
The two-day pass allows for riding the Hop-on Hop-off bus for one day, 9:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m. You can’t ride the bus the following day. The second day allows you to visit the sites listed in the guide book given to you when you get your London Pass.
There wasn’t any real-time commentary on the bus. You can collect blue earbuds when you enter the bus, and everything is prerecorded. I highly recommend going to pick up your pass when they open and get on the first bus. The traffic in London will hold you back for about an hour.
Note: In many countries and cities, the Hop on Hop off buses are red. All of the public buses in England are red. The Hop on Hop off in London is blue. It’s easy to get confused.
2. The Oyster Card
You will be issued, and Oyster pass with £15. You can use this for both the “underground” and buses. The underground may be confusing, but once you figure out the main stations of Victoria, Piccadilly Circus, and Paddington, you will be a pro. When in doubt, ask. The English are friendly. The maps feature on your iPhone will help you get around.
Note: Remeber to download the walking directions when you have wifi. There were times I found myself wandering around without directions because there was no wifi. Free wifi is available in some coffee shops others will require you to buy something before giving you the code. I always went back to the same coffee shop because the code never changes. Cosi is a great place to have coffee and sit for a while when it is raining.
Are you planning on traveling to other towns in London? Download the train line app. Enter the dates and times you want to go. The training app will provide you with information to help you choose the most comfortable, cheapest, or fastest route to your destination. Make your reservations at least three days in advance and get discounts. The tickets are non-refundable. The seats are comfortable. I recommend you do not travel during the busy morning or evening commutes. The trains can become very crowded. The evening trains have some grumpy travelers because they are trying to get home from work.
Note: Download the instructions on your phone. They will tell you exactly where to go. There is wifi on the train to keep you on track.
Buses are trickier to navigate than the underground. The schedules are posted at the stops. The tricky part is trying to figure out where the bus stops. I never trusted my instincts on this one. I always asked before getting on. You must have a travel card or contactless card. I used my Oyster card until it ran out. I can honestly tell you I only rode the bus twice. I preferred to walk.
I like walking. You can see so much by getting lost. Yes, I do get lost. I always come upon an event I would not be able to experience if I were on a bus or underground. I observed the Queen’s horses being transferred from one stable to another. I found a pub on Downing street and ate my first fish and chips and listened to an American banker discuss how to apprehend a black suspect with an English lawyer. The waitress apologized for their loud voices and hoped they weren’t infringing on my lunch. They weren’t. They put away about six drinks each before they walked out.
I walked about eight hours everyday in every city I visited.
Footprints have free tours in Cambridge and Oxford. Students of the various colleges of the university are the tour guides. My tour at Cambridge was three hours in the rain. Cambridge, like Oxford, is not one university. They are both umbrellas for at least twelve colleges on their campuses. Some of the colleges have no more than six hundred students. We were not able to enter the gardens of these colleges because they were taking their final exams and preparing for May Balls, part of their graduation ceremonies.
The guides do ask for a tip that goes into the Footprints project.
Kings College is the oldest building on the campus of Cambridge. It took one hundred years to build. Our Footprints guide told us the only way we could see the inside of King’s College Abby was to attend an Evensong performance. The choir sang, and the tourists listened. Evensong is a religious service performed in the evening by the Anglican church. Evensong takes place in most of the Abbeys and is opened to the public. You may enter in casual wear.
I’m a very shiny brown
Have black chipped horns
And a black nose with a white stripe around it
I sit posed with my legs bended back
I am kneelingI never move
A little boy 5 years old runs up to me and sits down on my back
“Take my picture” he pleads to his parents in Swiss German
His parents take out their camera and snap a couple of pictures
His mother hugs him in the picture
He gets off, and they go on their way
Another little boy approaches with much more vigor.
He climbs all over and ends up on top of my horns
He can’t sit still long enough for the picture
His parents aim the camera while he continues to wiggle around
Not sure what the picture will show
Dogs are barking. They are on vacation too
Not sure what language they are barking in.
A woman in her fifties wearing a midnight blue sweater
Puts her arms around me and her husband snaps a picture
A young woman with a baby sits down pushing the carriage back and forth
Her baby is napping
Her husband snaps a picture and takes a phone callI never get angry
I am very patient
I am frozen in time
I am made of plastic
A girl in a pink shirt sits down
Calls her mom and little sister to sit with her
Her father takes a selfie with his stick
I don’t move
I continue to stare ahead
Why do people crawl all over me
I am hungry
Why can’t I move
Frozen in time
People heading back to their buses
A Buddhist monk walks by in an orange cloak
He sits on a bench
Are they hungry? Tired?
A few feet from me lies a black and white cow
He is being poked by a two-year-old
His mom urges him to take her hand
No, he wants to sit on the cow a little bit longer
He begins to cry
A man with a black turban sits with his son
He also wears a small black head cover
His wife stands by wearing a long white dress and sun glasses
The little boy sits on the horns
He is eating ice cream
Waiting for a ride
“My head hurts,” says the cow
Can you get off my head, please?
His bag hangs on my horns
The bus is ready to leave
His father urges him to board the bus
It will be leaving soon
Two little boys are sliding down my nose
They are hugging me and squeezing my earsThe people board the bus
I now have a few moments to myself before the next tourists come
Malahide was not on my list of places to see in Ireland. I heard about it from one of the walking tours in Dublin. I was on my fifth day in Dublin and decided to explore the small town by myself.
It is really easy to travel around the Dublin area. I walked everyplace and scoped out the bars and coffee shops. I think there are about as many coffee shops as there are bars.
I took the opportunity to take a train to Malahide and it was worth the experience.
Malahide Castle is located in Malahide, Dublin County, Ireland. Take the Irish Rail at the Dublin/Connaly station. The train leaves the station every 25 minutes. The time from Dublin to Malahide is about 30–35 minutes long.
This squirrel is in front of the Irish Rail and the Dublin/Connaly station
When you arrive in the town of Malahide, you can take this train or walk. The train is not free and many times is reserved for groups. The walk is about 20 minutes to the castle.
The train from the station to the castle
The castle grounds include the courtyards, a place to have coffee or a quick lunch, the garden with plants from all over the world, and a playground for young children.
Admission to Malahide Castle and the Gardens is $14.97.
Malahide Castle is one of the oldest castles in Ireland. Malahide “Mullach Ide” means the “the hill of Ide” or “Ide’s sandhill” in Gaelic. The Vikings settled in Malahide in 795. King Henry II built the castle and gifted it to his friend Sir Richard Talbot. Sir Talbot provided his support and protected the King during the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
The Talbots came to Ireland as a Norman family originally from France. They lived in the castle from 1185–1976. They were considered one of the most prominent and powerful Irish Catholic families in Dublin. When the Battle of the Boyne took place, fourteen members of the Talbot family sat down to have breakfast. They were killed before evening.
It is said that the little girl’s eyes will follow you all of the way up the stairs
Coat of arms “Hound and Wolf”
Rose Talbot, the last living relative, sold the castle to the State of Ireland to help pay the inheritance taxes.
Fireplace in Living Room
Remains of the Abbey. It was also used as a cemetary.
Talbot Botanical Gardens
The Talbot Botanical Gardens is a walled garden. It has seven greenhouses and a Victorian Conservatory. Plants from the Southern Hemisphere, Chile, and Australia, grow in the garden.
Public areas and picnic grounds
The City Malahide
Malahide is an affluent coastal suburban town. One thousand people lived in Malahide in the early 19th century. The local industry was salt harvesting and other commercial operations importing coal and construction materials.
The population increased to 15,846 in 2011. It is now a seaside resort for wealthy Dublin city dwellers.
Mermaid by the sea
Malahide is a small town with a great personality. The people are friendly, the food is fresh, and not inundated with tourists. A car is not necessary to get around. It is easier to walk because there isn’t much parking available.
Malahide might not be on your list of places to visit in Ireland, but it should be.
Today is a perfect day to visit a castle in Ireland. Grey, misty, damp, and a bit of mystery in the air. Castles are mysterious, secretive and overwhelming.
Ireland never had any kings. They were under the kingdom and power of England. The Normans came to Ireland in the Medieval times and built castles that didn’t last long. They were trying to conquer Ireland. Many of the castles became ruins or were destroyed. Irish castles were built by foreigners trying to overtake and control the Irish people.
My four classmates, a married couple from New Jersey, two Irish women, and I pile into an old blue Ford van. Members of the Ireland Writing Retreat on Donegal held up in the inn for almost four hours because of the continuous rain. It does that a lot in Ireland. The land looks desolated. There are a few farmhouses, some goats roaming around and eating grass, and a lot of green. It is green everywhere. At home in Arizona, I see the desert. Cactus, snakes, coyotes, and bobcats. It is exciting to experience a different climate.
Glenveagh Castle is located in Churchill, Letterkenny, Ireland. It is pouring. We jiggle the door latch to open the door. The door slides open and out we jump. My umbrella refuses to open. Norma, one of my Irish classmate attempts to share hers with me. Norma is an author. She has written two books. She is a very happy woman in her 80s and we have become friends. Her daughter is the same age as mine and we both lost our husbands about three years ago. She has become my hiking buddy. There is only one minor problem with the umbrella situation. She is much shorter than I. I slowly slip the umbrella out of her hands and hold it over both of our heads. We share a laugh. We head straight to the information center. The room is very small. The receptionist is behind the information desk. There are at least eight other people squeezed into the space. A family with two young boys is sitting on the bench. The older boy keeps asking his father “Do we have to see another castle? Can I wait in the car?” This kid is castled out. We get our tickets and have to wait for about twenty minutes. I am not waiting in this crowded office. I go outside and take pictures.
I have my trusty raincoat with a hood that I bought on Amazon one week before the trip. Thanks to the quick delivery provided by my Amazon Prime membership, it arrived two days before my flight. I am sure I will be protected. It is raining much harder now. My curiosity will not go away rain or not. I take out my camera. Cover the lens to the best of my ability and start snapping away. I am in the garden. The garden is walled and was planted and taken care of by the wife of John Adair, the original owner of the castle. Unlike her husband, Cornelia was a kind landlady and very generous to the poor. The garden was modeled after Italian gardens. There is a total of eleven hectares of informal gardens with a different theme. I wish I could see the flowers without the rain. The smell of the rain and the flowers are powerful for someone like me who sees rain twice a year. Yellow dahlias, pink and white roses, Japanese cherry blossoms, yellow osterglocken (daffodil) from Wales, white orchids from Panama (Holy Spirit Flower), and the pink Scottish Bluebell (national flower of Scotland). It is September and many of the flowers have reached their peak season.
I find a small bench and sit for a while protected from the torrential rain falling around me. I look around me and the mist has fallen and taken over the beautiful scenery of the garden. I find my mind wandering off and thinking what life would be in a castle. I look at my watch and realize our tour will begin in five minutes. I navigate my way to the entrance. I feel like I am walking in heaven. The rain makes me happy and gives me energy. It adds mystery to the castle.
John Adair was one of the most hated men in Ireland. Many Donegal natives would consider it a curse to even mention his name in conversation. Adair had a temper and felt a sense of entitlement that most people did not appreciate. He became a very affluent man by traveling to New York in 1850 and working on land speculation. In 1870, he returned to Glenveagh, Donegal. He began to buy up smaller portions of land the locals owned to create his large estate. The local farmers were struggling to keep their families fed and clothed. Adair was not interested in the problems of the people around him. He had no interest in helping them.
Adair had a dream. He wanted to build a castle that would be much bigger than Balmoral, Queen Victoria’s Scottish Retreat. In 1870 he built the castle on 16,958 hectares of mountains, bogs, lakes, and woods. Glenveagh Castle is four stories tall, rectangular, and made from granite. The walls are 11/2 meters thick. The castle includes turrets, a round tower, and fortified battlement ramparts to keep out the enemies. Adair didn’t have any enemies to keep out. He wanted to keep out the Irish farmers. They were no threat to him. Just a nuisance.
Our tour begins in the entryway. The walls are off-white and four pairs of deer busts with their antlers adorn the hallway. Two of them mounted on the wall and two on small pedestals. John Adair was an avid hunter. He replaced the poor Irish people with deer. How could a man be so cruel. We enter the music room. It is small, a blue ceramic fireplace is in the corner, blue/green plaid wallpaper on the walls (reminds me of my school uniform), an antler chandelier hangs in the center of the room, and a big window opens to the lake below.
Our guide tells us this is where the men hung out, smoked their cigars, and shared hunting stories. We visited the oval bedroom. The guests slept here. If they needed anything, they had a little bell that would summon the servants. There were twelve indoor staff and eight gardeners.
One of the bigger rooms in the castle is the Drawing Room where the women would meet. They gossiped, worshiped themselves in their mirrors and worried that their makeup would melt because the room was so warm. They didn’t want to “lose face”. The women talked about their husbands, boyfriends, and children. They didn’t have any household duties. If they needed someone to attend to them, they rang the bell and someone would be at their beck and call.
I wanted to find out how the castle was built. Who were the laborers who carried the stones from the lake and painstakingly built the walls? Were they paid for their work? Were they the poor Irish farmers living on the land of John Adair? The guide didn’t give us this information. Another mystery.
The first thing Adair did was to evict the local families. Some say it was because he wanted to “improve the view from his castle.” Who wants to look at the poor?” The local families lived in homes with thatched roofs made of cereal straw and reed covered with wooden rafters. The walls were double packed with earth. The floors were flagstone or packed earth that didn’t help in keeping the home warm. A hearth was located in the central area of the home. There were neither chimneys nor windows for the smoke to escape. The people would have had to pay more taxes for the windows. The soot-blackened homes were known as “black houses”.
The locals became very upset and protested his hunting retreats crossing over their lands. They reported him as trespassing. He became furious and even more determined to get these people off of the land. Adair wanted to use the land as a sheep farm. He had brought his own shepherds who eventually got into a bit of trouble. One of them was accused of murder and having an affair with a dead man’s wife. She became pregnant and was sent off to Scotland.
Eviction of the locals began with Adair acquiring the necessary documents that would allow him to send his “crowbar men” house-to-house evicting families. The first house they came upon was the home of a widow and her seven children. After the family was given the news, their house was destroyed so that they could not come back and live in it. A total of two hundred and forty-four people were homeless including one hundred and fifty-nine children. Michael O’Grady paid for half of the people to move to Australia. O’Grady had purchased land in Australia for the sole purpose of providing land for the displaced farmers. Forty-two of the evicted ended up in workhouses in Letterkenny. These evictions were the most infamous in the history of Ireland.
John Adair passed away in 1885. His wife lived until 1921 and was remembered as being kind-hearted. Glenveagh was bought by a Harvard professor, Arthur Kinsley Porter. He led a very lavish lifestyle. Frequent dinner parties, deer stalking, fishing, and kept a wonderful garden. He disappeared from nearby Inishbofin Island in 1933. His death is a mystery.
Castles are pieces of European history. They represent the great divide between the rich and the poor. Who built this grand castle in Glenveagh? There is no mention of the men who carried the massive granite stones one by one up and down the hills. Were these men paid? How much were they paid? Where are the answers? I can only guess that some of the farmers left behind built the castle with no pay. They were slave laborers. There is no plaque or description of the builders. Could it be something that people just want to forget? It is important to remember history and to honor those who put so much sweat into this great castle.
I left the castle with these questions. We stopped at the restaurant in the visitor center. There were pies, cookies, chocolates, tea, and coffee. I ordered coffee and a piece of cheesecake. I asked my group if they knew who built the castle. No one had the answer. The information desk wouldn’t give me an answer. Is it a secret? I want to know.
The van arrives. The rain slows to an annoying drizzle. I am disappointed. I would like to spend more time at the castle. We drive down the road and I can’t resist turning around and looking at the castle tower. It is so tall and profound. I can imagine what the life of the people outside of the castle and inside the castle was like. Two completely different groups occupying the same land.
The road we travel back is the same road that so many of the Irish walked to arrive at their ships taking them out of their country into a far and distant place. Places such as the USA and Australia, no longer in charge of their destiny.
This bridge was crossed by the evicted farmers and their families.
A message carved in Gaelic wishing everyone safe travels and mourning the loss of those who never returned
I look out into the vast green farmland. It is quiet and has an eerie feeling. There are no people in the fields, driving cars, or walking around. Was it always like this? It looks so lonely. No one talks as we make our way back to the Tec.