Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Skellig Michael

There have been several times now when I've meant to post a blog after doing something really awesome: the midnight paddle through the Kinsale harbor, figuring out how to sail, and probably others that I've forgotten by now. I had one of those experiences this weekend, and I'm actually being timely in sharing it.

This past weekend Amy, David, and I went to Skellig Michael, off the coast of the Iveragh peninsula, more commonly known as the Ring of Kerry. Skellig is Gaelic for crag, and it is basically a rocky island 7-9 miles offshore that was home to a monastic settlement for ~600 years, approximately 1000 years ago. This trip is not for the fainthearted; even sea-sickness medication didn't help the boat ride to the island, and once you've landed and managed to jump from the boat to the slippery cement steps that welcome you to shore, you are facing 600 ft of steps going straight up. No handrails, no escalators, no canteen serving tea & scones at either the top or the bottom. But once you get up to the top, it is amazing. Only 12 monks lived here at a given time, and the 50 or so tourists who were with us that day made it all the more cramped. Here are some pics:

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Waterford (home to more than just crystal)

The next weekend of August we decided on a trip to Waterford. When I say 'we', I'm referring to my friends Amy and David, who are also here from the states courtesy of Lilly. I'm very grateful for their company!

Waterford is considered the oldest town in Ireland; it was the first sacked by the Vikings, who gave it its name (Vedrafjord). There a fair bit of the old town walls remaining, including this round tower that was set at a corner. The main reason we went, however, like so many other people, was the crystal. Not that any of us are the type to go on a shopping spree in the gift shop, especially when there were so many gaudy things in the giftshop.

Surprisingly, the crystal was only made starting in the 1950s, and was only made in Waterford because there was easy access to birch trees. There's crystal available lots of places in Ireland, including Kinsale, because we have ample sand. The plant is closed in Waterford now, so when you visit you only see the process for how the crystal was made. Our guide was particularly bitter about the sudden closing of the plant and the loss of his pension, but it makes sense when you consider there aren't a lot of transferrable skills associated with crystal making, carving, or etching.

I've posted some pics of the factory tour here (Facebook).

After a fantastic Italian dinner (partially due to the fact that we were starving, and partially due to the fact that David found a pearl in one of the mussels served in his pasta), we traveled further east to Hook Head peninsula, which is just over the border in Co Wexford. To save time, we took a ferry, which is quite possibly the shortest ferry in existence; it takes < 5 mins to cross the river. It's a wonder there wasn't a bridge built.

Hook Head has an awesome 12th century lighthouse, perched on a bit of rocky ground that very gradually makes its way to the sea. This corner of the world is the namesake of the phrase 'By hook or by crooke'; Hook is this pensinsula, and Crooke is a town on the west side of the Ferry stop - Oliver Cromwell used the phrase to indicate his intent to capture Waterford.

The ecology of the rocks was amazing, and the more I travel the world, the more amazed I am at the diversity in rocks and plants as you move from place to place. We had traveled maybe 100 miles, and the plant life on the rocks was so different from Inchydoney beach the weekend before.

The ocean meets the land

It was a busy day, but full of beautiful views of Ireland.

sunset at church ruins on Hook Head

Monday, August 2, 2010

Bank Holiday!

It has been awhile since I've posted. . During the month of August, I have been really taking advantage of my time. Let's see....

Since my last post, I think the highlight was the bank holiday weekend at the beginning of August. No one seems to know what bank holidays are, but we all get a day off work so no one complains. It seems that people don't usually travel the way that we Americans do on our 3-day weekends; the locals seem to enjoy just taking time to relax.

The weekend started with a trip to the bars in Cork to celebrate a co-worker's maternity leave (this was her idea), and to welcome me and another American who was visiting for just the week. Numerous beers were had, possibly too many, and I haven't had a wild night out since.

Bank Holiday weekend also was a visit to West Cork, to Clonakilty, which is home to a brand of black pudding, and more importantly, Michael Collins, a (rebel, according to the English) leader for Irish independence in the 1920s. Clon has a beautiful beach just outside it.

To finish the long weekend I went sea kayaking around Old Head and near Kinsale (but I didn't bring a camera!) Around the coast, there are lots of small caves, which are smelly but impressive. I saw jellyfish, anemonies, and maybe a crab or two. Nothing very exotic, but a great introduction to what's in the water around me. The course was part of a certification program, so we had to show proficiency at certain skills such as water rescue. So, I got my first taste (and feel) of the Atlantic Ocean in Ireland! Freezing!

A taste of the West Cork coastline at Inchydoney beach

Another common site in West Cork; stone cirles like this one in Drombeg

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


It's a lovely day; it's been a lovely week, in fact. I've had a busy past few weekends full of visitors from the states; Liz and Vann on their honeymoon, and then Becca, stopping over after a work trip to Waterford. It was great to have visitors because I was feeling a little overwhelmed with the change. But since then, I've become much more familiar driving around and getting my bearings. Becca and I visited Cork City on Saturday afternoon, making the obligatory stop to H&M, so now I'm much more confident in spending the next 5.5 months here on my own.

I also cooked my first turnip this weekend, quite possibly the largest turnip on Earth, which Liz bought on last turnip-obsessed Sunday afternoon. It turns out it tastes delicious (even as a leftover) when cooked with carrot, then mixed with browned shallot and garlic, then garnished with parsley. I'm eating some now, in fact! I'm sitting on my patio, watching the boats in the river below, and enjoying the sunshine.

One item of note is that today is my 7 year anniversary with Lilly. I can't think of a better reward for 7 years than to be relaxing in the Irish countryside, eating turnips :) I brought in rice krispie treats to work today (a coincidence, it was to celebrate a co-workers upcoming maternity leave). The common Irish recipe is to substitute chocolate for the marshmallows, and so I was entertained all day with coworkers reactions and comments. Greg, visiting from the U.S., was the first to dig in around 11:30. Wim my Dutch coworker told me they were light and fluffy, and Will told me they reminded him of a pre-packaged Kellogs treat that comes in a metallic blue wrapper, and he offered to bring me one to try (he was serious). Being Irish, everyone was grateful I had brought something, even something so basic.

More this weekend, which is a bank holiday weekend. I'm definitely going to travel somewhere, just not sure yet where I'll go...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's a lovely Saturday morning; I swear its been a week since I saw a blue sky! Today my first visitors are coming! Liz and Vann, the newlyweds, are making a stop on their whirlwind Irish honeymoon to spend a few days Chez Kelsey in Viking Wharf (which if I haven't said already, is my subdivision).

I've finished my first full week of work. It's amazing how, even if you move half a world a way, you still get into the workweek grind: waking up on Thursday mornings wishing it was Friday, walking out the door without your ID badge and then turning back to get it, the buzz around the office on Friday afternoons. I've learned some interesting Lilly-related work things about Ireland, but those are too boring to talk about here. Instead, I'll share some Irish folklore.

Thursday was St Swithin's Day, similar to our Groundhog Day in the U.S. Here's an excerpt from an Irish culture website:
St Swithin's Day, if it does rain
Full forty days, it will remain
St Swithin's Day, if it be fair
For forty days, t'will rain no more

This charming weather rhyme is well known throughout the British Isles and Ireland. St Swithin was an early Saxon Bishop of Winchester and legend says that as he lay on his deathbed, he asked to be buried in the common graveyard, "where the rain would fall on him and the feet of ordinary men could pass over him"

It did indeed rain on Thursday, but so far we are clear this morning. It's true that the weather in Ireland changes every 5 minutes, so I'm sure St Swithin's proclamation will be true.

I've also learned this week that the Irish love their walks. There are few sidewalks, especially once you get out of town, but it's very common to see people walking down the roads, often with a dog off its leash. Coworkers have given me two books of good walking tours in Cork. If the weather holds up, we will attempt one of them this afternoon.

And now, some photos from a walk around Compass Hill on Tuesday evening:

View from Compass Hill to the River Bandon and Castlepark opposite, and Kinsale Harbor beyond. I live on Compass Hill but don't have quite this nice of a view

View of town from Compass Hill

An Irish gate - ingenious!

It's true that no one has forgotten the famine, 150+ yrs later. Small memorial outside of Kinsale

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Few Words on Irish Auto Repair

After my adventurous Sunday becoming familiar with the doughnut and car jack in my rental Toyota during my maiden sightseeing voyage, I have gotten my car repaired. My coworkers had lots of comments on Monday, thankfully no one making fun of me for getting into car trouble early. Here's a summary of what I've learned about cars in Ireland over the past 48 hrs:

1. A 'tire' is actually a 'tyre'
2. a 'flat tire' is referred to as a 'punctured tyre'. If you're talking with someone from Co. Cork, this sounds like 'punk't tire'.
3. The terrible shape of the roads is a common discussion point. It was apparently a bad winter; there are numerous potholes, and even the plant newsletter has requested certain roads be avoided out of respect for the neighboring residents
4. If you do have to replace a tire, it will run you approx €75, and it's not necessary to replace the full set just because one is bad.
5. Because of the terrible roads, flat tires are common. Getting a flat tire after 3 days of driving in Ireland means that I'm getting something out of the way that was bound to happen eventually, or
6. Getting a flat tire after 3 days of driving in Ireland has me prepared to weather the next 6 months.
7. John O'Leary Auto Service is the closest garage to the Lilly plant in Ballyregan, Kinsale, 021-4775590. Note to self for future reference.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

It's the end of my first week , and nearly the first full weekend, in Kinsale. It was a short week; I arrived early Wednesday morning and stayed awake long enough to get into my apartment, shower, and eat a small meal. I slept through my first official day in Ireland. Two quick days at work and the week was over. Compared to my trip here two weeks ago, the weather the past few days has been more typically Irish. Yesterday in the lashing rain I made my first trip into town for shopping. I take it as a positive I was only honked at a few times.
Rainy view from my apartment, Sat 10-Jul

These past few days have been a good lesson in everything I take for granted: scissors, decent kitchenware, a comfortable bed, lightbulbs. I've also realized everything that I should have brought but didn't: more cool weather clothing and more kitchen stuff (including my kitchen scale; I have no idea how I will measure things by weight). But all things considered, my apartment is much nicer than I would have expected, and I was able to buy most things I need.

This afternoon I took my first day trip; the short journey to Old Head. It's the name of the closest peninsula to Kinsale. The trip started out well; I felt comfortable driving and was excited when I could start to see tha Atlantic ahead of me. Not sure what happened next, but I managed to slice a 3-inch gap in my front passenger tire, completely flat (I could hear the air hissing out), on a narrow road in rural Ireland with no driveway in sight. But I got it fixed, and spent the next few hours enjoying the peninsula; you can't get to the very tip because there's a golf course there, but you can still see beautiful views of the rocks, the water, and other heads in the distance. For a Midwestern girl, even this is beautiful.

The coastline at Old Head

I'm sitting in my living room now, watching the end of the World Cup. I've become quite the fan during my last few weeks in Europe. I love the overdramatics of the players when they argue against a foul or when they get hurt (or pretend to get hurt), and after watching a few games I'm starting to understand the strategy of the game, and why there are so many fans. I have coworkers from both the countries who are playing tonight, and I'm sure tomorrow there will be much discussion, regardless of who wins.

The Irish countryside