MOUNT DORA, Fla. — “Just about gotten warm enough to doze, huh?” the tall, thin man asked the fellow whose height could not be determined with certainty because he was slouched in a comfy-looking, antique office chair. “Yep,” said the sitting man, “and as few […]
Long before it was separated into the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland, this island was occupied by dozens of contentious tribes. Jealous and aggressive, they were often embroiled in battles against one another, or a few of them might briefly join forces against another tribe. […]
The lesson to know before hand: You CAN get there from here, but more slowly.
Ireland has about 54,000 miles of paved road, but less than 100 are classified as highway. Most of the rest is two-lane, rural roads and on these you are bound to find yourself behind tractors or large trucks.
So remember that you can’t go anywhere quickly. Distances on road maps do not equate with the sort of driving times learned in the United States.
The Irish Republic’s traffic engineers are more than just fond of roundabouts — what we call traffic circles. They seem to be more frequent than gas stations. When approaching a roundabout, learn to slow down, always yield to the traffic coming from your right, point the hood ornament to where you need to go and accelerate.
Of course, actually understanding where you need to go is another matter:
Any time you approach a roundabout, or an intersection from which you may need to turn, swallow your Interstate pride, slow down or pull off — on the left side of the road — to decipher the basic roundabout sign. This is a whole or partial circle – the “round’’ – with spokes projecting to the outside. Those are your choices of exits from the roundabout.
The spokes will at least be labeled with road numbers, possibly also road names. You must know which of these you want to turn left on before entering the roundabout. Then you simply assert your right to whatever lanes you need within the roundabout to reach that exit spoke, use your turn signal and leave quickly.
If the confounding signs or traffic cause you to miss your exit, remember these solutions:
/ If you are still in the roundabout, you will be circling toward your preferred exit again, so this time prepare to leave.
/ And if you have already taken an incorrect exit, realize there almost certainly is another roundabout a few miles down the road. Enter that one and circle all the way through, until you can exit back toward the direction that brought you to this second roundabout. Then, understand in advance of the upcoming roundabout which is your correct exit and when you will need to be in the left-most lane to use it.
It takes some getting used to — just as you have to remember to look to the right when leaving a parking lot.
DINGLE, Ireland — All five bar stools are occupied this spring afternoon in Dick Mack’s, a pub of some acclaim in this village at the western edge of Ireland. Yet untouched on the bar are pints of beer just served to new customers. Two of […]
HONOLULU — It is one of the most famous vacation destinations in the world. Conventioneers wearing name badges gulp down mai tais at the nightly luaus. Tourists with colored tour-company stickers on their shirts giggle as they try the hula. Pro and amateur surfers paddle […]
KELLS, Ireland — Ireland’s ancient past whispers from its ruins, fallen remnants of war and religion, fragments of communities that flourished centuries ago.
Quiet here, at Kells Priory. So quiet you can hear the sheep tear the grass as they graze. Birds flit about the massive stone walls, chirping and tweeting.
Birds and sheep only, where once hundreds of people lived and worked and prayed. But those throngs have been gone for about 450 years. They left crenelated walls encircling the shells of several buildings, with guard towers marking the corners.
Amid the chunks of fallen stone, dandelions and smaller flowers dot the grass. Walls of buildings that may date to the 12th century reach so high that windows have been cut on six levels.
Livestock were kept in a wide courtyard bounded by the outer walls. Archaeologists report that the fragments still standing define a mill, an infirmary, a brewery. Over there was a graveyard, over here are cellars, above are the arched windows of a large chapel.
Kells Priory is little visited now because of its isolated location, about 9 miles from Kilkenny, a bustling town of about 23,000. But the Kells is almost a ghost town. On this Wednesday in May, I have all the ghosts, their buildings, the sheep and the birds to myself.
It is far different at the dramatic Rock of Cashel, urban Kilkenny Castle and the wooded, former monastic village that is Glendalough. Also ancient sites, they must have better press agents, for while their stories are different from that of the Kells, the other places are not more intriguing, to anyone with an imagination.
Ireland is filled with such centuries-old places, remnants of successive invasions and notable religious developments. They give us clues to life when inland settlements grew up in the shelter of castle walls and monastery towers, and simple people eked out a living from the soil or tending livestock, bartering among themselves and with passing traders.
The stone walls that monks and royalty built protected the inhabitants from the arrows and battering rams of invaders and combative neighbors. The briefest of looks at other worthy destinations:
/ The Rock of Cashel is one of Ireland’s most photographed landmarks, for two reasons: The ruins are in an excellent state of partial restoration, with work progressing as governmental funds are allocated, and the site is spectacular.
When construction started early in the 12th century, the bishop-king of the region set Cashel (it means stone fort) atop a limestone hill that suddenly juts about 200 feet above surrounding plains. Cashel’s round tower, church and castle buildings make for a striking and much-visited scene.
/ An undistinguished village nestles below the Rock of Cashel, but a true town surrounds Kilkenny Castle, making its riverside location less imposing.
Originally the site for a castle started in 1172 by the great Norman leader Strongbow, this structure was renovated several times and now resembles a 17th-century chateau. The interior rooms open for touring have been refurbished in a Victorian motif. The No. 1 tourist site in this ancient town, the castle draws about 345,000 visitors a year — and uncounted hundreds of locals on pleasant days, to picnic and loll on its grassy laws..
/ Kilkenny has grown up all around its castle, but the ruins of Glendalough (GLEN-duh-lock) sit in quiet splendor in a lovely valley.
Forests and brilliant yellow gorse form the backdrop, and a swift stream is one of the boundaries for the monastery, founded in the 6th century. It drew thousands of faithful over the centuries, until falling into ruin about the time Columbus was heading toward the New World.
Most of the original buildings are gone or are mere foundations, but Glendalough has one of Ireland’s great round towers (102 feet high), which were typical of the ancient Christian communities and served as bell towers, lookouts and landmarks for pilgrims.
Also at the site, a graveyard contains timeworn Celtic crosses, and nearby paths lead to two lakes, from which the site takes its ancient name. (It was St. Patrick who created the Celtic cross — combining the Christian symbol with the circle that Irish pagans used to represent the all-important sun they worshipped.)
As restful as its setting is, Glendalough suffers from its proximity to Dublin — less than 120 miles to the north – so that by noon on weekdays, it can be awash in irreverent schoolchildren on field trips and busloads of tourists.
Weekends, the site belongs to daytrippers out for a picnic in the country. Not such a bad way to embrace history.
For More Information
An excellent, nonprofit site focusing on historical attractions is at www.heritageireland.ie/en/
FALKIRK, Scotland — There was a time, a couple of centuries ago, when the best way to move people and freight across the land was on canals. Scotland, surrounded by water on three sides, became the first nation in the world to dig intersecting cross-country […]
Even from the back seat of a tow truck, England’s Lake District is lovely. Gentle slopes give way to steep hills, often faced with granite. Lush green meadows are stitched by stone walls, to corral the livestock. On a chill fall morning, horses wear blankets, […]
MANCHESTER, England — Situated among gently rolling hills about 185 miles northwest of London, Manchester was one of the outposts for Rome’s legions in the late First Century A.D. They stayed about three centuries, to be followed by Vikings, Scots and other Europeans.
It’s fair to say none of them would recognize the place now.
The development really started in the 17th century, when forward thinkers decided to import cotton from the New World to build Manchester’s textile business, according to docents in the city’s Museum of Science & Industry.
When the Industrial Revolution arrived in the 1700s, and steam power replaced water wheels, Manchester was launched.
A canal was built to bring the cotton from the docks of mighty Liverpool, 38 miles away. Manchester’s population roughly tripled between 1770 and 1800. Among the newcomers: mechanics and inventors, who understood Manchester could offer them work and pay for experimenting.
They developed machines to speed the processing of the raw cotton; it arrived in bales that still contained leaves and twigs from the ground of America’s South. The machines refined the cotton thread, then strengthened it before it was used in looms to create cloth. The museum docents demonstrate the processes on clattering machinery left from Manchester’s heyday.
The world’s first train dedicated to hauling both freight and passengers arrived here in 1830; that station, in rebuilt form, is one of the museum’s buildings.
Manchester became the de facto mechanical laboratory for the Industrial Revolution.
The bustling city’s roughly 100 companies turned out millions of square yards of cloth – an estimated 70 percent of all the world’s textiles. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli nicknamed it Cottonopolis.
To host the visiting monied crowd, huge hotels went up in the most ornate Victorian and Edwardian styles. City Hall, created by Venetian craftsmen and occupying a city block, opened in 1877 and is still in use.
There would be eventual decline — the city hasn’t produced a significant amount of cloth for more than a quarter-century. But oddly, it was a huge truck bomb, detonated by the Irish Republican Army in 1996, that led to the rejuvenation or rehabilitation of the city core:
The blast, which injured about 200, angered enough people with money that they decided to invest in Manchester’s future.
Now the lively town is home to an estimated 85,000 college students, Great Britain’s largest Chinese community after London’s, a bubbling cauldron of pop music creativity (everyone from Herman’s Hermits to Morissey and the Smiths), an acclaimed symphony orchestra, and a vibrant arts scene.
And then there’s world-famed Manchester United, the soccer team that lost David Beckham, and its arch-rival, Manchester City.
If you’re coming to take in England’s glorious Lake District, a couple of hours’ drive north, you can fly nonstop from the U.S. to Manchester. Spend a couple of days here, to get a feel for this great-again city.
For all the starting advice you’ll need, including help with reservations, go to the city’s official tourism site, .
GREENWICH, England — Kings and queens vacationed here for nearly five centuries. The world sets its watches from here. Sailors successfully navigate using a device on display in this town. All of it is a half-hour’s narrated boat ride down the Thames from the Tower […]