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March 29, 2005

March Flies When You Are Having Fun!

March can be an interminable month as all of us know who live in the Hudson Valley where the first day of spring doesn’t mean a thing. Winter snow, cold, rain and grey days go on and on. Well, I have beaten the winter blahs this year. You can, too. All you have to do is go on sabbatical, move to another country, entertain visitors and then throw in a quick trip to the U.S. to catch up with family and friends on the home front. Nothing to it.

My sister, Anne, rang in the month with a four-day trip to Ireland. She had some use-it-or-lose-it vacation days, and, as I have mentioned before, flights to Ireland are very reasonable in the off-season. She arrived on the usual pre-dawn flight the first Sunday morning in March. We only let her sleep briefly because the sun was out, and we were determined to take advantage of the surprisingly pleasant weather. While Mark fought his way through his regular tennis match, Anne and I went downtown to search for signs of spring in St. Stephen’s Green, the largest park in city centre. The formal areas had been ringed with pansies, which will suffer all kinds of indignities like intermittent snow and sleet. Daffodils in the south-facing beds were the early bloomers. st. stephen's round.jpg

The trees around the duck pond were beginning to develop a spring flush.

st. stephen's pond.jpg

A few blocks away sits Merrion Park, surrounded by handsome Georgian rowhouses. Lots of bulbs were blooming along the pathways, merrion daffs.jpg

and the heathers' pastels were lovely.
merrion heather.jpg

Mid-day, we hopped in our little car and steeled ourselves for Dublin traffic, which we knew would be worse than usual as it was Mother’s Day in Ireland – and a sunny one, to boot. We inched our way out of Dublin and headed down south to Brittas Bay, a beautiful sandy beach that reminded us of Nantucket’s South Shore with its beach grass dunes. The steady winds seem to dry out the sand, and it flows in little patterns down from the edge of the dunes.

dunes and grass.jpg

The omnipresent gorse makes it clear that this is Ireland and not the outwash plains off the US northeast coast.
beach gorse.jpg

We were all happy to be there breathing in salt air on this brisk spring-like day, and I have to share with you this photo of my cheery companions.

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We strolled along the beach as did couples and families playing with their dogs.

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Smooth stones are strewn across the powdery fine sand, and Anne and I got caught up in hunting for beautiful lucky stones.

anne hunting.jpg
Mark even joined the hunt, and we gave him lots of positive reinforcement for applying aesthetic standards (of any sort).

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As we gazed out to sea, Mark was the first to spot the off-shore windmills. We could just make out what appeared to be 7 windmills which turned to be about 4 miles off-shore at their closest point. I photographed them, but you will see they are (almost?) invisible. Apparently, there are some 200 turbines, each of which is 260 feet tall, along 16 miles of the Arklow Sandbank in the Irish Sea providing 10% of Ireland’s energy – at least that is what I have read. We hadn’t even noticed them at first, and it took some concentrated peering to see them once Mark had pointed them out. My vision isn’t that bad these days, thanks to Roger, so windpower quite literally looks like a good energy option to me these days.

Mark was teaching on Monday, and Anne and I hopped the city bus to Enniskerry where Powerscourt is. It was fall when I had been last there, and, as it was not yet raining and the weather had been mild, I was optimistic that spring had sprung in their gardens. I led Anne up into the front of the double-decker bus so that we would have a good view on our 45 minute trip. From there we would be able to see across fields, over walls into gardens, and, if we were lucky, how upstairs rooms are decorated. Anne was less enamoured than I of the thwap-thwap made by the tree branches whacking the front windows as we barreled along the narrow, winding roads that took us up into the village of Enniskerry. I find it quite exhilarating.

But she loved the views, and we snapped away as we hiked our way up out of the village into the grounds of Powerscourt. Note how the car parked in front of the understated garda (police) station matches the blue color the gardai use.
enniskerry gardai.jpg

And then the pink sheet blowing on the clothesline went quite nicely with the painted house. Is this not a tasteful little village?

enniskerry pink.jpg
We wandered through the graveyard and grounds of the local, well-kept stone Church of Ireland house of worship and then up the long entrance to Powerscourt. To one side lies the golf course, but more interesting to us was Sugar Loaf Mountain in the distance with its snow-covered summit.

sugar loaf.jpg
There were few visitors on this chilly March day, and we were able to photograph empty vistas - the stairway back up to the mansion,

and then back towards the south with the mansion behind us.


There was little spring-like growth, and that meant we could see the outlines of twisting branches.


There were many humungous monkey pod trees that Anne recognized from her visit with Steve back when he was living in Portland, Oregon.

monkey puzzle.jpg
In the tranquil Japanese garden we saw trees getting closer to budding

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and then we stumbled on one of the huge rhododendrun trees that, for some reason, had burst into bloom quite early. What welcome and spectacular color.


We also realized that without the distracting colors of blossoms, we paid more attention to all the varieties of green in shrubbery,

green shrubs.jpg
and the statuary. This gentle lion reminded me of old Zonker at home in Rhinebeck.
lion silhouette.jpg

Anne and I had two more days together in Dublin, foiled in our attempt to take a tour of the Ring of Kerry. The tour was cancelled as we were the only ones signed up. Hard to believe... Anyhow, we made our own fun in town as I took Anne around to notable establishments including TK Maxx (yes, the UK version of TJ Maxx, but, what with the high cost of living here and the value of the dollar these days, there are no deals to be had), Cleo's (a three generation family-run store that sells handwoven, handknit and other fiber works - and the staff there are warm and open) and the Bridge Gallery (the most interesting Irish pottery and glass in Dublin).

We spent the next chunk of March on the other side of the Atlantic. Mark and I went in separate directions much of the time. He was either in New Haven reading Rachel Carson’s files at the Beinecke or whomping golf balls with the pros from Dover in the Dominican Republic. I spent my time driving around – to South Hadley to see Jess, Anne, Janie, Xander, Kate and Danny, to New Haven to see Mom and the Bergers, to Red Hook to see more family and friends and to the Day School and Cope in Poughkeepsie. It was wonderful to see the people I have been e-mailing most of the year. I loved my time at school where I began to get to know the kids I will have in class next year, and I loved catching up with my colleagues/friends - just enough to know that I didn’t want to jump back into the fray quite yet.

Mark was able to join me for part of the time in South Hadley, and we were able to get our grandparental fixes. Janie and Xander have grown, no surprise.


Janie has been off oxygen since February 23, and she has also just graduated from her weekly weigh-ins at the doctor’s office. She is growing steadily – as is the beefier Xander. At their last weigh-ins on March 15, she was 8 lb. 6 oz, and he was 10 lb. 10 oz. They are awake much more during the day now. They both love to look at light sources – daylight out the window and light fixtures inside. Their musical mobile over their crib captures their attention for extended periods of time. We have been showing them the wonders of the malleable human face, too. When they lock eyes with us, they smile and move their lips and tongues as, of course, do we – no way of knowing which one of us starts it off.

smiling Janie.jpg

Xander is the more vocal of the two, and it is he who coos/hums his way through a feeding.

smiling xander.jpg

Janie is quieter and calmer, but she is responsive and is beginning to make more sounds herself. All in all, both babies are pretty peaceful and can be soothed the brief times they do get fussy. Car rides, strolling and vegematics work wonders. The little darlings also seem to have come to grips with the concept of nighttime. They sleep their biggest chunks then, and for periods of time all four members of that Lytle family make it through the night for some 5-8 hours. You can see from the pictures how great they look, and they are one happy family.

Anne and twns.jpg

Our time in the States flew by, and before we knew it we were winging our way back to Ireland, with Susan and Greg on our tails. We got in last Thursday AM, and they arrived in the PM. We had a jam-packed and fun Easter weekend with them. They were energetic, enthusiastic and ready for anything and everything.

The sun greeted us Good Friday morning so we hit the road. Although we had anticipated bad traffic, it seems that the Dubliners had left early for Easter weekend, and the roads were easily manageable. We went south out of Dublin, pausing on the Military Road for a view back over Dublin and the Irish Sea.

Dublin scape.jpg

We took our time driving the spine of the Wicklow Mountains, pausing for shots of the countryside.

Mil rd scape.jpg

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The English had built this road so that they could pursue rebellious Irish when they headed for the hills, and it now carves its way through newly forested areas, bogland and the stark moors where bike riders, walkers and touring cars can enjoy the almost moon-like landscape.

military road.jpg

We were headed for one of our favorite spots, Glendalough, the valley of two lakes, where the priest, Kevin, first settled in what had originally been a Bronze Age tomb over looking the Upper Lake some 1500 years ago.

Upper Lake with glacial feed.jpg

upper lake.jpg
Within two hundred years, St. Kevin’s monastic city spread across the glacial valley, and thousands of students came to study there. Of course, the Vikings sacked the place, at least four times, and we have heard tales of them burning out the Round Tower each time. Mark and Greg, as the males in the group, were very impressed with the size of this tall, pointy structure, which is, in fact, a neck-craning 33 meters high.

round tower.jpg

The settlement has a graveyard, still in use, and the remains of several churches as well as a round, stone arch at the gateway. The steep, stone roof of St. Kevin's Kitchen (really a church)is in beautiful shape.


We hiked the nature trails, pausing to watch a farmer and his dog round up the sheep.


We couldn’t figure out why the round-up, but we were nonetheless impressed by the way the sheep herded themselves together. Mark’s and my last visit had been in the fall, and it was wonderful to see the signs of spring around the lake.

glen gorse and swamp.jpg

The bright yellow of the blooming gorse electrifies the landscape, but I hear tell that golfers are in awe of it more because of its stolid thorns.

lake and gorse.jpg

The forest's green at this time of year comes from moss on bark and evergreen trees. It won't be long, though, until the deciduous trees leaf out.

barren trees.jpg

We stopped for lunch at a pub that Mark and I have enjoyed in the past only to find that it was closed. Apparently, food cannot be served in sight of a working bar on Good Friday, but fortunately Guinness can be brought out to a dining room. So we settled ourselves comfortably in the adjoining hotel dining room. Susan and I had hearty beef and Guinness stew, and Greg was surprised by his vegetarian lasagne that had more mashed potatoes and mashed root vegetables on the side than his rather large lump of lasagne. It is amazing what dishes can be enhanced with some Irish potatoes.

After lunch we headed home by way of Bray, the town on the southern arm of Dublin's enormous, natural bay. We had another opportunity to collect lucky stones,

bray water.jpg

and Susan left with her pockets full of smooth, ringed stones.

susan after stones.jpg

Our second day with the Barlips was a Dublin day. We visited St. Stephen's Green to check for signs of spring,

flowers at green.jpg

pond reflecton.jpg

Grafton Street for people and busker watching (the most intriguing of which was the marionette who interacted with the children in the crowd),

the Book of Kells (unfortunately, along with several busloads of tourists), the market at Meetinghouse Square where we tasted and selected Irish farmhouse cheeses to take home, the Chester Beatty Museum for its collection of prints, books and ecumenical overview of major world belief systems, and we eventually ended up at the Abbey Theatre for a lively evening performance of Improbable Frequencies, a musical about spies in World War II Dublin (keeping in mind that Ireland was neutral, if one could be, at the time).

Easter was really our third and last day with Susan and Greg, and we got up and off promptly to make the most of our time. We headed out of Dublin to the north this time into the Boyne River valley

boyne landscape.jpg

and spent the morning at Newgrange, a huge Neolithic passage tomb. The tomb is remarkable - remarkable because of its amazing, internal state, its large size and its hard to fathom age. It dates from 3200 BCE, making it some six centuries older than the great pyramids of Egypt. We had an articulate, well-informed tour guide who both put people at ease and engaged them in the mystery of the site - this kind of job matches Irish cultural strengths to a tee. On the outside, the 80 meter in diameter, 13 meter in height mound dwarfs the individual.

newgrange profile.jpg

newgrange side.jpg

On the inside one can only marvel at the corbel-vaulted roof that is canted so that not a drop of water has seeped in - over these 40 centuries. The quartz stones come from Wicklow, 80 kilometers to the south. Some of the stones weigh many tons. And the slit left above the entrance allows winter solstice sun rays to penetrate the interior and illuminate the tomb chamber for 17 minutes five days a year (IF the sun is out). There are 97 large kerbstones ringing the mound, and eleven of them have wonderful spirals and other geometric carvings on them.

front kerbstone.jpg

rear kerbstone.jpg

Construction of this mound must have taken lifetimes. How did people move the monstrously heavy stones such great distances? What do the carvings represent? How did they so perfectly build the passage to line up with the sun's rays? One leaves this site in awe.

Our next destination was the town of Trim, and we headed cross country with our book of large-scale road maps in hand. As we attempted to match the unmarked roads in the countryside with the unmarked roads on the map, our erstwhile driver, Mark, took his eyes off the road - and we hit an enormous pothole, thus bringing us to a sudden and complete standstill. Mark then inched the car forward, around a corner and off the road into a parking lot at a country post office, was it? The four of us got out of the car and, on hands and knees, tried to determine how bad the damage was. A flat tire, was the first thought, however, the tire looked no flatter than before. But something was clearly wrong with the connection between the left front wheel and the steering wheel. Here we were - Easter afternoon, in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere.

Amazingly, two hours later, with the kind help of the young clerk at the Londis Top Shop down the main road a piece(equivalent to a Seven-Eleven), her boss over the phone, the AA (add another A to get the US equivalent), a local tow truck and repair garage kid from Navan, and a car rental man from Slane, we were back on the road again. We have been rescued by the Irish before, and Mark and I were, yet again, heartwarmingly amazed at the gracious help we were given every step of the way. So were Greg and Susan.

Mark was undeterred by the afternoon challenges, and we proceeded towards Trim. We managed to find the turn for the ruins of Bective Abbey, Ireland's second Cistercian monastery, that Mark and I remembered from four years ago.

bective abbey.jpg

We parked alongside the River Boyne by a wonderful, old arched bridge. We actually parked in a no parking zone, a lane that seems to belong to the Boyne Anglers, George, and I am sure there are A LOT of fish there, especially on a nice, misty day like this.

bridge over boyne.jpg

Sprinkling rain made it a brief stop and soon we were back on the road to Trim, the site of Ireland's oldest and largest Anglo-Norman castle. It struck us as pretty young in comparison to Newgrange, having been started only some 800 years ago. Mark, Greg and Susan are standing in front of the finest stretch of the curtain wall that runs from the River Boyne up to Castle Street.

mgs at trim.jpg
Along this side there is a barbican built out over what used to be a moat at Dublin Gate, the gate that opened on to the road to Dublin.


Another bit of the moat is still watery at the canal where deliveries from the River Boyne were made.


It was getting a bit chilly in the damp, late afternoon, and we headed back to Dublin for our Easter supper and a Guinness. We were, not surprisingly, relieved in the end to get back to our flat in Shanagarry. We had had our adventure for the day - and, hopefully, for a while to come.

Since then, Mark and I have returned the rental car and picked up our wounded Mazda. It works now, but it needs more done. We will do that, we promise, before more guests come to visit. Rest assured!

Posted by gretchen at March 29, 2005 12:59 PM