ON THE TRACK OF “THE QUIET MAN” – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Track

In 1990 in Ireland, Garry and I decided to find where they had filmed John Ford’s “The Quiet Man.” We were in the right location and it turned out that we were not the only seekers of that location.

There were little maps that showed you where to go, where to walk. You couldn’t get there by car alone. You had to park, then trek through a field where sheep roamed — which is not good for your shoes.

Garry in Cong

Maureen O’Hara had to do one scene in a field like that barefoot and she said it was absolutely disgusting. I’d probably have to wash my feet at least 100 times before I thought they might be clean enough to go to bed with me.

Cong, September 1990

Anyway, we got maps and we got moving and then, we saw it. We didn’t see the cottage because except for a bit of rubble, the cottage was completely gone. It wasn’t even the remnants of the cottage. A few rocks and that was it. But the setting was the same. The stream across which they drove the carriage and the long field.

Ireland

We followed the track, explored, and then went back to town. Many scenes for the film were actually shot in and around the village of Cong, County Mayo, on the grounds of Cong’s Ashford Castle. Cong is now a wealthy small town and the castle a 5-star luxury hotel, but when we were there, it was another small, struggling town who were trying to keep the remnants of the movie’s fame because that was the only notable thing which had ever happened there.

Now that we live in an equally small town, we get it. If anyone made a major motion picture here, you can bet it would be the feature of everything.

Somewhere in Ireland

That was our “track following.” It was a lot of fun. I have followed a few other tracks. I followed a mountain path up Mount Gilboa to see the wild irises in bloom and climbed down Land’s End. So there have been a few tracks, here and there.

But no fast tracks. I seem to have missed them.

CODDIWOMPLE IN IRELAND – Marilyn Armstrong

Monday Prompt: Coddiwomple


The definition made me laugh. This is the perfect description of our trip to Ireland. After the plane landed in Shannon and we managed to negotiate our way to the B&B where we were staying, it was coddiwomple for the next three weeks.

We never knew where we were, where we were heading and mostly, we didn’t really care. We found places we loved, avoided any place that had more traffic than we cared to drive it, and had a wonderful time. We missed most of the “favorite” tourist stops — too much traffic. We don’t go on vacation to sit in traffic jams, so if we bumped into one, we took the next uncrowded turn in the road. But we found stone circles and old graveyards and ancient round towers and at least one nearly unknown author who signed his book and let us play with his pet chickens.

Somewhere in Ireland

We stayed in some wonderful B&Bs and a fantastic one in Dublin that was really a small hotel where they also had a great dining room. We shopped in stores no one had heard of, got great prices on clothing that I still believe will never wear out. Garry’s tweed jackets don’t look any older than they did when we bought them almost 30 years ago.

Maybe it’s because neither of us have any sense of direction, but maybe this is really the way to vacation. Just go. Find a place. Look it up in one of the dozens of books describing every piece of land in the country. You mean … you don’t travel with a working library of the country you are in?

That was always the first thing I did when we were going someplace new. I bought every book I could find that had the historical details of the place. No book has everything, of course, so I bought all of them. A small traveling library was always with us.

Ireland

Along the way, we stayed in B&B’s that were known for having private libraries so we could read up on everything as we went. We took a million pictures, ate lamb and salmon and drank a substantial amount of Irish coffee (it’s never too early …) and Jameson. We sang in pubs and told stories.

If we should ever travel again to another continent, I would do it again, just like that. No fixed destination, no formal reservation except for the plane or to meet others.

Coddiwomple, all the way!

NAVIGATION: NOT OUR STRONGEST SUIT – Marilyn Armstrong

Ragtag Prompt # 26 – Navigate

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I will say it again.

I am lost. I am always lost.

Sometimes, this is a great thing. On vacation in Ireland, having no idea where we were or even where we were going turned out to be an adventure. We discovered things you can’t find in guidebooks. We missed most of the places everyone goes, found places no one discovers.

Somewhere in Ireland

We navigated our way from one end of the island to another. We found stone circles and earthworks and pubs. Lots of pubs. Historic Pubs. The pubs in which Peter O’Toole drank far too much.

Singing pubs. We told everyone it was our honeymoon, which was true, so we got a lot of extra mead and Irish coffee and better rooms.

We never knew where we were and that was fine.

Ireland

Navigation. We don’t navigate. We just drive around until we found another great pub or better yet someplace that sold Harris tweed suits.

Dublin, September 1990

My moral?

Don’t navigate. Give it up. Go forth. Find what comes. Don’t worry about whether you’ve found the right place. They are ALL right places.

Discovery is the name of the game.

HONEYMOON IN IRELAND – HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY

We surprised everyone — except ourselves — when we announced our plans to honeymoon in Ireland. “Neither of you is Irish,” they said, foreheads wrinkled. I’m not sure why everyone assumes the only reason to go to Ireland is to look for “roots.” While we were there, we were often asked why we’d come and on hearing neither of us is Irish, would get looks of puzzlement.

Then, they’d look again and ask “Are you sure?”

It was a great place for Americans. There’s strain between the Irish and English for longstanding historical reasons, but they have nothing but smiles for Americans. From Dublin to Sligo, Shannon, Galway, Cashel and all the lovely towns in between, people were friendly and welcoming. When they learned we were honeymooners, we were treated to rounds of drinks and offered the best accommodations. Avoiding big hotels, we stayed in bed and breakfasts which we found using the National Tourist Board guidebook and a map.

We’d zero in on a destination and phone ahead. After a while, it began to work the opposite way. Wherever we found ourselves as evening approached, we’d see who had a room and stay. We always found a place and each home was spotlessly clean and comfortable, although tiny by American standards.

Cong and Garry

Cong and Garry

Our first stop after Shannon was Cashel. The bed-and-breakfast was like a little European pension. In the shadow of the Rock of Cashel, adjacent to the ruins of a medieval Dominican church, the location was perfect. We stayed two nights, then headed for Dublin.

Dublin was magic. Once we found our feet,  it was a city of music and good company We’d been planning to stay two nights, but stayed five. There were evening’s at Foley’s, where Irish music played every night and we all joined in, each in our own key. There were the pubs, where the Irish Coffee was always strong and the folks eager to wish us well and advise us on our itinerary. We shopped, sang, and drank, not necessarily in that order. (Note: Probably you should shop then drink.) We listened to stories, told some of our own, and would gladly have stayed another week or more.

Ashford Castle

From Dublin, we drove cross-country to Sligo. As we entered Sligo, the rain began to pelt down. For perhaps five minutes, it poured. Then, as the rain slowed to a drizzle, in front of us appeared a brilliant double rainbow. Welcome to Sligo. Our destination was a bed and breakfast called Rathnashee, which we learned means “fairy ring.” There’s an earthwork fairy ring in the field adjoining the house. I chose it because it had a room with a private bath, was on a main road (we never stopped getting lost, but we did learn to enjoy it), and had a library. Books are my weakness. Maybe my strength too.

The parlor of the house was a library, mainly the history of Ireland and Sligo in particular. Evenings, by the warmth of a peat fire, we settled in with a pot of tea and a plate of cookies. We read about Yeats, the Great Hunger, and the long, often tragic history of the north. In the course of events, Garry discovered he did, after all, have Irish roots, while I dreamed of fairy circles and magic mountains.

Abbey ruins near Ashford Castle

Sligo is bursting with magic. You can feel it as you explore the ancient earthworks, standing stones, cairns, and castles. I became convinced that the “Little People” live there still. Loch Gill, where lies the Isle of Innisfree, has its own kind of magic. We spent a grand afternoon exploring the recently restored Park Castle.

The crystal waters so clearly mirrored the sky that those viewing the pictures we shot that day have trouble telling which is water and which is sky. Later that same day, while heading toward Knocknarea, the mountain top cairn of the legendary Queen Mab, we met Gordon Winter, ex-spy, author, and local character. We were photographed in close encounters with his pet chickens, sipped tea in his kitchen, and bought an autographed copy of his latest book “Secrets of the Royals.”

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Throughout our vacation, the weather never stopped changing. The sun shone, disappeared and reappeared in rapid succession. Wind blew, and clouds rolled in, and it rained. A few minutes later, the rain stopped, the wind died, the sun came out, the temperature rose, and just as you had taken off your jacket and put on your sunglasses, you’d realize it was raining again. We took our sunglasses on and off twenty times an hour, and took our jackets on and off almost as often. The second morning in Sligo, we awoke to pounding rain. I peeked out the window to see another rainbow, even brighter than the one we’d seen coming in, in the field across the road.

Rainbow over Sligo

Rainbow over Sligo

By the time we went to breakfast, the sun had come out, but by breakfast’s conclusion, it was again drizzling. Such is Irish weather. It never rained all day, but it rained a little almost every day, and we learned to ignore weather and proceed with our plans, counting on the ever-changing skies to give us enough clear weather to tramp through a ruin, scale a castle wall, or walk down by a riverside.

MarilynInnisfree

After three days in Sligo, we traveled down to Connemara. One afternoon, we drove to Cong, where John Ford shot “The Quiet Man.” Ardent movie buffs, we literally climbed over fences and wended our way through sheep pastures (Garry always greeted the sheep by reminding them how good they would taste with a bit of mint jelly; I thought in terms of sweaters and tweeds) pastures until we found the “quiet man’s cottage,” now in ruins. The setting is as idyllic as ever, though, and the stream still flows past the cottage door and under the little bridge. Clearly the movie was the biggest thing to ever hit the town. Cong is full of Quiet Man memorabilia, and the local residents full of anecdotes and memories.

Cong, September 1990

Cong, September 1990

Our time was almost up, and as we continued down along the coast, we began to realize that we would really have to go home. The idea was so depressing that we stopped in the nearest pub for solace.

The only part was driving. Keeping left was a problem. The roads were another. Narrow, a terrifying mix of blind curves, roaming sheep, and meandering cattle, locals drive these narrow roads at supersonic speeds. On roads hardly wider than our tiny compact car, we were passed, after which we felt obliged to check if the door handles and mirrors were still attached.

Irish Signs

Eventually we stopped worrying where we were or how to get someplace else. We let the road take us where it would. We knew whenever and wherever we stopped, we’d find a good pub and friendly faces.

We hoped we’d go back again, but other places called and the years ran faster than I believed possible. But we remember.

Yeats in Sligo

Post Script:

When we got home, we were visiting Garry’s folks, showing the photos to Garry’s Dad until he stopped us. It was the pictures of Yeats’ burial site. “Those are your people,” he said, pointing to a group of stones slightly behind Yeats’.

“Our people?” asked Garry.

“Your grandparents were from Sligo,” he said. “My mother,” he clarified. That explained the very light-skinned red-headed grandmother Garry remembered.

“When were you going to tell me?” he asked his father.

“I was waiting until I thought you were old enough,” his father explained. Garry was 48 at the time.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

PHOTO CHALLENGE | NAMES – WHAT’S IN A NAME?


From Romeo and Juliet

Act II. Scene II.

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes 
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

Irish Signs

At a crossroad in Connemara, Ireland. September 1990

At a crossroads in Connemara, Ireland in September 1990, a newly married couple (us) was trying to navigate from wherever we had been the previous day (Sligo maybe?) southward. The map was in English. The signs were all in Irish. The bullet holes in the sign are probably comments and opinions from others, like us, hopelessly lost and realizing there was no help forthcoming.

What’s in a name? A rose by any other might smell as sweet … but a road by any other may point us in the wrong direction and end us up on a dark, dirt road with no way to turn around. Or, in other words, a road by any other name is probably the wrong road.

Just saying.

I participate in WordPress' Weekly Photo Challenge 2017

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2017

OUR IRISH HONEYMOON

We surprised everyone — except ourselves — when we announced our plans to honeymoon in Ireland. “Neither of you is Irish,” they said, foreheads wrinkled. I’m not sure why everyone here and there assumes the only reason to go to Ireland is to look for “roots.” While we were there, we were often asked why we’d come and on hearing neither of us is Irish, would get looks of puzzlement. Then, they’d look again and ask “Are you sure?”

Somewhere in Ireland

Somewhere in Ireland

It was a great place for Americans. There’s strain between the Irish and English for longstanding historical reasons, but they have nothing but smiles for Americans. From Dublin to Sligo, Shannon, Galway, Cashel and all the lovely towns in between, people were friendly and welcoming. When they learned we were honeymooners, we were treated to rounds of drinks and offered the best accommodations. Avoiding big hotels, we stayed in bed and breakfasts which we found using the National Tourist Board guidebook and a map.

We’d zero in on a destination and phone ahead. After a while, it began to work the opposite way. Wherever we landed, we’d see who had a room and stay there. We always found someplace nearby and each home was spotlessly clean and comfortable, although tiny by American standards.

Cong and Garry

Cong and Garry

Our first stop after Shannon was Cashel. The bed-and-breakfast was a little pension. In the shadow of the Rock of Cashel, adjacent to the ruins of a medieval Dominican church, the location was perfect. We stayed two nights, then headed for Dublin.

Dublin was magic. Once we found our feet,  it was a city of music and wonderful company We’d been planning to stay two nights, but stayed five. There were evening’s at Foley’s, where Irish music played every night and we all joined in, each in our own key. There were the pubs, where the Irish Coffee was always strong and the folks eager to wish us well and advise us on our itinerary. We shopped, sang, and drank, not necessarily in that order. (Note: Probably you should shop then drink.)

We listened to stories, told some of our own, and would gladly have stayed another week or more.

From Dublin, we drove cross-country to Sligo. As we entered Sligo, the rain began to pelt down. For perhaps five minutes, it poured. Then, as the rain slowed to a drizzle, in front of us appeared a brilliant double rainbow. Welcome to Sligo. Our destination was a bed and breakfast called Rathnashee, which we learned means “fairy ring.” There’s an earthwork fairy ring in the field adjoining the house. I chose it because it had a room with a private bath, was on a main road (we never stopped getting lost, but we did learn to enjoy it), and had a library. Books are my weakness. Maybe my strength too.

Dublin, September 1990

Dublin, September 1990

The parlor of the house was a library, mainly the history of Ireland and Sligo in particular. Evenings, by the warmth of a peat fire, we settled in with a pot of tea and a plate of cookies. We read about Yeats, the Great Hunger, and the long, often tragic history of the north. In the course of events, Garry discovered he did, after all, have Irish roots, while I dreamt of fairy circles and magic mountains.

GarryInnisfree

Garry at Loch Gill, at the Isle of Innisfree

Sligo is bursting with magic. You can feel it as you explore the ancient earthworks, standing stones, cairns, and castles. I became convinced that the “Little People” live there still. Loch Gill, “where lies the Isle of Innisfree,” has its own magic.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

by W. B. Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

We spent a grand afternoon exploring the recently restored Park Castle. The crystal waters so clearly mirrored the sky that those viewing the pictures we shot that day have trouble telling which is water and which is sky. Later that same day, while heading toward Knocknarea, the mountain top cairn of the legendary Queen Mab, we met Gordon Winter, ex-spy, author, and local character. We were photographed in close encounters with his pet chickens, sipped tea in his kitchen, and bought an autographed copy of his latest book “Secrets of the Royals.”

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens

Throughout our vacation, the weather never stopped changing. The sun shone, disappeared and reappeared in rapid succession. Wind blew, and clouds rolled in, and it rained. A few minutes later, the rain stopped, the wind died, the sun came out, the temperature rose, and just as you had taken off your jacket and put on your sunglasses, you’d realize it was raining again.

We took our sunglasses on and off twenty times an hour, and took our jackets on and off almost as often. The second morning in Sligo, we awoke to pounding rain. I peeked out the window to see another rainbow, even brighter than the one we’d seen on arrival, in the field across the road.

Rainbow over Sligo

Rainbow over Sligo

By the time we went to breakfast, the sun had come out, but by the time we finished breakfast, it was drizzling. Irish weather. It never rained all day, but rained a little almost every day. We learned to ignore weather and so whatever we had planned, counting on the ever-changing skies to give us enough clear weather to tramp through a ruin, scale a castle wall, or walk down by a riverside.

Marilyn at Loch Gill

Marilyn at Loch Gill

After three days in Sligo, we traveled down to Connemara. One afternoon, we drove to Cong, where John Ford shot “The Quiet Man.” Ardent movie buffs, we literally climbed over fences and wended our way through sheep pastures.

Garry always greeted the sheep by reminding them how good they would taste with a bit of mint jelly. I thought in terms of sweaters and tweeds. We tramped through the pastures until we found the “quiet man’s cottage.” We recognized it by the little stream the runs in front of it … the location, the picture perfect location. But the cottage was a ruin.

Nowadays the Irish Tourism folks are advertising it as “restored.” Having seen it in 1990, there was nothing to restore. The foundation was barely visible. A few pieces of wall, but otherwise gone. They may indeed have rebuilt it, but it was no restoration. Hey, we’re talking Hollywood, so you don’t care, right?

The setting is as idyllic as ever, though, and the stream still flows past the cottage door and under the little bridge. Clearly the movie was the biggest thing to ever hit the town. Cong is full of Quiet Man memorabilia, and the local residents full of anecdotes and memories.

Cong, September 1990

Cong, September 1990

Our time was almost up, and as we continued down along the coast, we began to realize that we would really have to go home. The idea was so depressing that we stopped in the nearest pub for solace.

Cong and Garry

Cong and Garry

The only part was driving. Keeping left was a problem. The roads were another. Narrow, a terrifying mix of blind curves, roaming sheep, and meandering cattle, locals drive these narrow roads at supersonic speeds. On roads hardly wider than our tiny compact car, we were passed, after which we felt obliged to check if the door handles and mirrors were still attached.

Irish Signs

Somewhere … but where?

Eventually we stopped worrying where we were or how to get someplace else. We let the road take us where it would. We knew whenever and wherever we stopped, we’d find a good pub and friendly faces.

We hoped we’d go back again, but other places called and the years ran faster than I believed possible. But we remember.

Post Script:

Yeats' Grave in Sligo

Yeats’ Grave in Sligo

When we got home, we were visiting Garry’s folks, showing the photos to Garry’s Dad until he stopped us. It was the pictures of Yeats’ burial site. “Those are your people,” he said, pointing to a group of stones slightly behind Yeats’.

“Our people?” asked Garry.

“Your grandparents were from Sligo,” he said. “My mother,” he clarified. That explained the very light-skinned red-headed grandmother Garry remembered.

“When were you going to tell me?” he asked his father.

“I was waiting until I thought you were old enough,” his father explained. Garry was 48 at the time.


Daily Prompt: Tourist Trap – What’s your dream tourist destination — either a place you’ve been and loved, or a place you’d love to visit? What about it speaks to you?

Daily Prompt: Non, je ne regrette rien … Well, not much, anyhow.

If I have any regrets — real regrets other than “gee, it would have been nice if I’d gotten around to doing that” which is not a regret, just something that got missed …. they are about money. The personal mistakes? They are part of life and although they may have been regrettable, they became a piece of who we are … and you can’t go back and fix life.

On the other hand, I wish we’d been better about money, a little more savvy. We didn’t expect to be unable to work so young. I’m not sure we ever really thought about it in a clear-headed way. It was always far off in a misty future, a “someday” that might never come. We planned to be young and healthy forever.

Sunlight through bright maple leaves by the lake's shore.

Then, one day, bang. There it was. I was disabled. Garry was retired. Where an income had been, we had a donut hole. We’d used our savings to buy the house we could no longer afford, which seemed like a good idea when we believed we had another decade of income from work. Not such a good idea without those salaries.

We had worked and paid taxes for a collective 75 years between the two of us. We worked until we couldn’t work any more. It was time to start collecting. Retirement was supposed to be the end of stress, the beginning of the rewards.

There are rewards. The freedom of time is the big one. You can go to bed and get up on your own schedule. You can do everything, more or less, on your own schedule. I don’t know what day of the week it is most of the time. If you don’t have a job, one day is very much like another. Weekends take me by surprise. If you are in a good marriage, you have time to really enjoy each other. You get to know your grandchildren. You read, watch movies, pursue hobbies, pet your dogs.

We worked hard, played hard, so our memories are a treasure trove. We did almost all of the things we really wanted to do and hopefully, there are still a few surprises to come. Good surprises, not the other kind.

Sadly, though, retirement has not turned out to be the end of stress. Just a different kind of stress. It’s no longer about meeting the expectations of the workplace. It’s about meeting the bills.

Our pension plans are inadequate to the world in which we find ourselves. When we planned them, they sounded good and probably were … then. But the cost of living went way up and what it takes to maintain a life that would free us from stress is probably about twice what we really have. After making huge cutbacks and eliminating many (most) things we used to do, we hang on. Barely.

So I wish we’d been smarter about money. The irony is we thought we were being smart. We did what we thought we were supposed to do. It just didn’t work out as planned. What made perfect sense 20 years ago doesn’t make sense today. We didn’t grasp that pension amounts stay the same, though the cost of living continues to rise. The meaning of “fixed income” hadn’t really grabbed hold. It has now.

We have adapted, but life after paychecks is not what we intended. Being poor is like walking around in shoes that are just a little bit too tight. They almost fit. Sadly, with shoes and budgets, “almost fits” is surprisingly different than “fits.”

But looking back … we had fun. I had fun. Garry had fun. We had fun together. We still have fun. We just need to fit our fun into an incredibly tight budget, taking into account our arthritic bodies and diminished energy levels.

Few regrets and great memories. We didn’t do everything, but we did a lot. More than most. We made some unfortunate — maybe stupid — choices, but we didn’t wimp out. If life were a movie, we would be on schedule for a previously unknown but fabulously rich relative to pass away leaving us gazillions of dollars and a mansion on a cliff in Ireland. Pity a team of Hollywood script writers isn’t in charge of our lives.

In the deathless words and music of Edith Piaf, I would like to say this about that:

Non, je ne regrette rien ... or at least, not much.

Sunshine Award once again!

The Sunshine award from one of my favorite bloggers. This is one of my spiritual ports of call, when I need an out-of-body experience 🙂

Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me

The Sunshine Award passed my doorstep again, this time awarded by Jean, a fellow Ireland lover and indeed an inhabitant of the proudest county in Ireland: Waterford. I gladly accept the award so as Jean’s blog always brings something new every day, a picture, story or poem, always written fantastically and with lots of passion.

The Sunshine Blog award is an award given to bloggers, by other bloggers. It is given to “bloggers who are positive and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere”.

Rule 1: Link back to your nominator. 

http://socialbridge.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/sunshine-and-celebration-gatherings-from-ireland-229/#comment-5180

Rule 2: Display the Sunshine Award image as you see below:

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Lost in Rhode Island

I used to commute from our house in Uxbridge, Massachusetts over 100 miles to Pfizer in Groton, Connecticut. In a desperate and hopeless attempt to find a shorter route, I experimented with various combinations of back roads. There was no truly direct route and it was such a long drive, I didn’t think I had much to lose.

GrotonToUxb1

I have been lost for most of my life. I’ve been lost all over the United States, England, Wales, Ireland and Israel. GPS technology was relatively new and while some people had them, most didn’t. Including me. I had an atlas, but whatever road I was on never seemed to be on the map.

One evening, at the end of my long drive home from work, I got lost in Rhode Island.

I wasn’t a just little bit lost. I was completely turned around, totally confused. It was dark; I was low on gasoline. I didn’t recognize anything; it all looked the same.  Eventually I realized everything not only looked the same, it was the same. I was driving in circles.

Rhode Island Road

I called home. At least my cell phone worked. It didn’t help. Since I didn’t know where I was, I couldn’t tell anyone how to find me. I was much too embarrassed to call 911.

I drove around for what seemed forever hoping to find a familiar road or see some kind of landmark by which I could orient myself. Eventually — tired, hungry and humiliated — I found my way home. I had been no more than a few miles from my house. The following day, I bought my first GPS.

There’s a moral in this story, but I have no idea what it is.

An Irish Honeymoon

It seems like a dream after almost 23 years. Even while we were there, driving the twisting country roads — inevitably lost — Ireland had a dreamlike quality that made it perfect for a honeymoon.

Bunratty Castle

Bunratty Castle where I drank way too much mead!

Friends were surprised at our plans to honeymoon in Ireland. “But you aren’t Irish,” they said, foreheads wrinkled with puzzlement. Why do people assume the only reason to go to Ireland is to look for roots? In Ireland, everyone asked if we were Irish. When we said we weren’t, they would say “Are you sure?” We said we were sure. It turned out one of us was wrong.

Ireland was wonderful. From Dublin to Sligo, through Shannon, Galway, Cashel and all the lovely cities and villages in between, everyone we met was friendly and welcoming. When folks learned we were honeymooners, we were treated to free rounds of drinks, desserts, and upgraded accommodations — at no charge. Even on the airplane, we were moved up to first class. Way to go.

We stayed in bed and breakfasts. Using the National Tourist Board guidebook and a road map, we’d zero in on a destination and phone ahead. Every place we stayed was spotlessly clean and comfortable, although often tiny by American standards.

In Dublin

In Dublin

Our first stop after Shannon was Cashel. The B&B was like a miniature European hotel. Set in the shadow of the Rock of Cashel, adjacent to the ruins of a medieval Dominican church, the location was picture perfect. We stayed two nights, then headed for Dublin.

Dublin, after we found our way through the one-way streets and detours, was a great walking city. Awful traffic, but great for pedestrians. There were evenings at Foley’s where they played Irish music every night and we all joined in, each in our own key. We found pubs where the Irish Coffee and Guinness flowed and everyone was eager to wish us well and advise us on our itinerary. We shopped, sang, and drank. We listened to stories, told some of our own, and would have stayed another week if we’d had enough time.

GarryInnisfree

Garry with the Isle of Innisfree in the background (Loch Gill)

At one point, we were searching for the Stag’s Head pub, one of the oldest pubs in Dublin and definitely the most difficult to find.

Mosaic outside alley leading to Stag's Head Pu...

Mosaic outside alley leading to Stag’s Head Pub, Dublin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s down an alley, marked by a tiled piece of sidewalk showing a stag’s head … so of course, we couldn’t find it. We asked the first person we bumped into for directions.

The Stag's Head - a classic Dublin pub

The Stag’s Head – Great pub, hard to find

“Excuse me,” I said.

He looked at us and said to my husband “You’re Garry Armstrong! I know you.” He was an American exchange professor from Boston University spending a year at Trinity College in Dublin. Go figure.

From Dublin, we drove cross-country to Sligo. As we entered Sligo, the rain began to pelt down. For perhaps five minutes, it poured. Then, as the rain slowed to a drizzle, in front of us appeared a brilliant double rainbow. I felt that it was our personal rainbow, welcoming us to Sligo.

Sligo is bursting with magic. You can feel it as you explore the ancient earthworks, standing stones, cairns, and castles. I was convinced the “Little People” lived there still.

Loch Gill, where lies the minuscule Isle of Innisfree, has its own magic. We spent a grand afternoon exploring the recently restored Park Castle. The crystal waters so clearly mirrored the sky it was hard to tell where the sky ended and the water began.

Loch Gill from Park Castle

Loch Gill from Park Castle

Later that same day, while heading toward Knocknarea, the mountain top cairn of the legendary Queen Mab, we met Gordon Winter, ex-spy (?), author, and local character. We took pictures with his pet chickens, sipped tea in his kitchen, and bought an autographed copy of his book “Secrets of the Royals.” Scandals of royal families back to Henry II. Somewhere in our overstuffed bookcases we still have the book.

Garry with the author and his pet chickens

Garry with the author and his pet chickens

Our destination was a bed and breakfast called Rathnashee, which we later learned means “fairy ring.” Indeed there was an earthwork fairy ring in the field adjoining the house. I had selected it because it had a room with a private bath, was on a main road and the parlor was a library. Evenings, by the warmth of a peat fire, with a pot of tea and a plate of cookies, we read about Yeats, the Great Hunger, and the long,often tragic history of the north. I dreamt of fairy circles and magic mountains.

Loch Gill

By Loch Gill

We visited the cemetery where Yeats is buried and I took pictures. When we got home and showed the pictures to Garry’s dad, he pointed to a set of markers behind Yeats’ headstone and said “Those are your grandmother’s people.” Which is how Garry learned he did, after all, have Irish roots, an interesting revelation which brings me to another odd encounter.

Horseman, Pass by!

Horseman, pass by!

Donegal was where we spent money and had a peculiar chance meeting. In 1990, Donegal was not a metropolis. I have no idea how much it has grown, but then it was one road, a pub, a few shops and some old stone houses. I was ever alert for shopping opportunities and when I saw a sign advertising tweeds and other woolen goods, we pulled over.

Garry in Cong

Garry in Cong

As we were walking toward the shop, we were stopped by an elderly gentleman who looked like he had stepped out of “The Quiet Man.” From his worn tweed cap to his rubber wellies, he was the picture of every tourist’s dream of Ireland.

“Are you Irish?” he asked me.

“No,” I said. “Eastern European Jewish,” I said.

Then he looked at Garry. “You are Irish,” he said.

Garry looked down at his brown arm and said, “I don’t think so.”

“You are Irish,” he insisted. He was very firm. How he knew, I cannot begin to guess, but he was right. Garry is as much Irish as anything else.

The shop was closed, but a sign said “If no answer, check pub across street.” We did, found the shopkeeper, ate lunch, then went back to the shop. A good day. But all our honeymoon days were good.

Rainbow in Sligo

Rainbow over Sligo

The weather never stopped changing. The sun shone, disappeared and reappeared in rapid succession. Wind blew, and clouds rolled in and it rained. A few minutes later, the sun came out, the temperature rose. By the time you took off your jacket, it was raining again. Our second morning in Sligo, we awoke to pounding rain. I peeked out the window to see another rainbow in the field across the road. Sligo, county of rainbows.

By the time we went to breakfast, the sun was out, but by breakfast’s conclusion, it was drizzling. It never rained all day, but it rained a little every day. We learned to ignore weather, counting on the ever-changing skies to give us time to wander through a ruin, scale a castle wall, or walk by a river.

Downtown Cong, September 1990

Downtown Cong, September 1990

After three days in Sligo, we traveled down through County Mayo to Cong where John Ford shot “The Quiet Man.” Being movie buffs, we literally climbed over fences and tramped through pastures until we found the “quiet man’s cottage” in ruins. I hear they have rebuilt it, but there was nothing to rebuild … it was gone.

The setting was easily identifiable if you know the movie. The stream flows past what was the cottage door and under the little bridge.

Clearly the movie was the only thing to ever happen in Cong, so it’s full of Quiet Man memorabilia. The locals were full of anecdotes.

Abbey ruins near Ashford Castle

Abbey ruins near Ashford Castle

Our time was almost up, and as we continued down along the coast, we realized we had to go home. The idea was so depressing we stopped in the next pub for solace.

Probably the only difficult part of our Irish honeymoon was driving. Keeping left was one problem; the roads were another. Narrow, with a terrifying mix of blind curves, roaming sheep, and meandering cattle, local people nonetheless drove at frightening speeds. On roads barely wide enough for our compact car, we were overtaken and passed. More than once we felt obliged to check to see if the door handles and mirrors were still attached.

Somewhere in Ireland

Somewhere in Ireland

On the plus side, virtually every intersection, no matter how rural, was sign-posted, albeit sometimes in Irish. Ultimately, soothed by the beauty, we relaxed and let the road take us where it would. We learned you don’t need to know where you are all the time. When we needed to stop and rest, there was always a pub and some friendly faces.

Signs in Irish are full of bullet holes

Signs in Irish are full of bullet holes, apparently a political statement by lost tourists or maybe aggravated local residents

You don’t have to be Irish to fall in love with Ireland. We always hoped to go back, but it doesn’t seem we’ll get there. We remember, though … not quite as if it were yesterday, but clearly enough. And we have pictures. Many, many pictures.

Note: All my pictures in this post are scans. 1990 was pre-digital and  time has not dealt kindly with these photographs.

Life along the way

I spent the day doing a task all photographers must face. It’s no fun, but there’s no avoiding it. Sooner or later, the time comes to weed through the pictures, to take stock and get organized. It was time to do more than simply store the pictures. I looked through almost every file, years of digital photographs. The artistic stuff, the family photographs, the vacation pictures and holidays. Time to discard the bad ones I should have dumped in the first place. I converted all the RAW and TIFF  files to JPGs because I admitted to myself I am unlikely to need them. I’m not going to be making  lots of prints … and even if I were, the printer wants high quality JPGs, not TIFF or RAW. Time to let them go.

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Photo: Debbie Stone

It was a complicated decision, one of many realities I’ve had to face. Not as hard as most life decisions, but tricky in its own small way.

For the last dozen years, much of life has involved recognizing and accepting limits, then figuring out how to work around them. There are physical limits, financial limits. I can’t afford things I don’t really need, though I sometimes splurge on something I want very much, like a lens for the camera or a bigger external hard drive. There are always choices to make and priorities to set.

Now, it’s facing one more fact of life: no more wall space. No room for anything, not for my  photographs or anything else. The walls are full of things I love. My photos are on display, but there are also paintings, some by friends, others bought at galleries in days when we had spare dollars to spend on non-necessities. Photos of Garry taken during his working years … with politicians and presidents.

Photo: Debbie Stone

Photo: Debbie Stone

He has awards and plaques and I have shadow-boxes filled with antique Chinese porcelain, Navajo pots, fetishes and figurines and Murano glass. Together we have a lifetime of vacation mementos and one small carved black peat cat bought in Ireland on our honeymoon. All the paintings, photos and things we bought on the Vineyard during a decade or more of summers. They need space. There’s no room, so I won’t be making lots of prints. I have dozens of paintings and photographs that were gifts from artist friends that I can’t afford to frame and if I could, I’d have no place to hang them.

I dumped hundreds of gigabytes of  RAW and TIFF files. While I was organizing, I consolidated files of similar things. I have dozens of New England autumns, thousands of pictures of dogs, kids, dogs and kids, friends and their kids and dogs.

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This task sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is. In fact, it makes watching paint dry seem thrilling, but it needed to be done. And while I was sorting, reformatting and organizing, back on Serendipity, I quietly slipped over the 44,000 hit mark. I’ll celebrate at 45,000 I guess, or maybe I’ll wait for 50,000. The numbers have been moving so quickly.

Awards … another Liebster, more followers  — and I realize I have posted every day for more than six months. 868 posts as of tonight. Time has flown by. From thinking I’d put up an occasional post about something or other, maybe show some photographs … to recognizing that this blog has become important to me. It’s no longer a little hobby; it has become a focus.

I stopped bringing home a regular salary more than ten years ago when I became ill. I tried, intermittently, to work, but I couldn’t. Eventually, it became clear my career was over. My pride took a hit, but I don’t really miss work. I miss the paycheck, but work? Nope.

I settled down to not working and it required a bit of adjustment.  I’ve never been bored. For a while I was too sick to be bored, but I’ve always filled time by reading. It’s my fallback position. Somewhere in there I wrote a book. That consumed a couple of years and after that, for a few years I ran an online antique and collectibles business, which is where many of my antiques and other stuff originated. It was surprisingly successful, but the economy fell apart. The type of stuff I sold was based on people having spare money for things that are just beautiful, not necessarily useful. With the handwriting bright on the wall, I closed up shop.

Han pot

Han pot

If you aren’t going to school or working at a job, time tends to lose its shape. Blogging has given it a bit more form. It’s writing, which is as much who I am as what I do. As I move through my world, I look at the things I do and whatever is happening around me as stuff I can write about. When I hold a camera, I see the world in frames and perspective, I see colors and angles, light and shadow. When I think about it as a writer, I hear everything described in my mind, narrated.

Often, by the time I sit down to write, it’s almost written. It’s not always that easy, but sometimes it is. Sometimes words fall out of my fingers and it’s all just there, complete, waiting to put together.

Life has a rhythm, a pulse, a flow. From morning coffee to afternoon chores, to the evening when I write, watch a movie or some television, then write some more. Often, as now, I do both at the same time, something my husband finds baffling. If I think about it I suppose I’d find it baffling too, but I can do two things at a time. Usually. Depending on what the two things are.

The Mumford

If you’re waiting for me to get to the point, you’re out of luck. No point. Just a long ramble … rather like life.

In books, nothing happens without a reason. In literature, there are no coincidences, no accidental meetings. But life is full of things happening for no discernible reason. We can attribute meaning … religious meaning, omens, portents, whatever. But really, things just are what they are. We go from infancy to childhood then on into adulthood. We create goals and we push to achieve them, but the goals are not “real thing.” They are what we put in place to give our lives form, shape and direction, to make us feel purposeful.

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It’s harder when you are older and in what I like to think of as your post-career because the kinds of aims and goals we had before don’t work and we have to find new directions. Most of us do. The classic image that young people have of old people sitting around doing nothing and just fading into the twilight is based on misconception and stereotyping. They are in a hurry to grow up, to get on to whatever it is they perceive as the next stage of life. They can’t understand what life is like when your primary goal is to enjoy your time, not dash through everything as fast as possible.

They’ll find out.