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Brief Dublin Interlude

28 August, 2017 at 5:42 pm by belgianwaffle

We woke up in our own house in Dublin on Sunday, August 6 with the gear from Cork to unpack and the packing and tidying for France yet to be done. It was a bit horrific. Daniel said to me, “Mum, I don’t want to go to France.” I knew how he felt because I felt the exact same way myself.

Old friends of ours from the Netherlands were in Dublin and this was our only point of overlap. They came that afternoon with their four children and a cousin or two. It all passed off very peacefully as the children all liked playing endless board games and bonded happily over that while the grown-ups chatted happily in the other room. She is Irish and he is Dutch. The children all speak English with perfect Cork accents. They sound like they come from Cork and my children got quite a shock when they heard them speaking to each other in Dutch. Their mother says it is always hilarious when they are in Ireland as they go into say, a sandwich shop and the assistant asks her teenage child a perfectly ordinary question like, “Do you want coleslaw?” and they turn to her and say in Cork accents, “What’s coleslaw?” She says that she can see the shop assistants looking at her wondering whether she keeps the kids locked in a cupboard under the stairs.

They were camping out as part of a big family reunion on her side. They love to camp. Mr. Waffle refuses to camp. I tried to get them to persuade him but the more they talked the more I could see that he was mentally recoiling in horror. Oh well. On the plus side one of her cousins owns a doughnut franchise and they bought us millions of the best doughnuts I have ever tasted and I tried three so I really made an effort to get a feel for the scope of the wares on offer. Also plus, his job is inspecting nuclear power plants and he confirmed again that when the nuclear apocalypse comes, iodine tablets will be more useful that you might expect. All in all, it was really lovely to see them en masse which we haven’t done in years.

Herself meanwhile had arranged to go out to a friend’s house and mid-way through the afternoon the friend’s parents came to get her and later that evening I drove across town to collect her. Is it any wonder I await the arrival of Dublin’s improved infrastructure with impatience?

Island Living – Part Two: The Adventure Continues

27 August, 2017 at 9:55 pm by belgianwaffle

Wednesday, 2 August

Mr. Waffle and the children got the ferry to the mainland, I came back from Cork and we all met in Baltimore where we had a delightful breakfast. I brought them all UCC tat – hats and t-shirts which went down surprisingly well but Mr. Waffle, who was not fortunate enough to go to college in Cork, now has about 5 t-shirts and feels that this may be enough.

I forced everyone to go pony trekking near Ballydehob which was reasonably successful. Mr. Waffle had never been on a horse before in his life and I had hoped there would be some amusement to be got from this but, although, he mounted quite nervously all passed off peacefully.

My oldest friend (we first met as babies – our parents were friends) has a house in Ballydehob and we met her and her partner for lunch and then they took us to the fete which was a huge success. The children loved smashing crockery, throwing wellies and bouncing on the bouncy castle. Then we went round for tea to my friend’s father and step-mother who live in a beautiful house and they were very kind to us and had a lovely afternoon tea. Daniel particularly enjoyed the scones and, I think, ate 7, helped to this feat by my friend’s father, who was sitting beside him, keeping him generously supplied.

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On our way back, in memory of my youth, we went to Field’s (famous bakery) in Skibbereen. It has become a Super Valu. I’m unsure how I feel about that.

Then back to Baltimore where we inspected the castle which was well worth a visit and covered in great detail the Sack of Baltimore where in the 1600s about 100 villagers were captured by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery. Undoubtedly the single most exciting thing ever to happen in Baltimore.

We were a happy bunch boarding the ferry home. Then the ferry was very late due to an inspection. The crossing was really rough. At first the children enjoyed standing at the front of the boat bouncing up and down and getting soaked by the waves but this palled and by the time we got to the island, they were all miserable, sodden and sick as dogs. Poor Daniel actually was sick just as we pulled into the placid waters of the north harbour. Alas for the seven scones.

We did see a beautiful rainbow which in some way made up for the pain.

IMG_2254Also, we finished our jigsaw so, all in all, pretty satisfactory.IMG_2261

Thursday, August 3

The children dug their heels in and refused to leave the house. I eventually persuaded Michael to come out and inspect the library which was housed in a tiny pre-fab but had a surprisingly excellent stock. Also, I was able to leave back the library books we had brought down from Dublin and the books we took out in Cape Clear could be returned to Dublin. Is this not a superb service? I love the library.

Mr. Waffle and I went to see the lake which was a bit eerie. My father said that years ago when he had been on the island he planned to go there for a swim but when he got up to his knees, he just didn’t fancy it and waded out again. Just as well, I suppose as it is now festooned with signs warning against bathing there.

IMG_2271We strolled up to the castle then. We arrived in the late afternoon and it looked wild and remote and extraordinarily romantic. It was clearly built on the end of the peninsula and over the centuries the cliff crumbled away and now it is inaccessible on a small lonely island.IMG_2284

IMG_2286You have to hand it to the O’Driscolls, they know how to site a castle.

High on my successful touristy activities, I went to the craft shop and bought some local pottery. We also followed up on cross-questioning about school with the local teenager managing the shop (there’s a primary school on the island and for secondary, since the boarding school closed down, they go over to the mainland and stay in digs for the week and then come back for the weekend).Friday, August 4Herself was feeling a bit under the weather so she decided not to come out with us on a boat tour. We hoped to see whales and dolphins and all kinds of exotic birds. Alas, it was not to be, we saw seals alright but they are not exotic if you live in Dublin. We also saw arctic terns, shags and cormorants which we identified with varying levels of enthusiasm with the aid of binoculars and a bird book we had liberated from my parents’ house in Cork.IMG_2304

Michael spent much of the trip in this attitude. A downside, perhaps to our visit to the library the previous day.

IMG_2298The poor boatman was gutted. He made tea on his primus stove and we had tea and biscuits on the small boat rocked by the sea while he lamented the lack of more exciting birds and aquatic life. He knew my Irish teacher. Of course he did. He astonished me by telling me that he was not an O’Driscoll but his mother was. He was a native Irish speaker and it was nice for the boys to speak a bit of Irish. At least, I was pleased, not so sure about them.

 

By the time we got home, herself was feeling a bit better so I forced her out to the library (underwhelmed) and to the castle (genuinely, though reluctantly, impressed).

 

While we were gone, the boys made friends with the next door neighbours and later we all met up at the north harbour where we had ice cream. “Did you close the front door when you were leaving the house?” I asked the boys hopefully. They didn’t know. Happily crime levels on the island appear to be low. Then, high on my success with herself, I made the boys walk up to the castle as well. They were impressed also. Frankly, this castle represents the high water mark of impressing my children with anything historical.

 

It was a beautiful evening and I decided to go for a swim in the south harbour. With some difficulty I made my way in over the rocks. It was one of the coldest swims I have ever had in my life but the surroundings were utterly beautiful and aside from Mr. Waffle, sitting on a nearby rock to make sure I didn’t drown, there wasn’t a person to be seen for miles. Mr. Waffle may have been put off going in by my description of the bone-numbing cold.

 

We finally got to Seán Rua’s on pizza evening that night. It was a series of triumphs.

Saturday, 5 AugustIMG_2381

Our landlady gave us a lift to the ferry. When we got across we decided to go for breakfast in the cafe in Baltimore but it turns out it’s a lot busier mid-morning on a Saturday than early on a Wednesday (which was when we had been there last) and as we were driving back to Dublin that day, maybe not a great start. As we were late anyway, I went to the craft shop and bumped in to the creator of my island pottery which was pleasing. I bought another plate. Don’t knock it, I’m keeping the rural economy afloat.

We scurried off to the car park to find that our car had been boxed in. This was a bit alarming as the driver was unlikely to be in the town and much more likely to have gone off for the day to one of the many islands readily accessible from Baltimore harbour. We spent ages backing and filling. Many people offered advice; I went around the local businesses to see whether anyone knew the the owner; to no avail. Then this wonderful local came out from a nearby building. He began by roundly and colourfully denouncing the car which had boxed us in. This was an excellent start. Then he suggested a new approach and, with millimetres to spare, it worked. We were free.

I had decided that we would stop in Cashel on the way home. We were going to have lunch in the Cashel Palace but, alas, it was closed for refurbishment. There followed some distressing wandering around the town but we got lunch eventually. Fortified, we headed towards the Rock of Cashel. I haven’t been there for years (in fact I think the last time I was there was when Mr. Waffle and I stopped off to stay in the Cashel Palace on the way back to Dublin after our wedding in 2001) and on previous occasions, it was always pretty much empty. Not this time; it was heaving. Highlight was my heritage card getting us in free. It was really much too busy to enjoy. Daniel and myself found some of the talks interesting. The OPW guides are always superb, in fairness. However, you could barely move for tourists. Picture below gives an entirely erroneous impression of the tourist density.

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We went back to the town, fortified ourselves with sheep ice cream (fine, but, you know, not sure it’s really worth the farmer’s effort – we met the farmer’s father and he gave us the full journey from udder to cone) and hightailed it back to Dublin.

Tune in for our next installment which will be from the City of Lights.

Island Living – Part One

26 August, 2017 at 9:50 pm by belgianwaffle

We had three weeks holidays in August. The fortnight beginning, Monday, August 7 was to be spent in Paris (of which, much, much more anon) but we had no plans for the first week. A chance conversation with herself revealed a shocking ignorance of the western part of my home county so I decided we would go to West Cork for the week.

There were a number of initial difficulties. Firstly, it turns out that if you are planning to holiday in West Cork, ideally, you should book more than a week in advance. Secondly a number of places in West Cork were associated with hours of teenage boredom in my head so I vetoed Goleen (I once mortally offended a colleague by screeching, “Goleen, you’re going there voluntarily?” I spent many evenings in the back room behind the pub at the cross roads eating crisps, playing with the young daughters of the house and wishing that the grown-ups in the pub would let us all go home), Roscarberry (where I often stayed with a friend whose parents’ had a house there and we definitively established that there was nothing to do as teenagers – as a child I stayed with another friend in the Warren in Roscarberry and my memory is that all we did every day was gather the snails in one corner of the garden and then, the next morning, marvel at how far they had travelled, that’ll show you), Union Hall (too small, there’s nothing there), Schull (too crowded, too full of Dubliners), Skibbereen (a possibility but the fact that I spent a fortnight there every summer aged 1-9 meant there were few enough new worlds to explore, brother also put me off by saying “Nobody spends holidays in Skibbereen”), Leap (not even by the sea), Allihies and the Beara penninsula (too far) and Kinsale and Clonakilty (much too near, we might as well have done with it and stay in the city). Hours hunching over the computer revealed that the only coincidence of possible location and available accommodation was Cape Clear. So we booked it. I felt I was giving my children the opportunity to be bored on holidays in the same neck of the woods as myself like some kind of middle aged salmon, I was going upriver to spawn.

The evening of Sunday, July 30 saw us in Baltimore with all our belongings in the middle of a festival. It was very loud. The ferry to Cape Clear wasn’t leaving for an hour. We were all a bit tired. We went into the pub for a drink and a healthy snack while waiting for the ferry.

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It was a beautiful evening.

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Mr. Waffle kindly pointed out to us that all the boats in the harbour were pointing in the same direction because of the wind and was pretty much ceaselessly mocked for this for the remainder of the holiday because we are a cruel bunch.

At first we really enjoyed the journey across.

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The ferry, however, was surprisingly rough and surprisingly far. It was about an hour to the island. Apparently there are 100 islands in the bay and they make it quite wavy. We all felt a bit green by the time we arrived and were very glad to reach the island’s north harbour.

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The only cars on the island are owned by the locals who generally have other cars on the mainland. They are essentially falling apart and tax and insurance arrangements seem to be…unusual. It was strange. A not untypical island car:

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We went up to pub, they gave us the key to our little house and ran us up in what, in retrospect, was a jeep in reasonable order. We were near the north harbour which is the main drag on the island so all good.

Rather belatedly, I had asked my sister about the island. Our Irish teacher in school was a big fan of Cape Clear and took favoured students, of whom she was one, to work there over the summer on island genealogies (quite challenging because, as far as I can see, every person living or dead connected with the island is an O’Driscoll). “No beach and very hilly,” she said. She did not lie. The craft shop/tourist information was full of books by my Irish teacher on local matters. Since there was no love lost between us, it didn’t exactly make me warm to it, I have to say.

So, while before the famine, in the 1840s, more than 1,000 people lived on the island, there are now only about 100 year round inhabitants. It’s a Gaeltacht, in theory at least, but I didn’t hear much Irish other than from the children at the Irish college on the island. The main retail opportunity is the Siopa Beag in the north harbour. It is tiny and breathtakingly expensive. But, as Mr. Waffle pointed out, every time we went to the mainland en famille it would cost us €45 so, in this light the Siopa Beag costs seemed relatively reasonable.

Our house had no wifi (possibly why it was still available at a week’s notice) and internet connectivity on the island was generally pretty poor. This was actually a bit of a blessing. It definitely felt very away from it all. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, just before we were out of range, I showed the children this video on youtube and it became their song of the holidays. Daniel learnt all of the words; let us hope he does not remember them for the next time we visit Northern Ireland.

Monday,31 July

The next day, I suggested a walk to an open farm. It was a beautiful day and the walk was truly amazing. We saw the Fastnet in the distance and the island was wild and empty and the views were quite extraordinary. It was, however, very, very hilly and the children were, perhaps, not as enchanted as their mother. Cape Clear is a big centre for bird watching and I kept peering up shortsightedly and saying, “Is that a hawk?” but it was always another seagull.

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(Incidentally, see the Mongolian yurts on the hillside there – how’s that for cultural exchange?)

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At the end of the walk we found the farm. There were a number of large, friendly dogs and some horses but, sadly, no tea room, more of a take away scone operation. We met some girls from Clonakilty who were staying in the yurts and pronounced them excellent.

You would think that the children would have been delighted to discover that it was a looped walk and the farm was very near our house but, alas, they were bitter. To reconcile them, we said we would take them to dinner on the island’s pizzeria. It turns out that Seán Rua’s is only a pizzeria on some days so, no pizza. We went to the local pub instead. It was the meat and two veg end of things but fine for our needs.

In the absence of any internet, Mr. Waffle, Daniel and I started on the large jigsaw, Michael read the Economist and herself went to bed.

Tuesday, 1 August

I was up with the lark as I had to go up to Cork and I left Mr. Waffle and the children behind on the island. When I was debriefed subsequently, they were practically speechless with horror having toiled up the very steep hill to the cultural centre which, I understand, boasted extensive information from my former teacher’s research and was quite dull unless you are actually an O’Driscoll or, at least, related to one.

Herself acquired a hoody saying, “Meh…is cuma liom,” which is extremely appropriate.

Tune in soon again for the final installment of our island odyssey.

And We’re Baaack!

22 August, 2017 at 7:51 pm by belgianwaffle

We landed in from Paris yesterday evening and spent today frantically preparing for the new school year. The boys start secondary school tomorrow and herself is back to school on Thursday. I’m not back to work until Thursday. Frankly, I didn’t see myself spending my leave ironing on labels and doing domestic administration but into every life, some rain must fall.

Excellent holidays and, as ever, a blow-by-blow account will follow. I will begin with our week in West Cork and follow on with our trip to Paris. Hold on to the edge of your seats there.

More Cork, Other Places

2 August, 2017 at 12:49 am by belgianwaffle

Posting will be light as we are off on our holidays to West Cork for a week. I have hired a house without wifi. The children are going to be appalled.

Then when we get back, we are going to Paris. I know, Paris in August. I yearn for a simpler time when you said to Irish people that you were going to France on holidays and they didn’t ask you where. And if they did ask you, they didn’t know enough to say, “Paris, in August? Are you mad? There are only tourists and it will be baking and everything will be closed.” I also had to grit my teeth and tell the French exchange’s mother who was most amused. But she and her family will be back before we leave and I am quite looking forward to getting the two families together so that will be nice. And maybe, possibly, Paris will be nice.

Full debrief will follow on our return. Stay tuned.

Dalkey Island

1 August, 2017 at 10:11 pm by belgianwaffle

Despite my very recent resolution about probably never going on a family outing again, I made the family go to Dalkey island off the coast of Dublin a couple of weekends ago. The weather was beautiful.

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We had a picnic. We explored a bit.

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We paddled.

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We admired the view.

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I didn’t see the famous goats (apparently there are 5 on the island) but I did see some seals very close up and the largest rat I’ve ever seen in my life; also very close up but it moved faster than the seals which were basking on the rocks.

It was a success. More outings to come; my poor children.


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