We went to Limerick, Ireland, to see Western Ireland, the only part of that country we hadn't yet Bob helps out touched, and to make one last try at finding genealogical records, once again without much success. The people we had been seeking this Summer were farmers and laborers and rope makers, who never did leave much of a trail of records behind. So we diligently hunted in the library, and refused the opportunity to buy expensive genealogical services, and then settled down to the pleasant business of sightseeing.
We walked through the main parts of the city admiring buildings and storefronts, and enjoying the presence of the River Shannon. So many of the cities we've visited have been bisected by rivers; we found it interesting that most places have made some recent efforts to build walking paths through at least some portions of the riverfront. Here and there we found poetry nailed up on walls. Here is one example: "The Limerick is A Limerick limerick furtive and mean. You must keep her in close quarantine. Or she sneaks up to the slums/ and promptly becomes/disorderly, drunk and obscene.".
We visited the City Museum and learned only a little bit more than we knew already. "Limerick lace", highly popular in Victoria's time,, is created by embroidering on a net background, and local businesses imported the net and set the young ladies to work -- up to 3,000 employees in the mid-nineteenth century. So that's one activity that might have employed some Limerick relatives. Fortunately for Limerick, Queen Victoria took a liking to Limerick lace, and sales were brisk. Unfortunately for Limerick, after Prince Albert died, the Queen required all her lace to be black, which was very hard on the eyes of the lacemakers.
One of the most popular of Limerick's tourist attractions is King John's castle, completed around 1210, Limerick lacenow one of the best preserved Norman castles in Europe. Designed to protect the Norman lords from the Gaelic kingdoms in the West of Ireland, it fulfilled its purpose until the 17th century, when Irish Catholic noblemen rose up against the dominant English Protestant noblemen.
The castle fell to the Irish Confederacy when the besiegers who vastly outnumbered the defenders, weakened the foundations by mining. This mining is the reason that even more parts of the castle have not survived. The city and the castle were punished severely by Cromwell's New Model Army in 1649-50; later the Jacobites fled to Limerick but negotiated a treaty which allowed the leaders to flee to France in 1691.
The castle fell into disrepair but has been restored and enhanced with a modern interactive museum, completed in 2013 (just in time for Limerick to begin its year as a National City of Culture). As with most King John's castle European castles, there are many opportunities for children to dress up as mediaeval warriors and tradespersons, but for us the most interesting exhibits revealed the work of archaeologists in unearthing the foundations of the castle along with three Viking-era houses located within the castle walls.
After a nice bowl of soup in the castle cafe, we proceeded to an entirely different experience - the first of the Autumn Lunchtime Concert Series in the City Library.
The ConTempo String Quartet was named last fall as the resident quartet for RTE, which is the Irish equivalent of the BBC. Formed in 1995 in Roumania, and the winners of 14 international prizes, the ConTempo now are a quartet in residence in the West of Ireland.
Here we were, in a small city library in the west of Ireland, listening to a striking and beautiful concert by outstanding musicians, with a wonderful selection of pieces. We got to the library early, so naturally we sat down and listened raptly while the quartet rehearsed a piece that was not part of today's The ConTempo string quartet program.
Beginning the concert with Haydn's "Rider" string quartet, the ConTempo proceeded to a haunting and emotional 21st century work by a Belfast composer, Elaine Agnew, entitled "Ready, Steady, Go," and concluded with a guest appearance by Zoe Conway, a musician who plays both classical violin and Irish fiddle music. She first played a medley of two fiddle tunes, one Irish and one Appalachian, on a specially tuned instrument, and then joined as a quintet to play a very recent and quite dramatic piece produced at a summer music workshop by a composer from Uzbekhistan.
We were thrilled and delighted! All summer we had been hoping to find any old daytime concert, and finally, just before we return to the U.S., we stumble upon one of the finest string quartets ever. In a library! Wow!
Shannon airport is in the outskirts of Limerick. When it was built in 1942, there were old farm buildings on the property which were relocated to a property in Bunratty, not far from the airport. This was the germ of the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, a lovely collection of buildings less than ten miles from downtown Limerick. Over the intervening 70 years more and more historic buildings have been reconstructed within the park.
We caught bus # 343 out of Limerick (it stopped just across the street from our hotel) and got to the park just as it was opening. It was a beautiful day, the sun shining brightly after a midnight rain had freshened the land. The houses and barns are nestled in a wooded grove which was a delight to explore.
We were after some education, as usual, and wanted to know what it was like for the ancestors we are A thatcher working tracing in the mid-nineteenth century. Of course these ancestors, like the majority of those born in Ireland over the centuries, could not make a living on land they did not own and so fled - one to England, others to America. The houses on display at Bunratty range from a poor farm laborer's cottage to the castle itself, the home of an earl and his family.
So as we strolled through the park we gave less time to the homes and furnishings of the well-to-do and even the just-prosperous and concentrated on the dwellings of those who were struggling to get by. Furthermore, we focused on the Irish and Roman Catholic families and not on the English and Church of Ireland ones.
Many buildings had thatched roofs, and a thatcher was hard at work renewing the roof on one of them. All had fireplaces, and quite a few were burning peat harvested from nearby turf bogs. In one house the cow slept inside throughout the winter; in another the youngsters had to climb a ladder to get to their bedroom. In the poorest houses the furniture was all hand made, and in the Catholic homes there were statues or pictures for Laborer's home protection and veneration.
Of course we chatted with the lady who was whipping up a batch of scones to be sold in the tea room. She told us the recipe was flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, margarine, eggs, raisins and buttermilk, and she never measured anything. Considering how delicious the scones have tasted for the past five months we think any way they make them is OK with us!
In addition to the many dwellings there were farm buildings and farm animals to see, an old walled garden, some Irish red deer, two grain mills and a church, and several pleasant places to shop, eat and drink, located in a short "village street," all in all a felicitous setting.
We were lucky we came early, as by the time we left there were nine tour buses lined up in the parking lot. One tour guide had what can only be called a stentorian voice as he explained things about the great hall in the earl's castle. We ducked out the back door. But we agreed it's not surprising that Bunratty is on the agenda for many tours of Ireland.
The Cliffs of Moher
County Clare, home of the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren, has given itself over to tourism as its primary source of economic strength. Beef cattle comes a distant second. With beaches and golf courses and campgrounds and hotels and inns scattered all over, and a world-class attraction in the Cliffs of Moher, not to mention the Aran Isles and the Burren, there is plenty of tourist interest. The cliffs of Moher
We took a day tour out of Limerick and were not disappointed. As it happened, the fourteen of us in our little bus were mostly from California, proving County Clare's touristic success. The Cliffs of Moher are 700 feet high and home to many seabirds and aquatic species in the surrounding ocean waters.
To the North, the Burren is an area of limestone outcropping eroded by the last ice age and modern rainstorms. From the signboard: It is a great place to see features of the Burren's karst landscape such as clints and grikes and dolines.
As all tourist bus tours do, ours showed us various ruined stone buildings, picturesque villages with narrow streets, and a neolithic dolmen burial site. By lunchtime we had reached the shore of Galway Bay.
There was a light mist in the morning, giving way to cloudy skies with occasional patches of sunlight later in the day. This did nothing to discourage the buses and cars and bicycles and vans at the visitor center for the Cliffs.
Our driver was professional and quite entertaining; he kept us interested for nearly 9 hours, and gave us plenty of stops, some short, some longer, to see the attractions.