Sunday, March 24, 2013


This is my second stay at the Fairylands B&B just outside the City of Armagh, and I see a third stay in my future. Four or five years ago, I had chosen the B&B for the sole reason that Maureen’s last name was Oliver, one of the family names that I have been researching near here. It was close enough for me to be able to hike in from the City of Saints and Sinners - my family included both – otherwise known as Armagh. My great-aunt, Blin Brown, used to walk into town for groceries from Killynure, a townland still known to the locals as Brown’s Hollow, and that townland is even further out from where Fairylands is. I had reckoned that if I couldn’t walk in Blin’s shoes, I could at least follow in her path.
Francis just in from working outside with the cows, and Maureen is at her post in the kitchen
 During this recent visit, walking the five mile or so round trip was not an option. The rain and sleet were blasting straight at me, horizontal to the ground, and I was still barking like an old sheep from a virus I had picked up weeks earlier. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that hiring a cab was only £4 per trip out from the centre of town. Yesterday, the roads were sufficiently flooded that we had to come in from the back of Ballycrummy Road, the usual access being several feet under water. This is unusual and extreme weather, so there was no way that I could have waded in with my bag and backpack.

How bad has it been in these early days of Spring in Northern Ireland? Bad enough that both Belfast Airports had to close on account of the snow. Although it may inconvenience travellers, it has been hell on wheels for farmers. The cows have not been able get out on the fields all winter. Rain, rain, and more rain. Stored feed is running out.
Headlines on all the Irish papers yesterday

As for me, I am ensconced in bed as I write this, savouring my morning coffee, and knowing that after I have luxuriated in a good hot shower, that a full Irish breakfast awaits. Sausages, rashers, egg, mushrooms, tomatoes, and bread three ways. Each day, when I head into Armagh to work at the local Irish History Library- a jewel in itself, I can ignore the need to break for lunch. It all works like a hot dam.
Everything you could want - and more. Usually, there are four kinds of canned fruit set out, but I told Maureen that prunes were my fave rave, and no need to also put out the grapefruit, orange, and peaches.

I plan to return in a week or so, after the weather gets its act together, and I do too. This countryside is all rolling hills with roadways and pathways that cut through the kinds of lush fields that give the Emerald Isle its name. The people are friendly, and the hostile divisiveness, that made so much of the latter part of the 20th Century here a misery, is a thing of the past.
The view out my window - a working farm, and the milk truck is picking up the day's milking.

Navan Fort, a short stroll down Navan Road from Fairylands is a site not to be missed. In past visits, I have stood atop the mound that covers thousands of years of history dating back to the time of the Bronze Age and continuing on through to the Iron Age. The view is a perfectly unimpeded 360 degrees, north, south, east and west. And yes, it feels as if it is one of the more powerful places on earth to take the time to set there awhile and ponder.

It is when I take time out in places such as this that I mull over the many ways that we humans craft a life. People have fought here, have loved here, have been born here, and have died here. Yadda, yadda. Plus ca change. The great human adventure. In the meantime, breakfast awaits.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bardons Pub and Guest House, Kilcullen, Co. Kildare.

There is not a lot of choice when it comes to finding a place to stay in Kilcullen, so I was thankful that I was given a recommendation. That being said, I did approach my time there with some apprehension. After all, Bardons is not only a Guest House, but also a pub, and I have had some past experiences of staying above pubs.  Just let’s say that ear plugs don’t usually cut it.

I need not have worried, not in the least. Bardon’s is not that kind of pub, and Kilcullen, it seems, is not that kind of village. The voices that did drift up from the street late at night were all happy ones, and their conversations brief. No wonder. Bardons seems to function like an extended living room, a homey place for families and friends who come to watch the rugby together, or to tuck into a good feed for Mothers Day. On both of the days that I was there, it was fully booked with reservation signs on virtually every table. The locals know what’s good, and make sure they get their oar in.

The entire time that I stayed there, the bar manager Eddie went out of his way to make me feel at home. The room itself was spacious and comfortable. It was modestly appointed, but the fee was modest, and hence represented good value. I did miss the fact that there was no kettle, especially since the town is small enough that a decent coffee cannot be reliably rustled up in the wee hours of the morning. Eddie did his best to see if he could find one for me, and I definitely appreciated the effort. He let me into the pub early in each day so I could get hot water for my travelling Bodum press. In the end, I was a very happy camper.

 On my last day in Kilcullen, I treated myself to lunch at the pub. It turned out to be the best fish I have ever had in Ireland – and that is saying something. After all, this wasn’t my first foray into consuming Irish fish. It is one of my fave raves. Part of what made it exceptional was that the fish and chips had not been made ahead of time and kept in a warming oven. The salad included tomatoes that had been slightly baked to concentrate the flavours, and kicked up a notch with a touch of balsamic. Everything was freshly prepared. For me.

Even better, Eddie refused payment for this lunch. Repeatedly refused - and believe me, I tried. It mattered to him that there had been a wee plumbing problem which had not been a big deal for me, but he wanted me to feel fully cared for. And so, I was, much more than anyone should reasonably expect.

So, that was my Mother’s Day in Ireland. Not too shabby.

NOTE: If you find yourself in Kilcullen, and in need of a comfortable bed, you can reach Eddie and his staff  either in the Golden Pages, or else on a Facebook Page. Eddie and his staff are all hard working and well deserving of your patronage.

Kilcullin and the Camphill Movement

 Stay Calm, Be Brave, Wait for the Signs.

I arrived in Kilcullen, a small town in County Kildare feeling like a veritable piece of The Proverbial. A week earlier, I had picked up a cold and was still snuffling and barking like an old sheep. Clearly it was one of those times when it was important to: Stay Calm, Be Brave, Wait for the Signs. Then, of course, I did see a sign, and as a result, I met Pauline.

Signs for Manna Foods and Kilcullen Farm and Nature Reserve.
 Initially, I had only been curious about what Manna Foods might have in store for me. Moments earlier, I had checked in and dropped my bags at Bardon’s Guest House just around the corner. Maybe, I thought, Manna just might have something that would complement my intended evening repast of soda bread and cheese. Perhaps an apple.

As it was, the shop was closed, but Pauline was still there, checking accounts on her computer. Come in, she said. We had no sooner started chatting, than I was overwhelmed by one of my post-viral, asthma attacks. Damn.

Pauline ran next door to fetch a glass of water from the nearby kitchen, returned, and gave me the space to reassemble myself. Once I had caught my breath, she gave me some names of people to see, and things to do in my brief time in Kilcullen. I wrote it all down on my hand – my palm pilot – having left my diary back at the B&B. There I was, travelling without pen and paper. Tsk. Tsk. It will, however, indicate to those who know me well just how entirely out to lunch I was.

It turned out that Pauline is one of the many souls who work to keep The Bridge Community afloat. Part of what this Community aims to do seems to have much in common with L’Arche, another way of integrating and supporting people with special needs. L’Arche was started by Canadian Jean Vanier. The Camphill movement started in Scotland, inspired by the writings of Rudolph Steiner. Both L’Arche and Camphill start with the premise that we are all special, and we all have needs. It may sound simple, but it is definitely more challenging to put into practice than what it might seem. There is that damnable thing about being human, after all.

As I walked back to Bardon’s, I recalled a time in the early 1970s. Three women with special needs living in a L’Arche Community Home in Victoria BC first introduced me to this inclusive approach. They were helping me train my staff at a YWCA camp. In a session that I will never forget, a young woman explained to a couple of dozen of us, in a sentence that took several, painful minutes to stutter out: I really hate it when people say I know, I know, when they haven’t taken the time to hear me.

This Community that I had stumbled into in Kilcullen also made me think of our own Roberts Creek Cohousing, another approach to interdependent living. This community includes more than seventy people, some of whom live with so-called special needs that have labels, and some who live with all sorts of other kinds of needs, temporary, or otherwise. We all stumble along in the great human experiment. When you boil it all down, we all have special needs. Moi aussi.
 It may not be obvious, but the chicken coop is on wheels. Perhaps soon, we will have something like this in Roberts Creek. I know it is being talked about.

The next day, I enjoyed a delicious, affordable lunch here. If you find yourself in Kilcullen, I can fully recommend it. Most of the ingredients are organic, some of it grown on their farm just around the corner.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Home Away from Home

In 2011, when I last stayed at Dublin’s Fleet Street Hotel, it was in the midst of substantial renovations. Walls were being demolished, everything was being reconfigured. I wasn’t sure what I would find. Grand new visions for old hotels can sometimes kill the spirit of the place. Sure, the old Fleet had become a little dowdy, worn carpets and such, but I had always felt at home there. The staff was always kind, the rooms had everything I needed, and the price was right.

The fire was on in the welcoming lounge when I arrived indecently early.
I needn’t have worried. Everything that was right about the old Fleet has stayed intact, and what was missing has been thought of and attended to: new carpets, better security, phones and WiFi in the rooms, a more comfortable lounge, and the return of the old in-house breakfasts. Also for the better, the entire hotel is now non-smoking, which given the old ventilation systems that come with such vintage buildings, is hugely welcome. For smokers, there is a comfortable outdoor patio on the 3rd floor, a pleasant place to hang out even if you don’t care to smoke.

The canteen is spacious enough, and the choices cover most bases: yoghurt, healthy cereals, fruit, as well as sausages, bacon, eggs - the usual Irish Fry. Odd duck that I am, I did miss the wheaten bread which they used to have, but I brought my own.
As always, it is the staff who make the place seem like home. On this visit, I had arrived after flying the red eye from Boston. The shuttle bus had dropped me off in downtown Dublin at 6AM. Not a great arrival time. After all, most hotels defend their right to drawing a line in the sand – a non-negotiable check-in time that is nothing like 6 AM. Thankfully, not this hotel. The desk clerk sized me up and said: Just a minute, He checked his computer. Perhaps he could sense that I hadn’t slept a wink, was fighting a cold, and indeed felt like a veritable piece of the proverbial. We do have a room that you could have now. Enjoy your rest.

I wheeled into my room, put out the Do not disturb sign, and sank into four hours of blessed sleep. This probably saved me from a much worse bout of whatever I was coming down with. Respiratory infections have never been my friend. Every time I get even the simplest of colds, it takes off its hat, hangs up its coat, and moves in for the duration. I must be one helluva a great host.

As it turned out, I still spent the next several days hunkered down in my room, alternating fluids and rest, but at least I had the comforts of my home away from home. Tomorrow, I have to leave for a few days, but I will return on Sunday. After all, why stay anywhere else?

The street-scape of the Fleet Street Hotel - it is at the quieter end of the famous Temple Bar, but if you want loud music, all it takes is a wee ramble down a cobblestone road and you are there in the thick of it.
Across the street, a Tesco answers all needs that the usual small but decent grocery stores can.
If you look at the brass plaques at your feet, you know that you are in the company of great writers - or at least in front of the pub that they used to habituate.
Still Life in Room 101. The 4 bags of green peas cost 4 Euros total, and were perfectly fresh. They and the McNamees soda bread - one of my all time fave raves - were bought at the Tescos across the street. The flask was a traveling gift from Zsuzsi Gartner, and the cookies and tea came from Marks and Spensers just up the way on Grafton Street. All in all, it is easy to decide that you don't always have to eat out.
Around the corner is a SuperValue which had been down at heel, but has recently done a retrofit. In fact the whole neighbourhood is showing considerable signs of recovery after the recent economic downturn.