Friday, August 29, 2014

The Signs of Ireland

Although Ireland is an English-speaking country, the evidence of their tie to the original language of the country, Irish-Gaelic, is still very evident. With over 40% of the entire population able to speak Gaelic, it's not unusual to hear it spoken in a few parts of the country, mainly in the country in the north and west. 

There is an effort to revive this beautiful language throughout the country however, and so children are taught the language in primary (elementary) and secondary(middle) schools. There is also evidence in all of the signage around Ireland, as most signs post in English and Gaelic. 

I thought it might be fun to take you to Ireland through the signs that are posted - most of these will be as foreign to you as they were to me. I had to ask for translation for some, and some were obvious but unique. Some were just plain quirky and funny, and open to hilarious translation. 

Regardless, I hope you find the signs of Ireland as fascinating as I did. Slainte!
Looks cheap, right? Wrong. This cost is PER LITER, and it takes four liters to make a gallon. Do the math

This is in northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, so these prices are in British Pounds.

I thought this was very was explained to me they warn you there are traffic cameras ahead. And the speed limit is 30K per hour.  This is northern Ireland.

Their way of saying, "Yield"

Hilarious! Although I think it's very thoughtful,  this sign is not politically correct enough for the United States. 

Absolutely no idea. 

A "Q" is a line. So in other words, start the line here. 

My interpretation: This way to stand in a glass of Guinness. 

This was in a bus in the Republic of Ireland (note this is in Euro's, not pounds). No idea what it means.
Their roads here are mainly numbers, this is giving directions to get to the A2. This rought, by the way, the Causeway coastal route, took us to the Giant's Causeway and the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. It was a stunning drive. 

20 Meters until an exit off the highway

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Croagh Patrick....Finally.

Croagh Patrick, (pronounced Croak Patrick) is a 2,500 ft. bald mountain in County Mayo, Ireland, and is considered to be the Holiest Mountain in Ireland.
I’m so glad you asked.
St. Patrick, (yes, THAT St. Patrick) is said to have spent forty days of fasting on top of the mountain, and it is said to have been a pilgrimage site for over 5,000 years. Legend also has it that this is the place from which he banished snakes from Ireland forever. Since I’ve yet to see one snake in all of my travels to Ireland, I’m prone to believe that. 

Well done Patrick.
Each year, on the last Sunday in July, thousands of devotees from all around the world visit the mountain for what is known as "Reek Sunday", a day of worship in honor of Ireland’s patron saint. As many as 30,000 climb the mountain that day, some even climbing barefoot, as an act of penance. After having witnessed the rocky road to the top, this is beyond my ability to even fathom.
Croagh Patrick terrain
On the short drive from the small town of Westport to the foot of the mountain, I chatted with my taxi driver, Michael, about my goal to climb to the summit. Locals refer to the mountain as “The Reek”, which, according to Michael, means “pointy place.” And as we turned the bend and I caught my first view of Croagh Patrick, I could see why.
The mountain was forbidding. Huge. I wasn’t sure if there was an actual point, as the summit was swallowed up by clouds. I had a brief thought,  Maybe this time I had bitten off more than I can chew.
As Michael chatted with me in his thick Irish brogue, he talked of the mountain as if it were an old friend. Smiling, he said he had climbed The Reek about 30 times in “his younger days.” He hesitated slightly here, and as he looked at me, he hesitantly said, “You’ll do fine.” 
I’m not sure who he was trying to convince, himself or me.
I paid him his fare and he deposited me at the bottom of the mountain, where I was able to go into a little shop to rent a walking stick, and purchase a poncho. I had a feeling that beneath those clouds at the summit, a poncho might come in handy.

The first part of the journey is pleasant and easy enough along a paved walkway. 

Soon you hit some short steps, which take you up to a statue of St. Peter. 

I think this might be the point where you have the opportunity to change your mind. But for me, it wasn’t an option. I’ve wanted to climb this mountain for three years now. I may never have another chance. Still....

Just about then, my phone buzzed with a message:

Good luck today Joyce with your mountain climb. Take your time & you will get there, I know you’ll do it!

That was pretty much the kick in the bum I needed to skirt around the statue and start my trek. Thank you Daniel.

From here I will take you on this 2,500 foot, 7km, 4.5 hour journey with me through pictures. I would add videos but have been unable to transfer them from my phone to the computer. I will also, try and tell you how I was feeling at each point of the way.

I hope you enjoy your climb. It will, no doubt, be much easier than mine. Slainte!

The first third of the journey is not difficult, but footing starts to get a bit precarious. This was the most beautiful part of the journey, with waterfalls and heather in every direction. I tried not to see The Reek looming ahead of me. 

This couple were from County Tyrone and were speaking Gaelic. They were out for a morning run and decided at the last minute to climb the mountain. They were unprepared - no walking stick, or water. I gave them some of my water, and although it was the right thing to do, it would come back to bite me later. They made the trip though, I passed them as they were coming down.
Still climbing, the heather starts to become scarce, the terrain rocker and more unsteady.

The land starts to slope off, and the wind picks up. Still feeling pretty good here.

I look behind me to see how far I've come. The statue of St. Patrick is the white spec on the bottom right of the screen.
Rockier and with a very difficult slope.....I'm still climbing but looking back to see my progress. At this point there is no opportunity to look at anything other than where I'm putting my feet. 
These two men were brothers, one lives in England, one in Ireland. They had never tried the mountain before and were struggling. I passed them later on, coming down. They had not made it to the top. They warned me that it was steep and difficult.
What happened to that beautiful heather??? Loose rock impossible to avoid. Clouds are getting thicker the higher I get. Wind is brutal enough to knock me over but I keep my footing. On the way down, this was the most difficult part, and I did loose my footing three times. Gravity pulling, wind pushing. I laughed out loud at how crazy this all was. 
 At one point I look up and see this...people had used stones and rocks to spell their name on the bottom side slope of the mountain.
Here I am at the summit - the dampness from the clouds made pictures almost impossible. I made it to the top of The Reek in exactly 2 hours. This is average, in fact a little less than average! At this point I'm feeling great, but tired. On my mind is the trip down. I know what's ahead of me and I'm not looking forward to it. I would rather climb uphill any day then down. I'm sweaty and cold here. The wind at the top was absolutely brutal and I would guess the temperature was just shy of freezing. 
I almost tripped over this goat at the summit. He jumped out in front of me and stopped before I could see him, the clouds were just that thick. We stared at each other for a few minutes and I just cracked up. Adorable and perfect.

The trip down the mountain took 2:15. It was the hardest thing I've ever done - every step was purposeful and slow. I slipped three times - about average from what I could see around me. About halfway down my left leg cramped up from thigh to ankle, I was in agony, so I drank the remainder of my water. I knew it was going to be hard but I kept moving. You don't get anywhere standing still. 

Kept meeting the same people along the way, some made it, and some turned around. Overall, it was a journey I'm glad that I took. Would I do it again? No. Absolutely not. 

So how did you do on this journey?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Belfast and Its Famous Ship

Most American’s, when they think of Belfast, likely think of “The Troubles” of Ireland that took place in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. I have much to say on that subject, as I’ve been pleasantly steeped in the history, and an eager student for the past few days. (That will be my a future blog post, so stay tuned, it’s a fascinating subject.)

But today I am anxious to share something with you that I was, ashamedly, ignorant of until I met Daniel and Peter, who live in the City of Belfast.

Thanks to James Cameron, we all have a somewhat truthful knowledge, of the ill-fated ship, Titanic. What you may not know . . . in fact, what I’m most certain most of you don’t know, is that the Titanic was built in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

I’ve found the city of Belfast to be as multi-layered as an onion, and this was just one more revelation that delighted me. I am going to attempt to share with you now what I learned as I walked the shipyard where the Titanic was built, and where passengers boarded, but there is no way I can translate the absolute beauty of the area and how the people of Belfast have brought this story to life. They have, in essence, managed to resurrect the ship so that you feel as though you have stood in the bowels and walked the deck.

The first notable landmarks associated with the Titanic are two giant yellow cranes that sit in the harbor of Belfast. These cranes are actually visible from miles away, they are just THAT BIG. The cranes held the Titanic as it was being built in 1909-1911. 

The Titanic launched out of Belfast Lough on May 31, 1911.  Interestingly, however, the ship was not yet “fitted out”, meaning there were no guest accommodations, furniture and such. It would take 3,000 men  another 10 months before the ship was ready to receive passengers.

Just a few hundred yards away from the cranes, sit the Titanic museum. But this isn’t your typical museum. It is a tribute.

The front of the building is designed as an exact replica of the hull of the Titanic.

The most fascinating thing, however, was the layout of the ship. They have erected steel posts that mark the length of the Titanic and show the divisions of the ship, so you can actually stand there and feel as though you are in the ship. The ground has an outline around these steel beams that show the scope of the ship. It’s fascinating to stand there and realize that this was an absolutely massive ship.

The point you see on the ground would illustrate the very front point of the Titanic. Looking back, the steel beams outline the proportions and size of the ship. 

On a glass wall nearby are the name of the 1500+ people who lost their lives in association with the ship, not just in the sinking, but during the building as well.
The Titanic was captained by Edward Smith, whose name is here on the wall with the names of all the lost. The story goes he went down with the ship, and in the water, swam to a lifeboat but turned away when he saw it was overcrowded.  In all, thee were 898 total crew members: Chefs, bakers, butchers, scullions, mailroom staff, barbers, engineers, fireman, stokers, trimmers stewards, pursers, waiters and other uniformed and ununiformed on both upper and lower decks.  Seventy-six percent of the crew were lost at sea.

Peter and Daniel explained that there were deaths that occured in the building of the ship, and many of these were questioned due to the strife between Catholics and Protestants. Did he fall? Was he pushed? We may never know. We do know that during the launching of the Titanic, shipyard worker James Dobbin was hit by fallen timbers and killed. Working in the shipyard was low pay, dangerous and physically demanding. Accidents, such as falling into the river and being crushed, was common. People worked up to 68 hours a week.

The headquarters of the White Star Line, where Bruce Ismay and others designed the Titanic. As chairman of the White Star Line, Ismay was in the odd position of being a passenger on board a ship he owned. It was Ismay's influence that caused Captain Smith to accelerate through the icefield rather than slow down or stop for the night. After the disaster, Ismay was savaged by both American and British press for deserting the ship while women and children were still on board. He denied that was the case, stating he went into the water then climbed into a lifeboat nearby.