Saturday, May 10, 2008

Journey to Ireland and Northern Ireland

Our journey to Ireland and Northern Ireland was a true adventure that began on June 1, 2005. We saw, tasted, heard, felt, and learned something beautiful, amazing, historical, factual, and interesting every day.We traveled nearly a 1000 miles haphazardly around Ireland and Northern Ireland, from Dublin to County Fermanagh/Cassidy-land in Northern Ireland, visiting Enniskillen, Bally Cassidy, Devenish Island, Irvinestown on to Belleek, down the western coast through BallyShannon and Sligo to Galway along Coast Road to the mesmerizing sights of County Clare to Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher to the southwest corner of Ireland with the panoramic beauty engulfing us along the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Skellig in Counties Kerry and Cork, not missing the beautiful coast villages of Waterville, Sneem, and Glengariff, up through Blarney to Cahir and Cashel in County Tipperary ("It's a long way to Tipperary") back to Dublin. Just remembering it makes me exhausted.

It was challenging and demanding driving on the opposite side of the road and on the opposite side in the car on sometimes not-so good roads that were originally designed for horse and carriage and haven't been changed much during the last, uh, 1000 years, but we managed. Some of the two-lane highways were as wide as normal single lanes. I again, felt like a young, fearless rally driver, especially when racing through the mountains and coast roads. Just remember, think left, think left! It was also exciting when Dad was driving, just ask Mom.

We stayed comfortably and economically at family-owned bed and breakfast's that were fantastic. The owners were nice, friendly, and the hospitality was second to none. Many gave us traveling "places to go and see" tips that were especially helpful, as well as general discussion about anything coming to mind.

And let's not forget the traditional Irish breakfasts, made up of link sausage, bacon (also known as country ham), eggs over-easy, orange juice, toast with jam, cereal, and coffee for mom and me. It is a doctor's worst nightmare, high cholesterol, but none-the-less, filling and delicious, especially the sausage.

We explored the area in Northern Ireland, BallyCassidy in County Fermanagh, where our family, the Cassidys or O'Caiside, descend. Did you know that there are over 40 million Irish-Americans in America? I am 7th generation and proud to return to my roots on the Emerald Isle.

We met many friendly people who we shared a conversation and laugh with. Although we didn't meet any Cassidys, we met many people who were either related or knew a Cassidy.

One gentleman even said, "Cassidys are a great, respected family name here in Ireland." And that I believe, Cassidy is a great and respected name wherever you go, hence our motto "Frangas non flectes" meaning "Thoust may break, but not bend". Through the ages it has been and will remain a great name. I think it's true to say, "We've never met a stranger we didn't know".

We saw many breathtaking and beautiful sights that captured our eyes and our hearts. As soon as we thought it couldn't get any more beautiful, another marvelous sight would grace us. Welcome to Ireland, land of tranquility and beauty.

We visited many castles (Dublin Castle, Castle Archdale, Monea Castle, DunGuaire Castle, Blarney Castle, Cahir Castle, and the Rock of Cashel). They amaze me with their history and preservation. There were even a few castles that just seemed to appear along our journey out of nowhere.

And I did not realize all of the great writers coming out of Ireland: Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeates, Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, and James Joyce. And my relative, Mor Ó Caiside, who wrote in 1147 the poem Banshenchas (The Lore of Woman), which tells the history of women of the world.

We were also privileged to listen to some great, live traditional Irish music sessions in various pubs. The beats of the bodhrán, rhythms of the guitar and mandolin, spirit of the tin whistles and flutes, the stringing of the violin, and pumping of the box accordion, that played together harmoniously were music to my soul. In addition to the music, I especially enjoyed the friendly discussions with locals and other travelers, the
"Irish Pub feeling", as well as drinking the fresh, dark pints of Guinness that belong to Irish tradition and culture.

For me, one way to experience the culture is to visit the pubs and talk with the people. You can learn much by just talking and listening. The pubs serve as meeting places where people go to talk, listen to music, and have a good time, but not to get "drunk", like one might associate with pub life. I learned many things about the culture through conversation with someone while we were in the pubs. Pub life belongs to Irish culture and it was great to experience it.

Touching to me, is the Irish are culturally proud and passionate people willing to chat and enjoy life. I heard when first arriving to Dublin, that there is Irish time and normal time. A gentleman told me that we, the Irish, have been here for so long that there is no hurry. To me, that statement says is all. The Irish are surrounded with beautiful countryside, loughs , valleys, cliffs, green pastures, and many stories to tell. These are even more obvious in the culture through art, poetry, writings, stories and superstitions,
and especially the music. Their passion for life is obvious.

This trip was absolutely wonderful. It was my second time, but was just as beautiful and captivating as the first. It was nice traveling with my parents. We saw many things and traveled far and were fortunate to do it together. I have read about and researched my Irish roots, as well as been interested in Ireland for a long time, however, I have learned more genuine and real information through traveling in Ireland than from reading any book.

I am already seriously planning my trip back for next summer. There is just something about the Emerald Isle that keeps pulling me back. Is it the beautiful landscapes, friendly people, traditional music, long history, passionate culture, or my roots? I don't know, maybe it is a combination of everything or just my desire to travel to Ireland.

Below is a day by day diary I kept. It is filled with the details of our travels in Ireland. I recommend that if you have read this far, to continue to really understand our trip. Hope you enjoy!

June 1, The journey begins. I meet my parents at Gatwick airport in London at about 9:30 in the morning. I had arrived the day before and toured around the city during the day before returning to the airport, where I would sleep for the night. I wanted to greet my parents as they departed from the airplane.

They were tired after a long journey from Mocksville, North Carolina, as was I after waiting in Gatwick Airport all night, but it was a happy reunion and the wait was worth it. It was wonderful seeing them again and I was proud that they made the journey. After breakfast, reuniting, and changing airports…

We are now on our way to the Emerald Isle.

The flight was nice and quick, but we wouldn't have known it because we were all asleep. What a power nap! I awoke just as we were flying over Dublin Bay. The anticipation and excitement of returning to Ireland was an awesome feeling for me.

14:40- We arrived in Dublin, Ireland safely. Mom says to me, "I'm ready"! O.K., we will see! I was still just amazed that we were all together in Dublin, Ireland.

From Dublin Airport, we rented a car for our 10-day adventure in Ireland. It was a "Great Car", a blue, 4 door Nissan Almera. Mom thought it was small, and it was, but small is important in Ireland because of the narrow and sometimes not-so-good road conditions. Oh, the challenge; driving on the opposite side of the road, as well as the opposite side in the car. No problem, let's go!

And now, we are on our way to our Bed and Breakfast, located on Clontarf Road, about 4 miles outside of Dublin City Center.

16:00- We were all tired, but relieved that we had finally reached our destination and wouldn't have to fly on any airplanes for a while. The name of our B & B was Slievenamon B & B and was located on the Dublin Bay, a major shipping port with boats coming in from all over the world. It is a beautiful home filled with amazing antique furniture and the owner is super friendly. The view from our window on the top floor is the Dublin Bay and Wicklow Hills and he claims that it is the best view in Dublin. I think we all agree on that. The view of the bay and the distant hills was a taste of the sights to come.

By the time we get situated and relaxed, it is already evening. It is nice to be in Ireland again, especially with my parents. A much-awaited return after one year was definitely worth the wait. I am thrilled to be back and this is going to be a wonderful trip. I take a short stroll down to the beach and just absorb my surroundings. This is Ireland and we are here. It is a bit windy, but sunny and nice.

Tonight, we will just relax and travel down the road to have a nice dinner together.

June 2, 8:00- Overcast skies, sunny, temperature 15C. We wake up early and enjoy our first-of-many Traditional Irish breakfasts, made up of link sausage, bacon (which we call country ham), eggs over-easy, orange juice, toast, cereal, and coffee for mom and me. It is a doctor's worst nightmare, high cholesterol, but none-the-less filling and tasty.

Let's see Dublin! By 10:30, we are in Dublin. On our way to join a hop-on, hop-off guided bus tour of Dublin, we stop and look at a famine memorial along the River Liffey. The statues are life size and detailed to show the severity of the great famine of Ireland.

Dublin City Tour- This is what we saw in Dublin: the Custom's House on the River Liffey, which was destroyed in an attack during the War of Independence in 1927 (see the movie "Michael Collins"). The General Post Office on O'Connell Street, which was the sight of the abortive Declaration of the Irish Republic in Easter 1916 (also "Michael Collins").

We got off the bus to visit Trinity College, which is home to the "Book of Kells" and the movie "Educating Rita" was filmed there. We visited Dublin Castle and had a short lunch there.

We saw Christ Church Cathedral on our way to a long visit at St.Patrick's Cathedral founded in 1192, where we went inside. Beautiful, graceful, high arches, decorative stained-glass windows, historic, monumental, are just some of the thoughts while inside the cathedral. On site, a monument reads, "Near here is the reputed site where S. Patrick baptized many of the local inhabitants in the 5th Century A.D". It
was just unbelievable to be here!

From here, we visited Guinness Brewery at St.James Gate. It was about 17.30 by now, so unfortunately, we couldn't take the tour because the last bus would be coming shortly, but we did have time to go inside briefly. I learned this about my favorite beer: Arthur Guinness, on the 31st of December 1759, took a 9000 year lease at $45 annual rent per year for Guinness Brewery at St.James Gate in Dublin. Now, it's the largest stout brewery in the world producing 300 million pints a year. In 1862, the traditional Irish
harp was adopted, symbolizing the special bond between Guinness and Ireland.

20:30- Evening comes and we are worn out after a full day of touring Dublin. Now, the "interesting" people come out in Dublin. The only thing on my mind is listening to traditional Irish music over a few pints of Guinness, while the only thing on my parent's mind is food and getting out of the city center. So, after "discussing"this matter, we leave the city center and head back in the direction of Clontarf to a pub, "Pebble Beach Pub", we had heard mentioned earlier.

But, first, our first "Fish n' Chips" experience. Chips, meaning french fries by the way.

By 22:00, we were in Pebble Beach Pub and I was happy. Traditional Irish music in a nearby, local, friendly pub, with a few pints of fresh, thick, dark Guinness, and my parents made for a relaxing and enjoyable evening.

It was a 3-man band of guitar, flute, and mandolin playing traditional Irish music, including "Star of the County Down", which I requested. It became livelier as the night progressed, especially when an elder fellow sung "Our Wedding Day", a beautiful Irish song. It was a special treat for everyone listening. In Ireland, pub culture is interesting because it is where friends meet to talk over a few pints. Not to
get drunk, but as a meeting place. I really have a deep passion and love for traditional Irish music and it's best in the small pubs as the unison of the flute, mandolin, and guitar play harmoniously together.

We sat and talked with a young couple, Neal and Fionna, who were friendly and kind and told us a lot about the area and Ireland in general. We talked about Bill Clinton, cars, the economy, Irish Culture, American Culture, and everything else near and far.

Irish people are friendly and always ready to join you for a conversation. In addition, they think highly of Bill Clinton because he did a lot of work for the peace process in Northern Ireland. That's good for us, not only because he descends from the Cassidy's, but because we also like him. One lad told this joke; "Bill plays the saxophone, but he also has learned to play the har-Monica"! Our friends said that Bush is only seen as a figurehead, where Clinton was a person and a president.

June 3,
We began the day with a 5-mile hike in the nearby, small, fishing village of Howth. The scenery was beautiful, as was the weather. Sunny skies and only a light breeze. It was an enjoyable, yet tiring walk along a narrow trail on high cliffs that neighbor the Irish Sea. The sights were breathtaking, especially "Ireland's Eye", which was a rocky, green little island about 600 meters off the coast
accessible by boat. We continued to the end of the trail, where we saw a lighthouse overlooking the Dublin Bay.

It was a nice hike and by the way, it was mom and dad's idea.

All in all, Dublin was delightful and filled with a lot of history, but was similar to any other big city with a large population and a lot of international people. Irish Culture lies in the countryside, though.

We left Howth shortly after lunchtime and were on our way to County Fermanagh (Cassidy Land), a border county in Northern Ireland. Sights of green fields and modern, stone houses were throughout the countryside on our way.

Now the difficult task of trying to find a B & B. It was about 19.30 on a Sunday when we went through Enniskillen and BallyCassidy on to Irvinestown. We were also a little hungry, but luckily we found another fish 'n chips place to eat. In Irvinestown city limits, we accidentally visited a hotel that had been bombed earlier, so we decided it was best not to stay there. It was interesting, however, to see first hand results of the
"troubles". In addition, it was the only time we had felt a little uneasy there, like we didn't belong. Maybe it was also because of our imagination and being tired, hungry, and the thoughts of the past would always be in the backs of our minds.

We ended up staying at Fletcher's Farm B & B outside of Irvinestown city limits. It really was a farm, too and the owners were a delightful, old couple. If you take the time to talk with the B & B owners, as well as anyone, you will find yourself in a conversation because the Irish are warm, friendly, and genuine.

We missed Bill Clinton, who has worked diligently for the peace process in Northern Ireland, by one week. He had visited in Enniskillen just the week before and people were still talking about it. Luckily, we got to read last week's newspaper.

June 4, Weather is cool with rain-like clouds, temperature is 15C. Last night was a bit cool in our room because the lady forgot to turn the heater switch on, but it was not too bad.

Today we are going to explore County Fermanagh and learn about this area where all Cassidy's descend. Cassidy is a County Fermanagh family and is the 5th most common of the native Irish names. Cassidys were hereditary ollavs and physicians to the Maguires, rulers of Co.Fermanagh from 1300-1600. Our family motto, "Frangas Non Flectes", means thou mayst break, but not bend.

10:00- We barely make the small boat/ferry to Devenish Island, which is located near Enniskillen on Lower Lough Erne. The ferry ride takes about 5 minutes and there is only about 11 people altogether on the boat. I have read a lot about Devenish Island and its connection to the Cassidy's over the past year and I am really excited, proud, and relieved to be here.

And there it is…The round tower, St. Molaise's House, and St.Mary's Abbey from a short distance.

St.Molaise founded Devenish Island in the 6th Century as a monastic dwelling. The ruins of a monastery, two churches, an oratory, graves, and a well preserved round tower still remain on the island. Also, a non-traditional Irish Cross (because of the open face) that dates back to the 15th century, which stands to the left of St.Mary's Abbey. I am really fascinated by the awe and beauty of Celtic crosses, but this one was interesting with its open face.

The Cassidy's served as "erenaghs", hereditary land managers for the church's property and studied and worshipped here at Devenish Island. In addition, in the cemetery closest to the shore are gravestones with the names of Cassidy physicians and priests dating back to the early 1700's.

Following Devenish Island, we took a guided tour around Lower Lough Erne. It was fabulous! Our guide, Mr.John Cunningham, who is a local historian and has written 20 books about the history of Co.Fermanagh, as well as a pageant for the Cassidy Clan Rally of 2000, was knowledgeable and professional showing us around Fermanagh. He showed us and explained to us of many interesting facts and places we wouldn't have found or known on our own.

The first place we stopped was at BallyCassidy Post Office, located in BallyCassidy, which is about 4 miles north of Enniskillen. BallyCassidy is a small area, but I am proud to be standing in the ancestral home of all Cassidys. BallyCassidy is a small, rural area known as a townland. It is without a pub or grocery store and the post office is the only sign of its existence. Across from the post office, is the Cloughbally Corn Mill, which lies on the BallyCassidy River. It was really interesting to be here.

Our next stop was at Killadeas Church, which was built in the 6th century and was home to the Killedie Monks, "Servants of God". Mr.Cunningham took us to the graveyard where we saw some interesting and ancient tombstones, made of river stones. They are assumed to be river stones because you can see where there have been rocks or other debris caught in current wearing small crevices in the back of the stone. The
bishop's grave, in particularly, had the outline of his figure on the side with a carving of his face on the back of it. It was quite remarkable.

Then, we visited the Cassidy Ancient Rath, which was a meeting place for the Cassidy Clan in a protected circle of trees so the clan could meet together safely. It was common among ancient Celtic Settlers.

Then, we visited Monea Castle, which was originally a Maguire stronghold and built in about 1620 of Scottish design. It was well preserved to be such an old castle. I really am interested in the history and the common sight of these old castles in the countryside.

The day turned out to be a wonderful, enlightening, and educational. A magnificent person and guide who explained and guided us to places "off the beaten track" along Lower Lough Erne in County Fermanagh. For example, we saw where the Americans dumped there unused war supplies after WWII, beautiful scenery and panoramic views along the lake and country side, heard many interesting, historical, sad, happy, and shocking stories from the county, and the list goes on.

All and all, County Fermanagh wasn't too different than the rural areas of the Carolinas. Green fields and valleys were prominent everywhere along Lough Erne and the rest of the county. There was peat bog and bog cotton, colorful flowers, numerous farms and tractors, and many friendly faces. And most importantly, instead of throwing your hand up like we would do in Mocksville, North Carolina, we learned quick to give a "thumbs up" when meeting someone on the road. I felt at home and welcome in County Fermanagh

We learned that there aren't as many Cassidys living in the area as I previously thought. The most prevalent of past and present are the Maguires. The Cassidys were scholars and physicians, and many remain that today, but have moved out into the world to help others. Maybe that can be applied to me. Maybe it's in my roots, blood, and hereditary that I have went out unto the world. I am proud and lucky to be here, especially with my parents, in "Cassidy Land", where all Cassidys descend. The purpose of this trip to County Fermanagh was to literally see and learn where our family originates. My next trip to Co.Fermanagh will be to meet and talk to some Cassidys with the hope of learning and connecting our family lines. Now that I have a feel for the area and made some essential contacts, this goal is realistic.

Unfortunately, White Island, which has the Janas God (God of war who was believed to show up on the battlefield as a crow) rock carvings and Boa Island were closed due to foot and mouth scare.

By the evening, we were exhausted again, but that's traveling. We walked around a bit in Enniskillen and ate at the Oscar Wilde Restaurant, dedicated to Oscar Wilde. Of course, I filled up on Guinness and Baileys for desert. It was a nice restaurant and filled with the works and quotes from Oscar and a few from other Irish writers.

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