Al and Marsha's Journal
 

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March 17th. St. Patrick's Day

 

It is St. Patrick's Day in Ireland. There can be no better place to experience St. Patrick's Day than in a small Irish town in the Republic of Ireland. I have just returned from Main St. where I spent four hours watching the events of the day unfold.

 

It was an amazing experience, coming from a place where parades don't occur anymore because the nay-sayers and hand wringers in our society have convinced someone that they must be harming someone. Anyway I must tell you that the whole town was there, all 15,000 of them. Parents, grandparents, babies, toddlers, pre-teens, teens, post teens, the lot. Amazingly every one of them, incuding the teenagers, boys and girls alike were having fun, and not too cool to admit it. Aye, it was a brilliant sight, it was.

 

It saddens me that our society has become so jaded and anal about having public fun, and that our children are missing something important. It seems to me that one should not have to got to Disneyland to play, although I have to admit that I enjoy it there.

 

I can prove mathematically that all 15,000 of the town's population were there as follows: the route was about one half mile long, 2,500 feet or so, and if we assume that each person took up an average of two feet then, given that there were observers at least six deep along the whole length of the parade route on both sides of the road, then  (2,500/2)*(6*2) = 15,000. See, I told you!

 

The parade itself was mostly what one would expect; marching bands, some military, some simple theme floats, and interestingly, an entry of some sort from dozens of local businesses, such as companies which sweep roads, companies which flush out cess pools (I kid you not, they were in the parade), florists, garden supplies, car and truck dealers, you name it, they were there. 

 

Clearly, commercial interests aside, this parade, like any good parade was about the kids, who were there in droves and loving all of it.

 

I violated my declared strongly held rule about photographing people by rationalizing that people were taking pictures all over the place, and if one was going to dye one's hair green, or wear a silly leprechaun's hat then one should expect to be photographed. I got some interesting faces in the crowd, as well as the parade. (P)

 

Now for a bit of philosophizing:

 

I got there very early, and was able to find a parking space right near the parade route, and I wanted to watch the whole event unfold. When I arrived the fences along the route were just being put in place and there were very few people about.

 

I wandered up the side road toward the cathedral at the top of the street, and saw that there was a service in progress. As today is Monday, and St. Patrick's Day and as the place was full to overflowing, I concluded that it was a special service in honour of the day.

 

This gave me pause as the day progressed, because the parade, the decorations, the funny hats, and the flags were all in Ireland's colours. People were dressed in a variety of ways and a great many with the Green, White and Gold of the flag. A number of adults and children alike had gone so far as to dye their hair green, and many children, and some adults, had their faces painted in the colours of the flag. Many small children sported hats or flags which had clearly been made as part of a school or a pre-school project. This holiday is a VERY big deal here. On the telly the news from around the country showed town after town having parades which were virtual carbon copies of what I watched on Main Street today.

 

What gradually became apparent as the day progressed is that this is both a religious and a patriotic holiday. I have tried to think if any national holidays in Canada have such a dual nature, and I can't think of one. The patriotic aspect is obviously very strongly held, and of course deeply held religious conviction is a natural part of daily life here.

 

It was a most rewarding and enriching experience to be part of this.

 

I have picked up a few  more cultural expression differences to add to the list:

 

A medical clinic is a Surgery

 

The police are the Garda

 

Drivers don't signal, they indicate

 

When something is terrific its Brilliant.

 

A freeway is a Motorway or a Dual Carriageway.

 

I have also neglected to give due credit to the outstanding weather this long weekend. Each day has been bright sunshine and warm.  I can't  imagine today happening in wet miserable weather. Everyone is saying that this could be the summer for Donegal.

 

Unfortunately long range photography doesn't work well with my digital camera, as there is a constant haze, even though the sun is shining. Without long lenses, filters, etc. this  cannot be overcome. This is why some of my pictures of distant hillsides, etc have a slightly  hazy look.

 

Another observation about driving. Well, actually about parking. Even though the streets are impossibly narrow and difficult to maneuver at the best of times, people are prone to parking on whichever side of the street has an opening, without regard to which direction they are facing. Also, even in one and one half lane streets, there will often be a car double parked. Driving along these busy and almost always, two way streets under these conditions would normally lead to horn honking, shouting and assorted rude gestures. In my experience here, this does not happen. Everybody gives way graciously in the correct assumption that soon someone will give way for him or her. Marsha will probably laugh out loud at this, but I have adapted very well to this style, and find it very enjoyable and satisfying. I don't think I have cursed a single driver since I have been here. Well, maybe one, but nobody's perfect and it takes a while to overcome old habits.

 

I have made another observation about which I watched carefully today to see if I was correct. At the risk of not being PC, (which I despise anyway) I have seen that there is virtually no sign of any minority racial groups here. I have not seen more than two Asian faces here in two weeks, and both of them were today. There are some black (very black) people among the population, but I have no idea where they are from. This fact is in stark contrast to almost anywhere in the Western world and perhaps the rest of Ireland.. I have no idea why it is so, but it clearly is, at least in Letterkenny and surrounding towns. On the evening news tonight there were stories about the day's events around the country and in one case the announcer said that this particular city had included recognition of the more than ninety different countries its residents are from. So I guess Letterkenny's homogeneousness is not universal. There is a limited range of ethnic food choices here, a few Chinese restaurants, a Thai and an Indian, as well as a couple of pizza places, but that's it. Very limited choice in that regard.

 

And so to bed.... another wonderful Irish day.

 

 March 18 - 21

 

This week at work was a full court press to get ready for going live this coming Monday. This goal has been achieved with a day to spare so I am very pleased. As a result of this, I have not been doing much looking about. I did find a route to and from home, the hotel and Main Street which is about one third as far as the one I was shown when I arrived, so I guess that's something.

 

Another thing: I  was asking the hotel proprietor whether she would mind if I photographed some of the amazing antiques and fixtures around the hotel to include on this web site. She agreed and some of the results are at this link. (P). In the course of that discussion she told me that in the room I am now in, the George B. Shaw room, the bed has a significant historical past. This bed was commissioned for Grand Duke Ferdinand of Austria (they have the original quotations and order forms) and it was made for him. Before it could be delivered the Duke was assassinated in Sarajevo, and that of course, was the event which triggered World War I. (P)  Now that is very spooky!!

 

 Names:

 

Just outside the office where I am working  there is a bank of foot  lockers for the use of staff. Each locker has the name of its current user. Many of these names, while most likely of everyday familiarity to the Irish, struck me as having a wonderful musical lilt to them.

 

Some examples:

 

    Gabrielle Harkin

    Joy Diver Miller

    Aidan McAteer

    Collette Connally

    Mary Lou O'Donnell   (I wonder if she has relatives in Kentucky?)

    Eilleen McGettigan

    Bridie McNulty

    Anna Mulrennan

    Gavin McGinty

    Mary Frances McMenamin

 

Try saying some of these out loud to yourself (not in a public place though, you might end up in a straight jacket), preferably with an Irish accent if you can. These names, when called over the public address system at the office sound marvelous.

 

March 22nd


Today is Saturday and I spent some time in town doing some shopping, and took a walk around the grounds of Castle Grove 

It is a very lovely place, the grounds are very large, with quite a number of fenced fields surrounding the hotel. Just beside the hotel are a number of quite old buildings, amongst which is a sort of paddock which holds a number of cows. In the evening and early mornings you can hear the cows mooing, and often, in the adjacent parking lot, olfactory evidence of their nearby presence.

 

One bit of ugly but clever environmental recycling has to do with the piles of hay which cattle growers store near their barns for the cows. If they are outdoors, which many are, they are covered with large sheets of white plastic to keep off the rain. In order to keep these sheets of plastic from blowing away in the wind, they hold them down with worn out used tires. As I said, ugly but smart.

 

Castle Grove's cow area has such an area, and I have seen others around in my travels.

 

I strolled the grounds from the hotel, down to the edge of Loch Swilly, which, because it is an estuary attached to the ocean, was edged by banks of mud because the tide was out. It is a very poetic looking sight, and I took a number of pictures. (P)

 

Some more observations about the people here:

 

Hair fashion:

 

As I spend more time here, living as if I were a permanent resident, I am beginning to notice more subtle social characteristics, which I have taken some pain to make sure I am not imagining. Here are a couple of them:

 

There are a much higher number of natural blondes here than I am used to. Actually (although I do not claim to be an expert), I believe I have only seen a very small number of women and girls with dyed hair. There are more red headed persons also, but still a small  percentage.

 

From a fashion point of view I have observed that almost universally young girls wear their hair in a straight simple style, and invariably grown to shoulder length or longer. Here is the tricky part: I have also noticed  that, again almost universally, married girls, with or without children, wear their hair short. I am not imagining this, I have made it a bit of a study.

 

Also, with regard to hair fashions, men and boys alike virtually universally wear their hair very short, almost a buzz cut. This is also a conclusion reached as a result of lengthy observation. I have only seen one scruffy bearded person and he was carrying a backpack.

 

Street drunkenness:

 

Since arriving here I have observed a number of instances of street drunks making their presence  known.

 

The first time was about a week ago, on Main Street, near the City Square. There was a middle aged man standing there on the sidewalk, bottle in hand, belting out in a very loud voice some ditty or another. Not only could he barely stand, he had no singing ability whatsoever. The interesting thing was that the passers by did not sneer at him, nor look down their noses, nor shrink from him. They looked at him with an amused smile, watched for second then continued on their way.

 

This sort of thing happened twice since then. Just before the St. Patrick's Day parade began a very pissed older gentleman strolled down the parade route outside the fence. He stopped and talked to various people and children on his way, and they all answered him or made a joke, or just smiled. Last evening as I walked on Main street a scruffy looking couple of fairly advanced age staggered along Main Street having a minor disagreement, in a not minor volume of voice. The people on the street reacted in the same way,. amused and bemused.  

 

Culture:

 

Since beginning this tome I have found myself trying to figure out what the word "culture" means. I found  myself defining it in this journal in terms which became more and more narrow, at least to me. 

 

I have been trying to form a sense of this on my own, without aid of other persons view, and have arrived at some preliminary ideas.

 

I have no idea if the reader is interested in these mental ramblings of mine, but again, this is my journal so I am going to write it down anyway. If this is boring you to death press the word "skip" and it will jump past this so you can get to the interesting stuff. (SKIP)

 

In general terms culture has two vastly different contexts to me:

 

1. A term used by the intellectual elite to describe how the application of the arts, music, dance, theatre, writing, etc.  differ between groups. These differences, however are merely a reflection of  the more important differences between people in their daily lives, which is the meat of the next definition. Even in Ireland they suffer from this affliction. There is a magazine in my room called "Donegal Culture" which is entirely devoted to the arts.

 

2. A term used to define how differences between identifiable groups of people separate each of these groups as unique in one way or another and thereby make them identifiable.

 

There are of course, the most obvious of differences which define groups, colour, language, and religion.

 

As I have already said in this journal, when one is in a country in which these characteristics do not form a part of the difference between where you are and where you are from, then what separates you from them is more subtle.

 

By the latter definition, observation of the local ways, habits, language, accents, social customs, etc provides a valuable tool.

 

Some Canadians constantly whine about the "lack of a Canadian culture". After thinking about this, I am convinced that those who think this are full of it. By both definitions there is a distinct Canadian way. But there is another problem in Canada.  Wait for it......

 

Under the first definition, the evidence is relatively scarce, particularly as it is most often argued in light of the influence of American "culture". In the graphic arts we of course had the Group of Seven, we also have a very vibrant community of artists who reflect the history of the first Canadians, such a Bill Read, and many others whose work is unique and of very stirring style. In music we have many artists who, while creating their greatest success by exploiting the American market, have a style which is as a result of their 
Canadianness. One Canadian musician, Natalie McMaster has, against all odds, become an international success as a Maritime Celtic fiddler. This is about as Canadian as you can get.

 

When you think about the number of Canadians who are involved in Hollywood, music, theater, etc you could be forgiven if you come the conclusion that maybe the American "culture" is greatly influenced by Canadian "culture". How's that for a switch.

 

One could ask the question: Why is the Irish culture so distinct, as compared to Canadian even though Ireland as an independent country is younger than Canada. The answer to that is obvious, the Irish "culture" (both definitions) has had thousands of years to develop and for its dialect, attitudes, traditions and style to set like cement. The older it gets the stronger it gets.

 

In Canada however, we have a mixture of first, second, third, etc generations of immigrants from around the world, from many diverse cultures. It is a very young culture and is still evolving, but it does exist. If you don't believe me, go to the Maritime provinces and listen to the voices and music. They are unique, even though they are evolved from the early immigration from Celtic lands.

 

We Canadians have a unique accent which is obvious to most Americans (at least to those who are aware that Canada exists). At my client in California I have been consistently teased about the "eh" business, and how I pronounce other words such as "out", "about" and "roof".

 

I was recently introduced to a new executive at this same client's plant, and before I got half way through my first sentence she interrupted and asked me what part of Canada I was from.

 

In Ireland people are not quite discerning as they always ask me what part of America I am from. They get it partly right. Irish television has something to do with this. The channels are divided between BBC channels, Irish channels, and those which seem to show almost exclusively American shows. Several of the Irish channels regularly have programs in the Gaelic language (with English sub-titles). This means that everyone is exposed to all of these cultures. 

 

So, back to my thesis about Canadian culture. We also have a large number of expressions which are foreign to Americans and others. I am often asked to explain what these mean. You can usually tell when you use an expression that the person listening doesn't understand, as they suddenly look panicky and their eyes grow wide. No one want to seem silly, and they don't want to ask.

 

So the question is; Do accent,  dialect, colloquialisms,  habits, social conventions and other of these ambiguous characteristics total up to define one "culture" vs another. I think so, but I have no  idea how to put a box around this. How do you measure it? In how many categories does one culture have to be from another to qualify as its own culture? How different? 

 

I do not think that there is any real answer to these questions. Consider this.... What lines can you draw between the cultures of England and Ireland. They are clearly distinct from each other, but where is the line. Damned if I know.

 

Here is an even better one: Is the culture of the Maritimes different from that of BC? The language, dialect, colloquialisms, social standards are very different, but both are part of Canada. Damned if I know. 

 

Actually, if you take my argument to its logical (and maybe totally flawed) conclusion, there can never be a broadly Canadian culture because the East and the West are so very different in so many ways. It is precisely these ways which, by my definition, constitute cultural boundaries.

 

No definitive answers, but fun to think about.

 

Litter:

 

I must say that my greatest disappointment while I have been exploring the countryside is the amount of litter alongside the roads. This material is almost  of the plastic bag, and plastic and metal can variety. This leads me to believe that the source of this material is people throwing it out of  their car windows when they finish with whatever it is. I am saddened to know that some significant group of people in this wonderful country are as mindless as to do this sort of thing. I had a somewhat higher image of the Irish people in general, and am sorry that they have the same sort of people who don't think twice about desecrating the very places in which they live. Very sad.

 

March 23rd.

 

Today I was off about 10:30 in the morning for another day of touring the countryside of County Donegal. My goal today is to head North along the opposite side of Loch Swilly and up the Inishowen peninsula to Donaldragh, the most Northerly point of Ireland.

 

The first few kilometers/miles of the trip is along the same route that one takes to Belfast. Instead of turning East at Bridgend to Derry I turned West along the road to Burnfoot. Burnfoot (I wonder how it got that name.) is a sleepy little town, as are many along the way, and having passed through it, I took the turn toward Muff. The road at this point was typical two lane, and well paved. Muff is on the coast just at the bottom end of Loch Foyle. I was on the Western shore of Loch Foyle in Donegal, and the opposite shore is Northern Ireland, County Londonderry. 

 

After Muff, which was larger and newer than many of the little towns I have seen, I continued along the seashore toward Quigley's point. 

 

Observation: Every time I pass a cluster of houses on the road (remote back roads included) whether the cluster has a name on the map or not, it always has one common characteristic; there is a pub.(P) Pubs are open Sundays and seem to always be well patronized. More on that later.

 

Quigley's Point (one of the few towns I have seen called a recognizable person's name). is spread in a narrow band along the edge of the Loch and is one of the few places where access to the Loch Shore (Loch Edge? Loch Side?) is possible, having a spit of land jutting out into the Loch (the point in Quigley's Point I guess.), and also for several miles along the shore. 

 

The road continues on along the edge of Loch Foyle heading roughly Northeast. I passed through Redcastle, and on to Moville. At Moville I saw some evidence of a local fishing industry.  I also saw my first full fledged Italian restaurant in Ireland (closed of course, this being Sunday). At this point the road to Malin Head and the top of Ireland turned North, but I decided to take a side trip. I went up the road a bit to Greencastle which is clearly a thriving fishing town. This fish boats in the harbour here are quite small, and this tells me that these boats do not go as far out into the open ocean as do the much larger boats in Killybegs (remember, Ireland's Premier Fishing Port?) (P)

 

I then took the high road above the coast road I had been on and continued Northeast toward Stroove and Inishowen Head. This road is even more rural than the others I have been on as it seems only to serve the residents who live along it. 

 

At the end of the road was my first glimpse of the open Atlantic ocean, and and the Inishowen lighthouse.(P) Beside the lighthouse was a beach. Even though the day was sunny, the lingering fog off the shore ensured that it remained cool. Notwithstanding the cool air there were several families and herds of youngsters on the beach having picnics and playing about. (P)

 

After stopping to take in the scene and having a little walkabout I continued back toward Greencastle along the coast. I passed a very pretty and well occupied Golf Course, the Greencastle Country Club. Seems a remote place for a posh club. When I stopped to photograph a very yellow house, I discovered on the opposite side of the road was a group of miniature ponies at a fence begging for attention. They were very cute and docile. (P) 

 

A bit further down the road was an old castle, and a ruin. As there was no one around to ask, I was unable to determine what exactly these buildings were about, but I am pretty sure the castle is what gave Greencastle its name. As there was a Redcastle back along the road, it seems these names might have some historical link.

 

At Greencastle I again met the road which leads to Malin Head and my ultimate destination. As I drove Northward the countryside became more and more rolling hills and valleys, and the roads narrower and twistier.  I also began to see the occasional young male driver trying to prove his manhood to his girlfriend sitting in the passenger seat with eyes as big as a plate, by driving at fifty miles an hour along these essentially one lane roads. I also crossed paths with a young girl with pink hair who was apparently similarly trying to prove her manhood. Crazy.

 

As I drove along, heading steadily Northward (actually, not so steadily. My confidence in my navigating, and the quality of the maps, led me to take roads and turns which had me criss crossing the peninsula several times as I went. However the general trend was North to Malin Head.

 

I reached the town of Malin where the road turned either North toward Malin Head or South back down the West side of the peninsula across a very old stone bridge. I, of course, turned North and continued through more and more rolling hills and valleys, populated at every turn with fields of sheep, stone fences, very old buildings, old buildings and new buildings. 

 

I have been trying for several days to access a word in my built in lexicon which would properly describe the countryside. Somewhere between the town of Malin and Malin Head I was able to retrieve it. That word is "Pastoral". According to my mental picture of a pastoral countryside, Ireland is it. The rolling hills, no sharp edges to anything, each hillside populated with sheep and cattle, small houses here and there..... it fits the bill perfectly. If you close  your eyes and think "pastoral" you just might see what I see here.

 

I am having a problem with the pictures in that I find that I want to photograph every vista or interesting building or group of sheep with their new lambs which I come across. Every turn I take, every hill I crest every town I visit are totally exciting to see and very picturesque. (That may be a pun!) The fact is that I have taken over 500 pictures so far, through the miracle of digital photography and capturing more images of these wonderful places would be redundant. So finding new things to photograph which I haven't already ten pictures of is becoming harder.

 

After following a meandering course, generally Northward I arrived at Malin Head. The scenery along the coast of Donegal is widely known to be rugged, with steep cliffsides and crashing ocean waves. The scene from here was proof of that. It is a very imposing sight. (P)

 

After spending some time enjoying the view, and taking some pictures, I headed further Northwest along a very narrow road, which was most definitely one lane toward my ultimate goal, Donaldragh the Northernmost point in Ireland. Just before arriving there I spotted a sign at the side of the road advertising the Northernmost B&B in Ireland. They claim to be bilingual.... "English spoken, American understood." I was taken with both the concept of staying in such a place, and their sense of humour. This might be worth investigating when Marsha and I come back to Ireland in July. I took down the phone number.

 

Just a mile later I came to my destination, a craggy cliff overlooking the great swells of the Atlantic Ocean ending their long journey Eastward from Labrador to crash  with  great splashes of white water onto the rocks below. It was an outstanding and dramatic scene. (P)

 

I walked up a path to another promontory where there were more of the Second War lookout stations like the one I had seen at Fanad Head a couple of weekends ago. Again, I walked along the edge of the cliff taking in the view and the atmosphere.

 

Reluctantly, after a time of looking and absorbing, I headed South.

 

I took back roads wherever I could (although to tell the truth the difference between back roads in main roads is miniscule). As I drove along I would pass various groups of people out for a stroll, and almost without exception and regardless of age they would stop and wave at me. 

 

I took the road along the coast and down White Strand Bay. "Strand" being one of the words for a beach, there was a fairly lengthy stretch of sand along this route, but it soon turned inland and I again turned up the town of Malin. Here I took the old bridge I had seen on the way up and headed down a different Southerly route. I picked up a couple of young girls hitchhiking to the next town, Carndonagh (try saying that three times, fast) a few miles down the road. They were very sweet and amusing and appreciated the lift. Cardonagh is quite a large town, at least the size of Letterkenny. I toured around a bit, then parked and went into a pub for lunch.

 

I again experienced the fact that pubs in this country are open to people of all ages (only those above legal age can drink of course, but there is no prohibition to them being here.) The pub was full, and there were kids from two years to teen years running and sitting about. Upstairs was  a pool hall and there  were a number of early teens playing pool.

 

This scene got me to thinking (Oh good grief... there he goes again!!) about the "keepers of the public morality". We have them, Ireland has them, everyone has them. But what intrigues me is how the ones in each country differ as to what they want to control on the citizens' behalf. In Ireland abortion is almost a capital offence and birth control is a virtual no-no. As an aside I have only seen condoms for sale in one pharmacy and then very discreetly at the pharmacist's window. So that's what the moral masters manage in Ireland. In a predominantly Catholic country this is what you would expect.

 

In Canada our group of moral dictators have decided that we needn't hide abortions (thank goodness) nor condoms (also thank goodness) however children are not to know about bars and drinking in case their wee minds get corrupted. Of course its ok for them to play video games and kill virtual people by the hundreds, and watch tv and see hundreds of people get killed each day. Sigh!!

 

I finally got up the nerve to order an item I have seen several times on menus.... "egg mayo". I don't know if I'm unadventurous at heart but I didn't like the sound of it. It turns out to be a variation on the salad theme I described earlier, just with three hard boiled eggs covered with a huge gob of mayonnaise. Just as it's called. For the calorie counters this is a disaster, but for we carb counters it's perfect. I will order it again.

 

I soon returned to the Dual Carriageway from Burnfoot and made my way back to the Caste Grove hotel. It has been a most satisfying sight seeing experience. Each week I get to see more and more enjoyable sights than the week before.

 

(Sights and scenes to and from Malin Head)

 

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