Now THAT’s Interesting,
British Isles Part I: Republic of Ireland

Our previous travelogue—Now THAT’s Interesting (mainland Europe edition)—spanned Northern Italy and Paris. Here, we pick up from where that post left off.

I stand at a crossroads. Down one path a cacophonous scrum of blogosphere professionals, wrestle for likes, followers, and retweets. Down the other, a slight solitary silhouette is bathed in a heavenly glow.

As they grapple, the influencers occasionally bark over their shoulders inviting me to join the scuffle and imploring me to open this post with a gripping scene, an irresistible picture, or even a thought provoking quote—all in the unending quest for eyeballs, clicks, and attention. Down the road less travelled, the ghost of my mother quietly reminds me that before dessert, we must eat our vegetables. Hmmmm, who do I trust? While I’m absolutely positive that everyone on the internet has my best interests at heart, I think you already know my decision.

Therefore, the first course on today’s menu is a geography lesson. “What?” You say, “Geography!” “Geography is to education what Brussels sprouts are to vegetables…the worst of the worst!” However, stick with me on this one. I’ll try to make them crispy and hip, and the dessert worth the preceding produce. Maybe well even rebrand them as “B-sprouts.” As my mom would say—“It’s good for you!” (All the while, the ignored bloggers down the other path take a break and dejectedly munch kale salads.)

This musing reminds me of an old joke:

Q: What do you call someone who knows three languages?
A: Trilingual.
Q: What do you call someone who knows two languages?
A: Bilingual.
Q: What do you call someone who knows one language?

A: American.

Language…geography…it’s all the same. If you find the beginning of this post boring and remedial, you’re probably an international reader. If you find it helpful and answers some embarrassing questions that you’ve always been afraid to ask, then salute the Stars and Stripes, and (like me) wish you would have paid more attention in junior high.

Growing up, I loved all things that come from…how does one say?…that group of large islands to the northwest of France and Mainland Europe: Monty Python, Shakespeare, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, bagpipes, Guinness Stout, etc. However before our land-voyaging late last year, I’d never set foot on the islands. (Yes, I’d made flight transfers in London airports, but that doesn’t count.) More to the point of today’s lesson, while the descriptive words of land masses, countries, and political alliances were all familiar, I didn’t know what the nomenclature actually meant.

After a lot of reading, research, and talking to locals, allow me to briefly disambiguate the geographical, political, and cultural as best I can—and please, proceed without fear or embarrassment. I’ve learned I’m not the only one sketchy on definitions and details, none of us are alone in our ignorance…

The British Isles is a collective geographical term (not a political term) for all of the islands in the area. By far, the two largest islands in the British Isles are Britain to the east and Ireland to the west. It’s good to remember that Britain plus Ireland do not equal the British Isles, there are 187 additional inhabited islands in the archipelago.

On the island of Britain, England is the country occupying the center and southeast of the island of Britain. The other two countries on the island are Wales (roughly to the west and south) and Scotland (to the north).

The island of Ireland, like Britain, is carved into multiple countries: Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. If you’re not confused yet, keep in mind that the northernmost point on the island of Ireland is within the Republic of Ireland, not Northern Ireland (go figure).

Great Britain is the political union of the three countries on the island of Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales), and today’s United Kingdom (UK) adds the fourth country of Northern Ireland into the mix.

From a long-view perspective, it’s important to note that until “recent times” the entire island of Ireland was a member of the UK (some would say an unwilling member, but a member nonetheless). While the national identities on the archipelago and the the union of the UK have been forming, storming, and norming since the Roman withdrawal from Britain in in the 5th century, the Republic of Ireland is a much more recent phenomenon with the Republic gaining its independence in 1921 (a mere 100 years ago).

Further afield, the British Commonwealth (a.k.a., The Commonwealth) is an alliance between England and most of the countries it once ruled, including Canada, Australia, India, and—Hazel’s favorite—The Bahamas. At the risk splitting hairs, Hazel’s other favorites (or should we say “favourites”), the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda, are British Overseas Territories and have a closer relationship with England than The Commonwealth nations.

In retrospect, I think a couple factors made these words a mishmash in my head. First, they are a jumble of geographic and political terms—some singular and some collective. Second and thirdly, there is a lot of similarity between many of the words, and the words themselves are used loosely both inside and outside the British Isles.

If you’re a map person or love anything that smacks of a Venn diagram, these illustrations from Wikipedia may help to clarify…

Speaking of loose usage, the term “Brexit,” an obvious portmanteau of “British” and “exit,” is technically not the British exit from the European Union (EU), but the UK’s exit (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland). In 2016 a majority of UK citizens voted to withdraw from the EU and although a drawn out process, the withdrawal was formally enacted in 2020 (since the Republic of Ireland is not in the UK, it remains in the EU). My engineer’s brain tells me that a more accurate term would have been “UKexit” but who knows how it would have been pronounced and I get that it doesn’t have the same soundbite ring as “Brexit.”

In our travels through the British Isles the cultural vibe we noticed related to Brexit stems back to the 2016 Leave/Remain vote. Although the UK-wide tally was 52% Leave (i.e., leave the EU) vs. 48% Remain, the resounding vote in Scotland and Northern Ireland was was to Remain in the EU. (38% Leave vs. 62% Remain in Scotland. 44% Leave vs. 56% Remain in Northern Ireland. The Welsh vote mirrored the UK-wide vote to Leave.) However, with England registering 29 million of the total 34 million votes (85%), the other countries became rounding errors in the popular vote. My stateside parallel after traveling in Scotland and Northern Ireland is that their sentiments are similar to less populous US states feeling bossed around by the more larger-by-population states of California, Texas, Florida, and New York.

Although the focus of this post is the Republic of Ireland (with Northern Ireland and Great Britain to follow), as we near the end of our Brussels sprouts and are on the topic of Brexit, I just have to share a funny-but-sad-but-true analogy between the Anglican church founding Henry VIII and the Brexit die-hard Boris Johnson—it plays to our recent theme of history repeating itself or at least rhyming, and also keeping the Catholic-Anglican schism in mind is important in understanding the relationship between Ireland and Great Britain.

It’s interesting to think of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1534 as “the first Brexit.” It was spearheaded by a much-married, arrogant, overweigh, egomaniacal Henry VIII—matched today by the Conservative Party’s Boris Johnson. Henry (like Boris) wanted “to be free” from European meddling (the Pope then, the EU today). The local sentiment (then as now) was no more money to Europe (tithes to the pope then, taxes to Brussels today) and no more intrusions into English life from the Continent.

Rick Steves, Rick Steves’ Best of England
(Published when Boris Johnson was Prime Minister)

When I first read this analogy, I knew more about Boris Johnson than Henry VIII. I had to wonder if Rick Steves’ judgement of Henry VIII was too harsh. Then, later in our December travels and while touring the Tower of London, we saw an actual suit of Henry VIII’s armor from his later years (~1540)—my concern was dispelled and Rick Steves was vindicated.

Get a load of the codpiece on that guy! (Rhett’s best friend Maria blushes to the far-right.)

In retrospect our late November and December zigzagging path across the the British Isles appears as sensical as my last couple days of sailing to the Portuguese Azores back in June. (Several hundred miles from the Azores the wind shifted to the northeast—straight from the Azores to me. The best I could do was sail north-northwest and hope for a favorable wind shift. A few well-meaning “friends” satellite-texted me and asked if I’d just decided to divert to Iceland for kicks.)

However, this time our apparent drunken sailor path was not dictated by contrary North Atlantic winds but by equally unfathomable international borders and regulations. First, we had to leave the EU “gingerly” since we were in an immigration gray zone (it wasn’t entirely clear if Rhett and I had overstayed our welcome in the EU) and visions of Midnight Express danced in our heads as we apprehensively approached outbound mainland EU immigration. It’s funny, while the human component of our traveling trio sweated, Sunny was in the clear. As a canine with a Portuguese Passaporte de Animal de Companhia (pet passport), she’s can stay in the EU indefinitely.

Given our human trepidation and wanting to appear as legit as possible, we decided to begin our air travels to the British Isles from Rome (near to where Hazel James is berthed for the winter), make a connection and pass through mainland EU immigration in Amsterdam, and (hopefully) continue on to Dublin. In a Rome airport hotel and early on the morning of our long travel day, Hazel James’ commanding officer ordered the ship’s crew to don no fancy clothing, but dress like a sailor (the crew almost mutinied but eventually obeyed). First impressions are important and we wanted to project the image we were fresh off the boat. To further that illusion, I tried to get Rhett to swear like a sailor (“cuss” like a sailor in her southern parlance), but she wasn’t having it. As I nervously approached the Dutch outbound immigration checkpoint in my sailor’s foul weather gear I felt like a Thanksgiving turkey in an oven-bag—basting in my own juices. The primary officer was friendly and spoke the “perfect” amount of English (enough but not too much…if you know what I mean). While we were telling the truth about our recent travels, we weren’t accentuating our earlier travels in the year. Sometimes, losing a little in translation isn’t a bad thing! The officer was confused that we were missing some stamps into the EU but admitted that seaport officials are not nearly as diligent as airport officials with stamps (we kept our mouths shut and nodded both hopefully and in agreement). When we produced our marina paperwork of Hazel’s entrance into mainland Italy as documentation, he seemed satisfied and we thought we were in the clear. However, when he said, “Let me take you over to our corrections officer to fix the stamps on your passports.” all we heard was the word corrections, and as Rhett and I exchanged near-panicked sidelong glances, Sunny Googled “Netherlands Pet Adoption” on her iPaw (she’d heard good things about the Dutch Masters). After a few tense moments with the “corrections officer” we realized that our fears were unfounded (we did out best to keep our sighs of relief inaudible). He was just updating our passports with some back-stamps that we had missed in our nautical ports-of-entry. While Rhett’s and my instinct when exiting the checkpoint was to trade a victorious high-five (maybe even catching some air), we opted for a discreet low-five.

From a destination perspective, we had decided to make Dublin our first port of call in the British Isles since we had discovered, rather late in the game, that the UK (or at least England) has some strange regulations prohibiting pets from flying into or out of the country (pets can arrive on trains or ferries no problem…go figure). Therefore, to enter the British Isles we flew into Dublin (Republic of Ireland and not the UK).

Our meandering travel in late November and December…

The British Isles with our crisscrossing travels.

Key to the letters above (in chronological order starting in late-November through the month of December):
A – Flight from Rome to Amsterdam to Dublin, Republic of Ireland
B – Drive from Dublin to Kinsale, County Cork
C – Drive from Kinsale back to Dublin then train to Belfast, Northern Ireland
D – Ferry from Belfast to Cairnryan, Scotland then coach (long-haul bus) to Edinburgh via Glasgow
E – Train from Edinburgh to York, England
F – Train from York to London*
G – Train from London to Bristol, then drive to Bath and the Cotswolds and continuing on to Betws-y-Coed, Wales
H – Drive from Wales back to London* via Oxford (day trip from London to Stonehenge and Bath)
I – Train and Chunnel from London to Paris (we flew home to Florida from Paris)

* We visited London twice (which added to our circuity) as we had first friends and then family visiting.

As we settled in Dublin, and admired our outbound passport stamps from Amsterdam, the weather turned on us and we truly understood what makes the Emerald Isle the emerald isle—it rained and rained during our time in Ireland. Although mostly wet with a few blue skies, our couple days in Dublin whetted our appetite for returning someday. Our first dinner in Dublin happened on the fourth Thursday of November and while it was unsurprising that American Thanksgiving wasn’t celebrated in Ireland, we scratched our heads to find that Dublin retailers have Black Friday sales (particularly funny since in our last couple days in Paris we observed Black Friday advertisements being posted in the Metro). Oh well, I suppose anything for a Euro (and yes, since Dublin is in the Republic of Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland is in the EU, Euros are the currency there).

Also in Dublin we started digging in to the history of Ireland and the island’s continuing struggle for independence. Rhett and I only knew a very little of this “history” before I setting foot on the island, but would find ourselves immersed in it, culminating with our time in Belfast. The reason I place history in quotes above is that I’m sure it’s not the exact right word. The struggle—although managed at the moment—is an unfinished work, being written to this day.

Although the Romans likely never made it to Ireland, Dublin and Ireland have a long history with Viking invasions and settlements as commemorated by this modern, floating sculpture. This is the old port on the River Liffey, when ships were much smaller and depended on the tides. The modern port is closer to the Irish Sea where the Liffey dumps into Dublin Bay.

To begin to understand the complex history between the two largest islands in the British Isles (Britain and Ireland) we found it useful to think of Ireland as a nearshore colony of an emerging British Empire (some would stay Northern Ireland still is an unwilling colony). We also found the aphorism, “England’s crisis is Ireland’s opportunity” is helpful to understand the timing of Irish rebellions.

In our first morning’s walk in Dublin, strolling through the idyllic St. Stephen’s Green park, were were confronted with the stark history of the 1916 Easter Rising. At the time, there was no Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. Ireland was just…well…Ireland (one country and all under Anglican English control, to the chagrin of the Irish Catholic majority on the island). While the British were consumed by World War I in mainland Europe, a romantic but largely untrained band of poets, teachers, aristocrats, and slum dwellers took up arms against English rule. Some of the Irish rebels decided it a good idea to dig a warren of protective trenches in the park. With their lack of martial experience, what they didn’t anticipate was that highly trained British snipers could easily take the “high ground” (the rooftops of the relatively tall buildings surrounding the park). The snipers did just that and had a clear line of sight and line of fire down into the trenches. They deftly picked off the rebels one by one. The insurrection was crushed within a week and, in retrospect, the rebels never really stood a chance given they were significantly outnumbered and outgunned (the British had heavy machine guns and artillery). An important period to this sad sentence in Irish history is that after surrender, the rebel leaders were not treated with respect by the English military, they were summarily shot and their bodies paraded through the Dublin streets as a “warning” to others. This warning and punishment backfired as the Easter Rising is now seen as a key precursor to the 1920-21 Anglo-Irish war and the subsequent 1921 formation of the Republic of Ireland.

As we strolled the meandering pathways of St. Stephen’s Green park and traversed ancient arched stone bridges over dabbling ducks suspended on mirrored water, bullet holes in the park’s monuments from the Easter Rising made a stark contrast. The seeming ambivalence was striking. One one hand, no attempt had been made to repair or cover the stone scars. On the other there was no signage or placard indicating the source of the pockmarks—they were just there.

Rhett at the entrance monument to St. Stephen’s Green on a chilly late-November morning. Note highlighted box (and Rhett still wearing everything she had).
Close-up of the highlighted box with Easter Rising bullet holes clearly visible.

Next, we were off to Kinsale, County Cork on the south end of the island of Ireland, a 3 hour 175 mile drive…on the “wrong” side of the road. (Although I didn’t want to make that joke, being throughly monolingual I felt obligated to.) A year ago I’d driven on the left side for a day in the British Commonwealth nation of The Bahamas, but that was “island time” driving: a beat up old car on two-lane dirt roads (No problem man). In Ireland however we were playing for-keeps, given that much of our driving was on four lane high-speed highways. Interestingly enough, in preparation for our car rental I researched Irish driving regulations and got sidetracked on the internet and learned that the custom of driving on the left likely began from jousting competitions. Since most people are right handed, jousters cradled their lances in their right arms and passed to the left of their opponents. I guess if we continue to use the QWERTY keyboards 150 years after they were purpose-built to be cumbersome and slow, jousting is as good a reason as any to drive on the left.

To make driving even more interesting, and for national pride, Irish road signs were in Gaelic first and English second.

Over Irish hill and dale, we eventually made it to Kinsale…unscathed. It turned out the highway driving wasn’t too bad, helped by the fact that the Irish (like the Germans) absolutely do not pass on the outside (i.e., the slower) lanes. By comparison, American highway driving is a free for all. What was more challenging were the narrow back roads, four-way intersections, and traffic circles in our last 20 miles before Kinsale. With me as pilot and Rhett as navigator, our teamwork was this: As we approached an intersection, if we were turning left, Rhett would remind me “Tight left, tight left!” and if approaching a right hand turn, she’d say “Wide right, wide right!” in a generally successful bid to overcome my 40+ years of vehicular muscle memory. The traffic circles were a bizarre reframe. As we neared one, Rhett would brace herself with a hand on the dashboard and tensely utter, “Clockwise, clockwise…keep moving!”

We inhaled deeply and shared a big, collective sigh of relief when I parked the car in Kinsale and switched off the ignition. Instinctively, I reached down to my right hip to unbuckle my seatbelt, then remembered the buckle was on the other side.

The highlight of our time in Kinsale was a private walking tour with local guide Barry Maloney. As an aside, we hired private guides in several destinations, always with enlightening, entertaining, and—sometimes—unexpected results (an obvious foreshadow to Belfast). If you’re contemplating a similar trip, do look into booking local guides. Many are quite reasonably priced and they bring the history and culture to life making the travel vivid and memorable.

Barry arrived at our meeting-point complete with a laminated, “olde tyme” map of the town, harbor, and surrounding topography (integral to Kinsale’s history). As we got to know each other and Barry asked about our story, I said my late-wife Colleen was a McMahon and Barry replied in an enthusiastic brogue, “Ahhh, a MacMahon from Monaghan—she’s rebel royalty!”

A rose between thorns. Barry with his trusty map and excellent taste in hats.

As we started our walk Barry showed us the Catholic school where he received his early education from “the nuns.” When I asked him what that was like, he said (in his delightful Irish accent), “Well, let’s just say that—back then—Catholic education was a contact sport.” I further asked him about today’s attendance at the town’s churches (especially by the younger crowd), and he replied (a bit hyperbolically), “Nowadays, most go to church three times: when they’re hatched, matched, and dispatched.”

As we surveyed the land and sea, Barry painted a lucid panorama of the eponymous Christmas Eve, 1601 Battle of Kinsale that helped determine the course of history in Europe. At the time Catholic Spain ruled a vast global empire while England’s Queen Elizabeth I (the daughter of the Anglican-Church-founding Henry VIII) had only one “overseas” possession: Ireland. With that being said, “possession” is a generous term, as the rebellious and Catholic Ireland was in constant turmoil. While England had a firm grip on walled port cities such as Dublin and Kinsale, the remainder of the island was a jigsaw puzzle of lands ruled by 60 or so chieftains. Some were loyal only to their clan, others had mixed loyalties with neighboring clans, and some were loyal to England. Rewinding back to Dublin for a moment, the term” beyond the pale” (describing behavior that is outside the bounds of good judgement) was coined during this period. The walls surrounding Dublin bristled with sharpened spikes, the Latin word being palum (from which we get the word impale). If you were Anglican and English in Dublin at that time and stayed within “The Pale,” you were generally safe; but if you ventured “Beyond the Pale” you were literally taking your life into your own hands.

During the late 1500s Irish chieftains were communicating in Latin with Spain via the Catholic Church’s. The chieftains promised their support of a Spanish invasion of Ireland in hopes of driving the Anglican English off the island.

At the time, Kinsale was a compact loyalist harbor town surrounded by higher open planes. About 200 households lived within “The Pale” of its walls and turrets (“loyalist” being that the town was loyal to the crown of England and Queen Elizabeth). On a September day in 1601 and seemingly from nowhere, the town’s sentries watched with dismay as the harbor began to fill with 26 Spanish Armada warships carrying 3,500 red-sashed fighters. The Spanish easily overcame the small force of English soldiers protecting the town who quickly retreated inland to Cork City. About 10 days later Queen Elizabeth received the news of the siege. She knew that defeat by the Spanish in Kinsale could be fatal to England. Not only was Kinsale an ideal harbor, with the prevailing southwesterly winds it was an easy two-day downwind sail to England. If the Spanish established a foothold in Ireland with the help of their Irish allies, England would be the next target. As our guide Barry Maloney writes in his book Kinsale, “This, for England was a Cuban missile crisis of 1601!”

Shortly after the Spanish took control of Kinsale, their ships returned to Spain promising to bring reinforcements in the spring. The majority of the English army in Ireland was in Dublin and it took them over a month to mobilize to the threat and march from Dublin to Kinsale. This larger force of English solders arrived in October and dug in on the surrounding high ground and laid siege to the town. Although outnumbered, the Spanish were well protected by the town’s Medieval walls. In the meantime, with the Spanish Armada gone, English warships blockaded the harbor in hopes of starving out the Spanish. Adding to this singular siege, in early December, Irish armies arrived (including the “rebel royalty” MacMahons from Monaghan). The world was in the midst of a Little Ice Age (particularly pronounced in the North Atlantic) and this winter was unusually cold. The situation became a bitter wintertime siege within a siege—the English Army and Royal Navy starving the Spanish solders who had taken the town, and the surrounding Irish fighters on even higher open ground, cutting off the English supply routes.

In an effort to break the siege, the Spanish and Irish planned a surprise Christmas Eve attack. The Irish armies (not a singular, traditionally trained force, but fierce fighters skilled in guerrilla-style tactics and loyal to their respective chieftains) planned to begin their attacks at dawn. When the Spanish heard musket fire they planned to leave the protection of the walled town and attach the English from below. A mystery to this day is that—somehow—the English were ready for the Irish. While the Irish planned to pounce on sleeping English soldiers in crepuscular light, they were met instead by English cavalry mounted and in full battle readiness. It could have been spies that tipped-off the English, or it could have been exemplary nighttime fieldwork by English scouts spotting the Irish armies’ movements. The multiple Irish commanders (O’Neill and O’Donnell) didn’t help their cause when they couldn’t agree who would lead the attack. In addition, the open, deforested ground on which the battle was fought heavily favored traditional (English) tactics and weaponry compared with the Irish who were more adept at fighting in bogs, thickets, and woodlands.

The nail in the coffin for the Spanish and Irish alliance was that the Spanish were tentative and late in venturing beyond the pale. By the time they reached the battlefield, the English rout of the Irish was complete, and the Spanish had no choice but to retreat back into the town.

In three hours the Battle of Kinsale was over. The Irish armies were decimated and the Spanish soon surrendered. It was Spain’s last attempt in their long sea war with England and their surrender would lead to the 1604 Treaty of London and 20 years of peace between Spain and London. This hiatus of hostilities allowed England to develop its long overseas colonization, beginning with Jamestown, Virginia in 1607…and so this crazy, connected world turns.

Seen on one of our Kinsale walks. (Although I searched in both English and Gaelic, I never found The High Road.)

After the Battle of Kinsale, the harbor town made its fortune “victualing” outbound English ships headed for the New World and serving as a convoy point for returning ships. As ships departed London and other English ports for the New World, Kinsale was their last chance to stock up on food and water (i.e., to victual, pronounced “vittle”) before embarking on the transatlantic sail. From the other direction, while an eastbound sail from the New World to England was arduous enough, often the most dangerous part of the journey was the final leg of sailing through the English Channel which, at that time, was infested with French (and later, Spanish) privateers. For safety, English ships would congregate in Kinsale and sail as a convoy with escort from British warships. For a Pennsylvanian like me, it was interesting to learn that in 1666, a twenty-something William Penn (1644-1718) was appointed “Victualer of the Fleet in Kinsale” (his father was an Admiral and Governor of James Fort that protected the town). William Penn would later go on to found “Penn’s Woods,” my native Pennsylvania.

As we continued our walk, we passed an intricate stairs-mural that Rhett and I “stared” at for a long time before we could make sense of it. Barry allowed us several minutes to try to make sense of it before he interjected with the story of Anne Bonny. She was the illegitimate daughter of a Kinsale attorney and his maid, and also one of the most notorious pirates of all time—male or female—and the inspiration for the archetype of the strong, sensual, dangerous figure so popular in modern culture (think Keira Knightly’s character in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and Assassin’s Creed books and games).

Upon Anne’s birth in the early 1700s, the disgraced attorney and maid, decided to leave Ireland with Anne and begin a new life in South Carolina. As a child in Charleston Anne displayed a fierce temper. As a teen, a man tried to assault her and she, “…beat him so that he lay ill of it a considerable time.” After eloping to Nassau on New Providence Island in The Bahamas with a criminal described as “not worth a groat” (apparently what we would call a starter-marriage), she met and fell in love with the flamboyant English pirate Jack Rackham (inspiration for Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow). After years of piracy and carousing (including giving birth in Cuba), Jack and Anne were captured in Jamaica in 1720. While he was sentenced to be hanged, she escaped his fate by claiming to be “quick with child.” Jack’s last request was to see Anne just one more time and on the morning of his execution in Saint Jago de la Vega, Jamaica, he was led to her prison cell where she declared unapologetically…

I am sorry to see you here Jack, but if you had fought like a man you would not now be hanged like a dog!

Our tour with Barry concluded in the St. Multose Church, the oldest building in Kinsale. The earliest record of a church on this site dates to 545 AD and the present bell tower was built in the 12th century with five-foot thick walls.

Barry, trusty map, and I at the entrance to St. Multose churchyard.

On the church’s western door Barry pointed out curious scrapings on the sandstone that are thought to be from soldiers ritualistically sharpening their swords and arrowheads as they entered the church. Similar to jouster’s lances being carried in the right arm dictating today’s driving on the left, more right than left-handed warriors results in more wear on the right side of the arched door than on the left side.

Barry then led us through the door and into the unheated church. We huddled together for warmth with the afternoon light streaming through the stained glass behind the altar. At the bottom of the glass panels were curious inscriptions—more intriguing in that they were in English and not Gaelic. The words at the bottom of the second panel from the left caught my eye. I scanned it several times and racked my brain before realizing that it was the final stanza from Tennyson’s iconic sailing poem “Crossing the Bar,” which was also one of my father’s favorite poems.

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Crossing the Bar” (1889) (I added the italics)

A fitting stanza for this harbor town. At the risk of sounding boastful, when I realized what the text was—instinctually and from distant memory—I blurted out the first stanza of the poem, “Sunset and evening star….” Barry scrunched his brow, cocked his head and looked at me until he made the connection. Upon that realization, his countenance transformed from quizzical to a broad Irish smile. It was a moment of full-circle: from a history of conflict to a peaceful sanctuary, from a season of sailing to dry land, from a new friend to tender but bittersweet remembrances of Colleen, and my mother and father—all no longer on this earth.

After a tear and a hug we made our way back outside to the relative warmth and Barry respectfully concluded the tour by walking us through the St. Multose churchyard (graveyard). In addition to the Kinsale’s other history, in 1915 the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine just 10 miles offshore. Three of the victims of the Lusitania are buried in the churchyard. The bodies were brought ashore by a naval patrol boat (along with 11 survivors) shortly after the sinking. Of the 1,200 victims, 128 were neutral American citizens (including Alfred Vanderbilt, one of the richest people in the world) and the event began the erosion of the United State’s neutrality in World War I.

A final note (and—again—in the spirit of coming full circle) is that although there was military conscription in Great Britain during World War I, there was no compulsory draft in Ireland as it was deemed too politically sensitive to force Irish people to join the British army. Even so, the Lusitania’s sinking became the centerpiece of an Irish call to arms and over 200,000 Irish volunteers fought in the war. In the same months that Irish volunteers were fighting and dying for the crown of England in Europe, Irish rebels were fighting and dying in Dublin in the aforementioned Easter Uprising…and the world turns.

A World War I poster.

As we close this post, I can only hope the chef made the dessert worth the vegetables—the brûlée worth the Brussels.

As a “preview of coming attractions” please keep the Lusitania tragedy pitching and rolling in your mind. It’s a good link to our next travelogue post that will highlight the Belfast-built Titanic. Although the Lusitania went down three years after the Titanic, it was commissioned four years before the Titanic (1906 and 1911). When launched, both had been the largest ships in the world and Lusitania’s design served as a template for Titanic.

Fair winds and follow seas.

Thanks again to to Barry Maloney and his excellent book Kinsale (available here).

6 thoughts on “Now THAT’s Interesting,
British Isles Part I: Republic of Ireland

  1. what a great geography and history lesson, Dan. The Euler diagram makes the relationship among the brittish isle very clear!

    1. David, So good to see you at Jack and Jess’s wedding. I didn’t realize that you and Marcia met at Trinity College Dublin. What a beautiful campus (we didn’t get to see the Book of Kells though). We may be back in the UK this summer so will do our best to get to King’s College Ely.

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