Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Elise's 3rd Birthday

On Sunday our little "Lissy Lou" turned three years old. She wanted a "miss piggy" party after her favorite stuffed animal. We invited our neighbors and another family who Elise knows from playgroup and school.
I think that she had fun. We played a couple of games, opened presents, and had cake and ice-cream. What more could you want?
Lots of hugs and kisses all around.
Blowing out her birthday candles. We were blessed by the friends we have made here and the enjoyable time we had celebrating.

A walk along the Lagan River Towpath

A couple of weeks ago when the sun was out. We finally took a walk along the Lagan River. The towpath stretches from Belfast to Lisburn. Along the way we were lucky to see a seal swimming alongside.
We ended at one of the Lock Keepers cabins. Where there was a cafe and picnic area. The lock keepers helped the boats navigate up and down the Lagan River.
We had a surprise encounter as we walked this path. We actually ran into a friend from college that we knew 14 years ago and had no idea he was in Belfast. Since then we have gotten together to share college memories and catch up on our lives. It was an amazing chance meeting.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Back Garden Friends

Neighborhood Fun!
On the first day that it reached 65 degrees everyone was ready for a water fight. It felt like summer. The kids are playing with their good friend, Chris from next door.
Isabella and Elise have become best buddies and their favorite thing to do is to call for one another through the fence that separates our "gardens".
Friends are for eating "sweeties" together.
In Chris' back garden playing.

Passing the ball back and forth, one of their favorite games.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Easter Break-Final Day

The City of Derry/Londonderry

Before making our way home we stopped off at another impressive ring fort. This one was called Grianan Aileach. It sat right outside of the city of Derry and came with an impressive view. The fort was made sometime in the Iron Age around the time of Christ and was a royal stronghold to the O'Neil clan. The dry-stone walls are 12 feet thick and 18 feet tall. We loved this fort because you could run/walk along the upper walls.
The interior sanctuary was 80 feet in diameter.
The great walled city of Derry was the next stop. Derry or Londonderry has a tumultuous history. The city is geographically located in the Republic of Ireland but when Ireland was being divided up the North kept the city for economic reasons. Thus this city has seen many conflicts throughout it's life. The walls around the city were built in 1613 and are almost 20 feet high and form a mile long loop. In 1688 a group of apprentice boys slammed the city gates shut in the face of the approaching Catholic forces of King James II. The Protestant defenders were kept inside through months of negotiations which was followed by a 105 day siege. 20,000 refugees and defenders died within the city walls. In 1689 the siege was broken by supply ships breaking through a boom and the new King William of Orange arrived in Ireland and defeated James at the Battle of the Boyne. This is just one of the many battles fought in this city. We took the mile long walk along the top of these walls.
Looking over the top of these walls we saw the murals of the Bogside. This is the gut retching historical site of so much sectarian violence. In the '60s the Catholics were fighting for their civil rights, better housing, fair voting rights, and to end employment discrimination. The British Army was called in to keep the peace.
This is the H block memorial to the Hunger Strikers. The Hunger Strikers died while in prison refusing to be treated like criminals, refused to wear the prison uniforms or eat in hopes to be treated as legitimate political prisoners.
The Bloody Sunday memorial. In 1972, a group protested and marched around the Bogside neighborhood. They were fired upon by members of a British regiment, who claimed that snipers had fired on them first. The result were 14 civilian deaths and tensions mounted.
Two brothers and a friend started painting the murals along the Bogside neighborhood in 1994.
There was a powerful sense of sorrow felt in my gut as I walked, read, and looked through these paintings and memorials.
The British army withdrew it's forces from Londonderry in 2007 and there is now a feeling of cautious optimism as the city continues to learn from it's history and recover from the pain of so many losses.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Easter Break-Day 7

Heather Cottage and Coastlines of Donegal

Here is the cottage that we stayed in while we were in Donegal. It was the best spot and perfect for our family. The owners own a bit of land and do some farming on it. They have a home on the top of the property and then built this cottage to rent out about 1/4 mile away. We were sitting in a sheltered valley with the pastures around us. They had some cows and chickens. The kids got a chance to feed the cows and take in the chickens for the night. This was one of their highlights. We even received fresh farm eggs for our breakfast. It was a blessing to this mommy's soul to be in the country again.
This is the view from the sun room.
While the sun was still out we grabbed the chance to explore the beaches. We stopped at Marble Hill and the kids had to jump the waves. The ocean water was freezing and I don't know how the kids' toes didn't get hypothermia but they loved every minute.
Every two year old's dream, getting wet and dirty!
We did some more driving around the countryside. This is a very typical "look" for Donegal.
We drove around the "Bloody Foreland", named that after the shade of red that heather turns at sunset. There were many rock walls like these and forgotten farms along the rugged coastline.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Easter Break-Day 6

County Donegal

We stayed outside of Creeslough in county Donegal for three nights. The country side of this county is very different then the rest of Ireland. It is a very barren, stark, rugged land with sharp coastlines. It has a beauty of it's own.
The Glenveagh National Park and Castle look like an oasis in the middle of this barren land.
The Glenveagh castle was completed in 1873 by John George Adair who used it as his hunting estate. After he passed away his widow transformed the gardens into adding more exotic species and added rooms to the castle. Kingsley Porter bought the estate later and then soon afterward disappeared. Many believed he drowned. The last owner was a Philadelphia millionaire Henry McIlhenny and he then handed the estate over to the Irish nation in 1981.
The view from the heated swimming pool which Greta Garbo was said to have visited often.
The lake side garden and pool.
We took the castle tour which took us around each of the rooms and saw the rare furnishings and paintings. We were in a group of about 20 or so and Elise just didn't think we were seeing the best of things so she walked right up to the tour guide and took her hand. After that Elise became the tour guide's assistant through the rest of the tour and never left her side. I guess you could say she isn't shy.
There was so much beauty in this place and the weather was incredible. It was one of those glorious days you never want to forget.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Easter Break-Day 5

Cliffs of Moher and Onward to County Donegal

The Cliffs of Moher are located on the west coast of Ireland in the county of Clare. They stretch for five miles and rise 650 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped for a visit on our way to Donegal. The visitors center is inside the hill and had some fun 3-D films of flying over the cliffs.
Just in case you forget...Actually, I guess many have misjudge the edge of the cliffs and have tumbled over!

The O'Brien's Tower was built in 1853 and marks the highest point of the cliffs. The view from this point was breathtaking.

I guess it's normal to not heed the warning signs?

After our visit to the cliffs we headed to our little cottage in Dongal. It was a five and half hour car ride but well worth the drive.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Easter Break-Day 4

Easter Sunday-Cork to Shannon

During our stay in Cork we were at a Radisson hotel. On the evening of the 23rd we were meet with a notecard with a clue on it hanging from our door. The hotel staff had put together an Easter egg hunt for the kids in our hotel room. The kids thought this was the greatest and loved finding the 6 clues and were rewarded with four large chocolate eggs hiding in the lock box. The next morning we headed out early for our unorthodox Easter Sunday experiences. We started the day at the Swiss Cottage.

The Swiss cottage was built in the early 1800s for Richard Butler, the first Earl of Glengall. The cottage was built with the intention of blending in with the surrounding environment. So there is nothing about the cottage that is symmetrical. Every door and window has it's own distinct measurement and no two are alike. You were made to feel as if you were living inside a tree. We had a great time exploring.
The Rock of Cashel
Here is where the ancient kings of Munster reigned in 300-1100 A.D. This was also a place of great tribal wars as kings fought for the great fortress. In 1101 Murtagh O'Brien gave the Rock to the Church. This provided a great ecclesiaastical center for the growing Christian church.
This piece of wall fell off during a massive storm after being weakened by cannon fire in one of the many battles fought here.
Graveyard and Round tower. The round tower was the first stone structure built on the Rock after the Church took it over. It was used as a bell tower and lookout post. The monks would use this as a place to store their precious sacramental treasures.
St. Patrick is said to have baptized King Aengus at the Rock of Cashel. The 12th century cross was carved to celebrate the handing over of the Rock to the Church 650 years after St. Patrick's visit. This is just a replica of what once stood there. Over the years the wind and the rain have eroded the original and so they have moved it inside to the museum for protection. Many tourist can be seen trying to hug this cross as the tour guide explains an Irish legend of believing that if your arms could touch while encircling the cross you will never suffer from a hangover. I think I might have a better way.
Inside the cathedral.
From the grave yard there is a great view over the Plain of Tipperary, once covered by giant oak trees. In view is the Hore Abby. This abby was named for the Cistercian monks who wore simple gray robes, the same color as hoarfrost. We walked around the ruins and found it very peaceful and a reprieve from the overwhelming amount of tourist at the Rock.

After our tours we made a couple hours drive to the Shannon area where we stayed at a golf resort village. It came as a pleasant surprise to be staying in a town house where we had two levels, a full size kitchen, two bathrooms, laundry facilities, and one of the largest places we have stayed in yet since we have been to Ireland.