The day began with a traditional Irish breakfast:
Just had to get that in.
One of the strangest things about Ireland (which I realize isn’t strange to the people who live here) is that steering wheels are on the wrong (right) side of cars and cars drive on the wrong (left) side of the road. Here’s a photo of Seamus in his car…
…and here’s a photo taken from the road:
…and explored cobblestone streets…
…and checked out Dublin Castle (left to right: Shane, Jona, Zack):
We walked through several shopping districts and malls. My favorite (because of all the old books) was George’s Street Arcade:
Dublin is a beautiful city of temptation:
Grafton Street was packed with last-minute Christmas shoppers:
Shane led us away from the mayhem and into a quiet park called St. Stephen’s Green:
Then Shane and Jona grabbed lunch at a small restaurant, and even though I wasn’t hungry, I still ate because Shane said there probably wouldn’t be food at our next destination. So, what did I eat? Just a small, light meal–a cheese/bacon/potato “cake” with pasta and potato salad…and a vanilla/pear scone with butter:
(I can’t seem to figure out why I always gain weight when I travel.)
Next stop: Jona’s aunt Marion’s house, located in the countryside 16 miles from Dublin. Jona had met Marion (her father’s sister) only once in her life, decades earlier, and didn’t remember her; this was the first t
ime that Jona was meeting Marion’s husband and their two 20-something-year-old kids–her first cousins.
The house itself was, to put it simply, other-worldly. Built in the year 1700 on an ancient burial ground, it’s believed to be haunted and known to be over 6,000 square feet. (That’s a VERY conservative estimate. I’ve never been in a bigger house.) There were more than 30 rooms. No one in the family had an exact count; they’ve only been living there a few months. And that’s not all. The house is surrounded by 20 acres, on which one can find a tennis court, an apple orchard, half a dozen (empty) horse stables, and a 4,000-foot castle (complete with a spiral/stone staircase) that was built in 1579. I’m telling you, the whole thing was straight out of a movie.
It was already dark when we arrived, so here’s the best photograph I got of the castle:
Here’s what it looked like on the way to the stables…
…and here’s a collage of just a FEW rooms and staircases in the house:
It was the sickest thing I’ve ever seen. The collage above doesn’t even begin to do it justice. There were staircases that led to other staircases, hallways that led to hallways, walk-in closets the size of New York City studios, dens, studies, master bedrooms, guest rooms, a game room, a reading room, a laundry room, and a gigantic (now unused) “servants quarters” in the basement. I wanted to play hide-and-go-seek but a) there wasn’t time and b) I would’ve been too scared to be alone. Yes, most of the house was cozy and tastefully furnished, but still. It was so big that at one point, Marion’s husband (Jimmy) couldn’t find his son (Colum) so he pulled out his cell phone and called him.
There was also an enormous eat-in kitchen, where Jona and Shane and I were served tea, followed by a chicken-and-vegetable-curry over rice…
…followed by an English dessert called trifle (with extraordinarily fresh whipped cream)…
…which was accompanied by a spicy/rich fruit cake (which I neglected to photograph) with more whipped cream. I was still stuffed from my unneeded lunch, but what was I supposed to do? I didn’t want to offend the hosts or the ghosts, so I ate.
Jona’s parents separated when she was a newborn. Jona only met her father once after that, several years later, during a brief trip to Ireland, and he died of a massive/unexpected heart attack several years after that. Jona, as you might imagine, has almost no recollection of him so she’s been piecing together his mysterious past through a combination of his siblings’ stories and old photographs and his artwork. He was a painter–quite a successful one, evidently–and several of his pieces were scattered around the house. In the four-part photo below, you can see a portrait that a fellow artist painted of him along with three of his own pieces:
By 8pm it was time to move on to the NEXT destination. Marion, who insisted that Jona (and I) return in the summer, drove us all to the home of her brother Ciaran (pronounced “KEER-on”).
In case you’re losing track of the family tree…Marion is Jona’s aunt…which means Ciaran is Jona’s uncle. Jona had never met him (or his wife Mary) before. So, in we went, for a couple hours of schmoozing.
In the four-part photo below, starting on the top left and going clockwise, you’re looking at a) everyone sitting around in the living room, b) Jona in between Ciaran and another of her father’s paintings, c) Shane, Ciaran, Jona, me, and Mary, d) Jona being shown photographs of cousins and uncles and aunts and half-siblings that she’s never met:
At around 10pm, Marion drove us back to Dublin. It was Christmas eve. The streets were dead:
Seamus picked us up (to save us the 25-euro taxi ride) and drove us home. (On the wrong side of the road.)