See the trailer of the BanksideFilms documentary, Jig, filmed during the course of the 2010 Irish Dance World Championships held in Glasgow, Scotland. Click here.
What follows is a journal (as seen through the eyes of the Dad) of our family's trip to the World Championships of Irish Dancing in Belfast, Northern Ireland, March/April 2008.

Daryl (our dancing daughter) qualified to go to the World Championships at the Western Region Oireachtas (oh-ROCK-tuhs) which took place in Los Angeles in November of 2007. The Worlds were held at Waterfront Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland from Easter Sunday, March 23 through Sunday, March 30, 2008, the day Daryl danced.

Tuesday March 25, 2008
A day of early departure from LAX. I try and do my usual thing: identify some city. Hah! A 4-hour layover in Newark, New Jersey, the highlight of which is being able to look across the water at Manhattan.

Four-plus hours at Liberty. Finally the call to board comes. It is a welcome surprise to see a pillow and blanket on each seat in the plane. Not being a seasoned traveler, and having heard of corners being cut in the industry, you just never know what level of service to expect.

Beth and I are seated in a row with a woman who engages in conversation pertaining to whether or not we have ever been to Ireland. She learns that we are to visit Derry tomorrow and mentions the prominence of the spire of St. Columb's Cathedral.

It is our plane's turn: it accelerates, and expels one final shudder as it leaves the earth. The Manhattan skyline opens below us. The dark Atlantic lies before us. Now, the adventure begins!

March 26, 2008

As our plane descended to earth, and the landscape of Ireland appeared beneath the cloud cover, I was immediately struck by the one thought: the scene unfolding beneath us very closely resembled the state of my birth: Oregon. The green, the countryside, the clouds, and now, the rain. Beth was similarly affected. Ireland is the land to which both of us attribute (at least, in part) our ancestral heritage.

Once on the ground, our first task was to find transport to our respective destinations. I say destinations because Beth and Daryl were to go into Belfast to the site of the Worlds (as they are called), while Susannah and I would proceed to the site of our lodging in Derry, a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to the west.

Within minutes the four of us were separated and on the buses which would take us to our first day's adventure.

Sheep. Lots and lots of sheep. More sheep than anyone has ever beheld in their life (unless, of course you are from sheep parts, I suppose.) And lambs, some only hours, or even minutes old. As we drove away from Belfast International Airport (BFS), this is what you notice immediately, unless, oh yeah, we're on the left side of the road! Now, this is weird. I don't think we ever really got used to it: in Dublin there are hand painted instructions on the asphalt at intersections to "Look Right" or "Look Left." It seems even the locals need a little help.

Along the way, an older gentleman seated behind me offered me his newspaper, uttering something unintelligible, in an effort to be friendly (I think). Interested, I opened the paper to be greeted by an extremely under-dressed woman (under being the operative word--wink, wink). Startled, I proceeded to a more family friendly page for half a minute and then thanked the gentleman while handing his "newspaper" back to him. (I don't know, maybe scantily clad women are news in Ireland.)

Derry. Londonderry. L'Derry. Derry/Londonderry. Stroke City, the last being a reference to the slash (stroke) used in the quasi-politically-correct Derry/Londonderry.) Derry. The Maiden City. Ground zero of "The Troubles." During our trip, we saw numerous signs where "London" had been spray painted over on the word Londonderry: one presumes by Republicans. (Not our Republicans, their Republicans.)

Susannah and I got off the bus and headed out through the front door of the "shopping centre" (Quayside Centre--pronounced keyside) we found ourselves in. The sense of we're-in-a-foreign-country-and-I-have-no-idea-where-we-are-going panic only rose up in my stomach for a moment as I got my first real glimpse of city centre Derry. It looked old, run down. Susannah later reminded me that "this is Europe." (Oh, yeah, this is Europe! That explains it!) Things are a little older than the strip malls in Canyon Country.
We retreated to the bus line office to ask if they knew where the Iona Inn (our B & B) was located. I figured people in these types of positions would know where everything in town is. They didn't. Well, I knew the direction of the inn. Hadn't I Googled it several times and mapped out the route that we would walk if it was decided it was close enough? Yes, I had, but that printout was on its way to, or in, Belfast at the moment, with Beth. Oh.

The nice young lady Googled the Inn as well as called a taxi. "Is it on Waterside?" she asked. "I don't know what that is," my reply. Turns out Derry has three areas ending in "side:" Waterside (which is where we were headed); Cityside (which is where we were currently); and Bogside, the predominantly Catholic area to the west of Cityside. We'll deal with that later.

"You can take a seat: there'll be a wee wait." And wait a wee while did we, so we did.

I'm afraid I revealed myself for the American tourist I was. Upon the arrival of our taxi, I immediately opened the front door on the passenger's side of the car only to discover a steering wheel there! Oops! Driving on the left side of the road means vehicles with right-hand drive.

Fear of the local language is often an issue with the traveler. Ireland is no different. It's all the more embarrassing to keep asking someone to repeat themselves when you know that they're speaking English. The first taxi driver we encountered asked something about what turned out to be the subject of the weather in L.A. I had to excuse myself frequently owning to the accent that many have. It's almost Scottish in nature. With good reason as it turns out, as many of the population in Northern Ireland are the descendants of the Scots who were planted in Ulster by the English in the early 17th century and again in the early 18th century. (In my studies since being back home, I am learning of the Scots-Irish role in forming our own nation.)

We found our B & B, stowed our luggage and the dance dress with the Matron, Marie, and proceeded on to lunch. At one point, I commented to Susannah that the menu in The Sandwich Company could be at any one of a number of places in Southern California. Some of the items had Baja, San Antonio or California in their names.

Our room (a flat, really) needed to be made up, so Susannah and I had a chance to "have a walk about" while we waited. Found the train station from which we were to depart in two days. Upon our return to the Inn, we ducked into the inn's pub and encountered the gentleman with whom we had corresponded via email some weeks previous to our arrival, Garrard. Garrard is a gregarious, friendly man who has much patience for those who have to find some way of asking people to repeat themselves because of the language barrier. That would be me.

Garrard is also responsible for giving us an impromptu history lesson. In asking if we were here to see the sights, he explained the origins of the city of Derry all the while drawing out a rendition of the city's layout on a cocktail napkin from the pub, a la This is Spinal Tap. I was glad to see that the stonework in Derry was much larger than in the movie.

As one was approaching us from Cityside, Garrard pointed out what the local constabulary drives when out and about in Derry. It's a vehicle that looks more like an armored personnel carrier than anything. I remember them, again from news reports during The Troubles.

Our first flat had a problem with the heat (and, believe me, we needed heat) so we moved up two floors to one where the heating system was working.

The photos below are of Derry City Centre taken from Waterside, from the 5th floor of the apartment building we were housed in, actually. The River Foyle is in the foreground. The Craigavon bridge pictured, is the only double-decker bridge in all of Europe. This is an extremely busy corner, but quiets down at night. The feel of the place is similar to that of Coos Bay,Oregon, where I am originally from: part working town, part tourist town. You can plainly see that this scene looks more glamorous at night, but, hey, don't we all?

That afternoon, I walked across the Craigavon bridge to Cityside and into the old, walled city. Derry is called the Maiden City for the fact that it is the only city in all of Europe whose walls have never been breached. (You can stop blushing now.) The original walled city was built on an island in the River Foyle. One side of the river was filled in, creating the Bogside.

This was my first opportunity to try out the new walking shoes I had purchased online. It's hard for a guy with size 14 (sometimes size 15) feet to find decent comfortable shoes. Fortunately, I found not one, but two(!) pairs of shoes, though the more rugged of the two pairs somewhat resembles those worn by some circus clowns. Comfortable, though.

My intended destination was the cathedral whose spire dominates the skyline of Derry, St. Columb's. Given to following my rather substantial nose, I climbed the hill passing row houses with front doors right on the narrow streets.

I realized that I had come to a dead end and then realized where I was. It was that eerie sense of having seen this before, and perhaps I had on some news broadcast 30 years ago. There were high security fences blocking my progress and a row of older, obviously un-lived-in brick houses to my right with boarded-up windows. One flew a ripped and battered Union Jack.

Was this a Republican/Nationalist neighborhood from which the Loyalists had fled. Or was the Union Jack a symbol of Loyalist support? Was it a symbol of contempt for the British, given its condition? Or, was this a Loyalist neighborhood protected by the security fences? I hoped that I appeared as touristy-looking as possible at that moment.

A little backtracking, and taking a different turn, and I was on the walls and stepping into the history of this city in the upper, left-hand corner of Europe.

On top of the wall looking down at Bogside. St. Eugene's Cathedral in background.

A grainy, low resolution image of St. Columb's taken from
Waterside. This was one of the recurring problems I encountered
using the camera phone. I'm the only one in the family that doesn't have
a digital camera, a situation I am going to rectify.

Another shot of St. Columb's.

St. Augustine's (Church of Ireland) within the city walls.

The title of this monument is Hands Across the Divide. The hands of the figures are reaching
but not quite touching. It is located at the end of Craigavon bridge on Cityside.
(No, one of the figures does not double as a street lamp. The light is just beyond, on the
other side of the street from the monument.)

So, what do seasoned travelers have for their first meal in their new European environment? Domino's Pizza(!)--what else? It was located on the ground floor of the building we were staying in. Beth and Daryl did not join us until fairly late in the evening owning to the bus trip from Belfast. Most of the eateries in our area were not within an easy walk, so it was pizza for us. A $20.00 pizza, too. It's usually the $5.99 cheese pizza from Ameci for us.

We knew that with the exchange rate being so bad for the dollar, we would encounter this kind of thing with every purchase we made. And we did. A $20.00 pizza here, a plain, ordinary dinner of hamburgers and chips or similar costing $80.00-90.00 there. It's only money.

(added Aug. 4, 2008): I just finished reading "Midlife Irish" by Frank Gannon. I'm glad I didn't read it before we went to Ireland. I might have thought my writing too similar in some ways to his.

Thursday March 27, 2008
After a blessedly peaceful night's sleep, we were about to experience one of the apexes of Northern Ireland--the Ulster Fry. I had seen the name in print in researching our lodging and it sounded mouthwatering. Well, here it was--breakfast in our first bed and breakfast ever. Beth and I found our way across the street to the Inn's breakfast room. Two others in our party were still engaged in sleep.

After seating ourselves, a young woman popped her head out of the swinging kitchen door, and asked what we would have for breakfast. We both (I think) chose the full Irish breakfast, at which point our server asked if we wanted "pudding" with the breakfast. Now, pudding to you and to me may mean a chocolate or vanilla dessert. I knew what she was referring to, and I said yes--this was about as ethnic as I was going to get the whole trip.

If you don't know, pudding is, well, sausage. . . sort of. There is black pudding, and there is white pudding. I won't tell you what is in pudding, in case you are eating as you are reading this. Hey, most European cultures have some variant of the stuff. If you really want to know what is specifically in black pudding, click here.

Eagerly at first and then a bit gingerly I tried both: the texture was most notable above all else. OK, so now I've done pudding, along with chitlins, and that is that.

I had heard of the large English breakfast from my dad when I was a kid. At the time, I couldn't believe that anyone would possibly eat a large meal at breakfast. BREAKFAST! Gross!

The other items on the plate were quite delectable: sausage, bacon (more like ham, really), an egg, fried soda bread, lots of toast, grilled tomato and (at our next destination) mushrooms.

During our stay in Ulster, news was reported that eating one sausage a day can increase your chance of contracting cancer by some rather large percentage. Great. All that fried stuff, I guess.

Daryl had a practice session with her teacher at a local arts theatre here in Derry. Attracta (the teacher) had recently moved to Derry. It was because of her move here that we, if fact, found ourselves in Derry now.

Getting a taxi is an easy task: we walked up the street (Spencer Road) half a block, walked into the cab office and were on our way. I asked if we needed to buckle our seat belts, to which the driver responded that he did not have to, but the passengers did. I didn't think anything of what he said until he explained that during The Troubles a law had been passed which allowed the drivers not to buckle up. The reason for this? During The Troubles taxis drivers would be lured into secluded areas and robbed and/or killed. The unbuckled seat belt was seen at least as an aid to escape, should there be a threat. He further explained that his "firm" (taxi company) was mixed, meaning both Catholic and Protestant, whereas, most are not. This was the beginning of an occasional sadness I would feel as I learned more of Derry and Ulster and Ireland.

We dropped Daryl off for her practice at Waterside Theatre. There, we met up with our neighbors from Canyon Country, the Kirks (Chris (the mom), Meagan (the daughter) and Adam (the son)). Tom (the dad) had remained at home. The Kirks have been to Ireland several times for the Worlds and Chris has a niece who lives in Derry. We left to visit her while the kids practiced.

After some conversation, she (the niece whose name I need to find out by the time I update this tome) offered to take us to a store where we could buy a blow dryer for the girls. She asked what, if any, Irish connection we had.

Beth and I have the same ancestral heritage: Scotch, Irish, German (though I found out recently I have a bit of French in me, as well. Maybe that explains my compunction to speak French in Canada last summer. 'Ya think?) Anyway, perhaps it's Scotch-Irish, I explained. It was then that she informed us of the Ulster-Scots dialect which is spoken by a minority of people, the descendants of the Scots who were planted in Ulster (Northern Ireland) in the early 17th century and again in the early 18th century. Since getting home, I have done some research, but the jury is still out. Who am I?

Ulster Scots Google Search

In the afternoon, the four of us walked the walls and took a tour bus trip of Derry. The guide informed us of the events of Bloody Sunday and pointed out the anti-British murals sympathetic to the Republican cause on the ends of the row houses in Bogside. When we went across the Foyle to Waterside, we were shown corresponding murals sympathetic to the Loyalists and to the British Crown. Additionally, we learned that 20,000 people, presumably most being Protestant, moved from Cityside across the Foyle to Waterside at the time of The Troubles. The sadness rose up within, again.

These shoes upon my feet walked
Derry wall / Londonderry street
on cobbled way, on stair they stepped
while virgin gate and pillar slept.
Upon some moss which grows on stone
where this maiden stands--alone.
In either Church and in each Side,
over Foyle, Craigavon, across the divide.


I like Derry! Can you tell?

Bogside. Showing various styles of art.

Entering Free Derry sign, Bogside.

March 28, 2008

Time to check out of Derry and move on to Belfast! We'll be taking the train, so we will. Pay the bill at Iona Inn. And I only got that what-do-you-mean-you-don't-take-Visa-I-asked-you-two-days-ago-and-you-said-yes-you-did anxiety for a few seconds--until the little register that everyone uses these days spit out a nice, new piece of paper for me to sign. There was a little confusion, but things turned out OK.

The train was a great way to see some of the countryside. More sheep. But, some hills, even mountains came into view. We had a few moments by the coast, but too soon, turned south and inland toward Belfast. We entered a couple of tunnels and when we emerged from the second of these, we were already headed south and inland. I discovered only after our return home that when traveling in one of the tunnels, we were directly beneath the well-known Mussenden Temple (see here and here). The train tracks can be seen in both photos. Northern Ireland site

I wish to return to the North Coast some day and stand on Downhill Beach at sunset and stare out to sea (though I would actually be praying to God.) I discovered this wonderful video at youtube some time ago. It suggests that C.S. Lewis may have been inspired by such a wintry walk when imagining a snowbound Narnia.

River Foyle, Derry. Taken from the bridge.
The train station is the low building on the right with the white roof.

One memorable event (or annoyance) during the train trip was the periodic interruption of the atmosphere by one young rider's ring tone on his mobile (cell) phone: "YEE-HAA, BOY! YEEEEEEEE-HAAH!! YOU GONNA ANSWER THAT, OR WHAT?! YEEEEEE-HAH!!!! You see, quite memorable. We learned that ring tone rather well.

The Angel of Belfast
Our arrival in Belfast was marked by what had become an intermittent rain storm. I had chosen the train stop nearest our destination, Avenue House. How to get there was the immediate concern. There were no taxis within sight given that this was a minor stop, in a kind of out-of-the-way neighborhood. Hadn't I seen our route from the City Hospital train station (where we were now) to Avenue House several times from our satellite vantage point on Google? Yes, but I had neglected to print out the map because of some technical glitch or another--besides there will be taxis at the station. No taxi.

We made our way from the platform onto the adjoining street. Ah, there's someone approaching. I'll ask for directions. "What street is this?" I asked, to which he replied with a word that sounded like a word you wouldn't want to use in polite company. "Oh, what the heck, go for it!," I thought, so, I repeated what I thought the word was that he had said. It elicited no response and I decided that I had probably better not pursue the conversation further. I thanked him as we parted company. A while later, when I found the street on my map, I saw that the street name was actually "Tates." So, you see my confusion? Was my face ever red!

He's not our Angel, by-the-way.

A mid-70ish woman approached with whom I took a different approach: "Can you tell me where Lisburn Road or Eglantine Ave. is." With an expression of deep concern, she gently touched my forearm and explained where the streets we were looking for were and said we should walk through the grounds of City Hospital. She appeared to live right beside the train stop.

Making our way through the City Hospital grounds, we encountered a seemingly intoxicated man who was also a bit banged up--from the looks of some of his bandages. He said something I didn't understand, but it was clear he was asking for directions. "We're not from here," was all I could reply. "Where are you from?" Hah! I understood that! "Los Angeles." "You American?" "Yes." (Not knowing how saying so would be received.) It was well received: "God bless you, sir," he said, with slurred speech as he extended his hand. We shook hands and I returned his blessing.

Life is good when you are carting your luggage in the rain in a foreign nation with your semi-disgruntled family (some were more gruntled than others) and get blessed by one of God's own. Besides which, we all had umbrellas, anyway.
I wasn't concerned about us getting to our destination, I knew that we were quite close, we just had to get to Lisburn Road to get our bearings. Suddenly, I spotted him! A young man smoking a cigarette outside of what appeared to be a taxi! I asked if he was waiting for a fare. No. Would you like to take four wet people to Eglantine Ave? Yes. Can you get all of us and our baggage in your car? Yes. He was a bit optimistic in regard to the latter, so Susannah and Daryl rode with all of our baggage while Beth and I walked the few blocks to Avenue House.

What a nice neighborhood! I had been drawn to the place when reading online of the establishment: "in the leafy area of Belfast..." And it is in close proximity to Queens University, too. The presence of a college and students to appeal to the younger set: the leaves for us. Except that there weren't any leaves because Spring had hardly begun yet.

So, now we had two in our party waiting for us in a taxi on Eglantine Ave., and the two adults on their way."Where is this place?!" read the rather terse (or so I imagined) text message. Uh, is it 31 Eglantine? 39? I racked my brains. I had assumed that any taxi driver would know. Ours didn't.When we arrived on scene, we asked a couple emerging from a car if they knew where the Avenue House guesthouse was. With a simple gesture toward the door through which they were about to enter, the ordeal was over.

"We're the _____ family," I announced to the petite woman with red hair who greeted us at the door.

"Oh, yes! Welcome!" replied our hostess, Alice Kelly. We had made reservations 2 months in advance, eight time zones and thousands of miles away, communicating mostly via email (though I did phone once), with no deposit required, and here we were. . . home.

Avenue House is a 19th-century Victorian row house on the very-quiet Eglantine Ave. The house was being worked on upon our arrival. We knew that in advance, through our email messages back and forth. It really wasn't an issue, because we arrived on Friday and there didn't seem to be any construction going on during the weekend.

There is a beautiful stone church (St. Thomas') on the corner of Eglantine and Lisburn Road which was also under construction. I had really wanted to involve myself with a liturgy while we were in Ireland, to ask a choirmaster if I could sing with his or her choir on the Sunday we would be in Belfast. Scheduling conflicts being what they were regarding the Worlds prevented that.

So, we have traveled from L.A. to Newark to Belfast to Derry and back to Belfast for the main event. What do the seasoned European Epicureans have for their first dinner in Belfast? Pizza, of course! Though not Domino's. Our waiter was obviously American, which we inquired about. Turns out, he grew up in the city of Brea in Orange County. It was funny to hear him tell the Irish folk, "there'll be a wee wait," with an American accent. Definitely one of those small world experiences.

Saturday March 29, 2008
It was a good thing that we decided to move funds from a credit union account into our main checking account a few days before we departed L.A. Good, because the remainder of the funds in the credit union account were inaccessible to us. That's not good. This showery Saturday morning found Beth and me walking the few blocks to one of the few open banks in all of Belfast. Not as many businesses open on Sunday, either, as we are accustomed to seeing. We brought up the subject with Mr. and Mrs. Kelly: we wanted to be sure that restaurants would be open. At one point Mr. Kelly (Stephan), exclaimed, "We've lost all our Christianity!" regarding the presence of what I assume is his feeling regarding too much commerce being conducted on the Sabbath.

Beth and I got our financial business taken care of and were walking back toward Avenue House. As we walked, we huddled under the security of our umbrella as a light rain fell. We discussed some of the events of the previous day, mostly of our immediate arrival and the upheaval of finding where we were going. I had just finished speaking of the 70-ish woman we had met the day before, when I raised the umbrella to get a better view of the sidewalk and where we were going--and there she was! Our Angel of Belfast.

We got her attention: "We saw you yesterday as we got off the train." She remembered us, of course, and indicated that she had been concerned about us. It showed. We thanked her for her help and assured her that we had gotten to where we were supposed to be. We discussed our reason for being in Belfast at this time, to which she responded that she had a daughter (I think) who had also been a dancer. We cheerfully said our farewells as we walked separate ways.

* * * * * * *

If you are a Titanic geek (no, I don't mean simply a big geek-I'm speaking of the ship), Belfast is the place to be.Susannah and I were able to go on the last tour of this year's Titanic Festival (who knew!?). The tour is a bit T.M.I at times, but the price was right--it was free. We saw where the ship was built, went in what had been the main office of the ship building company at the time Titanic was constrcted, and the impressively large dry-dock in which the Titanic was outfitted. Beth and Daryl hung out at Waterfront Hall, the site of the Worlds.

Leprechaun home and rainbow. On Lisburn road around the corner from Avenue House.

Living room at Avenue House.

The slip (yep, looks like asphalt) on which the Titanic was built before
it was put in the dry dock to be outfitted.

The dry dock. You don't really get a sense of the immense size from the photo.

Later in the afternoon, when we were all rejoined, we met up with the Kirks
and decided to take a trip on the Belfast Wheel.

At the base of the wheel is the Titanic Memorial:

The Belfast Wheel and City Hall. (Beth took this shot
and is very proud of its composition)

We strolled around City Centre looking for a place to eat, and finally located a Bistro. Had a lovely meal with the Kirks. I noticed that people in Belfast dress up a bit more that we are accustomed to when dining out. I didn't feel totally self-conscious in jeans, just a little.  I asked our waitress what kind of non-alcoholic beer they had, to which she made some unintelligible reply--so I didn't know what I was going to get. It turned out to be Beck's. Not bad, actually. I was having to be very cautious about my alcohol consumption because of another adventure which neccesitates regular dosages of rat poison, er. . . Warfarin.

Knowing that we would be leaving the house before breakfast on Sunday morning, Alice had asked us earlier on Saturday if we would like her to set out some cold cereal, fruit, and the like so that we would have something to eat before leaving for Waterfront Hall (how sweet). When we returned to our rooms this Saturday evening there were trays filled with our morning's breakfast, including something called a Brunch Bar. These Brunch Bars made it back across the Atlantic with us.

An ongoing minor problem we encountered during our trip was the issue of our cell phones. Verizon loaned us four phones which are usable in Europe. Our usual phones are not. The loaners use something called a SIM chip which enable their use internationally.

When we got to Ireland, we noticed that the time on our phones had changed (as one would expect), but the time changed to U.S. Mountain Time! We relied on our phones as alarm clocks, as another issue we encountered in all of the places we stayed, was the absence of clocks. (While in Derry, we had to text whoever was in the flat so that they could release the lock on the ground floor entry door. This cost $.55 each time.)

So, here we are, trying to figure out (by counting on our fingers): O.K., if our phone is on Mountain Time and we are 7 hours--no, now we're 8 hours ahead, (because we experience the change to daylight savings time (again) on the night before Daryl dances) what time do we need to set the alarm for? We figured it out, but worry about it kept me awake most of the night. Eventually, the obnoxious electronic alarm pulsed us awake at 5:30AM. Too bad we didn't learn how to manually change the time on the phones for a couple more days.

Sunday March 30, 2008
(Has it really only been a week since Easter?)

Beth and Daryl took a taxi to the Hall before Susannah and me. Susannah and I didn't need to stretch, warm up or practice our steps, so we got to sleep (I think) a little while longer.

An Irish dance major event is not really a show. It is a competition. There were over 100 girls in her age group, so even after her event began, we had plenty of time to get seated--definitely no rush.

At this level of competition, all of the competitors dance extremely well. Sometimes, I can tell if one is an exceptional standout, but most of the time I cannot.

And now for this fatherly commercial announcement.Daryl danced beautifully! We are so proud of her for the degree of accomplishment she has attained. Through perseverance, dedication and just plain hard work, she has danced on the world stage of her art. And it can happen again! (Though Philadelphia does not sound quite as exciting as Ireland. That is to be the site of the Worlds in 2009--first time ever to be held in the U.S.)

Daryl at Waterfront Hall just before going on. (Yes, it's a wig.)

(below) Daryl on stage in the Hall. That is her on the left. The people
you see kind of hunched over while sitting at tables, are two of the
seven judges which adjudicate the competition.

River Lagan, which runs through Belfast. Taken from the observation level in Waterfront
Hall. It's blurry owing to the fact that there is plastic sheeting covering the window glass.
The blurriness kind of reflects my mood at that moment, too.

Click here to view live streaming video cameras from throughout Belfast.

The rain had been coming down quite hard at times in the hour before Susannah and I were preparing to leave the hall. I would have elected to walk back to Avenue House had it not been raining so hard. Beth and Daryl elected to remain at the Hall to watch Megan Kirk's final event. Once back in our room, I rested.

After a brief rest, I decided to take in the Belfast Botanic Garden, which is only a few blocks from Avenue House. Bundling up in my sweater, brown leather jacket and wool scarf, I made my way to the closest entrance to the garden.

A man asked me which way the train station was. This phenomenon of being asked by the Irish for directions is unfortunate--for them. I pointed him in the general direction, saying it was several miles. (I kind of knew where it was, having been in the general area at some point during our visit.)

It started to rain hard. I notice that the people of Belfast are like the people in Oregon--but with umbrellas. Rain is not the life-suspending force in places where it actually rains--unlike L.A. (As I rewrite some of this (it is now August 5, 2008), I find that I have come to a realization: Ireland does not appear to have a "dry" season. Even Oregon has a dry season. Sort of. I have been daily checking my weather widgets on my Macintosh Dashboard. It rains practically every day in that land! Even so, I have read in a couple of places that the annual rainfall is still only 30". That would be about the same as Santa Rosa, California, where my mother lives. It's the frequency of the stuff that amazes me.)

The points of interest in the Botanic Gardens, the Tropical Ravine and Conservatory, were closed, so I walked the paths of the garden, and saw a coast redwood (our coast, not theirs) and my first-ever forsythia in the wild! At least, I think that's what it is.

I make a point of this solely because my mother brought a couple of forsythia cuttings to our house a few years ago. They sat there in some water in a vase for weeks at which point I simply stuck them in the ground--and they actually grew! It's something the Neanderthal gardener can relate to: "Put stick in ground. Grow." I didn't know what it was supposed to look like, but I think this is it.

Forsythia in the wild (sort of).

As I headed back to the house, I reached into one of my jacket's pockets and discovered the apple that Alice had set out with the tray of food the night before. It was cold and snapped crisply as I bit into it. What a delicious apple on a cold, windy, gray, beautiful afternoon in Belfast, in a garden. (An apple in a garden: that sounds familiar.)

Church for me on this Sunday consisted of listening to Evensong (how British!) from Portsmouth Cathedral in England. The broadcast was provided by the BBC satellite radio reception in the room. It was wonderful for the re-emerging choral conductor in me to hear the choral music of the Church of England. Hearing the chant, I thought: "We'll never hear it done this way at St. Martin's. (St. Martin's is the parish where I practice my craft.) Not that that is a bad thing in itself. The plainchant I was hearing was just that--plain, unadorned, austere. Yours truly is a bit over-the-top regarding chant interpretation. It's more interesting (probably only to me) that way.

The service ended with the final choral offering, prayers, benediction and organ postlude. I found myself making a cup of tea--a rarity. As I sat by the window overlooking the rear garden, there came the moment: as I gazed out the window onto the garden, the clouds parted, letting the sun cast its light on the gray sky while the rain still fell. The sounds of a violin concerto, perhaps Mozart, had replaced Evensong, and wafted through the room now. I sipped the fragrant tea.

Here I was, thousands of miles away from the home, country and culture I knew. I watched the sunlight glistening against a wet sky, looked on this Irish garden, taking in this beautiful setting. I felt I was no longer a part of all of that made up the former. I had been transported: first by jet; then truer, by culture. I sensed a profound unity with where I was in that moment--I felt as though I belonged. It was a moment of Grace, but unlike any other I have ever experienced. In this moment, I knew in my heart that I was descended from this land, and, as I have come to learn more recently (2015-16), it turns out that I am.

(I know what you're thinking: what was in that TEA!) But, in all sincerity, the moment ended too soon.

Monday March 31, 2008

On to Dublin. But first, money (getting some) and breakfast--our final Ulster Fry. We said our cordial good-byes to the Kellys. Alice said how they had enjoyed our visit in their home as did we. The cab pulled up directly on time. Mr. Kelly hoisted Daryl's morbidly obese suitcase (Susannah's term, not mine) wryly indicating to all: "We've saved this wee one for last!"

I noticed that while we always called Mrs. Kelly by her first name, she always addressed us as Mr. or Mrs. I was never sure if it was socially acceptable or not for us to be using her first name. It was never made an issue of. It has made me a little self-concious regarding Beth's entry in the guest book. Maybe we shouldn't have written, "Alice Rocks!" but, rather, "Mrs. Kelly Rocks!"

Thanking them once again, we were in the cab and off to the Belfast bus station. We were a mile or so off when I asked our driver something like, "What's this neighborhood called?" It's not a mistake to do so, but when you ask a cab driver in Northern Ireland, "What area is this called?" he may very well tell you something like, "This is Sandy Row, home of some of the most fervent Loyalists." Oh. Our driver proceeded to point out a mural on the end of a row of houses, a not uncommon site in some areas of Ulster's cities. I noticed that he couched his words in such a way as to make it seem as though he personally disapproved of this sort of display.

Sandy Row, Belfast. Around the corner from the bus station.

Arriving at the bus station, I got confused on the amount owed the driver and ended up practically throwing our last pounds at him: "Here, take it all! It's only money!"

Ah, the luxuries of travel. Friendly, efficient people carrying your luggage into the luggage bay allowing for a calm orderly transition to your transportation. Nope. Not even. The bus pulls in the stall, one of the passengers opens the bay and bedlam ensues as frantic people (many of them dancers (including a number from a large well known school in SoCal) with their dress bags) cram their luggage into the cargo area themselves. I had wondered if they had oversold the bus, too. As it turned out, it was totally sold.

We all found separate seats and settled in for the trip to the Republic of Ireland.

Most of us in our family missed the border, I think. I was asleep. I figured: you get to the border, there will be border guards packin' heat, they'll check our passports and ask us about contraband or if we have any subversive political ties. None of that. Once they let you on their island, you're there. No problem. The signs changed and that's how you knew you were no longer in the North.

Coming into Dublin, you see the Celtic Tiger in action, for you can't help but see the dozens of construction cranes that jut into the sky. Ireland has enjoyed unprecedented (I think) economic growth for a number of years. Some of that growth may be tempered, so I'm told, by the fact that some of the tax incentives which allowed the businesses to flourish are coming to an end, meaning perhaps the end of those businesses, as well.

We crossed the River Liffey, a couple of times before arriving at our destination--the Dublin bus station--and found our way via taxi to Jurys Inn Christchurch. If location is important, this Jurys certainly has that. It's overpriced for the quality you don't get. Nice view from the girl's room, though. 

Christchurch, viewed from Susannah and Daryl's room at Jurys Inn.

We immediately set about to take the hop-on-hop-off tour bus that takes you to many of the tourist destinations around town. As we sat on the upper deck of the bus, I began to get this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach: I don't like Dublin, I thought. It's a big, busy, noisy, seemingly treeless (though not really) city. What would we do here for three days? It turns out, I wasn't the only one feeling like this, but I don't think the others were nauseous.

We even discussed the possibility of going home a day earlier, but in the end, decided that there would be something of value we could engage in--and there was. We're glad we didn't change our plans.

Tuesday April 1, 2008
Beth and I began the day by having our breakfast at a little place called Bagel Haven. They have some of the best coffee ever (Darn fine joe!) Modern, blonde wood interior. Two-story. Very clean, quiet and out-of-the-way. Just right for a morning's start. And it's on Cow's Lane, too. We made a second appearance later in the morning, when one, or both, of the kids were up and about. The proprietess recognized us. The next day she practically ordered our meals for us, 'cause she knew what we were going to have.

Beth and I walked off by ourselves and stumbled upon the Irish equivalent of the 99-cents only store--the 2-Euro store! You can buy most of the same, mostly-worthless stuff that you can buy at our local stores, but with a decidedly Irish flavor. We could even have bought a strap-on derriere that has "Kiss my you-know-what" written in Irish on it (the "you-know-what" part is my substitution for what it actually says.) Who wouldn't want one?

Fortunately, we all recovered form our previous night's nausea, and we were ready to do stuff! Out of the myriad of choices, we decided to go to Trinity College and see the Book of Kells. The Irish monks of the dark ages are credited with preserving literacy in Europe through the creation of works such as the Book of Kells.

As it turns out, I did a no-no while at the exhibition: I took a picture of a panel that alludes to St. Martin of Tours' inclusion in the Book of Armagh. You won't see it here, though. I don't want there to be any evidence of the crime--and besides, I might be lying.

After reading much explanatory material in the outer room, you proceed to the room where the Book of Kells is actually housed. I had been so engrossed in reading the material before I actually saw the volume that when it came time to see the book, it kind of got glossed over because we were trying to keep things moving.

We proceeded upstairs to the Old Library with its hundreds of thousands(?) of volumes and dozens of busts of every great western thinker, and the like.

This was a day of various parties going their separate ways.
Susannah went off to some of the museums in town, while Beth and Daryl went shopping on Grafton Street. I walked St. Stephen's Green and made my way to St. Patrick's Cathedral. St. Patrick's is the national cathedral.

In the center of St. Stephen's Green

I know it is presumptuous, but wouldn't you figure that the national cathedral in Ireland would be a Catholic church? (It is Saint Patrick's, after all) Well, it isn't. (I had been brainwashed by the media, I tell ya!) That was a surprise. It took me awhile to figure that out, too, because it is a very old building with a lot of final resting places of various important people. There was an eerie element, as well: the organist was practicing some very modern, dissonant piece. I saw him later and the 2-3 story spiral staircase that ascends to the organ loft.

The main altar in St. Patrick's Cathedral

After rejoining at our hotel and exchanging stories of the events of our respective days, we were off to Temple Bar and dinner. The Temple Bar is an area of Dublin along the River Liffey, though there is also a bar called Temple Bar in the Temple Bar.

So, where were we? Oh, yeah--dinner. One of the things Beth and I had decided was that we were going to experience a pint of Guinness in a pub in the center of the Guinness universe. I know, we could have gone to the Guinness Storehouse and paid $17.00 for a pint there (it does include a tour), but we decided to forego that joy and pay a more earthly price, instead. One of the prerequisites of wherever we ended up would be the availability of traditional Irish music.

We decided to eat at the Auld Dubliner, an old rustic pub, with all of the usual pub grub. Our previous experience of Guinness must have been limited to the stout version. Neither of us cared for the stuff, or so we thought. What we were served was a draught, however, which had the classic thick and creamy head, with a shamrock imprinted onto the top of the head--just like on Rick Steves' European travel show.

The music at the Old Dubliner proved to be less than we had hoped for, so we moved on, across the street where we were rewarded with the kind of band we were looking for: tin whistle; guitar; fiddle; and bodhran (Irish drum).

Wednesday April 2, 2008We decided to take a bus tour to Malahide Castle and the town of Howth today. Beforehand, we took little excursions on our own. The format was the same as the previous day: Beth and Daryl go shopping; Susannah goes off exploring by herself; and I go to Dublin Castle (though it was closed: only the gift shop was open). I spent a great deal of time in the gift shop looking for just the right souvenir for our home. I settled on a Christmas tree ornament of Christchurch.

We frequently saw signs in businesses in Ireland that say: "Mind the head," or, "Mind the step." Well, on this occasion, either there was no sign, or I missed it, because I sure didn't mind it. On exiting the shop, I soundly whacked the top of my head on the very low door. I wasn't aware of any laughter: "Got another one, so we did!" Trying to maintain my dignity while rubbing the spot on my scalp where the collision had occurred, I felt the natural depression on my skull in that location: I wonder if my head is shaped the way it is because of all the times I've hit it there? It's all a part of the blessing/curse of being tall.

Dublin Castle and modern-day steeds.

The four of us met at the foot of the statue of Daniel O'Connell on O'Connell Street, and it was on to our bus that would take us to Malahide Castle.

I was hoping that we would see more of the Irish countryside. We did, sort of: our tour guide mentioned frequently that the areas we were passing through had been rural when she was growing up in Dublin as a child. Now, however, these same areas gave evidence to the same kind of urban sprawl that we have experienced in Southern California over the last decades

After about an hour's drive we arrived at our destination: Malahide Castle. Malahide is important in Irish history because it was the home of the Talbot family. The family lived on the property from 1185 until the mid-1970s. On July 1, 1690, the Talbots sat down to breakfast in the Great Hall then went to fight in the Battle of the Boyne, against the Protestant forces of Prince William of Orange. Fourteen of the Talbots died that day.

Malahide Castle

We were not allowed to take pictures of the interior of the castle, but we were fortunate that a nobleman was on the bus with us.

The Lord of the Manor.

His Lordship would be well served to put down the water bottle,
umbrella and souvenirs during photo sessions, however. He's not scowling:
it's more of a squint owing to the unfamiliarity with sunshine.

After reboarding the bus, we set off for Howth, a seaside resort community. The bus stopped on the Howth Summit so that we could get a panoramic view of Dublin Bay. We stopped next to a field of gorse and blackberries. I told our tour guide of the similarities of flora and weather between Ireland and the part of Oregon I am originally from. She listened politely, but I think it was one of those, "Oh,-that's-nice" things for her.

Dublin Bay, as seen from the Howth Summit. Gorse and blackberries.

I thought of one of my great-great-grandfathers who is believed to have departed from Ireland here, in Dublin. Was he Gaelic Irish or Scots-Irish? Had he sailed out of this bay five generations earlier? I won't know in this life. (UPDATE (2015): thanks to, I have discovered that my great-great-grandfather, Richard Murray Wilkins (1820-1888) sailed aboard the passenger transport ship, Chanticleer, in 1837 with brothers Charles and Edward. So, I WILL know in this life, after all!) I think that one of the games we should play in Heaven is Generational Bunny-Hop, or DNA Conga line, or something like that. We will all line up in order of our descendancy from our first parents (you remember: the apple and the garden), forming a line of dancers before God's throne that continues beyond our ability to see its beginning or end. What a dance!

For me, our last night in Dublin was tinged with a wee portion of sadness at our impending departure. The trip was coming to an end too soon. One last dinner in Temple Bar, maybe one last Guinness, and then we would be up early the next morning.

Thursday April 3, 2008
As our plane ascended through the cloud cover, I prayed for one final sweeping view of the Emerald Isle. It was not to be. We were only given an occasional glimpse of farms and hedgerows beneath the latticework of clouds. It seemed the whole world was covered by clouds that day.

This may have been a trip of a lifetime. We hope not. Beth and I are already talking about the possibility of us going to Killarney in February for the All Ireland Championships.
God bless that day.

Until that time. . .

Ulster Epiphany
Bruce Merrill

These shoes upon my feet walked
Derry wall   /   Londonderry street
on cobbled way, on stair they stepped
while virgin gate and pillar slept.
Upon some moss which grows on stone
where this maiden stands--alone.
In either Church and in each Side,
over Foyle, Craigavon, across the divide.
They walked upon Titanic's womb,
on garden path through gentle gloom.
In centre, square: on Laganshore.
Queen's, Waterfront and Albert's door.
Under ashen sky and leafless tree.
Into a moment God chose for me,
when gracious reign knealt down to tell
and silent light filled my soul's well.
Walked Temple Bar, Stephen's Green,
to Good News from the In-Between.
Where Handel's Hallelujah shout
first woke the world to comeabout.
Walked where dance wed music's mirth
there, stirred awake my soul to birth
sired across divide of sea,
on! To the Eire that lives in me!

Thanks for taking the time to read this. (He will go on so, so he will.)

Copyright 2008 by Bruce Merrill