Cycling Killarney National Park in Kerry, Ireland

Aongus and I held a vote the other night. Our best day since moving back to Ireland from London? We unanimously agreed:

Our day cycling in Killarney National Park.

This was one of four days we spent in County Kerry, and the 20 or so hours we spent in Dingle ranked a close second (see prior blog posts on Dingle, Slea Head, and stone forts along the Ring of Kerry).

Awakening from Lockdown

When the Irish government said “Lockdown is lifted–go forth and spend your money on domestic tourism”, we readily agreed! “Let’s head for Kerry,” I exclaimed. “It will be a treat to see Killarney when it’s not full of tourists!”

Indeed, Killarney, its National Park, and its famous Muckross House are typically packed to the gills with Americans.

We arrived safely after a 3.5 hour drive from our home in Dublin. As this was right at the end of lockdown #1, we had not yet been able to buy a bike rack for our car.

Arriving in Killarney, we found many people who were delighted to welcome tourists. Those in the hospitality industry have really suffered, financially, during lockdown. Nonetheless, we found one hotelier who was terrified of my accent. “No, I’m not straight off a plane,” I reassured her. “Dublin is my home.”

Hiring bikes

After a fair night’s sleep and breakfast in a nearly vacant cafe, we rented bikes in Killarney town and headed for some scenic routes.

Muckross Abbey

Our first stop of the day was Muckross Abbey, a place I’d never visited before. The stone abbey is absolutely spectacular. It is surrounded by a cemetery, woods, and fields.

We spent a good hour exploring the Abbey’s multi-story ruins.

Muckross Abbey offers magnificent views at every turn.

Sweeping panoramas abound.

And there are some beautifully preserved details, like this stone relief.

To the side of the worship space is housing for the monks. The plan is straightforward enough, but when exploring it you’ll experience a maze of rooms, passages, and stairs. Delights are tucked away. They reveal themselves, to the persistent traveller, piece by piece. Most rooms are well lit, but Aongus found a dark and spooky one (photo below).

The highlight for me was the central cloister with its ancient Yew tree. Such incredible majesty, reaching up to the Heavens!

We discovered spiraling stairs to the upper floor…

…where I got so mesmerized looking around that I whacked my head on the lintel of a low doorway! I think I was gazing up at the chimney (shown below) when that happened.

I recovered, though, and discovered the Monks’ sleeping quarters. At the end of the room, we found even more stairs. These went up to the main tower.

The inside of the tower was architecturally spectacular.

In spaces like these, the iPhone’s panorama feature provides loads of fun.

We had a great time exploring each nook and cranny.

Here’s a view looking back down toward the main entry of the worship space, and the relief we saw earlier.

Here I am walking the lane back to the Abbey’s carriage parking area, where we had left our bikes.

When you visit, if you are not on bikes, consider taking a carriage ride out the Abbey.

On this tourist-free day, the horses had little work to do.

Muckross House & Gardens

Muckross House itself was closed, though the gardens and cafe were just opening back up from hibernation.

Approaching the house by bike we enjoyed this view:

The surrounding landscape was carefully crafted and meticulously cultivated.

The picturesque view out from the front terrace of the house nearly takes your breath away.

The whole place is a masterful work of art.

Here’s a Yew tree in the garden:

Leaving the house, we headed out toward the National Park’s stand of ancient Yew trees.

Ancient Forest

This ancient forest of Yews is simply unforgetable. So lush. Covered in mounds of plush green moss.

It’s hard to do justice to this dramatic landscape.

But suffice to say, I felt like a Hobitt!

At the edge of the forest we found dramatic views of the northern lake.

Dinis Cafe

Our bike rental guy had shared ideas of where to stop–including important pointers since few spots were going to be open for lunch. Dinis Cafe, he thought, would be open today. It had been shut for lockdown and this was its first day back in action.

I arrived at Dinis a bit before Aongus:

Dinis Cottage is a quaint little house perched on the hillside, overlooking the southern lake from two terraces with picnic tables.

I enjoyed a nice hot bowl of soup and picturesque views (of the lake, and the man).

And then we were off again….

…to explore some more.

Torc Waterfall

Our next big stop was at Torc Waterfall.

It’s a short walk up hill from the car (and bike) parking area.

Viola! Here’s the waterfall in all its splendor. Aongus isn’t too keep on heights, so he’s hanging on to ensure I don’t fall over the edge!

Or perhaps he’s considering shoving over the edge? 😉

The stairs upward beckoned, promising more adventures, paths, and views. We decided to get going downhill, however, as we had another big adventure in mind.

We did take time, though, to marvel at various trees on the way back down to the car park where we’d locked our bikes.

Muckross House to Killarney

Our tour route took us back around, past Muckross House for a second time.

Northern Loop

Returning to Killarney town, we found a second wind and continued on toward the Northern Loop.

Throughout the day, we set our bikes aside, taking side trips by foot.

I long to canoe here someday. Canoes are rare here, however. Kayaks and motorboats are far more common. Aongus didn’t even know what a canoe was!?! People here often call kayaks “canoes”.

Isn’t this view inviting? It makes me want to paddle away….

Ross Castle

On the road to Ross Castle, we discovered more phenomenal vistas:

These photos are of Ross Castle, operated by Ireland’s Office of Public Works (OPW), but closed on this Covid-ridden day.

Ross Peninsula

Our tour around the Ross Peninsula rounded out the day so nicely.

Offering more moss, more green, and so much more lush. Here Aongus models a fine Marino wool sweater we brought back from our last trip to New York:

Memories of this place are great fodder for dreams. There’s almost no place I’d rather spend a day.

Overnight in Killarney

After out adventure, we returned to Killarney for a second night.

We’d not dined out for all of lockdown, and this was a very welcome treat! Aongus loved his first night’s chicken burger so much that we returned to the same pub for night #2. He’s very serious about his food:

The next morning, he was recharged and ready to roll!

Ladies View

We caught a final view of the Killarney lakes from the famous “Ladies View” on our way westward, toward the Ring of Kerry.

As with many iconic sights of Ireland, Aongus had never seen these places before–it took an American to show him America’s favourite highlights!

We are both delighted we grabbed the opportunity while it existed. Once lockdown #2 lifts, we certainly will return again!

Stone Forts along Ireland’s Ring of Kerry

Feeling a bit claustrophobic these days. We’re two weeks and three days into lockdown #2 here in Ireland, and my big outings of the past weeks have involved the fish market across the street and nearby grocers.

In fact, I wrote this blog post on the stone forts in County Kerry for you long ago–just after lockdown #1 lifted and the Irish government encouraged us to travel the country (to spend tourist “dollars”).

Since then, I’ve been so busy with work that I never got around to posting. Maybe it will brighten your autumn day….

I’d like to introduce you to Staigue, Cathergall and Leacanbuile–three impressive and ancient stone forts. The first of these is on the southern side of Kerry’s famous ring, whereas Cathergall and Leacanbuile are in the northwest corner of the Iveragh peninsula (aka Kerry’s largest peninsula synonymous with “Ring of Kerry”).

Here’s someone else’s list of all the stone forts of Kerry: http://www.theringofkerry.com/visitors/36-sights/ring-forts

Cathergall and Leacanbuile lay just northeast of Valencia Island. If you are visiting by car, you can reach them by driving to Cahersiveen, taking the bridge northward, and following the brown heritage signs. They are clearly marked and open to tourists. Park your car in a lot at the mouth where two paths join. The path to the right lead to the Cathergall stone fort, while the one straight ahead takes you to Leacanbuile.

Google map of the Iveragh peninsula, showing locations of forts.

Meagher and Neave (2004) say Cathergall and Leacanbuile date from the 9th or 10th century and were owned by wealthy farmers. On the other hand, Rick Steves says they were all “built sometime between 500 BC and AD 300 without the aid of mortar or cement”. The placard posted at Cathergall resolves this by stating they are “notoriously difficult to date”. (I included a photo of that sign, below.)

To reach Staigue fort, drive to Castlecove and turn northward. Again, the signage is clear.

You may notice other circular mounds covered in green along your journey. Kerry is covered in forts, but many are buried and not accessible—the land where they are is now privately owned.

You’ll find all three of these on Rick Steve’s Kerry tour, although they appear to be missing (or perhaps hidden) in the Michelin Guide. You can find details about them from a book like “Ancient Ireland: An Explorer’s Guide” written by Robert Meagher and Elizabeth Neave, and published by Interlink Books in 2004.

All three forts, according to Rick Steves, are about 2.5 miles off the main drag. It is so very well worth the effort to find them, in my opinion!

Staigue stone fort

Approaching the fort by car on the rainy day of our visit, we inched past wandering sheep. The stone fort eased into view through thick fog, periodically crystallizing into drizzle….

Then WHAM: the Staigue fort revealed itself in all its wintry glory. (Okay, yeah, it was June, but I assure you that it FELT like winter.)

Staigue is a fortress, perched on an elevated plain but surrounded on three sides by hilly slopes, and sheep! It measures 90′ in diameter and the height of the walls varies, reaching 18′ at the highest point (Meagher & Neave, 2004).

The entry is small and hidden. From the approaching path, it’s off to the right, tucked away behind and below the clumps of grass. At its base, the wall of the fort is 13′ thick. You viscerally feel the weight of the stone and the thickness of this wall when crossing the threshold.

Here, just inside the entry door, Aongus stands:

This is the view you find as you enter through the small passway of a “door”, protected today with a gate. Despite there being a gate to keep sheep out, people are quite welcome. This site is free to visit.

The thick stone walls vary in height, and undulate like the surrounding hills.

The interior is ringed by stairs that would have made the compound easier to defend, I’d say, by allowing many people to scale the inside quickly. The outside wall was designed to be impenetrable.

You can scale the interior walls. It takes some care, especially on a rainy day!

Here, you feel you’re on top of the world….

…yet somehow safe.

Cathergall stone fort

The next day, we discovered the Cathergall fort is even taller, higher, larger, and more dramatic than the Staigue.

I’d actually visited all three back in 2003, and Cathergall is the one that stuck in my mind the most, with its intricate stepped terrace stairs, water views, expansive landscape, and towering presence.

From Cathergall, you can see the Leacanbuile stone fort as well as ruins of a castle called Balleycarberry (built much more recently than the forts, but in worse condition).

You’ll catch glimpses of Cathergall from the road and also the walking path:

As shown in the panorama below, you see the entryway to the right. You feel the weight of the wall below you and the expansiveness landscape to the east:

Here’s a view looking to the northwest:

The stair system on this fort is even more extensive than on the other forts. It reminds me of the stepwells of India.

As with the previous fort, it appears there’s an inner core of fill. This one, however, is covered in grass.

Tiny little plants cling to its sides for life.

Leacanbuile stone fort

From the path up to Cathergall, you can view Leacanbuile across the fields.

We enjoyed watching a farmer and his dog practice herding sheep in the field between the two forts.

This third fort is the smallest and most intimate of the three publicly-open stone forts on the Ring of Kerry. This one feels the most like a residence, whereas Stiague and Cathergall feel more defensive. In fact, the sign says, there were four houses inside the wall. This handy plaque provides detail:

Below, you see the rooms, as well as the wall covered with grass and tiny little plants. And you can notice my little head popping out the top of “House A”.

This fort feels more like the beehive housing complex, also bounded by a stone ring, that we saw later in our trip, on Slea Head just west of Dingle. Featured in a separate blog on Slea Head.

The floor inside the ring undulates in a way the others don’t, and I’m not sure what the original ground level would have been–perhaps below what it is now?

None of these four Houses have roof coverings today. There are, however, some covered passageways inside the walls and they are shown in the darkest blue hatching on the plaque.

In the photo below, the entry is straight ahead (the white dot is the plaque beside it). In this fort, the entry is not covered, but there is still a gate to keep animals from entering.

As noted above, we visited all the sites the weekend after the Irish government opened the country up for travel from within. As such, there were few visitors and all were residents of the island.

These sites are not guarded.

We were appalled to find one set of families visiting both Cathergall and Leacanbuile that day, letting a half dozen children play tag and run recklessly along the walls of both forts. They left visible damage, with a number of stones loosened or entirely displaced (at the entry where they’d been jumping across from side to side in their game of tag) at Leacanbuile.

As frustrating as this was, it did, however, make for a visually dramatic scene: silhouettes of dancing, laughing and running children wholly engaged in their game, atop these majestic structures.

I hope you’ll show these ancient beauties plenty of respect and due reverence, when you visit for yourself.

A Day of Family Remembrance

Mass card for my Dad.

My Dad passed away one year ago today. It’s never easy to lose a parent, but I’m thankful I was able to be there in Virginia with him in his final stages. It was a long and hard fought battle with carcinoid cancer. Dad loved life and resisted leaving us with all his might.

I really feel for those going through life’s end stages alone during Covid.

As today is Dad’s one-year Anniversary, Aongus and I remembered him; we celebrated his life, our love and our small circle of friends. In the days leading up, we have chatted with relatives on the phone.

Today, we tried to stay busy and make the most of the day. We started late-ish, with a breakfast of blueberry-raspberry, buckwheat pancakes and a side of bacon.

Then Aongus headed out by bike to visit his auntie and I jumped on a Dublin Bike to meet colleagues for a walk around the new campus of TU Dublin.

View of campus from above.
The building my Kevin Street colleagues will move to after Covid.

I got a bit of exercise alongside Damon, John, and Heitor—at a much greater distance from them than unusual. In the past we’d have had our sleeves rolled up building robots!

Masks and 20’ between us each today. Still, it was great to see them and view the progress on TU Dublin’s new buildings!

I went straight from campus to join a virtual mass, said for my father at a church nearby. Aongus had asked the priest at St. Michan’s (Dublin’s oldest Catholic community) to mention him and put in a good word. The Irish are careful about marking anniversaries like these and remembering their forebearers. It was so kind of both him and the priest.

A kind gesture from my sweet partner.
A screenshot of the mass. It was really lovely. Third weekend in October is mission Sunday, and my Dad was a generous donor to such causes.

Drawing can be therapeutic, so I decided to make a couple videos for my Tech Graphics students. The strategy I developed for teaching them Hand Drawing online has been working out well, so far. Hope it holds out! Marks are nice and high and they seem to be learning well.

A lesson in architectural graphics.
Constructing an ellipse.

Mid-day, my friend Cinaria dropped over an amazing home-cooked Arab meal. I met Cinaria via a Facebook discussion on preparing applications for Marie Curie fellowships. She grew up in Kansas and I in Virginia. More recently, she has been doing research on lung cancer here in Dublin. Such admirable work!

Aongus and I had planned to have Cinaria for in for a visit, but a few days ago the government said no more discretionary visits to other’s homes. As it was, I met her on the Quays just long enough to exchange a bag full of goodies she had prepared. I do look forward to having her over as soon as health regulations permit.

Since lockdown, we’ve had only two other people in the flat besides ourselves–a washing machine repairman and a graduate engineer I’ve been mentoring. It will be nice to get back to normal one of these days.

Cinaria dropping lunch by, so very thoughtful!

The meal Cinaria cooked for us was extraordinary! It was clearly cooked with both skill and love. Really lovely flavors!

Cinaria is an amazing cook!

How blessed we are to have friends and health and delicious food during these trying times.

Aongus and I were thoroughly delighted.
Cinaria even baked up dessert! ❤️

Thank you, Cinaria, Damon, John, Heitor, and Auntie Eithne, for helping make our day a positive and uplifting one!

We will end the day with a swim at the gym. Then it’s headlong into another intense week of work.

I may be far from home and family, but I felt surrounded by love today.

County Kerry: Slea Head

At the very end of June, after a long day driving around the Ring of Kerry we headed toward Dingle with a stop off at Inch Beach during tumultuous weather.

The weather calmed as we arrived at Dingle’s Brambury Guest House and our hostess encouraged us to hop in the car and drive Slea Head. With now-perfect weather, we shouldn’t risk missing the views! The day before, we’d abandoned plans to drive the Skellig Ring due to rain and low visibility.

Ventry Beach

Our first stop after leaving Dingle for Slea Head was Ventry Beach—a bit cold, but pretty in the glimmers of sun.

We stopped for a glimpse of an old fort that is tumbling into the sea but it wasn’t open. Frankly it doesn’t look either safe or as if it can be saved from the sea. But there is a gift shop that was just closing its doors when we arrived:

The cliffs here are impressive, and the fort is sliding right off. It’s not pictured, as all I could capture was scaffolding and fence.

Bee Hive Huts

Our next stop was the Beehive Huts, a cluster of houses situated within one large circular compound.

I’d guess that you must pass over a farmer’s land to arrive at here from the road. I say this as the site is publically maintained but there’s a man collecting a €3 fee per person.

Many such sites exist on privately-owned land and can’t be viewed (without great will and determination). Paying €3 is the easy way to go! It a fascinating place to behold.

The €3 got us each a cess and a copy of this information sheet:

Slea Head

The very western end of the Dingle Peninsula is called Slea Head. The Atlantic pounds these cliffs, day in, day out.

The water is so very blue!

And there are views of the Blasket Islands, just beyond Slea Head:

The bit of land shown below has always stayed in my memory, since my first trip around Slea Head in 2003. It’s less dramatic in a camera phone photo, as it gets flattened out. In person it’s quite impressive.

Gallarus Observatory

An addition, indelible, memory of the 2003 trip was our visit to Gallarus Observatory, an ancient church of dry stack stone. Not a bit of mortar was used. Yet the place still stands today. Amazing ingenuity and craftsmanship.

This plaque explains how the edifice was constructed:

Indeed, during Europe’s Dark Ages, when most knowledge was forgotten, monks were hard at work on the nearby Blasket Islands, copying religious texts by hand and keeping literacy alive.

It is awe-inspiring to think of what a few dedicated and hard-working individuals were able to do for humanity.

Leaving that kind of legacy is why I became an architect. But today, instead of designing buildings, I design with words.

Kilmalkedar Church

I find the hour or so I spent at Kilmalkedar Church in 2003 is also etched in my being. That’s why I wanted to share it with Aongus as well. It’s just a few minute’s drive from Gallarus Observatory.

Fortunately we saw a humble little print out on the wall of the Observatory gift shop (outside, as the shop itself was still closed in the aftermath of Lockdown). It told us the name of the church so we could search for it on Google Maps.

Kilmalkedar Church is surrounded by a cemetary.

It was built in the 1100s, and is thus much newer than Gallarus Observatory which may date back as far as 600 AD.

In true Irish fashion, the cemetery extends inside the church walls.

And you’ll find ancient markers here,

and there!

The drive around Slea Head offers thousands more fabulous views, not captured here, and many opportunities to stop and explore the many gorgeous (but cold) beaches.

I wish for you a sunny drive around this peninsula someday, and many happy returns for Aongus and me as well.

Discovering Dublin: Dining al Fresco! (6/)

The zone of town around Grafton Street is ripe for pedestrianization. Right now, Dublin City Council is testing the use of street space for people rather than car occupation. Aongus and I are delighted to support that test!

It’s lovely to be in this quarter when you’re safe from cars, as we discovered during the height of lockdown:

Since lockdown started in mid-March, Aongus and I had gone months with no meals out.

We pretty much waiting until the government opened the country for internal travel to start eating out.

Awakening for coffee

By June 21, it was finally time for our first sit-down coffee in Dublin since lock-down.

We sought out a little pop-up container shop at St. James’s Gate, based on a Twitter recommendation from Ciran Cuff. I wanted to support the use of this greyfield site (location of a former gas station), in the hopes the land gets assigned a greener use in the future than petrol sales.

They’re using a shipping container to house the shop itself, and they provide outdoor picnic tables in the back. It was an ideal first stop for the day’s in-town cycling adventure on the southside of the city.

Such a joy to be outside!

First Dinner Out, Post-Lockdown

Later that day, on June 21st (and well after the 20km zone opened), we were overjoyed to find a street-side pizzeria offering a couple of sidewalk tables. They had gotten their Guinness tap up and running earlier that day, and we got to sit down and enjoy pizza and a pint in true Irish-Italian style!

We’re delighted that Dublin is re-awakening and we hope to see more street-side dining. Yet, we hadn’t eaten out again here in Dublin until today, August 1st. We have gotten so accustomed to cooking and eating at home, except when we’re venturing far from home.

Instead of traveling far outside of Dublin over the bank holiday weekend, we stayed here in Dublin. We stayed in town for a few reasons: (1) Hotel reservations outside Dublin were somewhat hard to come by for this three day weekend, and quite pricey. (2) We wanted to show support for the pedestrianization trials going on in Dublin over four weekends. (3) We exhausted ourselves the weekend prior by cycling 50 km in one day during variable Irish weather. (4) Aongus is studying for a big test–cramming a three-year degree into four months.

The pedestrian experience of Dublin town did not disappoint!

We really enjoyed the car-free areas. Dublin City Council is still allowing the flow of traffic (heavy traffic at that) into and out of the multi-story parking garages in the town center. But they put people in place during these trials to direct the automobile drivers and help with “traffic calming,” so it’s not the wild-west free-for-all of drivers heading into these garages that has become the norm.

I’m baffled that so many drivers disregard pedestrians in these areas most days. It’s clearly a pedestrian-centric area but drivers barrel on through and expect pedestrians to scatter in their wake.

Last Saturday, we shopped at the ILAC center and wandered the walkable streets, Henry, Grafton and surrounds.

We looked for a pleasant place to sit outside and eat. We found ample selection and couldn’t decide on just one… so we ate twice. Yep, back to back.

Tables in the Street!

We had our first encounter with “Sole,” which opened while we were living in London. They’re part of the pedestrianization trials and are providing really pleasant and visually pleasing on-street dining on weekends. The manager said they were getting permission to double the size of the on-street area the following weekend.

We each ordered a steak and blue cheese salad. Amazing!

There were little bowls with–mints?–on the table when we arrived. Seemed odd, as mints usually come after food. But the waiter showed up with a pitcher and poured water over them. They were actually little cloths for freshening up!

The deserts our neighboring diners ordered looked fabulous too, but we decided to eat light for lunch and to enjoy an early dinner at another place.

Oh, and I wanted to add that the interior design of Sole was pretty spectacular as well. We’ll be back! Soon!

After some shopping, then lounging in Steven’s Green and watching the people swirl past, we sauntered down Anne Street, where the businesses have been keen to pedestrianize. News reports say the Council raised the sideway in the fenced-in areas shown below over the past week. Hoping to get out later today and see for myself.

Around Anne Street, we found a few moment that reminded of us London and one of the neighborhoods where we lived while we were there: Shoreditch E2.

A bit later, we headed over to the street-side tables at Salamanca. A couple tapas and an order of churros hit the spot!

Incidentally, the people watching from this street-side table was second to none!

We cycled home. I got too far ahead when Aongus got hung behind a traffic light. So I stopped to admire the architecture. New design aside old, with interesting colors and textures everywhere you look.

So in closing, Aongus and I are asking, begging, Dublin City Council to keep these streets pedestrianized and to encourage businesses to place more tables and chairs outside. Everyone deserves the chance to try the outside seating and find out just how enjoyable it can be. If we can’t go to Italy, we can at least have a slice of Italy here!

Yet, we see the pictures from Cork and realize that what’s in place in Dublin right now is only just a start. We’ve enjoyed outside dining in countries with Ireland’s climate and we *know* it works.

Thanks, Dublin City Council, for the great work you’ve done since March to improve quality of life in our city and keeping the air and the surrounding clean and healthy. We applaud what you’ve been doing and we yearn for more. What a fabulous transformation this can be!

Discovering Dublin: Isolating at Home (3/)

At the start of Ireland’s lockdown, we had some adjusting to do. New ways of living and working, for sure! Aongus was working from home for about six weeks, with the occasional visit allowed to his work site to make sure things were locked up tight and everything looked right. We found new ways to exercise and study together, expanding out the balcony during nice weather. Such weather is rare here, and even our south-facing balcony isn’t usually warm enough for outdoor work.

I really started to notice little things, like how dramatically the sky changes from hour to hour, day to day here. The view from my balcony was every-changing–a painting of gorgeous pastels and a hundred different types of clouds.

Early on, Aongus was completing a training model online. I tried to stay fit with online zumba and Down Dog yoga.

This day was warm enough for balcony use, so I took a little break with one of the books I’ve read this spring, a gift from Inês, called “Quite: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking”. Appropo for this period of isolation!

On the other hand, the look of work didn’t have much diversity. As I do educational/social science research, I don’t require access to a lab. I already had plenty of data collected that I could work with and study during Lockdown.

For me, life during lockdown looked a lot like this, each and every day:

Don’t get me wrong, each of these images captures something I found interesting! The diagrams, for instance, came from a UCL ‘show-and-tell.’ Researchers in Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) are doing fascinating work tracking Covid—looking for patterns—from how droplets move, to tracking the flow of a sequence of coughs by someone tapping to pay on a bus (shown here), to transmission patterns across cities and countries. Really interesting and important stuff! I was Tweeting up a storm that day, to share knowledge with others. Took care not to give away too much detail as the researchers were reporting, to close colleagues, research they had underway.

For me, it has been fun to attend meetings and events in places and with people I’d not have had easy access to in the spring of a teaching semester—like these UCL events and the Big Engineering Education Research Meet Up.

Here’s a screenshot of our UCL team coordinating one of the EER Meet Ups of the spring–Paula, John, Inês, and me (providing perspectives from REEN and TU Dublin). I love this group of people and was glad to work with them over the spring even though we live in two different countries.

There was also teaching to be done online, and new teaching arrangements to be planned for next year as well. I’m preparing materials for the Tech Graphics modules on hand drawing for the autumn, as the pile of tools on my dining table testifies.

And there was meal after meal after meal to prepare, as you’ll be well aware. Sometimes fancy, sometimes new (fried peaches on the suggestion of my cousin, Rebecca). A colleague from TU Delft, Dr. Gillian Saunders, crated this nifty mask and mailed it over to me. It’s coming in handy, especially since the Irish government has recently stated asking us to wear masks, and requiring them on public transit.

In addition, there’s been the occasional birthday party, with Zoom allowing us to gather from all around the world. Happy b-day, Tarrah Beebe and Mike Miminiris!

Aongus has gone back to work now, and I’m here working from home as has been my norm. I like working at home better when it’s sunny, but I pray most for sunny weekends. I must admit, most of my religious/spiritual intentions have gone for those less fortunate than we’ve been—this facing sickness, stress, and hardship due to Covid or living with addicted or abusive people.

We’ve been blessed and have been able to grow together during this time. We attempt to make each day new and interesting, whether it’s learning a new theory or just pulling out our Frank Lloyd Wright socks (a gift of my recently departed Dad). Other ways I’ve passed the Covid-time include studying for the Driver Theory Test (scored 40/40, yeah baby!) and—now that businesses have opened—finally getting haircuts and new glasses to match my improved prescription. I didn’t buy the Corbu specs (shown below) but they were fun to try!

Discovering Dublin: Phoenix Park in Isolation (2/)

Aongus and I hadn’t spent much time in Dublin’s very large urban park prior to Covid-19. We were, afterall, just returning to Dublin after two years in London.

Our last days in London for Christmas 2019, ending my two-year fellowship and heading home to Dublin.

I’d moved back at the start of January and got things organized. Aongus followed on February 5th. Luckily, I already settled back into the flat and gotten things arranged nicely when he touched down on the Irish tarmac–a full month before isolation set in.

A couple days after Aongus’ return, things got very busy for me at TU Dublin. I was appointed to Chair and launch a new degree program. We held the induction on February 14. We were four weeks into conducting modules that when the pandemic hit and campus buildings shut down. From then on, work was all from home.

When the Irish government asked us to keep inside a 2-kilometer radius from our homes, and only venture out for necessary purchases and daily exercise, I pulled out a map on the “2kmfromhome” app and very happily discovered the entry to Phoenix Park fell within our allowable zone. I loaded the radius map as my phone’s wallpaper for easy reference–that made Aongus feel a bit claustrophobic! He’s not used to such a small bubble. His parents, aunts and siblings live outside it. Sadly, he couldn’t see his parents anyway, as they live in a nursing home. There have been very few visits. His dad had symptoms of Covid but tested negative. His mom had no symptoms but tested positive–go figure. Both are doing fine, but lacking visits has really taken a toll on his dad, who is fully aware of what’s going on.

Considering the radius, I wasn’t quite sure where entering the park alone would get us. During an online School meeting, which we held weekly for months until summer break officially started, I mentioned in the chat box that we had the entrance to Phoenix Park in our allotted circle. A colleague said, oh how lucky! A friend of hers had the same situation. Catherine said it meant we could use the Park in full, as long as we were carrying verification of our address.

To me that made logical sense–afterall, the masses of Dublin living near the Park we couldn’t all stand in the first hundred feet of the entry gate.

And thus began…

Our love affair with Phoenix Park

Soon we cycled to the park using Dublin Bikes, with a picnic of left-overs in hand for sustenance.

That first day we didn’t make it too far, but on our next trip we discovered the expansive views of the field at the Pope’s Cross, with amazing views over the city of Dublin toward the Dublin Mountains.

Park it, Deer…

We also discovered the deer of Dublin, so calm and tame.

The deer cluster by gender–doe and children together, and bucks in their own groups. In the forested area shown at the top of this blog (with the nifty leg warmers, a gift from ‘me mum’), we once saw an organized lesson in being a male deer underway. There were three sets of young males with antlers joined, play wrestling, and one more deer–who appeared to be the coach. We didn’t get a photo that day, as we weren’t allowed by the Park Rangers to stop to observe. By loud speaker they announced “Keep moving. You’re here for exercise!” or something of that sort. They weren’t messin’ that day–taking no shite….

Fortunately, over time, the sense of panic and urgency has subsided. If you leave the deer be and avoid crowds, you’ll be okay. It is usually easy enough to stumble on crows if you don’t move far for the entry at Parkgate Street.

…and chill

The deer have really loved having the park free of cars–the park is so large that motorists have typically used it as a cut-through, taking their cars at high speeds to get to the other side without much regard for pedestrians and cyclists, families and children. High-speed and rude drivers in the park, along with the poor quality of the pavement in the cycle lane leading into and out of the park, had previously discouraged me from cycling there.

I had, however, cycled to the US Ambassador’s Residence once to hear a NASA astronaut speak at a Fulbright Ireland event. There’s a sizable slope going into the park that takes some determination to climb. I felt so unwelcome by the hill and the rough pavement of the cycle lane going in (the car pavement is nice and smooth here), that I had avoided this park in the interim. I hoped–and still do–that they will repave the cycle lanes near Park Gate. Can’t imagine what has kept that simple act from happening.

This is the back side of the US Ambassador’s Residence. It faces south, toward the Dublin mountains and the Pope’s Cross. (See, nifty leg warmers!)

Although we’d enjoyed our Dublin Bike adventure that first day, but realized we’d need our own bikes. My own had been stolen from my courtyard some years before, but our maintenance guy gave me a discarded bike as a replacement. I’d parked it on the balcony, but hadn’t much luck using it. Mostly, I needed a more comfortable saddle.

So, in March, I was quite pleased to discover that Pavlov at Bolton Bikes could get it back up and running. It’s heavy and I have to baby the gears, but it works and it has been nice and reliable. Bolton Bikes repairs and also sells used bikes. We were very fortunate to buy one for Aongus that suits him incredibly well. Neither of our bikes is a magnet for thieves, which is fortunate since rates of bicycle theft are off the charts right now in Dublin.

I didn’t even report the earlier theft–really no reason since the police don’t really investigate.

Our bikes have worked out fine. They really serve us well and we are learning to love them and the freedom they provide.

…enjoy a scenic overlook

On our second or third visit to the park, we found the far end, to the west, had the fewest people. We’d ride out there and eat a quick snack, tea, or sandwich before cycling back home.

Ireland had an amazing streak of glorious weather, in March and April. Perfect like this for several weeks. We discovered this stunning view at the far end of the park, and reaching it became a regular goal:

…and a quiet little pond

Over time, we ventured into the gated area around the pond. The water lilies were delightful; my photos haven’t done them justice.

Aongus enjoyed feeding crumbs to the ducks and geese.

Just be yourself!

As the weeks progressed this corner of the park remained sparsely attended. We encountered very few people and were even able to curl up with a book on occasion. Wild and free and happy as can be….

(…but not in America!)

Speaking of America, I felt safe enough in Phoenix Park to attend the very first Dublin-based rally in support of Black Lives Matter.

Stand up for what you believe…

I elected to attend the #BLM rally in Phoenix Park, as I believed there would be ample room for social distancing. This location meant participants weren’t likely to get hemmed in as I feared would happen near the American Embassy. My assumptions were correct.

There was plenty of space where we assembled at the driveway entrance to the Ambassador’s Residence. There was also plenty space as we processed slowly around the property in a long single-file line, and one the rear/southside of the house where we knelt for a minute of silence. Any groups were households that arrived together. Many couples and a few families, and many brave individuals as we did not know what to expect. I saw this advertised on Twitter, with two locations available so everyone could stay in their allowable zone (which, by this time was 5km, I believe).

In any case, I was glad to be able to do *something* to support the #BLM cause, and to achieve that without violating any rules. It was a very small thing, but I had to make a stand for justice and also stand in solidarity with my hundreds and hundreds of Black American friends, colleagues, and former students. And in memory of my honorary grandparents, Bush and Ravella and their daughter Dot. So many people I know and love who had the opposite of a head start in US life simply due to the color of their skin.

Incidentally, a newspaper photographer showed up and took our pictures at this rally, but as there weren’t any juicy scoops to be had, the pics didn’t go viral. Even a telephoto lens couldn’t make this particular crowd look too dense!

All the Guards and Park Rangers who came around expressed sincere support for the cause.

It was a lovely and heartwarming event, and a story you probably didn’t hear on official news outlets.

…just let time drift by.

Since lockdown, I’ve come to know and love Phoenix Park. I truly hope it remains a place that’s safe for families, children, and people of all levels of ability to use safely.

One last set of views out across the Dublin Mountains, daydreaming and soaking in the peace and quiet:

Discovering Dublin: 2/5/20km Southside (5/)

Aongus and I feel so fortunate to live close to the city center. During Ireland’s lockdown, the entire central core fell in our allowable exercise area–a 2km radius from home. We got out and about on weekends, though we sorely missed our gym (1escape, we love you!).

This blog pictures how our world expanded southward as Dublin’s lockdown lifted. Prior posts show the first days of lockdown, isolating at home, our escapades in Phoenix Park and 2/5/20km northward.

Central Dublin, South of the Liffey

The streets of downtown Dublin were particularly tranquil for morning bicycle rides, and the weather blessed us during March and April. We eventually explored all around Temple Bar, Grafton Street, Synge Street, Portobello, and the Liberties.

We normally returned home before sunset. They can be so beautiful when viewed across the Liffey.

Here we’re at South King Street, near the still-asleep Gaiety Theater and St. Steven’s Green:

Docklands

Our cycles brought us through Grand Canal Docks several times, with the Board Gaís Theater, designed by the office of architect Daniel Libeskind.

Ballsbridge

We found Herbert Park in Ballsbridge, which I knew of from Collene Dube’s “100 Days of Walking” Tweets. It’s near Dublin’s big Arena.

Riding out here, I felt that drivers gave me more space when they saw the orange vest. Aongus says it’s probably the style of vest I’ve chosen, which evidently suggests I do maintenance in the social housing complexes of Dublin. Whatever–it works! And yes, my sense of style is surely all my own!

Sandymount

We could only access the inner part of Sandymount in our 5km radius, but we made the most of it and dreamed of cycling even further southward, toward Booterstown, Blackrock village, and Dún Laoghaire in coming weeks.

Here we are playing around at Sandymount Strand:

Seapoint

Low and behold, we discovered the beach at Seapoint as our zone opened to 20km, permitting our ventures toward Dún Laoghaire. It was a bit crowded, but still possible to find the needed distance from others:

Dún Laoghaire

We made it to Dún Laoghaire, with its mega-sized harbor and its vibrant People’s Park. The harbor is so much larger than Howth’s. We always brought a picnic and planned for the lack of bathrooms. Although Howth opened thiers prior to our visits, Dún Laoghaire did not.

We have talked about a cycle out to Dalkey, which is just inside our 20km, but we haven’t made it there yet by bike. Something to look forward to…..

Discovering Dublin: 2/5/20km Northside (4/)

During lockdown in Ireland, we started with an allowable 2 km radius exercise zone from our homes. This eventually increased to 5 km, then 20 km. For Aongus and me, the entire center of Dublin falls within 2km. If you’re thinking “Wow, that’s small!” I agree, yes, Dublin’s central core is quite small.

Our circle expanded, very slowly, from our immediate neighborhood of Smithfield, to 2km with Phoenix Park (described in another post), Blessington Basin and the Royal Canal (described below). At 5km, we expanded to the Botanic Gardens and Griffith Park. At 20km, we cycled further, challenging ourselves to 20km there and 20km back, which would get us to Howth, cycling along the greenway at Clontarf or even over onto Bull Island and along Dollymount Strand. I’ve shared photos of all this below, as it’s just too picturesque to miss.

I wanted to document the experience for historical purposes (the life of empty nesters in Dublin during lockdown!?). I think the post has wider value, too: if you’re ever visiting Dublin, these are great places to explore!

Smithfield Plaza was empty for weeks.

Days before lockdown started, I reminded myself that I wanted to climb the tower at Jameson’s Distillery, shown above, which one could then access for a €5 fee paid to the Genesis Hostel on Smithfield Plaza. The tower could, I told myself, become inaccessible again, for any reason, at any time. It had been closed most of the time since I moved to Smithfield in September 2012.

Due to Covid, the tower certainly became inaccessible once again.

During lockdown, I rarely ventured out Monday-Friday. I tried to get indoor exercise during the week, but it wasn’t easy. With the Liffey four blocks from home, I motivated myself to get out and walk that far some evenings, between work and dinner. Below, Aongus and I are pictured on one of Dublin’s two Calatrava-designed bridge, which is five blocks from our home:

You can see the tip top of the giant obelisk in Phoenix Park peeking from the trees between our heads.

Below are photos of “northside” streets close to our home: (1) along the Liffey with Smithfield to the right/north, (2) cycling the new protected lanes along the Liffey, (3) the lovely steeple of St. Paul’s @ Smithfield shown as second time, and (4) a morning view of, vacant, taken by Aongus on his way to work once lockdown started to lift.

During the height of lockdown, the streets of central Dublin were actually quite eerie in the evening. The Irish police (called the Gardí) set up checkpoints all around Dublin—mostly to prevent drivers from exceeding their boundaries without reason.

On one walk we were stopped on O’Connell Street by a Guard. He asked us why we were in town, and since exercise was allowed and we were within our allowable zone, there was not problem and the guards let us pass. Other acceptable reasons were shopping for medicine or food shopping, or assisting someone who was cocooning.

We got stopped one other time, on the way to Phoenix Park because unbeknownst to us, a right-wing radical individual was trying to stage a protest. It didn’t work for her. People didn’t show up to join her shenanigans. The Irish are quite reasonable politically, in my opinion, and such radical views are unpalatable here.

Blessington Basin

Although Aongus initially thought 2km would be too restrictive, it turned out there was more to see than he realized. Within our 2km small radius there were urban delights to be found: we joyfully ‘discovered’ Blessington Basin for ourselves.

I’d seen it on the map while searching the web for property (I might as well be looking for leprechauns or unicorns as a sunny and affordable flat or house in Dublin). Though I knew its name and location, I’d never had reason to venture there. Until lockdown. It’s easily reached from our flat by foot or bicycle.

Ultimately, we ended up near the Basin while exploring on Dublin Bikes (which we both subscribe to for a very reasonable annual fee).

Aongus was flabbergasted. He had no inkling of the existence of this Basin– even though he was raised not far away, on the Northside of Dublin in Glasnevin!

There are several delightful murals in the park surrounding Blessington Basin, and the one pictured above, with me sliding through an illusionary door, is appropo. A step into Blessington Basin park feels like you’re entering Sinclair Lewis’ Narnia or Alice’s Wonderland!

Royal Canal

A week into lockdown, I got my previously non-working bike up and running. At about the same time, Aongus borrowed a bike from his sister, because he was the one appointed by his family to keep his 82 year-old aunt supplied with food and meds.

With these bikes, we were able to explore more easily and we found more joys, like the footpaths, the little canalside park beside Shandon Gardens, and cycle paths aside the Royal Canal (with one of its locks shown above). We determined to return again when we’re allowed more distance to roam.

National Botanic Gardens

Our allowable zone eventually expanded to 5km. Inside that we found the Botanic Gardens and Griffith Park, although these photos were taken after we’d gotten 20km access. The Botanical Gardens had been closed for months before opening its gates to the public. The caretakers must have been there during lockdown, as the place is still meticulously manicured.

When amenities began re-opening on the northside of the city, the gates of the National Botanic Garden sprung open with colorful life:

The flowers had been developing nicely in the peace and quiet.

Aongus loves this place. It’s near his childhood neighborhood and one if his mum’s favorite spots for a weekend walk.

Griffith Park

Aongus brought me through Griffith Park one day. It’s just to the south of his auntie’s house. Here’s I’m decked out in bright orange and a crash helmet, which I found helpful as cars returned to the streets of Dublin. Most drivers allowed me plenty of space, but of course, I was only cycling on weekends.

We had a snack beside the canal this day in Griffith Park, and then enjoyed a short and distanced front-year visit with his aunt.

Dollymount

Bull Island with its Dollymount Strand fall just beyond our 5km, so we had to wait for the 20km radius to enjoy these coastal amenities again. Fairview and some of Clontarf were allowed, but we couldn’t go up as far as Bull Island. It’s too bad that we couldn’t enjoy the Wood Bridge without cars.

Our visit to Dollymount Strand came after our cycle to Howth (described below). We took the long route on the way home from Howth, to enjoy the views, and the challenge of cycling in the sand. It’s much easier to cycle where the sand is wet than dry!

The wildflowers were stunning! Which is why I couldn’t decide which photos to include… so you get a bunch!

Howth

The real jewel in the crown of our 20km radius northward from Dublin is the little fishing village of Howth.

There’s a picturesque little harbor, protected by a lighthouse (and seagulls), that is today filled with pleasure craft in addition to work boats.

We have cycled out to Howth twice now. Once we bumped into friends of Aongus and enjoyed a distranced chat (after months of isolation seeing them was a highlight of the day).

The pictured below show us getting caught in the rain. We ended up taking the DART home that day and, as I had no mask, I had to improvise with a beach blanket.

Fortunately, there was also lots of space and sun in Howth.

And so very many eye-catching views.

Plus, some darned good company.

I couldn’t be more blessed than to spend this lockdown with the fun, kind, generous, patient, energetic, optimistic, healthy, share-the-load and ever-loving Mr. Aongus Coughlan. Now, if only I can get him hiking that Howth cliff walk with me (see the map below). Since the 20km rule has been lifted, it’s in our currently allowable zone. And yet, it’s still a bit too steep for the man. Never on a windy day!

Southeast Ireland: Cycling around Rosslare

Last weekend we tested out our new car-mounted bike rack. We researched good cycling routes, loaded the bikes for an overnight trip, and struck out Saturday morning for Wexford, the sunniest county in Ireland. On the island’s southeastern-most tip, County Wexford enjoys the highest number of summer days per year on the island.

En route to Wexford with bikes ready to roll.

We parked the car at our hotel in view of Rosslare Harbor, with its ferry port and boats to France, the UK, and elsewhere in Europe and fueled up with a sandwich.

Then we set out to find peaceful waters by bike. The port is the starting point for the Irish leg of a major European cycling route, with three sub-routes circling the area. It’s part of a larger European system of touring-friendly cycling roads.

Our cycling route this day totaled about 37 km and, with its loops, provided us options if we ran out of steam. We didn’t run out though! We chose tranquil little roads, were passed by the occasional car, puzzled at the road signs, and asked other cyclists for advice. GPS really helps with navigating roads in Ireland, but groping around can also be fun.

Ladys Island

Our first stop: Ladys Island, also called Our Lady’s Island. The island itself is a bird sanctuary, and the peninsula beside it is accessible to people and is a religious pilgrimage site. We completed the pilgrimage route by bike. There was evidence of recent outdoor masses beside the castle-like ruin. We explored a old cemetery, recently reclaimed from the brush. There were many people walking and cycling in the area.

The church here reminded me of the one in Staunton, Virginia, called St. Andrews, where my grandmother went. Designed during the same neo-Gothic loving era, I’d say, and not terribly old.

Carne Beach

We enjoyed the sounds of all the lovely birds and then we struck out for Carne Beach. It was beautiful and blue and the water seemed warm enough for a swim although we didn’t try. We just enjoyed the sun, sounds, breeze, and colors.

Rosslare

Then we cycled a long stretch to Rosslare village and beach. It was packed with weekend holiday-makers so we didn’t stay long. Turned away from a restaurant at 4:30 PM, we decided it was best to find food without delay. Rosslare doesn’t currently have capacity to serve many in restaurants and it was full of blow-ins from Dublin, like us.

We cycled back toward the Harbor and were fortunate to find the last table at Culletons of Kilrane where we enjoyed one lovely plate of fish and chips and another of salmon-wrapped cod. The high quality of the food was a pleasant surprise! And pulled pints of Guinness to boot!

The pub we tried before this one was filled by funeral-goers from the burial we’d passed earlier in the day, near Lady’s Island. As an Irish person, Aongus is 100% certain the pub booking was linked to the funeral. This is the only possible explanation, he insists. As an American, I’m not sure I can explain how he knows, even though I read up on funeral rites in the book “How to be Irish” by Daniel Slattery. Actually, I’ve read that funeral chapter twice, but some details still evade me. 

After dinner, we returned to our hotel and settled in for the night. The cycle route here is lifted off the street and was safe enough even after a pint of Guinness, which Aongus says was rocket fuel for me. I virtually flew home. 

Breakfast wasn’t well organized at the hotel, but Supervalue did the trick. We ate on the back deck of the hotel, then packed up and drove back to Lady’s Island to soak in a bit more birdsong and delicate tranquility.

The highlight of our whole trip came at the end, with an impromptu invitation to lunch at the holiday home of our friends Richard and Geraldine. I’d stayed the night with them once before here in Rosslare, between days of RoboSlam events that our team conducted throughout county Wexford, but Aongus had never been to their home. 

As we’d only chosen this destination the night before, I messaged Richard on the way down to see if they might be visiting Rosslare on this particular weekend. 

Geraldine and Richard arrived in town after us, but welcomed us with (virtually, not literally) open arms! I thought we’d meet at a cafe or on the beach, but they were eager to have guests and graciously invited to their place, nicknamed “Five”. Try finding that on Google Maps!

This was my first time visiting with friends in person since mid-March, and it was really good for my mental health to reconnect with beloved others. I even got to expand upon my new-found knowledge of Irish politics and governance by sharing ideas and perceptions with them. 

County Wexford and the Hays family gave us a lovely weekend and we look forward to visiting both again!

Lovely outdoor lunch with Richard and Geraldine. Plus Aongus and Shannon.