Making New Friends in Ireland

We were fortunate to have friendly drivers for all our HailO/Uber rides in Ireland and NYC.  From all walks of life and ethnicities, it’s always eye-opening and interesting to meet new people in our travels.  On the taxi ride home (using HailO as our Irish go-to app for taxi service) we were greeted with a hearty smile and lots of good conversation with Mark Rooney, our driver.

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Asking Mark what rush hour looked like in Dublin, as we were leaving around 8 a.m. when the roads would be choked with traffic in Seattle or NYC, he said that he has seen the rush hour creeping earlier and earlier there but certainly not this early.  When we were in Amsterdam last year, we were surprised that the streets were deserted until around 10 a.m.  The work day starts later in Europe as it did in China when we lived there.  I remember going into the office at 9 a.m. and being the only one there.

As we cruised along with far less bus (double-decker of course) traffic than I had seen mid-day, we started discussing the Irish economy as compared to the US and then we finished the trip discussing Trump and politics.  Of course.  The Irish are having a good laugh at our messy election process.  Their election cycle is 6 weeks from start to finish.  None of this year-long reality show that we have gotten ourselves into, especially with the latest drama.

Mark was saddened by the state of the Irish economy.  He told us that his teen-age sons had asked him how much a house would cost to buy in Dublin.  In an average neighborhood, it would be $300,000-$400,000.  Not cheap.  Home buyers can get mortgages (30-year) and have to put at least 20% down but, as Mark bemoaned, how can most people save money to the tune of $60,000 or more on average wages.  He felt that the government should require companies to take their profits and pay their employees more money.  Though colleges cost far less in Ireland with government assistance, there is still student debt looming over the youth as they start careers, adding to the concern that buying a house will be out of the question for his sons even if they go to college and graduate.

Complaining about the “rich” corporations again, Mark had asked Google to sponsor his son’s sports team and never got very far.  He wrote them a letter, trying the old-fashioned approach to communications.  He wondered why tech companies don’t give more back to the communities.  I told him all about my company and how much they donate through free software, matching funds for employee donations, etc.  He was surprised and said that the company should make people aware of these efforts.  He had no idea.  I related that the company is proud of its giving back but doesn’t want to capitalize on it through advertisements.  They are very humble in this regard.  I am proud of them.

The conversation inevitably turned to “WTF-how can the US have Trump as a candidate for President?”  Well, how do you answer that?  I am ashamed that he is one of the two possible leaders.  He is neither qualified nor quite frankly sane.  He does understand how to tap into the uninformed voter, the frustrated out-of-work voter looking for any type of assistance including the empty promises that Trump is making and the racist who wants to build walls and close borders.  Mark assured me that the people of the US would not let this world catastrophe happen and that Hillary would win.  I hope to God he is right.    If not, we may be using Thom’s Irish citizenship to immigrate to Ireland to escape the madness.  Feck it!  Cheers to HRC for taking on the bully and dedicating her life to public service.  Well done.

Adventures on our last day in Dublin

Hallelujah and hot damn-we made it alive with the car in one piece back to Dublin after our road trip across Ireland.  Not that Thom isn’t a great driver but all roads except the motorway are teeny tiny lanes and frightening not to mention the whole driving on the wrong side of the road.  Left, left, left.  Yesterday, we reached an impasse, going head-to-head with a taxi driver on such a road and he won with Thom having to back up along with the car behind us until we could find a place on the side of the road to pull over so he could pass.  Fecking mental I tell you!  Yes, that’s my favorite Irish phrase now. I heard a youth on the street say it and it reminded me of Ron Weasley in an Irish way.

Now back in Dublin after chasing the rain storms all the way from Galway, we immediately checked back into the Westin Dublin and off we went.  One minute it was sunny and the next raining, very much reminiscent of Seattle weather.  After an Irish coffee and the ploughman’s sandwich for me and the bangers and mash for Thom, we were suitably energized to walk to Merrien Park again so that Thom could take more photos of the beautiful Irish doors on the townhouses across from the park .  We wandered the neighborhoods where the fancy townhouses are home to the France Embassy, a Montessori School and private residences.

In one section of the park, there were tributes to author Oscar Wilde who lived around the corner while in Dublin.  Sent to jail in the UK for being gay, he never returned to Ireland after serving two years in jail and died in France at age 46.  His most notable works were The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray.  The Irish are very proud of their literary history.  Our cab driver told us his family story of 5 children and 9 grandkids.  Proud of them all, he bemoaned that fact that none of the children every married and one of his daughter’s significant other was in prison for a “very bad” crime.  Quoting Yates, “Youth is wasted on the young”, he discussed being a parent and loving your children no matter what life brings, hoping only for the best for them all.  Amen.

Of course, there were many fine buskers performing in the streets and we stopped along with crowds of others on Grafton Street to listen and appreciate their talents.  We finished up some last minute shopping, going back to the vintage shop we had found earlier and visiting the classic whiskey store for some liquid souvenirs.  I’m always impressed by the art pieces in front of the Irish stores, making them very special and unique.  Now, it’s time for a rest before the long journey home.  It was a brilliant trip that we will never forget!

 

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Great talent busking on the streets of Dublin

 

The shopping is good in Galway

Today we ventured down the cow path and into town.  As we started to exit the hobbit hole, we paused as two very large black cows stormed down the “road” with their humans herding them into the adjacent field.  So, exactly what do we do if we encounter this type of situation again but we are driving?  Scream and brace for impact probably.  Luckily, we swerved around any oncoming traffic and made it safely into the town of Galway, very photogenic and historic. 

After maneuvering into the always tiny parking spaces in the garage (our Audi is larger than most cars here), we wandered the streets where pubs and shops welcomed us.   First stop was for an Americano as there is only a hot water pot for tea in our cottage and no coffee except instant Nescafe available.  Caffeine headache averted, we found the shops to be charming and loaded with nice things for presents to others and ourselves. 

The best by far was the “My Shop…granny likes it” (www.myshopgranny.com) that had a curated assortment of all things Irish and cool, not touristy crap.  I immediately was drawn to an amazing chunky necklace made with blue and yellow stones.  Had. To. Have. It.  After chatting with the shop owner and her adorable schnauzer, Purdy, the shop dog, we also got a great pillow cover, which I collect from our travels and tea towels featuring an abstract print of the charming Galway row houses and another boldly proclaims an old Irish saying,  “FECK IT…sure IT’S GRAND”   Okay. 

Always ask the locals where they eat to get the best places.  Rona O’Reilly recommended a funky place just down the lane called Bite Club which had free WiFi, played disco tunes and had great food.  Ryan and Paddy took care of us and we chatted.  Ryan was mad at Paddy because he had saved his money and was off to America to visit any and all relatives he could find from coast to coast.  Paddy mixed me up a mean craft cocktail, Elderberry Bourbon Fizz, served in a crystal punch cup.  Delightful!  After singing along with Donna Summers and posting some blogs on the internet (the hobbit hole is without tv/internet), we were off for more browsing and shopping before braving the drive home via cow path.  If the driving over here wasn’t so nuts, we’d be back at the Bite Club in the evening when it turns into a 1980’s discotheque.  Groovy.

Staying in the Hobbit Hole

Okay, so it’s not really a “hole” but it does have a thatched roof, plaster walls and beams everywhere and highly resembles, at least in my mind, a place where a hobbit would make his home and be very happy.  The massive stone fireplace not only heats up the cottage quickly but one could imagine using it to cook as well.  Not me, of course, but the hearty hobbits who favor second and third breakfasts.

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Now, instead of “left, left, left” as our mantra, it is “duck, duck, duck” as in if you don’t duck your head under all the wood beams that are jutting low or the loft bedroom with the 5 foot ceilings, etc. then you will knock yourself out.  So far, we have no major injuries but we still have two days left in our stay.  I am thrilled to finally experience a towel warmer which keeps them toasty warm until needed. 

The main level of our hobbit home is quite comfortable with just two leather chairs by the fire and a small table.  Less is more.  There are candles for the mantle and a CD player with Irish CD’s to play.  The kitchen is efficient with a microwave and a portable oven with hot plates.  No dishwasher unless you count Thom.  Our ARBNB hosts kindly provided the Irish soda bread, butter and milk as well as tea.  Yes, the Irish drink A LOT of tea with a hot pot mandatory for all kitchens.  Unfortunately, the coffee pot is not required so we will be using the French press instead once we get up the courage to drive down the cow path to the nearest grocery to get some coffee.  galway-7

We tried walking in the countryside via this cow path aka country road but kept having to leap into the brambles when a car came so we decided that wasn’t very smart on our part and we would probably die if we kept on walking.  Luckily we discovered a lane with just a few houses so no traffic and a beautiful overlook of the water on both sides, a massive lake inland to the left and the ocean near Galway to the right.  The stone fences from the past still litter the countryside everywhere you look.  There must be a law against tearing them down as they still exist today as they would have back in the 1800’s to divide up the property lines.  You sense a respect for the culture and history in Ireland that is sorely lacking in other countries including America.  Instead of just tearing down old ruins, in Ireland you will see a piece of a castle or an ancient arch either standing alone or incorporated into more modern buildings. 

Having survived our little country jaunt, we curled up in our chairs by the fire and relaxes. No TV, no internet and no coffee.  Truly off the grid.  At least for a little bit.

 

Down the Cow Path to Galway

“We’re taking country roads” Thom was in charge of mapping our adventure driving from Limerick to Galway via small hamlets where his Irish relatives were born.  Cool, an adventure driving through the Irish countryside.  Right?  Wrong! Little did I realize that this would mean taking what amounted to a cow path (and I’m being generous) for miles, avoiding head-on collisions only by luck and chance and several turnouts we took full advantage of when faced with another vehicle using the single lane.

 

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They call this a “road” in Ireland.  It’s a cow path.

 

Just to give you an idea of how tight it was, even when not trying to avoid oncoming traffic, the blackberry brambles made some significant scratches on the Audi side mirrors as the wall of vegetation on either side of the path left no room for a normal size vehicle.  Here’s hoping the rental car company doesn’t examine our car upon returning to Dublin.  And speaking of cow paths, may I say that some of the cows we saw in this bucolic Irish countryside, when I didn’t have my eyes closed praying we would live to see another day, were HUMONGOUS, as my granddaughter Mia would say.  I’m talking mutant big heads that had bodies so large they probably wouldn’t even fit down this cow path we were driving on. ireland-3

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Flask came in handy

Given the car that the rental dude tried to give us initially bodes well for us.  After paying a ridiculous amount of money for this car, we went to find it and I took one look, turned around and entered the crowded rental counter area, pronouncing in a not-a-soft-voice, “WTF-that car has bent rims, no hubcap and significant dents in multiple places-it looks like it’s been in a demolition derby!”  The rental guy had been peering out the window to see our reaction and already had the keys to an upgrade for us in hand.  “Please come with me-I have an Audi for you.”  We marched out and got into our much nicer car and proceeded to say our mantra for our road trip, “LEFT, LEFT, LEFT” 

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Demolition derby car

Back to the cow path experience-after we drove through one of the birth towns of a relative and stopping at the local church to take pictures, I cracked open the wine and proceeded to make good use of the flask I had brought with me for just such an occasion.  After a few hearty sips, we hit the road again and I begged Thom to give up the next remote location and hit the motorway.  Even driving on the wrong side, I mean left side, of the road was nothing compared to the one lane fright so he agreed to hit the motorway and we proceeded to find our home for the next three nights, a thatched roof ARBNB cottage near Galway.

Greeting us with the fire ready to start and homebaked Irish soda bread, our host wished a quiet and restful vacation without TV or internet to distract us.  Ahhhhh…..feet up, blanket on and fire lit.  Heaven.

 

 

Random Irish Observations

On our vacation from Dublin to Galway, there were daily observations made by Thom and I on the uniqueness of Irish culture that I thought I would share:

AS SEEN DRIVING

Barak Obama car plaza near Tipperary, between Dublin and Limerick on motorway.  I guess he has relatives here and has been honored with a gas station named after him.  I am sure he is thrilled to celebrate his Irish heritage with this useful store vs. a museum or other nonsense.

Seen as we entered the motorway on big reader board:  “Project Edward Day” sign, which is acronym that means European Day Without A Road Death, with current tally at “0”, which will hopefully stay that way with us driving on the wrong side of the road, I mean:  Left, left, left.

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No fancy cars, no trucks, no SUV’s or mini vans.  Just standard manual transportation to get you where you need to be.  Lots of dents and scrapes on cars and no wonder because everywhere but the motorway, the roads are just too damn narrow.

SOS boxes on the side of the road.  What?  Not everybody has global cell coverage??

AS SEEN SHOPPING

Shoe repair/locksmiths everywhere as well as tailors, signaling a culture that repairs vs. disposes of their wardrobe.

Bookstores-small independents-also on every street but not big chains and mostly featuring Irish authors vs. worldwide blockbusters.day-1

Newspapers, they are still relevant here with multiple different papers offered in all the grocery and book stores for your reading enjoyment.  Love it as we still enjoy a daily newspaper delivered to our door in the States but we are the only ones in our building to do so probably because we are also the oldest residents as well.  Blah.

 

Resale/consignment/vintage stores are plentiful.  Thrifty and trendy at the same time.  We stopped by the Salvation Army one and browsed the wide selection of clothes, housewares and some vinyl.  One small gallery of shops had not only a great vinyl shop but a vintage clothing store and a variety of stalls selling everything from nuts to posters.  Love places like this!

Gyms are few and far between with the main sport being lifting a pint.  Irish excel at that sport.  True-I’ve been to many a pub on this trip and witnessed this sport first hand.

Knobs and Knockers was one of the best titled stores, selling, you guessed it, just door knockers and door knobs.  The doors of Ireland are beautiful and a subject of many photographs.  Thom told me a red door means the house is paid off.  Now when I see a red door, I’m thinking to myself, “well done” to the occupants and enjoy no more mortgage payments.

Travel agencies are still around and, based on the number of them, I would say fairly popular.  Thinking the “seasoned” generation is not tech savvy and needs assistance scoring a ticket or reservation.

Grocery shopping with the locals is always a great way to understand a culture.  At Aldi’s, there were literally bulk stacks of meringue circles.  In the bread aisle, always a huge focus here where carbs rule, there were packages of pancakes and waffles in with all the other items we would normally see.  The cakes/buns/jelly roll selection was wide and varied.  Tea time!  Beside a stack of goose fat jars, you could also find baked beans in ready-to-go single service packs.  Yum.  Irish yogurt is tasty and comes in tiny glass jars.  Cute.

In many groceries, there are loaves of bread, scones, etc. heaped in open air baskets.  Kind of yucky to us uptight Americans who are used to everything being covered up or behind the counter vs. everyone can touch and feel and explore the pastries with their grubby, germ-infested hands.  No thank you.

MISC. STUFF

Smoking restrictions inside pubs are more of a “guideline” with many drinkers huddled outside around barrels and on adjacent outdoor patios enjoying a pint and a puff.  No restrictions here about staying 25 feet away from the building to inhale carcinogens.  That would be very inconvenient for the pub staff to service the refills.

300,000 people attending the Ploughman Competition outside Dublin where they do farm games.  Headlines daily in the newspapers-big deal here.

Sheep are sometimes spray painted blue or green or yellow.  What.  The.  Hell.

Hen Parties for bridal parties and Stag Parties for the guys are HUGE in Galway.

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There is a two day bus/rail strike planned for Thursday/Friday.  Thank goodness we have a car and aren’t reliant on public transportation as we usually are when we travel.  Then on Saturday there is a huge “Repeal” protest in Dublin to protest the strict abortion laws.  Thom usually attracts protests so surprised we won’t be there for it.  In this very Catholic country, they are fighting with the church which never goes well.

Exploring Limerick & Irish Roots

By chance or perhaps an ancient ancestor guided our lodging choices, but either way, we stayed at the Absolute Hotel on St. Harry’s Mall Road on the river.  With outstanding views and friendly service, the location was perfect because Thom’s grandmother lived directly across the street in the early 1900’s before coming to America.  His grandfather, Patrick O’Dwyer, rowed at the Athlunkard  Rowing Club during this same time.  Stopping by, kind gent John who is renovating the very neglected rowing facility, let Thom go through plastic bins of old pictures looking for Patrick.  He found him!  1903 was a very good rowing year for Patrick and the club, winning 5 awards. 

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Thom was thrilled to find Patrick and his team pictured with their trophies.  Hopefully, the club will preserve these crumbling photo galleries for posterity.  Also in the Medieval Quarter, St. Mary’s Parish is where Thom’s grandparents were baptized and his great grandparents were married.   After talking to the church administrator to get some ancestry paperwork for a possible Irish citizenship for Thom, we imagined his grandparents’ life living across the street, rowing at the nearby club and what that might have felt like.  There is also a St. Mary’s Cathedral down the street which is much grander and worth a look as well. 

With a break in the rain, we walked the waterfront past King John’s Castle, which was neglected in the past and, in the 1950’s, was the site for a public housing project but it has now been renovated and is a big tourist draw for Limerick.  It was early morning when we did our adventure around town so unfortunately we didn’t go inside but crossed the Thomand Bridge past the Treaty Stone and along Clancy Street all the way to the Sarsfield Bridge and into town where you’ll likely see many a modern store next to a medieval stone arch.  In the midst of all the pubs and shops is the quaint St. John’s church with a cemetery that is showing signs of neglect but is awash in history.  After reading some tomb stones, we got just a little bit lost but eventually headed in the right direction to our hotel.  Along the way, we discovered the Milk Market which unfortunately wasn’t open during the week when we visited but it looks like it would be worth a look if you visit on Saturday or Sunday with food and local artisans showing their wares under the big white tent.

The previous night we were lucky to meet up with Thom’s Irish family, connecting for the first time, exchanging photographs and family stories.  It was lovely to meet everyone and we plan to stay in touch via social media.  Thom and I hope to bring our whole family over for a proper Irish reunion in the future. 

 

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The river that Thom’s grandfather, Patrick O’Dwyer, rowed on.

 

 

Finding a Real Irish Pub in Dublin

“Where can I find a REAL Irish pub?” I asked the vinyl shopkeeper in Dublin.  “You mean one without tourists who believe in fauking leprechaun and want to see River Dancers?” he replied with disdain for tourists.  I get it and appreciated his predicament.  He probably relied on the stinking tourists to make a living but hated their ignorance of true Irish history and culture.  After some discussion with he and a customer who was trying to be helpful, we had some recommendations and were ready to experience real Irish food and music.

First, we walked to O’Donoghue’s where Glen Hansard, our Irish singer we love, frequents when in town but it was early and not too much was happening so on we walked.  As usual, we then wandered into a beautiful local park, which we wouldn’t have normally sought out.  A big event was going on with entertainment and music but unfortunately it was sold out and we couldn’t talk our way in but we still had a lovely time seeing how the locals used their parks with jugglers juggling and groups of people doing yoga together on this lovely late summer evening.  We had stumbled into Merrion Square, which had been a private park for the rich surrounded by townhomes and is now a public area to be enjoyed by all. 

Needing substance, we sought out a pub that I had researched in advance, The Old Storehouse, which did not disappoint with hearty shepherd’s pie for Thom to pack away.  After asking the waitress for an Old Fashioned, she asked how I wanted it made.  I wanted to give a smart reply like, “If I need to make it or tell you how to make it then why do you have a bartender?” but didn’t want her to spit in my drink so I just replied nicely that whatever way they normally made it would be fine by me.  Ha!  I received a shot of whiskey (and not a generous one) with orange peel.  You would have thought I might learn from that experience but, no, not really.   After Thom astounded me with his knowledge of Irish pub songs (which he learned from hanging out in NYC Irish bars since he was a wee lad), we sang along to Molly Malone and other Irish pub standards as well as American classics.

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The Real Deal-The Brazen Head pub

Looking for more real Irish music since the singer at The Old Storehouse ended his set with John Denver, we decided to go with Thom’s brother Pat’s suggestion of the self-proclaimed oldest pub in Ireland, The Brazen Head, estd. 1198.  Now, it is WAY off the beaten path and quite the walk from Temple Bar area but off we continued until finally finding it.  Sharing tables with two gals from Germany, the place was packed and authentic.  I felt sorry for the Asian tourists in the corner who were huddled up with strangers and looking very uncomfortable sharing space.  I gave up my seat so an elder couple could sit together and I stood at the bar.  Got to give it to the seventy-something with a cane venturing out to the pub still to enjoy the music.  He deserved a stool.

I sidled up to the busy bar to order a coke for Thom and an Old Fashioned for me to compare with the previous one.  “We don’t do cocktails.” The bartender sneered at me and then ignored me.  Okay.  Should have known better.  My bad.  “Shot of whiskey and side of water” was better and I was rewarded with a tiny amount of whiskey and a water I would share with Thom.  We were there for the Irish music not the spirits, so all good.

Smoking outside the bars and in outside patio areas is common.  One guy lit up a cigar and you could smell it all the way inside.  I sneered at him on the way out.  Didn’t faze him at all and he puffed away, sharing his stench with everyone in and around the pub.  Classy.  Cheers.

Hidden Gem-Chester Beatty Library in Dublin

Having decided to skip the long line to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College, instead we opted to enjoy a much less known gem in Dublin, the Chester Beatty library.  Next to Dublin Castle, this library/museum houses an extraordinary, vast collection of ancient manuscripts and texts.  Taking advantage of a video loop showing the history of Chester Beatty, we learned that the wealthy American mining magnate, who bequeathed his collection to Ireland when he died in 1968, left them treasures that you can see for free with no waiting in line. 

We wandered and gawked at all types of artifacts that date back to 2700 BC to present day from various religions:  Judaism, Christianity, Islam Buddhism and Hinduism.  There are beautifully illuminated copies of the Qur’an, the Bible, European medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and more.  The Christianity room featured third century Greek letters.  Really rare stuff on display to enjoy.  There is also a gallery devoted to the Art of the Book with books from all over the ancient world showing fancy leather bound engraved editions to simple volumes.  I have many fond memories as a child visiting the Noblesville Public Library in the old downtown brick building every Saturday to load up on books I could devour.  Now, I am blessed to experience this magnificent collection after also going to the NYC Library and the Morgan Library and viewing their Guttenberg bibles.  This all in one week of vacation.  This has been a dream come true for me. 

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Knighted for his contribution of strategic raw materials to the Allies during World War II, Sir Chester Beatty was a traveler and experienced adventurer, travelling the world to collect rare items.  So glad he decided to donate them so we can enjoy them today.  There is even a roof top serenity garden where you can enjoy the view of nearby Dublin castle or just sit on a bench and reflect on all the ancient texts you have just viewed.  Truly one of the best museum experiences I have had around the world.

Wandering St. Pat’s Cathedral in Dublin

We walked by a Catholic Church almost immediately as we turned down a lane off Grafton Street exploring Dublin on our first day.  We have since visited so many churches across Ireland that I can’t keep them straight but they are all historic and beautiful.  With the history of Ireland so closely tied to the Catholic and Protestant churches, it is no wonder they dominate the landscape.  Well, not as much as the pubs dominate but still, there are a LOT of churches here. 

The church we spent the most time in was St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  It is really a museum now mostly with some services but beautifully preserved with groupings of historically significant relics to read about and enjoy.  We found a video loop playing the in back corner and sat through a nice overview of the history before we explored, giving good context to what we were going to see which dates mostly back to the 14th century but a religious building stood on this site a thousand years before that. It is the largest church in Ireland and also houses the largest ringing peal bells in Ireland as well, whatever those are.  Bet they are loud.

One story we learned from the video was that during a feud in 1492 there came a point where the warring families were deadlocked so the two leaders agreed, as a gesture of good faith, to extend their hands through a slot in a massive door to shake and call a truce.  This “Door of Reconciliation” now hangs in the church and thus the Irish expression, “to chance your arm” meaning to take the initiative.  Here’s betting that if Hillary extended her arm through a door, Trump would cut it off and call her a loser for wanting to negotiate. 

Along with the velvet covered pew benches that are preserved and roped off in the sanctuary, there are stand-alone chairs for people to sit in and worship with embroidered kneeling cushions that some little old ladies probably created for use by worshippers. Charming AND useful.

Though you do have to pay 6 euros to enjoy St. Patrick’s, it was money well spent given not only the beauty but the historical experience of it all.  Amen.