IRISH DREAMS – PART TWO

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Carol Feller and her Groupies

Carol Feller and Groupies

Our visit to Ireland made clear why Irish eyes are smiling – friendly people, a pint of Guinness and perhaps a tot of Jameson’s gives the world a roseate hue.  We experienced all of that during the second part of our trip which focused on knitting – a passion we all share to the point of needing a 12-step program.  After our evening at the Celtic Whiskey Lounge and Sheehan’s Pub we sobered up the next morning for our class with Carol Feller.  As I wrote in my previous post, Carol Feller and Kieran Foley (more on him in a moment) are the equivalent of playing golf with Rory McElroy or Padraig Harrington.  I should note here that the Killarney Park Hotel was truly one of the finest hotels I’ve ever visited.  They are five star not only for their accommodations and food, but for their outstanding service.  On the morning of our class they provided us with a cozy room with a wood-burning fireplace and brought coffee for our enjoyment – all free of charge.   Carol spent more than three hours with us and was not only informative, but charming as well.  It seems to be an Irish trait.  Most of us have been knitting for decades but Carol provided us with some new tips and techniques, proving that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks. Some of our group had pre-ordered yarn from her while others said they would abstain.  After three hours with Carol everyone ordered mounds of yarn.  So much for willpower.

            The Dingle Peninsula

The following day we climbed into Jack’s van and embarked on a tour of the Dingle Peninsula.   The scenery, like everything else we’d seen in Ireland, was spectacular. The little town of Dingle is touristy and quaint at the same time.  It was here we experienced more Irish hospitality.  One member of our group stumbled and skinned her knee so we sought out first aid materials.  The local pharmacist didn’t just sell us the bandage and antibiotic ointment, she took it upon herself to clean and dress the wound herself.  Heck, I can barely get the staff at my local Walgreens to point me to the bandaid aisle. The waters surrounding the peninsula are crystal clear and the hillsides verdant, as one would expect in Ireland.  We had the opportunity to stop and pet some newly-minted lambs but, cute as they were, we declined.  I was struck by the many historical churches that remain along the route.  One is the Gallarus Oratory, a simple dry-stone structure built in the 12th century that  has remained waterproof and in near-perfect condition to the present day.

     Kilmaekeder Church and graveyard

Just as interesting is the Kilmaekeder Church, built in the mid-12th century on the grounds of a previous structure built in 636.  A stone from that period still sits on the alter.  The church grounds are filled with gravestones, some ancient and some rather recent (in fact one poor sod hadn’t actually been buried 6 feet under yet as the family was waiting for the headstone).  There were tributes to Irishmen killed by the English during The Uprising as well as markers for whole families that included listings of those who went to America and were lost at sea.  Once back in Killarney we traipsed over to dinner at the Ross Hotel’s Lane Café Bar.  The service was slow but the food was delicious.  I’d recommend it if you’re not in a hurry.

                  Us with Kieran Foley

The following day was our “marathon” day to Dublin.  The kind people at the hotel had a bag of pastries and fruit waiting for us as we left for the train station at 6:10 a.m.  The train service to and from Dublin was wonderful – clean, fast, and quiet.  Once in Dublin we headed for The Constant Knitter shop where we had a private trunk show with designer Kieran Foley.  Again, he was as kind and generous a person as one could hope to meet.  Are there any crabby people in Ireland????  Kieran brought out an array of his designs which are so complicated and intricate that I’d only contemplate starting one prior to entering the insane asylum.  Each piece is reminiscent of an Oriental carpet or fine piece of fabric.  We left him inspired to “up our game”.

After buying scads of yarn we we went in search of a great spot for lunch…and beer.  We ventured up to the Temple Bar area of Dublin (the featured picture this week) which is a hopping place, full of tourists and locals alike.  There is no end to the dining possibilities but we chose Boxty, which received rave reviews on Trip Advisor.  Once we were sated with Smithwicks lager and fish and chips we ventured to This Is Knit yarn shop. The store is elegant in design and content, located in the Powerscourt Townhouse building, a former mansion that has been transformed into a fabulous shopping center with a central atrium and boutique shops.  We bought more yarn, despite our resolve to be on a “yarn diet”.  From there we walked 40 minutes back to the train station for our return to Killarney.  When we dragged into the hotel at 8:30 p.m. we were greeted by hotel staff inquiring about our day and asking us about what we saw in Dublin.  I’m not sure they are used to anyone making Dublin into a “day trip”.

           We can smell the banana

Morning came too soon when we once again traveled in Jack’s van to Kinsale and Cork.  Kinsale is a darling seaside village, filled with cute shops and an outdoor market.  We could have spent several days there. We ambled in and out of the stores, buying knick knacks and two people bought beautiful leather purses fashioned by a local designer.  We relied on Trip Advisor again and ate lunch at Fishy Fishy, where we continued our quest of the perfect pairing of lager and fish and chips. Next we headed to Cork to visit Hedgehog Fibers.  Hedgehog is a very popular yarn, more so in the States than in Ireland.  In fact, we learned from all our Irish knitting contacts that the Irish like to spend money on food and drink, but not on yarn.  We bought MORE yarn (by now we were contemplating buying extra luggage) and then headed out to the Jameson Whiskey Distillery.  We decided to go for broke, splurging on the premium whiskey tasting.  It turned out to be a wise decision.   We were taken to a private room where a young woman gave us the particulars of each whiskey we sampled.  I was tempted to chug one down but she instructed me that I needed to savor the banana, oak, berry, vanilla, honey, etc.  Geez, it all just tasted like whiskey to me.  I don’t think I’m sophisticated enough to taste premium whiskey.  As we finished up she kind of chuckled and said, “I’ve worked here four years and have never had an all-woman group before.”  So…I guess we broke the glass ceiling for whiskey tasting!

Next week – castles and some final recommendations.  Slainte!

THE LUCK O’ THE IRISH

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Are you sober yet?  If you’re like millions of Americans you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day last Friday by consuming some spirits in honor of the occasion.  Some of us are genuinely of Irish extraction but on St. Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish.  Simply donning a green hat or sporting shamrock underwear gives the wearer some implicit permission to get toilet-hugging drunk.  There actually are a lot of Americans with Irish bloodlines – 37 million to be exact.  That’s 12% of the population, ranking just behind Germany in most frequently reported ancestry.  Heck, we have eight times the number of Irish than Ireland itself!   Which is probably as good an explanation as any as to why the holiday is so much more popular here than in Ireland.  Twenty years ago my husband’s cousin from Scotland came to San Francisco on business and we met him for dinner near our workplaces.  Unfortunately, the only night he had available was St. Patrick’s Day and to further the problem, we worked right around the corner from Harrington’s Bar and Grill.   We met at a nearby restaurant that required our cousin to walk from his hotel right by Harrington’s front door.  Or as close to the front door as he could get.  There are a lot of Irish in San Francisco and they seemingly all gather at Harrington’s each year to celebrate the patron saint.  When he finally navigated his way to the restaurant he was wild-eyed and I think just the tiniest bit shell-shocked.  He stammered, “What is with you Americans and St. Patrick’s Day?”  Well, it turns out, we practically invented the holiday.

 

 

Since around the ninth or 10th century, people in Ireland have been observing the Roman Catholic feast of St. Patrick on March 17.  But the first parade held in honor of St. Patrick’s Day took place in the United States.  On March 17, 1762, Irish soldiers serving in the English military marched through New York City.  The parade, along with their native music, helped the soldiers reconnect with their Irish roots and fellow countrymen.  Over the next three decades numerous groups formed to celebrate Irish heritage, each sponsoring a parade on St. Patrick’s Day.  By the mid-1800s the groups combined forces into what is now known as the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the largest in the country and the oldest civilian-sponsored parade in the world.

 

Of course, all that marching is exhausting so finding a good pub to quench one’s thirst became part of the day’s tradition.  Some people take pride in finding good Irish pubs wherever they go, regardless of the time of year.  In fact, although I won’t mention names, someone I’m related to that also writes for this blog fashions himself a connoisseur of Irish drinking establishments.  He is the only person I know who could trek all the way to Machu Picchu and find an authentic Irish pub in which to have a Guinness.  But he is far from alone.  What is this obsession so many have with the Irish?  I’ve read more than one article claiming the Irish are the most beloved ethnic group in the world.  Of course, part of that affection is tied to the “happy drunk” reputation, but in fact it goes further than that.  The Irish are deemed to be some of the most sentimental souls on Earth.  One need only read the famous Irish poets to understand the truth of that.  The Irish are also known world-wide for their sense of humor and dry wit.  Oscar Wilde, the noted Irish writer, filled our world with his bon mots.  One of my favorites is:  “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad.  People are either charming or tedious”. George Carlin was perhaps one of the funniest comedians ever with his wry observations of everyday life and Melissa McCarthy is a talented entertainer (come on, that bathroom scene in Bridesmaids is a classic!).  The Irish also have the ability to write lyrically and capture an audience, despite sometimes playing fast and loose with the facts.  One of my favorite sayings, told to me by an Irish friend who was wound-up in the middle of a fantastical yarn, is “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”.  My brother and I have at times adopted that as our motto.

 

There’s also the famous saying “Luck of the Irish”, although I have discovered that the phrase started as a derisive jab at the Irish immigrants who came to America in the late 1800’s.  It originated in the gold and silver mines to describe the Irish who found their “pot of gold” and became rich and successful.  The Irish were never given full credit for their accomplishments.  Instead it was widely believed that the “Irish fools” had gained fortune only by sheer luck, as opposed to brains and hard work.  Our only full-blooded Irish ancestor, Julia Stack Billiou, came to America during this period but as you might recall from my last post, she was not lucky in any sense of the word, having been shot by her Chinese cook.  Nevertheless, her immigration gives our family claim to Irish heritage and provides cover for our love of good writing, a stout beer, and a strong Irish Coffee.  I call that lucky indeed!

 

 

 

Samoans Vanish from the Face of the Earth

by Bob Sparrow

real Samoan

No, not this Samoan

It’s February and my New Year’s ‘diet resolution’ was already as precarious as a politicians promise; then along comes those adorable, freckled-faced girls in green uniforms to push it completely over the precipice.  Yes, it’s Girl Scout Cookie time and I was first approached by those purveyors of baked goods as I came out of my local super market last week.  I rationalize my purchase by telling myself I’m supporting a good cause, and deep down I knew that I was really not going to get much thinner . . . again this year.  So I walked up to their card table set up outside the grocery store door and pondered my options.

I like Peanut Butter cookies and Thin Mints, but I love the Samoans – those vanilla cookies topped with caramel and sprinkled with toasted coconut and laced with chocolaty stripes – they are ‘good-bye diet’ delicious!  I said, “I’ll take a box of Thin Mints, a box of Peanut Butter cookies and 5 boxes of Samoans.”  Yes, 5 boxes. I knew I could polish off one box by the time I drove home from the grocery store.

The next words I heard temporarily shattered my cookie-eating world.  “OK, thank you, but we don’t have Samoans anymore.”  I froze all cookiesand stared at this little person delivering this tragic news and started to put my wallet back in my pocket, “We now call them ‘Caramel deLites’ – they’re the same thing”, she continued as she handed me a box to examine.  I was offended on two fronts, although I tried not to show it as I knew the young lady standing and smiling in front of me with a tooth missing, had nothing to do with either. First, these cookies are not ‘Lite’ anything – a serving, which is 2 cookies about the size of a silver dollar, is 130 calories – that’s more than a pint of Guinness! Just sayin’.  Secondly, and more importantly, are we no longer calling them Samoans because by doing so we could be offending Samoans everywhere?  Was the name changed out of concern for being politically correct?  Give me a break!  What country or ethnic group would not want to have that delicious cookie named after them?!”

who am I     I almost gave the boxes back, but I was fairly sure that the Girl Scout standing in front of me probably didn’t have much to do with the name change and certainly wouldn’t follow my comparing and contrasting the calories with a Guinness.  So I tried to take the high road and paraphrased Shakespeare saying, ” I suppose a Samoan by any other name doth taste as sweet.”  At that point the Girl Scout’s mother, not knowing what her daughter was going to be subjected to next, stepped between her daughter and me and encouraged me to either buy something or move along, that there were people behind me who didn’t care about the name, the calories, or Shakespeare for that matter, saying, “We’re just trying to sell cookies here to send our girls to camp.”  Which was code for, “Quit creeping my daughter out and either buy some cookies or get the hell out of the way.”

On my way home, while finishing off that box of Samoans (I refuse to call them ‘Caramel de-Lites’), I was thinking, about the misuse of the word ‘Lite’ in advertising as well as the hyper-sensitivity to being ‘politically correct’.  I get it that some Native American Indians don’t want to be a ‘mascot’ of American sports teams, but if we’re insulting the Samoans by naming a cooking after products from their islands, then we need to look at changing a number of other food items if we are genuinely concerned about being politically correct’.  To wit:

–       I’m sure we’ve insulted the English by naming a muffin after them?

–       We’ve certainly insulted the Brazilians by naming a nut after them!

–       I suppose Italian pizza should be called ‘Lo-Cal Mediterranean Cheese, Meat & Sauces on Lite Bread’

–       Are we still insulting the Polish by naming a sausage after them?

–       I’m not sure if Scottish folks are insulted by having Scotch named after them – or were they named after the Scotch?

–       And what about the Turkey sandwich?  Oh, never mind.

–       Should Maine lobster with drawn butter now be called ‘Northeastern crustacean with Lite oleo’

–       How about renaming French Fries ‘Anti-American, bath-needing, sniveling, wine-sipping, bastards Fries’frenchman

Well perhaps I do need some political sensitivity training, and I’ll get some as soon as the Girl Scouts bring back the Samoans.