An Entertaining Stroll Down Grafton Street

Reminiscing about Grafton Street is easy for a Dubliner. I always think of buskers, Christmas shopping and festive windows, flower stalls, Bewleys coffee, shoppers and tourists.

Grafton Street has been a Dublin constant for centuries. Not merely a right of way, nor a commercial center, it is a social and cultural icon of the city, because here is where people meet to create memories.

In the 1600′s Grafton Street was simply a laneway used to access a square grazing field. The street was first developed in 1708 by the Dawson family. A parallel street bears their name, but Grafton Street was named after a local land owner, Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton, the illegitimate son of Charles II of England.  The grazing square is now St. Stephens Green, and Grafton Street is a commercial hub of the city.

Buskers On Grafton Street

The proliferation of street entertainers on Grafton Street is appreciated by some, tolerated by others, and detested by a few. Crowds can accumulate around a really good band in no time at all, blocking the street.
For me this little inconvenience is a small price to pay for an afternoon of wonderful entertainment.

Lunchtime for a Dublin Busker

Grafton Street is where U2 honed their skills, playing for Dublin crowds. I often wonder if I stopped and listened to them many years ago when I was a teenager.

Dublin Buskers Tuning Their Instruments

Who knows which of today’s great Dublin bands will entertain the masses in years to come! Skills learned on Grafton Street will stand them in good stead.  Here singers and musicians learn to entertain, to grow acutely aware of the crowd’s applauding feedback, and to fine tune their rhythms and lyrics.  If you gain approval from Dublin’s afternoon shoppers, the world might soon follow.

Statue Of Phil Lynott On Harry Street

The great Phil Lynott listens to the chorus of voices from a side street.  I’m sorry to report this statue was vandalized a few days after I took this shot. Hopefully it will be repaired quickly and soon be back on Harry Street.

Sand dog on Grafton Street, Dublin

A sand dog basked in the sunshine, guarding a precious tennis ball.

Sand dog on Grafton Street, Dublin

Watching an artist quickly form a canine replica was fascinating.

Sand dog on Grafton Street, Dublin

And some dogs just slept as the world passed by.

  Brown Thomas Greeter

Brown Thomas is the anchor shop of the street. Their friendly greeter doesn’t merely wave as you enter. Hand shakes are often followed by a friendly chat.  Walmart eat your heart out – this is greeting Dublin style.

 Leprechan On Grafton Street, DublinIf you get a notion you can always leprechaun yourself and pay to have this friendly fellow take your photo.

Dublin Saunter, is a song by Leo Maguire, a native Dubliner.  He deemed Grafton Street a wonderland. I remember rolling my eyes to heaven as a youngster when my parents listened to tunes like this, but now that I’m a few years older and wiser I have grown to appreciate the sentiments of these lyrical oldies.

For Dublin can be heaven

With coffee at eleven,

And a stroll in Stephen’s Green

There’s no need to hurry

There’s no need to worry

You’re a king and the lady’s a queen

Grafton Street’s a wonderland

There’s magic in the air

There’s diamonds in the lady’s eyes

And gold dust in her hair

And if you don’t believe me

Come and meet me there

In Dublin on a sunny summer morning.”

 

Mime artists on Grafton Street, Dublin

These mime artists always amaze me.  Such control, not even a flicker, until their chosen moment.  Then the slightest move of hand can shock the world.

Mime artists on Grafton Street, Dublin

Patrick Kavanagh speaks of the allures of Grafton Street in his poem On Raglan Road.

“On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge 

Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion’s pledge, 

The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay - 

O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.

        Mickey Mouse On Grafton Street, Dublin

Mickey Mouse may wear his obligatory green camouflage, but for me, he still seems out of place on the street of my happy childhood.

  Hare Krishna Dancers In Dublin

And no stroll down Grafton Street would ever be complete without meeting some happy Hare Krishna dancers.  I remember their distinctive chant since I was a little girl.

Grafton Street is part of my Dublin memories.  Even the great American singer/songwriter, Nanci Griffith, has written about this thoroughfare. In her song, aptly called On Grafton Street, she claims …

 ”On Grafton Street at Christmas time

The elbows push you ’round.

This is not my place of memories -

I’m a stranger in this town.

The faces seem familiar,

And I know those songs they’re playing.

But I close my eyes and find myself

Five thousand miles away……

……On Grafton Street at Christmas time

The elbows push you ’round.

All I carry now are memories -

I’m a stranger to this town.”

 

Although I now live five thousand miles away from Grafton Street, I hope I will never be a stranger to this town.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

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The Sun Does Shine Sometimes In Ireland.

Today I am sharing a short post to remind everyone that the sun does shine in Ireland every now and then.  And when the sun does peep out from behind the clouds, it brightens up the landscape to lift those rain induced doldrums.

This past weekend the sun broke through the clouds and shone on Ireland’s winter weary residents.  Everyone suffering from cabin fever took to the hills. My sister sent me this lovely panoramic shot taken from Howth, overlooking Dublin Bay

 

View from the Hill of Howth

Panoramic View From Howth, Co. Dublin

Dank, dreary and dark are the descriptors I have heard way too often when I phoned home over the past six months.  Talking about the weather is an obligatory part of every Irish phone call.  This Irish winter has been very long, just like our lingering American Winter 2013.

Howth Sunset-001

Sunset from Howth, Co. dublin

But just when you think there is never going to be an end to that interminable Irish rain, the sun finally does come out to brighten up the landscape and the soul.

I hope these photos of Howth are a reminder to everyone living in Ireland that all bad winters eventually come to an end. To those planning a trip to the Emerald Isle at some point this year I hope they give you hope that you won’t be wearing your rain gear constantly during your stay.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

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Irish Sheepdogs – Why I Love Border Collies

I love dogs, and of all the dogs in the world I really, really love border collies.  I think I spent too much time with sheepdogs on my grannies’ farms when I was a young girl in Ireland.  That’s when my love affair began.

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I searched high and low through files of creative commons photos on Flickr.com and on Wikimedia.com to help illustrate why I love these dogs so much. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words.

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Look at that smile!

 

Those perky ears!

 

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Look at that focus!

 

Border collies are just born to work.

 

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I remember watching the BBC television program “One Man And His Dog” as a child.  May not sound like great children’s entertainment, but I was riveted to the screen, watching the sheer skill of these magnificent sheep herders, responding to the shrill, sharp whistles of their owners.

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Rounding sheep into a flock, or separating just a few from the wooly group, is second nature to these glorious animals, bred specifically for this purpose.

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I love this photo taken in Scotland.  If you examine the shot closely you will see four dogs working in unison to round up the herd.  Click on the image credit and hover over the photograph.  The exact location of each border collie has been highlighted by the photographer.

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And of course, you can never forget their agility.  Border collies can be trained to leap and bound like no other dogs on earth.  Their sheer athleticism is simply spectacular.

When my husband and I first got married we rescued a border collie/chow mix puppy from the shelter in Daytona Beach, Florida.  Molly grew old with us, loved us, protected us, and really entertained us with her beer-loving, lizard-chasing personality.

Molly

My triplets were just 3-months old when Molly developed bloat, a serious condition where a dog’s stomach twists.  She only had a 20% survival chance if she underwent surgery, and would have required tube feeding for quite some time.  Definitely not an option with newborn triplets.  And so Molly left us after 14 wonderful years.  At that point, I put the thought of dog ownership out of my mind.

But kids love dogs.  My four little ones have begged and pleaded with their border collie-loving mom for a puppy.  I resisted for two long years, never caving in to their earnest pleas.

Then a friend informed my little troop there is only one sure way to get a dog, and that is to just keep asking.  And they did!  Every night they prayed for a dog – calling on the Good Lord’s help, since mom was just not responding.

Once all four flew the nest and headed off to school this year, I reveled in all my free time.  But empty nest syndrome must have struck.  How do you keep mom busy, stop her feeling lonely while the kiddos are busy at school?

The one and only solution in the whole wide world is:

A border collie puppy!

 

 

Two weeks ago my husband and I relented, giving in to those endless doggy demands, when we added a seventh member to our clan.  My kids fell in love with this eight-week old puppy the moment they laid eyes on her.

We called her Oreo, since her face looks just like the cookie.

And let me assure you, there is no greater distraction from the lure of computer games, than a fun-loving, energetic border collie puppy.  She is already herding my four little ones out the door to play each afternoon.

“I Didn’t Do It”

Last night, as I tucked my eldest boy into bed he whispered to me:

“Mom, Oreo is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

 

That’s when I knew that giving in to all those endless pleas for a dog, was one of the best decisions ever.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

P.S. A big thanks to all the photographers who shared photos of their wonderful border collies under a creative commons license.

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When You Go Will You Send Back A Letter From America

In the late 1980′s the Scottish band, The Proclaimers had a big hit with their song “Letter from America.”  I love this song, and listen to it regularly.  Here are two of its most memorable lines:

When you go will you send back a letter from America?

Take a look up the rail track from Miami to Canada

 

When the song was written e-mail, skype and texting were merely dreams forming and developing in the minds of geniuses.  Letters were still the primary means of communication between families separated by the Atlantic Ocean.

I remember when I first came to America in the late 1980′s, I phoned home once a week.  My phone bills were astronomical, so talking for an hour or two was out of the question.  Instead I wrote letters regularly.

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Old Aerogramme Letter With Checkered Border

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I loved reaching into my mail box each evening.  A wave of sheer joy came over me, when I found a checker-bordered aerogramme with my name lovingly imprinted on the cover.

Nowadays, trips to the mail box reveal no such treasures – just bills and junk mail.  Sometimes I miss those days of old, when letters from Ireland were regularly delivered.

I often think of those who left Ireland over a century ago.  They never knew the luxury of a weekly phone call, or daily in my case, now that we have an internet phone connection with unlimited calls to the Emerald Isle.

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For our ancestors, connection to family left behind was limited to letters, sometimes taking weeks or months between deliveries.  Even for those who left in the 1950′s, like six of my father’s brothers and sisters, telephone calls were unheard of.   For starters my grandmother never owned a phone.  In an emergency a kind neighbor or the priest might agree to let her use their phone.

No, truth be told, even until the 1970′s my granny only heard from her children in America through letters.  I still remember the expression on her face when the postman arrived with a “letter from America.”  She smiled all day long.  I watched eagerly as her eyes devoured precious words.  She stuffed the sheets into a pocket hidden in the folds of her skirt.  I knew she examined them frequently throughout the day.  Loving words eased the pain of her aching heart.

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So whenever I listen to The Proclaimers, I think of my granny and her treasured letters from America.  My children will probably never understand the role letters played in our lives.  I must remember to tell them about their great-grandmother’s skirt pockets, stuffed with handwritten pages filled with loving words from her children far away.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

 

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Easter Monday In Ireland – A Day At The Races

Easter in Ireland is a time to reflect on renewal, resurrection, family and horses.  Yes, I did say horses.  Easter Monday is a national holiday and a great day for horse racing in Ireland.

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As a child we took our annual trip to Fairyhouse Race Course in Co. Meath on Easter Monday.  As much as I looked forward to Easter Sunday and the promise of Easter eggs, I really couldn’t wait for Easter Monday and all the excitement it promised.

Throughout the six, long, candy-free weeks of Lent my heart fluttered in anticipation of race day, a wonderful celebration of spring.  My school days were passed dreaming of brightly colored stalls, bustling activity, amusements and the raw human and equine energy soon to seize the Fairyhouse Race Course.

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Horse racing is one sport at which Ireland excels.  A day at the races is an amazing social occasion and an integral part of Irish life.

Rain, hail or shine we packed our picnic early on Easter Monday morning and joined the traffic jams through the small village of Ratoath, waiting patiently to stream into the designated parking areas.   On rainy days we wore our hooded waterproofs with wellies (rain boots).  On sunny days our hearts sang, glad to leave our umbrellas behind in the car.

Before the days racing began we chased each other to the amusements dotted throughout the field.  Swing boats and chair-o-plane rides were such a highlight for children of the seventies.

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© Copyright Dr Neil Clifton and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License

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No 3D animated action thrills for us!  No! Just rope burns from pulling so hard on our ever so rough and basic swing boat controllers.

 

“Sit down before ye break yer necks!”

 

I still remember the shouts of swing-boat operators warning us not to stand up in a vain attempt to increase the force of our pulls and thrills.

 

“The hurdy-gurdies!”

 

That’s what my aunt used to call the helter skelter rides of our youth.

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With our stomachs somersaulting we munched on picnic sandwiches before the start of serious racing.  ‘Twas then the betting began.  Adults examined race programs carefully, floating between bookie stands in search of the best odds for their favorites.

How do you pick a winner?

How do you know a good horse when you see one?

What do all these “weights” and “distances” mean?

Don’t ask me!  I don’ t have a clue!

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I picked horses based on how much I liked the sound of a name and the colors the jockey planned to wear.  I especially liked chestnut brown or gray horses.  I never took a very scientific approach.

Bets were placed at the tote or with bookies.  Fans predicted a top 3 placing or a win.  A precious piece of paper was handed over to mark the bet.  I remember carefully stuffing my 50 pence betting docket into my pocket.  By the time the race was over, it was ever so grubby.  I just couldn’t resist pulling it out every five minutes to check it was still there.

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Our day at the races meant far more to us than our meager fifty pence bets.  I remember racing to the fence to watch the horses trot towards the starting gates.  We watched with baited breath, patiently awaiting the starter’s signal.

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Seeing these incredible animals jump hurdles, then accelerate to top speed filled me with awe.  I clearly remember feeling a sense of pride in the presence of Ireland’s elite race horses.

Easter Monday racing encouraged family camaraderie, as we commented on the apparent prowess of our chosen steeds.  Hoping for a win we rooted our gallant jockeys on.

Our fervor peaked as the horses raced passed us.  We were never in the “good seats” in the stands, with a clear view of the finish line.

Listening to the radio, we clung to the fence on the outskirts of the field, our hearts pumping in anticipation of our favorite crossing the finish line first.  We were disappointed more often than not, but this never detracted from the sheer enjoyment we experienced.

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I hold dear to my magical Easter memories of horses thundering towards the finish line, and the joy of sharing in the excitement of all the race attendees.  I knew then that no other sport could ever make me feel that way.  Perhaps that is why I now live in Kentucky – the home of the famous Kentucky Derby.

I love horse racing and the sheer thrill and spectacle of it all.  And to tell you the truth, the fun is just beginning in Kentucky as we prepare for the great Kentucky race in early May.  Here’s to celebrating the amazing horses of my new home state and to sharing a “little slice of Kentucky life” over the next few weeks.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

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