Sunday, May 31, 2009

Baking in Wicklow

Today is a holiday. It's our fourth holiday since mid-March, but I'm not complaining. What makes this holiday different is that the weather is spectacular. Truly. And of course Irish people are happy about that. Well, most of them.

On Saturday night I overheard two older women talking about how it was "too hot." I'm pretty sure one of them said it was too dry too.

Too hot? It was about 72 or 73, 75 at an absolute maximum. But, that was "too hot." This after what has to be the coldest, wettest April-May in a long time.

In some parts of Ireland the temperature has been over 80 the past few days, but we're only half a mile from the east coast and the on-shore breeze always keeps things cool. It was not "too hot."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mary in the neighborhood

When I first moved to Ireland I was surprised by the number of small marian shrines dotted around the country. They're still there and despite what you might believe given the current climate, they still seem to be very well looked after. These pictures are of one that I walked by the other day when leaving the car down to the mechanic.

Generally I've seen these shrines in the middle of county council or city council housing estates. I don't know for sure, but I presume that the people who do the looking after are simply local people who, despite everything we've learned about how the Catholic Church has behaved in recent decades, refuse to let anything shake their faith. I admire them for that. I've never seen grafitti on any one of these and they always seem to be immaculately kept. This one - like others I've seen - is lit up at night.

You know, I did read the year it was erected, but now I can't quite remember. And I can't read the plaque beneath Mary. I think it was 1954 (& restored in 1993), but I could be wrong.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The BBC didn't save the Celts who saved Britain

I almost never remember to watch a television program that I want to watch. I could set the VCR to tape a show, but I don't do that often because taping a program means - mostly - that no one can change the channel while I'm taping. That's the nature of our digital cable system.

Anyway, I did remember to tape How the Celts Saved Britain, which was on last night and I just finished watching it. I wanted to like this, but I would say I was only somewhat satisfied by it. I thought the parts about life in Britain at the end of the Roman empire and after the fall of the empire was very interesting, but a big part of the show was about how Ireland became Christianized. Some of that wasn't bad, but other bits were really thin.

I hope I remember to watch part two next week. Maybe it will be better.

Monday, May 25, 2009

It's poster season

I get back to America a lot, but I can't remember the last time I was there at election time. We have elections here on June 5 and one feature of Irish elections is the posters. They seem to be hung on every lamppost and on just about any other roadside feature you see. The faces on the posters are rarely attractive, but the colors make for a change - especially with the number of gray days we've been having lately.

Thanks to the Irish voting system we have here we have many parties and independent candidates in all elections. That, of course, means a whole load of posters using a wide array of color schemes. On June 5 we'll be voting in two elections - one for our representatives at the European Parliament and also our local councils. There are at least six parties contesting elections in my area along with a half dozen or so independents. And many of the parties field two or three candidates hoping to win multiple seats. That's why there are so many posters.

I heard a guy on the radio the other day complaining about one poster that had half fallen off a lamppost and was dangling upside down in front of a traffic light. They do half fall quite a bit, but I guess it's pretty rare that they fall directly in front of a traffic light.

The posters are not made of cardboard, but of a harder (maybe plastic?) material. Some of them are pretty big too. That's not as obvious when you're driving along because you only glance at them and they're often fairly high up, but if one happened to fall on your head, it would hurt. And, as my wife's friend discovered recently, it can be pretty frightening to have one blow down onto your car as you're driving.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Don't forget the traveler's checks?

If you're coming to Ireland you might have to think about how you're going to change your dollars into euros. Now, I can't magically make the weak dollar strong or the high prices here low, so be prepared to find everything expensive.

Still you can save some money by avoiding going into banks to change money. Use your bank/debit card at the ATM's. I carried out a small test in mid May. I changed a chunk of money in the bank and the same day I withdrew some from the ATM using an American debit card. Well, the Ulster Bank charged me $1.3943 for each €1. (And, no, the experience would be no different at any other bank, but I would have had to pay another handling charge at any other bank because I'm not a customer there.)

Using my MasterCard debit card (the American bank's ATM card) the rate was $1.3665 per €1. The American bank also charges $1 per transaction, but there is no charge from the Irish banks when you use their ATM's. If I had changed $400, for example, I would have saved around $5 -and that includes the ATM charge from the American bank, but not any potential charge from the Irish bank if you go inside to a teller (and there will be a charge.)

Most ATM cards have a daily limit of somewhere around $500 and you might even find that you can only withdraw €300 in any one transaction here. So, if you need to change big amounts in one go you could be stuck with a bank transaction. (And, if you can, use your credit card. That's also cheaper than changing money in the bank, but the lack of a chip on the American cards can be an issue.)

Anyway, what I'm saying is that if you need spending money in Ireland, use your ATM. Just be sure your card is part of either the Cirrus or PLUS networks before you leave home. Those two networks are available at most ATM's here. You can safely forget about the old traveler's checks.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Leaving Cert stress

As I mentioned below, the oldest daughter is doing her Leaving in a few weeks. It's incredibly stressful - for the parents. From what I've been able to make out there are two distinct stresses that parents suffer at this time and they're mutually exclusive. First you have the stress of watching your little darling struggle, suffer, working hard, pouring over texts and scribbling away. You worry that they're working too hard, putting too much pressure on themselves, overdoing it. You worry.

The other stress is, to my mind, more serious. This is caused by excessive laybackedness (my own invention) on the part of the student. Your offspring seems to think it's in the bag, they're working - occasionally - but still finding plenty of time to not be all that worried about the exams that are right around the corner. This is a much more serious stress for parents because those who are suffering the first kind are really just playing at being stressed whereas those in the latter category are nearly ill with worry or hitting the bottle - hard.

I can't help but think that parents in America have it made compared with this. At least you've had years to be able to accept what was coming, but here you can't be sure of anything until you get past the results phase sometime in August.

(And, there is no make-up. If they do badly or fall ill, they have to wait 12 months to take the exams again - at a significant additional cost. See what I mean about stress?)

The Leaving

My daughter's doing the Leaving Cert this year. If you don't know, the Leaving Cert is like a high school diploma, sort of. It marks the end of your second level education, but, no BUT, it is a totally different experience for the student {and, most importantly as far as I'm concerned, the parents}.

By the time you get to the end of your high school career in America you've had hundreds of exams, quizzes, projects, other things that all add up in the various subjects to make your high school record. In Ireland nothing you do in the first 12 years of education matters. All that really matters, all that counts is how you perform in the Leaving Cert Exams, which you sit over a two to three week period at the very end of your school career. Everything else is simply practice. It's like the Olympics where some highly trained athlete spends his entire life preparing for one two-week festival of sports in which he hopes to achieve his life's ambitions.

Two weeks and nine (or so) three-hour exams in 7 subjects (two subjects have double three-hour tests because three hours wouldn't be fun enough). And riding on your performance in these exams is your college place. Like I said, nothing else matters. Your test scores are your college application. Seven numbers measure you.

Once you have finished the exams you only have to wait two months (give or take a week or so) to find out how you did.

Needless to say this process has the effect of creating stress in a house. More on that later.


dublin37 wrote:
Good luck to her!
5/20/2009 10:55 AM EDT

TheYank wrote:
Thanks. I need it. (see next post)
5/20/2009 11:42 AM EDT

Monday, May 18, 2009

Irish roots: How my grandfather was hidden at Ellis Island

My Aunt Kathleen is the family genealogist. She literally wrote the book on our Irish American family. Yet, she hadn't been able to find any record of my grandfather's entry from Ireland into the U.S.

No one knew when he entered or where, but we had a good idea that he'd first come to America in 1916 and we were pretty sure he'd come to New York. He had brothers and a sister already there, so it had to be New York.

That meant he had to have come through Ellis Island - but there was no sign of him in their records. There was no difficulty finding my grandfather's brother, Rodger, who passed through Ellis Island in May 1913. That only added to the frustration. We knew my grandfather's name, obviously, we knew what year he was born, where he was from (sort of – more on that later) and we had a pretty good idea what year he immigrated.

So why didn't he turn up on the Ellis Island records (

The Ellis Island search facility is very flexible. You can search by a range of years by birth or by entry to the United States. You can even search by a partial last name. Yet not one of those bore fruit.

My grandfather's name was John Fahy when he left New Quay, County Clare and he, along with his immigrant siblings, changed his name to Fay at some point. Today we can only guess as to why they did this.

I searched for Fahy, Fay, Fa*, but nothing. I searched for people from New Quay whose last name began with Fa, but no luck.

I talked to my father about it and he concluded that his father had probably entered through Boston or Philadelphia and traveled on to New York. Given there was a war on at the time, it made sense that he might not have had the same number of options for traveling to America as those who traveled in peacetime. He might well have sailed to one of those cities.

Then one afternoon I had a brainwave. I'm not much of a genealogist, but I've used computers for nearly 30 years and I know how things can go wrong. And one adage that all heavy computer users know is, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

It occurred to me that the computerized records I was searching weren't always computerized. Someone had to key them in. So I started searching for misspellings for the name Fahy.

And I found him.

Ellis Island has him listed as John Tahy, who arrived in November 1915. The Ellis Island Web site not only lets you search the records, but when you find the record you want, you can view an image of the actual immigration record. Everything was there.

His U.S. address was his brother Pat's place in Palisades Park, N.J. He paid for his own passage and, although it's tough to make out, it looks like he had £20 on him.

He had traveled on the SS Saint Louis and, happily, he was neither a polygamist nor an anarchist. He was presumably in good health as no mention is made of it in the appropriate area. He is listed as being 5'10” with hazel eyes, fair hair, fair complexion and no marks of identification.

He was a British subject – it was 1915 – and a member of the Irish race. He came from Finvara, Ireland. Yep, Finvara (Finivara or Finavarra), not New Quay.

His brother had arrived two years earlier and listed his hometown as New Quay. The address (today, anyway) would be Finavarra, New Quay, County Clare.

The combination of the misspelled last name and the variations in hometown name had made my grandfather all but invisible. All because someone misread a capital F as a capital T.

Just about anyone familiar with Irish names would have known that Tahy is not an Irish name. If the person who entered the data from the Saint Louis's manifest of November 11, 1915 had known that Fahy was more likely than Tahy they might well have looked twice at the legible, cursive entry for my grandfather.

Handwriting styles change and I can see how someone who is not of Irish descent might have thought the name was Tahy. I would wager that most of the other 34 listed Tahys – many of whom seem to have come from the same part of Ireland as my grandfather – should also be Fahys.

The moral of the story is, if you're searching computerized records and you can't find a relative who you know should be there, remember that the person who typed the data in could have made a simple error – one that no one would notice, but one that will certainly frustrate you.

Think about handwriting, think about the drudgery of entering data from handwritten records and start searching for simple erroneous versions of the name you are searching for.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

To Ypres

Bought tickets to fly to Belgium in July. The whole family is going. I'm really looking forward to seeing the Island of Ireland Peace Park near Ypres in Flanders. Not sure if there will be much more than Ypres in this tour, but I'm sure we'll find other things of interest, etc.


dublin37 wrote:
ooooh, you must hit Bruges if at all possible. So beautiful and quaint, with lovely lace at good prices.
5/20/2009 10:57 AM EDT

TheYank wrote:

I'd love to, but that will be another trip. We can only fit so much in during our 36 hour visit. Brugges is on my list.
5/20/2009 11:33 AM EDT

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

View from the DART

On my way into Dublin yesterday I was noticing - again - how great the DART line is. Can there be a more beautiful commuter rail line on Earth? No, not the trains, the scenery along the line - particularly between Bray & Dalkey. I snapped this from the train, which explains the vaguely murky haze - the windows were slightly less than clean.

This (below) is the view you see when you emerge from the tunnel just beyond Dalkey on the way out of town.

Soaking up the rays

Was in Dublin yesterday. It was sunny and warm - ish. Warm for late March, but not really warm as such. Maybe in the high 50s, but there was a pretty sharp breeze. The wind chill doesn't put Irish people off, however. There they were in Merrion Square in the center of Dublin yesterday, sunbathing. Only men yesterday.

Are men hardier or simply more stupid, I'm not sure. I think some people are just driven nuts by sun deprivation.

Whatever the psychological explanation, I saw a number of guys who had peeled off their shirts to lie out in the grass. Me? I just buttoned up the jacket and walked on.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Chip & Pin costs sales

The visitors went into Dublin to do a bit of shopping today. Helping the economy, right? Can't be any issue with a few Yanks spending a buck or two in Dublin, right? Well, not quite. A few stores apparently weren't interested enough to take the American credit cards. No chip in the card means that the old signature has to do where we all use a PIN nowadays. For some stores that was too much trouble. No, we don't take those cards. Sales lost.

I can't help wondering how often this happens here now. Does this make tourists feel welcome? I would say not.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bonus time on-board

Visitors from America arrived this morning. At 6:15! Wasn't expecting that, but it seems that there was little taxi-ing needed at Kennedy Airport. So EI104 arrived nearly an hour early at 4:30 or so. Fortunately for me, the airport wasn't ready for them and the lucky passengers - including my visitors - were treated to an extra 40 minutes sitting on the plane. Now, tell me, who doesn't want that between 4 and 5 in the morning after flying through the night?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The rusty gate

The Irish Times says that The Gateway may never return to Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin. It was removed in order to "facilitate a new walkways scheme." Yeah, whatever works for you. I don't pretend to be an art connoisseur, but my son summed up the sculpture pretty well: "They're just two hunks of rusty metal."

Monday, May 4, 2009

Living horse in early May

So it's a Bank Holiday and, of course, it's pretty miserable. But our weather forecasters have said that we should have a long, hot, dry summer. Yeah, well, as my father-in-law used to say, live horse and you'll get grass. No, I don't really know what it means either, but I always liked it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Let's get going

It's a holiday weekend - a "bank holiday weekend" - and the weather's not all that bad. Seems like a good time to start this.

Right now the sun is just peaking above the hills to the east and there's hardly a cloud in the sky.