"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content"
Robbie Burns

Monday, December 31, 2007


It's that time of year with Christmas behind us for another year as we look forward to a night of merriment. New Year's Eve IS the holiday of the year for many a Scot as it is for North Americans. In recent years all over Scotland there are street fairs and celebrations for families an couples alike. But what of older traditions? 

Scotland is a Celtic nation with a strong tie to their Celtic traditions. In the past the Celtic new year was November 1st with All Hallows Eve (our Halloween ) as the New Years Eve. As the Celtic traditions merged with the encroaching Christian tradition this was lost. But some of the traditions of the the old Hogmanay celebrations still continue and are embraced by North Americans of Scots decent. 

Redding- This is the tradition where the women of the house would clean the house or cottage from top to bottom and especially the hearth. The last fire's ashes would be read much like our tea leaves to find out what the fortune of the new year would bring. The idea was to start the new year afresh with a new fire. Also all business and debts were reconciled before or on the last day of the year so as to start the new year afresh. 

First footing- On the evening when the bells strike midnight the people would leave their homes and visit their neighbors. Tradition has it the first person across your threshold on Hogmanay should be a dark haired handsome male, who will ensure the household good fortune for the new year. This first footer would care a bit of coal to ensure warmth for the family and a bit of shortbread ( or oats) to ensure the family would not have want of food int he next year. Some local traditions also included the first footer to bring a Cake for the children (St Andrews) or they carried a decorated herring ( Dundee).  The families would not want the first footer to a woman or a red haired man. 

But the most well know tradition that has embraced by the entire world has been the singing and piping  of  Robert Burns Auld Lang Syne.   Few people sing it in the traditional Scots. Here is the way it should be sung: 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And auld lang syne? 

For auld lang syne, my dear, 
For auld lang syne, 
We'll tak a cup of kindness yet, 
For auld lang syne!

And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp
And surely I'll be mine, 
And we'll tak a coup of kindness yet, 
For auld lang syne!

We twa hae run about the braes 
And pou'd the gowans fine, 
But we've wandere'd monie 
a weary fit, Sin auld lang syne. 

We twa hae paild'd in the burn 
Frea morning sun till dine, 
But seas between us braid hae roar'd 
Sin auld lang syne.

And there's a hand my trusty fiere, 
And gie's a han of  thine
And we'll tak a right guild-willie waught, 
For auld lang syne. 


Friday, December 21, 2007

Road Trip North

We woke early Monday morning, checked the weather report, avoided eye contact with our hosts, ate quickly and headed to the ferry terminal. We had scheduled our crossing for the 11:00 trip from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead, Wales. This is the route I took with a friend the first time I visited  Ireland, and it was quite enjoyable. Unfortunately I can't say the same this time. 

This was the fast ferry on the Stena Lines which gets one across the Irish Sea in about an hour and a half. The ferry is a wonderful way to travel with many amenities and this trip we upgraded our ticket and got in the special seating area which had comfy cushioned seats that reclined, free newspapers and snacks. 

My husband ever the restless sailor wanted to check out the ship so we took a walk to the duty free shop and apparently I don't have sea legs. Yep, as I weaved and dodged my way along the  passage way I got queasy with every step. Of course my husband thought it was funny, he who could eat a full course meal aboard a ship in a full blown Arctic squall.  Thinking I just needed some fresh air, I walked on the outlook deck the fact I was looking back at from where we came didn't help one bit and made it worse. With the help of my snickering husband, we worked our way back to our seats as people moved quickly out of  our way. Nice of them really, but it may have had more to do with my green tinge and my hand over my mouth that motivated them to give way. We spent the rest of the trip talking with a young English/Irish couple who were traveling with their pre-schoolers.  When we finally docked I was never so happy to get back inside our little car.  

We anticpated having to go thru some sort of Customs as we entered Wales, but only those with UK plates were directed to a  special customs lane. We followed the line of cars us out of Holyhead, not stopping as this was one of our long driving days. Our goal was to head east toward Liverpool, where we would turn left and head north to Scotland.  What I enjoy about Wales (as well as Scotland and Ireland) is that all the road signs are in both Welsh and English.  In Wales we decided to look for the word with the fewest vowels. What we found in the drive thru Northern Wales was magnificent scenery: rolling hills of green pastures full with sheep and horses.  I wish I could have captured the scenery on film but unfortunately it was raining heavily with few safe turnouts. 

My first trip thru this part of Wales while on the train, I  had a weird experience: images of Welsh village on the water, with a castle and I could see people walking streets that were somehow familiar.  Not really odd I suppose given all the castles and small villages I had scene in England and Scotland on this trip, but the images and the people in period clothing of the 1800's kept drawing me back. When we planned this trip I knew I wanted to find this place. We only had this day in northern Wales planning to make Durham by early evening, I  convinced my husband to have lunch in the village of Conwy . Sure enough the castle here - Conwy Castle - was the same one in my minds eye. We had a snack while watching  the water activity near the castle and then headed off to Liverpool to miss the afternoon rush hour.  More information this castle below. 

We continued on toward Liverpool and the drive was right along the coast with wonderful views of the Irish Sea and the Bay of Liverpool. I was glad I wasn't driving so I could see it all. As we approached Liverpool I was quite amazed by its size and massive urban sprawl. I later learned when I got home my ancestor and her siblings had lived in the area around Liverpool (Birkenhead) before coming to the US and their cousin is buried in Liverpool having died of TB while serving in WWI. Had I know any of this we would have have explored their haunts. 

 The Welsh Gods added their special magic to the day as  from this point on all the way to the Scottish/English border the sun stayed with us.  Once beyond Liverpool the traffic on the M6 seemed to thin out just beyond the exit toward Manchester. This part of England (Lancaster)  is very flat with calming pastoral scenes of farms dotted with cattle and sheep. Many freeways in the US have pedestrian bridges across the freeway and they do have them in this  part of England but... they aren't for people. As we drove along, I was too dumbfounded to take a pictures of it, but there  crossing the bridge, not once but numerous times, were herds of cattle trudging from the green grass fields on to the concrete bridges above us as they returned to their barns on the other side of the freeway at the end of the day.  

The land became more rugged in appearance and I  knew were in the Lakes District. Once we reached the mountains (hills?) that are part of the Cumbria National park in the distance, we knew we weren't far from Scotland. Though this area is called the Lakes district, from our view from M6 we sure didn't see any Lakes. Though having read a biography of Beatrix Potter I knew her  family, like so many of that era, spent their summer holidays in the district, there had to be lakes in the growingly more rustic setting.  Early in the day we decided to change our plans and  stay the next two nights in Gretna Green in Dumfriesshire Scotland, our finally destination that day. Gretna was just as easy a place to call home for the next two days while we explore Durham, the Scottish Borders and the battlefield at Flodden.  

After the tame pastoral scenes of Lancaster and northern Wales, Cumbria with its brown hills  lonely moors and growing number of sheep  was a welcome site. But seeing the sign that read WELCOME TO SCOTLAND" just beyond Carlisle was the most beautiful sight of all. Locating our small local motel, l was surprised to find the parking lot was full of decorated cars. I soon learned when we went in to greater  metropolis of Gretna Green (vbg); Gretna Green, is Scotland's version of Las Vegas- a wedding chapel on every corner. Ok at best there may be only a few corners in the tiny burgh, but weddings is the business here.  With this all this crass commercialism  for wedding, it did seem kind of anticlimactic especially after reading so many regency romances where true love was allowed to flourish.  But in all fairness to Scotland one can't solely rely golf, tartans, whisky and shortbread to bring in the tourist.  After a pleasant dinner (more fish) in a local pub we headed back to our room to crash as the day was long and the plans for the next day included Durham, Berwick and  Flodden. 

Have you ever gone to a place on a holiday and found it was a disappointment? or exceeded your expectation? 

PS. I wish everyone a happy holiday season and a joyous Hogmanay!! (new year) See you all after Christmas. 

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Irish Weekend

Typical Irish Cottage/New Furry Friends

Opps! Sorry I'm late in posting this but the holidays and all it entails got the better of me this week.  
One of the really enjoyable pluses of a trip such as this is that one gets to meet people they would might never have encountered. Staying in Bed/Breakfasts allows this to happen in a friendly non-threatening way. At breakfast Saturday morning we had the pleasure of sharing our meal with a woman who was in from London who had come over to Ireland house hunting. Seems she was selling her business and getting ready to retire. Quickly it became apparent she and my husband, a former USCG Coastie, had much in common: she was a sailor. But not just any sailor, her business was running barges on the Thames River. Not only did she own the business but she skippered some of them herself. We had a  very interesting morning meal to say the least. At the end of the meal we wished her well in her house hunting trip, envious we weren't here to do the same. But we had plans to meet our daughter's friend Cathy and her family in Bray, which is down the coast in County Wicklow.

Our daughter,while attending graduate school at Gallaudet University in Washington DC, became friends with Cathy, an Irish grad student who was there on a Fulbright Scholarship. You may not know it but Gallaudet is our national school for the Deaf (our daughter is not deaf).  Cathy, an occupational therapist in Ireland, was taking a year off of work to obtain her graduate degree. For Cathy's this was a wonderful experience to be finally in a school whose whole purpose was to accommodate the unique educational needs of the deaf. In Ireland, Cathy didn't have a sign language interpreter in elementary and secondary school and wasn't  until she fought the Irish gov't.  all the way up to the European Union did she finally get one in college.  Not only has  she been successful as an Occupational Therapist, but Cathy was able to complete her graduate degree in one year, remarkable even for a hearing student.  Cathy is q  now a lecturer in OT at Trinity College in Dublin.  We were eager to meet her and her family  after hearing about them after our daughter's trip here last Christmas. Of course  I couldn't wait also to meet her wonderful dogs (above).  Aren't they cuties, a better behaved than most children at leas the ones at our B/B.

We met Cathy and her mum Mary in their sunny Irish kitchen for tea and scones and had a good chat about our kids, our trip over  and  they helped us a plan a trip (later in the month) to the village of Avoca where the TV series BALLYKISSANGEL was filmed. Then Cathy took us down to Wicklow to see her new cottage which sets on a wildlife reserve right on the water; her views of Wicklow Bay and the Wicklow Mts are incredible.  After that I headed back to my B/B to read and do some prep work for my family history archival work while in Scotland while  Mark and Cathy were off for the afternoon of golf and dinner with her dad and brother at her course up in the Wicklow Hills. My husband enjoyed the fact someone else was driving as most roads thru the hills are extremely narrow. He did have to chuckle more than once because even if it was a track for one car they painted a white line down the middle of the road. Irish hope is eternal.  He returned late that evening tired but charged up with experience of playing golf in Ireland. I had a PBJ sandwich and some crisps while watching Irish tv, though I didn't have a clue what was going on because of the language. 

The next day we were up bright and early and leaned that our B/B wouldn't take our EURO travelers checks ( dumb idea, won't do that again) so off to the only place that had a money exchange open on a Sunday, the airport.  The drive was pleasant until we reached the outskirts of Dublin and the traffic became horrendous. Add to this is was raining, not the gentle mist that makes those famous fifty shakes of green in Ireland, but a downpour that our windshield wipers could barely keep up with. After an hour at the airport, we decided to take a Greyline tour of Dublin and just chill out the rest of the day as we were to leave for Scotland on the morning tide and it would be a long day of driving through  four countries until we settled in for the night somewhere near Durham, England.

Entering the Temple Bar area we were surprised to see so many people on the street, many of whom were in green and gold. Well it was a Sunday in Sept, and back home wearing  green and gold was the rule rather than the exception: Packer fans !!! But what really surprised me was people were standing on the sidewalk three and four deep as if waiting for a parade, but these people also were drinking, and not from brown paper bags. We couldn't find a place to park as the crowds along the street seemed to grow and finally we pulled off and asked a local Garda (police) what was going on. He just grinned when he heard our accents and told us it was the Gaelic Football Championship,  think Super Bowl here in the US and you have an idea of the craziness that was going on. Apparently Kerry ( green/gold) was playing Cork for the title.  We scrapped our plan to stay in Dublin and headed back to Dun Laoghaire for dinner at wonderful local pub, one Cathy told us about as she frequented it in her youthful party days. The food was wonderful, I had the most incredible fish, the best of our entire trip. As this was a bit of family pub too they had a big screen tv on with Rugby on and a few of the locals at the next table were kind enough to help  us understand the rules. I have to say, the whole trip when ever I could, I tried to catch a game on tv.  I could easily become a Rugby fan: think soccer meets American football and deliciously buff men in tight shorts who aren't afraid of a little piling on .  After this great meal we headed back to our B/B to have a quiet evening but apparently our hosts teenage son and daughter had other ideas. For two solid hours they had screaming fits with their parents and each other. I was shocked at the behavior of the hosts who were equally yelling right back at their kids, it was embarrassing as all the guests hid in their rooms. We wouldn't be returning to this place at the end of our trip when we returned to Ireland before heading home.

We started this trip for new experiences but our experience in this B/B could have put us off Ireland, thankfully we had days at the end of the trip to redeem the Irish portion of the trip. In my next post its Wales, and England with Scotland around the corner, hope you can come back. Anyone want to share  a horror  story they have had in a B/B or hotel while on holiday?

Monday, December 10, 2007

A cyber tour of Ireland

Photo Album of Dublin/Dun Laoghaire: 

Dublin Post Office 



                 Dun Laoghaire 

If you can't visit Ireland anytime soon, one fun way to visit is through the marvels of cybernetworks-- webcams. I created a list of ones that I enjoy, but remember we are 6 hours behind them (5 for East Coast and 8 for the West Coast) so you want to catch them early in the day our time.    

Web Cams


University of Dublin/Trinity College



Sunday, December 9, 2007

IRELAND: First leg of our Journey

When I began to plan this trip, which was last year's Christmas present from my husband Mark, I think he thought a couple of weeks in Scotland would pacify me. Yet, when we started to compare airfare we found  flying to Scotland via Glasgow airport was kind of pricey compared to past trips (and don't get me started on the exchange rate). Our daughter, who traveled last Christmas to Dublin, thought we should check with Aer Lingus and sure enough they were not only the cheapest, but had a direct flight from Chicago to Dublin. Of course that posed the problem, how would we get over to Scotland? No Ryan Air, or ValueJet for us as my husband was taking his golf clubs along. 

During my last trip to the UK, we traveled from London to Edinburgh to Dublin and back to London, via the train and to be honest, I missed the freedom to strike out on our own and not worry about schedules and connections. So after much discussion, alright to be honest I told him my suggestions while he was watching the Golf Channel, as I knew he would agree to it all if I would just leave him alone. And what started out as a two week holiday of family research and golf, turned into a 32 day vacation to Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England, all to be seen from the luxury of our own car. 

The car posed the first problem, one can't rent a car in the Republic of Ireland and take it over to the UK or visa versa. We had planned to take the "fast" Stena Car Ferry from Dun Loaghaire to Holyhead, Wales and then drive across northern Wales, then up through England to Durham before we headed to Scotland. We had two options:1) go to Belfast to rent a car (Northern Ireland being part of the UK) and then taking the ferry to Scotland or 2) rent a car at Holyhead, through Hertz (our only choice). We initially took the 2nd choice until a good friend and romance author, Kimberlee, an American ex-pat who lives in Cork, arranged for us to rent a car we could take into the UK, but we had to pay for breakdown service which would be refunded when we returned the car. We jumped at the chance, which in hindsight we should have thought more about, but more on this in later posts. 

In mid September my brother drove us from Wisconsin to Chicago's Ohare airport. As seasoned travelers, (snicker) we know taking an early evening flight will get one into the UK/Ireland early the next day and by jumping right into activities it helps one to stem the tide of jet lag. The thought of being trapped on a plane in seats only comfortable for people under 5'3" was daunting, (and a real test for closeness on our 34 years of marriage) but I brought along the Historic Scotland tour guide to read and my Ipod full of Scottish and Irish songs and podcasts to listen to. Oddly enough I was actually able to sleep a bit and we arrived in Dublin at 5:30 am, almost 45 minutes early. 

The airport is very small by American standards but at least the Customs Agent was friendly and joked about our harried condition. We slagged our luggage on two carts, darn golf clubs and headed to the car rental desk. All I thought of was finding a place where I could lay down flat and get the kinks out, even the floor in the terminal which hadn't been washed in weeks had a certain appeal. Two and half hours later we were on way to the bus stop to catch the van to the car rental yard. The sky which was completely dark when we landed was now a steel gray with slivers of pale pink light peeking through the clouds and the streets were awash with rain. The air smelled sweet and fresh, but at that moment in the morning we would have traded  our first born grandchild (if we had one) for some Starbucks coffee. 

Having driven in Ireland before on my own,  I watched Mark cringe at the way some of the locals were driving including our van driver. Mark hadn't driven on the "wrong" side of the road since our trip to Scotland in 1994, but the Irish are not the well mannered drivers  one finds in Scotland and the UK. I often wonder if they use driving as a form of birth control, speed limits are suggestions rather than the rule.  We pulled into the drive and saw our car waiting for us, Now, I'm used to driving small cars but after a long flight in a seat left over from the Spanish Inquisition, the thought of getting in that car made me want to cry.  After a walk around and assurances that we knew how to drive on the "wrong" side of the road, we were off heading away from Dublin toward Dun Laoghaire to the south an our B/B. Of course, we quickly learned that the concept of "street" signs is foreign to the Irish (are they naming the street or the building? who knew?) and we couldn't find the B/B. We called for directions but the number I had was for the booking agent, not the B/B. So we drove around town, as my husband got madder and madder at me because it was the one accommodation I didn't Google directions for before leaving home. Being trapped in the plane together for 8 hours and then in the car was too much for him, so he went in search of a phonebook, totally nonexistent thanks to cellphones and I found a bookstore, ah!!!
Finally Mark returned, though I'm sure he had second thoughts about leaving me there and finding a golf course. He had gotten directions and we found the B/B about 20 minutes later. Unfortunately, they didn't have the room ready as they had promised and with much whining on my part to anyone who would listen (which was nobody) they promised it would be ready in an hour, so we headed off to lunch at a local pub. I don't remember much of that meal, I think it was fish but I do know there were no peas, the dreaded vegetable from the last trip to Ireland.  Finally at 2' o'clock they let us in our room. I crashed on the bed, clothes, shoes and all and didn't wake up until the next day, the hell with jet lag.  My husband went out and got the lay of the land, called my daughter's friend and family to let them know we made it across the pond and set plans for golf the next day.   More on the Irish saga in the next post. 

Does this travel experience touch a cord with anyone? Please  share your flight experiences. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

My Scottish Journey

My first yearning to visit Scotland began in 1992 when I finished reading Diane Galabadon's OUTLANDER. After years of working, going to college part time  and raising my kids, I finally had time to read historical fiction. I fell in love from cover to cover, more with Scotland's history than with the charming Jamie Fraser. I knew from family history we were Scots/Irish and had always had, oddly enough, a love for the skirl of the pipes. But it wasn't until my sister asked me if I would like help with some family research, that the real possibility of traveling to Scotland formed.

After two years of struggling through files/films of fiche at the local LDS Family History Center, I learned my great great grandparents (William Clarke and Isabella Mctaggart) had come from the tiny parish of Rerrick, Kirkcudbright, located in the southwest corner of Scotland called Galloway. At first I was disappointed they were Lowlanders, but it took only one visit in 1994 to change my mind and heart. Traveling the rolling hills filled with sheep and the ever green landscape, I understood why my ancestors settled for the gentle farmland of southern Wisconsin; so much like "hame". During that first visit we actually found the house where  my gggrandmother was born creating an incredible feeling of longing and belonging. 

Since that first visit I have been fortunate enough to travel to Scotland two more times, most recently this fall. Part of this recent visit was to use the National Archives in Edinburgh and to visit with my professors at the University of Dundee, where I am enrolled in an online archival program. I'll share more about the visit to the archives in future postings as well as my experiences (and pictures, if I can figure out how to do this) of this past trip as well as past trips to Scotland, Ireland, Wales and England. I also want to share what is happening in Scotland today, which seems to slip under the radar of the American media.  

Anyone else have experience doing family research in Scotland? Care to  share it.