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Entries about maynooth

Day 3: May-lin-felt?

in which your author buys things and doesn't buy things and revisits another site of old glory

semi-overcast 63 °F

Day 3 – a travel day! Mostly. Especially after the previous night’s shenanigans at the middle-of-nowhere pub, I find myself still with the urge to sleep in; one of the great joys of traveling solo is the freedom to do this. After Tom whips up a bevy of suggestions for Madrid, I say my fond farewells to my terrific hosts and their rollicking trio of dogs. One of the great joys of being in the arts is having the chance to work with and meet such good and hospitable people. Get ye to Boston with the quickness, dear friends!


The drive to Dublin is uneventful and I follow the suggestion to park the rental car in a lot. I only have a few hours here but am in the mood for slow browsing; the open St. George’s Mall provides this. I spend about twenty minutes at an antiquarian book shop; I ask for anything on John Doyle O’Reilly, whose memorial I had seen the previous day, and the proprietor brings out a massive first edition volume. Two hundred Euro is far too rich for my blood (not to mention this thing would take up half my suitcase), but it’s fun to look at. I also pass on an (overpriced) play version of J.P. Dunleavy’s The Ginger Man, a quintessential Dublin novel which I’ve been reading on and off over the past year. I grab some Mediterranean food in a box, then end up purchasing a red-striped shirt on clearance (5 Euro) from a nifty vintage store. It’s lightweight so will ball up in my suitcase nicely. I wrap things up with a pint of Beamish stout and an hour of writing at Grogan’s Castle Lounge, a relaxed traditional pub with dim lighting and more greyed men fixed at the bar like signposts. With about 40 minutes left before my rate kicks up another notch, I briskly walk down to Brogan’s Bar (these rhyming names do get confusing), where Jo and Tom took the Swampoodle cast on our last night in Ireland, and where a picture was taken of me that I still use as a profile pic. (I also visited here with Dan, Amy, and Graci on my last trip, capturing an photo of an unfortunate woman with toilet paper stuck to her jeans, and spent New Year's Eve with Amy at Peader Kearney's pub next door.) The bar is empty but the bartender is welcoming; I grab a half pint of Guinness, sit and write, surrounded by all manner of Guinness advertising. Just as I left the place. I take another selfie before popping in for a falafel to go next door – the Lebanese proprietor is extremely friendly and curious about my vegetarianism. I tell him I expect to see him still in business there in about two years.


I race back to the car and after a wee bit of drama with the parking lot attendant I retrieve the car after four hours (16 Euro, ugh) and head out toward the North. It takes a good hour just to get out of Dublin on the M4 but once I’m on the motorway it’s smooth riding up through Belfast (including a stop to get a flat white and a delicious white chocolate Magnum ice cream bar) and on to Magherafelt, small town in County Derry and the site of the infamous “Flax 4” escapade of my last trip to Ireland in January 2014. Mark Madden – along with Jo and Tom, a sold contender for Ireland’s Resident Hospitality Ambassador – has become a great friend after that trip, having been to the US a few times since, where he was exposed (literally) to a French Maid’s race in Washington, DC, and the first Solas Nua in Boston staged reading I put up at The Burren in Somerville. It’s amazing the serendipity borne only of travel can form connections that last a lifetime.

I pass by and wave hello to The Flax Inn upon entering Magherafelt, about 45 minutes west of Belfast; the correct pronunciation of the town (Jo was coaching me) is something like “Marrafelt.” Mark has moved to a new house since last I was here, and I settle in. We head out and pop in at Bryson’s, site of the late-night music session where I serendipitously made my Irish singing debut in 2014. It’s so wild to be back here.


We catch up and keep moving, next to Mary’s, an absolutely gorgeous and ornate Victorian-style pub with massive mirrors, French Nouveau art, and dim-lit corners with soft burgundy sofas. We get in an extended chat with the manager who gives me a tour and tells me to check out the Merchant Hotel cocktail bar in Belfast. (Which, time traveling ahead two days, is actually my next stop, as I’m writing this from the MAC in Belfast right now.)


We close down the place – this being a Monday night we’re really the only patrons at this point anyway – and head back. I end up staying up until close to 5am watching the DNC speeches including Michelle Obama’s. She is such a gift. (#Michelle2024!) Getting to sleep this late doesn’t portend well for an early morning…

Posted by coolmcjazz 07:37 Archived in Northern Ireland Tagged dublin magherafelt maynooth Comments (2)

Day 2: When in Dowth...

in which your author revisits an old haunt and conquers a paleolithic thing

rain 62 °F

Day 2: Maynooth, Ireland

Sleep, glorious sleep! After reacquainting myself with it, I get up around 10am, have some French pressed coffee and toast with honey and Kerrygold (all bread in Ireland is automatically delicious) and ask Tom and Jo about where to take a run. I’ve brought sneakers and will insist on running every other day over this trip – it’s so easy to eat and drink and I figure running will be a good way of seeing things. “The archive of the feet,” quoth historian Simon Schama, quoted in the paper I gave on Day 1.

Tom suggests we head over to Castletown House, site of our development week in January 2011, where I was so excited to return even if only for a brief walk. (Kinda fun to click back to the entries for our rehearsal week at Castletown House, found Right. Here. On. This. Very. Blog!) Castletown is a stunning, vast estate, like something out of Downton Abbey. I have such fond memories of being here and spending five consecutive days exploring structured creativity for 8 hours a day. Yoga warmups and those dreaded planks (great for the core!) first thing in the morning, and self-directed mini-projects in groups: click above for more, but suffice to say one of the touchstone artistic experiences of my life.


I run close to three miles – literally that’s only part of the distance around the place – popping into the front hallway for a little bit and over to the mini-castle where I stayed that week. Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones plays randomly on my MapMyRun app as I peered through the spider-webbed windows. I would love to come back and stay overnight again some day. Jason McCool, Professional Purveyor of Personal Nostalgia.

I run back to the estate – last time I was here, running to the estate required trudging through cold, wed mud but in the intervening years they’ve cleaned it up, even installing a few bridges. We drive back to the house, I shower and head out to try to get a bit of writing done before we embark on a mini-road trip to Newgrange. The walk into Maynooth takes about 10-15 minutes; it’s colder here than in New England and there’s an ever-present threat of drizzle. I get to Bon Bon Café , order some veggie focaccia and a sweet frappe and commence attempting to catch up with my promise to write daily; mostly, I spend time booking an Airbnb to Madrid where I’m flying Thursday night. Tom picks me up and we pick up his nephew Kilian, stopping to visit with Jo’s brother, whose other tyke sports a Red Sox t-shirt!

We’re heading to Newgrange, one of the oldest and most popular archeological sites in the entire Celtic world. Still fighting jetlag, I struggle to stay awake for much of the 45-or-so minute trip. Kilian is precious, to say the least; when I ask “How do you like growing up in this part of Ireland?” he practically gushes about al the things he gets to do and his sports leagues and friends. I sense a career in politics for this young lad.

Unfortunately, Newgrange is sold out for the day; apparently, because it’s newly a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they have to cap the number of people on each tour, and reservations fill up early every morning. (The woman at the check-in counter says once they expand to online ticket sales, the reservations will probably start four months in advance!) I tell the worst #dadjoke of all time: “If Newgrange is 5,000 years old, imagine how old Oldgrange must be!”

Undeterred, we take in a mini-tour with dioramas about Paleolithic people (they were just like us but smaller! And probably also would have no real use for Pokemon Go) and a short film about how Newgrange was set up to reflect the angle of the sun, then walk around the grounds a bit. (The shot of the diorama looks like I took it from a hot air balloon far above it, amirite?)


Tom has the idea to drive to a spot where we can actually view the site (lamenting the days when one could simply jump over the hedge and walk around), and it’s pretty cool to see the place: a raised circular mound within which exist intricate tunnels and all manner of ceremonial carvings.


We arrive at another site, that of Dowth, which is one of three Paleolithic sites; this one is in bad disrepair and is rarely visited – which to me makes it like the hipster version of Paleolithic ceremonial sites – mostly due to a bunch of pseudo-archeologists having decided to blow off the top of the mound using dynamite back in the 1850s. Apparently this caused the top to collapse inward; we walked around the upper ridge and looked below us and it felt like a sort of mini-mountain designed by elves. We spotted a few gates presumably leading into “the inside,” but all were blocked off. Crouching down close to one gate, we instantly felt the cold. We could spot rock carvings, fenced off from the public, on one side of the mound. A shaggy sparkplug of a dog lumbered all around us the whole time, including when we crossed a grassy field to explore on old graveyard adjacent to the hollowed-out remains of an ancient church.


Come to find out there was a celebrity burial – or at least monument – here. Poet John Doyle O’Reilly (unbeknownst to me) was born in the tower abutting this church in 1844, and after he was exiled from Ireland for becoming a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, he moved to Boston, where he published The Pilot, the first Catholic newspaper in America. He’s actually buried in Hull, MA, but there’s a monument to him here at his birthplace. Apparently, he was John F. Kennedy’s favorite Irish poet, and JFK quoted him during his trip to Ireland in 1963. There’s also a memorial to him by noted sculptor Daniel Chester French in the Fenway area of Boston, which I will make a point to check out when I return home! We climb through the dilapidated old church which actually has old, crumbling graves inside it. The sense of forgotten history here is overwhelming.


On the way back we stop in Slane at the birthplace of Francis Ledwidge, terrific Irish poet sadly killed 17 days before his 30th birthday at the Battle of Ypres during World War I. My great-great-grandmother’s mother (on my father’s side) was a Sarah Ledweedge, so there’s a chance I’m distantly related to him. Seamus Heaney was a big fan. There’s a rich sense of literary imagery, history, and presence everywhere you go in this country.


We drop off the young lad, drive back to Maynooth, and talk about evening plans. After being given free reign in Jo and Tom’s liquor cabinet I improvise a cocktail borrowing a line from Swampoodle, according to the following recipe:

2 oz gin (we used Bombay Sapphire East)
0.75 oz gentian liquor (they had this delicious Italian stuff but Aveze or Suze would also work)
0.5 oz lavender simple syrup
0.25 oz fresh lemon
splash of club soda
fresh lemon balm (from the garden!)
luxardo maraschino cherry


Dublin seems too ambitious after a long weekend for everyone, so Jo proposes a short trip: “how do you feel about a pub in the middle of nowhere?” Always, always.

Maria joins us and we drive the winding, narrow roads, passing the field where Jo and Tom were married some fourteen years prior. Fagan’s is truly in the middle of nowhere, and is set up oddly: a long horizontal structure divided into three portions – a dank, ancient feeling space with TVs on the left, on the right, a living room with couches and books, packed to the gills with about 20 people who all know one another, and the middle section which only fits about 8. Maria leaves to pick up Stephanie, German-born mother of future politician Kiiian. We settle ourselves in and have a few pints of Guinness, interrupted at one point by a representative of the local GAA football club who sells us raffle tickets to the weekly “Ball Buster” drawing in which we could win over 1,000 Euro for correctly picking the four digits which come up on the yellow balls in the machine he carts around. None of us win, but it’s a good story. We talk about regional dialects and eat numerous bags of crisps and discuss the American election and family dynamics and Tom demonstrates the inhaling sound the Irish allegedly make when they’re listening to stories and it’s all good craic. Walking to the car, the Big Dipper is overwhelmingly bright.


Back in Maynooth, I catch up on the political news of the day (what the hell did the DNC do now?!) and it’s off to bed. Just as, gentle reader, I ought to head to bed now – it’s 2:30am local time from Magherafelt on Day 3 (I write these entries the day after, dontcha know?) and I’m yet again, exhausted. But also, exhilarated. I love traveling. I love how travel mars you as “someone who is about to travel” for days and weeks prior to your trip – and now here I am and everything is flying by so very quickly. Until the morrow – there is much to tell!

Posted by coolmcjazz 10:19 Archived in Ireland Tagged dowth newgrange maynooth Comments (1)

Day 1: May(nooth) the Road Rise to Meet

in which your author lights a fire under his wanton, atrophying urge to travel

semi-overcast 75 °F

It’s been so long – too long – since I’ve launched myself out into the world and tried to write about it. When last I wrote in this blog I was wrapping up a trip through Ireland and Edinburgh with my brother and good friends in January 2014; I’ve only traveled domestically since then. And when I was forwarded a notice about a conference opportunity in Maynooth, Ireland – where I presently tap away ensconced at a friendly, sunny café – I thought applying and attending might give me a decent reason to get back out there and to see some old friends. And here I am!

The trip began with some rough timing issues, having missed my initial flight (due to an unfortunate combination of my leaving too late and horrific traffic patterns outside Logan Airport; it took almost 90 minutes to drive 1.5 miles), I was rerouted to Charlotte, NC the next day where I was granted juuuust enough time to leave the airport for a couple hours. My friend Kristin picked me up and provided a mini-tour featuring a terrific brewery with delicious food and a delightful 24-hour French bakery with facsimiles of famous paintings on the wall. (Well played, Charlotte.)


Flying on an overnight to Dublin, I’m dismayed to find out my flight is delayed two hours, which causes me to miss my 9:30am speaking slot at Maynooth University. I’m able to finagle an internet signal, send a message indicating my delay, and they end up shifting me slightly forward in the day, so not a big deal. The flight is unremarkable – everyone’s reading newspapers bleating about that atrocious RNC our nation just endured – I spend a good deal of it catching up on some academic writing while listening to Bach and sleep maybe two hours. Right before I get to customs, a notification comes through on my phone that Hillary Clinton has picked Tim Kaine as her VP – oddly, I was in Ireland when Barack Obama announced Joe Biden (“my guy”) on my first trip here in 2008. #ImWIthThem, obviously. OBVIOUSLY.

I rent a car – so far, so good, Sixt, who doesn’t have enough automatics and therefore upgrades me to a BMW – and after a slight adjust to the “driving on the wrong side of the car and road” thing, I arrive at Maynooth University, an impressive place. I sit through a paper on Breaking Bad and after a short break, give mine. The delivery goes well, methinks – there’s only about 15 people in the room but I have so much travel adrenaline and after giving this paper at UNC-Asheville and Harvard over the past two years I fly through things confidently. Everyone is pleasant and I hear a few interesting papers (including a talk on keynote from a woman who teaches at Tufts, right in my backyard!) but after being up for over 24 hours with hardly any sleep I’m clearly the least attentive person in the room. I say my farewells and beeline toward the nearest available bed.


Jo and Tom are theatre friends from my days working with Solas Nua in DC. They envisioned and executed one of the most special works of art I’ve been a part of in Swampoodle, a non-linear retelling of the Irish history of the same-named neighborhood in Washington, tucked behind Union Station. They co-run The Performance Corporation, one of the most audacious theatre companies in Europe, infamous for having produced plays in rowboats and parking garages. Knowing they lived in Maynooth where the conference was to be held made applying all the more attractive, and they were so kind to offer their spare room for the few days I planned on being here.

I settle in and say hello including to three exuberant, fluffy dogs named Glosster, Eva, and Puppy, who is sick. Tom and Jo head off to a wedding, though Jo’s sister Maria sticks around, from Maynooth but lives in Italy except back at home during the hot Italian summer; she’s lovely and cordial and as we chat I push through my obvious 5-hour jetlag and overall lack of sleep. I decide to plop down for 25 minutes under the express agreement with myself I won’t make the same mistake I made on my first solo trip which is to maintain American sleep hours and not adjust until the third day. Near miraculously, I only sleep twenty or so minutes past the alarm and drag myself up for a walk into town.


I pop in at Brady’s, a local corner pub in fairly docile Maynooth, grab a corner seat (always my favorite) and enjoy my first Guinness back in the auld sod. The sharp, bracing tang – it’s true, it’s better here than in the US – is familiar and darkly welcoming. The men positioned around the pub are older and planted like roots, friendly but guarded, there to gossip about not very much; a few fold their arms across their chests like statesmen at portrait seatings. I ask: “Where’s the craic tonight, gents?” “Here,” one says blankly, sans irony. Their shirts seem almost deliberately varied in color: stark red, striped blue, canary yellow, an Irish pub sponsored by Damon Runyon. A fierce competition of darts is broadcast on two TV sets. I ask a few innocuous questions for which I receive answers, but there are no great conversations to be had here tonight.


I finish my pint and wander around the Main Street a bit, ending up inside a more boisterous, crowded pub. I have a local red ale, McGargle’s (that can’t be a real name, can it?). Tom tells me that as of late, Ireland’s craft beer scene is expanding far beyond Guinness, who sometimes appear a benefactor of the entire island. I read a bit from Stage Door, the 1933 classic play I’m directing in September, and a fellow cranks up the guitar, singing a few decent songs but mostly the ones drunk administrators want to hear: Wonderwall, Proud Mary, Hotel California. He looks like so many bar entertainers in this country: closely cropped hair, piercing voice, aggressive delivery. A fella could use a tin whistle.

I walk back to Jo and Tom’s, eventually figuring out the feel of the lock (!) and crash into bed. My first day is behind me and I have two weeks of exploring ahead of me. Keep checking in, friends!

Posted by coolmcjazz 09:50 Archived in Ireland Tagged maynooth Comments (1)

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