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St. Declan and the Cliff Walk

Jan in her wellies. Photo by David Lansing.

Before we head out on the Cliff Walk, Honor suggests that we put on a pair of wellies provided by the hotel. “It’ll be a bit slippery out there,” she says.

I might put on some wellies but just glancing at the stacks of green boots in the wet room, it’s clear nothing will fit my rather large feet. Just as well. They’d probably make me look like a potato farmer. Jan’s wellies, however, make her look quite stylish.

It’s gray out. And drizzling. (When is it not gray and wet in Ireland?) Honor leads us down a gravel path lined with wild garlic. The scent is overpowering. A few minutes later we’re standing beside some old stone ruins. St. Declan’s oratory—a little church originally built around the 8th century on the site of Declan’s monastery.

St. Declan, Honor tells us, was one of the first Irish saints. “He came before St. Patrick.” What they say about Declan is that he established a firm toe-hold for Christianity in the southern parts of Ireland back in the 5th century but it was Patrick that sowed the seeds across the land.

Near the oratory are more stone ruins. The site of a sacred well. The well is far older than Christianity in Ireland, going back to the days of the pagan goddesses who guarded and oversaw the proper use of things like water and food. Then Declan and the Christians came along and co-opted the well and its pagan ceremonies, replacing them with what’s called a “Pattern.”

A Pattern is a series of ritualistic events (like how we celebrate Christmas). The Pattern in Ardmore is held on St. Declan’s feast day, July 24, when thousands of people gather to circle this well while reciting a specific sequence and number of prayers before being allowed to take water from the well. Which is then either drank to cure what ails you or taken home where you might dip your fingers in it every morning before saying your prayers. Or anoint a sick child.

It’s all a little crazy, of course, but then so are most of the strange little rituals of all religions. That, however, doesn’t stop some in our group from reverently dipping a hand in to the well and drinking the mossy green water. Including me. Just in case.

The ruins of an oratory built on the site of St. Declan’s monastery on the clifftops of Ardmore (Ard Mor means Great Height). Photo by David Lansing.

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Derk and the spa ladies

Derk Richardson

Derk getting a manicure after high tea at Cork’s Hayfield Manor. Photo by David Lansing.

So I mentioned yesterday that while we were having high tea at Hayfield Manor in Cork, Lisa Leahy, our host, also offered up the services of two of her spa manicurists (I’m not sure that’s a word—manicurist—but let’s go with it). No manicures for me. I bite my nails (yes, I know, disgusting). But I was curious about how this would work. Who, I wondered, was going to be the first lady to quickly down her tea and run over to the spa ladies to get her nails done?

Actually, it wasn’t a woman; it was Derk Richardson, an editor from AFAR magazine in San Francisco. I like Derk and I’ve been trying to get something in AFAR since they first came out a few years ago, so I did what any ambitious writer would do: I grabbed my camera, ran to the spa table, and snapped several pics of Derk getting his nails done. Not by one manicurist, mind you, but by two!

But Derk wasn’t cooperating; he was scowling at me. “Listen, Derk,” I said as I continued shooting, “I’m going to use these photos for blackmail. Either you give me an assignment or I publish these babies.”

That made him laugh. But he still hasn’t given me an assignment. So I have no choice but to publish…and probably perish.

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High tea at Hayfield Manor, Cork

Hayfield Manor in Cork, Ireland.

Lisa, who works at Hayfield Manor in Cork, has invited us to tea. Not like a cup of tea or something but the full on high tea with a three-tiered silver serving dish full of little triangle sandwiches and smoked salmon on rye bread and an assortment of little tarts and cakes and such. Oh, and some tea…after the champagne.

Lisa has strawberry blond hair and blue eyes and is gorgeous but that’s not why I love her. I love her because when we first met at Ballymaloe and I asked her where in Cork I should go to get the famous Cork clove rock candy that I’m addicted to she went and found some and gave me four jars of the stuff. That alone is enough to make me be in her debt forever.

So she invites us all to tea at Hayfield and tells us she has a little treat for us. I’m secretly hoping it’s more clove rock candy but instead she’s had a couple of manicurists come down from the spa and tells us that if anyone wants to get a manicure when they’re done with their tea, they’re more than welcome.

Wow. Smoked salmon, champagne, tea, and a manicure. This is why I love Lisa. And want to do something for her but I can’t think of what. Until she starts talking about her daughter, Belle, who is crazy about all things related to Disney’s Toy Story. “She’s got just about all of the dolls,” Lisa says. “Buzz Lightyear, Woody, Jessie. About the only one we haven’t been able to find is that silly horse, Bullseye.”

So that’s it. When I get home I must see if I can find a Bullseye doll. And then ship it off to Belle in Cork. Clove candy for a Bullseye. A good trade, I think.

High tea at Hayfield Manor in Cork. Photo by David Lansing.

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Crane Lane in Cork

Another letter from Katie Botkin’s travels in Ireland:

Crane Lane in Cork, Ireland. Photo by Katie Botkin.

After Counihan’s Mary and I head across the street to Crane Lane, a big place with hanging plants above the outdoor walkways and frequent live music. I’d been there a few nights previously with Mary and Emily and Nicole, the last two of whom have returned to England since then. It was that evening that Mary decided to christen Emily Five-Foot due to her height, and some ill-fated Irishman overheard and decided that gave him leeway to use her head as a table for his drink. He kept insisting that she cooperate, and she kept telling him in exasperation that she was not going to allow it.

This evening, things are considerably more quiet. We sit at tables and talk above the noise. Once again, we stay out until the place closes. Once again, the music stopping gives the males in the place one last surge of adrenaline, and they try to make conversation as we’re being swept out the door. One fellow asks me where I’m from. “Idaho,” I say “I bet you don’t know where that is.”

“I know Josh Ritter wrote a song about it,” he replies, and before I can compliment him on his taste in music, we’re separated by a wave of people, and I’m outside on the sidewalk, jumping up and down in the chill. Slightly to my right, lo and behold, there’s the other Katie from Idaho. Maybe she’s the reason the boy in the bar knew about Josh Ritter. But then, I kind of doubt it.

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Another letter from Katie Botkin about her adventures in Ireland.

Soon enough, I feel the need to get up from the table and find the ladies’ room. As I go in, I catch a glimpse of a blonde girl in the mirror as she stands at the sink washing her hands. She looks like someone I know. For the next minute, in the stall, I’m trying to remember who. Maybe she looks like someone famous. And then I remember: she looks almost exactly like a girl I’ve seen in yoga class a few times in my town of 10,000 people. I bolt out of the stall to get a better look at her, trying not to seem creepy. And sure enough, it looks like her identical twin.

“Are you from Sandpoint?” I blurt out.

“How’d you know that?” she asks, obviously startled.

“I’m in your yoga class,” I say, still trying not to be creepy. “Hot yoga. The one Noelle teaches.”

She doesn’t know who I am, but it doesn’t matter. “I’m Katie,” she introduces herself.

“I’m Katie, too,” I say, and I laugh. What are the odds?

So we go downstairs, and of course we take a picture together and tell our mutual friends about it, and then they meet each other. And we go back to drinking our Irish stout.

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