When in Dublin…

…do as the Dubliners do, which in our case meant enjoy the pubs! While the Irish generally bemoan their reputation as drinkers, the fact is they have a pub culture that serves them well both as social gathering spots and places to find really “lovely” brews. No doubt much of Ireland’s great literature first flowed from pen to paper in many of these establishments. If I spent more time over there, I’d do a great deal of writing in the cozy comfort of these places. Not sure it would do my liver much good, but most likely my muse would be happy.

Although I never personally liked Guinness before, on this trip I discovered this oversight was due to only tasting Guinness here in the states. Guinness pints poured in Dublin pubs bear little resemblance to what American bars attempt to pass as Guinness. Ostriches love GuinnessThis grave dilemma is not entirely our fault, since Guinness is brewed in Dublin and thus far fresher, and worshiped fanatically via attention to details that make all the difference in the taste. On our return to the states we tried three different places in Keene to see if the black, velvet-headed wonders available locally compared favorably to those we enjoyed in Ireland. Sadly, the American version is weaker, lacks body, and in most cases, has an unsettling metallic taste. In Dublin, a very active Guinness Quality Team, who drives about in snappy black vans (see below), ensures clean keg pipes while no doubt flogging publicans who pour the black improperly. When the love of the brew approaches (nay, rivals) religious fervor, no detail is too small, apparently.

Quality Team

Had a delightful evening one Saturday night in Dublin’s Market Bar visiting with Irish bloggers our host had assembled. While the conversation ranged topically all over the map, one interesting side discussion evolved around the Irish pub culture compared to American bars, clubs, and beer joints. Pub culture seems intrinsic in Irish life, not only evidenced from how many there are, but in how they serve as gathering places on the way to other evening delights (as well as pure destinations). One way or another, a typical Dubliner’s day includes a Pub somehow, somewhere.

dringk11.jpgWe saw plaques festooned with James Joyce’s likeness on quite a few pubs (click to see a larger image to read the text), and laughed at the irony of “A good puzzle would be to cross Ireland without passing a pub.” Fact is, it’s hard to walk down even a Dublin street without seeing at least one pub, and likely two or three in close proximity to each other. I’m not sure what constitutes an “authentic Irish pub” other than being in Ireland and serving Guinness, but some criteria exists since these plaques weren’t bestowed to every pub we passed, just a lot of ’em.

Mind the cliffAn interesting part of traveling into another culture is seeing how they use graphics and signage to inform locals of dangers or provide useful information. Mind the harborSince drinking seems to be a national pastime in Ireland, it’s no wonder some of their signage seems to be intended for those citizens who might have a “wee too much” of their beloved Guinness or whiskey. Mind the stepAlthough non-drinkers certainly can trip, walk off a cliff, or drive into the harbor, it seems more likely the happy pubber needs this extra level of protection from these accidental activities.

And as the rest of the pictures show, we enjoyed the locally brewed Guinness whenever possible, and took advantage of the delightful pub food whenever possible: comfort food at its finest. Whether we enjoyed Irish stews, Shepard’s pies, or beef and Guinness pies, all tasted wonderful and sated our desire to “eat locally” whenever we could. Nothing is quite as depressing as visiting a place like Dublin and bumping into McDonald’s and the like, which I try to avoid like the plague (always prefer to taste local fare whenever possible). But the best part, to me, of pubs in Ireland is that they are now all smoke-free, which made for delightful visits without leaving smelling like an ash tray. Wish our bars here in America followed that same sane approach, although I’ve yet to visit one that had the ambiance and pull that enticed me to come in, sit down, enjoy a few pints of cold, properly poured, Guinness with hot comfort food, and maybe even pen a few pages of that one-day-a-great novel. Such delights are for the having in a good Irish pub.

Pub with Toucan

All empty

Galway pub

Another Galway pub

Dún Dúhathair

Dún Dúchathair

The circular stone inner rings of Dún Dúchathair, the Black Fort, on Inis Mor island in the Aran Islands in County Galway off the west coast of Ireland inspired this post. We explored the cliffs and sterile landscape around this ancient fort of unknown purpose. Experts aren’t sure whether Dún Dúchathair was ceremonial or defensive, but to us it was truly impressive. Backed by sheer cliffs to the North Sea on three sides, and a sharp, rocky approach on the fourth, an enemy would have to be incredibly determined to even attempt a siege of this position.

Most tourists to this rocky island of hardy Irish tend to visit Dún Aonghasa, the more popular (and more advertised) fort ruins on Inis Mor. As I had read ahead of our visit, the reward for the effort of the long, somewhat challenging walk to Dún Dúchathair over rocky terrain and through a landscape veined with more manmade rock pasture walls that we could count, is a decided lack of people exploring the site. This benefit held true, as there were only a handful of people there as we carefully climbed around the sharp and plentiful monotone rock. Sitting by the cliff’s edge and contemplating the fort in a silence that only comes with few people around, surrounded by the soft surf sounds, occassional sea bird call, and the gentle wind made the experience all the better.

Dún Dúchathair

Dún Dúchathair

The location is nothing short of stunning, but a bit daunting whenever we walked near the edge of the precipice surrounding this area. The final panorama picture below can be clicked for a larger version showing the expanse of the fort, taken with my back to the sheer drop to the cold sea below.


Good Neighbors?


What does a town do with two of its “citizens” that nobody really wants next door? Why, you put them together on the outskirts of town. In this small Southeastern Illinois town, that’s exactly what they did with the refinery keeping company with the local cemetery. No doubt the cemetery was first, and just as no doubt, its residents didn’t complain decades ago when the refinery came to town.


Kentucky Woods


Today I visited the Audubon Museum, located in the John James Audubon State Park, in Henderson, Kentucky. I spent and enjoyable, but sweaty, couple of hours there:

“Most of the time I wandered the trails that wind through the 335-acres nature preserve portion of the park. Audubon spent from 1810-1819 living in Henderson (the town that wraps around the park) and roaming the woods in search of birds and other wildlife to sketch and paint. One presumes he walked some of this same area, but there’s nothing in the brochures that offer that fact.”

Sittin’ With Abe


Vandalia, Illinois, doesn’t normally register as a center of historical significance. But, as it turns out, it is a significant place in the career of one Abraham Lincoln. Vandalia is where Honest Abe began his political career in the 1830s, and the rest, as they say, is history. The shot of above is the local “must shoot photo-op” with the old state capital in the background. This bronze statue of Lincoln sitting and reading, dedicated in 2001, is probably the most famous citizen of this once-significant center of political influence.

You can go to sleep now knowing you’ve learned something new about ‘ol Abe. I’ve performed my patriotic bit for the day…