On the road again…

At this point I was beginning to think Willie Nelson’s song was our theme song as we piled into our bus to say goodbye to Sligo and head off to Ennis. Our driver, Patrick, was a marvellous man who regaled us with Irish lore, history and not a few jokes to keep us interested and amused en route.

Our first stop was in the charming town of Cong, County Mayo. Famed as the location for the film “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, I was far more intrigued by the remains of the local Abbey. I couldn’t resist shooting the amazing stone structures, much of which is still standing in a beautiful park-like spot.

Town of Cong, abbey ruins

Apparently the abbey was originally built in the 7th century, destroyed in battle (several times) and rebuilt each time, the latest being in the 13th century. The stonework and detail totally intrigued me!

 

Mary’s Rock

One friend asked me to bring home a pebble from some place that intrigued me – and so here it is, Mary’s rock – from the Abbey in Cong.

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Insanity in Ireland

Did I mention that, in addition to staying in a castle, we spent a night in a former insane asylum? Oh yeah. Now known as the Clayton Hotel, the building served as a Victorian era asylum in a prior incarnation. Most of our group reported suffering through uneasy, if any, sleep that night and several felt eerie experiences. It is the one place where I felt no urge to take any photographs. When we left the next morning we noticed that, right next door, the more modern psychiatric facility had been built. Go figure!

Statue of William Butler Yeats

On the way to Sligo, after our tour of Lough Gill, we stopped at Drumcliffe, under the Benbulben Mountain, to visit the grave of poet W. B. Yeats.

Yeats’ epitaph

 

Benbulben Mountain

 

Benbulben Mountain

From there we headed to Sligo… and the asylum for a night.

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Magical time in Ireland

Spring arrives earlier in Ireland than it does here on Canada’s east coast. The flowers were beginning to bloom and the trees had fresh leaves – no doubt providing hiding places for all of the “little people” that the country is famous for.

Trinity College Library, Dublin

No trip to Ireland would be complete, for a writer, without a visit to the famous Trinity College Library. Standing in that massive hall gazing up and beyond over the thousands of books displayed was not unlike a religious experience. Did these authors share the doubts that we neophyte writers feel? Probably. But to see so many books of such historic significance was awe inspiring. I could have just sat there all day soaking it in.

Grafton Street

Just around the corner from Trinity College modern life exists in the vibrant centre of the city. Local residents and tourists alike roam the streets shopping, listening to street entertainers, hustling from place to place and, of course, dropping in to one (or more) of the ubiquitous pubs! Life in Dublin isn’t all about history!

Sligo

After five days in Dublin, attending workshops, site seeing, getting coaching from #GerardCollins and writing we headed out for a tour of the west country. The first stop was in Sligo for a quick walk about and a pub lunch. Narrow streets, ancient buildings and charming people made for an interesting, if short, time.

Sligo

 

17th century Parkes Castle on the banks of Lough Gill

An intriguing site to roam around and explore. Once we’d done that we headed out for a tour of the Lake aboard the #RoseofInisfree – known as the subject of several poems by Yeats.

The thatched-roof blacksmith’s shop within the castle walls.

 

Parkes Castle as seen from the lake.

Thank goodness for photos that allow us to remember at least some of what we saw on our whirlwind tour of western Ireland!

Posted in BLOG, seasons, spring, Tourism, Travel, writing Tagged , |

April on the Emerald Isle

What a month! I spent the last 10 days of April in Ireland, the Emerald Isle! And there they really have spring. In the ten days between April 20th and 30th the trees went from buds and tiny leaves to full blown foliage.

I went to Ireland with a group of writers for a retreat called #GoandWriteIreland led by #GerardCollins. Aside from the opportunity to see some of #Ireland and experience the culture, it was a chance to improve my writing under the guidance of an experienced author and teacher and to spend time with like-minded people.

Immersion into the culture began with our arrival at the airport in Dublin. The country is bilingual Irish/English with the original Irish (Gaelic) taught as part of the public education system to retain and revive the language. At the airport, and as we found out later, throughout the country, signs are posted in both languages.

Bilingual sign at Dublin airport

We spent our first five days at the #ClotarfCastleHotel – an impressive structure created from the ruins of the original castle.

One feature that I particularly liked was the castle’s “art trail”. According to their brochure, “Art is not an afterthought…it’s an immersive journey that will help you unlock the story of one of Ireland’s most unique castle hotels…carefully curated collection brimming with curiousities and waiting to be encountered.” The hotel commissioned local artists, including photographers, to create works that reflect the culture and history of the region.

Castle ruins and remains of churches, abbeys and other structures are everywhere in Ireland. Just behind our hotel there was a graveyard with inhabitants that had been buried as long as 300 years ago and as recently as a very few years ago – a strange counterpoint between the old and new.

I wandered there several times seeking peace of mind and wondering about the stories captured in the walls and tombstones. Some commemorated the burial of whole families, while others were ostentatious in their singularity.

The roof on the chapel is long gone, and you are barred from entry to certain sections – no doubt for your own safety. But still, it must have been impressive when it was whole.

And from the churchyard the castle was visible – overlooking all around it all the way to the harbour and the Irish Sea.

 

 

Posted in BLOG, photography, seasons, spring, writing Tagged , |

Spring has sprung – at last!

It seems, of late, that it has taken much longer for spring to arrive. It’s as if the seasons are all about a month behind where they should be. But, that said, it’s a delight to have windows open, the sun radiating real warmth that soaks into you, and birds singing on every branch.

It wasn’t too long ago that the fields were swathed in snow and ice and branches barely showed above the banks on the roadsides. Now, when Harley and I go for our morning strolls, it’s a joy instead of a chore – for both of us. Now, if you look closely, buds are swelling getting ready to burst forth with leaves and flowers and the scents of the season. Spring truly is a time of rebirth and everyone’s mood reflects that. Walking down the street I notice that people are walking more lightly and with energy, smiling greetings at each other – no longer brief and gruff as winter winds drive the cold and damp into one’s bones.

In four days I’m off to Ireland on a Writer’s Retreat with author and workshop leader, Gerard Collins. He’s attracted an interesting group of writers to participate in the event from novices to experienced and published authors themselves. It should be a fascinating adventure and hopefully I’ll finally take the plunge on developing at least one of the book concepts I’ve been tossing around for eons. I’ll try and keep you posted from the Emerald Isle if I can. Meanwhile, get out, breathe deeply and enjoy the burgeoning spring that is just around the corner.

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Posted in BLOG, Canada, New Brunswick, photography, seasons Tagged |

Winter Sunday Sunrise

For many people winter isn’t the most joyous of the seasons. I can be one of those, whining about the cold, the ice, the aches and pains. But, since I have no choice to to head out every day for the benefit of my canine companion Harley, I’m working on retraining myself to see the beauty in all of the seasons.

We walk early in the morning, usually just before or during sunrise. Normally I take a camera, or at least my cell phone with its camera, when we walk. Today, unfortunately, I forgot to take either with me when we set out for our daily stroll down Mulberry Lane. In hindsight, it wasn’t unfortunate at all. Mulberry Lane runs between two large hayfields and the view in any direction is quite lovely. Sometimes the openness of the area is a detriment – like when the wind is blowing a gale across those fields, whipping any available snow into a frenzy that stings cheeks, eyes and fingertips.

Other times, like today, the air was exceptionally warm for late February and the fog lay heavily over the fields, obscuring both sights and sounds. For once we couldn’t hear any traffic on the nearby highway. Our view consisted of the tops of trees poking above the low lying fog clouds. So quiet, so peaceful, it made our pre-dawn walk a joy to the senses.

Once we got home I rushed to get my camera set up on the deck to capture what was left of the most eerie but pleasant feeling from our morning’s endeavours.

 

Sunny winter sunrise in Picadilly, NB

 

Winter sunrise on the hills of Picadilly, NB

Needless to say my constant companion was close at paw to oversee my efforts.

I can barely remember a time when my shadow wasn’t present for everything I do.

Harley watching sunrise

Every day is a gift, meant to be enjoyed, each moment appreciated for what it is.

Posted in appreciation, BLOG, seasons, sunrise, winter Tagged , |

The Hunger Moon

The full moon in February is called The Hunger Moon because, in times past (and perhaps not so far in the past), people’s food supplies and game for hunting had dwindled through the winter and they were hungry. Nonetheless, a full moon is always an impressive sight.

The Hunger Moon

This morning the air was bitterly cold. The thermometer read -25ºC and with the windchill the feels-like temperature was at least five degrees colder. Cameras (and photographers) really don’t like extreme cold, so I shot this image of the moon shortly prior to daylight through the window.

Pre-dawn

As the moon continued to set, the sky lightened to its pre-dawn purple hue hinting at a warmth that wasn’t there.

Sunrise

And even as the sun began to rise adding its hint of warmth to the scene across the road, the wind came up as well. For all creatures, two and four-legged, it would prove to be brutally cold for hours yet to come. No wonder it is the season of the hunger moon.

 

Posted in BLOG, Canada, New Brunswick, photography, seasons Tagged , , , |

Why celebrate? Why not celebrate!

Last Sunday was our friend’s birthday. Chester McMackin turned a youthful 84. So, Judi and I (and Lola in spirit!) decided to celebrate the occasion with our Facebook buddy – face to face rather than keyboard to keyboard. We got together at his favourite coffee spot in Hampton and shared stories, laughter and, of course, cake!

With twinkling eyes and the lilt of laughter in his voice, Chester regaled us with tales of his childhood and more. In other words, life in general.

His dramatic reading of the cleverly written (and dictated by Murphy the horse) tribute from Judi, accompanying the lovely framed portrait, had us and everyone else in the establishment in stitches!

And then the cake appeared – chocolate upon chocolate – causing the recipients (us) to ooohhh and aaahhhh appropriately in anticipation of the sweet delight – such are our peccadilloes.

Armed with a potentially lethal weapon, Chester divided the booty among us – and the party continued!

Not to be outdone by the ladies’ gifts to mark the occasion (framed photo from Judi, fresh homemade shortbread cookies from yours truly!), Chester presented each of us a treasure trove of fudge to take home. Who could resist?

Yep, it was a very good day. We wish our buddy “Chesterkins” a very Happy Birthday and hope we can all celebrate many, many more!

 

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Keeping spirits bright

 

The holidays are over and keeping spirits bright through the dismal days of January and February is far from easy. For me it goes back to my vow to slow down and become more consciously creative.

I’ve played the violin since I was about three years old. I grew up in a house full of music. My mother, a former concert pianist, taught music lessons in our home. My father was a piano tuner and an accomplished pianist himself. Games consisted of listening to musical notes and learning to identify them, or the types of chords etc. I grew up studying various instruments, but the violin was my primary focus.

When I was 16 my parents bought me this violin. It has been in my then-boyfriend’s family for quite a while, fiddled upon by his grandfather. It didn’t seem to be anything special, but it had a lovely tone. Wooden, and particularly stringed, instruments mellow with age and use and the sound becomes deeper, more resonant and warm with time. Even though it hadn’t been played in decades, I could feel it the moment I first drew a bow across the strings.

That violin travelled with me through years as Concert Mistress with the then-fledgling #NewBrunswickYouthOrchestra, through a term at the #RoyalAcademyofMusic in London, England, and through my music studies at #AcadiaUniversity upon my return. Practice wasn’t hard for me; it was an emotional and creative outlet.

Then things changed. Life happened. Instead of pursuing that creative career I turned to teaching school, marriage, having and raising a son. More life happened. More career changes and suddenly I realized that literally decades had passed during which I had rarely even touched my violin.

When I met my birth mother and greatly extended family 24 years ago I learned that my grandfather was renowned as a fiddler. Who knew?

I make my living as a photographer and writer now. In planning for an upcoming creative writing workshop in Ireland this spring I talked to #Dr.GerardCollins who will be leading the event. During the past couple of years we’d become friends, frequenting the same cozy coffee shop in downtown Sussex. In the course of our conversation about the workshop, I happened to mention that, in my youth, I played the violin. He went on to say that he dabbled with the guitar and some of the other potential workshop participants also played an assortment of musical instruments, or sang or both, and that I should bone up in preparation for some inspiring musical evenings.

Challenged, I came home and dug my old violin out of the closet, tuned it up and began to play – albeit badly. But it was fun and after just a few minutes I began to feel that ‘vibe’, that connection between the violin and me. And from that was born my commitment to a year of creativity – both visually and verbally.

So, while I am playing away a little bit, I am also working on my photographic techniques, combining two of my passions – music and visual arts.

The music and this old instrument have become my bridge to greater creativity.

The sound pours out of these worn holes straight from my soul.

New pegs clash with the old wood on the scroll but were needed to hold the strings in tune.

Not unexpected in an instrument that was originally crafted in 1731 in Paris by a luthier named Gavinies. Yes, my violin really is that old!

Gavinies’ violins are reputed to boast a sweet sound, and mine does. It’s deep, and rich and mellow with a vibrance that belies its battered appearance.

Thank you, Gerard, for nudging me back to my first love – making melodies sing.

 

Posted in BLOG, photography, winter Tagged , , |

New Year and new focus

The door closed on 2016 and the sun rose on a new year a couple of days ago. We are conditioned to think that as one year ends and another begins we should reflect back on the happenings of the prior year and plan for changes in the new one with an emphasis on improvements and perhaps doing more.

I’m not immune to such thoughts. In the new year I will have a new focus as well – a focus on slowing down to allow myself more time to be creative. Slowing down to make time to think about what I want to create, and how, and in what medium. A new photograph? Something written? Some music played on my recently resurrected violin? Who knows? But, without slowing down and thinking about it, how can anyone truly be creative?

Although we are now in the midst of winter, the solstice has passed and the days are already becoming longer and brighter, although at a glacial pace so far, and it’s noticeable. For those of us that crave light, this is an unimaginable blessing. Although the coldest two months are still ahead of us, sunshine and more light in the morning and late afternoon makes it bearable. Even our dogs have to bundle up at this time of year!

So, with plans to write more, photograph more, make more music, the new year has begun with a focus on creativity. What do you have in mind?

Happy New Year!

 

Posted in BLOG, creativity, photography, writing Tagged , , , , |