I'm back from my travels and so pleased to be able to start posting again. I had specially brought my laptop to Dublin plus all the attendant cords and cables, but for some reason could not get on to the Net in the hotel. Used Richard's laptop to send a couple of emails, but was frustrated in my desire to sit down and have a really good chatting session with my friends, which is what weblogging is all about. I could not have believed how the habit takes hold after so short a time. (Last week I had trouble logging on to Blogger one night and my whole world virtually fell apart. How can I communicate with everybody, I cried frantically, emailing the Blogger helpdesk at the rate of one missive per minute. What will happen if we never talk to each other again?. Happily the system was only down for a short time but it was a salutary reminder of how much importance we attach to this ability to exchange ideas and comments with like-minded friends across the world.)
Left very early on Saturday morning as the entire population of Cork city and county was headed for Dublin, most of them rigged out in red and white. Cars sported red and white flags too, and even the occasional windsock in the county colours. Richard went off to Croke Park to cover a minor match and I hit the legendary streets of old Dublin, hell bent on discovering if ANY yarn could be run to earth in this city of Dean Swift and Oscar Wilde, Sean O'Casey and Bernard Shaw, Sheridan and Goldsmith, James Joyce and Brendan Behan. All that wonderful writing, yet no worsted? Superb storytellers and no sock stitching? Amazing anecdotes and no Aran?
Well Aran there was aplenty, but all of it well made up and on display in windows for the delectation of tourists with more money than sense. Lovely scarves too, of the finest wool and mohair, plus rugs, throws, caps and jackets, everything in fact that could be made from quality Irish yarn - but not the magical ingredient itself in its original state. I searched all the well known fashionable streets, and then headed for the scruffier end of town. Here I struck - well not exactly gold, but at least something. In the basement of a fabric store I found one whole corner devoted to yarn.
It was mostly bumper balls of pseudo-Aran, plus that shaded yarn in huge packs from Tivoli, but at least it was yarn of some kind. I was so relieved to find it that I stayed there ages and bought a book of crochet patterns I didn't need because there weren't any good knitting books (no knitting books at all in fact). Then I went down on to the quays and found a shop called Dublin Woollen Mills which had two small shelves of pastel acrylics. And that was it. I don't know what it is about Dublin and Dubliners, but remind me not to go there again unless I have a pretty large stash in my bag to keep me going. Galway has some great places, Cork has a few at least - but our capital city is pretty badly provided. My thanks to those who reminded me of the website listing Irish yarn shops - I've checked that out many a time, usually hoping to see some changes for the good, but all I ever find is that another couple of the listings thereon should be excised because the shops have shut. However, my experience has determined me to storm the doors of Tivoli Yarns here in Cork next week and see what's going on in there. I know they create some lovely stuff and send it all over the world (I've come across it in the Yukon, for heaven's sake!), but I want to know why they aren't opening outlets all over their own home country. I gather they don't welcome visitors, but try and stop this Sherman tank when she's on a mission...
And so to Sunday and Croke Park. This is one big stadium by Irish standards, with a capacity of around 82,000, and it was packed yesterday, the red and white of Cork contrasting sharply with the blue and white of Waterford. By a bit of crafty teamwork, I was smuggled on to the sidelines in the guise of an official photographer and, with incredible courage, smuggled the Interlacements socks with me so that they could experience the place too. I was petrified! I mean, this was undoubtedly the first time EVER that anyone, let alone an official photographer, took out a half-knitted sock and a ball of yarn on the sideline at a hurling semi-final. If the television cameras had picked me up I would probably have been frogmarched out of the stadium and banned for evermore for bringing the game into disrepute.
Hurling, as I have mentioned before, is our national game and is taken rather seriously. Angie asked if it was anything like hockey. Well, they do play with curved sticks, but after that the rules diverge somewhat. Hurling can get pretty violent and the 'clash of the ash' or the collision of one hurley with another often leads to broken pieces of wood flying in all directions, and injuries are, well, not infrequent. I got DH to give me one of his press pictures so that you could get an idea.
Fortunately Cork won through and so goes into the final in September. It was my first experience of a major sporting event at close quarters and although I am not, and never will be, a sports enthusiast (I'm totally with my father who, when once asked his favourite sport, said 'Anything that doesn't require me to take part'), there was something quite compelling about the deep-throated roar of 80,000 fans. It made me wonder what being part of a spectacular in the Colosseum in Caligula's Rome must have been like.
Cuchulainn, the legendary Irish hero of ancient times, got his name through hurling. When he was only a youth he was known as Setanta. One evening he was bidden to a feast at the hall of the great lord Chulainn but didn't go at the same time as his friends because he wanted to finish his game of hurling. When he had finished he set off, striking his silver ball along with his golden hurley as he ran in the gathering dusk. But when he arrived at the hall of Chulainn, the gates had been closed and the feasting had begun. Nowise dismayed, Setanta leapt the wall and made his way to the door of the hall. But the great hound of Chulainn had been loosed to guard the hall and he came rushing round the building and leapt straight at Setanta. Quick as thought, Setanta lifted his hurley and struck his silver ball straight down the throat of the hound, killing him instantly. Everyone came out from the hall and Chulainn bemoaned the loss of his great hound. But Setanta went to his lord and knelt on one knee and said, 'I have killed your hound so from now on I shall be your hound and your protector.' And so he became known as Cu-Chulainn, the hound of Chulainn, and afterwards the greatest hero Ireland had ever known.
We came back across country on a wonderful evening of pink and gold sunset followed by purple dusk over the boglands and the slopes of the Silvermines, arriving home exhausted at midnight. Today, however, was special. Richard and I have the good fortune to celebrate our birthdays on succeeding days and each year try to get out and away from everything into the depths of the countryside. We took all three dogs (quite a hazardous undertaking since one is daft, one is self-willed to the point of obduracy, and one just demands love constantly, even while crossing rivers on stepping stones), and headed to a favourite spot, the Black Valley beyond Killarney and the Gap of Dunloe. This is a wonderfully empty landscape, although if you know where to look you can see the remains of once bustling villages which lost their populations during the Famine and have since been overgrown by rampant bracken and bramble. It is a particularly cherished dream of ours to one day publish a book of photographs and texts entitled Echoes of the Past, about places like these. We wandered, we paddled in streams, the dogs swam happily, we picked bunches of bog myrtle to ward off moths in cupboards at home, and had a lovely time. And best of all I was able to knit on those much-travelled Interlacements with the scented wind blowing across the valley and the spectacular landscape stretching out to the horizon.