Sunday, March 1, 2015

County Mayo: Country Life

After a great night's rest in a bed more compatible with our sleeping habits, we got up and headed down to breakfast in the Belleek Castle dining room. After three weeks in Ireland, Michael has decided that a "full Irish" breakfast is too much for him, despite having grown up with farm breakfasts in Idaho. This morning, both of us opted for an omelet and toast.

Today we decided to attend church services with the small LDS branch in Sligo. We were not the only American family present. In turns out that a BYU art professor on sabbatical had recently arrived, bringing along not only his wife and three of his children, but a daughter-in-law, her parents, and two of her siblings. That contingent alone doubled the size of the congregation, and the rented store-front space was barely large enough for the two dozen in attendance at testimony meeting today.

We stayed for Sunday School, which was taught by the English wife of a local Irishman. She led a lively discussion on selections the Sermon on the Mount, and encouraged us to develop more righteous motivations for righteous living.

Our objective for the afternoon was to visit the National Museum of Country Life in Turlough on the way back to Galway. The museum's purpose is to give visitors a realistic view of life in rural Ireland as it was in the past, prior to the 1950s. Realistic means not whitewashing the harsh realities of everyday living, and countering the romanticized versions of country life depicted in popular novels and movies like The Quiet Man--a John Wayne-Maureen O'Hara feature from the 1950s that seems to be much better known here than in the U.S. (Nancy had picked up a copy of the film at the public library in Cincinnati but didnt have time to watch the whole thing before she left home. The thirty minutes she saw included some establishing shots of the countryside around Cong, the Irish village where the movie was set, but these comprised only a small percentage of footage that otherwise had been shot on a soundstage.)

Museum of Country Life (photo from National Museum of Ireland website)
The Museum of Country Life, which is housed in a modern four-story building set next to a river amid rolling green hills, demonstrated that life was hard for the Irish of centuries past, but not as awful as one might suppose. According to the informative and well designed displays, most people enjoyed a real sense of belonging to the community as well as to the earth. They worked hard, but they worked hard together, connected by their interdependence on each other's various abilities, crafts, and trades.

A few of the things we learned: Some of our traditional holiday practices in America can be traced back to Ireland. For example, because the Irish included eggs among the foods they gave up for Lent, all those eggs that had been saved during the six weeks of deprivation finally became available for copious consumption on Easter morning.  Another example: Our Halloween jack-o-lanterns originated with an Irishman named Jack who had made a pact with the devil. When he died, he was denied entrance into Heaven and condemned to walk the earth in darkness. Jack went back to the devil, pleading for help, so the devil gave him a live coal from Hellthe brightest light he could provide. Jack carved a hole in a turnip and put the coal inside so he could carry it. People began imitating his lantern when they went out on All Hallows Evedisguised in odd costumes so the devil wouldnt recognize them. Apparently, Irish immigrants to America could find pumpkins more readily than they could find turnips, so the big orange squash became the vegetable of choice for jack-o-lanterns.

Wagons used by Irish "gypsies"
We also learned that there is a distinct Irish ethnic group called Pavee or Travellers, an itinerant people similar but not related to the Roma of continental Europe. (Both groups are often called gypsies, a term coined centuries ago by people in Great Britain who mistakenly believed that these darker-skinned people had come from Egypt.) They have their own language, and keep to themselves. Many Pavee of past ages worked as tinsmiths or knackers (those who slaughter dead horses); today they often lay linoleum or asphalt. Some Irish Travellers came to the U.S. in the 1850s along with other refugees from the Great Famine; there is a sizeable community living in Ohio, among other places. Who knew?

Traveling back to Galway that evening, we were afraid that we might get stuck in bad traffic as our route took us right past the rugby pitch in Castleford, where apparently a match had just ended. We had been told that the County Mayo team was having a good season, and the people walking along the road away from the pitch looked happy, so they must have won again. We were happy, too, because we made it past the event venue without much waitingjust a little traffic calming (Irelands term for slow traffic warning signs).

Having checked into the Radisson Blu Galway once again, we walked down to Martines and had a nice dinner. After too many nights of overeating, we have decided that sharing one main plate is usually the way to go, so we tonight we shared one order of the special, which was a 600g cut of prime rib. (We could have ordered a 900g cut, or a 1600g cut, but holy cow! How could a single human being consume that much beef at one meal?) Although we thought that the meat on our plate looked more like a steak than like prime rib, it was tender and flavorful, so we didnt complain. The creamed spinach and mushroom-walnut risotto that came on the side also were very good. We passed on dessert at the restaurant, but stopped at Ginos gelato shop on the way back to the hotel. Before retiring, we decided that even though rain had prevented us from doing the hiking we had planned on Saturday, the weekend had been a very successful one anyway.

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