The National Arboretum, Tintern Abbey and The Hook lighthouse

In fairness it was Maaike’s idea to head out of Dublin for a holiday! It’s very hard to get mum and dad (mum especially) to stop doing “tasks” while she’s at home. So, we headed away for a few days down to Waterford. We had a nice little cottage (once we’d found out how to turn the heating on) and really enjoyed exploring the area, not somewhere I’ve been before.

The national arboretum is absolutely worth a visit if you’re in the area. We were there when the rhododendrons were coming into flower, and it was just lovely. We had a really nice guide to trundle us around the place in a golf car. Mum and Dad are pretty good with plants and species, so, they had lots to discuss. Frankly I’m pretty impressed at all the things they can keep in their heads and distinguish!, not a skill I currently have.

If you do visit the arboretum, just behind it is Slieve Coilte, a highpoint with a nice view. Good place to have a picnic if it’s a calm day. Decent views all around.

From Slieve Coilte, we headed on down to Tinturn Abbey – (not the welsh one). Built back in 12th Century by the Earl of Pembroke after he was caught in a storm, it was colonised by the Cistercians until the dissolution of the monasteries, after which it was held privately. It fell into ruin, but, it was actually lived in right up until 1959!! Interestingly, the OPW (Office Public Works) in Ireland restored it (ish) to the original monastic ways, however, if they were doing it now, they’d leave it more as is – as it’s quite interesting to see how a buildings use changes over time. Must have been a bitterly cold place to live though!

A short walk from Tintern is the Colclough walled gardens (pronounced Coke-lee) built over 200 years ago and which fell into disrepair. It has been lovingly restored by a group of volunteers, and it looks great now.

After that we headed on down to The Hook peninsula and lighthouse. Lovely views, and a great guide for just us (we were the end of the day). It’s one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, and the second oldest currently operating lighthouses. Built back in 1240 by the same bloke (Pembroke) wot built Tintern. Originally a monastery, they had to light signal fires to warn ships – a lighthouse effectively. Pembroke wanted a way to guide people safely up into the harbour at New Ross (which he’d established). The walls are 4m thick and it has great vaulted ceilings. Worth a visit.


We also had a visit to the Dunbrody famine ship. It has a good exhibition about the famine. That was really an insanely bad time for Ireland.

The worst year of the period, that of "Black 47", is known in Irish as Bliain an Drochshaoil. During the famine, about one million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island's population to fall by between 20% and 25%.

Absolutely insane really. Mind you, when you think of it in terms of what climate change will do (countries going under water) we’re set for some real migration issues coming up. That’s why mum pointed out they don’t campaign against climate change – so much as for climate justice.

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Mum and Dads 50th

Just over 50 years ago, mum and dad were married. We had their “golden wedding” celebration in the back garden. It was a nice casual affair, a dinner on the Saturday, and then a big bbq on the Sunday. It was a lovely time, my sister came over from Minneapolis so all the “children” were here. I wonder when the next time will be. My sister had the great idea of making a photoboard of their 50 married years. I particularly liked this one:

We (mum, dad and my siblings) did manage to get out for just a “family” dinner. It’s extremely special when that happens, it’s just so very rare that we’re all in the same place at the same time. The curse of having two of us living in very different locations. We walked from Shankill to Dalkey for dinner. I’d walked the beach before, but, I’d totally forgotten that it was tidal! Fortunately we managed to sneak by the narrow point.

Anyway, a lovely party, congratulations mum and dad on making it to 50 years married.

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Schol reunion dinner 2019

I went to Trinity College Dublin for college. It’s a lovely college, right in the middle of Dublin. There’s a set of scholarship exams which you can take in your second year in college, just called “schol” by students. They’re a hard set of exams, not least because you have to take the exams at Easter and you have to study your ass off throughout the year. Engineering/Maths/Science are definitely easier subjects to get it in though, at least we have objectively correct answers. There are (or were) far fewer arts students who ended up getting it, and that’s not because they’re not plenty smart enough!

Anyway, the point of doing the exams is that if you get them, you get 5 years of free rooms, fees and an evening meal. Course, most people do 4 year degrees, and so the 5 years is really there to entice you to do a PhD or masters. Interestingly, the meal rights continue even after you’ve left college, so, I was able to work and still come back for the meal. Yum.

So, I was incredibly privileged to be able to just head down and study for the exams, and, fortunate enough to get the scholarship. It completely transformed my time at college. I met many good friends as a direct result of getting it, and lots of interesting chats over dinners (and free Guinness ;). I’d also never have lived out of home before finishing college unless I’d got schol.

One of the perks of schol is that they invite you back every 10 years for dinner. I missed my first 10 year reunion in 2009, but, I really wanted to make it back for my 20 year one, and I’m very very glad I did. It was really lovely to meet up with old friends again. It’s a very odd thing to see people age in 10 year (or 20 year) intervals! Very odd indeed.

The dinner itself was yum, the wine was good, the conversation flowing (helped along by the wine no doubt). The provost gave an excellent speech on brexit’s impacts and the challenges faced by universities. It’s worth a read…

...When I first took office as Provost in 2011, I quoted Erasmus
 in my inaugural speech: Ego mundi civis esse cupio, communis omnium.
 "I long to be a citizen of the world, a fellow-citizen to all people."

This is in direct opposition to Theresa May’s 
‘If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere’.

It’s Erasmus I want to channel for our students – education should
lead out towards a sense of ‘fellow-citizenship with all people’.
It is through education that we build our common humanity.

Tonight, as we celebrate our new scholars, we celebrate the brilliance and discipline that enabled them achieve this singular distinction, and we hope that they will use their gifts to inspire generations, to further our common humanity, and to maintain and strengthen warm neighbourly relations with our sister island.
I hope to be back again in another 10 years time, schol, and the friends I’ve made through it, have been one of the most positive impacts on my life.

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