Magical Carrowmore – Megalithic Cemetery in County Sligo

It’s Halloween…what better way to celebrate than to post about cemeteries!?  It’s no ordinary cemetery though. Carowmore Megalithic Cemetery is gorgeous and unusual.  It is said that an old Giant flying Irish Hag was collecting boulders to build an enclosure for her animals.  She was flying over Carrowmore when she dropped the boulders out of her apron. Those boulders now dot the landscape that is Carrowmore.  Dolmens, cairns, stone circle tombs are in every direction in every size about thirty in total. One can drive around the surrounding farmland and find dolmens or mounds in yards belonging to local farmers.  In fact, every direction you look a cairn can be seen dotting the Knocknarea and Ballygawley mountaintops as though the megalithic people were type A and felt they needed to overdo it a little! (Respect from one Type A to another friend!)  The monuments are some of the oldest in Ireland spanning from around 5-6000 years old!

Happy Halloween friends.  Have fun stepping through the cemeteries this All Hallow’s Eve!


Seems perfectly reasonable advice for a megalithic grave


My cute cow is back


Look closely on the top of the mountain and you will see a tiny bump. That bump is one example of a cairn on the mountains that surround the area. How cool is that?


To read about Nowth, Dowth, and Newgrange Passage Tombs click here.

For more Ireland shenanigans please click here

Ashford Castle – Cong Ireland

Ashford Castle is a glorious 17th century castle, hotel, garden and golf course worthy of Downton Abby.  My brother and I first visited this location in 1999 on our first trip and we were really taken by it.  We didn’t have enough money to stay there and still don’t but we love to visit.  Located on the outskirts of the Quiet Man village of Cong, Ashford castle is for the rich and famous.  Once owned by the Guinness family this updated medieval castle sits on the lovely Lough Corrib next to a pretty wooded golf course. Visitors can walk the grounds and visit the gardens and even take boat tours.  However, they are no longer allowed inside of the castle without a reservation.  (Boo!)

The adjacent town of Cong is possibly one of the most charming small towns in Ireland.  Cong and Ashford sit on the cusp of Connemara, Ireland’s nature wonderland.  This area is worthy of a visit to bask in the thousands of shades of green available to you. Rest, relax, and renew and have your photo taken with the statue of Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne while you are there.



If I ever redesign my back yard I would like it to look like this…


Keeping guard over the castle.


Official family selfie at Ashford Castle. Say hello to the Collins clan.





Follow my Wild Irish Road trip here…

PS.  Rest in peace Maureen O’Hara.  I wrote and scheduled this post prior to her passing.  What a lovely Irish movie legend…

Poulnabrone Dolmen – The Burren County Clare, Ireland

The Burren is an unusual and vast landscape on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare.  At first blush it looks like a green and grey desert with nothing to be seen.  But, like most things, when you look closer you see detail and creativity only mother nature could concoct.  The Burren is primarily cracked limestone whose deeps cracks collect water and are filled with nutrient rich soil which wildflowers and grasses flourish in. The Burren National Park has been created to assist in protecting its multiple dolmens, stone circles/ring forts, caves, and megalithic tombs.

Some time between 4200-2900 BC Neolithic people created the masterpiece Poulnabrone Dolmen.  Dolmens dot the landscape in Ireland but this one is special primarily due to its size subverting the vastness that is the Burren. It is about twelve feet long and about six feet tall.  It is made of stone that is the same color as its surroundings so one could pass right by it without noticing it.  The remains of multiple people have been excavated from beneath the tomb which is typical of them throughout the country.




A closeup of the stone


Meet my nephew Michael enjoying the rain in the way only a kid can!

If you would like this dolmen check out another post on the dramatically large Brownshill Dolmen by clicking here!

Kylemore Abbey – Connemara Mountains Ireland

Welcome to Kylemore Abbey.  The nuns here know how to pick a location!  If money were no option for me I would have picked the exact same location nestled in to the west of Ireland at the base of a magnificent mountain range on the edge of a peaceful lake.  The windy road that leads to the abbey is one of those roads that looks like it should take you about 20-30 minutes to get there on a map and it realistically takes you 3-4 hours of winding and turning and slowing for sheep.  But the drive is worth it.

The abbey, which the Benedictine nuns purchased after fleeing Belgium in WWI, is partially open for tours.  The castle-turned-abbey was originally built in 1867 by a wealthy doctor with seventy rooms and 40,000 square feet.  It can be followed by a nice nature walk along the lake, a visit to the Gothic Cathedral (which had live gospel singing while we happen to be there), the original family mausoleum, a lovely waterfall, and a modern art installation.  A short bus ride will take you to the victorian walled gardens and should not be missed!  When you are good and tired visit the store for something to eat and to purchase some Kylemore Abbey Benedictine Nun made ceramics or other local art in support of the abbey.



Unusual Irish Sheep


Sweet Art Installation


Walled Gardens








One of the original buildings




View of the abbey from the lake

For more Irish ramblings click here…

Ireland’s National Museum – Dublin’s Top Attraction in the Guidebook in My Mind

When recently taking my parents to Ireland my intention was to take them to the National Archaeology Museum of Ireland on our first day in Dublin, Ireland.  We ran out of time and ended up going on our last day.  I think this was an auspicious turning of events because we were able to view artifacts of many of the places we had seen during the prior two weeks motoring through the Isle.


Three Faced Corleck Head

The Archaeology museum houses relics from many of the castles, monasteries, carved stones from burial mounds, etc throughout the Isles.  Highlights for us were the display of Celtic Gold dug up from hundreds of years of exploration through Ireland.


The Museum has a wonderful Bog Man display showing multiple bog people along with their stories, location, circumstances of their exhumation, and more.  It has a large medieval Viking display honoring Dublin’s long “connection” with the Vikings. There is a small Egyptian Collection.  The treasury houses the Cross of Cong and the The Faddan More Psalter, a book of Psalms recovered from a bog which was written around AD 800!  Prehistoric Ireland is on display as well as sacrifice and Kingship.



Clonmacnoise Crozier

Plan at least three hours to explore this FREE museum and be sure to stop for a cup of coffee at their lovely café. And did I mention it was Free?



To explore more of my Irish musings please click here…

Desert Botanical Gardens – An Oasis in the Desert

The desert is a wild and scary and exciting place.  Desert Botanical Gardens is a wonderful place to experience the desert, in all her glory, in amazing and classy comfort.  Years ago my Eagle Scout cousin took me on some hikes through the desert pointing out every animal, cactus, plant, rock, snake, etc he could find.  At first glance, the desert is stark and unforgiving.  But, when he took me through with an attention to detail only an engineer can muster my love for the desert was secured.  If only my pale skin and dry nose would agree perhaps I could live there.

At the gardens visitors can wander through perfectly manicured pathways and see everything the desert has to offer like desert wild flowers, yucca, agave, saguaro cactus raising their arms to the sky, Cholla cactus waiting to jump and attach itself to passersby, smooth and classy succulents, tall and skinny organ pipe cactus, tall and bazaar boojum, even a cactus they nickname the old man because it appears to have a bald head and wispy white hair! Like any botanical garden the specimens are well cared for and the perfect way to see a fine example of every type of species an area has to offer in a small package.

The gardens are home to a butterfly garden, a cafe, a garden center, and even boast Chihuly glass sculptures that light up the night.  The gardens are a must see when visiting Phoenix and can be easily seen in a few hours.  Just be sure to bring your hat and your good camera because I neglected to do so and the desert won’t let you get away with that!

For more Arizona fun visit my post on Casa Grande Ruins National Park.

To see some of the other amazing botanical gardens I have visited please click here!  I do love photographing a good garden.

Boojum Tree, looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book.

Saguaro Cactus cresting

Lovely view from the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail

A photo from what I wish was my garden…

As if Cactus are hardy enough this one has prickles on the bottom side. Small animals beware.

Lots of birds live and nest inside the saguaro cactus. Seems to be a good place for a Disney cartoon to take place!

Nothing prettier than a blooming cactus. Best to visit in spring to see more blooms.

“Old Man” Cactus, this one cracks me up.

Tell me this cactus is not screaming to be in a black and white photo?!

Chihuli light sculptures

A lovely and unusual cactus seen all over the garden

Casa Grande Ruins National Park – Arizona

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the most fabulous wedding EVAR of my cousin down in Florence, Arizona.  Fun Fun.  Happy Happy.  On the way back towards Phoenix we decided to check out Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. From a distance the great house made from a mix of sand, clay, and limestone can be seen.  It makes quite the formidable site because a structure has been lovingly been created to save the house from further rain and sun decay.

The structures were made by the Hohokum people settling near the Gila river around 1350.  This and other houses were build around irrigation canals created for agricultural purposes and survival in the harsh desert.  (It was harsh enough for me at only 95 degrees last weekend.)  A short time later we are left with fragments of the buildings left in the Sonoran desert.  Old graffiti can be seen inside from the 1850s when people would pass by.

I love the desert.  My skin and my lungs may not but I enjoy the beauty of the harsh environment with nearby Saguaro cactus dotting the landscape.  Cactus, birds, snakes, and hills in the distance marking your progress.  This was a nice little oasis on the drive from remote Florence back towards the civilization of Phoenix.

Tour of a Lifetime – Belfast Political Black Cab Tour

I last visited Belfast in 1999.  Things were different then.  I remember pipe bombs going off making a young me a little nervous while I was there for the day.  Since then the Good Friday agreement and several other actions have taken place to ensure peace in Northern Ireland.  Or so I thought.

While in Belfast recently for the day we decided to do something a little different by skipping the standard city tour instead taking a Paddy Campbell’s Black Cab “Political Tour.”  Danny was our guide, a local who grew up in the 70’s right smack dab in the middle of the troubles.


Danny’s Cab in front of the Peace Wall

To be honest I don’t know where to start.  I don’t want to put anyone off of Belfast and certainly not Northern Ireland because I sincerely cannot recommend them highly enough.  But along with the good I believe one must understand the history of the location they are traveling to if they want to better understand it.


King William is alive and well in Northern Ireland

Where the troubles started could be argued.  Did it start in the 60’s when Catholics weren’t allowed the same housing and voting rights as the Protestants?  Did it start with the Protestant William of Orange defeating the Papist James II at the Battle of the Boyne?  Who knows?  And it certainly isn’t for me to say.  But, what I can tell you is that dissension is alive and well.  It isn’t making the national news any more.  Perhaps, because Northern Ireland is censoring the news?  Or, Perhaps because the Irish want to be perceived as successful at their negotiating peace while others in the world are struggling?  Again, I don’t know and I wouldn’t even begin to take a guess since I am only a visitor.


Mural near Shankhill Road Protestant area


Danny took us around in his black cab to the Protestant Shankhill Road and the Catholic Falls Road area which are still divided by a military style locked gate.  It was “marching season” just after July 12th where the Protestants take to the streets marching through the Catholic areas with anti-nationalism and anti-Catholic sentiment.  Violence had ensued just days before we visited so many of the gates were still locked much to the frustration of the pedestrian and motoring public.


One of the Gates that was locked post July 12 Marches…


In the Shankhill area we were driven by and walked through the housing areas to view magnificent murals created to memorialize William of Orange, historical events that had taken place, and in many cases those who terrorized Catholics since the 70s. For example, one mural sensationalized Stevie “Top Gun” McKeag, a violent murderer, for brutally killing a large number of Catholics.  Protestant “Top Gun” was responsible for murdering numerous people including a young Catholic female pharmacy student who walked only feet from her store on the Catholic side to the Protestant side to deliver medicine to an elderly Protestant man.


Mural Memorializing Stevie Top Gun McKeag




Remnants of a bon fire the night before. Bon fires dot the landscape during marching season.


Conversely on the Catholic side an equal number of murals exist rather the subject matter is not of those who were successful in violence against the other side but they highlight those who were killed or martyred during the conflicts.  Bobby Sands is likely the most famous of those Catholics who died as a result of a hunger strike taken, while in prison, which brought a lot of recruitment and notoriety to the efforts.  Instead of bon fires meant to intimidate they choose to erect Peace Gardens in each of the neighborhoods depicting each person killed as part of the conflict.


Bobby Sands/ Poet, Irish Speaker, Revolutionary, and IRA Volunteer

Today, I am told it is less about Catholic and Protestant and more about British rule versus Irish independence.  Since 1949, the majority twenty-six southern counties fall within the independent country of Ireland and six Ulster counties remain in Northern Ireland as part of the Queen’s empire.  Some of the Loyalists view the Republic as traitors while those in the Republic have fought merely for their freedom and Independence.  It was against the law only until recently to fly an Irish flag in Northern Ireland.  And even today I never saw a single Irish flag in Northern Ireland only scores and scores of British Flags.  Where traffic signs are duplicated in both English and Irish in the south many in the north see speaking Irish as treasonous.  Many welcome both Protestants and Catholics in to their homes while those who hold fast to the Orange Order are not allowed to marry or fraternize with Catholics.


Danny drove us to the famous peace wall, a starkly long and artistically graffiti’d wall that’s mere presence is an oxymoron.  The very wall where millions of people have signed their names and sentiments of peace and love, even President Obama on his recent visit, is actually affixed to the very wall that to this day separates Protestants from Catholics.  The wall is higher than twenty feat with razor wire at the top.  It butts up mere feet from the back of Catholic houses.  It is a daily reminder for those who travel back and forth and in between that peace is possible.


Peace Wall that is immediately adjacent to houses behind it


When the tour was over, I felt enlightened and frustrated all at the same time.  I couldn’t believe this was still happening to this level and it wasn’t making the national news.  Mind you these sentiments are particularly high in these areas of Belfast and LondonDerry and not as heightened elsewhere in the North.  But, as we were walking back to the car together I made the statement to my dad that I knew one thing for sure…I knew where our driver was from.  The driver Danny had never told us if he was Catholic or Protestant.  My Dad agreed with me and said he was confident he knew as well.  My mother asked us which side, Protestant or Catholic?  We replied at the same time…one Protestant and one Catholic.  Neither of us agreed!



Clonard Monastary known for its desire for peaceful mediation of the situation that immediately surrounds it.

“There was never a good war or a bad peace.”

“The more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war.”

I cannot recommend this tour highly enough.  It was not glamorous and at times it was unsettling.  But, I feel enlightened and better for the knowing of it.

For more on my Ireland trips please click here!