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06/05/2006 Archived Entry: "Visit to Ireland"
My wife and I recently spent some time at Malahide, a small Irish coastal town a few miles north of Dublin. Upon our arrival, Ireland was magnificent with its flush of emerald green vegetation and its almost-tropical display of palm trees and wild flowers which would grace any garden. Imagine fields with golden hedges of thick gorse in full glorious bloom, and country lanes whose borders were of wild fuchsia and geraniums, daisies and vetches.The astonishingly vivid and varied green shades of vegetation, both wild and cultivated, have to be seen to be believed. Not without reason is this island known as the Emerald Isle.
Malahide, with a population of around 13,000, has a thriving marina which makes use of the only natural inlet along the country's east coast and this attracts yachts from all over the world. The town has also acquired a reputation for the quality of its food. With more than forty restaurants and some wonderful Irish pubs often with music and other entertainment, one never need be hungry, thirsty or unoccupied. A pint of Guinness in an Irish pub is something anyone will remember - it is truly nectar from the gods.
The town dates to around 6,000 BC; the Danes arrived in the eighth century and in the twelfth the Normans made their presence felt. Napoleon attempted an invasion but failed due to the weather, whilst the English have also had an impact, not always favourable, but today the town is very cosmopolitan with residents drawn from many nations.
One reminder of its past stands majestically on the outskirts; this is Malahide Castle set in 250 acres of parkland. When the Normans arrived, they installed Sir Richard Talbot as the Lord of Malahide Estate in 1174 and the family continued to occupy the castle until 1973 - eight centuries. When the Lord Milo Talbot died in that year, his only surviving relative - his sister - did not want the problems of maintaining the castle and estate and hand it over to Dublin County Council who now run it as a very successful visitor attraction.
With its classic fairy-tale appearance due to its rounded towers, it contains some wonderful furniture and art works, along with a huge thirty-seater table in its Great Hall. The Talbots were supporters of the Catholic James II of England who had been deposed and on 1 July 1690 fourteen members of the Talbot family sat down to breakfast at this huge table before going off to battle. But none of them returned for dinner that evening - all were dead.
To regain his throne, James had sought help from the Irish Catholics and challenged William of Orange, his son-in-law and husband of James' Protestant daughter, Mary. James' poorly trained army of 25,000 French and Irish Catholics met William's seasoned army of 36,000 highly trained French Huguenots, Dutch, English and Scots Protestants. The Protestants won this battle, forever known as the Battle of the Boyne, and it signalled three centuries of Protestant domination of Ireland with confiscation of Catholic lands and property, and the suppression of their interests.
We took time out to visit James Joyce's Tower at Sandy Cove on the coast just south of Dublin. James Joyce (1882-1941) actually only spent one week here in 1904, but because the tower features in the first chapter of his classic novel, Ulysses, it is now a wonderful literary shrine and museum to his memory. The sparse living room, is very much as described in the novel and you can climb right to the top of the tower and stand on the famous gun platform to admire the magnificent panoramic view. The museum's collection includes letters, photographs, first and rare editions and personal possessions of Joyce, as well as items associated with the Dublin of Ulysses.
Towers of this kind, known as Martello Towers, were built around the Irish coast in 1804 by the British to watch for Napoleon's expected raid. The towers are strongly built of huge blocks of stone with walls about eight feet (2.4m) thick. There was a gun platform on top which bore a massive swivelling cannon, along with an oven for making cannon balls, and sleeping accommodation below. Watch was maintained in the tower until 1904 when it was finally realised Napoleon was unlikely to invade.