The Castles of Ireland

Castles are romantic places to visit in Ireland.  Some were built as fortresses meant to protect the occupants from invaders.  Some were build as residences of the powerful and wealthy.  Some were built as a statement of new conquests. Many are open to the public for exploration and appreciation.  Some are even available for overnight stays.

You received a Blarney Stone in your travel box.  This stone is of the type found at the Blarney Castle, a popular tourist spot.  The legend goes that kissing the Blarney Stone at the castle will give you the “gift of gab”, an eloquence in speech, the ability to convince with flattery.  You can learn more about the stories behind the stone here.

The photo of you all standing together in front of a beautiful castle came from Rock of Cashel (meaning fortress). This site describes nicely the prized art and work to restore the beautiful frescos in Cormac’s Chapel within the Castle.

You may have seen some of these castles in movies.  Trim Castle was in the movie “Braveheart”.  An older John Wayne movie “The Quiet Man” used the Ashford Castle and surrounding area as a setting.

Castles are not just found in Ireland of course.  I found a really interesting site, a directory to castles of sort.  It lists castles and brief descriptions, lists castles and the movies made at those sites, lists haunted castles, and provides descriptions of different attributes that are important to understanding castles.  Take a look at this site when you have some real time to explore.

Irish language

The Irish language is often referred to as Gaelic.  Gaelic is also spoken in Scotland but is slightly different.  The Irish language can sound a little different in the different parts of the country. I love this video!  It explains the differences in the dialect of Irish and why those differences exist. The language is not commonly spoken as evidenced by this video of someone trying to get the young people in Ireland to demonstrate their fluency with the language.


From the Sheep’s Back to Yours

Wool can come from different types of animals : sheep, alpacas, goats, camels and rabbits. What makes the coat of a sheep so appealing as a material?  It is a very good insulator, holding heat in when the weather is cold.  It is naturally fire resistant, and it is sound proof.  Wool material used on walls, floors and furniture dampens sound.

The process of turning the sheep’s coat into usable wool material usually begins in the spring when the sheep are “shorn”. The process of shearing the sheep is a real art. There are competitions to see who can do the most and who can go the fastest with different types of tools. Watch this sheep shearing contest to get an idea of how fast this can be done.  Isn’t it amazing how quiet the sheep are as they are doing this? There are records of speed and endurance in this craft. One man sheared 97 lamps in an hour. Another man sheared 867 lambs in 9 hours, the energy equivalent of running 3 marathons!

The fleece of wool is gathered and the less desirable parts are separated from the best. The selected fleece is then scoured and detangled, removing burrs, particles, and dirt. The detangling process is performed in a willower in larger processing plants. Scouring removes the lanolin or natural oils on the fibers.  Some wool is not scoured to remove the lanolin and this makes it very water resistant.  The Aran wool is an example of this.

(I remembered that urine was used in treatment of materials many years ago. Poor people saved up their pee and sold it to the tanner. This is where the term “Piss Poor” comes from. These people were so poor that they depended on the sale of their urine for money. But the really poor couldn’t afford even the pot for collecting the urine. That is were the descriptive phrase of poverty “not even a pot to piss in” came from.)

I enjoyed watching  this girl make yarn from wool. She explains the principles of manually cleaning and spinning the fibers. Of course the large processors use different methods that produce the same results. Machines are used to clean, detangle the wool fibers, and then spin for yarn.

There are many different breeds of sheep. Ireland has only one native sheep breed – the Galway.  It has been given Rare Breed Status. You can go to this site to learn more the history of the 300 year old breed.


The Aran sweater has an interesting history.  The Aran islands are off the coast of western Ireland and the people of that land used their wool to make a type of sweater that didn’t have all the lanolin removed with scouring.  The lanolin made the wool water resistant and was preferred by those that worked by the water – the Fisherman’s sweater.  This site describes the meaning behind the stitches of the Aran Sweater.


I hope you enjoyed getting to know more about the material I sent to you.


The Red Hand

What’s up with the Red Hand? I recently sent to you a patch with the Red Hand on it. When you travel Ireland and especially Northern Ireland, you see the Red Hand everywhere.  There are a multitude of stories about how the symbol came to be. I found the most common attribution to be from the family O’Neil. Can you see the red hand on the O’Neil family crest?

I liked one of the stories very much and thought you would find it to be interesting.  Over 2,500 years ago the Galacian King of Spain, Milesius, sent his 3 sons Ir, Heber,and Heremon to invade and conquer Ireland. He told them that the first one to lay a hand on the land would lay claim to the country. The story goes that the three brothers raced to the land on separate ships and when one saw he was going to lose the race, he cut off his hand with a sword and threw it on to the land. The red hand continued to be used on the family crest and flags to show the lineage of family power.

Today the Red Hand is seen everywhere and not just with one line of family. Family lineage meant a lot in those days. Kingdoms were handed down to the first sons and sometimes daughters in many countries. There are countries today that have a similar inheritance of power and position. We hear a lot about Korea these days.  North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un is the son of the Kim Jong-il, the last leader. To insure his position he has had relatives that may pose a threat to his position killed. A more peaceful transition of power through the family will occur when Queen Elizabeth of England dies.  One of her family members will be crowned the King of England. Her son, Prince Charles is next in line for the throne. The next in line for the throne after Prince Charles is his son, Prince William and his children after that. This is the way it has been done for a very long time.

If you watch international sports you may see the red hand again. When you see it you will know at least one story of the origin. If you care to explore, you can find many more explanations of its beginning and meaning. If you are curious – happy hunting!



Remember the photos of the unusual rocks along the water?  That was the Giant Causeway in Ireland.  This area is found on the north coast of Northern Ireland.  I recently sent to you information about Ireland and Northern Ireland.  It explained the differences in these areas.  For the purposes of our trip, we include Northern Ireland in our trip.

When you visit the Giant Causeway you learn the Legend and the Science of the area.  The name for the area is reflective of the legend.  The story goes:  Finn McCool, a Irish Warrior Giant sees a Scottish Giant – Benandonner, threatening Ireland.  Finn, not wanting to swim, throws rocks into the sea to create a path to Scotland. As he crosses the causeway he sees the size of Benandonner and is afraid.  He retreats to Ireland and Benandonner follows.  Finn’s wife quickly dresses her husband to look like a baby.  When Benandonner sees the giant baby he leaves in fear, believing that if the baby is that big, the father must be much bigger.  He destroys the pathway as he retreats.  There is a similar causeway on the Scottish island across from Ireland showing evidence of the true length of the rock formation, the giant’s pathway.

The Science of the rock formation is very interesting.  60 million years ago or so a volcano erupted and lava flowed down toward the sea.  As the lava cooled it formed the basalt columns.  Volcanos are an opening of the earth that allows the release of materials from our earth’s very hot layers.  The heat is so great that rocks become liquid.  The melted rock pours out of the Volcano and flows.  It begins to cool at the surface and slowly cools.  The cracks form as the cooling occurs.  Watch this video to see the process explained.

I found a great site for learning more about volcanos.  Take a short trip to this site to learn more.

The Giant Causeway is made of Basalt. Basalt is an igneous rock – colored rock from the magma (very hot part of earth) and contains silica, oxygen, iron (Latin= Ferrum) and Magnesium (Latin = Magnesium).  The iron and magnesium component is referred to as Ferromagnesian.    The columns at the causeway are each 15-20 inches in diameter (measurement across) and up to 82 feet high.

I loved the photos of you sitting and standing on the Giant Causeway.  Does it feel like you were really there?





Herding Dogs

There are several very good videos on YouTube that demonstrate the beauty of the work of a herding dog.  I thought this one was one of the best.

The dogs in this demonstration area Border Collies.  If you think you want to have a dog like this you have to remember some important things.  The dog herds by instinct and if you don’t give him a job, he/she will try to herd something (children, cars…cats) That would appear to you to be a bad trait in that situation but it isn’t against the nature of your dog.  You would need to provide this dog with a lot of activity to provide for physical and mental challenges.  It would be wrong to expect this breed to be content to lie around and cuddle.

This is a good site for gaining an appreciation for the training of a dog for herding.

Watch this video for a fun demonstration of lighted sheep herding.

Why do some sheep have paint on them?

When I think of Ireland I think of sheep and the speciality dogs that herd them.  I was not aware until recently that it is not uncommon for sheep to have paint on them.  I learned that there are several reasons that this is done and that they use a special type of paint or crayon to do this.

Farmers mark the sheep to indicate the ones that have been vaccinated or that need to be watched due to an injury.  They may mark them to remind them of the ones that are pregnant.  The colors are not standardized, each farmer choosing the colors they wish.

Some farmers paint their sheep to discourage stealing.  It would be hard to get away with stealing someone’s bright orange sheep!

And then there are some that just do this for fun, like for a town event.  Of course those make the best photos.

Here are couple of photos I found of colorful sheep.  I feel sure this was for fun.