The Irish in America

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DAY 20: The Black Velvet Band

Album: When Justice Came by The Black Velvet Band.

The minute Regan came home from college at Christmas with this cassette tape (it was the late Eighties, after all) I fell in love with it. Regan saw The Black Velvet Band when they opened for 10.000 Maniacs. Those were the days of great music…

Hope you enjoy this song. It is definitely on my all-time Irish favorites list.


DAY 19: Cows

Cows at Castleview House, County Laois

Cows at Castleview House, County Laois

I love Irish cows. They are all over the Irish countryside – peeking over stone walls, lounging in pastures, and sharing the road with you as they are being moved from one field to another.

More cows at Castletown House

More cows at Castleview House

Our cousin Jimmy has cows. I guess technically he has cattle, but they are all cows to me…

I don't get too attached to Jimmy's cows...

I don’t get too attached to Jimmy’s cows.

When Regan and I were in Ireland in 1995, we fell in love with Irish butter and decided that it was so tasty because the cows were so big. We may have come to that conclusion over a few pints of yesterday’s favorite, but it made perfect sense to us. When I returned to Saint Paul, Minnesota after those three weeks in Ireland, I realized I never saw cows at home, so how did I know if Irish cows were any larger than American cows? Our theory had a few holes…


DAY 18: Guinness

Looks good, huh?

Looks good, huh?

I love Guinness. Back in the 1990s when I started drinking it, there were only a few bars in the Twin Cities that served a decent pint. Lucky for me, Regan worked at one of them – Molly Malone’s in Minneapolis.

I had my first taste of Guinness in Ireland in 1995. It was so, so good. That year we visited the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, saw the multi-media presentation, learned the fascinating history of the black stuff, and enjoyed our free pints at the end of the tour.

Over the past twenty years, the Guinness at home has improved tremendously as it has grown in popularity. Bars sell more of it so it doesn’t sit around as long. Still, it is tough to beat a pint in Ireland.

It may not be Ireland, but I suspect I will manage to force down a couple pints of Guinness tonight at The Liffey in Saint Paul. Happy Birthday to me…



DAY 17: My favorite Irish couple

Maura and Paddy

Maura and Paddy McCormack

Paddy is my paternal grandfather’s (Bill McCormack) first cousin. I never knew my grandfather, so meeting Paddy and his wife Maura in 2009 was a real treat for me.

Paddy, Maura, & Family at our party in 2009

Paddy, Maura, & Family at our party in 2009

Paddy and Maura have been married over sixty years. Paddy was a member of the 1949 County Laois hurling squad, runner-up in the All-Ireland final to County Tipperary. He’s a local legend, and he has a great memory for stories of the old days. Maura is sweet, has a fantastic sense of humor, as well as a bit of a determined streak. When we visited last September, Maura had recently undertaken the large job of painting the outside wall, “It needed painting, the state of it!” They are just a neat couple.

Maura, Paddy, and their seven children (as well as their niece and nephews) have gone a long way to make my family feel welcome every time we visit. We are very lucky to have such wonderful family in Ireland.

Photos by Regan McCormack

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DAY 16: Favorite Irish Poem

Famine Memorial - Picture of The Famine Sculpture, Dublin

This photo of The Famine Sculpture – Dublin is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Odds are I will have a new one before the month is out, but right now my favorite poem is “The Emigrant Irish” by Dublin-born Eavan Boland. The poem appears in An Origin Like Water, Collected Poems 1957-1987.

Like oil lamps, we put them out back —

of our houses, of our minds. We had lights
better than, newer than and then

a time came, this time and now
we need them. Their dread, makeshift example:

they would have thrived on our necessities.
What they survived we could not even live.
By their lights now it is time to
imagine how they stood there, what they stood with,
that their possessions may become our power:

Cardboard. Iron. Their hardships parceled in them.
Patience. Fortitude. Long-suffering
in the bruise-colored dusk of the New World.

And all the old songs. And nothing to lose.

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DAY 15: The Gibson Hotel

The Gibson Hotel (photo from TripAdvisor)

T The Gibson Hotel (photo from TripAdvisor)

The Gibson is my favorite Dublin hotel. Regan and I stayed at the Gibson last September, and it was the best time I have had in Dublin in years. The Gibson is sleek and modern, with 252 rooms. The bar, restaurant, and reception areas are bright and airy. There is definitely a cool vibe at the Gibson which can be explained by its proximity to the O2 arena.  I am not very cool, but they still let me stay there.

The Gibson is a great option for staying in Dublin if you are not interested in being right in the heart of it all, but still want to be close enough to make site-seeing convenient. The Luas (Dublin’s tram) stops directly in front of the hotel and gets you to O’Connell Street in about seven minutes. From there, Regan and I grabbed taxis to several of our morning appointments or walked where we wanted to go. Very convenient.

The Hemi Bar was the perfect spot for meeting friends and family while in Dublin. A few of the amenities we appreciated at the Gibson:

  • Vending machines on each floor – perfect when you need a late-night Bueno bar fix.
  • Fridge in the room – who doesn’t want cold beverages on demand?
  • Late night room service
  • Large bathroom with a WONDERFUL shower!

The shower is really, really great. In fact, it spoiled me for the rest of the trip – no other shower in Ireland measured up. The service was top-notch and professional and the room was immaculate. I will definitely stay at the Gibson next time I am in Dublin. Thanks to Evin (@FreckledPast on Twitter for the recommendation!


DAY 14: Studio Donegal

I had to drag my heavy black wool jacket out of the closet this week. Snow and cold reappeared in Minnesota. I thought I was done with winter coats, scarves, and hats – it is April for goodness sake!

I love my black jacket. I bought it at Studio Donegal in 2000. It was definitely a splurge then, but for thirteen years (and counting) of wear, I’d say it was a good purchase.

Regan and I were a little obsessed with Studio Donegal – located in Kilcar, County Donegal – during the fist five years of the twenty-first century. We visited three times and stocked up on throws, scarves, hats, and Regan even bought some wool for her own creations.

Visitors are invited to tour the workshop (upstairs from the showroom) and see how the beautifully hand-woven items are made. Definitely worth a visit if you are in that neck of the woods. Gorgeous part of the country – can’t wait to get back to both County and Studio Donegal. It may be time for another splurge. I like the looks of this handbag…



DAY 13: Favorite Irish Saying


What am I up to this weekend? I put doing my taxes on the long finger and now I am almost out of time. For those readers not in the US, the tax deadline is April 15th.

This was a saying my Grandma used all the time to describe procrastination – sometimes her own, but more often that of her grandchildren, and usually with respect to our schoolwork.

Some things never change. Taxes are just the adult equivalent to schoolwork. Wish me luck!

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DAY 12: Toast

My sister, Regan, and I love toast in Ireland. In bed&breakfasts, hotels, and at Helen’s house, great quantities of lightly toasted white bread is served in stacks, baskets, and toast racks. But what’s so special about Irish toast? It’s all about the bread. Basic Irish white bread is a cross between old-fashioned bakery bread and Wonder Bread in the United States. Denser than Wonder, but super soft and downy white.


In Ireland, toast is usually served dry and not hot. It is up to the individual to dress it or leave it plain. I typically reach for the orange marmalade, while Regan prefers preserves.

Toast rack!  - Picture of The Harbour Inn B&B and Grill, LarneThis photo of The Harbour Inn B&B and Grill is courtesy of TripAdvisor

When left to our own devices at a self-catering, Regan and I tend to make our toast American-style, or at least how we learned to eat toast: two slices, toasted until golden, buttered while hot, and stacked on a small plate…just like in the picture from our visit in 2011.


Love Irish toast!


DAY 11: Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

When we fly into Shannon Airport, we usually arrive in Ireland around 9am. Although you have travelled for nine hours and all you really want to do is take a nap, it is 9am and a brand-new day in Ireland.

My favorite warning sign, posted at the Cliffs

My favorite warning sign, posted at the Cliffs

No one wants to waste a minute of time on a trip, so we hit the ground running. A natural first stop from Shannon are the Cliffs of Moher. The fresh Irish air hits you hard as you walk along the path and view the Cliffs. It is really the best thing. I feel like the grime of air travel is swept from my skin and hair, away out to sea. I always feel refreshed and ready for the trip to begin.

Until you get back to the car and realize what you are actually ready for is an early dinner (preferably at Monk’s in Ballyvaughan) and a comfortable bed.

The Cliffs of Moher have become my favorite “first-day-in-Ireland-when-arriving-at-Shannon” activity. Not to be missed.


Photos by Regan McCormack