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The King – Tory Island, Ireland

"Ireland's Islands are very romantical, they are".  This is from The King of Tory Island, who is showing us the art gallery and doing a wee bit of flirting in the process.The King of Tory IslandAnd yes, he is a real king.  And with his captain's hat and gold hoop earring and penchant for telling stories and easy laugh, he is the perfect ambassador for this tiny Island that desperately wants more visitors to come across the rough channel.Tiny Tory Island, on the very northern tip of Ireland, within squinting view of the Scottish Isles on a clear day, has been electing a king for the past 1400 years.  This was a tradition of many islands in Ireland ... Tory is the last.  He is referred to by everyone on the island simply as "The King".  He refers to the island as "my island".The cliffs are full of nesting birds, and the waters have hundreds of birds and dozens of species flying and fishing below.Besides having the last Irish King, Tory Island is also one of the few places where locals all still speak in the pure Irish Gaelic, and the culture and traditions remain truer here than most other places.  This is because the Island has been so isolated from the mainland for so many years.  And also because they have a healthy history of smuggling and contraband whisky making and other nefarious activities that encouraged keeping a healthy separation from modernity.The population of around 200 live in two tiny villages - clusters of white houses with red trimmed windows and doors circled against the winter wind and weather.  Remains of a 1200 year old monastery and its tumbling bell tower still sit in the middle of the village.  Boats are pulled up on shore ... there is very

The Pub

It's Sunday afternoon and the pub is packed.   A couple harmonize to the lilt of the pipe and guitar.  The ceiling is covered in bright flags, copper pots dangle from hooks from the ceiling.  The floor is pitted by a hundred years of feet.  Everybody knows everybody. I'm drinking a Guinness and trying to write to the buzz of pub life.  I have found that in order to write on this trip, I'm staying up late and writing after the pub when I'm tired and need sleep. But the concept of combining these two activities is clearly ridiculous.  The pub is for socializing and, by golly, visitor or not, you will be social. So I've turned off the gadgets after being allowed a few paragraphs and am listening to the woman seated across from me.  The conversation is conducted at moderate yell to be heard over the music and the social hum all around us.  And ... hands down talking with her is the better choice, sleep be damned.  I love talking to people at the pubs ... and meeting these people is absolutely the best part of traveling here. The woman I'm speaking with introduces me to her brother and husband.  She tells me she is planning a trip to LA in a couple of weeks, but her husband can't join her.  She says he was arrested during the troubles and imprisoned for 7 years, and is not allowed into the USA as a visitor.  The Troubles have a long reach. She tells me her brother is back visiting because her sister-in-law has just been diagnosed with cancer.  Her eyes well up as she confides this.  I listen to her talk for a bit ... and then I tell her that I had cancer, intending just to let her know that I

Murals of Belfast

"I started painting during the hunger strikes".Protestant Mural - many of these reference historical events and military victoriesWe are sitting at the bar at Kelley's Cellars, the oldest pub in Belfast.  We have struck up a conversation with an older woman with pink hair that is curled into a big roll on top of her head, with false eyelashes and a pink paisley dress.  The conversation has been a challenge - I can understand about every third word she says beyond the F bomb and "Jesus Christ" that is dropped liberally into every sentence.  She's been sitting at the bar drinking for a while.But it's her husband who has us still sitting there and engaged.  Turns out we have just met one of the famous mural painters of Belfast.Sinn Fein Mural of martyr and hunger striker Bobbie Sands. Many Republican murals are symbolic and meant to stir emotion Earlier in the day we rolled into town and immediately hired a cab to take us around to see the murals that dot the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods.  These murals are essentially enormous tags that cover the end of buildings in bright colors and political messages.  They started to appear in the seventies, and both sides still commemorate their struggles and heroes and victims and political goals on the blank canvass of their neighborhoods.The Troubles, as they are known here, started in the 1920s when Britain freed all of Ireland except for six counties in Northern Ireland where there was a majority Protestant population, an affinity for the English, and (probably) most importantly, a thriving industrial base in Belfast that fed the British war economy.The Troubles - with attacks and bombings - built up in the decades after with peak violence in the 70s and 80s that finally subsided in a ceasefire negotiated

Legends – Ancient Ireland

It's easy to see why so many people believe there just might be real magic here. Looking up at the ancient stone and earth mounds on these green hills dotted by standing stones, I can imagine the solstice sun lighting its mysterious path into the cairn.  And entertain the legends of the fairy folk and druids that still have believers who flock here on the longest and shortest days of the year to celebrate ancient rites. The standing stones and prehistoric cairns and ring forts that cover these green hills of County Meath, north of Dublin, have inspired generations of stories and myths and magic. As we visit the stones and the funeral mounds of the ancients at Bru na Boinne, some of the best preserved stone age sites in the world, the mystery is explained away somewhat, though no-one really knows why these stone rings and tombs are here.  They are 5000 years old, older than the pyramids, and you can still see the geometric carvings on the massive stones that were brought in to make the base stones of the walls and the standing stones outside. The neolithic people built these rings and monuments to track the sunlight on the shortest and longest day was a way to mark the seasons ... perhaps to try and control and predict the uncontrollable, the coming of spring and the end of winter.  Perhaps because even today we dread winter darkness and crave the rejuvenation of spring, and the ancient people believed life-bringing spring needed the help of rituals and rites to make sure it arrived. But those ancient mysteries are woven into the tales of ancient history.  This is the land where heroic tales of Brian Boru and Queen Maeve and Cuculain have been retold for centuries.  The hill of Tara, now a green park

Yes, I’m in Ireland now. Yes, I just got back from Africa. Nope, this was not planned.

You are where? Boyne Valley, County Meath So. You might be asking ... What the heck is Leigh doing in Ireland? Less than two weeks ago I was finishing up a six week trip in Africa with my Mom.  A bucket list trip, that meant a lot to both of us. And left me tired when I arrived home last Sunday, jetlagged and facing the inevitable slow transition back to normalcy. I had tracked down the mailman to learn where all my mail was that was supposed to be forwarded to a friend ... and wasn't.  I had made an appointment with the dentist and for an eye exam.  And had carefully checked the yard to see the damage to my new landscape plants after weeks away with plants newly in the ground. And made a big grocery store run and bought enough produce to make up for six weeks of a meat-heavy Africa diet. In short, I was settling back into Seattle. Adjusting to being back after a long time away traveling generally takes a while.  It's not just the slightly musty house smell or the jet-lag or all the little chores to set up house again.  There is an inevitable mental adjustment to returning to "real life". Every time I return from travel, I start over.  New clients and projects and schedules and goals.  I have learned to think of the time immediately back from a long trip as a window when I see things just a little bit differently, and this is often the best time make changes and decisions that send me in a different direction.  These are the windows when I am most likely to see things a little more clearly, and make choices with a perspective that is inevitably lost once I've settled into the comfortable routines. So three days after returning,