Row, row, row your boat

Before we made it to the tree, we saw and experienced one of the more prominent features of the Lough Key forest park, the island with the castle on. I believe it is usually called Castle Island, distinguishing it from the islands with the church on (Church Island?).

Castle Island, seen from Lough Key

It being an island, the only way to get in and have a good look around was to use a boat, or pay for one of the boat tours. We hired two rowboats and immediately learned who had ever rowed a boat before in their lives and who hadn’t. I was in the latter category, but I still had a great time rowing us slowly across the lake for the second half of our outward journey.

Transportation

Despite the presence of someone who clearly knew what she was doing, our boat was very egalitarian and all four of us rowed across half the lake at some point. No one fell out, I don’t think anyone got whacked by oars, and we did make it to and from the castle without major incident despite some interesting rocking when a motorboat whizzed by and gave us a wake to bob over.

I like castles, even overgrown ones. I especially like castles I’m allowed to explore and climb on, where the only barriers to exploration are my own ability to spot paths and stairs and ways up and around. This one offered all that. I’m not sure how old it really was; even though there were apparently people living here a very long time ago, there was evidence of recent work done to support the structure and I think this particular castle might have been built in the past couple hundred years on the site of an older castle.

Broken Castle

There hasn’t been anyone living here for a while though.

Broken castle

A couple of us climbed up for a better view, and poked around some of the smaller tower bits. I’m pretty sure there are good names for everything, but I don’t know any of them so I’ll just show you the picture.

Broken castle with a view

I love that more times than not, when I venture out of Dublin I get a surprise castle sighting. (As it happens, I see a lot of a particular castle when I’m in Dublin, but it’s not that much of a surprise since I live practically next door to Dublin Castle.) I also love that most of the time when I see these things, I’m with friends who like climbing around as much as I do.

Arborsexual

A couple weeks ago, several couples and I were invited out to Boyle (Roscommon) for the bank holiday weekend. We were housed, fed, and entertained, and I not only got to hang out with people I don’t see often but I got to see bits of Ireland I never had before.

The older I get, the less I like taking pictures of things and prefer to experience them on my own and think about them later. I get the luxury of this opinion because I have friends who take great pictures so I’m not usually left without some visual reminder of an event or holiday. For the Sunday afternoon excursion to Lough Key, I was the only one with a camera so I did my best. I didn’t take pictures of Boda Borg (it’s like getting to do the Crystal Maze, apparently), but I did get pictures of the awesome tree.

Huge tree

I’m told it’s a redwood, though I’m not a botanist and would have believed it if I was told it was a giant cedar. We wandered in (it’s the kind of tree you wander in to) and climbed around, some of us higher than others. I admit I lazed around, mostly.

Vertical view

It’s the kind of tree people write stories about, the kind that makes people become environmentalists, the kind people get married in and bring their children to. The people in our group from the area knew the tree instantly, referring to it only as “the tree,” speaking with respect and care. It’s a good tree, certainly worthy of its own blog entry.

Roscommon Lamb Festival, part 3

We got really lucky that our day for the Festival had glorious weather. The Wool Craft Village was in the town square in a very large tent with floorboards, so even if it had rained we would have been out of the wet. Since it was beautiful out, Kheldara and I took turns leaving the table to explore when things were slow.

After I got back from petting Lorraine’s sheep, Kheldara asked me, “Did you see the blue lamb?”

Did I what now?

Armed with vague directions, I headed back outside with my camera. I passed the post office and a building that looked like a castle, following a little path until I spotted a real castle:

Roscommon town park

…or at least what was left of one. When I took this picture, I could hear a band playing in the distance, and thought even if I didn’t find the blue lamb I would at least find lunch. (Perhaps the blue lamb was going to become lunch; I had no idea.) I continued through the gate and out into a park. Lots of people were out, enjoying the day and taking part in the festivities. Lucky for me, I found the Pet Lamb Show on the near side of the park.

There, in a pen full of lambs and children, I spotted my quarry:

A blue lamb

It was, as I’d suspected, painted. Still, not something you see every day.

Roscommon Lamb Festival, part 2

As you might expect from the name, the Roscommon Lamb Festival is about lambs. Well, lambs and sheep. I learned that County Roscommon “has the highest lamb output in the country,” and that the festival itself is meant to showcase the benefits of locally produced food and craft. Whether you’re concerned about ethical treatment of animals, your carbon footprint, or supporting your local economy, there is some compelling reason to consider buying and eating locally. Combine that with the slow food movement and the increased interest in crafts, and it’s clear that the Lamb Festival is tapping into some timely concerns.

I’m a unapologetic city girl. I have minimal experience with sheep, and while I am aware of and appreciate the hard work that goes into animal husbandry I haven’t actually witnessed any of it. (Petting zoos do not count.) About as close as I’ve gotten to any of it is watching my sister muck out a stall at the barn she took horseback riding lessons at. I certainly don’t raise the sheep that produce the wool I enjoy knitting with. So I was excited when I found out that one attraction of the Wool Craft Village would be a demonstration of the path wool takes through the various crafts I take advantage of. There was a stage with a shearing machine, professional sheep-shearers, and a bunch of sheep to be sheared:

Sheep pen

Every so often, they’d bring out a sheep and shear it while all of us gawkers watched:

Sheep being sheared!

The sheep were surprisingly unconcerned about the entire affair. A few of them kicked a little when they were turned on their sides, but for the most part they were pretty chilled out. They didn’t look sedated, so my guess is that the shearing procedure has been developed to cause the least amount of trauma possible.

We also met Lorraine, a customer who heard we were coming to the festival and came to the booth to meet us. After chatting a little, we found out that she has her own sheep and had brought them to the festival. So I headed out and met her sheep and took a picture:

Lorraine and her sheep (bad picture, blame me)

We learned a little more about the ins and outs of raising sheep. I asked what happens to the wool after she gets her sheep sheared, and she (a knitter herself, remember) replied, “It goes straight to the wool merchants.” For the past few years, the cost of wool in Ireland has been incredibly low, so low that it costs more to shear the sheep (paying the shearers) than farmers can recover by selling the wool. There is a little buzz this year about prices going up a little, but it’s still astonishingly cheap right now.

After you shear the sheep and process the wool, you have to spin it. So there were spinners:

Spinner

One of the spinning wheels had been custom made by the spinner’s husband, but that one is (I think) an Ashford Traditional, the same kind I have. (Have I been spinning on it? No. One of these days.)

After you spin the wool, you make it into stuff. You can weave it, knit it, crochet it, felt it, make rugs, etc. So there was a knitting circle:

Knitting circle

That’s Michelle standing up in the middle. She organized the Wool Craft Village, and I thought she did a great job. There was a nice mix of vendors, the demonstrations were interesting (judging by the crowds of people around the shearers and spinners!), and she was available for us in case we needed anything. I think she also managed to have fun, so everyone won. We were grateful for the invitation to participate in the festival, and it seemed like a lot of people had a lovely day out as well.

Roscommon Lamb Festival, part 1

The shop received an invitation a few months ago to participate in this year’s Roscommon Lamb Festival, the first to feature a Wool Craft Village. Kheldara (Rav link) and I volunteered to staff our table, so it came to pass that the weekend before last I drove out Wesht and discovered all the delights the Wool Lamb Festival has to offer.

Since the Village didn’t officially open until 2-ish, we got a late start and hit the road with a carfull of stuff around 10:15. We set up as soon as we arrived:

Ready to sell...

I had my Irish radio debut while we put the finishing touches on the table. One of the presenters, Eugene from Shannonside, was set up in the station’s truck outside and asked a few of the vendors if they’d like to chat. I balked at first, fearing my telltale accent would mark me as a carpetbagger, but Eugene assured me it was exactly what they wanted. We chatted about the festival, about knitting, and about how the downturn in the economy was focusing people’s attention more on creative endeavours.

The Wool Village itself ended up being several straight hours of fun — we chatted with visitors, spotted a few shop customers who were delighted at being able to see us without having to make the trek to Dublin, and met some of the other vendors. I didn’t get a chance to talk to everyone, but I did snag a picture of one of the weaver’s tapestries in progress:

Woven tapestry in progress

She uses natural dyes in her work, and had a demonstration of the dye process at her booth. It threw me for a moment when I saw the dye pots — I’d thought they were vats of the fabled lamb stew. (We never did get any lamb stew. It was in a different location.)

There were a few yarn vendors at the Village, and a few people selling finished objects. We had a felter on one side of us who sold beautiful and practical felted pieces including purses, scrapbooks, fingerless gloves, and wraps. I couldn’t get good pictures of her stuff, but it was amazing. She confessed it was hard to sell some of her finished goods sometimes, and I can definitely relate. On the other side of us, a crocheter sold finished items, mostly baby blankets and clothes:

Crocheter selling her wares

Clearly, the fibre crafts are alive and well in Ireland.

Knitting Tour: Waterford

Marketing is a fast world. Plans can shift at the last minute based on real-life conditions. The people on the ground (that’s us) make adjustments based on the venue, foot traffic, space available, and the attitudes of passersby. Contracting for a marketing firm is not a job for the faint of heart, or for people who use a pen to write in their diaries. I wasn’t sure about the travel plans for Waterford until the afternoon before; I might have needed to have my bag packed so I could be picked up from work, or I might have been able to take the train down for the day. Lucky for me, the train option came up and I was able to have a quiet evening at home before setting out early the next morning.

The Waterford train was, like the Cork train, slick, new, modern, and comfortable. Unlike the Cork train the previous week, it was warm and nearly empty. Armed with the beginnings of a sleeve and my new iPod Touch, I passed the two and a half hour journey quietly and happily. I finished the sleeve and cast on for the second one, which is all I’d ever hoped for out of the train journey.

This isn’t the sleeve, but it is a picture of the project:

I hadn’t been to Waterford in a very long time, but recognized the place as soon as we pulled into the train station. Waterford IT is next door to the Waterford Crystal factory, which happens to be the only place in Waterford I could trust myself to find. (The only times I’d been in Waterford before were to accompany visitors who wanted to see the crystal.) We arrived, despaired of ever finding parking, then talked our way into an all-day parking spot right next to the building where we’d be setting up. Things looked good.

Our spot was smack in the middle of the business building, just outside a set of lecture halls that appeared to be named after other towns in the county. This set the dynamic for the day: every hour we’d get a rush of people, then it would trail off, and things would be very quiet until lectures let out again. We only for 16 knitters, but considering people were mostly on their way to or from something, that wasn’t such a bad total. I also met a couple people involved in things I like that aren’t knitting-related: Caitriona, a woman who organizes outreaches to local schools to get kids interested in science, and Richie, a guy working on his PhD in chemistry. I also got to meet the usual lot of great people, teach a few people to knit, and remind a lot more of the knitting skills they’d gotten a long time ago but thought they’d forgotten.

I didn’t have a sock to work on, so I made fingerless gloves instead:

They are the easiest fingerless gloves you can possibly imagine.

Using aran/worsted yarn and 5.0 mm needles:
CO 30 sts
Knit all rows for about 6.5 inches. Cast off.
Sew the cast-on edge to the cast-off edge, leaving a hole for your thumb.
Weave in ends.

I started these shortly after we sat down around 11 when I realized 1. I had nothing to knit, and 2. if I knitted our example yarn, we would run out, and 3. no one ever wants to knit with the dark colours. So I picked up a couple little yarn cakes of the Lamb’s Pride Worsted in (I think) Turkish Olive, borrowed a pair of mini Peace Fleece needles from the Vodafone stash, and started kitting. They were done about 10 minutes before we packed up around 3:15.

Not bad for an afternoon’s work.

Knitting Tour: Galway

Galway and I have a complicated relationship.

After nearly dying in Limerick, I was ready for Galway. I was looking forward to seeing NUI Galway and scouting out the venue for Itzacon. I was curious to see if I remembered how to find my way around. And after driving (well, being driven) around Limerick, I was a little worried that it would be a lot bigger than I remembered.

Living in Dublin and travelling around the country with a couple of hard-core Dubs, it’s easy to slip into the Dublin mindset: that Dublin is the biggest, awesomest, most user-friendly place in Ireland, the only place worth seeing, working, or living in. Every other town in Ireland is a backwater tourist playground (at best), tiny and devoid of “mod cons.” I acknowledge this is all ridiculous, and I will tease the daylights out of any Dub who expresses these opinions, but it clearly seeped into my head because I was surprised at how much of Limerick there was, and how clueless I was at navigating through it. So I was nervous about Galway. Especially when we finally found the B&B and so far none of the landmarks I remembered seemed to line up with each other.

The sock liked Galway.

Upon arrival, I borrowed the company laptop, checked all communication channels, and did some searching for food. I was craving takeaway Chinese, but would have settled for a decent sit-in Indian place. I found a couple possibilities, noticed patterns in where eateries were clustered, and tried to memorize the map. I set aside any memories I had of the place, trusted the map, and set out into the unknown.

The first few sights were unfamiliar, so I watched street names and minded directions carefully. After a few blocks I noticed the train/bus station, and the old memories clicked into place with the map in my head and the streets I was on. I felt my way through town until I found the Spanish Arch and a decent Indian place, then proceeded to have a great dinner. I have big plans to eat there again when I head out for Itzacon.

The promotion itself the next day went okay. We were huddled in a corner of an out-of-the-way snack bar, and not permitted to venture out to advertise, so we spent a lot of time hanging out, knitting, and chatting with the people who did find us. My sock lounged on the table:

I tried to get a decent picture of the little knitted cupcakes (or “buns” as everyone called them):

People went out of their way to come see the buns. I have lost track of how many times I have been asked, nay, begged to consider selling them. People will come, often brought by people who have been by before, and look longingly at them. They will pick them up, coo, and make eyes at me. They believe that if they convince me of their deep longing, that their lives will be complete if I will only sell them a bun, just one bun, then I will relent and take their money in exchange for a little knitted confection.

Alas, I have a hard heart and a vague fear of being fired. I did consider whipping up a few on my own to sell, but realized quickly that if I started making money on the side from this gig I would probably never work again. It’s probably bad enough that I’ve been giving out pre-stamped shop loyalty cards to people who seem interested.

As with every other location, even freezing Limerick, I enjoyed Galway. I appreciated the opportunity to see a little more of it than I did the other locations, and I am looking forward to heading back. On the way home, I finished off the toe of the second sock, resulting in a finished pair of socks from the trip. I didn’t even have to cheat — I cast on for the first sock while waiting for my lift on the way to Dundalk, and grafted the toe while in the van on the way back from Galway. They’re in the laundry now, so no pictures…but they are a lovely memento.

Knitting Tour: Limerick

I was cheated out of my visit to Cork when UCC decided they didn’t want to give Vodafone enough space to accommodate the Instant Living Room (as I have taken to calling it). While I remain bitter, as I do about every venue that turns up their nose at our awesome setup and cheats me out of a day of work, I will allow that perhaps they have a point and our Instant Living Room does take up a lot of space. I will not accept the point, but you may.

That’s a shot of us in Galway, which means I’m getting ahead of myself. (Can you see my sock in that picture?)

The original plan was to go to Cork on Monday, stay the night, do UCC Tuesday, drive to Limerick and stay the night, work UL, drive to Galway and stay the night, then work NUI Galway and drive home. Since the guys were going to be in Cork without me, I took the train out to Limerick Wednesday morning. This involved finding the Cork train (adding insult to injury), then switching to another train in “Limerick Junction” that took me the rest of the way to Limerick. The Cork train was lovely and modern and full of business travellers and very cold. The Limerick train was small and older and slower, but it got us there eventually.

I nearly died in Limerick.

Considering Limerick’s deadly reputation (arguably unjustified), you’d expect I was mugged or stabbed or something. Nothing like that happened. UL (University of Limerick) was a nice place, a campus that reminded me a lot of the standard American universities, all sprawly and landscaped. No, I flirted with death in Limerick because we were stationed outside. We enjoyed the protection of a covered walkway, but it was still outside, and it was rainy and cold. I don’t fault anyone the rain and the cold; I expect that and still kind of like it. But knitting outside in the rain and cold for four hours? Even my awesome Kureyon fingerless gloves (Rav link) couldn’t stand up to that the whole time. I did break down and get tea from the Spar across the square, which says something. I rarely take breaks when in customer service / knitting mode. But I couldn’t feel my fingers, and I need those to knit.

The people were, as always, lovely. I met one guy with an awesome penguin hat (picture of said had is being held hostage on my phone, but never fear, I will get it at some point) and found out the hat was knitted by his girlfriend in Dublin. I ran into my boss’s husband, who’s finishing his PhD at UL. I completely forgot I’d asked one group of people the same question twice, and was appropriately embarrassed, blaming the brain freeze. By the time we packed up and shipped out, I was frozen through but very happy.