Thursday, September 27, 2012

No Comment...Well, Maybe Just One...

1-star charged with forcible sodomy, adultery - Military News | News From Afghanistan, Iraq And Around The World - Military Times

I served with this officer in Iraq, when he commanded the 172nd Brigade Combat Team, headquartered at FOB Kalsu. Didn't see any indicators of risky behavior at the time. I just have to wonder what drives highly-successful military officers to (apparently quite literally) "blow their careers" by doing dumb stuff.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Hurrah! It's the Obligatory Crapload of Irish Scenery Photos!

As I may have mentioned in an earlier post, my great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland almost 160 years ago. He was from County Wicklow. For me, visiting Ireland at long last was much about getting in touch with those family roots. Much as soaking in the spirit of Ireland was my first priority, my Spousal Unit and I were also stunned by the (cliche' alert!) raw beauty we saw around every turn of the road. Some of the impact came from the unbelievably green pastoral landscapes, or the dramatic rocky cliffs pounded by the sea. The physical symbology of political/cultural conflict, whether the murals and graffiti of Derry and Belfast, or churches destroyed by occupying military forces or adherents of competing religions, packed a visceral impact that equalled the breathtaking scenery atop the Cliffs of Moher.

I didn't spend a lot of time looking at Ireland through a camera's viewfinder/digital screen. Fortunately for our family chronicles, my Spousal Unit is a more prolific and talented photographer than I. But I did manage to snap a few shots of things I found ironic, amusing, or which summed up key aspects of Ireland. So here for your viewing pleasure (!), and brilliantly captioned, is a small but significant portion of the 3,278 digital photographs we captured during our two weeks in a very special place:

Perhaps the only one of my relatives remaining in Wicklow.
This perfectly illustrates the Irish sense of humor!

A view of the dramatic Cliffs of Moher

There are a number of people who leap off the cliffs each year, so a suicide prevention organization has placed these signs along the cliff edges. Ironically, the signs are all located in places where there is no cell phone coverage.

This is a 1,700 year-old Christian "oratory", built entirely without any kind of mortar or supports. It has withstood the elements for that entire time without any need for restoration, and the roof has NEVER LEAKED!

There are lots of ruins in Ireland. Most seem to be situated at the edges of cliffs.

This gravesite tells a sad tale of military misfortune. As a soldier, I couldn't help but think that this family might have chosen another way to serve Ireland, given their repeated, grim luck.

The City of Cork. It's apparently a law that all tourists must visit Cork, or they cannot claim to have actually visited Ireland.

For a dedicated fan of Monty Python, this sign was a dream come true.

Where much of the film "Ryan's Daughter" was filmed. By the way, Ireland is one of the world's most popular surfing destinations. Yeah, I didn't believe it either, but it is true.

It's amazing how such a simple mural can convey so much emotion.

In a lot of ways, Derry reminded me of Baghdad...People continue to carry on with their lives, but the undercurrent of factional tension is still readily apparent.

If not Baghdad, how about Birmingham Alabama?

Dunluce Castle, where they "done lost" the kitchen and all 60 staff when it tumbled down the cliff into the sea.
This is the kind of humor I identify with, to my Spousal Unit's great dismay.

Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. I chickened out.

Hopeful symbolism was everywhere in Belfast.

Another place of worship, sort of.

Nectar of the Gods: Family Photo

Giant's Causeway...Hangin' with Finn McCool

Ashford Castle, aka "Center of Awesomeness"

In the Irish-speaking part of Ireland

This could also describe the Seattle Mariners' batting record this year.

This note in a restaurant illustrates the innate courtesy and classiness I observed in Ireland.

Memorial to the thousands who died during "The Potato Famine". It was very reminiscent of Dachau.

The Fighting Leprechaun Looks for the Real Thing in Ireland

Leprechaun Houses in the Aran Islands
I've had the nickname, "Leprechaun" ever since high school. (One of the better nicknames I've acquired, without a doubt!)
A Good Place to Meet Relatives?

I Sort of Look Like This, Without the Beard and Hat

So when I went to Ireland, I naturally felt compelled to gain a feel for what these mythical wee folk were really like. Were leprechauns jolly fellows, like the cartoon shill for "Lucky Charms" cereal? Evil gremlins of the cheesy horror flicks by the same name?
I discovered that the reality was completely divorced from our stateside stereotypes. Thanks to some timely education by our guide, and also a local "leprechaun expert" we met in Dublin, I learned that leprechauns are indeed uniquely Irish creatures, with fairly pedestrian talents as cobblers. (Did you like how I linked "pedestrian" and the art of shoemaking there?) Anyway, in the magical lore much of the Irish acknowledge, even if they may not actually believe, leprechauns are part of the same community as Fairies. In Ireland, Fairies bear no resemblance to Disney's cartoon sprite, nor Julia Roberts' portrayal of Tinkerbell. They are much more robust, like diminutive versions of Gaelic Football players, but with significant magical powers. (Well, perhaps at least one Gaelic Football team possesses supernatural powers, but more about Team Donegal in another post!)
In addition to making shoes for the netherworld, leprechauns are also charged with handling the banking duties, hence their reputation for access to "pots o' gold" at the end of the rainbow. I was starting to envision a weird amalgamation of Gepetto and Tyrion Lannister by the time our speaker wrapped up his presentation.

While I did not come face to face with any live leprechauns during my time in Ireland, (which by the way is the only manner by which a full-size human can keep hold of a leprechaun...look away even for a split second, and they are gone!), I did manage to get in touch with my "Inner Leprechaun"...and thankfully that doesn't involve eating "Lucky Charms" cereal, nor sewing flaps of leather together!

The Fighting Leprechaun Goes to Ireland: Part II; Hawk-Walk at Ireland's School of Falconry

One of the easiest ways to show you a highlight of the tour is to post a video made by our completely brilliant tour guide, Stephen McPhilemy. Stephen is a talented fellow in his own right, who has made it his life's work to share his country with tourists of the world. We were indeed fortunate to spend two weeks in the company of a fellow who is well-educated about the history, art, and culture of Ireland, both the Republic and Northern Ireland. Even better, Stephen is completely entertaining while being 100% real, which is a rare combination.

As a result, I got even more than I expected from this tour. Sure, the scenery was amazingly complex and beautiful, the Guinness was tasty, and surprisingly, the food was gourmet-level delicious...but the insights I gained as a result of meeting the diverse group of people who call Ireland home will stay with me for the rest of my life.

So take a look at a small chunk of a completely fun day, and be prepared to enjoy the unique dude who led our journey so well! (Okay, so this isn't a professionally-produced definitely get a feel for the relaxed atmosphere we enjoyed on the tour!)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Leprechaun Went To Ireland (Part One)

Loyal reader(s) of this blog will recall that I started writing it to chronicle my deployment to Iraq as an Army Reservist. At the time, I named this blog "The Fighting Leprechaun" in a nod to my Irish heritage, and one of my nicknames while serving as a cop. (Definitely one of the more complimentary nicknames I acquired...)

Reviving the "leprechaun" moniker also revived my desire to visit the place where my father's family "Gaelic Roots Tour" so to speak. While it's kind of a cliche', and Europeans regularly joke about how everyone in the USA seems to claim Irish heritage, my own link to Ireland is relatively recent and well-documented enough to overcome any fear of being taken for a "wannabe".

When I returned home in one piece from the war, several events combined to bring this trip to fruition. My beloved Spousal Unit (who craves internet anonymity, which is why I refer to her as the Spousal Unit, rather than by name), encouraged my desire to set Ireland as our next destination, even though it wasn't high on her personal list of places to visit. (Although she does enjoy going to the excellent Galway Bay Irish Pub in Ocean Shores, which is relatively authentic in food and atmosphere.) Without her active support and brilliant financial management, we probably would never have set foot in Dublin, Wicklow, Kinsale, etc.
Also key to launching this journey was the bequest from my late mother, who had passed away just after I returned from Iraq. That made a comprehensive tour financially possible.
Finally, the family genealogical information compiled by my cousin Mark F. provided tangible evidence of locations and timelines of our ancestors. Validating this link to Ireland provided me with context for understanding what their lives must have been like, and a clue to their motivation for immigrating.

Once the foundation had been laid, I commenced doing what I enjoy almost as much as the actual traveling; planning the trip! I started doing some serious reading about the country, attended an in-depth lecture series on the History of Ireland sponsored by the University of Washington Alumni Association with one of my grad school classmates, also of Irish descent, and picked the brains of friends and colleagues who had toured Ireland.  One of my colleagues mentioned that he had recently gone on a two-week "Rick Steves Tour", and really enjoyed it. For those of you who aren't familiar with Rick Steves, he is the kind of nerdy fellow from Western Washington who has become famous for creating "Europe Through the Back Door" videos broadcast on PBS, unconventional guide books, and putting on tours covering all parts of Europe. Since my colleague, Rob, is a fellow UW Husky, he has a high degree of I checked out the Rick Steves website. After looking at the itinerary and the specifics of what the tour package included, I compared costs if we did a similar itinerary on our own, booking a rental car, lodging, admission costs, meals, etc., and concluded that while the Rick Steves option was pretty darn expensive, the higher cost would be offset by not having to drive/navigate through an unfamiliar country that uses the wrong side of the road, book lodging, and deal with all of the potential crap that comes with being a tourist a long way from home.

(End of Part One. Next up, "Rolling the Dice: Report from a 'Rick Steves Ranger' ")