The Invisible Castle

In the year of our Lord, 1858, the Shirleys of Lough Fea boasted that their estate house contained the largest room in County Monaghan. The honour was not secure, however—a nearby Baron, Lord Rossmore, was determined to claim it for himself. He extended the drawing room of Rossmore Castle to steal the distinction from them. But the rivalry wasn’t over. Lord Rossmore had to extend the drawing room five times to stay ahead of the Shirleys’ relentless construction, and in the end his drawing room still came in second to their Great Hall.

Even though it lacked the largest room in the county, no one could deny that Rossmore Castle was beautiful, built as it was on top of a hill with a panoramic view and 117 windows to see it through (the Shirleys only had 96). Its towers and turrets looked as if they had been lifted straight out of a fairytale illustration, even more so when there was a party on, and there were a lot of parties. The guest lists were star-studded as well—the Prince of Wales was a personal friend of Lord Rossmore. But, as can happen in fairytales, the castle vanished. This had more to do with dry rot than magic, but the effect was the same.

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A Trip To The Embassy

I was excited. We’d only lived in Ireland a few months—long enough to begin to feel the reality of deep differences, but not nearly long enough to adjust to them. Our second son had just been born, a different experience in a different medical system, and we needed to register his birth at the United States embassy. American soil, in Ireland. It would be nice to get a little taste of all we’d left behind. A few hours on the motorway got us to Dublin, where we found the US embassy—a big round thing looking out of place on its street-corner, like a landed UFO. Like us. 

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The Notorious Adventures Of Nutt The Nefarious

From the sandy beach in Youghal, Ireland, you can see Capel Island just off the coast, with half a lighthouse. The unfinished tower now serves as a shelter for wild goats, who are the island’s only inhabitants, aside from the birds. But there’s more mystery in the history of Capel Island than abandoned construction projects and goats—legend has it that an infamous pirate buried treasure there in the 1620’s. We know the pirate was real, and we know his name: Nutt. We also know that he was betrayed and nearly hanged in England, but managed to avoid the noose thanks to his friendship with the Secretary of State. 

After our family heard about Nutt, the infamous Captain began making appearances on family camping trips, telling tall tales of his fantastic adventures. In every story he nearly died, yet somehow managed to escape at the last minute. I wrote down some of these tales, intending to give them to my children as a Christmas gift (that was nearly three years ago… better late than never, right?). Now, in order to give them a physical copy that looks and feels like the real thing, I’ve self-published the book through Amazon. I’ve got their copies ordered, but in light of the current situation I thought I’d share the stories with you as well, in case you or your children would also like to hear the tall tales of the Captain willing to travel beyond the Edges of Doom in his hunt for the legendary Dessert Island, where the lollipoppies grow behind brown sugar beaches.

I want this to be my gift to you, so I’ve made the Kindle version free until Friday, the 1st of May (as long as Amazon will let me):

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The Things We Remember When Normal Life Stops

Normal life evaporated in Ireland today. It’s like the nation caught the virus, and went to bed. Schools are closed, events are cancelled, and the streets are getting quiet (although the shops have been crazy). It feels like the world is turning upside down, burying the life we’re used to and bringing up uncertainty and fear in its place. And the fear is real.

No one knows for sure when this will end, or what it will cost us in lives and livelihoods. We do know this, though: Normal life is good. We already miss it. And maybe that’s a silver lining to these dark clouds – we remember what we love. The steady rhythms of normal life can make us sleepy and distracted, but now we’re awake. Now we remember:

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On Being An Immigrant

Growing up in Alabama, I knew the rules: I knew when to say “yes, ma’am” and how to order a Sprite by asking for a Coke and waiting for the server to say “What kind?” I knew what was expected of me, and I knew what to expect from others. I knew how to say things so that people would listen, and when I needed opportunities, I was confident that doors would open and people would give me trust. And I was right. Even when I made mistakes, the trust remained and I knew I would have the help I needed to get back up and try again. Alabama was good to me, and I learned to expect it. I didn’t even think about it.

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Ireland’s Treasure: The Book Of Kells

Recently Munster Bible College had a week-long intensive course in early church history. There’s a lot to cover in a course like that, but by Friday evening we were talking about the gospel coming to Ireland through Patrick. What a man. He lived and breathed Scripture, which comes through in his surviving writings and his willingness to leave a comfortable life and sacrifice everything for the sake of the very people who had kidnapped and enslaved him in his youth. You could hardly get a better picture of the gospel of Jesus, who stepped out of Heaven to sacrifice everything for the sake of the very people who had rejected him. Continue reading Ireland’s Treasure: The Book Of Kells

Of Blogging For A Year (And Also O.C.D., Music, And Travel)

I missed the bandwagon. Years ago, blogging was the thing to do, but it’s well past its edgy coolness now. It’s one of the older platforms in the world of online discourse, but a year ago I started anyway with a post called “What’s New About New Ireland?”. The fact is, some thoughts don’t fit neatly into the confines of a tweet or the text on a meme. For me, the process of distilling my scattered thoughts into words and sentences and paragraphs each week for a year has helped immeasurably to sharpen those same thoughts in my own mind. I hope it has been helpful to others as well. I like the freedom to write about anything I’m thinking about, which is why I used only my name for the site address: the thing holding these thoughts together is the fact that I thought them, and even that is a stretch because most of my thoughts are gleaned from the brains of others. Along the way, I’ve developed a growing appreciation for the amount of work others put in to expressing their thoughts carefully and well amid the constant stream of articles, news stories, and posts that is our modern internet. It’s not an easy task to sharpen English into the kind of point that can stick and do lasting good, and those who do so well have my respect.

On that note, and as a way of celebrating a year of blogging, I’d like to draw your attention to a few other Irish blogs that I have found helpful: Continue reading Of Blogging For A Year (And Also O.C.D., Music, And Travel)

How Ireland Has Changed Me

Ten years ago today, I got on an airplane in Washington DC with my pregnant wife and one year old son, and we all left the only country we’d ever lived in. The airport was busy with people heading the other direction: it was Barack Obama’s Inauguration Day, 2009. A couple of meals and movies later, we landed in Ireland. We were met at the airport by coworkers, and on the way home we stopped at Pizza Hut. During the meal, my wife noticed that we had left the diaper bag in the trunk. No problem, our coworker was happy to get the nappy bag out of the boot. We looked at each other and knew: it might be Pizza Hut, but it was definitely not America!

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Good Discrimination, Bad Diversity, and Pneumonia

There was a time last year when my lungs started going on strike. Every breath became a rattling effort, and time only seemed to make it worse. So, like any sane person who can’t breath, I went to the doctor. She told me I had pneumonia, but was quick to add that she was very accepting of my unique breathing style and would support me in my new lifestyle. Then she sent me home.

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Health Committee Doesn’t Mind A Bit Of Suffering

Through much of her history, Ireland has been well acquainted with the reality of pain and suffering. Yet one of the beautiful things about this nation is that in the face of her own pain, she responded by growing stronger in her compassion for others who are in need. Her willingness to stand up for people and animals who face pain and suffering at the hands of others is well established – which makes her government’s decision last week to allow intense pain for some living beings on her very own shores hard to understand.

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