to ya!


From Dublin’s fair city!

On this day in 1504: Michelangelo’s David is unveiled in Piazza della Signoria in Florence.

And we’re on our way! But unlike the plough boy in the song of my title we have no plans to join the IRA – just to enjoy the city, see some fabled sites, take a train trip, look up friends in London, and then sail back to the New World.  

An Unsual Map of Ireland*

The search for ways to celebrate landmark birthdays had begun well over two years ago.  Back in 2006 we had celebrate Laurent’s 50th with a cruise to Alaska and my 60th with a vacation in Vietnam. How were we going to top those two memorable voyages? We toyed with the idea of the Orient Express to Venice but though we love la Serenissima we had been there several times in the past decade and these occasions called out for something a touch more exotic.  A further search on the Belmond website – they operate the VSOE and several luxury trains – came up with a Scotch tasting tour of the Highlands on the Royal Scotsman.  As Laurent enjoys the odd dram and neither one of us had been to Scotland – unless you consider an hour spent in Prestwick Airport being in Scotland – we thought we may have found the answer.  As we toyed with the idea didn’t those wily folk at Belmond come up with another option:  the Grand Hibernian

It was to be their newest “Iconic” train and was to begin service in the late summer of 2016!!!!  Back in 1977 I had made a pilgrimage to the Wexford Opera Festival but then only seen the countryside between Dublin and that lovely seaside town.  My two trips previous to that – 1949 and 1969 – had been to Ulster and centred around my mother’s home town of Belfast.  Of that first I remember very little as I was only two and a half and the other I remember as including some rather startling events as it was the beginning of the “troubles” of that time.  It would be the first time I had returned to the “old sod” in 40 years.  I knew that much had changed in the ensuing 40 years but being Ireland I felt that little would be different.

This would be a chance to see some of the sites fabled in tale and tune; so within days of the train going in sale in May of 2015 and in a mad moment of optimism we booked our journey for mid-September 2016.  And of course over time things have been added to the trip – these things often take on a life of their own.  As well as the wonderful itinerary the good folks at Belmond have arranged there will be a side trip up to Ulster to see the Giants’ Causeway, a viewing of the Book of Kells, a performance at the Abbey Theatre, a stay at the Greshem Hotel as a salute to one of my favourite short stories**, that brief few days in London, the transatlantic voyage on the Queen Mary 2 with a chance to see, howbeit briefly, our family in New York City, and finally back to our Island home and our Nicky and Nora.

* This rather unusual map of Ireland is on a powder compact that was amongst the things I found when I was packing up my mother’s home.  It is a well worn metal of some kind and I was surprised to find that there was still face powder in it with a mesh puff.  All these years later there was still a faint perfume of the powder – or perhaps just the memory of it – that reminded me of my mother.

**James Joyce’s The Dead

NB:  I do not have a computer with me on this trip only my iPad so entries will be few and far between and may be rather irratic in appearance as the iPad app does do strange things.  But I will try and post a few pictures to give a flavour of the trip.

On this day in 1896: The first successful heart surgery was conducted on this day by Ludwig Rehn

It’s not an easy task to escape the fact that Charlottetown is considered the “Cradle of Confederation”.  Whither it be the Confederation Players enacting the events of September 1864 or tour bus guides pointing out places of interest that first week of September one hundred and fifty two years ago has a major place in Island history.  A month or two ago  I told a bit of the oh so Canadian story of the events that led up to the seemingly random  founding of my homeland in my new home.


Province House was the site of the Charlottetown Conference in – you guessed it! – 1864.  At the moment it is closed for much needed renovation and repair; sadly it does not appear work will be started until next year.

Back in 2009 a, to my mind at least, whimsical bronze of John Alexander Macdonald was installed at the corner of Queen Street and Victoria Row – given his penchant for gin cocktails (if straight gin can be considered a cocktail) a not inappropriate location for the wily old bugger.  Seated, legs crossed, his beaver hat beside him, his arm resting nonchalantly on the back of the bench, Michael Halterman‘s statue seems to invite you to have a seat and he’ll confide his plans for a united Canada to you – and probably talk you into agreeing to it.

In 2014 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Conference three other “Fathers of Confederation” took their place in town.  As well as being a PEI delegate at the Conference William Henry Pope was the one man “official” greeting committee when the “observers” from the Province of Canada showed up on the HMS Queen Victoria – you may recall that BwzhYlsIIAAtO8geveryone else had gone off to see a circus of another type that day.  And as he did on September 1, 1846 once again, and for the foreseeable future, he sets off from Peakes Quay to extend his welcome.

A week or two after the dedication in Charlottetown a statue (left) by Jules Lasalle, the same sculptor, was unveiled on the waterfront in Québec City of  a fourth Father of Confederation.  Étienne-Paschal Taché is shown greeting the delegates to the Québec Conference in October of 1864.  A gift from PEI it is set in a garden that finds its companion garden – a gift from Québec City – at Confederation Landing in Charlottetown


By odd coincidence two of the delegates from the Maritimes, though not related, shared exactly the same name: John Hamilton Gray. One was from New Brunswick and the other was from PEI.  Their presence at the Conference is marked by the work of Nathan Scott, placed – perhaps not just serendipitously – outside the Great George Hotel.  There has been a hotel on that location since 1846, and though it had served as a general store for a time by 1864 it had been returned to its original purpose as the Pavilion Hotel.  No doubt the two gentlemen would have had a few conversations in the salon of this fashionable Charlottetown watering hole.

There are twenty other “Fathers of Confederation” and I’m wondering how many of them have statues or memorial perhaps in their home towns or province?  Given that most Canadians can’t name more than a handful I’m guess not that many.

On this day in 1642:  The English Parliament led by Puritans issues an Ordinance suppressing all stage plays in theatres.

At table the other evening conversation briefly turned to an early musical here inthe first years of the Charlottetown Festival:  Sunshine Town.  It was based on Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town – a book familiar to every Canadian school child of the 40s and 50s.  Certainly when I was growing up Stephen Leacock’s short stories were required reading on our school curricula.  One of my favourites was My Financial Career   – it certainly mirrored my early fear of banks.  As with all of Leacock’s stories the humour is a gentle with a wry dig at the figures of authority that intimidated so many of us.


On this day in 1957:  On the Road, a novel by American writer Jack Kerouac, is published.

As the Olympics come to a close I’ve discovered one sport that they seem to have neglected that it looks like Japan would win “hands down”!

On this day in 1639: Madras (now Chennai), India, is founded by the British East India Company on a sliver of land bought from local Nayak rulers.


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