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Thursday, May 28, 2015

In Search of Ireland's Soul

Last week I profiled Dublin, places to go and things to see if you've never visited the city before. Dublin is the best place to start because it explains so much of the nation's history, especially one of it's more recent defining moments: the Easter Rising, which led to Irish independence.

When votes were taken on Irish independence, five counties consistently voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Those counties, known as Ulster, broke away from Ireland when it gained independence. Known as Northern Ireland, it continues to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland share an island that is slightly larger than West Virginia and slightly smaller than Indiana. A few things to note when traveling between the two:

1. There is a tremendous amount of cooperation between the two governments, resulting in (among other things) buses that freely travel from one to the other.

2. There is no "Checkpoint Charlie"; even if you choose to rent a car and drive, there are no passport checks or customs officials between the two countries.

3. They use different currency. The Republic of Ireland uses the Euro, while Northern Ireland uses the British Pound.

That said, I found the soul of Ireland in a picturesque village in Northern Ireland. In earlier blogs, I told of my sister's discovery of Ballygawley in County Tyrone as a village in which our ancestors once lived, which led us both to this idyllic place. It is easy to reach from Dublin or Belfast and if you're interested in the Irish village told in literary works, this is the place to visit.

1. Getting There. Bus Eireann runs daily from Dublin to Ballygawley. The bus station is located at Store Street in Dublin and it's a short taxi ride from most hotels, and it's only 1.33 miles from Dublin's City Centre. Ireland has a fabulous bus system that is comfortable, up-to-date and efficient. You even have Wifi access on the bus. You can see the entire schedule here (http://www.buseireann.ie/pdf/1360752941-032.pdf). I paid 18 Euro for a one-way ticket, which was well worth it.

2. Arriving in Ballygawley. The Ballygawley stop is a Park-and-Ride with a covered stop. When you get off the bus, the driver will direct you toward the village, which is just a short walk away.


Once you cross the traffic circle, you'll wander over a stone bridge with a babbling brook (shown above) before reaching the village proper. You'll instantly feel as though you've been transported into another world. You won't find crowds or a carnival atmosphere here. Instead, you'll find hospitality, a slower pace and easy access to many of the island's best tourist attractions.

3. Where to Stay. The best place to stay is The Tailor's House (www.eatsdrinksfortywinks.com) at 50 Main Street, right in the heart of the village. Formerly Askin's, it was once a tailor's house now owned and managed by Emmett, Mary and Leo Quinn.This is a fabulous Bed & Breakfast; it has only a few rooms, so be sure to book far in advance. Each room has a private, modern bath. The flat screen televisions broadcast stations from throughout the United Kingdom, including London. The beds are extra comfortable. The view from in front of The Tailor's House is shown below.



The Tailor's House Restaurant downstairs has the best food and service that I experienced anywhere in Ireland or Northern Ireland. The meat is delivered daily from the butcher shop across the street (owned by Declin Quinn) and is the freshest meat I ever tasted. (Shown below.)



The vegetables are delectable, and the desserts are to die for. If you travel away from Ballygawley during the day, be sure to eat light so you'll be hungry when you return, because you'll definitely want dinner and dessert here.

Shown below: The chicken dish was a special of the day; the chicken was incredibly tender with an amazing sauce over champ (mashed) potatoes with tender broccoli. In the background is Steak & Guinness, with tender beef that will melt in your mouth and a wonderful sauce made with - you guessed it - Guinness.


The dessert shown below was a flavorful apple dessert that came with whipped creme (obviously homemade, it was that good) and a personal pitcher of an amazing sweet sauce.



Breakfast is included with the room, and you will not want to miss Mary Quinn's scrumptious cooking! Fresh eggs from the farm, incredible sausages and bacon from the butcher shop across the street (owned by Mary's son) and whipped up by a talented chef.

Beside the restaurant is The Tailor's House Bar, which is a wonderful place to relax. The entire facility has free Wifi, and we found the Bar to be a great place to check emails at the end of the day, and just soak up the Irish culture. It is shown in the video below.



By far, the best part of staying at The Tailor's House are the owners and staff. Owned by Emmett Quinn and operated by Emmett and his parents, Mary and Leo Quinn, their hospitality, friendliness and helpfulness are beyond compare. You'll feel like a member of the family.

Ask to see the picture of the Quinn family with one of their more famous guests, Bill Clinton, while you're there.

4. The Ulster American Folk Park and Museum is one place you won't want to miss, and it's close to Ballygawley. It consists of a wonderful museum and research facility where you can look up Irish ancestors, and acres upon acres of beautiful trails leading to authentic and reproductions of a variety of buildings (one is shown below).



The facility focuses on the Irish exodus, particularly during the two potato famines (known as The Hungers in Ireland) and the link between Ireland and the United States. There are, at the time of this writing, approximately 34 million Americans of Irish descent. Learn all about this wonderful place here: http://www.nmni.com/uafp


5. The Mid-Way Point. Ballygawley is midway between Londonderry/Derry to the west (https://www.discovernorthernireland.com/walledcity/), and Belfast to the east. You can reach either place through Northern Ireland's Translink (http://www.translink.co.uk/) This bus service, like Bus Eireann, is modern, efficient and pleasant. Next week I'll profile things to do in Belfast, including visiting the Titanic Museum, touring the Peace Walls from The Troubles, and taking a day-trip that leaves from Belfast to travel over the Causeway Coastal Route (www.causewaycoastalroute.com) and the Giant's Causeway (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway/).

6. The Black Cat Restaurant. One more thing you'll want to do while in Ballygawley is dine at The Black Cat Restaurant at 32 Dungannon Road, just about half a mile from the village of Ballygawley. Overlooking Martray Lake, the picturesque beauty will both soothe and captivate you. The chef is world renowned, and was the victor of the Battle of the TV Chefs. Read all the details about that fun series and Chef James' win here: http://ulsterherald.com/2014/07/09/michael-devlin-visits-the-black-cat-restaurant-for-the-finale-of-battle-of-the-tv-chefs/

Here's the view from the restaurant below:



7. Ready Access. The Tailor's House is directly across the street from the Bank of Ireland, which is a great place to change those Euro's or dollars into pounds. It is also across the street from the Post Office. Within a block or two of The Tailor's House are groceries and a pharmacy. If you'd like to go for a ride around Ballygawley to see additional sites, ask Emmett Quinn at The Tailor's House to contact Seamus for you. Seamus is a reasonably priced and dependable driver whom I highly recommend.

 Coming up next week: what to do in Belfast.

If you have traveled to County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, and you'd like to recommend things to do and places to go, feel free to leave a comment below! 









Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Through the Veil: Book Club Discussion #3

This is the third in a series of blogs for book clubs and discussion groups who are reading my book, A Thin Slice of Heaven. Weigh in below, or send me an email through my website letting me know the results of your book club or group discussion.

In A Thin Slice of Heaven, Charleigh finds herself straddling two worlds. On one side, she experiences the present: her room at the castle, for example, with all the modern conveniences. On the other side, she is pulled through the veil to witness spirits of people who passed away decades - or centuries - earlier. In Chapter 19, she finds herself descending into the dungeons of the castle, where she encounters malevolent spirits. It is only Sean's sudden appearance that rescues her from their confines.

Afterward, they are atop the castle parapet. In this scene, Charleigh asks why the people remain in the dungeon long after they are dead. The text in bold has been bolded for the purpose of this discussion (and does not appear in bold in the book):



“What’s happening, Sean?” she asked, resting one hand against his forearm. Her voice was quiet, subdued by her experience. “I’ve never seen ghosts before—never even come close to seeing one. And then I come here and I—I just don’t understand this warped sense of reality.”
He leaned his head close to her ear. “I will try my best to explain it to you.”
She turned in his embrace and wrapped her arms about his neck. Between Ultana, the bizarre spiritual reenactment of a massacre and counter assault, the men assigned to guard her room, and now the dungeons, she wanted desperately to escape the castle. The only thing that held her there, that made her feel as if all the experiences were somehow, in some inexplicable way, worth it, was looking into Sean’s eyes. “Please do explain, Sean. Make me understand.”
He gazed at her for a long moment, his eyes a beautiful shade of green in the light of the moon. He no longer appeared angry or frustrated but calmness had returned; a serenity she wished she felt as well.
He smoothed her hair, his eyes following the silky, short strands. “In the most ideal of circumstances,” he began, “a soul knows when they are departing this world, even if the human psyche does not. Take old age, for example, or a long, debilitating illness. The soul begins to prepare for the afterlife and as the time draws near, the person begins to slip in and out of the two realms…”
“You mean in and out of consciousness?”
“Not quite. You see, the soul begins to see through to the other side. Perhaps they see people they loved who had passed on before them. They waver back and forth betweenst the living humans here and the spirits there. It is the natural progression of things so when they pass, their soul is not in shock.”
His hands had moved to her upper arms and he stroked them lightly as he spoke. The air should have been cold and her sweater inadequate but she found herself completely warmed by his energy, as she had from the very beginning. Her throat, which had dangerously constricted in the dungeons, was now open and her breathing had returned to normal, unrestricted by any of the mucus that had developed so quickly. Though she hadn’t taken her allergy medicine, it was as if she had and now she breathed in the Irish air as though it was an antidote to her ailments.
“Then there are other times,” he said, his words slowing as he kept his eyes locked on hers, “when mortal death happens quickly—too quickly for the soul to be fully prepared. So what happens is the soul enters three stages before emerging on the other side.”
“I’ve never heard this before.” She cocked her head and though she truly didn’t want to seem doubtful, she knew from the way he tilted his head back to look at her under veiled lashes that he had picked up on her skepticism.
Despite the tense air between them, he continued softly, “In the first stage, the person does not know he or she is no longer here in physical form. They continue to go through the motions of living. Some of the souls in the dungeon remain in that stage, though it has been centuries for some of them.”
“So the men asking for water or food—” She shook her head as if to rid herself of the memory, though she knew it would never go away. Sean was right; she should never have wandered into that dungeon but, regrettably, it was too late now to take back the experience.
“I am sorry, darlin’, but their souls have not yet processed that they are no longer trapped.”
The image of him after the Christmas counter assault loomed in front of her; the soot, the grime, the odor of battle. Then she thought of the man with pustules covering his skin and of the others, emaciated and starving. “Are the conditions of their souls keeping them the way they appeared to me? I mean—”
“Aye,” he said. “When their souls finally shake off their mortal stress, they will become whole once again.”
“The light that I saw—it wasn’t a white light, but was it—could it have been—spirits beckoning—?”
He appeared to be in anguish over her question. “No, m’ Leah. The light was attempting to trap you in the dungeons.”
“What? Why?”
“Because there is evil on all planes and the dungeons are no exception.”
“Then can’t we free the prisoners—the good ones?”
One hand found her cheek and he cupped it against his palm. She leaned into it, closing her eyes. As the silence continued, she opened them to find him watching her. There was sadness in his eyes. “It is not for us to do.” He took a deep breath. “There are others, far stronger than either of us, who will venture into the dungeons and help each soul move on. It will happen one soul at a time, when each of their times has come.”
“Angels?”
“Aye,” he said, a gentle smile creeping across his face. He brushed a lock of hair from her forehead. “Angels.”
“Then that’s the second stage?”

He gazed above her head for a moment as if looking at the landscape and the skies beyond the castle. “The second stage,” he said after a deep, cleansing breath, “is moving back and forth between the realms. A prisoner in the dungeon, for example, will begin to see family members—people they love—in the cell with them. At first, they will not believe their eyes. They will not accept them. But their loved ones will continue to return until they are ready to let go.”
He pulled her slightly away to kiss her on the tip of her nose. “It cannot be you or I trying to convince them to move on,” he said tenderly. “It must be someone they trust, someone they loved in that lifetime—or another.”
“Don’t tell me we’ve lived multiple lifetimes.”
“I daresay that is a conversation for another time.”
She drew a hand to his cheek and softly brushed the skin. Her eyes followed his jaw line, the soft curve of his lips as he smiled, the faint crinkle along the side of his nose, and his eyes. She hoped she would never forget his face.
“And then the third stage,” he added, “is acceptance.”
His words brought her back to the subject. “Realizing they’re dead.”
“There is no death,” he admonished kindly. “Just transitions.”
“But, what you’re saying…” She stopped. She had been about to say that she’d been taught about Heaven and Hell but looking into the eyes of a spirit, she knew that everything she’d believed about the afterlife had been turned on its head.
      “Every soul is different,” Sean continued. “Some may see angels; some may sense God. Some may be greeted by mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers… Others by someone they loved; someone who loved them. No matter what a person’s life was like, there is always someone they loved and someone who loved them.”

More than a decade ago, I was with a dear friend as she suffered the final stages of a fatal illness. She was in a hospice facility and as I sat by her side, I noticed when she awakened, she often looked beyond my shoulder. Many a time I turned around, only to find no one there. Yet she continued to look in that direction as if she was watching someone.

When I asked her about it, she said her sister was right there. She was amazed that I couldn't see her. Her sister, however, had passed away several years earlier.

When I spoke to the hospice staff about it, they said it often happens with people who are nearing death. They begin to see people they knew, loved and trusted from their lifetime - people who were no longer alive. Each of the hospice workers had come to the conclusion that these spirits were there to help the person transition to the other side of the veil. 

It made perfect sense to me. After all, who better to help a person to the other side than someone who had gone on before them - someone they loved, someone they knew, and someone they trusted?

Spoiler Alert: If you have not yet read A Thin Slice of Heaven, stop here.

As Charleigh is speaking with Sean, she does not yet realize that she is already dead. She is, in fact, suffering the same fate as those in the dungeon. Her death happened quickly within hours of arriving at the castle. It is because she died and went through the veil that she is able to see and experience Sean and the other spirits. She is in the first stage - not knowing she is dead.

Sean knows this and he also knows that she must progress through the second and third stages before she fully understands and accepts her own fate.

You can purchase the Kindle version of A Thin Slice of Heaven here from amazon, or the paperback version here. It is also available in all fine book stores and in all eBook formats, in the iBooks store and on Nook.



Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Magic that is Ireland - Part 1: Dublin

I have been receiving a lot of comments about my blog series regarding Ireland and searching for my Irish roots. I traveled to Ireland recently and plan another trip in a few weeks. I've been asked by numerous people about my trip, so I am starting this series about travel to Ireland - what to see, what to do, and tips on traveling there.

My first stop was Dublin for the simple reason that it's where most international flights arrive. There are some international flights in and out of Shannon on the west coast (Dublin is on the east coast). Belfast, in Northern Ireland, is north of Dublin and I learned that travel there from the U.S. goes through England - either Heathrow (which I understand is a madhouse) or Manchester.

Tips on Dublin

Here are a few tips when traveling to Dublin:

1. Get your money exchanged at the airport. The Republic of Ireland uses the Euro. You can search around Dublin for banks to exchange your dollars, but why waste the time and effort when you'll want to be experiencing Ireland?

2. Take the bus. If you are staying in Dublin, try to choose a hotel that has a free shuttle service to and from the airport. If you don't, I suggest taking the bus. (http://www.dublinsightseeing.ie/airlink/index.aspx) It cost us 6 Euro one-way, which is much cheaper than the taxi's 40 Euro.

Irish terminology: when taking the bus, you'll need to state whether you want a single (one-way ticket) or a double (round-trip ticket).

3. Stay in Dublin's City Centre if you can. You'll be within walking distance of scores of museums, restaurants, pubs, shopping and much more. I used http://www.hotels.com/ and searched on City Centre Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.

4. Note the time you're arriving. Our plane landed at 5:00 AM. By the time we reached the hotel, we were completely exhausted and jet-lagged. But once we arrived, we discovered check-in wasn't until 3:00 PM. We ended up sleeping in the lobby until a room became available. You can remedy this by booking the room for the previous night and making sure there is a notation regarding your arrival time the next morning. You'll definitely want to get at least 2-3 hours' sleep.

5. Learn about Ireland in Dublin. You'll learn the history of Ireland while you're in Dublin; many museums are free and others are a nominal charge. Plan on spending 2 days in Dublin, not counting your day of arrival.

6. But discover Ireland outside of the city. I was surprised to discover that hearing an Irish accent in downtown Dublin was quite difficult. It has become an international city and you'll hear languages from around the globe. So once you've learned about Irish history, get out of the city to a small village (coming up in another blog next week) and that's when you'll discover the real, mystical and magical Ireland.

Things to See and Do in Dublin

1. Make the Hop On, Hop Off Bus your first activity. It's fabulous, and you ride at your own schedule. You can get on at any stop, get off at any stop, and spend as much time as you'd like anywhere. A tour host narrates as you ride so you get a sense of the history and where to go and what to do. It's a two-day ticket for 18 Euro, and well worth it: http://www.dublinsightseeing.ie/citytour.aspx
Below is an example of the tour. I was sitting in the front row on the second level of the double-decker:
2. Tour the Dublin Castle. Take the narrated tour with the guide, and you'll learn a lot of history about the Vikings' rule over Dublin, Ireland's history and the Easter Rising, which led to Ireland's independence from Britain: http://www.dublincastle.ie/visitorfacilities/
3. Kilmainham Gaol. This is where the political prisoners were executed from the Easter Rising. The uprising might have been considered a failure except when Britain executed all the main organizers, their executions led to world pressure and the independence of Ireland: http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/kilmainhamgaol/
4. The Post Office. This was one of the buildings where the Easter Rising took place, and there are still bullet holes in the side of the building from the event. Mounted on the wall are permanent pictures of the organizers of the uprising; these men were the ones executed at the gaol.
5. Writers Museum. If you enjoy reading, you'll enjoy Ireland's authors. I learned a great deal about their backgrounds and became quite fascinated by Oscar Wilde's ordeals: http://www.virtualvisittours.com/dublin-writers-museum/
6. St Stevens Green (http://www.heritageireland.ie/en/dublin/ststephensgreen/) is a public park right in the middle of the City Centre. 
7. Shopping. St Stevens Green is directly across the street from the mall and Grafton Street, which is the main shopping district in downtown Dublin. There are restaurants, pubs and shops for several blocks: http://graftonstreet.ie/
8. The National Museum of Ireland. It is closed on Mondays, but it's free and well worth touring: http://www.museum.ie/en/homepage.aspx
9. The Guinness Museum is not just for beer lovers. You'll definitely want to stop in their pub overlooking the city: http://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en/Index.aspx

If you have traveled to Dublin and you don't see a site posted here that you enjoyed visiting, leave a comment below and let me know what it is and why you liked it.

Next week: Finding Ireland's soul in a small village. Coming up later: why Northern Ireland broke away from the Republic of Ireland.

And for 13 Things Not to Do in Ireland, this is a great read:
http://www.destinationtips.com/advice/13-things-not-to-do-in-ireland/1/

Visit my website at www.pmterrell.com for a list of my books set in Ireland, including my latest, A Thin Slice of Heaven, set in a castle in Northern Ireland.





Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Metamorphosis: Book Club Discussion #2

This is the second in a series of blogs for book clubs and discussion groups who are reading my book, A Thin Slice of Heaven. Weigh in below, or send me an email through my website letting me know the results of your book club or group discussion.
 
My May online book tour is well underway and I am giving away a beautiful Celtic butterfly suncatcher to one lucky follower. All you have to do is follow the tour, leave comments and click on the Rafflecopter icon. The more comments you leave, the better your chances of winning.

So what is the significance of the Celtic butterfly suncatcher?

In A Thin Slice of Heaven, Charleigh loves butterflies. In the scene that follows, she is in the village with Sean during the snowstorm. The streets are empty and the shops are closed. They've dismounted from the horse so she can peek into the windows of the shops.



“Look,” she said, pointing to a sun catcher in the window. “A butterfly.”

His voice was soft and though she turned her gaze back to the sun catcher, she could feel his eyes remaining on her. “You love butterflies, don’t you now?”


“I do. How did you know?”


He shrugged. “From the way in which your face lit when you spied it.”


“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” She stared at the hand-painted butterfly with its alternating rows of yellow and orange fringed with black. “It has meaning, you know. It’s like the metamorphosis of life in one tiny creature. They start their existence as a tiny egg on a leaf, so miniscule that most people wouldn’t even know it was there. Then they hatch into a caterpillar, all chubby body and spindly legs. Quite ugly, in fact.” She chuckled. “They eat and they eat and when they can eat no more, they attach themselves to a branch and just hang there. From the outside, it looks like nothing is happening. But the metamorphosis is taking place on the inside. Until finally, the wings emerge, all soft and gooey. The caterpillar pumps blood into the wings until they grow large and strong, capable of making it fly away.”


“I have heard,” Sean said thoughtfully, “that every soul’s journey takes place first on the inside before it is manifested on the outside.”


“Exactly!” She whirled around to face him. “You’re the only one I’ve ever met who understood that.”


“Not the only one, I’m quite sure.”


“Oh, but you are. Most people would have heard my explanation and thought it nothing more than whimsical ramblings. You understood.”

He pointed toward the sun catcher. “You see the pattern around the butterfly? That symbolizes the Celtic cycle of life. Though you might search, you will never find a beginning nor will you find an end.”


The butterfly symbolizes Charleigh's own transformation in the book. When she arrives at the castle, she is tired, overworked and anxious. When her husband sends a text saying he's leaving her for another woman, she imagines the woman to be much younger and much more beautiful than she. But as the story progresses, she learns that her soul is beautiful.

The Celtic design depicting the endless cycle of life is also symbolic. She learns through Sean that Life does not end when the physical body ceases to exist. The soul's energy is transformed and carries on.

When they stop to eat a picnic lunch that one of the employees of the castle packed for her, they have a discussion about this cycle:



She offered him a thick slice of ham. “Can you eat food like this?” she asked, her brow furrowing.

In response, he bit a chunk out of it and closed his eyes in appreciation as he chewed. When he opened them, she was watching him curiously. “Aye,” he said. He held up the remainder of the slice. “When you’re in a purely physical form, you think of everything around you as being substantive. Yet, it is all an illusion. Everything is made up of energy of some sort or another.” He waggled the ham. “So I am merely joining its energy with my own.”


“But—I mean—” Her eyes traveled to his torso. She felt a blush warming her cheeks and she diverted her gaze to her own slice of ham.


He chuckled. “Ah, but you’re wondering what happens to it once it passes my lips.” He took another bite and chewed for a moment before answering. “I taste it more keenly. I feel the texture more deeply. I am conscious of where it came from, in a purely esoteric sort of way. Then its energy becomes intertwined with my own. Without the physical organs that a living human being possesses, the energy simply flows out of me—” he held his arm up as if she could see a vapor rising out of it “—and it remains one with the universe.”


“That is way too deep for me to comprehend.”


“Ah, but comprehend you will. Some day.”


“And the pig?” She held her slice a short distance from her mouth and debated whether she wanted it now.


“Ah, the pig lives on. As I said, there is no death. Only transitions.”



Spoiler Alert : If you have not read the book yet, don't read beyond this point!

For those who have read the book, you know that these discussions mean something far more. Charleigh is herself transitioning, though she does not yet know it. She is transitioning from a physical, human life in the current day to the other side of the veil. She is in a cocoon herself, believing that her life consists only of the small bubble each of us finds ourselves living, and yet she doesn't yet know how close she is to breaking out of that cocoon and becoming transformed as a spirit with no beginning and no end.

The cycle of Life is apparent within and around her, and Sean is gently leading her to discover this realization herself.


You can purchase A Thin Slice of Heaven in any book store. It is also available in all major eBook formats. Find it here on amazon in paperback or in a Kindle version.