A visit to the (Irish) White House

On this final day of the presidential race in the United States, I thought you might like to see a few iPhone pictures from Ireland’s White House, Áras an Uachtaráin.

This is actually the rear facade, now used as the main entry

It is home to Michael D. Higgins, the current (9th) President of Ireland, who was elected last year. Unlike POTUS, the presidency in Ireland is largely a ceremonial role. (Ireland has a prime minister, or Taoiseach.)

The house is in Phoenix Park, (the largest park in Europe), which is also home to the zoo and the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence.

The harp is the national symbol of Ireland and it is featured throughout the house, even on the tea cups.

This garden is also harp-shaped

Portraits of the past Irish presidents line this state room

Divisive politician Eamon de Valera, and a portrait of Lady Lavery, an American who married artist Sir John Lavery. Her likeness (painted by her husband) appeared on Irish banknotes during the 20th century before the Euro

The American Women’s Club of Dublin

The website says they do free public tours on Saturdays. We were supposed to meet the First Lady, but alas, last minute schedule changes and all…

Daytripping to Powerscourt

For all the house guests we’ve had in our year abroad, it’s hard to believe I’ve only just recently gone to Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow. It was such an easy drive (or easy bus ride, if we have more than one adult traveling with us) from south Dublin. Definitely easier than bringing a pregnant friend to Howth and trying to hike in icy lashes of wind and rain along slippery trails. (That was in May.) So Emily, who loves gardens, this is for you.

The Powerscourt Estate is situated on a hill looking out at two distinctive Wicklow Mountain peaks, Little Sugarloaf and Great Sugarloaf

We had the great fortune of a spectacular fall day, one where Ireland was out from under its frequent gray shroud. In the warm full sun (no wind reaching down into our bones), the shimmering greens and autumn tones of changing leaves were unbelievably beautiful.

View from Triton Lake of the back of the house. You can see the winged horses at the top of the lake

Powerscourt was the site of a castle built around 1300, and by around 1600, the Wingfield family was given the property as part of Sir Richard Wingfield’s appointment as “Marshall of Ireland.” The Wingfield family hired Richard Cassels to construct a Palladian-style mansion around the original structure in 1731. Descendants of the family lived in the estate through the 1950s, although it was mostly a summer home. There was no central heating in the mansion for much of the house’s life, and anyone who visited us this past shivering “spring” would appreciate one family member’s recollection that:

…the old Celtic idea of hell was somewhere intensely cold. Powerscourt in winter would have qualified.

(This grand house was hotter than hell at least on one night, though, when in 1974, the eve of its public opening, a fire gutted the entire thing.)

The original gardens were laid out in the 1740s by Daniel Robinson. An aside in my Lonely Planet guide explains that Robinson supervised the construction laying down in a wheelbarrow with his bottle of sherry, in increasing states of inebriation.  Sláinte, Mr. Robinson. The grounds are magnificent in spite of, or perhaps because of, your intoxication!

The walled garden

We strolled for over an hour through the Italian gardens down to Triton Lake, the Japanese garden and through the hollows of the grotto, where it was noticeably colder. On one of the mossy stone archways, I zoomed in with the camera to find a dangling icicle!

On a soft slope in the gardens, there is a pet cemetery my in-laws had mentioned to me, since they know I am insanely in love with my cat. 

Touching epitaphs at the pet cemetery

It was so moving to see such loving tributes to animals who meant so much to their owners.

We went on a Friday morning in mid-October, and it was fairly quiet. We glimpsed these beautiful horses through the trees on one of the paths. Seems like one of them had a foal (resting under what I assume is his mama in the left)

The toddling, stroller/buggy crowd would have a tough time negotiating some of the non-paved footpaths and fully exploring the grounds, like climbing to the top of Pepperpot Tower.

Pepperpot tower on the estate grounds with the peak of Great Sugarloaf in the distance.


A better bet for kids is the nearby Powerscourt Waterfall (the largest in Britain and Ireland), which is technically part of the estate but is not accessed through the main gates of the manor house drive.

This is Ireland. Driving in Wicklow.

On the grounds there, you’ll find a playground, picnic areas, and a sand pit with a short nature walk to the thundering fall. (“It’s very loud,” G said, as we approached the almost 400-foot sheet of water.) The moss and lichen-covered rocks were slick, but the boys loved scrambling over them and observing the shallow pools of water in the gaps.
All in all, this was one of my favorite daytrips from Dublin. Definitely worth visiting.
PS: Any more skilled bloggers have tips for reducing image file sizes without compromising quality? These images are exported as “medium” from iPhoto because the original file sizes are much too large and would slow down loading, but I notice quite a decline in the image sharpness.

Barefoot in Dublin


It’s a really good thing that we finally have some short-sleeved-weather days. Since moving to Ireland, C has seen people in shorts and T-shirts so infrequently that he thinks if arms or legs are showing people are “nay-nay” (naked).

My neighbors soak up the sun in the lane. One by one they had to pick up their chairs and move so we could get through with the car.

Scenes from the weekend: St Paddy’s Day in Dublin and Bray

There was a funny email going around Sascha’s office last week about what it means to be Irish:

  • Describing someone with longstanding, persistent and untreated psychosis as “a character.”
  • Saying “There’s definitely no recession here!” every time you see more than 5 people in a pub.
  • Saying “Ah but he’s very good to his mother” about some utter langer
  • Liking TK Red lemonade and white pudding. Not together of course
  • Your ma or da greeting you with the phrase “d’ya know who’s dead”?
  • That mini heart attack you get if you go out and forget to turn off the immersion
  • You’re not drinking??? Are you on antibiotics?
  • Wallpaper on your school books
  • Being Grand!!
  • Boil everything in a huge pot for 3 hours
  • Being absolutely terrified of a wooden spoon.
  • Learning a language for 12 years and not being fluent
  • Going absolutely mental at concerts because famous people rarely come over
  • Knowing that Flat 7UP heals all illnesses
  • Calling Joe Duffy or any radio station instead of the Guards from my HTC/iPhone!

I got a good laugh over most of them.  I also laughed over Frank McCourt’s explanation. He was writing about Limerick in this quote from Angela’s Ashes, but it’s still applicable:

Above all — we were wet.

Out in the Atlantic Ocean great sheets of rain gathered….The rain dampened the city from the Feast of the Circumcision to New Year’s Eve. It created a cacophony of hacking coughs, bronchial rattles, asthmatic wheezes, consumptive croaks. It turned noses into fountains, lungs into bacterial sponges.

This past weekend was perhaps the most recognizable celebration around the world of being Irish–St. Patrick’s Day.  I don’t know why in the U.S. it is St. Patty’s Day, and here it is very definitely St. Paddy’s Day, but it is.  After three sinus infections (something I’ve never had a problem with), and some pharyngitis, laryngitis, and conjunctivitis, I’m pretty sure my respiratory tract looks something like this:

I now understand what "catarrh" is

So I did not attend the parade. Sascha took the boys and braved the crowd of 500,000 revelers to see the parade in Dublin. Some had been there for hours to reserve a spot. Many had brought ladders to stand on; others climbed atop the monuments and statues in the city centre to get a glimpse. The boys could see only when their dad hoisted them onto his shoulders.

On Sunday, we drove south to Bray and visited the The National Sea Life Centre, a small aquarium.


Giant octopus! It seemed to respond to our touching the glass.

Touching a starfish. It's not the most impressive aquarium, but the staff was great with kids and there was a playroom with ball pit inside

Bray has the slightly faded, dilapidated feel of seaside resort towns that have seen better days, like spots along the Jersey Shore or Coney Island, which is part of its charm. There was a carnival along the water so we rode the carousel. The boys had great fun digging on the beach and the sea air helped clear my head for a few hours.

Bray Head

Christmas recap

Is it too late to recount our Christmas in Dublin? It’s halfway through January already and I think I’m only now nearly-recovered from the sicknesses that plagued us into the holidays.

I do not have cute pictures from the boys’ carol sing. I should have seen it coming, the high expectations and the inevitable fall. G had been spontaneously singing “Jingle Bells” all week. If I sang “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and left out key words, C would fill them in. So what if they thought you dashed through the snow in a “Norse-pen play”?

At the creche holiday party, the lights were dimmed and the kids were to stroll in carrying “lanterns.” Only before this could happen, our boys broke rank, crying “Mommy! Daddy!” and we had to pull them out. They wouldn’t wear the Christmas tree hats. They were very bah-humbug. So there we sat on the tiny classroom chairs, with them clutching us, and back into the pockets went the cameras. Apparently in public, G & C are wallflowers.

As the final countdown toward Christmas began, I could feel myself getting sicker and sicker. (So you out there who is searching for the Dublin stomach bug 2012 and arriving at my blog, read on!)

Note the box of tissues and the red blanket covering one of the cushions, where we had to remove a cover that had been vomited on

I almost didn’t think we’d make Christmas — not that it wouldn’t come, because it always does, but that we’d be too ill to acknowledge it in any real way. On Christmas Eve, S was the color of Silly Putty and unable to touch his food. Earlier in the day, G had vomited, which I had attributed to the antibiotics he was taking for the ear infection after his month-long cold. I have been feeling a cold virus replicating into my bronchial cavities for days.

Sascha’s cousin from South Philly, whom we just call Aunt Giovanna, arrived into our den of sickness to spend Christmas with us before going on to Milan. Despite the transatlantic flight and the time change, she looks glamorous and well-rested, in sharp contrast to us in our various stages of viral takeover. She is bearing loads of fruit and gifts for the boys. G falls in love instantly with “Joe-Bonna.”

Christmas Eve with Giovanna.

Giovanna spent many years working for Luciano Pavarotti, and I think this anecdote illustrates her wonderful personality. Apparently, Pavarotti was so distraught at the end of one affair that he threatened to kill himself, phoning his manager to say he would throw himself out the window. His manager, frantic, got in touch with Giovanna. Obviously accustomed to histrionics, she responded, How could he fit? He’s too fat to fit through a window.

Giovanna is an original.

We had plans to spend Christmas day with Ciaran and Siobhan and family. They told us to come despite risking contagion, dismissing whatever we might have as something they surely already had. On Christmas morning, I have no real voice but I think I am getting better and I manage to make two pies. Pumpkin:

And this sea-salt caramel apple pie, which was a huge hit and well-worth making again.

This pie helped me get my pie confidence back

The finished pie

Ciaran had cooked such an amazing meal and we were so lucky to have such a warm Christmas celebration together.

We toasted to good health, and really, really meant it.


New Year’s Day Dublin 2012


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Dear reader, It’s been a while. I hope you missed me. I am surfacing after the typical pre-Christmas feelings of exhaustion and being overwhelmed, but it was compounded by a nasty cold virus, then a stomach bug, and the boys … Continue reading

Dining in Dublin: L. Mulligan Grocer

Housed in an old grocer’s on the border of Northside’s Stoneybatter/Arbour Hill neighborhood, this gastropub is off the beaten path of better-known (and much pricier) restaurants like The Winding Stair, but what you get in service, atmosphere, and culinary delight is worth making this gem of a place the destination.

Though the front is a pub where you can get a pint, Mulligan’s doesn’t serve Guinness. Instead, they have curated an outstanding list of whiskeys and Irish craft beer (microbrews), and for each starter and main, they will suggest a beer or whiskey pairing.

Like Winding Stair, Mulligan’s has embraced the locavore movement:

Our beef is grass fed and Irish. Our sausages come from TJ Crowe in Tipperary and Jack McCarthy in Cork.

Our fish is from Kish Fish. They text us every day to tell us what is fresh! We are committed to serving sustainable species of fish on our menu. Our pork, eggs and chook are free-range & Irish. Our black pudding is made in Fermanagh with Irish blood (a rarity!).

Our sourdough is baked by Rossa in Le Levain bakery. Our brown bread is made to Colin’s mum’s recipe, often using buttermilk left over from making our Connemara whiskey butter.

Behind the pub in the back are heavy wood-block tables set with teas lights and wildflowers. Menus come fastened inside of old books. There are games and a trivia night.

The second time we went, we had the same waitress and she remembered us--remembered exactly where we sat. I think we were memorably half-mad with the good food and our freedom from the loony bin for a few hours

Until I ate at Anita Lo’s Annisa in NYC, the egg after brunch was never given much thought. But Anita elevated the egg to showstopper with her slow-cooking technique. So I was intrigued by the Scotch egg as starter at Mulligan’s, and was not disappointed. I now crave this egg regularly.

Vegetarian Scotch Egg, cradled in a seasoned chickpea batter with a Dijon and Mullagaloe relish

Mains sampled include lamb burger, breaded Haddock, and this steak.

Steak with Connemara whiskey butter, spinach, and twice-cooked chips.

On our first visit, we finished our meal with a delectable apple crumble. The last time, because we were going out to a party afterward, we opted for an after-dinner Irish coffee. We got the Runcible Spoon (named in honor of this Irish foodie blog), with fresh-pressed coffee and sea salted liquer. Yum.

The bill comes in an old tin, and tucked inside is a paper bag filled with jelly candies. They are sweet touches to this vibrant, warm place, but even without them the outstanding fare and price-point make this our top Dublin restaurant so far (with the tapas place Port House coming in at a close second.) If you are visiting and interested in sampling the re-imagining of Irish fare, make sure to visit Mulligan’s.

L Mulligans, 18 Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. Reservations recommended.

Donnybrook tree lighting


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We missed the tree lighting in Ranelagh–almost every village in Dublin has their own–but on Saturday Sascha noticed the signs for the one in Donnybrook.  So last night, we bundled up the boys and went first to eat at Eddie … Continue reading

Dining in Dublin with kids: The Odeon

I’ve decided to get all service-y, and add a new section to the blog for those of you who may be visiting Dublin, or those who may happen upon my blog and be less interested in my nostalgia and more interested in information.  Sascha and I eat out a fair bit, at least once a week for a date night and with the kids frequently on the weekends during our explorations. The wave of immigration to the country during the boom years means there is a lot more to dining here than stew and potatoes and veg soup, but almost all of it is extremely expensive, so hopefully this will help you decide what’s worth your euros and what isn’t. For those brave souls who may be traveling with young children, this may guide you where to eat with them without getting dirty looks for daring to reproduce and take a night off from the kitchen, which some city-dwellers seem to treat as a crime against humanity.

There will be two versions: DiD (Dining in Dublin) with kids and just plain DiD (Dining in Dublin). If you have suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Housed in an old railway station, The Odeon is a grand building with Art Deco flourishes. If you are traveling with kids, you probably don’t care about that, but what you will care about is the fact that the LUAS stops right outside its door. The LUAS is the Dublin tram and perhaps the easiest method of public transportation for strollers/buggies. It’s easy wheel on/wheel off, unlike the DART, with its treacherous gap between train and platform.

The Odeon

On Sundays, The Odeon features a family brunch club from 12-6. Children under 3 eat free (we didn’t know this ahead of time and were quite happily surprised.) The kids menu features goujons, chicken nuggets, and sausage–all with chips (fries), as well as penne pasta with chicken, char-grilled vegetables, and tomatoes that run from €5-5.95 if your child is 3+.  At 2pm, a big screen plays a kids’ film (this Sunday, 4 December, The Odeon will screen “Muppet Christmas Carol”).

I got this off The Odeon's website. I did not take this photo.

The good: There are comfy chairs and roomy banquettes and a full bar. I had a goat cheese spinach frittata, which was yummy, though my margarita was weak and not salted. The service was a bit  s – l – o – w, but considering there were kids everywhere, rolling around on the floor, shrieking and running through the cavernous space, climbing up on the banquettes to watch the trains coming and going, you might imagine it’s the waitstaff’s least favorite shift. Crayons and paper are provided, and for parents, there’s free wi-fi and a full bar.

The boys and Gramby check out the rugby match

As the afternoons get darker and the wind lashes out, this is a great weekend option because you can spend a few hours there and children certainly aren’t restrained from moving around the space, which as any parent knows, can drastically shorten one’s eating out time. The Odeon has a range of other events outside its family-friendly Sunday brunch.  A Spanish woman who had arrived early for the salsa night directly following the family brunch noticed C dancing and came over to chat him up. Though normally a flirt, he ran for his life.


The Odeon Sunday Times Brunch Club, 12-6, with screenings at 2pm. 57 Harcourt Street, Dublin 2. LUAS stop: Harcourt