Friday, April 12, 2024

Friday Funnies

Since I started noticing and taking photos of vanity plates, there's been no shortage of them in Nashua, NH. Recent outings have resulted in from 5 to 8 in a parking lot. Many show a name, career or interest. Here's a few more recent ones.

These car owners like the water and show it on their plates.

It seems a certainty that these vehicles are owned by female drivers.

The owners of these vanity plate owners had a message to share with all.

Before I started looking for vanity plates, I didn't know there were so many to be seen. These plate sightings will be a continuing FF post. 

Thanks to everyone who left a comment on my previous post about my first cameras (owned or used). The Eastman Kodak Brownie camera (1900-1986) was overwhelming the first camera of many folks. I enjoyed reading about your early camera owning memories. 

Enjoy Your Weekend, Everyone
Date night: country singer Josh Turner at Nashua Performing Arts Center

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

My Camera Life (the Start)

Most of us have cell phones with cameras that take exceptionally good photos and it's been said countless times that the best camera is the one with you, usually your phone. Certainly, that's true for myself too, but I still enjoy using and owning cameras, a lifelong addiction. 

Some fellow bloggers seem to share a similar passion from images shared in their posts. In this and a few posts, I'll share details on cameras used or owned over the years. Originally, I was going to just list them, but then researched further, as usual. Perhaps some of these cameras, or similar ones, have been in your photo life too? This was a trip down memory lane for me.

Imperial Mark XII. This was my first camera at age 8 or 9, a simple box camera. it had a flash attachment and took 12 exposures (6x6) on a roll of 620 film. It was available in many colors; mine was a mint green with darker green accents and looked like the one below. 
My first personal camera came with a  flash
This Imperial Mark XII flash camera was introduced in 1956 and was offered in several colors including red, light blue, gray, black, tan and green. Typical of so many box camera of the time, it was hard plastic with a fixed focus, fixed aperture, single shutter speed, eye-level viewfinder. A wrist strap was permanently attached to the side of the camera. It was sold as a kit with a flash gun (detachable) that synched to the shutter for flash photos. 

This was a true point and shoot camera and fully automatic too. There were no worries about setting shutter speeds, aperture settings or focus control; no batteries were needed except for the flash unit. Photo taking was simple, just advance the film until the next number showed in the red window, then press the shutter release. Most of the photos I took were of outdoor family events using black & white film exclusively.  Some of which still exist in a family album.

As to why this plastic box camera had such a fancy moniker, I have no idea as an online search didn't produce any information online. There were no previous Mark X models.
Perhaps, the company founders just liked the fancy name? Imperial was the main camera brand of Herbert George Co., a Chicago, ILL, company founded by Herbert Weil and George Israel in 1945. It was one of several Chicago-based companies making cheap, simple cameras. But, this one pioneered the introduction of the all-in-one camera with flash and view finder. Kodak didn't introduce its first camera with a built-in flash, the Brownie Starfish, until 1957. After a change of ownership in 1961 the Herbert George Co. was renamed to Imperial Camera Corp. 

The Imperial Mark XII was one of about 40 small, simple cameras that the Herbert George Co. and later Imperial Camera Co. produced from 1945 to the mid-1960s. The cameras used various film sizes — 127, 126, 210 and 620.
Online image: Mike Eckman
The Imperial Mark XII camera was advertised in retail stores for a cost of between $4 and $5. That's equivalent to $45.64 in 2024. It wasn't advertised in mainstream photographic magazines, such as Popular Photograhy or Modern Photography as the target customer wasn't an advanced photographer. This was strictly a snapshot camera for those who favored simple use. 
Online image: Mike Eckman
At times, it was offered as giveaway like in this 1957 ad, when a subscription to the Chicago Daily Calumet newspaper would result in a free camera. (Note the wording that it's not a toy). 

The Imperial name proved popular for the company according to information available online; however, there was no details available about the camera’s production, and sales.

Many of these plastic box cameras are still around. They can be bought online with prices ranging from $10 and up. Unfortunately, I have no idea what happened to mine, but it would have made a great shelf decoration today.

Kodak Tourist II Camera. This camera was owned by my late father and I remember being allowed to use it on special occasions to take photos in grade schoolIt made me feel grown up as it was very different from the Imperial Mark XII camera. For one thing it was much heavier and better made as well. 
Kodak Tourist II, my late father's only film camera
The Kodak Tourist, as its name suggests, was made by the Eastman Kodak Corporation. It had a die cast aluminum body  covered in a black synthetic leather called Kodadur, made by Kodak . The camera's top plate was made of Tenite, a molded gray plastic, developed by Eastman's chemical division (of course). It had an eye-level viewfinder, a shutter release mounted on the lens door and a tripod socket. The camera shutter had to be cocked/set manually by depressing a short lever mounted on the lens. Film was manually advanced by turning a top knob.
Advertisement announcing the original Kodak Tourist camera
Historically, Kodak was known more for its film manufacturing, not camera production. It's been reported that the only reason Kodak made cameras was that it generated more film buying customers. During what's been termed Kodak's Golden Age (1900s - 1960s) the company name was synonymous with photography. It had an unrivaled dominance in the film and camera market. While, Kodak made many different cameras, the company wasn't necessarily seen as a maker of good cameras, but brought amateur photography to many with its plastic cameras.

Another Kodak Tourist ad
That perception changed with the 1948 intro of the upscale Kodak Tourist which soon garnered the lower to middle end of the camera market. This new 6x9 folding camera used 620 film. It became a popular alternative to more costly German folding cameras of the time, such as Voightlander and Zeiss Ikon.

Many amateurs photographers, who wanted more from photography than using a box Kodak model, turned to medium-format folding cameras, like this one. It was available with a variety of lens and shutter combinations. The top of the line model had a 4-element Kodak Anastar lens and Synchro-Rapid 800 speed shutter, very fast for its time.

The Tourist II camera, introduced in May 1951, replaced the original Tourist. This newer model came with a new viewfinder that Kodak called, Scopesight. It had a projected frame line in the viewfinder to help with composition. Early versions of the Tourist II had the name plate on the top, like my father's. In later versions, it faced forward in red lettering. Other specifications of the two cameras were nearly identical. 

Tourist camera back had multi openings
The camera's most unusual feature was its back door which could be opened on the left side, right side or removed completely. Separately sold adapter kits allowed the use of 828 film which was. Kodak’s unperforated 35mm paper-backed roll film. Introduced in 1935, it was intended to avoid some problems of earlier perforated 35mm films.

Despite the popularity of the Kodak Tourist line, it was discontinued in July 1958, after 10 years and signaled the last in a 60-year span of American-made film bellows cameras from Eastman Kodak. Its demise marked the end of an era for Kodak's folding roll film cameras; 35mm photography was introduced in the 1950s and the company shifted gears.

Back in 1948, when the Tourist was first introduced, it was advertised at around $95. In 2024 dollars that's the equivalent of $1,223.28. No information was found online on how many were sold and while it was a popular camera, it doesn't hold value in the collector’s market. Most models, except the Tourist II with an upscale lens and faster shutter, sell online for as low as $20. There's no shortage as a recent eBay check showed over 200 listings. It's clear, I won't be making my fortune from this family treasure.

Yashica Electro 36. This was my first serious camera purchased in my late teen years. This 35mm was bought at a Two Guys from Harrison store in Watchung, NJ. (This popular store chain was founded in Harrison, NJ, in 1946 by two brothers and folded in the 1970s.) 
Yashica Electro 35, my first 35mm camera
The Yashica Electro 35 was a solid metal rangefinder camera with a big, clear viewfinder which featured a space-age atomic symbol on the front, possibly since when it debuted in 1966, it was the first full frame electronically controlled camera. The electronic exposure control combined the ease of a point and shoot camera with the features of a high-end camera. 
Testimonial advertisement for the Yashica Electro 35
That's because, while it was geared toward amateur photographers, the Electro 35 had many advanced features for serious photographers and it was easy to use. Its retro look is still prized by photographers today. Film speeds ranged from 12 to 400 ASA with a Yashinon 45mm, f1.7 lens, faster than some modern lenses I've owned since. The lens stayed the same when the wording, Color-Yashinon, was added in 1968. This was a marketing move as color film was starting to be affordable for amateur photographers. 

The Yashica Electro 35 is an aperture-priority camera. This means that the photographer sets the f-stop  (aperture) and the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed, from 1/500 up to 30 seconds or more. The metering system was the first of its kind. It was not TTL (through the lens) like 35mm SLR (single lens reflex) cameras, but controlled by cadmium sulphide (CdS) cells located above the lens. It used a 5.6V mercury battery, whose manufacturing was discontinued. There's an alkaline equivalent available; however, it's expensive and only available online. 

This camera became one of the most popular consumer 35mm cameras of the 1960s to 1970s. in the U.S. The Electro 35 GSN and GTN models were produced until 1977 and estimates are that 8 million overall were sold. In October 1983, Yashica Company Ltd. was acquired by Kyocera, which in 2005, halted production on all Contax, Yashica, and other Kyocera branded film and digital cameras.

An Electro 35 camera wasn't very costly considering its features. It sold new for around $100, which is the equivalent to $957.80 in 2024. Just like the Imperial Mark XII and Kodak Tourist cameras, it can still be bought online. However, unlike those cameras, a vintage Yashica Electro 35 sells for upwards of a few hundred dollars. 

Unfortunately, I don't know what happened to the Imperial Mark XII or Yashica Electro 35 cameras that I owned and used years ago and rather regret that today.

However, I have my father's Kodak Tourist II seen here in its original leather case, even though I will never use it again. For one thing, film would be harder to obtain and process. But mostly, I have no interest in it now other than sentiment and memories. Over the years, I've used and owned many other cameras, which will also remain firmly in the past.            To be continued . . .

Your turn — Do you remember names of your first cameras?
If so, do you know what happened to them (unlike myself)?

Friday, April 5, 2024

Friday Funnies

Just wondering — is this how the Easter 🐰 bunny got around quickly to deliver all those sweet treats last weekend?

This auto certainly had a rabbit-favored color and matching vanity plate too.
It was seen on Main Street in downtown Nashua, NH, right before the holiday.

Enjoy Your Weekend, Everyone 
Still waiting for Spring after yesterday's nor'easter
There's hope, next week temps are forecast in the mid-60s

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Straddling Two Countries

The Haskell Library and Opera House
At first glance, It looks like any other Victorian-style building from the early 20th century, complete with stained-glass windows, a grandiose facade and a slate roof. But, appearances aside, this isn't just a grand old building. Here, the border between two countries bisects the building, leaving library users and theatre-goers in one country or the other.

Amazingly, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House (Bibliothèque et salle d’opéra Haskell) is a historic building that's located equally in the small cities of Derby Line, Vermont, U.S. and Stanstead, Quebec, Canada. At the time it was built, people in this rural region moved freely, between these borders, not so anymore.

Derby Line is the still rural Vermont town on the U.S. side of the border. Stanstead, Quebec, the small town on the Canadian side also has American roots and, according to its website, it was founded by pioneers from New England in the 1790s and once a haven for smugglers and bootleggers. As the town grew,  it became the first Canadian stop for the stagecoach that ran from Boston to Quebec City.

At the U.S. border in Derby Line, VT
How did we come across this place?

We were on a road trip to Derby Line, VT, last week to complete our application for Global Entry at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office. This program allows expedited clearance upon arrival in the U.S. from travel abroad. We're (hopefully) planning to travel abroad at least once before year-end.  

The trip from Nashua, NH, to VT was 3 hours each way. We stayed overnight in the area. We had read about the Haskell library and knew that we wanted to visit it.

While the ornate stone two-story Queen Anne Revival-style building that houses the library and an opera house has two addresses, Canadian and American, there's only one entrance and it's on the U.S. side of the border, which is where we were too..

Americans can freely enter by the front door in the U.S. Canadians cross the border in front of the library, stay on the sidewalk and enter via the front door too. They return to Canada via the same route and cannot walk anywhere else in town. And, Americans cannot cross over the sidewalk into Canada. I admit to having crossed the line.

Passports aren’t required since this isn't a formal border crossing, but the library tells visitors to expect their movements to be monitored and carry an ID, just in case.The photo at the left shows how close the border is. This crosswalk is adjacent to the Haskell library. 

Canadians can freely access the library and must return back by the same route when they leave. Family reunions or cross-border visits are not allowed inside, banned after relatives, who were allowed to be in the U.S. or Canada, not both, began arriving for get togethers. The day we visited, a Canadian police vehicle was parked on the Canadian side monitoring the border line. A library volunteer we spoke to told us the border was monitored daily; however the patrol car wasn't there when we left. We had our passports with us, but they were not needed.

Martha Haskells & son Horace Stewart
The building's construction combines elements of the Queen Anne, Georgian and classical revival styles, typical of public libraries of that time. It was conceived and financed by Martha Stewart Haskell, a wealthy Canadian citizen, and her son Horace Stewart Haskell in memory of Stewart's parents, Catherine and Horace Stewart, and late husband Carlos Haskell, an American sawmill owner. 

According to available information, the Haskells purposely chose to build on the border so that Canadians and Americans would have equal access to the library and opera house when border restrictions were more fluid. 

Two large portraits of the Haskells are displayed in the entrance hall. As accounts go, Martha Haskell’s goal was to cheat the border. Accordingly, for years, Canadians and Americans would cross into each others’ countries to attend school, church and marry. Times have changed since then.

Construction began in 1901 and the opera house opened in 1904 as a profit-producing venture that would support the free public library which opened in 1905. 
It's easy to know which country you're in by the very unusual international border, this  black tape line that divides it down the middle. This dividing line was not accidental. It was added to designate the exact border line after a fire decades ago set off a fight between insurance companies over which had to pay for damages.
Patrick has one foot in two countries
We stepped across the tape on the floor and crossed from the U.S. into Canada. This atrium was the center but the circulation desk wasn't here years ago. It was originally positioned to block access to the stacks where the books were located. Small flags of both countries are provided so visitors have a photo opp with a foot in each country as Patrick did above. 
A wooden book used years ago
Years ago, library visitors didn't have free access to books because at the time (1904), books were more valuable and harder to come by. Library users would tell the librarian what they wanted or would give a wooden block of wood with the title — as shown in the above photo — then the book would be brought out. The circulation desk (shown in a photo below) was originally positioned to block access to the stacks where the books were located.
The Haskell library stacks are mostly the original shelves
Today, the library stacks can be freely accessed by library patrons and visitors alike. The library's collection numbers over 20,000 books, mostly in English and French with some Spanish titles as well. Most of this collection is located in Canada. 

The Opera House seating
Unfortunately, the opera house was closed to visitors on the day of our visit, so we didn't see the opera house interiors, this time.

Available photos showed a magnificent venue with a domed ceiling, original mahogany wooden seats and a balcony. The seats closer to the stage are pricier, wider, and have an armrest. We learned that cushions can be rented for the hard wooden seats, regular attendees bring their own.

The stage screens were done by an artist from southern Vermont hired by Horace Haskell. The one that's used most often is a Venice scene which includes a steamboat,  in the back of the scene as Haskell liked steamboats.

As in the library, the theatre is crossed by an international border. Most of the 400-seats are in the U.S. and the show is performed on a stage in Canada. 
Haskell Opera House balcony, Internet source
The opera house includes an arch that provides a clear view of the performance, decorative cherubs and wall murals are typical of early 20th century theatre decor. Performers here have included vaudeville, jazz, blues, rock, music and dance performers, many have left their signatures on dressing room walls.

This is the only moose we saw on our road trip despite the numerous Moose Crossing road signs. It's nicknamed Benny and is displayed in the library near the main desk. As with the flags near the entry way, it's a popular photo "opp."

The story goes that the huge moose was shot in new Brunswick, Canada, by a man named Hunt and that it didn't fit into the front door into his house. Many suspect that his wife refused entry and so it was donated to the library.

The clock in the photo below is original to the 1904 library opening. According to the library volunteer, who provided much information during our visit, it wasn't working for years until a patron repaired it and now it runs perfectly, she added, as long as a staff member remembers to wind it..
The original clock and main library desk
Over the years, some of the library rooms have changed uses. The children's room was the once the men's reading room, where men would recline with their newspapers, books, pipes, and cigars near the room's fireplace. Each room features a different locally-sourced wood, perhaps in tribute to Martha Haskell's sawmill owner husband. There are also several fireplaces, no longer in use except for decorative purposes.
The building has been classified a historic site in both countries. In the U.S., it was registered in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1976 and has been included in Ripley's Believe It or Not. In 1985, the building was designated a National Historic Site in Canada and has been a provincial heritage site since 1977. Being on the international border, gives the Haskell library a unique distinction of being the only NRHP registered landmark above the 45th parallel.

If you're entering from the U.S., there's limited parking at the library in a small adjacent lot. You can see American and Canadian border crossings shown on granite markers. 
An illegal border crossing can be quite costly
If you plan to visit The Haskell Free Library and Opera House, its address is 93 Caswell Ave., Derby Line, VT or 1 Church St. Stanstead, Quebec depending on where you're traveling from. 

FYI in reply to comment: Yes, as with many places, the Haskell Library was closed for a couple years when the pandemic cancelled everything. Initially, it closed for a week, then a month and then 2 years. During the shutdown, money was raised to install insulated windows in the opera house. Before this was done, winter performances couldn't be scheduled as the facility was too cold, the season now includes winter performances. As to a query as to which country owns the building, I couldn't find a definitive answer, perhaps it's owned by both countries
Did anyone say that Spring was here? It certainly was not Mother Nature who has sprung a late April Fools' Day weather event here in New England with a nor'easter. This was the 7 a.m. view outside from our apartment windows today. 

Finally, here's a shout-out to my brother on his birthday today. He's celebrating in our home state of NJ, where the weather is just as miserable but only rainy.

He's officially a senior citizen, just like ourselves. This posted before photo shows him celebrating a much earlier birthday. I hope he enjoys a 🎂 cake today as well !

We're thankful to be celebrating after all these years.

🎉 Happy Birthday 🎈

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Easter, a Moveable Holiday

Easter display outside our apt entry
Easter Sunday commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after being crucified by the Romans about 30 A.D. But, unlike holidays set on a specific date, this important Christian holiday is a movable feast which doesn't fall on the same predictable date every year. 

This also applies to its related religious days of Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday. None are fixed calendar dates, but are assigned according to a lunisolar calendar, which aligns the moon’s phases as well as the sun’s position in the sky. (Passover and other Jewish holidays also adhere to the lunisolar calendar.)

One thing is certain — Easter is always celebrated on the same day of the week, Sunday, and known as Easter Sunday or just Easter. 

Why does the date change; how is it determined? 
It hops around like the bunny associated with the holiday. In the Gregorian calendar, it's always observed on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25; but it can be observed between April 4 and May 8 in the Eastern Orthodox Church, many of which follow the Julian calendar.

It falls on the first Sunday after the full moon, also called the Paschal Full Moon, the first full moon of spring. It occurs on or shortly after the spring following the March or spring equinox. March 22 is the earliest Easter can occur in any year, April 25 is the latest. If the first spring full Moon falls on a Sunday, Easter will be observed the following Sunday.

The actual date of the spring equinox can differ by a day or two, but the spring equinox date used by the Catholic Church is always March 21. The astronomical date of the equinox can shift a day or two. In 2024, the astronomical date of the equinox was Tuesday, March 19. 

For those, who want to plan ahead, in 2025 Easter Sunday will fall on April 20.

Why are bunnies and eggs associated with Easter?
Our bunnies & eggs
What does a bunny have to do with a religious celebration? Quite frankly, nothing. The Bible doesn't mention a long-eared mammal bringing sweet treats to children. 

Some trace the bunny's arrival to the 1700s when German immigrants ,who settled in PA, transported the tradition of an egg-laying hare. Children made nests and the hare would lay colored eggs for Easter. As the custom spread, it expanded to include chocolate, other treats and gifts and decorated baskets replaced nests. 

Easter is the second best selling candy holiday in the U.S. beat out only by Halloween. It's believed that the end of Lent has helped popularize sales of Easter candy. That's because many Christians swear off sweets during this time. Easter marks the first day in over a month that they can indulge and they often do. 

Chocolate bunnies are the most commonly molded Easter chocolate. First handcrafted in the 1830s and 1840s, they became commonplace in the 1880s. We didn't buy chocolate bunnies this year. The brown bunny in the photo is from Dollar Tree; the white bunnies are washcloth creations given by a crafting friend.

Easter Egg Coloring: The custom of coloring eggs dates to ancient Middle East times when onion skins were used to color eggs. They were also decorated because of their importance. Many years ago during Lent, the time of fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter, meat and also dairy products were given up and not eaten. It's believed that being able to eat eggs again was significant, they would be decorated to mark the end of fasting and then eaten in celebration.
We colored eggs as we do every Easter
Years ago during Lent, a time of fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter, meat and dairy products were not eaten. It's believed that being able to eat eggs again was so important that they would be decorated to mark the end of fasting and then eaten in celebration. We always color eggs on the holiday, a long-standing tradition in our home and with the grands in their younger days. Unlike ourselves, the older ones have outgrown the tradition. 

1948's top musical film
Easter Parade: This tradition dates from the mid-1800s in NYC when society notables would attend Easter Sunday services at 5th Avenue churches, then stroll down the street after to show off their spring frocks and hats. Soon, onlookers started lining up along 5th Avenue to see the strollers. 

The tradition reached a peak in the mid 20th century and, in the 1948 film, Easter Parade, Fred Astaire and Judy Garland strolled along the avenue to the music of Irving Berlin. This film was the highest-grossing musical film of that year. We re-watch it every Easter. Our favorite scene is in the restaurant one with actor Jules Munshin air mixing a salad. It's a real classic.

Today, the parade tradition continues in NYC as 49th to 57th Streets are shut down to vehicular traffic on Easter. Other U.S. cities also host a parade including: Asheville (NC), Atlantic City (NJ), San Francisco (CA) .

A colorful egg collection, some bunnies and us
We're celebrating Easter at home in NH, as we did for Christmas, in keeping with a year of being home on major holidays. Previous years, we've travelled to visit family and friends on holidays. This year has been a relaxing change. We'll visit everyone later this year at non-holiday times.

Your Turn — Do you have any special 🐰 plans today?

Wishing all who celebrate a Happy 🐇 Easter
from Our Home to Yours

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Castling in Ireland

Last fall, we were in a group that traveled abroad on a Shades of Ireland tour, focused on that country. Befitting the trip name, the major portion of our travel was an 8-day motor coach (bus) tour through Ireland. A previous post highlighted one of the Ireland's most notable features, its green. colors. This one highlights a few castles; there's many more.

It's impossible to see all of Ireland's castles, but we managed a handful last fall. Did you know that there are more than 30,000 castles and ruins in this small nation, dating from the 12th to 16th centuries? 

The castles include any sort of fortifications, functioning and/or restored castles of any kind and while they remain standing, many are in ruins and serve as reminders of their importance in Irish history as defensive strongholds during wars and battles. 

Our castle count was  six: three were visited (Blarney, Kilkenny and Ross Castles), one hosted a medieval banquet (Bunratty Castle) and we stayed in one on our last night (Fitzgerald Castle). Our travel group photo was taken near another. This post doesn't necessarily follow in the order in which we visited each of these.
Blarney Castle, home of the Blarney Stone
Blarney Castle is possibly the best known Irish castle steeped in legend and mystery. Located in the countryside of County Cork, Cormac MacCarthy built the medieval castle over six centuries ago to protect the area against invaders. It replaced a stone building which had replaced a wooden building before it. 
Map of Blarney Castle & Gardens
While much of the structure is in partial ruins with no roof covering, some rooms are accessible. Beneath the main structure is a labyrinth of underground passages, built throughout the Middle Ages. Most are inaccessible to visitors today. 
The tall structure beside the castle is the watch tower, and while still standing it was not open to visitors. In its day, this freestanding fortification would have provided a high place for a guard to observe the surrounding area.
Inside the castle, it's a steep climb up some very narrow steps ending at battlements at the top of the castle and views of the surrounding countryside. As tempting as it was to ascend for the views, these passageways are quite confining, and I did not go up. However, Patrick made it to the top.

Kissing the Blarney Stone
At the top of the castle is the reason mosty come to visit this castle — to kiss a block of  limestone, not just any stone, but the world famous Blarney Stone. It carries the legend that whoever kisses it will be blessed with the gift of eloquence. 

Kissing the Blarney Stone is somewhat of an effort that requires leaning over backwards over a sheer drop to touch the stone with your lips. This is usually done with the help of someone. As uncomfortable as this seems now, it was life-threatening years ago with no safeguards of wrought-iron guide rails and protective crossbars. Back then, you would have been grasped by the ankles and dangled from the 90-foot tall castle. Now, doesn't that sound like an appealing visit? 

As with any popular sites, stories abound about the stone's origin. One involves Clíodhna, goddess of love and beauty and the patron of County Cork and Cormac MacCarthy, builder of the Castle. In the 15th century, MacCarthy was involved in a legal issue and appealed to Clíodhna. The legend goes that she told him to kiss the first stone he found on his way to court. After doing so, he pleaded his case with great eloquence and won, which led him to have the stone set into the tower of the castle.

Another story is that the stone was awarded to MacCarthy by Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, in 1314 as a reward for providing support in the Battle of Bannockburn, a battle between the army of Bruce and the army of King Edward II of England, during the First War of Scottish Independence. Legend holds that this was a piece of the Stone of Scone used in the coronation of Scottish kings.

In recent years, the stone has become famous for another reason. In 2009, it was named the most unhygienic tourist attraction. Researchers claimed the stone, smooched by upwards of 400,000 people a year, was the most germ-filled tourist site; no scientific evidence supports the claim. The stone is not alone in being declared germy; other popular listed sites are: Oscar
 Wilde’s Tomb, Paris; Karni Mata Temple, India; St. Mark’s Square, Venice; Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, CA; Gum Wall, Seattle, Washington.

No, we did not kiss the stone and, as noted earlier, I didn't climb up to see it. Given the acrobatics needed, it did not appeal to either of us; a few members of our group participated. Stone kissing halted during the pandemic and the site was shut down. At its June 2020 reopening, owner, Sir Charles Colthurst, who inherited the Blarney estate in 2003 and manages it full time, was the first to kiss the stone. It's sprayed with disinfectant through the day. Puckering up for a kiss requires waiting until it dries.
The castle grounds include lush gardens, spanning over 60 acres filled with natural rock formations and some poisonous plants, including wolfsbane, mandrake, ricinus, opium poppies and cannabis. Paths have signs pointing out various attractions like natural rock formations named Druid's Circle, Witch's Cave and the Wishing Steps. 
Kilkenny Castle
Kilkenny Castle has been standing for over 800 hundred years, dominating Kilkenny City and the South East of Ireland. Originally built in the 13th century by William Marshall, 4th  Earl of Pembroke, as a symbol of Norman control, Kilkenny Castle symbolized the fortunes of the powerful Butlers of Ormond for over 600 years.
The castle is located in Kilkenny, the Medieval Capital of Ireland. Before touring the fortress, we had hoped to take a walking tour of the city’s cobbled streets, but a steady rainfall the day we visited soon cancelled that plan. Instead, we had this train ride throughout town.
The castle was a symbol of Norman occupation and, in its original condition, formed an important element of the town's defenses with four large circular corner towers and a massive ditch. 

Inside, this fortress there's a grand library, drawing room, nursery, and 19th-century picture gallery showcasing the Butler family's art collection. The castle is surrounded by 50 acres of rolling parkland dotted with mature trees, a rose garden, and wildlife. 
Few buildings throughout Ireland have a longer history of continuous occupation than Kilkenny Castle which has been rebuilt, extended and adapted over a period of 800 years. The first castle was constructed in the Anglo-Norman period by Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare, and in 1192 was replaced by a stone structure. The Butler family bought the castle in 1391 and it became their seat for the next 500 years.

During the Irish Confederate Wars of the 1640s, the Protestant Butlers were on the side of King Charles I. Catholic rebels captured Kilkenny Castle, and it was besieged by Oliver Cromwell during his conquest of Ireland. Following his return from exile in 1661, Butler remodelled the medieval castle as a more modern chateau.

As you can imagine, keeping up a castle is quite costly and the Butler family struggled to raise the monies needed to keep it maintained. In 1904, James Butler, 21st Earl of Ormonde, welcomed King Edward VIII when he visited Ireland. When Butler died, huge amounts of death duties meant that the castle’s future was in jeopardy. It was besieged by the Irish Free State during the Irish Civil War in 1922, and severely damaged. 

The Butler family relocated to London in 1935 and abandoned the castle.  Most of its furnishing were put up for public auction.

In 1967, Arthur Butler, 6th Marquess of Ormonde sold the abandoned and deteriorating castle to the Castle Restoration Committee for a ceremonial £50 (just over 60 USD) for the people of Kilkenny. He also bought the land in front of the castle from the trustees so that it would never be built on.

The castle and grounds are now managed by the Office of Public Works, and the gardens and parkland are open to the public. It's become the city of Kilkenny's most popular tourist attraction and hosts visitors year round. 
Ross Castle
Ross Castle is a 15th-century tower house situated on the edge of Lough Leane, the largest of the three lakes of Killarney, in the Killarney National Park, County Kerry. The fortress was built in the 15th century by the Irish Chieftain (O’ Donoghue Ross) and is a typical example of the stronghold of an Irish Chieftain during the Middle Ages. The site overlooks the lake. It's reputed to be one of the last strongholds of significance to fall to the forces of Oliver Cromwell  in the 1650s.

To reach the castle, our group traveled through Killarney National Park in open two-wheeled one-horse carts called jaunting carsThis is one of the most popular things to do in Killarney and is mainly reserved as a tourist activity.

Jaunting Carts in Killarney
Built as a mode of personal travel in the 1800s to mid 20th century, the two or four-wheeled horse-drawn rigs carried up to 4 four people. Jaunting became a popular way to describe a pleasure trip by saying that someone was off on a jaunt.
Defenders of the castle knew of a prophecy that foretold the castle could only be taken by a ship. Unfortunately, the leader of Cromwell's force, who also knew of the prophecy, launched a large boat on the lake. Seeing it hastened the defender's surrender thus fulfilling the prophecy.

Legend also has it that Irish Chieftain O’Donoghue slumbers below the lake waters. Every seven years, on the first morning of May, he is said to rise on his magnificent white horse. According to more legend, if you catch a glimpse of him, you'll enjoy good fortune the rest of your life. 
While we didn't see O'Donoghue or his stallion, we took an enjoyable boat ride on Lough Leane. As threatening as those skies behind us looked, it didn't rain.

The castle is open to visitors from early spring to late fall and is one of Killarney’s main tourist attractions, popular during the summer months. It was not open the day of our visit. 
Bunratty Castle
Bunratty Castle is a  15th century that was built in by the Earl of Thomond and stands on the banks of the Rathy River. The Earl entertained lavishly and was famous for his hospitality. Keeping with this tradition of hospitality, the Bunratty Castle Medieval Banquet was created in 1963, as a tourist attraction. For the past 61 years, banquets and entertainment have been provided twice nightly most of the year. These banquets are one of the oldest continual dining experiences in Ireland. Attendees have included international dignities, celebrities, U.S. Presidents and now our travel group.
The banquet was one of our tour options and we didn't get to see much of the castle exterior/interior, except for the entry and dining hall. We were greeted by the Earl's Butler who provided a short history of the castle. He was accompanied by the Ladies of the Castle who performed a  medieval madrigal. We were also given a sample of mead. (Mead is an alcoholic beverage consisting of three ingredients: fermented honey, water and yeast.  It's considered the earliest known alcoholic beverage; believed to predate wine by nearly 3,000 years. It is very sweet and somewhat of an acquired taste.)
This was a fun evening with members of our group being selected to preside at the head table as kings and their ladies. Royalty received the better seats and for everyone else, seating was bench-style along long oak tables and dining by candlelight to reflect the banqueting style of the medieval era.
Quite honestly, this was not the best meal on our trip. While we did not have to dine utensil-less, as might have been done in earlier days, the chicken dinner was uninspired.
After dinner entertainment consisted of a selection of Irish medieval and traditional songs instrumental music and step dancing.
King John's Castle or Limerick Castle is a commanding fortress perched on the banks of the River Shannon on King’s Island in Limerick. It was built on the orders of King John, brother of Richard the Lionheart and was completed around 1210. The castle was built on the boundary of the River Shannon to protect the city from the Gaelic kingdoms to the west and rebellion by Norman lords to the east and south.

The castle is one of the best-preserved Norman castles in Europe as its walls, towers and fortifications remain intact. It's also the most iconic building and visitor attraction in Limerick and served as a backdrop for a group photo. 
Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel
Fitzpatrick Castle was the last castle seen on our tour of Ireland and this one we stayed overnight. The original castle was built in 1740 by Colonel John Mapas. By 1755, it was acquired by Captain Maunsell, and then by a Colonel Loftus in 1770. By 1772, the colonel advertised the castle and its 150 acres for sale. During his time ithere, Colonel Loftus converted the barren stony soil to meadow and pasture and cut a road around the hill. In 1790, his successor, improved the estate further, spending the equivalent of nearly $4,000, quite in the late 18th century.

By 1840, a new owner, Robert Warren, enlarged the house renaming it Killiney Castle. He also donated land and most of the money for the building of Killiney Parish Church. Another owner, Mrs Chippendale Higgan, planted trees and shrubs that remain on the property today to provide a decorative setting for the castle. In the 20th century, Killiney Castle was used by the Black & Tans, the IRA and the Republicans in the Civil War before being burnt by Free State Troops. It was requisitioned by the Government during 1939-45 and used as billets for the army.
Killiney Castle changed hands again in the 1970s when the late Paddy and Eithne Fitzpatrick transformed it into a hotel renaming it (no surprise) Fitzpatrick Castle Hotel. Their daughter and her family own and maintain the hotel today. This stay was a wonderful way to end our tour of Ireland.

Our tour group's farewell dinner was held in the dining room. The next morning, some were leaving for Dublin Airport and flying home. Ourselves and a couple others would be heading to the airport and a flight to our next destination, Edinburgh, Scotland.

If you've come this far, Thanks as this was a very long post. There's more to come about our Ireland trip — cliffs, crystal and whiskey.