Monday, June 22, 2015

A Visit to Donnybrook Cemetery

We can learn a lot from cemeteries. The ways in which we memorialize our lost loved ones are a telling commentary on our views of life and death as a society. Some people celebrate their dead as they pass from one form of life into another; others recognize some sort of afterlife; less-religious bereaved simply wish to leave a lasting marker honoring the memory of a family member.

Donnybrook Cemetery Dublin
Tight Quarters
I love a good Irish cemetery tour, and I enjoyed one this past weekend at our local neighborhood resting place, Donnybrook Cemetery. We noticed this hidden churchyard our first week in Dublin, but had never been inside the locked gates. It is only open by guided tour, and I was finally available when a member of the Ballsbridge, Donnybrook, and Sandymount Historical Society was giving a free walk and talk through the cemetery.

An ivy-covered gravestone at Donnybrook Cemetery Dublin
Skulls and Ivy
A number of Irish-famous people are buried here in Donnybrook – of several thousand tightly-packed graves in total – but I was more interested in the imagery of the grave markers. Most had suffered decades (or centuries) of neglect and vandalism, but they still painted an interesting picture when see in the sun-and-shade dappled churchyard.

A decorated gravestone at Donnybrook Cemetery Dublin
Captivating Imagery
On the stones with legible markings, I read the descriptions of the people buried within: their occupation (Groc'r, Gentleman, Barrister-at-Law), their family members, and even their local Dublin address! Sad stories of family tragedy were laid out as entire families were marked on the same stone, dying within months of one another. In times when cholera and death in childbirth were all too common, it wouldn't have been unusual for families to suffer losses such as these.

A face on a gravestone from 1802 Donnybrook Cemetery Dublin
Well-Preserved Details
This graveyard being in Ireland, there was plenty of pleasant green among the sad gray stones. Ivy crept along the path and up some of the out-of-the-way stones, and holly grew in the shade of larger trees. In ancient, pre-Christian times, as now, holly was a symbol of fertility and everlasting life – staying green and lush and fruiting bright red berries through the winter. This is why we still think of holly at Christmas, when all of our seasonal temperate trees and plantlife are dormant and dead.

Fertility and Everlasting Life
Fertility and Everlasting Life

Donnybrook Cemetery is accessible locally by guided tours, which are announced and advertised by a sign on the gate. If you happen to be in South Dublin on a Saturday afternoon, be on the lookout for this fabulous – but not glamorous – free cemetery tour.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Legal Aliens

This week, we had to do endure of the most unpleasant errands undergone by world travelers: the long wait at the immigration office. Just like our first visit back in 2013 and our big day out last year, the office was jam-packed with tired, bored, and scared people waiting...waiting...waiting.

On our first visit, I'm sure our faces would have been on the scared list, hoping we had all the correct paperwork – a marriage license from the State of Iowa and the Catholic Church, in case Ireland wasn't yet recognizing non-Catholic marriages – and that our newly-issued debit card could handle the hefty fee for the privilege of living and paying taxes in Ireland.

This time around, one of the newbies would have seen us as the bored, groggy queue-shufflers that we had seen on our first day. The experienced expats; the longtime legal aliens.

Thankfully, this last visit was our shortest yet, we seemed to have had good luck with the size of the line. During peak immigration times, the office has to start turning people away by ten o'clock, having already issued service tickets to their daily limit of lost souls. As an added bonus, this being our third year in the country, we were issued two-year passes for the hassle – and high price – of one!

It won't really change my schedule or status, but it's nice to know that, come next summer, we won't have the specter of a long wait in line and a big bank bust hanging overhead, blocking out the sometimes-rare Irish sunshine.

This bureaucratic chore out of the way, it's time to enjoy the rest of our summer travel plans! By the way, did you read about our hike in Cashel over the June bank holiday? Much more like that to come!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Summer Games

It's been a long time since I've done any video game writing here on the main blog. Now that I don't need daily content, I've been more...selective about what goes up here. That said, I have been doing a bit of game-centered writing recently that I thought I'd share.

I now have a separate Twitter account that I use specifically for game- and nerd-focused content (@Active_ate), and have been busy tweeting my progress through various old games, sometimes with self-imposed restrictions for extra challenge.

To give all this writing a home, I started another Blogger page ( and have been writing about my game variants over there. If you like math and bad jokes, you'll love what you read. Here's an extra-nerdy excerpt from a Final Fantasy 5 Solo Time Mage challenge run report:
Earlier in the Ship Graveyard dungeon, a well-hidden chest contains a new kind of weapon. The Flail has some very interesting qualities: it boasts a slightly higher Attack (16) than the Dagger (14), it deals equal damage from the back row, and it cuts the enemy defense to 25% of its original value.
What's the catch? The weapon is wildly random, both in Hit% and damage dealt. Here's the formula from the Algorithms Guide:  
Attack = (Weapon Attack/2) + (0..Weapon Attack) 
M = (Level*Strength)/128 + 2 
Defense = (Defense/4) 
ATTACK: 16                 HIT%: 70 
The above Attack formula means that, on any given attack command, the Attack value will be anywhere from 50%–150% of the listed weapon Attack. For the Flail, that means 8–24. The Multiplier (M) will usually be the same as that with the Knife (due to the bug), and the Defense/4 property boosts damage significantly. 
The Hit% of 70 means just what it says on the tin: this weapon will flat-out miss on three of every ten attacks—before calculating any enemy physical evasion, of which Siren thankfully has none. I like the narrative suggestion with this mage-only weapon: picture a frail robed wizard wildly and blindly swinging a spiked ball on a long chain with one hand while protecting his face and eyes with the other.
The Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta is fast approaching, and in honor of the most wonderful time of the (retro RPG enthusiast) year, I wrote an article about it for Laser Time, one of my favorite pop culture/video game podcast networks. I was proud to share this article with the Internet gaming community, and hope it will attract a few new players to the Fiesta this year.

I also started a new sports project with an old friend, Sticky Bleachers. We hope to one day build it into a multi-writer sports blog and podcast, but for now, it's a Twitter account and some unique video content. We kicked off the YouTube channel with a simulated NBA Finals series with NBA Live '96 for Sega Genesis (that's Sega Mega Drive for you European fans) with a current rosters rom patch. This means we can see LeBron James face off with Stephen Curry in a pixelated dream world – with commentary by my friend and Yours Truly.

I'm also continuing work on Five Suitcases – the book and the travel blog – so I'm keeping myself busy indoors as the days in Dublin grow longer and warmer.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Balsam Bashing on the River Dodder

If I write too much about my local River Dodder, it's only because this urban stream is my nearest and dearest source of a peaceful, natural retreat from the noise of the city. A place to fish, to sit, to watch the wildlife, and enjoy the simpler things in life.

A new addition to my river-protecting volunteer projects is the removal of harmful invasive species from the river. Dublin recently celebrated Biodiversity Week, a time to celebrate the wide array of native plants and animals. Native being the important word, as exotic species introduced (intentionally or unintentionally) by humans pose a threat to many fragile ecosystems.

In Ireland, one such invader is the garden escapee Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera). This admittedly attractive garden plant proliferates on riverbanks, its seeds carried on the water to take root downstream. It grows quickly and drives out native Irish riverbank plants before seeding and dying out itself, leaving a bare bank prone to erosion with the winter floods.

To celebrate Biodiversity Week, Dublin City Council Biodiversity invited the community to the riverbanks for a quick lesson in balsam identification and eradication. I jumped in with other members of Dodder Action and some environmentally-minded employees of a riverside business to bash some balsam. 

Our First Specimen
Our First Specimen

It wasn't long after we received our identification training that we were hauling out handfuls of this harmful plant. After less than an hour, our team of a dozen volunteers had nabbed buckets and bags of the stuff, leaving one small (but not insignificant) stretch of river free for the native plants to once again take hold.

The Team and the Harvest
The Team and the Harvest

Destined for Compost
Destined for Compost

Local enthusiasts gathering each spring to pull balsam have completely wiped it out on the banks of the Blackwater – another river in Southwest Ireland – and Dublin's biodiversity team hopes that such a community-led initiative can accomplish the same thing here. It is inspiring volunteer efforts like this that keep me hopeful for the future of our urban and suburban habitats. In the twenty-first century, conservation and caring are no longer just for green-minded radicals.