Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Áras an Uachtaráin // A Tour of the President's Home

As a member of the American Women's Club of Dublin, I recently spent the most wonderful afternoon enjoying tea where such distinguished guests including Presidents Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy, Pope John Paul II, Queen Elizabeth II, as well as Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, have been previously hosted. 

We were graciously invited to tour the Irish President's Residence, Áras an Uachtaráin, and meet his lovely wife, Sabina Higgins, over tea. 

Upon our arrival to the residence in Dublin's famed Phoenix Park, we walked from the car park past the immaculately landscaped gardens to the front entrance. Passing through the front door, we were invited into the nearly stark white Entrance Room. The white walls and vaulted ceiling serve as the backdrop to colourful artwork, as well as the blue seal of the Presidential harp motif, so prominently displayed high above our heads. One interesting fact learned from the tour was that while the harp is the official national emblem of the Republic of Ireland, even featured on current coins, it was Guinness who originally trademarked the harp symbol in 1876. When the Republic became a free state in 1922, the government asked permission from Guinness to also use the harp symbol, only the reverse image. So when distinguishing between two harps, the government's harp is shown with the sound board edge on the right, while Guinness harp's straight edge is shown on the left.

Moving from the Entrance Room into the Francini Corridor, where you can view the bronze busts of the former presidents, we then patiently waited to enter the State Reception Room where we would meet Sabina Higgins herself.

A warm handshake, quick verbal exchange and a photograph later, we found ourselves entering into the State Dining Room. It was in this formal room that we were so generously offered a fine selection of refreshments and sweet canapés.

Francini Corridor

Harp displayed in the Francini Corridor
As we chit chatted among our group, nibbled on miniature scones, and watched the President's two Bernese Mountain dogs as they frolicked in the garden, Mrs. Higgins made her way around the room. She got to know the members on a more personal level, noting the AWCD's sub-groups like the craft and chat meet-up, hillwalkers, and the java junkies. When she did address the 50 of us as a whole organization, it was such a genuinely heartfelt message. She is both kindhearted and compassionate, as well as a strong advocate for women's rights, reminding us how important it is that we stand together in unity with other women around the world. She also reminded us to enjoy our time in Ireland, whether it is for a temporary stay or a long term commitment.

The tea cups featured the presidential harp symbol 
Mrs. Higgins addresses our group
The American Women's Club of Dublin group shot with Mrs. Higgins
After her departure, we were treated to a walking tour of the 4 public state rooms by the President's aide. Our gregarious guide had that authentic Irish wit that made the informative tour particularly appealing. The bits of gossip he injected into the history was all in good fun, and I'll share a bit of that hearsay, along with some of the historical facts below.

Presidential Portrait of Mary Robinson
Presidential Portrait of Erskine Childers

Our guide describing the portraits
Originally built in 1751 by Nathaniel Clements, a Park Ranger who was appointed by King George II, Áras has been the home to all of the Irish presidents, since the first President took office in 1938. Before this tour it had never occurred to me that Ireland is only on its ninth President. The State Dining Room proudly displays portraits of each of the former eight presidents. Some interesting tidbits learned on the tour about some of the presidents and their portraits...
  • Douglas Hyde- first President, portrait shows him standing but when the painting was created he had massive stroke that left him wheelchair bound and unable to stand but he did not want to be remembered as "weak"
  • Eamon de Valera- born in New York, he was sentenced to death for his role in the Easter Rising, but his life was spared and he went on to be the third President 
  • Erskine Childers- his father was executed during Ireland's Civil War, he died suddenly while in office so only served 18 months and his portrait is said to "lack warmth" as it was painted after his unfortunate passing
  • Mary Robinson- first woman President of Ireland, her portrait is said to be the most favoured by artists as it is "difficult to paint white using colours" 
  • Mary McAleese- second female President and first with a young family to live in Áras and a little something that was (surprisingly!) not mentioned on the tour but worth mentioning here... she met me (haha!) on Christmas Eve in 2007 at the Westbury Hotel in City Centre and kindly took a photograph with myself and my sister-in-law 
A photo with President McAleese from 2007 
The State Reception Room is used by the President to receive visiting dignitaries and foreign envoys. It was full of beautiful decor details, including  the handwoven carpet made in Donegal. The original carpet was replaced in 2000 by descendants who created the first piece and it replicates the design, featuring a Phoenix rising from the flames.

Chandelier from the State Reception Room
The Council of State Room contains a painting of the first meeting of the Council of State, the President's advisory board, presided over by Douglas Hyde. The partially gilded ceiling was rather unique, with plaster depictions of scenes from Aesop's Fables, including the story of the Fox and the Grapes. A quick recap of the fable for those readers who need it- a fox sees a bunch of grapes and wants to eat them to quench his thirst but after several unsuccessful attempts to reach them, he gives up and declares the grapes are likely sour anyways. Moral is that it is easy to despise what you cannot get.

A painting depicting the first meeting of the Council of State
Aesop's Fables on the ceiling
The tour ended after viewing the State Drawing Room. This room has a few notable features. The brass chandelier commemorates the Act of Union from 1801 between Ireland, England and Scotland and displays intertwined shamrocks, roses and thistles. The Louis XIV style pink couch is an original piece and it was said that the replica sits in the Palace of Versailles with a placard that notes the original is in Dublin. The Connemara coffee table was specially commissioned for President Bill Clinton's visit in 2000. While it was intended to be a gift for him, the table was gifted back to the Irish and now is displayed prominently, surrounded by the historical furniture, and funnily enough, President Clinton's wife, Hillary, enjoyed tea at the table while visiting Aras in 2012.

The brass chandelier commemorating the Act of Union in 1801
Furniture and artwork found in the State Drawing Room 
Everyone on the staff that I encountered was incredibly affable but even more noticeable was the sense of pride they showed for their role at Áras . The dining room server offered tea and organic apple juice that he was delighted to had come "from apples grown on the grounds". Upon learning one of our passengers last name was Ingalls, the guard at the entrance gate immediately made a witty remark about the "Little House on the Prairie". The President's aide, who had as much charm as he did wit, kept each one of us engaged and entertained on the historical tour.  

For those of you who are interested in attending a tour of Áras, there are complimentary tours offered every Saturday to the public. Click here for more information on attending a tour, click here to be directed to the President's website, or take a virtual tour of the public rooms by clicking here. For those reads that live here in Ireland (or will be visiting soon!), I highly recommend visiting Áras for the truly unique and unforgettable experience. I know that I will forever hold this special day in my memories of our time in Dublin, however long that time may be!

The green, white and orange flag flying high above our heads
The gorgeous back gardens
A day I will never forget!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Dublin, Our Playground // Rainy Days with a Toddler

Installment number 3 of the Dublin, Our Playground series is specially inspired by MOTHER NATURE. Today the weather in Dublin could be described in a variety of ways, starting with Rainy.
With expected appearances by hailstones. And lots more rain.
Did I mention it's only 10am?!
I'm sure you are understanding the picture I'm trying to create- the weather this morning is pretty darn miserable.

As often as possible, I get the kids outside because we are all much happier people when we've been outdoors. I sincerely believe there are so many benefits to getting out- 
That fresh air- breath it in!
Increased levels of Vitamin D!
It's free! No cost to walk through your local park!
Keeps you moving! Exercise!
Exposure to nature! Listen to those tweeting birds!

I'm a huge fan of getting outside, but sometimes such as a day like today, the Dublin weather just won't allow for outdoor playtime. But even when the rain is coming down hard, we still like to get out of the house and enjoy a change of scenery. Here are some of the places you might find us at instead. 

Gymnastics Centers
You want to tire your toddler out but can't get outside? Drop everything and head straight to a gymnastics open play session. There is no faster route to naptime than 2.5 hours of trampoline jumping, tumbling through tunnels, balancing on beams and swinging from the uneven bars.
Trojan Gymnastics, Ballyogan Road in Carrickmines, Dublin 18. 
Drop in Bambinos & Tiny Tumbler sessions.
€5/ Child includes parent-supervised gym time, tea, coffee, biscuits and fresh fruit.

Hanging at Trojan Gymnastics
If you can't get outside to enjoy the great outdoors, why not pick up a book and transport yourselves to the sandy beaches along the Mediterranean Sea, the deserts of the Middle East or the Caribbean Tropics. With 8 local branches, there is a wonderful selection of indoor spaces to read a book or attend a storytime or toddler yoga class. And while we are big fans of the charming little Cabinteely library, with it's cosy children's nook, we also love the brand new, dlr LexIcon Library in Dun-Laoghaire. The LexIcon has an enormous children's area on the second floor, with a floor to ceiling glass window, showcasing a gorgeous view of the sea. The kids enjoy sitting and watching the boats entering and exiting the harbour nearly as much as they like a new read. 
Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Libraries

Reading along at the dlr LexIcon Library 

Local Community or Parish Centers
On Tuesday mornings at 1045am, you will always find Harry and I at our local Parish Centre. A basic hall gets a kid-friendly makeover with some toys and playthings scattered throughout the room, a bubble machine churning out loads of popping opportunities and featuring a little sing-song and parachute play too. This group of parents and minders are some of the kindest people I've met since moving to Cabinteely and while it's good for the kids to get some social interaction in, I'm just as grateful for some of the chats I've made over a hot cuppa. 
St. Brigid's Pastoral Community Centre, Cabinteely Village, Dublin 18.
€3/ Child or €5/ 2 Children includes admission, tea, coffee and biscuits

Parachute static at our local toddler group

Play Spaces or Play Cafes
There's a whole crop of these play spaces and play cafes around the city. These cozy, friendly environments are kid-safe and offer a chance for your child's imagination to be inspired. Most of the places include a soft play area, ball pits, dress-up clothes, toddler vehicles, huge selection of toys, plus seating areas for parents. Admission to these venues typically runs around €5- €6 per child and added expenses include any food or drinks that must be purchased through the onsite cafe. 
A few of our favourite play spaces include:
Enchancia, 11 Merville Road, Stillorgan, Dublin 18
Leisureplex Zoo , Old Dublin Road, Stillorgan, Co. Dublin
Funky Monkeys, Dundrum Retail Park, Dundrum, Dublin 16

Plenty of toys in the Toddler Zoo area at Leisureplex

Enchancia's inviting play space

Sea Life Center
Besides viewing the usual glass displays, children can touch a starfish or a sea anemone and receive a medal for particiaption, view the piranhas as they're fed their lunch, or watch the octopus handle a ball. The Sea Life Center in Bray is a smaller aquarium where kids can run through the maze-like levels. In the eyes of my 3-year old, it's the most exciting place to spend a rainy morning indoors.  
Sea Life Centre, Bray, Co. Wicklow
€9/ Adult, €6.50/ Child Age 3+, free admission for Under 3's (Pre-book online to save)

Get up close with the Sting Rays in Bray 
In addition to these indoor venues, don't forget to check out your local museums too. You can read more about some of Dublin's fantastic & free national museums in my previous blogpost, here.

I look forward to those sunny, summer days again (fingers crossed that they come soon!), but we'll surely keep ourselves busy with lots of places to visit. To our friends in Dublin, where do you like to hang out when the weather doesn't allow for outdoor play? I'd love to hear your recommendations, especially since it's always lovely to try somewhere new! Now, where shall we head today...?

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Mother's Day Card // Bouquet of Paper Flowers

Today in Dublin was nonstop drizzly rain on a particularly dreary grey day.  It's May Bank holiday weekend here and the anticipation of the 3-day weekend was nearly squashed by a miserable weather forecast. Luckily, the Monday is looking pretty decent with a bit of sunshine and the rain today forced us to catch up around the house, run some errands and we even got in a bit of time for crafting too.

It's Mother's Day in America next Sunday, May 10th and that was the perfect reason to create on this rainy day. We made a special Mother's Day paper floral bouquet and card. For this craft you need the following items:

  • Construction paper (2 sheets in different colors)
  • White Paper 
  • Crayons
  • Water colors and paint brush
  • Scissors
  • Glue Stick 
  • Optional Embellishments (Washi Tape, Stickers, etc)
First, use your crayons to draw several different types of flowers out on the white pieces of paper. I'm not much of an artist, so my drawings are pretty basic! Once the flowers were drawn, my 3-year old used the water colors to paint each of the flowers. I left it up to her to choose the colors for the flowers and the leaves too. Some of them she chose to fill in the flower with the same color paint as the crayon used to draw it, while others she went in a different direction. She's pretty heavy handed with the paint, which makes it hard to see the crayon coming through the drawing, so I did wipe some of the thicker paint away once she was finished. Allow the water color paintings to dry. Once the paintings are completely dry, use your scissors to cut around the flowers. 

Now fold 1 sheet of your colored paper in half to make a card. Cut a vase out with the other color paper and using your glue stick, apply glue to all of the vase edges, except for the top which will be your opening to hold your bouquet. Arrange your paper flowers in the vase.

You can now decorate the rest of your card as you like. I chose to use some floral washi tape on the cover, along with some handwritten sentiments. 

Since my daughter was born, there has been a bit of an unintentional ladybug theme (well, originally it was unintentional, but now I suppose it has become quite intentional!), especially between her and my mother. So it seemed appropriate to add a ladybug sticker to my mom's favorite flower, the sunflower. But I had to add a second ladybug in a nod to my son too, so they're both in the little bundle, tucked away as part of the surprise! 

This craft was considerably easy and fairly quick to make, but the results are just lovely! I could see this floral bouquet sent as a birthday card, thinking of you, brightening your day or even a happy spring card. And for those with allergies or sensitive noses- here's the perfect alternative to a real bouquet of flowers :) Perhaps the flowers can be recycled into a springtime banner or wreath too- I'll have to see what my mom does with them (no pressure to keep them of course, mom!) Lots of possibilities anyways and I honestly think that you can't beat a handmade card! 

Happy crafting and happy weekend to all! 
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