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My Irish Story

March 16, 2018 • By

“Fifty percent of what goes on here (Ireland) is creative, more often than not, one is unsure if what one hears is totally true. It’s what we are, full of stories and one is never sure where the fact begins and the fiction ends or vice versa.” —Jean O’Callaghan, family friend, Lahinch, Ireland

Fantasy Aisle, Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

I start my story, an Irish story, with this quote because tracking down my family’s ancestry was a great deal of he said she said from living relatives mixed in with a sprinkling of factual documents bundled with Irish historical information from the 1800s. There were tales of hardship and triumph woven together in the framework of a sizable family spread from Ireland to the United States and today around the world.

The Glynn family history dates to circa 1794 in Ireland, according to genealogy documents obtained in County Mayo. My paternal great-grandfather, Thomas Glynn, was born July 3, 1866 to Hugh Glynn and Bridget Lyons in the town of Feamore, which is close to the village of Logboy, four miles south of Ballyhaunis, County Mayo.

Fantasy Aisle, The Glynn Family Farm, Ballyhaunis, County Mayo Ireland

The Glynn Family Farm, Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, Ireland

Ballyhaunis is located in the western part of Ireland where the Irish Potato Famine, 1845 -1849, hit farmers hard. My Irish friends argue the Great Famine was an intentional genocide by the British government who viewed Ireland as nothing more than a poor country filled with uneducated, Catholic nonconformists. *But in 1845, a strain of Phytophthora believed to originate from North America, rotted the potato crops across Ireland. Potatoes were an inexpensive crop, easy to farm, a food rich in nutrients and a staple of the Irish diet. The next three years the disease nearly wiped out the country’s viable crops starving to death an estimated one million people and forcing another two million to abandon their homeland for England, North America and Australia.

What was Ballyhaunis like in 1866? It was a sparse farming community with a few large families banding together to survive. The years following the famine resembled post war scenes. People crawling out from the rubble working tirelessly to rebuild their lives, provide food for their families and keep their children safe and happy. People were poor and received no formal education. They were unskilled laborers possibly owning land but more likely paying rent to British landlords.

Fantasy Aisle, Lahinch Golf Course, Ireland

Lahinch Golf Course, Ireland

My great-grandfather was the first son and the second of eight children born to Hugh and Bridget. Given the name Thomas at birth, documents reveal that somewhere along the way he adopted John Thomas. Many Irish who emigrated during this time adopted another name or middle initial often a Confirmation name or a father’s name. The vast majority of Irish born in the 1800s didn’t actually know their birth date typically misstating their age on marriage, naturalization and census records, making it challenging to piece together accurate timelines. John Thomas recorded his birth date as 1874 in subsequent documents. He was off by eight years.

At some point in his teens, John Thomas along with his two younger brothers ventured to Lancashire, England, an Irish enclave. I imagine he was an adventurer optimistic for a new life — a dreamer. He was brave and smart. What he lacked in schooling, world experiences provided him. There was no looking back now. He would grow roots in England.

But, alas, his story continued.

Fantasy Aisle, SS Saxonia, Ship Manifest June 1909

SS Saxonia, Ship Manifest June 1909

John Thomas married Kate Hulme, whose family left Ireland for England two generations prior.  They started their life together in Lancashire but the British treated the Irish as second-class citizens offering them the least desirable and lowest paying jobs if anything. They struggled. John Thomas worked and saved and plotted a brighter future in the United States. Perhaps with their life savings in hand, my great-grandparents, John Thomas, a pregnant Kate and their three sons ages 6, 4, and 10 months boarded the ship, S/S Saxonia, a British Cunard Line, in Liverpool, England bound for Boston, Massachusetts. They crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 10 days arriving in Boston Harbor on June 10, 1909. My great-grandfather left behind his parents and seven siblings in Ireland –eventually his brothers returned to Ballyhaunis and married.

Immigration requirements at the time mandated passengers secure a sponsor in the United States. It is not known who my family knew in Lonsdale, Rhode Island but shortly after they reached the United States, the family of five made their way from Boston to Lonsdale, a manufacturing area about 10 miles outside of Providence. *In 1910, there were approximately 1.3 million Irish living in the United States. My grandfather, William “Bill” Glynn, entered the world on March 22, 1910, the first-born American Glynn.

Soon after my grandfather’s birth, my great-grandmother Kate moved the family to Harrisville in Northern Michigan. Family members recall Kate complaining about her husband’s drinking and thought a more tranquil environment suited her growing family. Harrisville reminded John Thomas of his home in Ireland. Close to Lake Huron, it was quiet and provided vast amounts of unspoiled land to farm. They bought land, built a home and settled into life. They were happy.

Fantasy Aisle, My dad and his parents (my grandparents)

My dad and his parents (my grandparents)

The Great Depression hit the United States in 1929 and financially destroyed Americans particularly immigrant communities. My family was not immune. John Thomas and Kate lost their farm in Harrisville and decided to return to Rhode Island for work. This misfortune created a schism in the family: My grandfather and his three older brothers remained in Michigan finding work at General Motor’s Buick factory in Flint and his four youngest siblings relocated to Rhode Island with their parents. I cannot attempt to understand the heartache my family endured, but as a child I remember asking my grandfather about our family in Rhode Island. His face calmed, he became reflective and his eyes divulged sadness but that only lasted seconds before he burst into lively chatter recounting stories about his sisters and brothers.

My grandfather, a first generation American, married my grandmother, Geraldine Hall in 1941. Her family, the Daly’s, arrived in Flint, Michigan in 1840/41 from County Meath, Ireland.  Bill was honest, hard-working, gentle and kind –a peacemaker who didn’t ruffle feathers and followed the rules. Geraldine, the loud, talkative type, devoted herself to family and friends serving as the glue binding the family together. She never met a stranger she did not befriend and she was generous to a fault. They reminded me of the Irish version of Lucy and Desi in I Love Lucy, relatable and funny. I surmised Geraldine was quite the pistol in her youth. When my grandfather asked her to marry him, he said, “It’s now or never Geraldine.”  She used to tell my brother and me that story over and over until she died at age 93.

Fantasy Aisle, My grandfather, Bill Glynn, Camp Garant 1943

My grandfather, Bill Glynn, Camp Garant 1943

Shortly after my grandparents married, World War II started and the U.S. Army drafted my grandfather.  He served four years in North Africa and Italy with the 45th General Hospital as a Sergeant in the Medical Corps.  While at war, Bill missed the birth of his son, my father, William Michael “Mickey” Glynn in 1943 and the passing of father John Thomas, the patriarch and his younger brother who died during a military training exercise.

The years of the war troubled my grandmother raising a child on her own. Communications between soldiers and family members consisted of pictures and letter writing. My grandfather received a photo from my grandmother that he held dear to his heart. The inscription on the back of his son’s picture read,

“Dear Daddy,

What do you think of me now daddy? I’m 1 year and 16 days old here. Love and I’m with you so don’t worry daddy you’ll soon be with mama and me with God’s help and so keep on the ball, O.K. daddy

Love and kisses, your son.”

Fantasy Aisle, The photo inscribed with a son's note to his dad 1944

The photo inscribed with a son’s note to his dad 1944

When my grandfather came home from the war in 1945, he met his son, “Mickey” for the first time at nearly age 3. It didn’t take long for my dad to figure out he wanted nothing to do with this character.  “I can remember when my dad came home from the war, I didn’t like him. My baby bed was in my mother’s room but he moved it to the living room,” said Mickey.  “I didn’t like my dad for the next two years.”

After the war, life resumed to normal. The family expanded with the birth of twin girls, my aunts.  My grandfather worked as a drop forge operator, a grueling job but one available for a son of immigrants with a sixth grade education. My grandmother raised the children, preparing baked goods for the Church and entertaining her relatives. The family was poor but my grandparents believed in education and my dad and his sisters attended the local Catholic school. All three children graduated from college.

Fantasy Aisle, The Irish Cottage, Ireland

The Irish Cottage, Ireland

In 2016, my dad became an Irish citizen. He is proud of his heritage and takes great pleasure in telling people he is Irish. I listen to my dad’s stories about his childhood and realize my good fortune is a result of his sacrifices and those who came before him.  My family visits Ireland often and while we all complain about the weather, we go to view the beautiful countryside and to connect with the people. My brother Patrick and my dad participate in annual father son golf trips and a few years ago my parents purchased a quaint Irish cottage where my dad delights in recanting tales of his family’s modest beginnings.

Today about 35 million Americans claim Irish ancestry.  The Republic of Ireland’s population is 4.7 million and Ballyhaunis is home to about 2,300 people, a blend of Irish, Polish and Pakistani immigrants. Farming is the predominant industry and Glynn cousins are still toiling the land.

Fantasy Aisle, My Irish dad and my German mother on St. Patrick's Day

My Irish dad and my German mother on St. Patrick’s Day

I am a proud American, a European mix of Irish, German, French, British, and Scandinavian heritage. My family, an Irish family, faced adversity every step of the way but they persevered. They fought back poverty, starvation and prejudice. I imagine my ancestors wanted the same things in life for their children as my parents have provided for me and my brother: a home, an education, opportunities for a better life, friends and family and most importantly love.

My dad never met his Irish grandfather. He passed away the year he was born but John Thomas did send a $10 bill “to give to Bill’s son.”  My dad, a sentimental person, holds onto this keepsake today.

And for me, my Irish story continues…


Fantasy Aisle, A pot of gold is at every rainbow

A pot of gold is at every rainbow



*Encyclopedia Britannica: Written By: Joel Mokyr

*Irish Times: “From Ireland to the US: A brief migration history” by Sara Goek, Lecturer Department of History, University College Cork, October 29, 2015

Culture, Europe, History, Uncategorized

Visiting the Christmas Markets in Europe

December 23, 2017 • By


Christkindlmarkt, Christkindlesmarkt, Weihnachtsmarkt, Les marchés de Noël


A Winter Wonderland comes to life throughout Europe.  Celebrate the season with friends and family eating and drinking and sharing stories.  Let the magic of Christmas seep into your heart and soul.



Fantasy Aisle, The Medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The Medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Red Fort on the River Tauber

This small and enchanting town is Europe’s most beautiful medieval spot and one of Germany’s most festive Christmas markets. It’s only a few hours from Frankfurt airport so make it a must see on arrival or departure. There are cobblestone streets, red tiled roofs and Christmas is a presence year round. There is plenty to eat and drink and the shops cater to local artisans with knitted fashions and chocolate being some of the favorites.

Special to Rothenburg is the Schneebälle – A snowball-shaped sweet made of shortbread and covered with sugar, cinnamon, and all kinds of chocolate and nuts.

Fantasy Aisle, Dessert pastry made from shortcrust popular Rothenburg

Dessert pastry made from shortcrust popular in Rothenburg

Where I stayed
Glocke Winery and Hotel
Ploenlein 1
91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber
(In the heart of the town)

What to see
St. Jakobs Lutheran Church – One of the churches on the pilgrimage route to St. James grave in Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It dates back to 1300s.

Käthe Wohlfahrt – Christmas shop and museum all in one.  They have rare ornaments and wreaths for purchase and the museum provides a wonderful history of tree decorating, ornaments and how Christmas evolved over the years.

Fantasy Aisle, The famous Christmas store in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The famous Christmas store in Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Nuremberg – Nürnberg

The markets date back to 1628 when the tradition of giving children presents started in Germany. There are nearly 200 red and white striped stalls filling the entire old town. This is where I had to tell myself if I can’t beat them, join them in eating grilled sausages, potatoes and sauerkraut. The Christmas concerts in the churches are offered throughout the weekend and in the evening. There are also musicians scattered at the various markets throughout the city.  This is one of Europe’s largest and most attended markets.

Fantasy Aisle, The gold foil armless angel, the signature of Nuremberg

The gold foil armless angel, symbolic of Nuremberg

Special to Nuremberg is the Gold Foil Angel – Legend says a Nuremberg doll maker made it for his sick daughter. The Christkind – Don’t miss a photo opportunity with the symbol of Christmas in Nuremberg. A blond curly haired woman with a golden crown and golden white gown, the winner of this honor can be found wandering around the main square. Authentic Nuremberg Gingerbread – Rows and rows of gingerbread small and large, decorative or to eat can be found at nearly every stall. Under European Union law, gingerbread can only be produced within the city limits of Nuremberg. Drink Glühwein from the largest punch bowl in the world located on the River Pegnitz.

Where I ate
Alstadthof Brewpub –  Specialty beers and beer brandies

What to see
The Imperial Castle in Nuremberg – Great city views and exciting to learn about its importance during the Middle Ages.

The Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds is one of Germany’s most important museums dedicated to the history of Adolf Hitler’s rise and World War II. It’s also the place where the Nazi Party held rallies. Expect to spend a few hours touring the museum and the grounds.

Albrecht Dürer’s House – A Renaissance artist, he was Germany’s most famous graphic artist, painter, and art theoretician, (1471-1528). The home survived fierce bombings from World War II and is beautifully preserved.

Fantasy Aisle, Red and white striped stalls in Nuremberg, Germany

Red and white striped stalls in Nuremberg, Germany


There are six different markets spread across the historic old town with the Heidelberg Castle serving as a significant backdrop. It’s a charming university town full of lights, shopping, and restaurants to enjoy.

Special to Heidelberg is the ice skating rink.

Munich – München

In the heart of Bavaria in Southern Germany, Munich offers Christmas markets with all the trimmings. The oldest Christmas market in Germany, it was called Nikolausdult when farmers would come to town and sell their goods in front of churches around St. Nicholas Day. The name was changed to Christkindlmarkt in the 1800s for the Christ Child born on Christmas Day. Munich has several markets spread throughout the city and the streets are crowded with locals and tourists busying themselves with holiday cheer. The department stores decorated windows tell fairytale stories attracting hordes of people gazing at the life-like characters.

Fantasy Aisle, A cauldron of glühwein in the Renaissance Village Christmas Market in Munich

A cauldron of glühwein in the Renaissance Village Christmas Market in Munich

Special to Munich is the Renaissance themed Mittelaltermarkt where vendors are dressed in costume such as jesters, religious monks and paupers. Glühwein is served from cauldrons.

Where I stayed
NH München Deutscher Kaiser
DB Parkhaus Hauptbahnhof
Arnulfstraße 1
80335 München
(Steps away from the train station and convenient to shopping and local markets)

Fantasy Aisle, Marienplatz Christmas Market in Munich

Marienplatz Christmas Market in Munich

What to see
Medieval designed Mittelaltermarkt

Weihnachtsdorf in Kaiserhof der Residenz offers an intimate environment and traditional elements with a pyramid and musical stage for guests.

Neues Rathaus at Marienplatz – The Christmas market spreads out along all the main streets with the town hall as the focal point. There is plenty of shopping and excitement.

Fantasy Aisle, Düsseldorf markets in the old town

Düsseldorf markets in the old town


Düsseldorf was completely destroyed during World War II but it has been restored to a glorious, thriving, bustling city. There are shopping malls and department stores for everyone and Kö Boulevard caters to the rich and famous. The city maintains a large international population. Following World War II, an influx of Japanese immigrants arrived promoting business opportunities and innovation.

Seven Christmas markets cover the narrow streets in the old town butting against the rushing waters of the Rhine River. Canals and quaint bridges add to the illusions of grandeur and romance. There is a giant ferris wheel on Burgplatz and plenty of activities for kids including a puppet theater on Marktplatz. The ice skating rink occupies several city blocks and serves as the center of activity for visitors. During the day, the markets are quiet except for shoppers passing through and parents calming children but once the sun fades, locals swarm the markets and the party begins.

Fantasy Aisle, Old Town of Düsseldorf along Kö Blvd.

Old Town of Düsseldorf along Kö Blvd.

Special to Düsseldorf is “Engelchenmarkt” or Angel Market on Heinrich-Heine-Platz. Angels decorated in art nouveau adorn stalls in this section and there is a large pavilion for people to gather, listen to music and eat and drink. The handmade nutcrackers on display and stark white crystal ornaments are worth a look.

Fantasy Aisle, Engelchenmarkt" Angel Market on Heinrich-Heine-Platz in Düsseldorf, Germany

Engelchenmarkt” Angel Market on Heinrich-Heine-Platz in Düsseldorf, Germany



Escape the stresses of life and be swept away by the historic landscape of Vienna. The city’s Christkindlmarkts highlight the essence of Christmas by incorporating art and music with traditional elements. All of Austria is on display whether it’s ice skating trails at Rathausplatz or the captivating entertainment and lavishness at Schönbrunn Palace. There are 20 markets across the city making it possible to spend three days in Vienna challenging any diet. Vienna is the place to eat, drink and be merry. There isn’t one dish that won’t drive your taste buds mad. Take a horse carriage ride, explore the present and the past in one of the city’s premier art galleries and make sure to visit the markets by day and night. The illuminated stalls and trees create a sensational yet mysterious glow.

Special to Vienna is the ART Advent Market at Karlsplatz offering all certified organic products. There is a designated area for children to play.

Where I stayed
Hotel Kärntnerhof
1010 Wien, Grashofgasse 4
(Great shopping area and central location)

Where I ate
Zum Basilisken
Café, Restaurant, Bar
Schonlaterngasse 3-5
(Hungarian Goulash – cute atmosphere horrible service)

Beim Czaak
Postgasse 15
(Traditional dishes everyone speaks English. Located in one of the oldest districts in Vienna.

Das Gasthaus
Bäckerstraße 22
(Make a reservation on weekends)

What to see
Schloss Schönbrunn Konzerte – Orangerie Schönbrunn – Enjoy a performance to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Strauss in a palace setting.

The Austrian National Library  – The baroque state hall is one of the most beautiful historic libraries in the world. Commissioned by Emperor Karl Vi (1685-1740) it was built from 1723 to 1726. There are 200,000 books and four of the most gorgeous standing globes.

Schönbrunn Palace – Take a break from the Christmas market and visit the palace: The Grand Tour or Imperial Palace Tour takes about 30 – 50 minutes. The palace is the former imperial summer residence.

Fantasy Aisle, Imperial capital and home to the ruling Habsburg dynasty in Vienna, Austria

Imperial capital and home to the ruling Habsburg dynasty in Vienna, Austria

Belvedere Palace – Visit the gardens and museum. Home to the Habsburg dynasty.

Vienna Boys’ Choir – Plan in advance of your trip. There are special afternoon and evening concerts.


Salzburg is my favorite Christmas market. It is small and manageable and possesses charm while epitomizing all the traditions of the season. Dating back to the 15th century, the Christkindlmarkt started as a flea market in front of the main church around the time of Advent and today is one of Europe’s most treasured Christkindlmarkts. While the stalls and merchandise on display resemble other Christmas markets, the landscape of the surrounding mountains and Salzach River captures the beauty of the town. Home to Mozart, music is a way of life in Salzburg. Choral and brass music concerts occur nightly in front of the Cathedral catering to both English and German speaking guests.

Fantasy Aisle, Krampus, a half-goat, half-demon, horrific beast who beats people into being nice and not naughty

Krampus, a half-goat, half-demon, horrific beast who beats people into being nice and not naughty

Special to Salzburg is the Krampus Run where groups of Krampus figures run and greet each other by rubbing chains. Krampus is a horned figure-half goat, half demon who punishes naughty children. He is the opposite of Saint Nicholas who rewarded the children with gifts of chocolate and fruit. On December 6 in the old town, Saint Nicholas and Krampus appear at the market with gifts for children.

Where I stayed
Gasthof Goldgasse
Small Luxury Hotels of the World
Goldgasse 10
(Hotel Restaurant is also very good)

Where I ate
Restaurant Goldener Hirsch is a landmark of Salzburg.  A former blacksmith’s shop, the restaurant is now a favorite of celebrities and tourists.  Offers traditional Austrian dishes.
Getreidegasse 37

Fantasy Aisle, Enjoying Glühwein in Salzburg, Vienna

Enjoying Glühwein in Salzburg, Vienna

What to see
Salzburg Cathedral – A baroque style Catholic Church, it towers over the heart of the old town.  The original church was constructed in 774 but destroyed after a fire.  It was built again in 1614.  During World War II, a bomb fell on the dome damaging much of the church. The interior is stunning.  Check out the crypt and museum.

Residenzplatz – One of the world’s oldest advent markets believed to be started in the 14th Century. In the shadows (literally) of the Salzburg Cathedral, the market offers a picturesque ice skating rink and a Christmas history museum, pretzels, Swiss cheese sandwiches, hats, wood carved platters, ornaments and life size Santa decorations.

Salzburger Weihnachtsmuseum – Christmas Museum with a history of customs in German speaking countries.


Strasbourg, France “Capitale de Noël”

Christkindelsmärik – “Market of the Christ Child”

I fell in love with Strasbourg. It’s a special blend of romance, history and architecture-a quintessential Christmas fairytale. It’s a city where snow and rain add value to the setting. As one of Europe’s oldest markets, it claims the title, “Capital of Christmas” and with 11 markets spread throughout the old town there is something for everyone. The Alsace region is influenced by both German and French language and culture. Stalls offer breads and cakes made with spices like ginger and orange and of course cheese and chocolate feature prominently in every dish. The canals and narrow streets encircle the old town providing a respite from reality allowing visitors to step back in time and chase the magic of Christmas.

Fantasy Aisle, The Capital of Christmas in Strasbourg, France

The Capital of Christmas in Strasbourg, France

Special to Strasbourg is the Great Christmas Tree located in the Place Kléber or pick out your own tree at the lots located throughout the market. This year Strasbourg is showcasing Gutenberg, Iceland where a traditional Icelandic Village has been created. Don’t miss the white glühwein. It’s less tart and sweeter than its red partner.

Where I stayed
Hôtel D
15 Rue du Fossé des Treize,
67000 Strasbourg, France
Phone: +33 3 88 15 13 67

Where I ate
Restaurant Au Pont Corbeau
21 Quai Saint-Nicolas
67000 Strasbourg, France
Phone: +33 3 88 35 60 68

Pain D’Épices – Chef Mireille Oster
Located in Petite-France
14, rue des Dentelles
(Delicious local breads and cookies)

Fantasy Aisle, Lill River - Canals of Strasbourg, France

Ill River – Canals of Strasbourg, France

What to see
The Musée alsacien (Alsatian Museum) – Experience what life used to be like in the 18th and 19th centuries in Alsace. The museum contains preserved furniture, clothing, wedding dresses and other home items.

River Cruises on the River Ill

Night Walks – Guided tours of the Christmas markets to learn about the history of the region and the city.