About jkvallette

playwright. wonderer. based in the philadelphia region.

The full circle

I started this six week journey in Copenhagen and ended it there.  I walked down the shopping streets and stared at all the beautiful people.  The tall blonde danes were everywhere, striding in their pencil jeans and cropped jackets.

In my wandering down side streets, I became enamored with the city’s charm as evidenced through the colors of the buildings, the windows, the bicycles at rest.


I visited the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, a museum that specialized in sculpture.  The sculptures moved me deeply.  They were set in royal blue chambers in a very free fashion, almost as if they milled about each night after the doors were locked and froze where ever they happened to be the next morning.


The Oldest of the Line by Stephan Sinding.


A Woman carries her slain son from the battlefield by Stephan Sinding.


Death and the Maiden by Elna Borch.


Negress by Jean=Baptiste Carpeaux


Perseus slaying Medusa by Laurent-Honore Marqueste.


The Meadow and the Brook by Paul Larche


The Kiss by Rodin.


Occasionally I would turn my head and at the architecture itself would be the frame in this wonderful museum.


After the Glypotek visit, I went to meet my friend Shannon Hessel who lives in Copenhagen.  We took a canal ride together and saw the city by water.



After the boat tour, we dined in an outdoor cafe and watched Copenhagen ride by.  What a terrific last day with a good friend.


Ireland’s Northern Coast

On Wednesday, June 24th, we left the sectarianism of Belfast and drove to the northern coast of Ulster.

Dark Hedges is one of the most photographed natural sites in Northern Ireland.  These  beech trees were planted by the Stuarts in the 18th century to greet guests coming to their Georgian mansion.  Over the years they have grown across the lane and created a natural bower.  Of course, there’s a ghost story to accompany this haunting place: the grey lady is said to float down the lane and vanish after the final beech.

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Dunluce Castle in County Antrim, was built between the 15th and 17th centuries, and can be found perched on a basalt mound overlooking the North Channel.  Clans named MacDonnell and MacDonald owned this castle in its day.  It is said to be the inspiration for Cair Paravel in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.

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On our journey we made a wish list of foods and libations to taste while in Ireland.  Scones with clotted cream was one of Felicia’s desires. Across from the castle, Felicia found a cafe that served scones with fresh whipped cream, different from clotted but nonetheless. they were incredible.


The Giant’s Causeway was next.  This world heritage site is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.  The result is a natural phenomena of rectangular basalt columns, approximately 40,000 of them.  It gets its name from the rich Irish myths and legends surrounding Fionn mac Cumhaill, a giant-sized warrior.

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Our last stop was Carrick-A-Rede, an island connected to the mainland by a rope bridge, suspended 100 feet in the air.  This bridge was erected by salmon fishermen some 350 years ago.   We arrived an hour before closing and the tiny mountain of an island was peacefully quiet apart from the birds’ constant calls.  The views were spectacular.  Leah worked on a watercolor, Felicia and Daria rested.  I wandered.  It was a restorative place.

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Belfast and the troubles.

In 1980, when I was a sophomore in college, I spent the summer in Amsterdam working at The Shelter, a Christian sponsored youth hostel in the red-light district.  An Irishman named Kevin McGrady with crinkly eyes and a taunting sense of humor became my flirtatious friend.  We spent the summer working together and one night we went out for what felt like a date.  It was casual but we were away from the Hostel and alone which made it an event.  All I remember is that we teased each other, walked the canals and he told me he had a decision to make but wouldn’t tell me what.  Years later I learned that in 1982, Kevin returned to Ireland, turned himself in, was convicted for crimes committed including several murders while he had been a member of the IRA’s 4th Battalion of the Belfast Brigade.  In 1983, he was the star witness in the third Supergrass trial, resulting in the arrest and conviction of several IRA members.

On this trip to Belfast, Felicia and Daria had arranged for us to take a Black Cab Tour which focused on the political murals and the “Peace line” between the Nationalists (Catholics) and Loyalists (Protestants.)


IMG_0344This 90 minute tour turned into 3 hours as our wonderful guide first took us along the peace line on the Catholic side and then crossed over into Protestant territory.  Our guide clearly was a supporter of the Nationalist cause  and the presentation was biased but he went out of his way to show us protest murals on both sides, give us the history of the area, drive us by the Crumlin Prison where my friend Kevin had been imprisoned, and introduce us to friends.

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Leah Samuelson, a friend who joined us in Dublin, is a muralist and teaches Community Art among other courses at Wheaton College.  Our guide not only showed her (and us) the murals but introduced us to the man, Danny, who paints most of the murals on the Nationalist side.  We met him the next day and spoke with him as he was getting to work.



I can’t believe we saw Sinn Fein’s office/headquarters.


The Protestant side of the line had their own protest murals and patriotic displays.




They also were building a huge bonfire for July 12th, the celebration of the Battle of the Boyne and a huge annual holiday for the Orange Order, Northern Ireland’s largest Protestant organization.



Our guide eventually drove us to our B&B which was in a working class neighborhood on the Nationalist side.  He went above and beyond for us.   Through this tour, I glimpsed my friend Kevin’s ‘decision’ that he eventually made.   I don’t know what has happened to him and his family.  He was no friend to either side and the IRA was not kind to informants.  If he is still alive, he may have left the country.  I asked our guide at the start of the trip if he knew the name and he stated he didn’t.  The more time we spent with him, the more I came to believe that he knew much more about the IRA’s workings than he was acknowledging.   It was a difficult afternoon–so many people died, so many fallen young people painted on the walls at the ends of each of their blocks.    While peace is in the wind, there is still violence–a bomb went off there last week.

What an opportunity to learn about Belfast.

Loop de loop

On Wednesday, June 16th, 2015, I picked up my friend Felicia and her sister Daria at the Dublin airport.  We drove cross country to Killarney where we spent the night.  The next day began our four day tour up the western coast of Ireland.  Thursday morning was bright, crisp, and full of sunshine–great weather to see the views of the Ring of Kerry.



We found an ancient ring fort off the beaten track.  It is said to have been built to protect livestock from plundering tribes.


IMG_0092We settled into Galway for the night and the next night drove out to visit the Cliffs of Moher, stopping at one of the many ruins in the landscape.  Archeological teams were mapping out the fields next to this church to see what else they may find.

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Heavy fog prevented us from seeing anything at the Cliffs of Moher so we wound our way back through the Burren, stopping in small villages to visit a world famous salmon smokehouse shop, a chocolatier, and a perfumery before we returned to Galway for the night.  We attended a traditional Irish music concert through Tunes in the Church at St. Nicholas Church.  Tucked in a corner of this beautiful medieval Anglican church, we listened to a concertina player and a few fiddlers.  It was intimate and terrific.IMG_0167We spent the night again in Galway before the next day’s drive through Connemara to Mayo.

Susan Boyd and William Clark, my great great grandparents, in County Monaghan

I had an index that listed Susan Boyd and William Clark’s marriage having taken place in 1848 in Cootehill, Ireland.  This means that I had evidence that a record existed but I did not possess the actual record.  IMG_9899

At the General Register’s office in Dublin, I soon received the copy of the record I coveted.

IMG_9909  It gave me new information: Susan’s father was James Boyd; that she and William Clark also were married in the Parish Church of Aughnamullen; that she was from Derrygooney and he was from Mountain Lodge; that their ages and dates of birth were confirmed; that a man named Samuel Boyd was a witness; thus validating that Samuel Boyd in the USA that I suspected was closely related.

I also received a copy of her sister’s civic marriage record ten years later in Cootehill.


It confirms that Margret and Susan are sisters–the father is the same and the place of Derrygooney is the same for both Margaret and her husband John Fleming.

After this Dublin research, I picked up a rental car and drove to Monaghan where I spent  two nights.


I learned through records at a local library (in Clones) that a James Boyd reportedly rented (was a tenant farmer) 3 acres of land in 1829ish in Derrygooney. He is the only James Boyd in that area listed.  In the 1860’s, he had doubled the amount of land he is renting and has a few more buildings on it.


By 1886, the land goes to a Mary Boyd and we hear no more about James; presumably he died. Mary lives on the land until her death in 1904 according to the parish of Aghnamullen records where she was buried. Her age is listed to be 74, meaning she was born in 1830.


If she was born in 1830, she couldn’t be Susan’s mother. She would have to be a sister of Susan’s, perhaps one who stayed behind when the rest of the family left for America.  She never married because she kept her name until she died.

During this Monaghan day, I drove to Aghnamullen Church where Susan and William were married and where Mary Boyd eventually was buried. It’s possible James is buried there too but no records substantiate that. I waited for a man named Shea and his one-eyed dog named Trixie to let me into the church.  They eventually did and I got to spend time in this lovely place where my great great grandparents were married.

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Then I drove past Mount Lodge to Derrygooney. I went down many private roads to see mystery lakes. I peered past hedges. This is a geographically small area with two lovely lakes now protected and given sanctuary status by a local gun and hunt club. (What’s wrong with that picture?) Anyway, the land is hilly, rolling, and gorgeous. What I discovered is that this area is comprised of lakes, farms and sanctuaries  The historian/geneologist/librarian-Katrina-who helped me at the library said that there aren’t any Boyd’s in Derrygooney now. That’s important.  The odds are in our favor that James Boyd of Derrygooney back in the 1800’s is Susan and Margaret’s father. IMG_9997 IMG_9993

A dip into Dublin

Last Sunday, June 14th, I flew to Dublin from Italy.  I had less than 24 hours to investigate the city.


I went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells exhibit and the long hall   IMG_9874    IMG_9861  IMG_9871And then I explored Dublin.

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The next morning I dedicated to genealogical research at the General Register Office.  That will be in the next post.