Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

That’s the subtitle of The Professor and the Madman, written by Simon Winchester in 1998.

The Professor and the Madman

The madman is William C. Minor, a Civil War surgeon. His latent madness may have been triggered during the two days of the stunningly bloody encounter known as the Battle of Wilderness, which occurred in Orange County, Virginia in early May of 1864.

Later, in London, he commits murder, is arrested and incarcerated, and spends the balance of his life in asylums for the criminally insane. What is remarkable is this astonishingly gifted man’s decades-long contribution to the compilation of the OED.

A friend who lives in Oxford and whose work is involved with the OED told me that Winchester–the author of a dozen books on various other topics–wrote a second tome about the famed dictionary in collaboration with a friend of hers. Written in 2004, The Meaning of Everything has been touted by The New York Times Book Review as “supremely readable.”

That’s next on my list after finishing Deborah Devonshire’s memoir, Wait For Me! and Stefan Zweig’s  The World of Yesterday. More on those in a future post.

In the meantime, happy summer reading to you.

P.S. Speaking of reading, I am thrilled to announce that my second memoir, published earlier this year, is a semi-finalist in the Florida Writers Association’s Royal Palm Literary Award Competition.

You can get your copy on Amazon by clicking here:

See you next time!


Bats in the Belfry . . . and the Bedroom

Yesterday I published a link to an NPR article about bats ( I also wrote I had not realized the trouble we really were in when we lived in a log cabin in the woods in New Hampshire.

The Bat House

Here are two related excerpts from the chapter “Pollyanna-ville” in my memoir, A Movable Marriage.

“Another swoop, another scream, and I was in the bedroom with the door closed. The problem with the bedroom, however, was the door would not latch. How could I rest thinking the bat might come in there, too? In a flash I envisioned a dreadful scene. I would be sleeping—fitfully, no doubt—and a bat would become tangled in my hair.”


“When (the Bat Man) did arrive, the first exciting news was, he estimated we had as many as eighty of the critters hanging around above us in the center rafter.”

Now here’s an excerpt from the NPR piece:

“Public health officials say that another human rabies death back in 2011 involved similar missed opportunities. In that case, a South Carolina woman woke up to a bat in her bedroom and shook it out of curtains through an open window. She believed she’d had no direct contact with the bat, and did not seek medical attention.”

Yet she later died. Talk about counting our blessings!

We have bats here in Portugal, too. When Keith and I took an intensive course in Portuguese at the University of Coimbra, we learned about those inhabiting the Joanine Library.

The article reports that bats are also in the library of the Palacio Nacional in Mafra, less than ten minutes from where we currently live. We’re not in the rare book business, though, so I feel fairly safe.

Mafra 2

Of course, it’s not over ‘til the bat lady sings.

Day 15: Homeward Bound

We’d had typical weather for Ireland this time of year: partly cloudy, cloudy, mostly cloudy, and rainy. Temperature ranged from only forty to fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, I laughed when I saw the “Spring Arrivals” at Ashford Castle when we were there.Spring Arrivals at Kylemore

Yet for the past seven straight days the sun had shined brilliantly. We knew it had to end. Sure enough, snow began to fall from a slate gray sky as we taxied down the runway at Dublin Airport. That was fine. Nothing could detract from the vivid images fixed in my mind.

Sheep on the Meadow

Colorful SheepFleecy white sheep on verdant Connemara hillsides, many ewes bearing colors. Why? Rams are sometimes put into a harness at mating time. The harnesses have a colored, waxy block in them, which leave a mark on the ewe when mounted, so owners know which ewes have been mated with and which have not. After three weeks the color of the crayon is changed. Any ewe that is re-mated gets the second color on her. This one’s been busy.

And then the babies come.

Baby Lambs Closeup






Dazzling color came in the ubiquitous Western Gorse, an evergreen shrub prevalent in countries of Western Europe.

These vibrant hues of green, pink, blue, yellow all combined to lighten the gray days. The glorious red-orange of a Renvyle sunset completed the color spectrum.

Stay lovely, Ireland. Then again, I know you cannot help yourself.

Renvyle Sunset


Day 14: Macroom and Cashel

Opening note: Kudos to golfer Rory McIlroy on capturing the Irish Open last Sunday. He will donate his winnings in excess of $750,000 to children’s charities.

Glendalough (pronounced “Glen duh lock” and meaning “Valley of the Two Lakes”) in County Wicklow had been on our to do list. A 6th century monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin, grand forests in the national park, and (surprise!) a distillery lure thousands of visitors each year.

Glendalough Distillery’s website has a short video that tops any Super Bowl ad I’ve ever seen. If this link doesn’t get you there, you can read the post on and it will appear.

Unfortunately, with only one day remaining before departure for home, there wasn’t time to see it all. We opted instead to head toward Cashel by way of Macroom. After a scrumptious breakfast of porridge, eggs, meats, homemade breads and fresh-squeezed orange juice, we said good-bye to our new friends at Waterfalls Farmhouse. Meeting Nora May and Johnny had been a highlight of our trip. Peanut looked downright depressed as we packed our car, breaking my dog lover’s heart.

Johnny and Tricia

Macroom Coffee Wagon

Macroom is about halfway between Cork City and Killarney. A 12th century castle stands in the “the town that never reared a fool,” as the legend goes. We weren’t fools, either. In search of some mid-morning java, we found it at Bean and Gone Mobile Coffee Bar in the town square.

Leaving County Cork for County Tipperary, we drove until we arrived in Cashel. There we found St. John the Baptist Anglican Church (foreground below, with the Catholic church in the background). Effigies dating from the 13th century of members of the prominent de Hacket family, of Norman origin, are set into niches in the town wall surrounding St. John’s and its graveyard.

Effigy from Cashel Prot. Church

Cashel Churches







The main point of interest that had drawn us to this town was the Rock of Cashel. According to local legend, the Rock came from a mountain called the Devil’s Bit, twenty miles north of Cashel. When St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave there, it resulted in the Rock’s landing in Cashel. Whatever the story, the Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for hundreds of years prior to the Norman Invasion.

On the way up the hill to the Rock, we stopped at Cashel Folk Village. Owner and operator Bernard Minogue spoke to us about the Great Irish Famine, the 1916 Revolution, and much more. The word “memorabilia” doesn’t come close to covering the scope of treasures housed in Cashel Folk Village, and the wealth of Bernard’s–whose family history is inextricably intertwined with that of the Rock of Cashel–knowledge is limitless.

Cashel Folk Village

Bernard at Cashel Folk Museum

Tinker Wagon Interior





The caravan on the property, more than ninety years old, was designed after those used by Roman Gypsies on the Continent. They were copied by the Irish Tinkers, who were gifted tinsmiths. Because they were also wealthy, when the Irish began to suffer the loss of their homes and land in the past, they were the first to be forced into a mobile lifestyle.

Living conditions were cozy. Inside there is a bed used by the parents. Underneath, smaller children slept in what looks like a cupboard, while older children slept outside on the road. A family of sixteen lived in this caravan until 1986.

One interesting note was the similarity in the colors on the caravan to those on the organ of the Catholic church in town. Nowhere else in Ireland had we seen such vibrant folk decoration.

Interior Catholic Church

We finally tore ourselves away from Bernard and the Folk Village, practically jogging to the Rock. Too late. The door had closed five minutes before we arrived. It was okay; we’d learned a great deal firsthand from a true historian and story teller. Missing Cashel Rock would be just one more reason to return to Ireland.

Next time: Farewell to the Emerald Isle


Day 13, Part 2: Lorge Chocolates, Molly Gallivan’s, Bonane Heritage Park

In our travels we expected to find pubs, and shops selling sweaters and woolen caps, but handmade chocolate? It turns out the Irish are very much into it. We’d already learned about other manufacturers, but nothing prepared us for Lorge.

Award-winning chef Benoit Lorge’s chocolate factory and retail store is located in Bonane on the Glengariff road, about six miles from Kenmare. We stopped in for an afternoon treat. A few free samples and a shopping bag full of the most marvelous truffles (and a dozen other goodies) later, we knew we’d discovered the ultimate chocolate experience. If we are lucky enough to return, we’ll be signing up for one of chef’s chocolate-making workshops. What better use of our tourist time?

Tricia and Benoit Lorge

Properly fortified, we drove down the road just a few minutes to Molly Gallivan’s Cottage and Traditional Farm. Inside the 200-year-old cottage, the Tea Room and Barn Restaurant were not open (the season not officially on), but at the craft shop we were directed to view a brief film presentation that gave us background on Gallivan. A widow with seven children, she provided for herself and her brood by selling products from her farm: butter, eggs, honey, baked goods and woolens. Her home-brewed whiskey, poitin, known as Molly’s Mountain Dew, was her bestseller. Of course we had to taste–and buy–some.

Molly Gallivan's






Walking the farm we came across the ghostly remains of a family dwelling from the era of The Great Famine, as well as a Neolithic Stone Row that forms part of an ancient sun calendar. On the road in front of the cottage, an imposing figure of a Druid carved from the remains of a pine tree stands guard over time and history.

Gallivan Druid


Famine House








We had one more stop to make before the day was through. Bonane Heritage Park, home to more than 250 archaeological sites, is located where the Ring of Beara meets the Ring of Kerry. While Keith went in search of the Stone Circle (known locally as Judge and Jury because there are 13 stones), I learned about crannogs, or lake dwellings. Nice, but I was happy to be heading back to Waterfalls Farmhouse for the night.

Bonsale Ring of Stones 2Bonane Crannog 2





Day 13, Part 1: Killarney National Park, Ross Castle, Muckross Abbey and Muckross House

Woodlands–in fact, the most extensive covering of native forest remaining in Ireland–bogs, lakes, and mountains combine in Killarney National Park’s more than 25,000 acres to create a natural wonderland. Located in County Kerry, it is home to the country’s only native herd of red deer. We stopped our drive along a portion of the Ring of Kerry and snapped a photo from “Ladies’ View” before moving on to Ross Castle.

Ladies' View, Ring of Kerry

Constructed by the O’Donaghue clan, Ross Castle is a typical example of the stronghold of an Irish Chieftain during the Middle Ages. For almost 100 years, beginning in the 15th century, this bastion afforded protection until it yielded during the Cromwellian Wars.

Ross Castle

Our timing was off to take a guided tour, but the visitor’s center had a detailed exhibition. One pointer (again with the puns) we picked up concerned swords and spiral staircases. Built in a clockwise direction, the center structure of the spiral would prevent attackers ascending with a weapon in their right hand from having free swing. Conversely, defenders descending with swords swinging from the outer and more open part of the staircase had an advantage. I’ll remember that next time I attempt to overtake a castle.

Next stop: Muckross Abbey, a Franciscan friary founded in 1448. Legend has it the  yew tree in the central court is as old as the Abbey itself.

Muckross Abbey

Muckross Abbey 2Muckross Abbey Yew

A short drive away is Muckross House, a 65-room Tudor-style mansion designed by Scottish architect Williams Burn. Built in 1843 for Parliament Member Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, painter Mary Balfour Herbert, it is now owned by the Irish government.

Muckross House

Mindful of the time, once again we opted not to take a guided tour, but chatted instead with the personable woman manning the gift shop. We purchased a souvenir book. There we saw photos of the interior of Muckross House.

The pictures below are of rooms in which Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed in 1861. (Photo credit, Muckross House: Killarney National Park.)

Muckross Queen's Bedroom

We had a distance to drive along the Ring of Kerry, heading back to Waterfalls Farm House, where we would spend the night again. Needing sustenance, we decided on the obvious. Chocolate.

Next time: Lorge Chocolate, Molly Gallivan’s Traditional Farm House, Bonane National Heritage Center