France in the Slow Lane

Everything about the compact town of Lombez oozes history and Gallic charm; its narrow streets are lined with ancient buildings. Discovering it as we did by chance confirms the principle of always taking the slow route – drive along motorways and you miss so much.

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Walking through Lombez takes you back to a time when life too was slower; amongst its buildings are images that conjure up the France portrayed by the great artists – rich colours, faded paintwork, closed shutters keeping out hot sunshine.Lombez (22)   copyright.jpg

Dominating the town, the pink and white octagonal bell tower of the fourteenth century cathedral is in ornate contrast to the austere façade of the brick built body of the church. The severity of the style accentuates its height and gives no hint of its splendid interior.

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Fine stained glass, some dating back to the 1400s, marble altars, decorative carvings and statues all demand careful exploration and give good reason to linger inside away from the summer heat.

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The cathedral is a listed monument historique and preservation work of the exterior was being carried out during our visit. With such an ancient building, work is on-going and there are areas of the interior that still have to be restored, although they do have a special charm and serenity about them that may be lost when renovated.Lombez (11)   copyright.jpg

Stepping back outside, the sun appears to be even brighter than before and gives an excuse to find a bistro for a cold beer. Unlike the UK, where bars and coffee shops crowd the pavements to draw in the visitors, outside the cathedral there are few signs of life and very little traffic. This part of France remains true to its laid-back style and does not woo the tourist: when in Lombez behave like a native – stay calm, slow down, relax.Lombez (6)   copyright.jpg

Lombez is in the Gers region of southwest France, 55km west of Toulouse and within sight of the Pyrenees Mountains.

JFK and the Irish Famine

The Great Famine – also called the Irish Potato Famine – killed a million people between 1845 and 1852 and created much bitterness towards the ruling British.  Restrictive laws against Catholics who made up over three-quarters of the population, including the prohibition of owning land, had been relaxed but the majority still held only tiny parcels of land, the remainder owned by absentee British aristocracy.  As a result, only potatoes could provide anywhere near enough food for their families and these were grown at the expense of all other crops.  When the previously unknown disease, blight, destroyed them they had no access to other foodstuffs.   At the height of the famine, enough food was being produced elsewhere in the country but this was sent for export fueling ever greater resentment.  Evictions too were common.  The alternative to death was emigration and over a million left for a new life elsewhere.  Pictured below is the Dunbrody Famine Ship, moored at New Ross, Co. Wexford, a replica of the original boat.

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The New World was a popular destination and in 1849 Patrick Kennedy, great-grandfather of American President, John F Kennedy and whose family lived near New Ross sailed to Boston, albeit from Liverpool, England. Marrying soon after his arrival he died nine years later of cholera at the age of 35.New Ross (5)   copyright

In 1963, President Kennedy visited New Ross and his ancestral home at nearby Dunganstown.  In 2008 his statue was unveiled by his sister Jean Kennedy Smith.New Ross   copyright

Fifty years after JFK’s visit, the Emigrant Flame was lit by his sister and daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.  The fire was taken from the Eternal Flame by his graveside in Arlington Cemetery travelling 3500 miles: it burns constantly to commemorate all emigrants throughout the world.New Ross (6)   copyright