Tag Archives: Ireland

Ireland, part 5

Another excerpt from my travel journal, dated Monday, April 14, 2008:

Early the next morning we were off.  Before leaving Dingle Town we’d picked up some sandwiches, post-cards, and woolen souvenirs. The highlight of the trip to Galway was a thirty-minute ferry ride in the crisp, cool sunshine.  The cold wind blew across the sound as we huddled on the upper deck of the ferry to enjoy the view.

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The next stop was the Cliffs of Moher.  I properly waited behind the fence while David ventured with others onto private property for better photographic opportunities.  The sun shone brightly on the green hills and turned the water into silvery waves lapping at the foot of the cliffs far, far below.  We ate a picnic lunch on some steps before admiring a tower and continuing our drive through the rugged and barren “The Burren” with its treacherous roads to Galway.  (Cliffs of Moher picture belows, and my masterpiece panoramic in the blog’s header.)

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We arrived at Galway during rush-hour traffic and checked in to Eddie and Helen’s Four Seasons Bed and Breakfast near Eyre Square.  We wandered down to the town center, had dinner of sub-prime lasagna and sub-prime Chianti (David, on the other hand, had excellent roast duck quessadillas), explored the waterfront, and then enjoyed a pint at a crowded pub which featured a piper, three violinists, and an accordian player who might have been carrying a staff and garbed in a grey woolen cloak on a normal basis.  Eddie had told us we’d have to “find the crowd,” and his one piece of advice had been to “follow the short skirts, lads.”  Well, I didn’t see many short skirts in the warm, jolly inn, but there were many a person enjoying the folk music, fellowship, and satisfying drink.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008:

I could tell David was slowing down as he pushed his sausage and hash around his plate.  We were downstairs the following morning enjoying a big breakfast–an omelette for me, and a full Irish breakfast for David.  He’d already supplemented his with a wedge of cheese, toast, tea, and fruit salad.  Partially not wanting to waste food, and partly wanting to see if he’d really do it, I challenged him to finish everything on his plate.  He did, surprisingly and nauseatingly enough, and I gave him the 10 euro as promised in our bet.

The day was spent reading and relaxing–at a tea shop, near a 1960s stone cathedral, and on the quay.  We had a light supper of sandwiches and then a pint at the sophisticated and masculine Skiff Hotel with its dark wood paneling, fireplace, and numerous staircases and balconies, right on the south side of Eyre Square.

This picture is either at the tea shop or at the sophisticated and masculine Skiff Hotel, I can’t remember which.

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Sitting on the quay in Galway in the late afternoon sun.

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Ireland, part 4

From my travel journal, dated Sunday, April 13, 2008:

Breakfast this morning was more to my New Yorker sensibilities: coffee with a toasted bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon.  We drove the 3/4 mile into town and set about renting bikes.  Alas, closed were Paddy’s Bike Rental; Foxy John’s Hardware, Pub, and Bike Rental; and the Mountain Man Bike Rental.  Eileen’s Bed and Breakfast had only one bike for rent.  So deflated were we that we didn’t even bother checking Atheist Jack’s 24/7 Bike Shop.  Thankfully, we had a back-up plan for touring Dingle Penninsula: our trusty Mitsubishi Colt.

Retrospectively, given the length of the ride (30 miles) and the numerous hills, this was probably no unhappy occurrence.  It was, then, in climate-controlled and lumbar-supported comfort that we reset the odometer and headed west out of town.

The stops are too numerous to try to recall each individually.  One early one was a ~1,500-year-old fort, clinging precariously to the edge of the cliffs, surrounded by choppy waves breaking on boulders far below, and by stunning greens and blues in the morning Irish sunlight.  The fort was preceded by a series of one-meter embankments, on which we attempted to get some sheep to cooperate with our photographic inclinations.

At another “pull-out”, we scrambled ten meters or so below road level to a rock protruding out above the ocean.  A little dirt path told me it was safe, and thus it was difficult to imagine any danger or other untoward event.  However, had the path not been there, my sensibilities regarding slippery rocks, a long fall, large boulders, and socialized medicine may have produced a moment’s precautionary hesitation, if not prudent abstention.  It was at this stop, I think, that the Colt achieved elevated status as a companion and a personality.  We began to try to include it in rugged, scenic photos when at all possible. (Colt post to come.)

One of the more memorable stops was near the Great Blasket Islands.  On these, off the westernmost tip of Europe lived about 160 people at most preceding World War I; the population dwindled to fifty and then twenty by the time there was a forced evacuation of the island in 1953.  The farmers used to row thirty minutes in to a beach and then hike 12 miles in to Dingle Town to sell produce.

After visiting the sleek, multimillion dollar Great Blasket Centre, however, I learned that the Great Blasket Islanders’ true passion was melancholy storytelling and mourning a vanishing way of life.  Irish was primarily an oral tradition for several hundred years until the late 19thCentury, and it was then, about 100 years ago, that the Islanders began to record their history in pen and ink, and to wistfully remember it.  The irony is, best as I can tell, that all the sad clinging to the scattering pages of their ancestors’ lives; the fading solidarity with the harsh and rugged landscape, the soft peat, the vast sea; the lilting cadence of the speech and stories…all this mourning and remembering and wistful recording began a good generation or so before the island population’s decline.  The island sons’ and daughters’ departure for a better life in Dublin, London, or even America; the forgetting of an ancient tongue; the lure of better jobs for the midwife in a modern inland clinic, or for the farmer in the rapidly sprouting technology corridor of the city; this was all the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of the self-conscious writers.  They did not preserve the culture; they killed it.  I hope you’re happy, Thomás Ó Criomhthain, and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin.  May you rest in peace, just as your culture now rests in peace, Peig Sayers.

I might add, also, that the Great Blasket Centre had a very nice seafood bisque and some of the best Irish brown bread I’ve had here.

One of the final stops was an ancient Norman church built ~1200 AD; in the front yard was a 6-foot stone dating from ~300 AD with a hole near the top.  This was a sacred pagan site before the arrival of Christianity.  Two parties would place and touch their thumbs through the hole as a means of making a vow.  To this day, wedding vows are renewed in this manner by some.

Departing from my usual habit, I had the urge to place a penny in a spot where, upon returning in years hence, I might find it once again. So there, to the right of the second arch, just above eye-level is a crack that now hides a little copper penny.

We coasted back into town and took an hour nap with the window open, sunshine streaming in, and a slight breeze carrying the distant bleating of sheep to make one of the best naps I’ve had in quite some time.

And then, feeling that Rick Steves might be disappointed in our not making the most of the day, we drove into town were I sat by the docks and journaled while David did some souvenir shopping.  And to further redeem the afternoon, we walked along the harbor by the water-front all the way around to the old tower.  A dog we named Blackie followed us most of the way there and back.  From a mossy perch seated near the tower with its nearby rabbit holes and briar patches, we could look out as the sun set across the harbor, and we even spotted Fungie, a dophin that’s lived near the mouth of the harbor since 1981.

Dinner was at the nearly empty Blue Zone Jazz where we split a delicious thin crust pizza with Italian ham and mushroom, with a glass of red wine.  Next door was my favorite pub yet: dim but not dark Dick Mack’s, formerly a leather & shoe shop by day and pub by night.  There we met an anthropology student from Pittsburg who’d strangely acquired an Irish accent during his time abroad, as well as two men who grew up in Dingle Town but now work in larger cities.  They made jokes and we laughed, only catching 3/4 of what they said at baseline, and even less when they were laughing.  Maybe they were laughing that we were laughing when we didn’t understand them.

A word about the pub–being across from a church, it had the nickname, “The Last Pew.”  It opened in 1899 and the interior can’t have changed much since then.  One wall was filled with leather shoes, some in boxes, some atop the long wooden shelves which climbed twelve feet or so to the ceiling.  In front was a counter, on either side of which patrons could sit.  One side had an array of stools, while the other featured simply a long wooden bench.  There was the bar, of course, on the other wall, as well as a couple cubby-holes or nooks for quiet conversation, or, for the demure ladies in town, a discreet drink.

“Is it alcoholic?” I asked of the two men who chatted with David and me, referring to the pint of golden-hued Bulmer’s cider, its crisp coolness accented by tiny bubbles curling their way ot the surface.  “Aye!!! Nothing like a coupla’ these after a hot summer’s day!” enthusiastically replied one of the men, and then lapsed into a round of hearty praise for the drink, in either Irish or unintelligible English.

Addendum (June 10, 2008): In my estimation, this pub, with it its cozy atmosphere, quirky wall of shoes, ample hard wood, history, and fun nickname earns the prize for my favorite pub visited in Ireland.

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Ireland, part 3

From my travel journal, dated Saturday, April 12, 2008:

Some things will stay with me after I leave Ireland–the pastures green under cloudy skies after a soft afternoon rain, the rugged western coast tumbling down to the breaking waves below, ancient stone fences and woolen dots speckled on the mountainside, and the warmth of the friendly locals.  But on this day, what stayed with me most were memories of the full Irish breakfast I ate.  I could feel it, for eight hours or so, in the pit of my stomach, the two juicy links of sausage, the glass of juice, the slices of ham, the buttered toast with marmalade, the over-easy egg with a generous sprinkling of pepper, the coffee with milk and sugar, and, not least, the two patties of black pudding, an Irish tradition made from pigs’ blood.  Like patê , I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t known what it was.  David liked the blood sausage; I, recognizing the importance of keeping traditions, will be happy to let the Irish keep this one.

Thus, with loosened belts and lightened spirits, we set out for the Killarny National Park and the Muckross house, dating from the 1830s.  David and I stopped by the public W.C. which was being freshened by the cleaning lady.  His uninhibited bladder led him right in; I discreetly used the single restroom with luxurious grab-bars, a strangely low sink, and a curious ancient Irish symbol which resembled the profile of someone in a wheelchair.

Approaching the house, it was hard to resist the jaunting cart driver’s offer, “Would you like to hire a horse, lads?” Everything just sounds more appealing when they call you “lads.”

The house had a beautiful green lawn stretching to a protected cove off Muckross Lake.  I thought it interesting that the carriage entrance was at the side of the house, leaving the large entertaining rooms to face the lawn and the water.  The tour was interesting, especially seeing the shields on stands near the fireplaces to protect the soft wax on women’s faces, as well as hearing the story of Queen Victoria’s visit.  The house cost thirty thousand pounds to build, but the owners took six years and took out a sixty thousand pound mortgage to prepare the house for the queen’s arrival for a one-night stay, with hopes of being given titles, and thus increasing their wealth.  Prince Albert died just a couple months after the visit, and Queen Victoria never got around to bestowing a title.  Muckross House was repossessed and eventually sold, the owners helplessly in debt.  The lesson: Be content with what you have (especially if it’s a fabulous mansion on a secluded Irish lake); or, if that lesson isn’t enough, then remember that the English will get you every time.

Afterward we began hiking.  David thought we were on the wrong path, but I became increasingly convinced that we were headed toward the Meeting of the Waters.  The topography of the Torc Mountain (seen in above photo on left) and its appearance on the contour map assured me of my bearings.  We were each so sure of our respective positions that we bet a pint–and then David upped it to two–which he later discovered he owed me.

We made it to the Meeting of the Waters, which sounds like a magical place–the sort of clearing from which Frodo and Sam might set off, where Boromir might die, perhaps where Aragorn may even have a kingly vision or dream of Arwen.  In realty, the Meeting of the Waters looked more like a curve in a stream.  Only with a good map eye, a sturdy foot on rocky trails, and a dash of imagination could one envision this place being out of the ordinary.  We’d come 4.5 kilometers not to see the curve of a rainbow on shimmering golden water, or even a water nymph in a gossamer gown, her slender bare arms playing a small lute, her chestnut hair pinned up at the nape of her neck, her pale skin white against the rose of her small pouty lips.  No.  It was a bend in a creek, with a nearby coffee and pastry shop with picnic tables out front.  David, sharing in my disappointment, suggested the name should be “A Meeting of the Waters,” or “The Meeting of Some Waters.”

On completing our nearly 4-hour hike around Muckross Lake, we walked up the lawn as dark clouds rolled above the manor.  And then, to my delight, the sun emerged and lit the house in a brilliant yellow beneath the angry clouds.  I’m proud to say I caught this moment on my digital camera. 

It was easy to refuse a jaunting cart ride this time around as the parking lot was only 100 meters away, and we’d just walked nearly ten kilometeres.  With a small square of Toblerone and a newly purchased disc of Irish jigs and ballads on the car’s stereo, we were on our way to Dingle Town.

There, we checked in to the Bed and Breakfast with Mary and admired the view of pasture, bay, and tower from the window.  Dinner was at John Benning Moriarty’s (Beef & Guinness stew with a Smithwick’s for me) with some out-of-tune accordian, guitar, and Irish bagpipe music.  We  walked over to the Small Bridge Bar where I had a pint of Harp and we were able to sit close to the skilled violinst & recorder player and guitar player, finishing the evening with a little good Irish craic.

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Ireland, part 2

Another excerpt from my travel journal, dated Friday, April 11, 2008:

The plane is now descending into Dublin, after nearly seven hours of flight.  As much as it’s in the collective consciousness to make snide remarks about airline food, ironically I’m always happy when it comes.  Others seem more than happy to receive it too…where are the gourmets who refuse?  Breakfast was a melt-in-your-mouth scone, strawberry yogurt, orange juice, and coffee with milk and sugar because I felt like it, which I enjoyed while flipping through the final pages of last week’s Economist.

It’s overwhelming to take in the sights and sounds of the city thus far.  The energy, the hustle and bustle, the cacophonous swirl of cultures and languages…and all this without leaving the airport.

David arrived an hour or so ago, and most of our time thus far has been at the rental car booth trying to prove David’s credit card (4588-8734-0056-2897, expires April 2010) does cover insurance.  Presently we’re splitting a BLT on a baguette as we await the fax of proof.  I elected not to take a picture of David as he struggled through calling card PINs and access codes to reach MasterCard’s customer service.  A hand-drawn picture will have to suffice.

We secured the car even though the fax never came.  The agent, a fellow about our age with a friendly Irish accent and a smile which became progressively tighter, finally believed David.  Soon we were off, singing a new helpful driving song: “Stay left, stay left, wherever you go…” (to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel”).

After a few hours in the car, we parked in the town of Cashel, which has the main atraction of the Rock of Cashel, a fortress-like hill which was given to the church ~1000 years ago, and on which were built in succession a tower, a chapel, a cathedral, and a vicars’ building.

Tower at the Rock of CashelHere I first encountered the endearing characteristic of older men of calling us “lads.”  We skipped out early on a boring video and toured the chapel with its off-center choir (Christ’s head hung to the side) with a faded fresco ceiling.  We were pleasantly surprised by the view as we rounded the cathedral’s corner and saw the adjoining graveyard.  A light rain had stopped during our short time in the video, and now dark rainclouds hovered above the brilliantly shaded green hills and countryside, making a perfect photo opportunity.  The sun even peeked out, creating shadows which danced on the gravestones.

Diagram of the Rock of Cashel

Tombstones and hills

Rock of Cashel from below

Leaving Cashel, we back-tracked to Kilkenny and proceeded to become lost, silently cursing Rick Steves’ fun but skeletal maps and the dearth of street-signs in the town.  Our home for the night was Carriglea (Irish carrig meaning sturdy or solid [often applied to rocks or homes], and lea, field or pasture).  It was managed by a talkative proprieter, Josephine O’Reilly.  Her wrinkled skin and hair dyed with just a tint of red framed a face that was eager to talk of her four children and problems with immigration and the birth-naturalization policy in Ireland.

Carriglea

We had dinner at a pub, where I learned that “cheers” is Irish for “I’ll smile at you as I hand you back 10 euro in change rather than the 20 euro I owe you, betting you won’t notice because you’re American and probably find counting money in euros intimidating and slightly confusing.”  David had a beef and Guinness stew and a Smithwicks, and I had lamb & potatoes with a Guinness, both dinners served with warm traditional Irish brown bread.  The evening was rounded out by a bar of Toblerone from the local market, and we soon found rest as we lay our jet-lagged heads on soft feather pillows.

More pictures: As can be seen in this next photograph, the ancient tombstones are not as sturdy as they may appear.

Here is the town of Cashel, lit in the afternoon sun after a rain.

Our trusty Mistsubishi Colt.

 

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