Friday, July 15, 2016

On the One Road- Towards the Sea

Away on Sunday, July 3, a wee bit later than usual, the bus arrived at a cathedral in Galway just in time for the 11 am mass; but I was a heathen and walked over to the River Corrib where the salmon were running up towards Corrib Lough.  Three fishermen were running salmon flies across the current with extremely long fly rods.  The closest one seemed particularly adept, and I concentrated on him hoping to see him hook a big one.  Only a short wait and it happened!  What a start to the day.

A short walk along the river and we came upon a vehicle free set of city streets that were rich with stores, pubs and people. I've been interested in the variety of adornments for the pubs in Ireland and found another for my collection- the Dew Drop Inn.  The 1902 date on the door labels it as a newcomer in the scheme of Irish pubs.

There is no shame in being 114 years young, nor in being irreverent.  I had my sights set on another pub but had to ask a bit to get directions to Fat Freddy's Pub.  "All children left unattended will be given an espresso and a free kitten." Should allow the patrons to have a perfect pint of stout undisturbed.

It was the first warm day, and we found a McDonalds perfect for a cold lemonade, clean restroom and quiet seating.  (The shame of it with so many pubs!)  A nice lunch of eggs benedict with lox brought us back to the proper tourist mode at Maxwells. 

Later, we wandered a bit among the crowds before settling on a comfy bench outside Sheridan's Cheesemongers to listen to the street musician doing Jimmy Buffett songs. We were awaiting the appointed hour for a wine and cheese tasting upstairs at Sheridan's.  I'd drifted into the retail store; it was hardcore exotic cheeses and sausages.  Consider the aroma of over 50 different aged cheeses.  Whooee! It was really heady stuff.  The tasting was great fun.

Back at the bus, I admit to sleeping most of the way to the ferry we'd ride out to Inish Mor for two nights. Also slept on the ferry trip and arrived on the island wanting to skip the van ride and take a brisk walk to the hotel. That was a good decision. Walking along the seawall we came upon a local horseman giving his two horses a swim. Evidently the horses had worked the day pulling carts carrying visitors around the island.  This was their reward for a good day's work. This excited me for the coming day on Inish Mor. It would be an unusual way to spend the Fourth of July.

I awoke early hoping for an explore before breakfast, looked out and went back to sleep.  Rain. After breakfast, we had a van that took us out to Dun Aengus.  It is an Iron Age defensive fort, built around the second century BC, on the edge of a 100 meter cliff over the sea. There is a long approach walk across fields divided by heavy stone walls. The stone walls were the only way to clear the land enough to have pasture or crop land. There are 7000 miles of walls on this nine mile long island.

Photo by Pam Schmitt

On a rainy, windy day  with many slippery rocks, it can be a real challenge that  calls for a few rest stops and abundant caution. No reason to risk a fall.

As we approached the fort, the wind seemed to build and mist blew on us.  We all made it, and fortunately, that  was before the first load of day visitors descended on the trail. The fort walls are about 6 meters high and arrayed in four rings with a single entrance through each wall.

One delight was the near complete absence of litter.  It seemed to be some combination of respect and housekeeping.

Once inside the walls, the view of the sea atop a high cliff was dramatic though no photo could capture the feeling.

Walking back to the van, we met the first wave of day visitors.  There were a few delightful little scenes of beauty along the trail.  There beside a carefully laid wall of stone were blooming wild geraniums, just like I might see anywhere in my native New York.  They love this misty seaside, obviously.

Back in the van, the weather became milder and we stopped at an abandoned eighth century chapel, Teampall Bhreacain.  The polite request for shutting the gate is, I expect, quite normal in Ireland.

As we extended our travel out to the end of island on what was now single track pavement, the extent of the stone walls never diminished.  It was engaging landscape, which I wished I could independently explore by bicycle on a rainless day.  Oh, to have two full days on Inish Mor for that purpose.

As we returned toward our  hotel, we paused at seaside where there is a haul-out for seals.  Predictably, they were there.

As we boarded the van, one of the horse carts approached in the clearing weather.

Our excursion over, the group had free time. Some chose to nap, some to explore the village for a lunch spot. We had a dinner planned at the Ti Joe Watty Pub nearby, and I decided to insert a brisk explore in the late afternoon that ended there. I discovered the cartman turning his horse out to pasture after the day's work.

Along the same road, I found the remains of the Lucky Star Bar just up the road from the prospering Ti Joe Watty Pub, possibly a victim of competition.  They did serve an excellent meal to us later, and had lively music with local artist Locko plus our Pat and Terri. That was another reason to wish for two full days on Inish Mor.  This trip was really on a roll!

While on Inish Mor, our bus remained on shore and our trusty driver, Con Collins, enjoyed a well-deserved rest day. The narrow roads and his attention to our needs were ample reason to let him recharge a bit. 

Up early the next day to catch the first ferry off the island, Con again took us on a different set of roads around Galway Bay, through lovely Kinvara to the rocky heights of the Burren and on to the Cliffs of Moher.  The cliffs are one of the top visitor sights in Ireland; the crowds looked like ants in the distance.

These cliffs are spectacular, but there are stone walkways and cliff-side barriers due to the number of visitors. The next day, we were at Kilkee and there were long stretches of simple hiking trails and no competition. Like Inish Mor, I'd delight to have a full day in Kilkee. No paved trails or railings. Kevin and Pat free ranged towards the edge.

Our trip was down to one full day before departing at Shannon. We went out the West Clare Pennisula arriving at the cemetery at Cross, where some of Pat Kane's relative are resting. This connection between trip participants and the names in the cemetery creates a deeper, special sense of place. The tended flowers among the graves creates a beautiful testament to family love.

At the extreme end of the pennisula we found Loop Head Lighthouse.  Look at those flags.  Windy!

The day ended with a medievil banquet at Knappogue Castle that had both good food and  entertainment.  Back to the hotel to prepare our baggage for a return flight in the morning. 

It was a satisfying trip with great companions, excellent leadership and a great variety of experiences. My final image is from the sheltered side of the wall around Loop Head Lighthouse with the flags of the Republic of Ireland, the European Union and County Clare all seen in a brisk wind.

Strange. I never saw a shamrock.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

On the One Road towards County Cork

Our  tour continued from Dublin, departing precisely on time. (We all agreed on this as a matter of policy, tho' in fact no one was ever tardy to the bus.)  Still within the city, we made a brief stop at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The floor was in itself notable, adding a warm light to the soaring stonework. I cannot recall another cathedral that achieves such a warming effect.

Kathleen and Pat have the deep knowledge of Ireland that includes both the Guinness Storehouse and lesser known gems like St. Patrick's in Dublin.

Within the cathedral were very nice statues of important personages set before colorful glass windows, portraying iconic biblical characters. It made for a nice combination of two eras.

Back on the bus, our next destination in County Kilkenny was at the Nicholas Mosse Pottery located beside the River Nore.  We learned that the pottery is totally powered by a water turbine.  That was just the beginning of the creativity we saw there.  As a visitor arrives, the stone bridge over the river speaks of the long history in this village.

The pottery begins with the mining of the clay, and carries the process thru artisan decorating to a sophisticated firing process. The decorating area was a rich combination of technology and artistry.

photo by Pam Schmitt

After a satisfying lunch at the pottery we were once again on the road, stopping for refreshment alongside the Castle Cahir.  The pleasant scenery just keeps popping up.

Soon, we were in Blarney with both the Woolen Mill outlet to satisfy the shopper, and the Castle Blarney for those wanting to spin their own fanciful yarns.  It's a long climb to the top to kiss the mythical stone.  There are also nice gardens and a peaceful Blarney River running beside the castle.

We arrived for a two-day stay at the Mills Inn in beautiful Ballyvourney.  After a bountiful dinner, it was lessons in Irish step dancing (which thankfully was not video recorded). I came to love these country inns where local musicians and friendly locals made for a pleasant evening.

I was up early before breakfast to stroll around the village, finding some nice little scenes for my camera. There was an ancient stone tower on the hotel grounds, a stone bridge over the river that was similar to the one next to the Nicholas Mosse Pottery and this charming window in the Mills Inn courtyard.

Throughout our travels we saw all sorts of roses, some cultivated and some seeming to be wild cousins.  The one below captured my interest on my morning stroll.

The next morning, our trusty driver Con Collins squeezed our bus over a narrow bridge with a kink midway across, and we got to St. Gobnait's Shrine.

photo by Pam Schmitt

Exploring these sites brings unexpected discoveries. The sign at the graveyard entrance is unexpected, suggesting burials can still be family business.The graves span centuries for many families. There is a sense of the ages and of strong family ties.

And there is a beauty that can be found just steps up the country road from the statue of St. Gobnait. Wild digitalis is reaching for the blue sky.

Our day was still young as we left St. Gobnait's shrine and toured the green countryside, with a "STOP" in Kenmare for shopping and lunch. It was a bustling town with much to explore.

Onward we traveled with our next rest stop at Molly Gallivan's Cottage and Traditional Farm. Opposite the farm was a wonderful panoramic view of the lush countryside.

The views outside the bus were balanced with narration and song. Next was Gougan Barra where one sees St. Finbarr's Chapel on a small island in the lake. 

Our travels continued with music, history, and ample Irish food. Some of our stops were unplanned, like when we pulled over at Castle Kanturk for a quick explore.

A longer stop was at the Bunratty Folk Park and Castle.  It is a fully restored castle with a mock village to discover.  At the village pub we enjoyed a pick-up concert by Pat and sister Terri.  The village musician joined them for some delightful music.  We had to pull ourselves away to be on time to the bus.

That day ended on the sea at Kinvara. Rising early, I walked to the harbor to find a beautiful scene.

A  half mile further was the Castle Dunguaire in the early light. 

The day was off to a good start. Our travels the next day will lead us to Galway, and by evening, onto the Aran Islands. This was the most anticipated part of the trip for me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

We're on the One Road with West O'Clare

Ireland has been on our "bucket list" for its history, people, music and scenery. It is famous for forty shades of green. So we embarked with anticipation on Pat and Kathleen Kane's West O'Clare Tours "Summer in Ireland".  With their experience and Pat's fiddle, we knew it would be lively travel wherever the road led.

We began in Dublin at Glasnevin Cemetery, where the struggle for independence is honored.  We arrived fresh off an overnight flight from JFK and ready for breakfast.  I quickly learned that a full Irish breakfast means you leave with a full stomach. Refreshed with good coffee and food, we followed our guide as she walked us through an introduction to a good two hundred years of history.

A memorial to the men executed after the Easter Sunday Uprising stands near the entrance as a statement for those who stood for independence.

In addition to Kathleen and Pat, one other ingredient to a great tour is the bus driver. Over ten days, we all came to love Con Collins, and by the end of our tour wondered if there was any road in Ireland that he was unfamiliar with.

Note the light rain on the windshield.  It rarely poured, but was often contributinglightly to the forty shades of green.

We ended our first day with dinner and Irish music at the Arlington in Dublin. To our surprise, the fiddler, Jane Ferrell was from Hammonsport! We settled into a routine of breakfast at 8 and on the bus at 9.

The next morning, we ventured out from Dublin to the Hill of Tara in the Boyne Valley.  There, a village church lies next to ancient mounds from the pre-history of Ireland.We arrived in a light mist that soon faded away to nothing.

As we passed the church and toward the mounds, we passed a fresh grave adorned with flowers.  Later, we met the family of the deceased who engaged us in friendly conversation.

Up on the Hill of Tara we paused at the Mound of the Hostages. 

The mounds at Tara produced nice sweeping views, but our next stop was of greater scope. We passed along the Boyne River to the ancient site of Knowth.  From the welcome center, we walked over a bridge with a beautiful country landscape of sheep and green hills.

We boarded a shuttle bus to the site where large mounds spoke of ancient times; they likely provided underground safety in times of conflict and also served as burial safes.


Around the periphery were large stones with petroglyphs resembling those found in the western United States.

While we soaked in the stories of ancient times, around us were rich greens, blooming clovers and swooping birds capturing insects on the wing. Lovely.

Climbing to the top of the largest mound, we took in a rich panoramic view of Irish countryside.

Our small group of roughly two dozen, plus the knowledge of leaders and bus driver, allowed for relatively seamless adaptation to changes.  Our objective for the end of this day proved unavailable, so we returned to Dublin for interesting stops.

First, we went to the Guinness Storehouse at St. James's Gate.  It displays Guinness history and offers a panoramic view of the city while a perfect pint of stout is first drawn to about halfway, settled and then completed.  In between the history and a glass of beer is an abundance of souvenirs.

While Guinness is a top attraction in Dublin, there is much more.  We quickly went to see the Book of Kells, and then the Reading Room at Trinity College.  No photos are allowed in the Book of Kells display, just a lot of awe. We all found the Reading Room equally amazing.

All of this in only two days, and we still had so much away from Dublin on our intinerary.  Pam and I found a nice cafe a block away from the hotel and then retired for a restful night before embarking west to County Cork.