Update so that you know I didn’t fall off a cliff

I’m back from Ireland, and I brought back a nasty Irish cold that I’ve been battling since my last day there on Monday. Now I’m over the worst of it (I HOPE!) and I’m going to start working on my Ireland travelogue. If you are still reading me from the old days, a scenario that I’ll admit is probably delusional given my move to Facebook and the dearth of writing at this blog, you might remember that I love to write about my travels. If I won the lottery, I would most certainly waste a good bit of the money on traveling. Oh, and world peace. Mustn’t forget that.

This is going to take a long time, but I need to get crackin’ on it because my memory is fuzzy on the best of days these days, and it’s been two weeks now since we got off the plane in Dublin. So stay tuned.

A quick note about my health – my tests Thursday came back with very positive results, so my mind is greatly relieved.

A quick note about Guido’s health – my boy is napping on the floor with four paws in the air and all three weathered our trip well with the help of my good neighbor.

A quick note about the Back Forty – we apparently had a lot of rain while we were gone. Beans and field peas are up, but the herb seeds I planted are not. Calendula, coreopsis, and day lilies have replaced the foxglove blossoms. The blueberry bush is loaded. Now to figure out how to get them before the birds do without tangling the birds in a net.


Coming Home

After we left the Giant’s Causeway, I took over driving because the roads were wide and easy at this point. Sandy tried to take a nap, but what I assumed was a bypass of Belfast took me through Belfast at rush hour. He got a little taste of what it was like to be a passenger in harrowing traffic, and I am still working on unclenching my fingers.

We stopped in Dundalk for one last dinner in Ireland at Eno Bar and Grill, across from Dundalk Cathedral. I had my favorite salad, with beets and oranges, and Sandy had pasta. The chef sent out a free calamari appetizer – a very nice dining experience.

As we left Dundalk, I was trying to reset the GPS and Sandy grew absent-minded and neither of us noticed that he was driving on the wrong side of the road until we saw a car coming at us head-on. Sandy swerved and the other car swerved in the same direction. Sandy swerved back to the side of the road. The other car stopped and a small red-faced elderly gentleman jumped out of his car and marched up to us and chewed us out. We apologized sincerely and abjectly, and promised the old man that we would be off the highways of Ireland in less than one hour and that we would be supremely careful (if he would just let us drive away!) for the short remainder of our trip. Finally our pleas of fatigue and stupidity calmed him down and we drove the rest of the way, adrenalin pumping, to the rental car return at the airport.

Then we flew home to Greensboro the next morning after an uneventful night in an airport hotel and TWO security checks and a long line at U.S. Customs.

The end. If you made it this far with us, thanks for reading my Ireland adventure story! I hope that you enjoyed it. Now go plan a trip to Ireland – the people there will walk up to you on the street and thank you for being there. If you’re a nervous driver, I suggest that you take buses and trains. You won’t regret it no matter where you choose to go or what you choose to do because in Ireland there was beauty and craic everywhere. Be sure to order a pint of Smithwick’s. Sláinte!

Ireland, Northern Ireland, UNESCO World Heritage sites

Monday, May 21, 2012: The Giant’s Causeway

After a short ferry ride across Lough Foyle, we were in the United Kingdom. The currency was now pound sterling and the speed limits and distances were in miles. The feel of the country was different. The houses tended to be larger, the fields tended to be fenced instead of walled. And yet the sheep were still everywhere.

Our goal was to visit the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and then get to our hotel near the Dublin Airport fairly quickly. We had to return the rental car that night and we were tired already with most of the day behind us and a long way to go.

We stopped briefly at Dunluce Castle, and had it been earlier in our trip I feel sure we would have paid to go into it, but instead we just took photos from the outside. This 13th century castle ruin is on the edge of the seacliffs, and one day the kitchen split away and fell into the ocean, taking the kitchen staff with it.

Since I wasn’t feeling so hot, we parked at the Park and Ride in Bushmills and took a shuttle to the Giant’s Causeway, which was a bit cheaper. Then we took a shuttle again down to the stepping stones of Finn M’Coul. I wanted to save my energy for climbing around this mindblowing geological formation. Science says that it is a result of a lava flow that cooled slowly. Folklore says that the giant Finn M’Coul began laying a stepping stone path in the sea over to Scotland.

Bladder campion – one of my favorite wildflowers

If I lived near here, I’d want to go here every weekend.

Next post: Coming home

County Donegal, Ireland

Monday, May 21, 2012: Greencastle

On Monday morning, I awoke early with what I at first thought was a hangover. It wasn’t that we had drank that much on any one day or night, but over the course of the week I had drank more than usual so I thought maybe my body was catching up and punishing me. It turned out to be a virus, but fortunately the worst of it hit me after we got home. I was determined to get through the day, though, because the last major place where I wanted to go was on the agenda today.

We decided to take the ferry near Greencastle, and to revisit Glendowen Craft Studio near Clonmany. I’m so glad that we did, because it was full of handwoven and local textiles, sewn and assembled by Ann McGonigle. If I had had the money and the room in my luggage I would have spent a bundle there. It was the first shop I had been excited about since we were at the weaver’s shop in Dingle. Although the woolen sweaters and coats and scarves were beautiful, I knew that I would not wear them here at home much. On the very coldest days a few days a year perhaps, but I am hot natured and can go without a coat when others are wrapped up and shivering. I bought a simple linen shirt (and wore it out of there, since I was on the third day of wearing my last clothes) and an Irish tweed shawl to wear this fall.

When we reached Greencastle, we were a little early for the ferry over to Northern Ireland, so we drove up the road a little ways and discovered, completely by accident, an unstaffed public site of a 1305 castle ruin and Napoleonic Martello tower next to the shore. We spent about 30 minutes exploring the site. It was covered with vines and wildflowers and completely thrilled my inner child, since I lived to explore old abandoned buildings in the woods when I was a free-range kid.

I took some video while I was walking up and down through the different openings, but it is all sideways and I haven’t figured out how to edit it. Maybe that’s something I need to practice before our next big trip.

Next post: Monday, May 21, 2012: The Giant’s Causeway

County Donegal, Ireland

Sunday, May 20, 2012: Exploring Inishowen

The idea was that we were going to take the “Inishowen 100 Scenic Drive” up to the northernmost point in Ireland, Malin Head, but a wrong turn changed our plans. And as it often happens, the wrong turn was not a bad idea at all. We ended up on a road splendid in its isolation and followed signs to Clonmany. Side trips in the country like this that make you realize that Ireland really is a country with a small population. I gather that this is similar country to the moors in Scotland. We both loved this road. You’d have to travel for miles to find country around here that did not have any houses or evidence of humans (other than sheep and this road).

We decided to look for a craft studio/shop that we saw advertised that was located near Clonmany. It was closed, but in our wanderings we discovered, quite by accident, Glenevin Waterfall and the beautiful hiking trail to it.

Yes! finally a shamrock!

We returned to Buncrana, where we had dinner at the Ubiquitous Cafe, then stopped in Grant’s Bar where we had a couple of pints and a long discussion about Irish and American politics with a regular. It was another wonderful day, and the last pub we would visit in Ireland. I already miss the people and conversations we had there.

Next post: Monday, May 21, 2012: Greencastle

County Donegal, Ireland

Sunday, May 20, 2012: Grianan of Aileach

The Grianan of Aileach was what led me to choose this area for part of our visit. I knew that the O’Neills were one of the great Irish families; in fact, they are one of the few families that the banshee cries for at their deaths. From the Wikipedia article: “Legend has it that for five great Gaelic families — the O’Gradys, the O’Neills, the Ó Briains, the Ó Conchobhairs, and the Caomhánachs — the lament would be sung by a fairy woman; having foresight, she would sing the lament when a family member died, even if the person had died far away and news of their death had not yet come, so that the wailing of the banshee was the first warning the household had of the death.”

I found out in my research that the Grianan of Aileach was important in the history of the O’Neill clan, so I figured why not make this one focus of our trip? The story of this place is far from simple, though. There is much controversy about its restoration and history and new evidence continues to come to light that it may have begun as a site much like the one at Newgrange.

I copied this from the sign at the site.

“This large stone-walled fort, located on a hilltop commanding views over Loughs Foyle and Swilly and counties Donegal, Derry, and Tyrone, was the royal citadel of the northern Uí Néill from the 5th to the 12th century. It was probably built some time around the birth of Christ. Its builders may have been attracted to this hilltop site by the presence here of a sacred monument – a prehistoric burial mound or tumulus, possibly from the Neolithic period (about 3000 BC).

“A lintelled passage through the 4.5m thick wall leads to the interior where the wall rises in three terraces to a height of about 5m; there are also two long passages contained within the thickness of the wall. Substantial restoration work was carried out in 1870. We know little about the three earthen banks which circle the Grianan, but they could be part of an earlier Bronze Age or Iron Age hillfort. The trackway running through these banks and leading to the fort is believed to be an ancient roadway.”

I plan to keep up with the new archaeological theories and findings about Grianan of Aileach. But, we went there for the first party on the site in centuries, and the views were every bit as awesome as we were told. (I slipped up to the top tier for a few shots before I was asked to come down.)

I just loved these two little girls.

Sandy is painting this one.

There was a pageant with kings and giants and dancers and flags and music!

There were reenactors and craftsmen demonstrating ancient and medieval skills.

And I ate a periwinkle fished out of its shell with a safety pin. I ain’t skeered of no food.

Next post – Sunday, May 20, 2012: Exploring Inishowen

County Donegal, Ireland

Saturday and Sunday, May 19-20, 2012: Buncrana

When we arrived at the Lake of Shadows Hotel in Buncrana, we stowed our stuff, took a walk downtown to look around, then headed back to the hotel to have dinner. It was one of the least expensive but most delicious dinners we had in Ireland! After eating the seafood salad below, I had a turkey and ham entree. I had to do a search on Google to identify the fruit on the dessert plate. First time I’ve ever tasted a gooseberry. So good!

An old man that had been sitting in the pub reached out and fingered my new wool cape with a frown as I passed him on my way out. “Scottish!” he snapped.

“I was told that it was woven in Ireland,” I said, miffed.

“That’s what they all say,” he smirked.

We rested in the room that night, and I went through all our shopping bags and tried to consolidate our things into the bags we would check and the bags we would carry on. We packed light for this trip and I packed an extra empty duffel bag in one of my bags anticipating that we would be buying some bulky woolen clothes. That turned out to be a good plan because we barely had enough room, but it all made it in there. Sandy was a shopping machine while we were in Ireland.

In the morning we took a walk on the beach, where to my delight this dog joined us for some play.

He liked to bark.

And play with sticks.

Next post – Sunday, May 20, 2012: Grianan of Aileach

County Sligo, Ireland

Saturday, May 19, 2012: Carrowmore

The highlight of our drive from Galway in the central west of Ireland to Buncrana on the Inishowen Peninsula in the north of Ireland and just to the west of Northern Ireland was definitely the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery near Sligo. To think that we nearly skipped this when our GPS steered us wrong! We saw road signs a little later and followed them to the correct destination. What we found was powerful. Acres of megalithic stone circles, passage tombs, and large cairns on mountaintops. Some of them were on public land and many others were in private pastures.

You can find photos of the self tour guide here and here if you are interested in reading more.

The next two photos are of a large stone circle bisected by a fence, so part of it is on private land.

Above: another wildflower photographer. The pony kept interfering because he wanted a snack. This is what he was trying to photograph:

And since we’re on the subject of wildflowers:

Note the cairn on top of the mountain in the distance is lined up with the passage into this tomb. This is Tomb 7 in the literature – the most well preserved and beautiful of the circles and tombs we saw, and you had to step carefully to avoid the cow patties.

We made stops in Knock (a religious shrine disturbing for the amount of plastic paraphernalia for sale along its main street) and Letterkenny (where we saw the work of a great Irish artist (name to be updated) and it would be worth making another trip to visit the Glebe House and Gallery) but Carrowmore left our minds full of wonder.

Next post: Saturday and Sunday, May 19-20, 2012: Buncrana


Friday, May 18, 2012: The Burren and Cliffs

The best place on the bus tour was the Burren. I didn’t expect that. What a wonderful weird wild landscape, with its sad, usually pointless stone “famine walls,” that the starving Irish people were forced to build as a means of getting a little to eat from the British landowners during the Great Hunger. I’ve stopped calling it the Potato Famine, because even though a potato blight ruined the potato crop for three years, Ireland was actually an exporter of wheat during this time. The Irish starved because the English aristocracy simply did not care what happened to them, not because of the potato blight. A good photo of a famine wall is on this webpage about the stone walls of Ireland.

One of the most famous dolmen tombs is Poulnabrone in the Burren, from the neolithic era. The limestone formations and wildflowers growing in the winding trenches (like mini-slot canyons) were fascinating too. I could have played here for hours.

And of course, we visited the famous Cliffs of Moher. Although magnificent, I felt the experience suffered from the crowds of tourists and safeguards and large visitor’s center with its shops selling the usual tourist junk. It didn’t seem quite real to me after getting up close and personal with the cliffs in Ballydavid.

We stopped for a mid-afternoon lunch at a pub and then on the way back, stopped at the “baby cliffs” of Clare, which I found much more to my liking, because it was cliffs in the Burren. That’s a grand combination.

Next post – Friday, May 18, 2012: Galway