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