Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ireland, Day 3 photos

Day 3 was not a great day so I've decided to post some nice photos instead of telling all our woes of trying-and failing-to drive on Ireland's VERY narrow roads.
Above is Bunratty Castle, an imposing medieval castle that is open for viewing but the price is steep!

Note the established date! This pub is at Bunratty. We had a passable meal here. The inside is cooly ancient and you could feel the age and history.

Muckross Abbey, a medieval abby I loved. Can you see me up there peering out the window? The abbey is said to be haunted and has tombs dating back to the 1300s. The cemetary is still used today. The ambiance here is amazing. We visited at dusk and I could have lingered here for hours.

 Muckross Abbey, a fuller view. It's really huge, so hard to get in one photo. Enormous fireplaces are still intact. This is one of the places, during the time when Christianity was being stomped out, that the monks "kept the light" of faith burning. Cromwell burned, raided and sent the friars into hiding, but they never gave up.
Lovely County Kerry.

 Wouldn't you love to follow this road forever? The lane into Killarney National Park


Every where in Ireland we saw rock walls like this. It's a very rocky land so walls were built with found rock. The rocks are just stacked on top of each other without mortor. Many have endured for hundreds of years!

 Nothing like a tasty banafee pie to end a stressful day. This was at Molly D'Arcy's pub outside Killarney and near our B&B. A very good Irish band was playing so we stayed to listen to the music and enjoy our tea and pie. I don't know what was in that pie but it was scrumptious. This is my daughter, Sundy, my traveling buddy.
The outside of Friar's Glen B&B, my favorite, favorite place to stay in Ireland. Mary and John made us feel at home and went above and beyond to make our stay enjoyable after a rather trying day. They even drove us to the pub, provided a flashlight and umbrella and booked tours for us. Wonderful people. And the breakfast alone was worth the price!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ireland trip, Day 2

This was my favorite, favorite day, so the post is long! Enjoy the photos.
Day Two – May 23, 2013

The Most Perfect Day

Amazingly I awoke energized and rested without a hint of jet lag even though I didn’t sleep for more than twenty four hours the day before! After a filling breakfast cooked by Marion of Coolin House, the Galway Tour bus picked us up outside the bed and breakfast about nine and whisked us off toward the Connemara. This was the Ireland I had come to see. I absolutely loved this area along Ireland’s windy, chilly west. It is a remote land where miles and miles of rock fence square off the lush green land like a quilt. Sheep were thick in the lush, rolling fields and we saw few houses in this mostly treeless environment. Occasionally sheep dotted the winding roads, ambling along the very scant shoulder with lambs as they nipped what must be the best grass. Our tour bus slowed for them, making note that the ewes become road smart quickly but the lambs were new and not quite as savvy. It was a charming sight, worth slowing for. And I was aggravated at myself for not getting a photo!

Dotting the sides of the roads everywhere were the ruins of small rock houses that we learned are the remains of peasant homes from the potato famine, or as the Irish call it, the great hunger.
Fourteen or fifteen family members would live in these small dwellings, sleeping on the floor or on shelves built into the walls. (Thus, the term “left on the shelf too long” used to describe spinsters. Families were eager for them to marry and move out to make space for someone else!) The houses, like the miles of rock fence, were made of found, stacked stones without mortar. How they remain with nothing to hold them is a mystery to me. The houses include a giant fireplace at one end and usually few or no windows because at the time the government charged a “window tax” that poor families could not afford.

Another interesting sight was the peat, or turf, bogs. According to our driver, sometime in Ireland’s ancient past the Connemara was covered in forest which died and “melted” into the ground, thus forming large wetlands filled with peat. The damp peat can be cut like bricks from the earth, stacked and dried, and used for fuel. Many in the Irish west still use turf as their main fuel and struggle against the government which wants to stop peat farming and preserve the disappearing bogs. We passed a peat farmer or two. One grinned and waved for us to come and help him. We enjoyed his friendliness.

Our driver and other Irishmen we spoke with expressed ongoing concern about their country and the struggling economy and sometimes about their frustration with the government. One quoted 40% unemployment, with the major industry being tourism. This is obvious everywhere as the beauty of Ireland becomes more and more commercialized, thus detracting from what makes it special to begin with. Yet who I am to complain? I was a tourist. The Irish also fret about the continuing exit of Ireland’s young people to other countries. And still, all these years later, the resentment toward their 800 year English oppressor runs deep. This part surprised me, but we heard that undercurrent over and over again while in Ireland.

But back to the Connemara where tourism has not overshadowed the wild and natural state of the world’s greenest land. We saw a number of antiquities along the way, including Ross Errilly Friary, a 1351 Franciscan friary and the best preserved monastery in Ireland. To be so old, it is amazingly intact and gives a feel of what life must have been like for those “keepers of the Christian light”.

We stopped at Cong, which was my favorite village of the many we visited.
A beautiful little town, surviving on tourism without being spoiled, Cong was where John Wayne filmed a movie years ago and is credited with beginning Ireland’s tourist trade. There is a museum, which I didn’t visit and a pub that was featured in the movie. Instead of having tea, Sundy and I explored this quaint, charming village that boasts a very old cross in the middle of main street. The tiny row of old shops are squeezed close to one another and painted in colorful hues. A river runs through Cong next to Cong Abbey, a fabulous old medieval ruin where were we told the last high king of Ireland, Rory O’Connor is buried.
I saw no sign to that effect so I don’t know if it’s true or not. I loved it, as I did every abbey or friary we visited! I also enjoyed the swans floating on the river inlet nearby. The entire town has a quiet, park-like beauty. I could see myself living here and would have stayed here a day or two if I had known how much I would love it.

Later on the tour, we saw a little cemetery that turned out to be a children’s cemetery with a sad story.
It seems the Catholic faith, at one time, did not allow anyone who had not been baptized to be buried in consecrated ground with their families. So this pretty little, rock-walled plot of land contains the remains of dozens of children who died before they could be baptized.

A stop by a lake revealed an enchanting Irish superstition I had never heard of - a fairy tree. We were told that people make a wish to the fairies and tie a ribbon on this particular tree. Indeed, the small, wind-bent tree was covered in ribbons of various colors. Our tour guide and others we talked to said that many Irish still take their fairies seriously.

The countryside in the Connemara area is so incredibly beautiful that I was, by now, in sensory overload. My eyes simply couldn’t take everything in quickly enough. Suddenly, we rounded a bend and there spread before us like something out of a magical kingdom was Kylemore Abbey. Set on a lake with the mountain behind, Kylemore is a magnificent manor house built by a man for his beloved wife in the mid 1800s. When she died suddenly, the heartbroken husband built a miniature cathedral a short distance from the house in her honor. It’s such a romantic story that the romance writer in me was captivated. Sundy and I visited the church and spent some time in prayer. There was a quiet reverence and a precious spirit about the place.

There is a charge to see the house and the walled Victorian gardens. The gardens were not quite in full bloom but still very pretty and tidy. For the price of entry, you can actually only visit one floor of the manor house which has some 100 rooms! Because we were on the bus tour, we got a sizable discount on admission—I think it was 8 Euros-and I didn’t regret the expense. High on the hill behind the house is a giant statue of Jesus that can be seen from some distant. We opted not to climb up due to time and the cold wind.

I took dozens of photos because this was, by far, the favorite stop of my entire trip. I’m trying to figure out how to set a book here or at least in the Connemara area. Though the weather was cold and windy and we wore every layer we brought with us, the sun shone and the sky was a breathless blue. Rhododendron quite literally lines the estate like a great green and fuchsia wall. The plants were just beginning to bloom but were so very pretty. I can’t imagine how gorgeous they are in full flower.

Finally, after more stops to view pretty valleys and lakes and vast fields, our tour was over. At our request, our driver dropped us back in Salthill at Lohan’s pub for a dinner of my favorite Irish food-beef and Guinness stew. I had never tried it before and was a little uncertain until I tasted. Oh, my! Yummy. A thick, rich gravy of tender beef tips and mushrooms was topped with a generous helping of mashed potatoes. Brown bread was served on the side. Country eaters like us were in food heaven and now I have to figure out how to make this at home.

Happily filled, we walked back to Coolin House, freshened up, Skyped home to the family from our iPad, and then walked the 10 minutes or so to the Galway Bay Hotel and Trad on the Prom. The venue for the show of traditional Irish music and dance is small and all the chairs set flat so a short person would want to get there early and sit in front. My daughter is under five feet tall and had we not been in the front row she would not have seen much. As it was, the show was very entertaining with a good mix of terrifically performed music and some good Irish dance. Two of the musicians with the same last name were outstanding, each one playing many traditional instruments. I think the woman played 22!  I could listen to the penny whistle, the boudhran, and the pipes all night. Some of the dancers were ho-hum but a pair of brothers proved exceptional. All in all, a good show.

Afterward, we strolled along the promenade-a walkway along Galway Bay-back to our lodging. A full moon shone over the glistening, silvery waters. A few hearty souls—or crazies-were swimming in the cold water while we huddled close inside our layered sweater, jacket, coat and gloves. The walk is safe and pretty and only a few minutes away from the residential area where we stayed. Again, we’d spent a lovely day in Ireland without a bit of rain.



Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ireland trip, day 1

In May, I took the trip of a lifetime to Ireland. I hope you enjoy my journal entries and photos.

Day one, May 22, 2013

JFK to Shannon to Galwaywhere we the bed and breakfast asilvery Galway Bay andk to the bed and breakfast and collapsed for the night.

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Sundy and I arrived from JFK into Shannon airport at 6 a.m., a little groggy from only a few catnaps on Aerlingus, but raring to go. As we flew in over Ireland, my eyes teared up a bit. Everything was so rural and green and the sun was shining in welcome. At last, I was here.

By the way, Aerlingus was great. We sat on the side where only two seats were and enjoyed the extra room. We also enjoyed the free television in the seat-back in front of us where we could choose movies or TV, games or music to keep us occupied. Aerlingus also believes in keeping you fed, unlike American planes that dole out a peanut or two. The pilot landed us beautifully with hardly a bump.

Getting through the immigration line was fast and easy at Shannon. Since the airport is very small, everything is accessible and easy to maneuver. We found the ATM which only gave out 150 Euros at a time. But there are two machines which worked out okay. A money exchange booth is also present, for a fee, course. Once we had some Euros, we headed outside, breathed the fresh air, and boarded a bus for Galway. We discovered immediately that we enjoy bus rides through the gorgeous countryside. No stress of finding out way or inability to gaze out the window. We loved driving through quaint, often colorful and always tidy villages and seeing the landscapes which are simply picture postcards everywhere you look.

Arriving in Galway, we walked two blocks up to Eyre (pronounced “air”) Square, a park surrounded by lots of small shops. A walk around found the Meteor shop where we met Dave, a delightful young man who gave us an introduction to the Irish warmth and friendliness we encountered numerous times. Dave worked very hard to fix up our phone and with 10 Euros the Blackberry was up and running at 35 cents per local call minute and 15 cents for international. Cheaper to call across the ocean. Isn’t that weirdly interesting?

Off we went, only a few blocks walk, to meet Galway Tours for an afternoon exploring the Cliffs of Moher and a number of antiquities and more stunning scenery. Among other things, we saw Dunguire Castle, the Poulnabrone Dolmen, an ancient tomb. That's it in the photo. It dates back several thousand years before Christ.  
We also visited the Burren, a strange, barren landscape of limestone that didn’t do much for me. The air was chilly to us and we were wishing for more clothes!

In mid-afternoon, the bus stopped in Doolin, a small village with a pub and a few stores. Not hungry, we walked around the village and explored a bit. The weather was quite cold here and windy but sunny. Sundy and I were tired but pushing through, loving every minute, and so glad to be on a bus instead of driving!

We reached the Cliffs of Moher and walked up a long flight of stairs to the top of a rise where we could look down at the sea and the cliffs. Magnificent, stunning, breathtaking! Down below we could see seabirds flying above the waves crashing against the cliffs. They looked as small as butterflies. The wind was the strongest we encountered on our trip, so strong that it pushed at our backs and made us have to hold on to keep from falling. And did I mention it was cold?! No rain, though, for which we were grateful.

 Our tour price included the visitor’s center but if it hadn’t we would not have paid to go in. It’s just photos and videos of the more spectacular outside! A waste of money. There is also a climbing tower for another charge but the steps are steep and narrow. I guess the biggest disappointment is the way the area has become commercial, losing its wild beauty. But nonetheless, I am glad I saw this magnificent handiwork of God.

After the tour, Galway Tours trusty (and extremely knowledgable) driver, Ken, dropped us at our bed and breakfast, Coolin House in Salthill. Here we met Marion who showed us to very clean, very small room with a larger bathroom. It was nicely adequate but not fancy. No washcloths or toiletries but we weren’t expecting either.

After a few moments of unwinding, we were off to find food. Now, remember, we have not slept in a very long time and we are growing weary, but still pressing on. The Salthill area was bare of pubs and easy eating places—no fast food joints here or anywhere in Ireland that we visited. Thank goodness. As we walked, searching, we met a pair of Irish girls who directed us to Lohan’s Pub—3-4 minute’s walk, they said. We learned that an Irish minute is much longer than an American one but finally found Lohan’s after about 20 minutes and had a nice bowl of hot soup to warm our chilled Okie blood. Refreshed, we walked along the promenade beside the silvery waters of Galway Bay before heading back to the bed and breakfast where we collapsed for the night.

Day one in Ireland was fabulous!