The Glen of the Two Lakes and the Two Thousand Raindrops

Day 20, Sunday, 30 September 2012

Today we were going to make up for getting a little lost on the way to Clonmacnoise, so we picked up Gerry at ten o’clock with a plan to drive down into the Wicklow Mountains to see another world-famous monastic settlement: Glendalough. (Pronounce this GLEN-da-lock.)

It wasn’t easy to find either. That is, the signs to get us off the highway were perfectly clear. But then we got out on those little two-lane roads, and it became a little … less clear.

The Wicklow Mountains are beautiful and old, though. Gorgeous country. You’ll recall we could see them in the distance from the Portmarnock Hotel north of Dublin. Remember the Great Sugar Loaf? We drove right around the base of it. Fantastic stuff. It’s good to get out and drive around in the country like this. I always imagine myself living in … that house. Or maybe … that one.

I may get lost easily, but I do have a pretty good memory for what things looked like the last time I was here (partly because I take a lot of photos). And the approach to Glendalough (once we’d found our way there) was completely changed. I mean, changed like the Cliffs of Moher was changed: it was Disneyland Glendalough.

Standing at the entrance of the entrance office. The car park is somewhere off to the left, out of the photo. The sidewalk/path runs all along the outer edge of the lawn; you can see folks with umbrellas coming along it there in the center. (Margaret’s photo.)

Standing at the door of the site office. The car park is somewhere off to the left, out of the photo. The sidewalk/path runs all along the outer edge of the lawn; you can see folks with umbrellas coming along it there in the center. You can click on the photo and click again to zoom in if you really want to see that lady in the blue jacket. (Margaret’s photo.)

There was a huge hotel, for God’s sake, that apparently has been there all along (though it has recently been enlarged) but which is now a main feature, since the entrance has been changed. You cannot miss it; the parking lot is huge.

Surely St. Kevin is rolling over in his grave.

So I was discombobulated. What I thought of as the “front” of the site (you know, like where the sanctuary gate—the entrance—is) is not the front anymore. And what I thought of as the back of the site—back where St. Kevin’s Kitchen is—is now what you see first. Have you been to Glendalough before this change? Does the fact that they removed that gorgeous old squeaky kissing gate distress you as much as it distresses me?

As you might have guessed by now, I was cranky when I got out of the car. Also: it had begun to rain. And not a light rain through which you might cheerfully press on. Although we did. 🙂

If I’d calmed down (and hadn’t been cold and wet) I might have appreciated this scenic approach :) but I wanted to get up to the ruins. (Margaret’s photo.)

If I’d calmed down (and hadn’t been cold and wet) I might have appreciated this scenic approach 🙂 but I wanted to get up to the ruins. (Margaret’s photo.)

At last, a glimpse of what we’ve come to see, still quite a way off. That’s St. Kevin’s Kitchen (Church) on the left (near the pine tree) and the splendid round tower right in the center. (Margaret’s photo.)

At last, a glimpse of what we’ve come to see, still quite a way off. That’s St. Kevin’s Kitchen (Church) on the left (near the pine tree) and the splendid round tower right in the center. (Margaret’s photo.)

Getting closer!

Getting closer!

There: the backside of St. Kevin’s church.

There: the backside of St. Kevin’s church.

I don’t know why they call it Kevin’s Kitchen, honestly, and I can’t seem to track it down. There’s no evidence it was used as one. Perhaps it’s because the little squat bell tower looks like a chimney.

Glendalough was founded by Kevin, who was born in 498, a descendant of the royal house of Leinster, the province in which Glendalough is located. Kevin rejected his life of privilege, choosing instead to live as a hermit in a cave here; later he founded a monastery on the site in the sixth century. The settlement was sacked repeatedly by the Vikings, yet it flourished for more than six hundred years. The age of the buildings still extant is uncertain, but most date from the eighth to twelfth centuries.

The round tower at Glendalough is one of the finest of its kind in the country. Landmarks for approaching visitors, round towers were, of course, bell-towers, but they were also places of refuge during an attack: the door was always on the second story, entered by a rope ladder which could be pulled up after the last monk was safely inside. The round tower at Glendalough is still all in one piece (the conical roof was rebuilt in 1876 using the original stones) at 110 feet high.

The new approach to the Glendalough monastic site. Now we’re getting close; that’s St. Kevin’s Kitchen (Church).

The new approach to the Glendalough monastic site. Now we’re getting close; that’s St. Kevin’s Kitchen (Church).

A closer look at the round tower.

A closer look at the round tower.

At last, we cross the brook, and there it all is.

At last, we cross the brook, and there it all is. We’re standing about where the kissing gate used to be.

Have you seen enough of this little building yet? It’s all I’ve got, honestly. (Margaret’s photo.)

Have you seen enough of this little building yet? It’s about all I’ve got, honestly. (Margaret’s photo.)

It is, as you can see, quite ancient. (You can also see raindrops on the lens.)

It is, as you can see, quite ancient. (You can also see raindrops on the lens.)

They have Disney-fied the the perimeter, but inside it’s still quite wild and old. (Margaret’s photo.)

They have Disney-fied the the perimeter, but inside it’s still quite wild and old. (Margaret’s photo.)

Unfortunately, by this time it was pouring down rain and the wind was gusting, and though we tried, we just had to give it up: none of us wanted to walk around in the rain.

A last look; the rain is really coming down.

A last look; the rain is really coming down.

So we began to retrace our steps. We stopped in Roundwood (pop. 833), at the Roundwood Inn, right on the R755, for Sunday dinner. The Lonely Planet says the inn is in a seventeenth-century German house; Google+ says it’s been in business for more than twenty-five years. What I can tell you is they had a nice turf fire burning, and we snuggled up to it with a pot of tea while we looked at the menu.

It was pub grub, but it was hot and good. I had the roast chicken and chips. (Margaret’s photo.)

It was pub grub, but it was hot and good. I had the roast chicken and chips. (Margaret’s photo.)

Outside we were struck by the stunning window baskets with petunias and fuchsias and that little blue flower. (Margaret’s photo.)

Outside we were struck by the stunning window baskets with petunias and fuchsias and that little blue flower. (Margaret’s photo.)

Every window had a different selection, and the fuchsias were just gorgeous. This one is a double. (Margaret’s photo.)

Every window had a different selection, and the fuchsias were just gorgeous. This one is a double. (Margaret’s photo.)

It was quite a treat for the eyes. (Margaret’s photo.)

It was quite a treat for the eyes. (Margaret’s photo.)

After we left Roundwood we drove back toward the Avoca Handweavers shop in Bray, just off the N11. It’s quite a place—as the name suggests, they sell beautiful woolen sweaters, scarves, throws, and such—but it’s become quite touristy and pricey. But you can get wool goods there you can get nowhere else. We were glad we stopped, as this is the main location.

Back in Dublin we visited with Bridie for awhile, uploaded our photos, and I finished and emailed those editorial notes I’d been working on. By then it was getting late-ish, so Margaret and I drove back to Clontarf and our B&B. Later we had an evening snack of Cashel Blue (Irish farmhouse cheese: a “subtle creamy blue hand made in Tipperary”) spread on butter crackers, accompanied by fresh pears at the perfect ripeness, followed by a second course of homemade banana bread (brought from the B&B in Lahinch) accompanied by Butler’s dark chocolate with almonds. And it was very, very good.

Today’s Image

St Kevin chose Glendalough (“Glen of the Two Lakes) for his hermitage because it was remote and wild and beautiful. It still is. Even in the rain.

Glendalough in the rain, the last day of September 2012.

Glendalough in the rain, the last day of September 2012.

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Bright Lights, Big City

Day 19, Saturday, 29 September 12

Anyone who knows me will tell you I can get turned around (that’s Southern for lost) quicker than anyone. I can get lost in my own town, for heavens’ sake. So when Gerry helped us get settled at our B&B in Clontarf yesterday, I paid special attention to how to get from his place to ours, the GPS having returned to the States this very morning with Jill and Alli. I was about to be on my own. (Thank goodness I also had a navigator with me! She was very good with detail.)

Clontarf used to be an isolated, sleepy little fishing village. It’s grown to be a nice, upscale Dublin suburb but it is still quiet and has that village atmosphere. We were just about four blocks from the heart of Clontarf, where there is a cluster of restaurants, pubs, and shops (including a bookmaker, patisserie, dress shop, grocery, and more)—at the corner of Vernon Avenue and Clontarf Road, which runs along the sea. The Ferryview is on the Clontarf Road.

We had breakfast in the dining room (with the irrepressible Dominic), then drove in to Gerry’s place, where we parked for the day. Then we caught a cab the rest of the way into the city.

The cab driver was an old man (he told us he was sixty-eight, but he looked older; looked worn out, honestly) who spoke slowly, as if, perhaps, he’d had a stroke. But his mind wasn’t slow at all. The conversation was lively, and we learned he is planning to emigrate to Melbourne, Australia, next year (well, this year, as I write) to live out his days with one of his four sons (he also has a daughter). All of his children except this one son (who has four children of his own) live in Ireland, and the old man himself has lived in Dublin his whole life. I’m thinking this will be a huge adjustment for him at his age, to leave everything he knows (including lifelong friends) and go to a different country. I hope he is happy. I hope they take good care of him, this son and his family.

Our destination was Francis Street, and Dublin’s antiques district; the old man knew right where to take us. Back when the trip was still a gleam in our eyes, Margaret, a retired antiques dealer herself, had done her research and we’d put this stop on the itinerary. It’s nice that so many of the antiques dealers are on this one street—really, in this two or so blocks—because we simply browsed back and forth across the narrow street (since it was headed downhill).

And boy, was I impressed. Margaret knows her stuff. (Me, I’m a hick. I know a little about Depression glass, and that’s the extent of what I know about old things.) I had rarely seen her in action—just knowing what she was looking at and articulating it to me, the interested bystander, in a concise way, as well as holding her own in conversations with experienced dealers who were, to a man, charmed by her. But then, she is charming. 🙂

Our first stop was O’Sullivan Antiques, with a an articulate, nice-looking young man (an architect by trade) behind the desk. We talked a lot. The whole shop is Georgian antiques; “and nothing after 1830,” the young man said. “Except,” Margaret said, “that one piece.” She pointed, with a twinkle in her eye, to a little framed piece on the wall that was a portrait of Queen Victoria as a very young woman. Who would even know to recognize Vicky as a teenager? Not me. The guy was really impressed. Turns out the portrait belongs to the owner and is not for sale. (The website, by the way, advertises items after the Georgian period, but Margaret confirmed the shop on that day was nothing but Georgian antiques.)

We went to many shops, specializing in a variety of things (some more like junk shops! Ha!). One specialized in mid-century modern and I loved everything in it, from a large wall tapestry to a pair of gorgeous cobalt blue table lamps with brick-red shades. This guy, the owner, was so, so Dublin: a generous head of silver hair, casual but cosmopolitan. He also had a twelve-panel Coromandel screen in the shop; while he was on the phone, Margaret was pointing out the really nice features of it to me. (It dominated the tiny space.) Like, you rarely see them intact, all twelve panels; six is more common (they get taken apart for one reason or another). The owner struck up a conversation with us when he got off the phone. Margaret was struck by how chatty everyone was, up and down the street.

At the bottom of the hill we turned left and walked back up Patrick Street to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s the largest church in Ireland, and quite the tourist attraction, as it was built beside a sacred well where St. Patrick is said to have baptized his converts around 450 AD (the building here now was built in 1254–1270). Imagine: a place of pilgrimage since 450. Nonetheless, don’t assume this is a Catholic church, because it is not (England’s Elizabeth I ordered it converted in 1592, around the same time she had Trinity College built).

Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 2012.

Inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 2012.

Great floor, right? Margaret says it’s Victorian. She is a very useful person to have along on a trip like this—she notices things. (Margaret’s photo.)

Great floor, right? Margaret says it’s Victorian. She is a very useful person to have along on a trip like this—she notices things. (Margaret’s photo.)

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 2012. What you see in the distance is, I believe, the Lady Chapel. (Margaret’s photo.)

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 2012. What you see in the distance is, I believe, the Lady Chapel. (Margaret’s photo.)

Looking at the altar at St. Patrick’s, and beyond it (under the arch), the Lady Chapel. Note all the flags.

Looking at the altar at St. Patrick’s, and beyond it (under the arch), the Lady Chapel. Note all the flags. And don’t forget you can click on any photo to see it enlarged, then click again to zoom in. There’s lots of detail here.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s hard to convey the massiveness of it in a photograph.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s hard to convey the massiveness of it in a photograph.

Flags up closer. The cathedral guidebook says England’s “King George III founded the Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick in 1783. … Each knight had his banner, symbolic sword, helmet, and crest placed over his stall in the choir.” You can see some of the helmets in the lower part of the photo.

Flags up closer. The cathedral guidebook says England’s “King George III founded the Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick in 1783. … Each knight had his banner, symbolic sword, helmet, and crest placed over his stall in the choir.” You can see some of the helmets in the lower part of the photo.

Lots of statuary here at St. Patrick’s. I think this is the south wall.

Lots of statuary here at St. Patrick’s. I think this is the south wall.

I just thought this was pretty. :)

I just thought this was pretty. 🙂

Again, you have to look up or you’ll miss some interesting details. Like disembodied heads at the corner of every arch. I liked the shamrocks on this capital.

Again, you have to look up or you’ll miss some interesting details. Like disembodied heads at the corner of every arch. I liked the shamrocks on this capital.

Back outside, we walked up the street into the park beside the church.

This is clearly art, just outside the gate to St. Patrick’s Park. We didn’t find any plaques, so I can’t tell you more right now. Maybe later. They’re cool, though.

This is clearly art, just outside the gate to St. Patrick’s Park. We didn’t find any plaques, so I can’t tell you more right now. Maybe later. They’re cool, though.

Beautiful late September day! The cathedral is on the right here.

Beautiful late September day! The cathedral is on the right here.

I’m guessing this is the north transept. You can see, a little, how huge this thing is.

I’m guessing this is the north transept. You can see, a little, how huge this thing is.

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Again, the church is so large—and the sun was at such an angle—it was impossible to photograph the whole building while standing in the shadow of the building. So I found some shade to stand in farther back. I kinda like it. 🙂

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Minot’s Tower, St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

From St. Patrick’s we walked up Patrick Street, working our way toward Christ Church Cathedral. Along the way we stopped in a couple little arts shops (modern young Irish artists) and a place that specialized in old b/w prints (antiques) beautifully framed in a modern style. (It was a great temptation. Really lovely prints!) This was a fun walk. Everywhere we went, the whole morning, every shop we stopped in, people heard our accents (well, I suspect we looked pretty American too) and wanted to talk, wanted to know where we were from, and so on.

Christ Church Cathedral sits at a major intersection (and about two blocks from the River Liffey); the route north out of the city center to Gerry’s place passes between Christ Church and its Synod Hall (seen below). The pedestrian bridge between the two was built during the cathedral’s restoration in the 1870s. Now the Synod Hall houses the Dublinia museum (which would be great for kids—but we had a quick look and decided to decline).

We all know of landmarks or sights in our hometowns that become icons for us. This is one of Gerry’s iconic images of Dublin (it’s associated, also, with “almost home.”) :) That’s Christ Church on the right. On the left is the Synod Hall (now the Dublinia museum).

We all know of landmarks or sights in our hometowns that become icons for us. This is one of Gerry’s iconic images of Dublin (it’s associated, also, with “almost home.”) 🙂 That’s Christ Church on the right. On the left is the Synod Hall (now the Dublinia museum).

Here’s a better look at it.

Here’s a better look at it.

Almost impossible to get a good shot of the cathedral; it’s a very busy corner.

Almost impossible to get a good shot of the cathedral; it’s a very busy corner.

So we crossed the busy street.

This fellow was on the low wall surrounding the cathedral, on the very busy Lord Edward Street, not concerned about the roar of the traffic (or the many tourists). I think it’s a first-year (that is, juvenile) herring gull.

This fellow was on the low wall surrounding the cathedral, on the very busy Lord Edward Street, not concerned about the roar of the traffic (or the many tourists). I think it’s a first-year (that is, juvenile) herring gull.

There were a lot of tourists milling around outside, but it wasn’t immediately evident how to get inside. So we walked all the way around the building. It’s quite large.

This is more interesting. The south transept of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

This is more interesting. The south transept of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

The Romanesque doorway leading to the south transept, a fine example of twelfth-century Irish stonework. (Margaret’s photo.)

The Romanesque doorway leading to the south transept, a fine example of twelfth-century Irish stonework. (Margaret’s photo.)

There’s a narrow alley on the far side (north). This little exhibits is embedded in the cobblestones. No plaque. Interesting, old … important enough to preserve (sort of!) but maybe not historically important. (Margaret’s photo.)

There’s a narrow alley on the far side (north). This little exhibits is embedded in the cobblestones. No plaque. Interesting, old … important enough to preserve (sort of!) but maybe not historically important. (Margaret’s photo.)

The alley (hidden on the far left here) spit us back out on Winetavern Street, where we had a fine view of the front of the church, although I’m not sure these doors are used any more. (Note the pedestrian bridge on the right.)

The alley (hidden on the far left here) spit us back out on Winetavern Street, where we had a fine view of the front of the church, although I’m not sure these doors are used any more. (Note the pedestrian bridge on the right.)

The Christ Church we see today replaced a wooden church that had been built by the Vikings in 1038; this massive stone building was commissioned by Strongbow—Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, notable for his leading role in the Norman invasion of Ireland (1169)—in 1172. Strongbow is actually buried in the cathedral. Like St. Patrick’s, Christ Church passed to the Protestant Church of Ireland during the Reformation.

We did finally figure out how to get inside. 🙂 The nave has many fine gothic arches; these walls are from the original thirteenth-century structure (the north side leans out by as much as a foot and a half due to settling). By the nineteenth century the cathedral was in a pretty bad state, and was completely remodeled in the 1870s. The floor is mostly Victorian tile but at least one of the chapels near the altar still retains the medieval floor. (Neither of us took a photo but here’s one!)

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, 2012. Not as much light here as at St. Patrick’s.

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, 2012. Not as much light here as at St. Patrick’s.

Lovely capitals from that Victorian-era restoration.

Lovely capitals from that Victorian-era restoration.

There are a few monuments in Christ Church too. This one is for Robert FitzGerald, the 19th Earl of Kildare, who died at age 68 and was apparently outlived by his wife. One wonders how idealized these stone portraits are. The man’s bio is presented on etched stone underneath this black marble pedestal. (Margaret’s photo.)

There are a few monuments in Christ Church too. This one is for Robert FitzGerald, the 19th Earl of Kildare, who died at age 68 and was apparently outlived by his wife. One wonders how idealized these stone portraits are. The man’s bio is presented on etched stone underneath this black marble pedestal. (Margaret’s photo.)

Interestingly, the crypt is open to the public (there’s even a small café and gift shop down there) and we did go down; it’s the most that’s left of the medieval church. But it’s a bit creepy, as you might imagine, and we didn’t linger. Not even at the gift shop—a first for us. The air was heavy and humid and … just unpleasant. Maybe I am reading too much into it. (Clearly I am: I’ve just read they offer the crypt for wedding receptions and parties. No, thank you!)

The crypt at Christ Church. I believe these are statues of Charles I and Charles II, the oldest known secular carvings in Ireland. Not original to the church, obviously. Interesting how things end up one place or another. These originally stood at Dublin’s medieval city hall, which was demolished in 1806. (Margaret’s photo.)

The crypt at Christ Church. I believe these are statues of Charles I and Charles II, the oldest known secular carvings in Ireland. Not original to the church, obviously. Interesting how things end up one place or another. These originally stood at Dublin’s medieval city hall, which was demolished in 1806. (Margaret’s photo.)

By this point we were exhausted and ready for lunch, the time for that meal having come and gone. We caught a cab and met Gerry at the Goblet, a pub in his neighborhood, for some chow.

It’s a comfortable place, the Goblet. We both put our feet up.

It’s a comfortable place, the Goblet. We both put our feet up.

After that I took Margaret back to the B&B, as she’d decided she wasn’t up to meeting a bunch of the Hampsons back at the Goblet for drinks that evening. So I drove back to Gerry’s and worked a little before we went down to the pub. Let’s see … Clare, Orla, and their mam, Gwen, were there, as were Eoin and Tracy and Neil and Maureen. I’m so blessed to call them family! I got home close to midnight, ducked into the lounge downstairs (the only room in the inn that had wi-fi), and updated Facebook before bed.

Today’s Image

As our cab inched past the Hapenny Bridge in midmorning traffic, a gull alighted on one of the ornaments. It settled its wings repeatedly until they were just right, folded them tight, and then became a bird statue.

A Day of Rest (Work) and a Travel Day

Day 17, Thursday, 27 September 12

As usual we all met in the dining room for breakfast. We were in the capable hands of Marie—Edel’s friend who also works for her—who treated us to homemade banana bread, in addition to all the regular breakfast goodies.

Edel and her daughter, Emerald, had left before any of us were up that morning, to go to the National Ploughing Championships in County Wexford. No, I’m serious. This falls into the Only-in-Ireland category, I think (although it’s really more like a festival). The Irish Times was predicting more than 180,000 in attendance over the three-day event.

Edel has an interesting story (don’t we all?). She’s a nurse, and spent some time employed at a hospital in Arkansas, where she met the man who would be Emerald’s father. He is of Vietnamese descent, and Emerald was born with dual citizenship (Irish, U.S.). Edel later returned home to Lahinch, bought the B&B, and continues to work as a nurse. Emerald’s dad has visited Ireland four times to see her; she is sixteen, a music student, and, apparently, a fan of the National Ploughing Championships.

Jill and Alli had volunteered to walk Draco, the house dog (named by Emerald!), so shortly after breakfast, off they went.

Off they go! See the town on the other side of the bay? Liscannor. They ended up walking all the way over there.

Off they go! See the town on the other side of the bay? Liscannor. They ended up walking halfway  there.

They did stop to wave. (Crazy situation with all the wires, no?)

They did stop to wave. (Crazy situation with all the wires, no?)

Alli and Draco. (Jill took this photo.)

Alli and Draco. (Jill took this photo.)

Tide was on its way out, and it looks like the sun was trying to come out too. (Jill’s photo.)

Tide was on its way out, and the sun was trying to come out too. (Jill’s photo.)

I’m not sure where they were at this point, but this is a nice photo! (Jill’s photo.)

I’m not sure where they were at this point, but this is a nice shot! (Jill’s photo.)

They stopped here, near the 12th and 13th holes of the Old Course at the Lahinch Golf Club. That’s the Inagh River, and the bridge supports the R478 (the route to the Cliffs of Moher). (Jill’s photo.)

They stopped here, near the 12th and 13th holes of the Old Course at the Lahinch Golf Club. That’s the Inagh River, and the bridge supports the R478 (the route to the Cliffs of Moher). (Jill’s photo.)

In the meantime, I had declared this a day of rest. Frankly, I was exhausted, between doing the driving and just trying to keep up (I was still taking antibiotics for the pneumonia)—and I was desperate to finish the editorial notes that were due on 30 September. So while Jill and Alli went off for that long walk (several hours), Margaret and I went downtown. I settled in at Kenny’s Bar, where I’d have wi-fi, and Margaret shopped around a little. Later she checked in to Facebook while I wandered around and shopped a little.

One of my favorite places in Lahinch is the Celtic T-Shirt Shop. It’s classic, y’all: tiny and stuffed to the rafters with the most beautiful T-shirts (and tank tops and dresses too)—and one of the screen printers will probably be working as you’re shopping. Most importantly, the designs are unique and gorgeous and sold nowhere else. You can buy a T-shirt with Ireland printed on it anywhere, even in the States. These are the real deal. (I did some Christmas shopping.)

The Celtic T-Shirt Shop, Lahinch, 2012. (Margaret’s photo.)

The Celtic T-Shirt Shop, Lahinch, 2012. (Margaret’s photo.)

It’s not exactly a boardwalk any more, but there are several shops along the ocean in Lahinch. The Celtic T-Shirt Shop is just out of the shot on the left. (Jill’s photo.)

It’s not exactly a boardwalk any more, but there are several shops along the ocean in Lahinch. The Celtic T-Shirt Shop is just out of the shot on the left. (Jill’s photo.)

Lahinch is a popular surf spot. If you look closely you can see Jill and Alli near the top of the photo; they’re the ones with the dog.

Lahinch is a popular surf spot. If you look closely you can see Jill and Alli near the top of the photo; they’re the ones with the dog.

I also stopped in at the studio of Phillip Morrison and had a lovely chat with him. Love his work! I know it’s not for everyone but I was quite taken with his cityscapes. One of these days, perhaps …

It was very cozy in the bar, sitting at the back near the stage so I could plug in. I went through a couple pots of tea. We had soup (mine was roasted carrot) and a shared garlic cheese pizza for lunch. And I got a lot done!

We were anticipating Eoin and Tracy for dinner. Yes, we hadn’t gotten to visit much—what with the wedding and all—so after they returned from their honeymoon, Eoin insisted on driving down from Dublin—about a three-hour drive. They arrived in Lahinch around 5:30.

It was Arthur’s Day, and we got a free pint each, which is always a plus. (Arthur’s Day was started by the Guinness Company in 2009 to celebrate 250 years of the company’s history. It is controversial in some circles—it’s a marketing ploy, after all—but I assure you, in a snug pub in the late afternoon, it’s all about the black stuff.) We ate dinner and drank and visited—and a good time was had by all!

Tracy, Eoin, and Alli at Kenny’s Bar in Lahinch. (Jill’s photo.)

Tracy, Eoin, and Alli at Kenny’s Bar in Lahinch. (Jill’s photo.)

Today’s Image

No matter if the tide was low or high, up near the sea wall there was always an assortment of birds rooting furiously, quickly, in the piles of seaweed. No arguments among them, but every bird (of all sizes) intent upon his own little patch.

There’s a meal to be had here!

There’s a meal to be had here!

There’s a meal to be had here!

Herring gull: most common in Ireland.

Day 18, Friday, 28 September 12

One thing decided at the pub last night was that Jill and Alli would ride back to Dublin with Eoin and Tracy, so by ten o’clock, Margaret and I were packed and loaded and in the car headed back to Dublin with a few slices of Marie’s wonderful banana bread to sustain us.

It was a gorgeous, rainbowed day! Jill and Alli had a slightly less electric cable–obstructed view from their room. (Jill's photo.)

It was a gorgeous, rainbowed day! Jill and Alli had a slightly less electric cable–obstructed view from their room. (Jill’s photo.)

We thought we’d stop at Clonmacnoise on the way back, but when all was said and done, we missed a turnoff, and with the rain we thought we’d push on to Dublin and go to Glendalough later.

So we checked in at the Ferryview Guest House in Clontarf (pop. 31,063—but who’s counting? It’s Greater Dublin, for all intents and purposes), which is an upscale community right on the sea just north of Dublin Port.

You can’t tell from this photo but the Ferryview sits right on the Clontarf Road and overlooks Dublin Port. (Margaret's photo.)

You can’t tell from this photo but the Ferryview sits right on the Clontarf Road and overlooks Dublin Port. (Margaret’s photo.)

We met Jill and Alli at Gerry’s, said our good-byes (they were flying out early the next morning) and then Gerry, Margaret, and I went out to dinner with Neil and Maureen. I think I am feeling better—although it will turn out that I still have no energy or stamina—and am looking forward to the next five days in Dublin.

Today’s Image

We pulled up to the Ferryview after dark and met Dominic, the “night porter.” He had a very specific idea of where we would park (parking is always an issue in Ireland), and by the time I’d managed to get out of the car—which involved, no joke, my falling into a hedge—I was well and truly annoyed with Dominic. He had an unusual way of speaking; he seemed like he was not quite there … but he was. Didn’t miss a trick, in fact. On the other hand, he could be annoying; he circulated in the dining room at breakfast and chatted up everyone, even when they didn’t really feel like chatting or were put off by his strange manner. As the days wore on, however, I began to appreciate Dominic’s usefulness, and I was disappointed the day I learned he’d gone home for the season.

All Windy on the Western Front

Day 16 / Wednesday, 26 September 2012

My body clock goes off very early, and I wish I knew how to reset it. At home I tell myself it’s because the felines wake me up … but the truth is, even with a bed all to myself, I am awake at 5:30 almost every day.

Not that I mind. I get to see the sunrise most days. This is the view from our window at Craglea Lodge in Lahinch. All three homes on the left side (one you can’t see) belong to Kennys.

Not that I mind. I get to see the sunrise most days. This is the view from our window at Craglea Lodge in Lahinch. All three homes on the left side (one you can’t see) belong to Kennys.

Nine years ago September was warm and pleasant, but these last few days in the 2012 September were windy and cold. (It was, in fact, far too windy for an Aran Islands trip—but we’d known that was a strong possibility.) Of course, we didn’t stay in Lahinch nine years ago. No, Gerry and I came here in 2006 … in February. And February on the western shore of Ireland, my friends, is a chilly proposition.

Nonetheless, I fell in love with this town. It’s small (pop. 600), and the folks are really friendly, particularly during the off season. During the on season, it’s a popular resort town with 1) a gorgeous beach on Liscannor Bay that’s perfect for surfing and 2) the world-famous Lahinch Golf Club. It’s much more crowded then, and I’m not sure I’d like it as much.

Lahinch beach at low tide. You can see Liscannor (pop. 71) across the bay.

Lahinch beach at low tide. You can see Liscannor (pop. 71) across the bay.

For comparison, here’s high tide.

For comparison, here’s high tide.

Edel told us last night she’d normally be closed by now, but when I’d contacted her about our visit, she’d decided it was worth staying open for two rooms for three nights. And then because she’d made the decision, she accepted a few other lodgers. We saw one group in the dining room the next morning. (Sometimes you really can spot Yanks a mile away: this group—two women and a man—were all wearing ball caps, all talking very loud.) They left this morning, though, and by evening we were the only ones in the house.

I’m glad Edel decided to keep Craglea Lodge open. It’s nice. And her help serves homemade scones warm out of the oven every morning. 🙂

After breakfast we headed out for the Cliffs of Moher because we’d been advised that in spite of the heavy cloud cover and fine mist, the strong gusts of wind would drive it all away and visibility would be fine. I’ve been to the cliffs three times now, although the first—in 2003—I didn’t see anything because the mist was so heavy. You really do have to be prepared with a flexible schedule (and that year we weren’t) to allow for the possibility of poor visibility. I’d been very disappointed and made certain to plan flexibility on this trip.

Things have changed a lot since that first misty visit. In 2003, we parked on the same side of the road as the cliffs and walked about fifty yards out to the edge. I mean, literally to the edge. There was a small shack that functioned as a gift shop.

The approach to the cliffs in 2003. A short railing was all that stood between visitors and the sea (once you’d turned right or left, the walk along the cliff was virtually unimpeded, except for the warning signs). That’s a busker playing a tin whistle, with the entrance to the gift shack just beyond him to the right.

The approach to the cliffs in 2003. A short railing was all that stood between visitors and the sea (once you’d turned right or left, the walk along the cliff was virtually unimpeded, except for the warning signs). That’s a busker playing a tin whistle, with the entrance to the gift shack just beyond him to the right.

This is what I saw in 2003. That is, not much.

This is what I saw in 2003. That is, not much. You can’t get close enough to see this slab now.

When we’d visited in 2006 (on a windy, sunny day), we’d seen the scale model for everything that was planned for the new, modern site; it was very ambitious. But that year everything was a bit of a mess—just missing the “Pardon our construction” signs.

Take this, for example: the trademark Cliffs of Moher view was obstructed by fencing in 2006.

Take this, for example: the trademark Cliffs of Moher view was obstructed by fencing in 2006.

At the same time, if you wanted to get to the edge and jump off … no problem. Look how short the barrier is. Not that I believe it’s the government’s responsibility to protect potential suicides from themselves. (Yes, I cut myself out of this photo; hate my hair color from that period.) 2006.

At the same time, if you wanted to get to the edge and jump off … no problem. Look how short the barrier is. Not that I believe it’s the government’s responsibility to protect potential suicides from themselves. (Yes, I cut myself out of this photo; hate my hair color from that period.) 2006.

Danger indeed! This is the sidewalk up to O’Brien’s Tower in 2006.

Danger indeed! This is the sidewalk up to O’Brien’s Tower in 2006.

 O’Brien’s Tower in 2006. It was closed to visitors that year, so no spectacular view from the top; all we could do was walk around it. They’ve stabilized it now.

O’Brien’s Tower in 2006. It was closed to visitors that year, so no spectacular view from the top; all we could do was walk around it. They’ve stabilized it now.

It was shocking (in a good way, I guess) to see the finished product. Now it’s like Disneyland: all bricked and curbed and neat and clean … and with a fake signpost for people to take pictures of.

Look, honey! The Cliffs of Moher—thataway! Thank goodness they’ve got this sign—we’d never have found them!

Look, honey! The Cliffs of Moher—thataway! Thank goodness they’ve got this sign—we’d never have found them!

Don’t get me started on this atrocity. I’m not certain that’s even wood. (Jill’s camera.)

Don’t get me started on this atrocity. I’m not certain that’s even wood. (Jill’s camera.)

That said, there are many nice things about the site. (Although, interestingly, none of us took a photo of the setup on the way in.) The new visitors centre is actually embedded in the hillside (which is a great, green choice), as are several little craft shops that line the walkway. And the shop is quite large, unlike the tiny shack from 2003.

This photo is actually taken from atop the visitors centre, looking back the way we came in. The tour buses are parked where everyone parked nine-plus years ago. The car park is now across the highway in the far distance. The cliffs themselves are just out of the fram to the right; the craft shops are just out of the frame to the left. The entrance to the visitors centre is on the lower left, where the lady in the red coat and the big purse is about to go.

This photo is actually taken from atop the visitors centre, looking back the way we came in. The tour buses are parked where everyone parked nine-plus years ago. The car park is now across the highway in the far, far distance. The cliffs themselves are just out of the frame to the right; the craft shops are just out of the frame to the left. The entrance to the visitors centre is on the lower left, where the lady in the red coat carrying the big purse is about to go.

See? Here they are, just out of the frame to the right, the Cliffs of Moher. :) This concrete “roof” is terraced, like an amphitheater. (Margaret’s photo.)

See? Here they are, “just out of the frame to the right,” the Cliffs of Moher. 🙂 This concrete “roof” is terraced, like an amphitheater. (Margaret’s photo.)

The Cliffs of Moher, September 2012. (Pronounce it like “mower.”)

The Cliffs of Moher, September 2012. (Pronounce it like “mower.”)

It’s a view I can’t get enough of, frankly. (Margaret’s photo.)

It’s a view I can’t get enough of, frankly. (Margaret’s photo.)

There are paths along the top of the cliffs; you can walk all the way out there to Hag’s Head, which has a Napoleonic-era watchtower; you can see it here in this zoom photo. I think it’s a couple miles in that direction (south).

There are paths along the top of the cliffs; you can walk all the way out there to Hag’s Head, which has a Napoleonic-era watchtower; you can see it here in this zoom photo. I think it’s a couple miles in that direction (south).

I’m on the terraced roof. You can see how much taller the barrier is now.

I’m on the terraced roof. You can see how much taller the barrier is now.

Jill and Alli took off right away, and walked both north and south along the tops of the cliffs. I couldn’t keep up with that ambitious walk with my pneumonia-lung.

The stairway up to O’Brien’s Tower (on the left in the distance).

The stairway up to O’Brien’s Tower (on the left in the distance).

Gorgeous day, though! (Margaret’s photo.)

Gorgeous day, though! (Margaret’s photo.)

The observation tower—O’Brien’s Tower—was built in 1835 by Sir Cornelius O’Brien for no other reason than to view the cliffs to the south. (Some say he built it to impress women he was courting!)

Taken on the walk up to O’Brien’s Tower; note the stairs on the right. (Jill’s photo.)

Taken on the walk up to O’Brien’s Tower; note the stairs on the right. (Jill’s photo.)

Looking north from O’Brien’s Tower. (Jill’s photo.)

Looking north from O’Brien’s Tower. (Jill’s photo.)

Eventually we all ended up back at the visitors centre, which had a large gift shop, some exhibits, and a really nice café upstairs with fantastic views of the cliffs.

The café at the Cliffs of Moher. We lingered here for awhile before getting back in the car.

The café at the Cliffs of Moher. We lingered here for awhile before getting back in the car.

There is so, so much to see in this small area, much of it in what’s called the Burren—a karst limestone region that seems, at first, quite bleak, but which has a beauty all its own. I’ve been told botanists come from all over the world to study what grows there among the rocks (arctic, Mediterranean, and alpine plants). And it is rich with history too. There are more than ninety megalithic tombs (including Poulnabrone), several ring forts (Cahercommaun and Caherconnell, to name two), ruins of medieval churches (Carron, Oughtmama, Corcomroe Abbey, Dysert O’Dea, and others), caves, cathdrals, abandoned castles … You could spend days seeing it all. (And I have. If you looked at the link for Carron Church, you’ll see a photo of a dog; I met her, too, on a rainy day in 2006.)

But we only had hours, not days, so first we went to the cathedral in Kilfenora (pop. 169)—St. Fachtnan’s. Built around 1189 on the site of Fachtnan’s original monastery, this small church, by a quirk of language, actually belongs to the pope. (Yes, that pope. He’s the bishop here. Don’t ask me to explain.) This would be my third visit.

Interestingly, because it was my third visit, I didn’t take as many photos as I have in years past, although some are very different. This one, for example, which is the backside of the church. Some gravestones can be seen through the open gate in the wall that surrounds the churchyard.

Interestingly, because it was my third visit, I didn’t take as many photos as I have in years past, although some are very different. This one, for example, which is the backside of the church. Some gravestones can be seen through the open gate in the wall that surrounds the churchyard.

This is the north side of the yard. You can see a relatively new grace on the far left; the one in the foreground is nineteenth-century. (Margaret’s photo.)

This is the north side of the yard. You can see a relatively new grave on the far left; the one in the foreground is nineteenth-century. (Margaret’s photo.)

What you see ahead is called the Lady Chapel.

What you see ahead is called the Lady Chapel.

Between our visit in September 2003 and our return in February 2006, the Lady Chapel, once roofless, was spruced up with a glass roof. Frankly, I love it. It makes no pretense about belonging; at the same time, it doesn’t distract from the old stone structure.

St. Fachnan’s main claim to fame is the marvelous high crosses associated with it—now just three are still extant. (You can read about all eight of them here; it’s very interesting.) So there are three: the Doorty, the North, and the West, or High cross. Now two of them have been moved inside—to the Lady Chapel, under that glass roof—from the churchyard, to preserve them from the elements. This has been going on all over Ireland, an attempt to keep the intricate carvings on these precious artifacts from eroding. Generally they are housed right on the premises, as here; sometimes they install … um … fakes, back out in the churchyard. 🙂 Not here, though. On my 2003 visit, I saw these crosses in the yard.

This is the Doorty cross; that’s a bishop, St. Fachtnan.

This is the Doorty cross; that’s a bishop, St. Fachtnan.

The reverse of the Doorty cross, showing Christ. (Margaret’s photo.)

The reverse of the Doorty cross, showing Christ. (Margaret’s photo.)

This is the front of the North cross. (Jill’s photo.)

This is the front of the North cross. (Jill’s photo.)

From the Lady Chapel we walked into the still-roofless chancel. It’s lovely. (This website has some interesting photos of Kilfenora’s little church, possibly taken in the 1980s. You will see that many artifacts have been removed—I’m not sure where they are now; perhaps locked up inside the part of the church that is still roofed and unavailable to us tourists? That’s a bit of a disappointment.)

This wall faces east, thus the rising sun would stream through these windows, in front of which would have been the altar.

This wall faces east, thus the rising sun would stream through these windows, in front of which would have been the altar.

This is, I believe, a sedile (a seat for the priest), although it could be a piscina (a shallow basin used to wash communion vessels). Note the bishop’s effigy above it. You can find references to this specific artifact being a sedile (or sedilia, since it would seat more than one) all over the web. But I’m not sure. It’s too small to be a tomb. Perhaps when I’m next there I can find someone who knows definitively. :) (Margaret’s photo.)

This is, I believe, a sedile (a seat for the priest), although it could be a piscina (a shallow basin used to wash communion vessels). Note the bishop’s effigy above it. It seems too small to be a tomb. Perhaps when I’m next there I can find someone who knows definitively. 🙂 (Margaret’s photo.)

The bishop in his mitre, right above the sedile. He looks rather determined, don’t you think?

The bishop in his mitre, right above the sedile. He looks rather determined, don’t you think?

There are still some interesting gravestones in the chancel. This one is in Latin, but has dates in the 1680s, ’90s, and 1700; apparently it represents several members of a family. Don’t forget you can click twice to zoom in on photos.

There are still some interesting gravestones in the chancel. This one is in Latin, but has dates in the 1680s, ’90s, and 1700; apparently it represents several members of a family. Don’t forget you can click twice to zoom in on photos.

Some praying clerics at the top of a column.

Some praying clerics at the top of a column.

The best, for me, is the West cross—and it’s not even on church grounds anymore. I did get a bit of a shock, though, when I saw the large open field of my memory had been sectioned into a half-dozen livestock pens.

Looking out the churchyard gate into the lane. Can you see the cross in the distance? It’s quite large. Let’s walk out there.

Looking out the churchyard gate into the lane. Can you see the cross in the distance? It’s quite large. Let’s walk out there.

Looking back the way we’ve just come.

Looking back the way we’ve just come.

It’s nearly fifteen feet tall. And isn’t it just gorgeous? This face depicts the risen Christ.

It’s nearly fifteen feet tall. And isn’t it just gorgeous? This face depicts the risen Christ.

We drove on into the bleak Burren for our final stop of the day: the Poulnabrone (pronounce this POWL-na-BRONE-ah) dolmen. It is arguably the most famous in Ireland, and its iconic silhouette can be seen everywhere. (Remember, we saw an inflatable of it in Dublin!) The site dates back to … well, who knows. I’ve seen dates ranging from 4200 BC 2500 BC. It was excavated twenty or so years ago, and contained the remains of both children and adults, most under the age of thirty. (It was a very hard life.) Still, we can only speculate about the actual purpose of this tomb.

First sight of Poulnabrone. It’s near the road but you have to walk in to see it.

First sight of Poulnabrone. It’s near the road but you have to walk in to see it.

This is the iconic silhouette. (Margaret’s photo.)

This is the iconic silhouette. (Margaret’s photo.)

A different view. (Jill’s photo.)

A different view. (Jill’s photo.)

You have to be really, really careful where you put your feet out here. It’s a twisted ankle waiting to happen!

You have to be really, really careful where you put your feet out here. It’s a twisted ankle waiting to happen!

The Burren. Designed by glaciers.

The Burren. Designed by glaciers.

This is typical Burren landscape.

This is typical Burren landscape.

It was really, really cold!

It was really, really cold!

When it’s that windy and cold, you get tired quick, so we headed back to Kenny’s in Lahinch for grub and the free wi-fi. Password is kennysbar.ie in case you’re ever there.

I had potato and leek soup and a salad. I loved the way the cook piled different interesting things in the salad with a dollop of homemade coleslaw and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Tasty. (Margaret’s photo.)

I had potato and leek soup and a salad. I loved the way the cook piled different interesting things in the salad with a dollop of homemade coleslaw and a dash of balsamic vinegar. Tasty. (Margaret’s photo.)

The cook heard there were Yanks about and came out and spoke with us. I should say, he had quite a conversation with the cool Californians in our group! Ha! Margaret and I might as well have not been there. :)

The cook heard there were Yanks about and came out and spoke with us. I should say, he had quite a conversation with the cool Californians in our group! Ha! Margaret and I might as well have not been there. 🙂

Our room at Edel’s was really nice, with a pair of barrel chairs snugged in under the eaves, which have a window looking out on the Kenny compound (grandparents and siblings all live on this little lane). From there I watched the sun go down.

Sundown at the Kenny compound in Lahinch. Again, that’s Liscannor you see across the bay.

Sundown at the Kenny compound in Lahinch. Again, that’s Liscannor you see across the bay.

Today’s Image

This morning I sat in this same chair while Margaret slept, watching the ravens on the peak of the roof of the house in front of the B&B (the small one on the right in the photo above). It was very windy, a steady wind, and the birds were all facing into the wind. One spread its wings and lifted its feet … and then it was flying in one place, just enough to rise up and drift backward onto the edge of the chimney, about two feet higher than he was. Smooth move.

Oh, What a Beautiful Morning, Oh, What a Beautiful Day …

Day 15 / Tuesday, 25 September 2012

It’s a gorgeous view from the dining room at Tower View B&B, don’t you think? If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it here: eat your breakfast! Even if you don’t normally eat a big breakfast at home, you should have something substantial (not least because it’s a part of your cost of lodging at a B&B) to get you going. Once you’re on the road you don’t really know when your opportunity for a coffee break … or lunch … will come. You might get peckish if you haven’t had a good breakfast.

Even on a rainy day! The dining room at Tower View.

Even on a rainy day! The dining room at Tower View.

After breakfast, we said good-bye to all the animals—especially Benji—and got right on the Slea Head drive; the B&B sits right at the “entrance” to this scenic route.

It was windy and cold, but we followed the road—it’s very narrow—along the coast. Our first stop was the lookout at the Dunbeg promontory fort, just a couple miles past Ventry (pop. 405) on the southern side of the peninsula.

Actually, you stop right here and walk across the road to the entrance to the fort. The Stonehouse Restaurant is exactly what it looks like—dry stone masonry.

Actually, you stop right here and walk across the road to the entrance to the fort. The Stonehouse Restaurant is exactly what it looks like—dry stone masonry.

Promontory forts were built by the ancients as a defense for both animals and humans (the tribal family). Animals were kept within outer walls but in times of attack the tribe could retreat to inner walls; with the sea behind them on three sides, there was less to defend against intruders. Parts of this particular structure date to the late Bronze Age (800 BC), though it also has a crumbled beehive hut, which means it was used as recently as the tenth century.

I am really fascinated by this sort of history, and in 2003 Gerry and I visited Dingle and took the walk down the hill to the fort. It’s an important site, well worth seeing (when you stoop under the lintel, you think, Boy, they were really short), but while the photos I have here don’t really show it, it’s a not-insignificant hill to climb back up when you’re (ahem) older and not a hiker. It would’ve taken pneumonia-me awhile to get back to the car.

That’s the fort down there behind the horse, right on the edge of the cliff.

That’s the fort down there behind the horse, right on the edge of the cliff.

This little donkey had plenty to say—and a lot of personality. Again, you can see the fort down there. Here’s another great view of that.

This little donkey had plenty to say—and a lot of personality. Again, you can see the fort down there. Here’s another great view of that.

On this trip, we were squeezing the drive onto an already full day, so we had to make choices, and here we chose not to walk down to the fort. We did commune with the donkey, however. 🙂

Here’s a zoom of the fort. And when my 2003 travelogue is finally posted, there will be other photos, closer up.

Here’s a zoom of the fort. And when my 2003 travelogue is finally posted, there will be other photos, closer up. Don’t forget, as well, you can click on any photo to enlarge and zoom.

This gives you a little idea of how steep the climb is. These are the fields to the west of the fort.

This gives you a little idea of how steep the climb is. These are the fields to the west of the fort.

The thing about the Slea Head drive is the views are so spectacular you want to stop every few feet. Fortunately, there are turnouts all along the road to facilitate this. (Also to facilitate two vehicles’ passing, should you encounter oncoming traffic. Most people tend to drive in the direction we did, though: clockwise.)

It’s very dramatic along this drive. I mean … doesn’t this just make you happy? It does me.

It’s very dramatic along this drive. I mean … doesn’t this just make you happy? It does me.

Same spot, looking the opposite direction; those are the Blaskets up ahead, so we were past Glanfahan but not yet to An Cros.

Same spot, looking the opposite direction; those are the Blaskets up ahead, so we were past Glanfahan but not yet to An Cros.

Here you can see the (very narrow) road and the little pullout; I’m looking behind us, so Dunbeg is back that way, around that curve.

Here you can see the (very narrow) road and the little pullout; I’m looking behind us, so Dunbeg is back that way, around that curve.

Now looking across the road. Sheep are everywhere. Fences mean little.

Now looking across the road. Sheep are everywhere. Fences mean little.

Now looking back out to sea; that’s the Iveragh Peninsula, probably Valencia Island.

Now looking back out to sea; that’s the Iveragh Peninsula, probably Valencia Island.

The rain kept quite a few away, I’m sure. And by this time in September we’d reached the “off season,” although I personally love September in Ireland for that very reason. (February is even more off—and also colder.) I’ve read that in July and August, these roads are practically impassable, there are so many tourists, which is why I’ll probably never visit then. This is also why the drive is traditionally driven clockwise, though there are no posted signs requiring you do so.

Continuing on to another pullout; you can see the road is only one lane wide. We’re at Slea Head.

Continuing on to another pullout; you can see the road is only one lane wide. We’re at Slea Head.

This is An Cros, at Slea Head; you can see Dunmore Head beyond the red car.

This is An Cros, at Slea Head; you can see Dunmore Head beyond the red car.

As noted, this particular point—the titular Slea Head—was packed when Gerry and I were here in 2003 (perhaps about a week earlier in the year). Today it was just three vehicles, some sheep, and that crucifix. I searched and searched and finally found some information about the statuary. The locals call it, simply, the Cross, and because we’re in the Gaeltacht, that’s An Cros to you. It was put up sometime before the 1960s—funded by an Irish-American lawyer who was a relative of a local priest—to mark the boundary between Dingle Town parish and the parish of Ballyferriter. And, of course, to dazzle the tourists. 🙂

So we parked, got out. There were a couple of guys with a camera on a tripod and an enormous zoom lens … whale-watching. Alli made friends immediately. She’s good at that. 🙂

Whale-watching guys mugging for the camera. (Jill’s photo.)

Whale-watching guys mugging for the camera. (Jill’s photo.)

Another pull-out, another photo. Here we’re barely past An Cros, looking at Lure (the rock), just off Dunmore Head, and the Blasket Islands in the distance. See the farthest one? They call it the Sleeping Giant. Can you see it? He’s lying on his back.

Another pull-out, another photo. Here we’re barely past An Cros, looking at Lure (the rock), just off Dunmore Head, and the Blasket Islands in the distance. See the farthest one? They call it the Sleeping Giant. Can you see it? He’s lying on his back.

Approaching Dunmore Head.

Approaching Dunmore Head.

Rocks! Lots of ’em!

Rocks! Lots of ’em!

On the R559 approaching Dunmore Head. I can’t tell you why this little strip of land fascinates me so, but it just does. I imagine myself in that little grey house, looking out and seeing the sea on both sides of me, and I kinda shiver. In a good way, I think. (Margaret’s photo.) Don’t forget, you can click on any photo and see it larger, and if you click again, you can zoom in.

On the R559 approaching Dunmore Head. I can’t tell you why this little strip of land fascinates me so, but it just does. I imagine myself in that little grey house, looking out and seeing the sea on both sides of me, and I kinda shiver. In a good way, I think. (Margaret’s photo.) Don’t forget, you can click on any photo and see it larger, and if you click again, you can zoom in.

Western tip of Dunmore Head.

Western tip of Dunmore Head.

You get a good view of the Blasket Islands from this point.

You get a good view of the Blasket Islands from this point.

The head of the Sleeping Giant through the zoom lens. To me it always looks like the head of a crouching dragon but I guess you could see Abraham Lincoln too.

The head of the Sleeping Giant through the zoom lens. To me it always looks like the head of a crouching dragon but I guess you could see Abraham Lincoln too.

Back in the car, drive a little further, probably to the Ballinglanna area.

Now we’re past Dunmore Head on other side of the Blaskets.

Now we’re past Dunmore Head on other side of the Blaskets.

Looking back the way we’ve come. This is not exactly like having your house on the celebrity tour in Los Angeles, but it might as well be.

Looking back the way we’ve come. This is not exactly like having your house on the Homes of the Stars celebrity tour in Los Angeles, but it might as well be.

Even if you had all the conveniences inside the house, what a pill to get groceries, medical care, etc. It’s beautiful here, but I’m not sure I could do it… (Margaret’s photo.)

Even if you had all the conveniences inside the house, what a pill to get groceries, medical care, etc. It’s beautiful here, but I’m not sure I could do it… (Margaret’s photo.)

At last we were at the Blasket Centre in Dunquin (pop. 74). This lovely heritage museum opened in 1993, forty years after the last group of islanders—the Great Blasket had been inhabited for at least three hundred years—was relocated to the mainland. It was a harsh life, made more so because there was no shop, no doctor, no priest. There had been no school since 1941. The crossing to the mainland was dependent on the weather, and once there, it was still a twelve-mile walk to the nearest doctor.

Still, they stayed. In the 1920s folklore scholars were delighted to find these people were perhaps the only group of Irish speakers who could not also speak English. These people were encouraged to write their life stories in their native tongue, and several of those books have become celebrated classics.

While Jill and Alli enjoyed a cup of tea and a bowl of soup in the snack shop, Margaret and I browsed through the exhibits and watched a moving documentary about life on the Great Blasket. (And also shopped in the bookstore, of course!) And then … back in the car!

Clogher Head, near Ballyferriter, looking west toward Sybil Head and the Three Sisters.

Clogher Head, near Ballyferriter, looking west toward Sybil Head and the Three Sisters.

I believe this is Dún an Óir village.

I believe this is Dún an Óir village.

The other side of Sybil Head and Smerwick Harbor, taken near Gallarus.

Smerwick Harbor and the other side of Sybil Head, taken near Gallarus.

We were on our way to see Gallarus Oratory, I for the second time. Again, I can’t tell you how excited I get over old piles of rock; this one is reputed to have been built in the 700s. Or 800s. They’re not really sure, frankly. They’re not sure about a lot of things. Was it an early Christian church? Or a gravesite? What they do know is it is an almost perfect example dry rubble masonry (that is, no mortar); each slab laid at a tilt so that water runs off, rather than inside. (Rick Steves claims he’s gotten wet inside it on a very rainy day, but others claim not to have, so I don’t know whom to believe. But I’ve seen the thing up close, and it looks pretty snug to me.) Margaret and I undertook the hike up the hill (not that difficult, really, unless you’re unwell). Wow.

It was pretty windy as we were walking up the hill to the Gallarus Oratory. I loved this image of the undersides of the leaves, blowing up in the wind.

It was pretty windy as we were walking up the hill to the Gallarus Oratory. I loved this image of the undersides of the leaves, blowing up in the wind.

Looking back down the hill we’re walking as we head to the oratory; now we’re looking northwestish at the Three Sisters from the other side, across Smerwick Harbor.

Looking back down the hill we’re walking as we head to the oratory; now we’re looking northwestish at the Three Sisters from the other side, across Smerwick Harbor.

There is it—the oratory (church)!

There is it—the oratory (church)!

Let’s get a little closer.

Let’s get a little closer.

Some say it looks like an upturned boat. Whatever. I don’t think that was the point.

Some say it looks like an upturned boat. Whatever. I don’t think that was the point.

A little cross, also very old—before they had the sorts of tools that could carve those magnificent high crosses we’ve seen.

A little cross, also very old—before they had the sorts of tools that could carve those magnificent high crosses we’ve seen.

The back side.

The back side.

This had to’ve been a lot of work.

This had to’ve been a lot of work.

Inside, taken with flash.

Inside, taken with flash.

And that was it. It was lunchtime and we still had a four-hour drive to our next B&B in Lahinch (pop. 600), so we needed to get off the peninsula. Naturally, that’s when we got a little turned around. Emily (GPS) finally put us to rights, though not before she took us up a one-lane horse-cart track. Pretty exciting, I must say.

Even when you’re lost you can see some pretty things, though; this is heather.

Even when you’re lost you can see some pretty things, though; this is heather.

One last stop as we’re leaving the Dingle Peninsula.

One last stop as we’re leaving the Dingle Peninsula.

On the peninsula, all roads lead back to Dingle town, where we caught the N86 to Tralee (pop. 23,693) and the N69 through Listowel (pop. 4,338) to Tarbert (pop. 805), where we would catch the Kilrush Ferry. This was a mad dash, because crossing the Shannon here would save quite a bit of time; we just weren’t certain how long we might have to wait for the next ferry.

It was rainy, windy, and cold on the ferry; I didn’t get out. That’s my little collection of flora on the dash.

It was rainy, windy, and cold on the ferry; I didn’t get out. That’s my little collection of flora on the dash.

Fortunately, the wait was mere minutes. We had a few nervous moments looking at the price schedule while we were in line to pay; it’s very confusing and slightly alarming. As it turns out, it was twenty euro (I think) for our car and passengers to cross.

From Killimer (pop. 482) on the other side we called Edel Kenny, our B&B hostess, to let her know we were on the way. We were all pretty hungry and were considering stopping for a pub meal somewhere along the road. “Oh, you’re close,” she said. “You can eat when you get here. Take the N67.” This was counterintuitive, but it turned out to be a great choice of route. So off we went through Kilrush (pop. 2,694), Kilkee (pop. 1,024), Doonbeg (pop. 206), Quilty (pop. 194), and Milltown Malbay (pop. 1,580), and finally we were in Lahinch.

Edel had given us directions to the Craglea Lodge B&B, “but if you pass it, just go on in to Kenny’s Bar and they’ll help you.” Because, it turns out, Edel is a Kenny. The bar is owned by her brother, the shop across the street (Kenny’s Woolen Mills & Gifts) by her sister. All of this is at the top of Main Street, where it ends at Church Street; and they all live in a group of homes just behind that (frankly, I’m surprised the Kenny compound isn’t on the map!). We easily found the B&B but Edel, a nurse, had to work until eight o’clock, so we went into town for some supper.

I loved Lahinch the last time I was here and thought it was a great, central location (in spite of our lodging in the Village of the Damned, which is a story not yet published in the 2006 travelogue). I’d been sick that time, too (flying on airplanes is apparently hazardous to my health), and had a wonderful Guinness beef stew at Kenny’s Bar that I am certain was instrumental in my recovery. The seating arrangement is different, and for a while I wondered if I’d remembered wrong … but I’ve since found a video taken there with the old arrangement I remember.

The Kenny public house on Main Street in Lahinch. Highly recommended. (Jill’s photo.)

The Kenny public house on Main Street in Lahinch. Highly recommended. (Jill’s photo.)

We were there about 5:45 and had to wait for the kitchen to open; in the meantime shops on the street were closing up, although Jill and Alli went out for a quick look around. I was exhausted from the drive, so I stayed put and had my first Guinness of the trip. Kenny’s is quite cozy and snug, the waitress (not a member of the fam but a longtime employee nonetheless) was friendly and attentive, and the barman was, too, talking to us from behind the counter as he rinsed and dried glasses one by one. (Later no one believed me when I said he was British, not Irish … but I was right. Ha! There are a lot of not-Irish folk waiting tables in Ireland, including an American girl at the Shelbourne and Germans at the Pearl Brasserie.)

Eventually the kitchen opened, food was served, and it was good. I had the beef and Guinness pie with a salad and veg.

Afterward—we were still waiting for Edel to return—Jill walked down to the little Spar (like a convenience store in the States, but in Ireland conveniently located in the middle of town) for bottled water and some fresh fruit. Nothing fresh available, and the proprietor told her she’d have to drive into Ennistymon (pop. 881) for a grocery store. What? I was pretty sure there was a Centra grocery store in the next block—and there was. Why did the guy tell her there wasn’t another grocery in town? Maybe because she was American and he could have a bit of sport with her? Who knows!

Then I drove everyone to the pier to have a look at the sea and to get a layout of the land. If I hadn’t been sick, this would have been an after-dinner stroll, of course. I also drove them to have a look at the Village of the Damned. It’s not Pepto-Bismol pink anymore—it’s been painted white—which improves its ambience not one whit.

By this time we were tired, so we checked at the B&B and caught Edel’s teenaged daughter returning home from a music theory lesson, so she let us in. And all was well until I learned there was no wi-fi. I’d been very frustrated with the trouble I’d had getting online, particularly at places whose websites had declared the availability of it when I was making reservations. “You can go down to Kenny’s,” I was told. (Not what I had in mind, but it ended up being a minor inconvenience.) Edel returned from work and came around to introduce herself. She’s chatty and friendly. (In the Small World Department, Edel works at the nursing home where I went to the Sunday walk-in clinic back in 2006.) And then I was really ready for bed!

Edel, house dog Drago the Labradoodle, and Alli.

Edel, house dog Drago the Labradoodle, and Alli.

Today’s Observation

I know I keep going back to the cultural differences in table service, but here’s another one: it’s a problem, in Ireland, in my experience, to split tickets at a table. Here in the States, the server often asks, “Will this be one ticket or separate tickets?” In fact, servers tend to assume separate tickets. This seems reasonable to me, but everywhere we went, if we asked—always ahead of time—to have separate billing, it seemed as if we were asking for something unusual and difficult. Some places really weren’t happy about it. At Kenny’s they were nice enough about it, but it was clearly out of the ordinary, and I’m not the sort of person who likes to ask for special favors.

The Obligatory Flat Tyre

Day 14 / Monday, 24 September 2012

A damp morning and since we were not technically in a B&B, there would be no breakfast on the premises. Jill knocked on the door around 8:30 and said they couldn’t be ready at nine because they’d slept rough … and that was fine. It took me longer to do everything—go up and down stairs, walk across the street, eat breakfast—due to my two pneumonia symptoms (huffing and puffing, and legs that felt like lead), so a little delay took the pressure off me.

Except, as it turns out, we needed every moment of that delay: Margaret and I took a load of bags to the car and discovered a flat tire. Actually, a flat tire on a rental car in Ireland shouldn’t come as a surprise—I read somewhere years ago that it is more common than not having a flat. Certainly Gerry and I had one on the 2003 trip (we did not on the 2006 trip, but we drove two different cars in two different weeks, so that may have had something to do with it).

So we stood there for a moment on the nearly empty Kenmare street (see the photo), wondering what we should do next (OK, OK, we knew what to do next—remove the spare tire from the trunk—we just weren’t in the mood, at 8:35 a.m., to do it). And about that time, a man drove by in a little beat-up Celica (I think it was a Celica).

“Do ye need some help?” he said in that lilting Kerry accent. The Kerry brogue is nearly unintelligible to me, but I had the presence of mind to realize he was offering help, and said, “Yes, yes, oh, God bless you, yes!”

“I’ll go around,” he said, swirling his hand in a circle. Kenmare’s main shopping district is a triangle, and traffic only flows one way; he was already past us. He took off. Margaret and I looked at each other; we may have giggled with relief. 🙂

And then there he was, all business and speed, changing the tire and the whole time keeping up a monologue of advice about what to do about the tire—don’t call the rental car company, just go get the tired fixed—and how much to pay. Most of which I could not understand. 🙂

Kenmare is dead at 8:35 in the morning. Thank God this guy—I never got his name—happened by. Yes, he is wearing Crocs.

Kenmare is dead at 8:35 in the morning. Thank God this guy—I never got his name—happened by. Yes, he is wearing Crocs.

His beautiful black dog got out of his car with a tennis ball in his mouth and coerced me into playing with him: he’d thrust the ball out along the street with his nose, and I’d kick it back.

“He’ll do that forever,” his owner said. “Never gets tired of it.”

A self-entertaining dog in Kenmare, Ireland.

An intense self-entertaining dog in Kenmare, Ireland.

Finally he was done, wouldn’t take money for his efforts, and Margaret and I needed a pot of tea in the worst way. So we ambled on into the Lansdowne Arms Hotel—directly across the street from our lodging and where we’d been headed before we noticed the flat tire—for breakfast. I called Alli quickly and told them to take more time because now we were getting a late start.

The Lansdowne Arms was lovely. Very civilized. We were greeted and seated and had a pot of tea in about two minutes. I’ve just read this is a family-owned hotel, so I suspect the woman who did all three of those things (it’s just not that busy at that hour of the morning in Ireland) was a family member. I explained to her about our tire situation and she got me a name and directions before we left.

Soon Jill and Alli showed up to have some breakfast, and while they were finishing up, I left to get the tire fixed. No sense in taking everyone, so the other three walked around Kenmare and shopped, since now it was around ten o’clock.

This is where I went, about five miles out of town. (Note: in Ireland it’s spelled tyre.) The driver of that SUV pulled in after me, but I’m such a goof I parked to the side. So this other fella swooped into the bay and was taken care of first. Rude, dude!

This is where I went, about five miles out of town. (Note: in Ireland it’s spelled tyre.) The driver of that SUV pulled in after me, but I’m such a goof I parked to the side. So this other fella swooped into the bay and was taken care of first. Rude, dude!

The shop was about five miles outside of town. Of course, five miles feels like a hundred when you don’t know exactly where you are going and you’ve left the metropolis (Kenmare is pop. 1,700) behind.

There could be worse views, from one’s office, than this. That’s the Killarney Road (the R569).

There could be worse views, from one’s office, than this. That’s the Killarney Road (the R569).

While I stood there, camera in hand, it began to rain. And then it was a regular ol’ cloudburst.

A storm blew in very quickly.

A storm blew in very quickly.

Here you can actually see the rain drops. :)

Here you can actually see the rain drops. 🙂

By the time the rain passed, the tire was plugged. The shop owner, Mike, had “essential tremor” and shook a little, but not when he worked. He was very efficient and nice; the tire cost just ten euro to fix.

So—a little delay, but not enough to ruin the day. I drove back to Kenmare, loaded up the gals, and we were back on track. We were on our way to the Dingle Peninsula. Alli had especially requested that our itinerary include Dingle, and I understood: I’d been here in 2003 and had fallen in love with the place. Those gorgeous, velvet-soft hills on the peninsula were like nothing I’d ever seen before.

But first we had to traverse Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. This is the rugged terrain in between Kenmare and Killarney National Park, all along the N71.

Heading into the mountains outside Kenmare, headed north-ish and west-ish. (Margaret’s photo.)

Heading into the mountains outside Kenmare, going north-ish and west-ish. (Margaret’s photo.)

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. See the little bit of road hanging off the hill? (Margaret’s photo.)

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. See the little bit of road hanging off the hill? (Margaret’s photo.)

It was raining off and on but we stopped all along the way to take photos, finally arriving at Ladies’ View on the southwest end of the park. So-called because Queen Vicki passed through here in 1861, and her ladies-in-waiting thought the view was quite nice. And it is.

What the ladies viewed: the lakes of Killarney from Ladies’ View. Yes, it was raining.

What the ladies viewed: the lakes of Killarney from Ladies’ View. Yes, it was raining.

We drove on through the park and stopped at one of the lakes. (Margaret’s photo.)

We drove on through the park and stopped at one of the lakes. (Margaret’s photo.)

Everything looks so grey, but it really was pretty. Jill and Alli took a lot of photos here but I haven’t seen them.

Everything looks so grey, but it really was pretty. Jill and Alli took a lot of photos here but I haven’t seen them.

And then it would stop raining for awhile …

And then it would stop raining for awhile …

…when it did, we’d have rainbows! This one—our third—was really spectacular. Not sure where this was, except somewhere on the N71.

…when it did, we’d have rainbows! This one—our third—was really spectacular. Not sure where this was, except somewhere on the N71.

Once you’re in Killarney, you grab the N72 for about two miles, and then the R563. So you’re off the fancy road. 🙂 You continue northwest to Milltown (pop. 838), where you pick up the N70 for a couple miles until you get to Castlemaine (pop. 187), where you hang a sharp left onto the R561. This is where things get really interesting. The R561 hugs the southern coast of the Dingle Peninsula, and I do mean hug. Pull up Google Maps and have a look.

I have never had a problem with mountain driving, but them I’m always the driver. These extremely narrow roads with no shoulder, just a sheer drop-off, weren’t as easy for the passengers. When we got to the magnificent strand (beach) at Inch, we stopped for a breather. 🙂

The strand at Inch, looking west toward the tip of the peninsula.

The strand at Inch, looking west toward the tip of the peninsula.

The strand at Inch, looking due south. It’s hard to tell, but those mountains you see are actually on the Iveragh Peninsula, across the Castlemaine Harbour.

The strand at Inch, looking due south. It’s hard to tell, but those mountains you see are actually on the Iveragh Peninsula, across the Castlemaine Harbour.

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I was fascinated by the clouds and the sunlight shining through them onto the water (in the center of this photo). Again, the southwest corner of Ireland is like fingers on a hand, a series of peninsulas. This photo is taken from the southern edge of the Dingle Peninsula looking across at the Iveragh Peninsula.

The last ten miles from Inch into Dingle town veer away from the water’s edge, which was a little relief. We stopped several places

Everybody snapping photographs—even me!

Everybody snapping photographs—even me!

That’s the Great Blasket Island up ahead, on the other side of that shining water. (Margaret’s photo.)

That’s the Great Blasket Island up ahead, on the other side of that shining water. (Margaret’s photo.)

Dingle’s velvet valleys look soft enough to touch. (Margaret’s photo.)

Dingle’s velvet valleys look soft enough to touch. (Margaret’s photo.)

Such a great photo of Margaret! (Taken with Margaret’s camera.)

Such a great photo of Margaret! (Taken with Margaret’s camera.)

A little further down the road, Alli and Jill.

A little further down the road, Alli and Jill.

And then we were in Dingle (pop. 1,929). Dingle town—after all the tiny villages and hairpin curves you have to traverse to get here, which make you feel like you’re on the edge of the world—is bigger than you think it will be. It was also a lot more touristy than I remembered (and yet it had some of the nicest shops).

We found our B&B easily, but no one was home (it was only noon-ish, though; people have things to do), although there was washing out on the line, so they hadn’t gone far. So we went back into town for lunch.

It’s so hard to decide on a restaurant when you are driving in a crowded town. But—being still short on breath—I didn’t have the energy to walk the whole, hilly town to decide where to eat after the stressful drive, so we ended up in a place that wasn’t all that great … but would do.

The itinerary called for a spin around the Slea Head drive (pronounced SLAY Head)—a tour of the very tip of the peninsula that offers not only spectacular scenery but also some very interesting antiquities. It was, in fact, what we’d come to Dingle for, and I thought the setting sun would be nice. (We were, after all, in the spot at which one could truly say, “Next stop, America” … or at least “Next stop, Newfoundland.”) It was 1:30 and we’d be done by 5:00, with plenty of time to relax. However, Jill and Alli wanted to shop, so it was decided to do the drive in the morning.

We went our separate ways to shop—mostly because I just can’t keep up. And Margaret and I found many nice places to shop! Ha. We learned there is no VAT on books or children’s clothes. (I bought two books: High Shelves & Long Counters, and Ireland Unhinged. Margaret also purchased the former; we were amused to see we’d discovered it independently of one another.) Alli wanted to find the pub at which the movie Leap Year was filmed … but as you might guess, no part of it was actually made here, though the town figures largely in the plot.

St. Mary’s (Catholic) Church, on Green Street. Built in 1862, with services offered in Gaelic, because we’re in the Gaeltacht (although it didn’t feel as alien to me as it did in 2003).

St. Mary’s (Catholic) Church, on Green Street. Built in 1862, with services offered in Gaelic, because we’re in the Gaeltacht (although it didn’t feel as alien to me as it did in 2003).

Main Street, Dingle. (Margaret’s photo.)

Main Street, Dingle. (Margaret’s photo.)

I was fascinated by what was at the end of the street—and on that hill!

I was fascinated by what was at the end of the street—and on that hill!

An interesting old home on Main Street.

An interesting old home on Main Street.

Finally we made contact with the B&B, subsequently ran into Jill and Alli, and were off to our lodgings, the lovely Tower View B&B run by the delightful Mary Griffin. Of course, first I had to get lost finding the car, because that’s my way. 🙂 If I don’t have a map I get panicky, and I can get “turned around” easier than anyone you know. And all that walking in the rain. Good grief!

The Tower View, on Main Street (although the street may be called something different where they are), in Dingle. Plenty of parking! (Margaret’s photo.)

The Tower View, on Main Street (although the street may be called something different where they are), in Dingle. Plenty of parking! (Margaret’s photo.)

The view from our room: there really is a tower up there! (Eask Tower, built in 1847 to guid ships into the mouth of Dingle Harbor, which has a “blind” mouth.)

The view from our room: there really is a tower up there! (Eask Tower, built in 1847 to guid ships into the mouth of Dingle Harbor, which has a “blind” mouth.) That’s a wooden hand pointing to the left. 🙂 Remember, you can click on the photo to enlarge it, then click again to zoom in.

The B&B is very near the water, which you can see in this photo taken from the driveway. The rain had quit for the moment.

The B&B is very near the water, which you can see in this photo taken from the driveway. The rain had quit for the moment.

Tower View B&B is quite nice; I’d definitely stay here again. (I think it’s been featured in Rick Steves’s travel books,* so if you are coming during spring or summer, you should reserve way ahead. Like now.) Mary and her husband keep a small “petting zoo” (surely for the Yanks!) and an immaculate home with lovely rooms. Their dog, Benji, begins to herd the sheep the minute he has an audience.

A bucolic scene at dusk, sheep grazing peacefully. But note the pair of ears pricked in the lower right. (sigh)

A bucolic scene at dusk, sheep grazing peacefully. But note the pair of ears pricked in the lower right. (sigh)

Yes, that’s Benji, herding sheep, even when they don’t need to be herded. :)

Yes, that’s Benji, herding sheep, even when they don’t need to be herded. 🙂

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Sundown is really spectacular here in Dingle.

We didn’t go out that night, just spent it quietly reading and getting to bed early for a change. (I worked.) We’d need to get an early start, since the Slea Head drive had been moved into a day that had a very long drive. And a ferry ride!

* It should be noted I have a different preference in guide books.

Today’s Image

In Kenmare, the tire-changer’s black dog was exactly the sort of dog I love. He was—in the words of a dog rescue organization I try to support—a Big Fluffy Dog. He wasn’t overly familiar, didn’t feel the need to poke me with his nose; he also wasn’t restless, didn’t need to be called back. He was a dog of good behavior. But then … he spent a lot of time doing what you see here.

That is, staring at the spare tire.

That is, staring at the spare tire.

He was completely fixated on that tire—head pointed down, standing stock-still. What was it about that tire?

I’ll tell you: he’d dropped his small ball through that hole. None of us saw that. He waited and waited, then lay down next to the tire, never taking his eyes from it. When his master lifted the spare, the source of his anxiety was revealed, rolling toward the curb. (Not for long: the dog snapped it up again, ready to resume his game of catch with me.)

Tags: Kenmare, Dingle, Tower View B&B, Slea Head drive, Iveragh Peninsula, Dingle Peninsula, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Ladies’ View

A Sunday Drive

Day 13 / Sunday, 23 September 2012

We were up and in Olive’s capable breakfast hands by nine o’clock. We were leaving Cork—we’d all loved it—but had a delightful day ahead of us yet.

Olive is a hoot. So personable, so generous, always smiling—and it’s clear she truly enjoys people.

I can’t tell you enough how much we all loved our stay at the Auburn House. It’s exactly what you look for in a B&B: comfy, quiet, reasonably priced. And Olive and her husband are just swell. I walked down to the car park to bring the car around and realized—go ahead, laugh—I didn’t have the car keys. So I huffed and puffed back up the hill and Olive took one look at me and sent Kieran off to do it.

Did I mention they’re good sports too? Margaret and I stayed in this room.

Everything was ready and waiting at the curb when he got there with the car. (Margaret’s photo.)

By this time I thought I was familiar enough with Cork—and the map of Cork—that I could get us to the highway but … I was not. We got a little lost. (It seemed so simple!) So finally we relied on GPS Emily, who did get us out of town. We were going to take a leisurely drive along the N71, a repeat of the route Gerry and I had taken, also on a Sunday, back in 2003. As then, our destination was Kenmare, taking the much-less-direct scenic route; I remembered this as a leisurely day, with plenty of time to stop, take pictures, and so on. Go ahead and pull it up on Google Maps—you’ll see.

And we hit the road, first heading due south out of Cork, with gradual tweaks to the west … through Bandon (pop. 6,640) … Clonakilty (pop. 4,150) … Rosscarbery (pop. 936). We were headed toward Glandore, and the Drombeg stone circle; right around Rosscarbery we left the N71 for the R597, thinking we were on our way.

But we weren’t, actually. I have searched and searched and searched Google Maps, trying to figure out where we ended up—but no joy. (I’m not kidding when I say I spent at least an hour looking at Google street photos, “driving” up and down the coast trying to determine the location. Something has changed, I guess.)

We ended up here, at a little beach. There was an empty lot, we pulled into it, got out, and crossed the road to this.

There were a couple people there with their dogs, but otherwise it was just us. And the rocks.

Most of the beach was this: round-ish, flat-ish rocks. (Margaret’s photo.)

Gosh, it was lovely. Misty, quiet. There were houses scattered around, but there didn’t seem to be a town, per se. We spent quite a bit of time there, taking pictures and picking up rocks (the two I picked up are sitting on the bookcase in the living room).

A few houses scattered around … and this is their private beach. (Margaret’s photo.)

It was pretty scenic. Lots of photos being taken. 🙂

Did I mention the rocks?

This is the sort of thing I never get tired of.

I’m always fascinated by shapes and lines. This is the dune grass. Don’t forget you can click on these photos to enlarge them.

I was intrigued by the gulls, floating on the water in a small flock. Waves were coming in at a good little clip, and they’d ride one until it was about to crest, then flutter up into the air—and settle back down again once it was past. Over and over. I walked back to the car to get the long lens and took several shots.

The seagulls: float, fly, settle, float, fly, settle, float, fly, settle.

Finally I asked one of the dog-walkers if we were on the road to Glandore. Nope! But he gave us directions and off we went, taking pictures along the way.

It’s pretty country. That’s the sea in the distance on the left.

We backtracked and followed the signs and all was well. Gerry and I just happened on the stone circle back in 2003; it wasn’t a plan. So I was a bit shocked to read in Wikipedia that this site is “one of the most visited megalithic sites in Ireland.” It is a one-lane road that takes you to Drombeg, and on that sunny day in 2003, we drove the last two or three hundred yards or so on a cart track, with the fuchsias lining the lane brushing the car on both sides. Let me tell you, I am genuinely glad we didn’t meet someone coming the opposite direction from this most-visited site.

Which is why, apparently, they’ve installed a little car park, right where the road goes from one lane to cart track.

This is the little cart track. I don’t remember the stone wall, only walls of fuchsias. (Margaret’s photo.)

Fuchsias—they’re everywhere in Ireland. And they come in a rainbow of colors.

So we parked, and walked up the lane. It’s a nice little stroll, listening to the bees buzz in the fuchsia. As always, Jill and Alli were long out of sight up the lane, but then I looked around and I was alone. Margaret wasn’t with me. Margaret? I called. Margaret? I walked back. Margaret? Then there she was, coming around the curve looking very self-satisfied, with a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin—she’s been picking and eating wild blackberries. 🙂

And then there we were—step through a hedge, and there is a Bronze Age circle.

Drombeg stone circle. It’s right there. Here the two prominent stones in the foreground are the portal stones; on the right-hand side of the photo toward the back is the recumbent altar stone.

The recumbent stone, known as Druid’s Altar, can be glimpsed on the left, just to the right of the leaning stone. (Margaret’s photo.)

I kept trying to show you the altar stone, which I’d failed to get a good shot of. But here it is in all its glory! (Jill’s photo.)

I kept trying to show you the altar stone, which I’d failed to get a good shot of. But here it is in all its glory! (Jill’s photo.)

This is the stone in the center of the circle. Some little offerings had been recently left.

Just west of the circle are the remains of two prehistoric huts and their cooking pit, called a fulacht fiadh. This is how the ancients cooked: the pit was filled with water, perhaps diverted from a stream. A fire was built next to the pit; stones were heated in the fire, then dropped into the water, which then came to a boil—and cooked the meat placed in the water.

The cooking pit. (Margaret’s photo.)

When cooking was finished, the water was allowed to run out of the pit.

What’s left of the two huts, which were conjoined.

Back in the car, we continued on the R597 to rejoin the N71. This would take us through the village of Glandore. We stopped along the way, of course, to take photos! Lots of photos!

On the R597 headed toward Glandore, which is arranged along the right side of this bay, mostly out of view here. But look for the grey church (steeple on the left), down near the water. (Margaret’s photo.)

Looking the other way, this is the mouth of Glandore Harbour. (Margaret’s photo.)

Now we’re in Glandore. See the mouth of the harbor? Those two islands are called Adam and Eve (although I don’t know which is which). Instructions given to sailors are “Avoid Adam and hug Eve”! (Margaret’s photo.)

Same spot, looking the other direction. The church I mentioned earlier is just out of frame on the far right.

As we came through Glandore, we realized Alli needed her morning coffee and it was noon and we were all ready for something to eat. And there was a pub … so we stopped. I don’t mind saying we would have a very memorable lunch here. 🙂

I’ve always been in Ireland during the off-season, so I only hear about things like the regatta held here every August. Glandore Harbour is large, long and narrow—perfect for such sailing events. The village itself has a population of less than a thousand, but several nice restaurants and pubs (although there are no shops).

This is the main street in Glandore. I don’t even like to think about what this tiny street is like in the summer months!

It’s a pub. (Margaret’s photo.)

The Glandore Inn looked nice and we went inside. And even though you’ll have noticed how overcast it was, even though there was a considerable amount of mist in the air, we decided to sit outside. Because all in all it was a very nice day—and there was that spectacular view of the bay.

Deciding what we’ll have for lunch, but it was hard with that view distracting me.

Here’s that church again, just a little way down the road from where we sat.

We had a really, really nice lunch. I chose parsnip and blue cheese soup (it was wonderful) and Margaret is still raving about the fish chowder she had. It even rained on us once, but such was the charm of the day that no one panicked, no one rose to take cover. This was Ireland, after all; we just carried on. And the rain passed after a few minutes. We lingered and enjoyed the moment. There was a little dog that belonged to the owners of the B&B down the road … but who was apparently a regular at the pub, as she had her own bowl just outside the door—although her preference was for treats from the patrons (Jill slipped her a few goodies).

Parsnip and blue cheese soup. It was MAH-velous.

But Kenmare was waiting, so we followed the road back up to Leap (locals pronounce it Lep; the population is fewer than one thousand) then turned west onto the N71. Through Skibbereen (pop. 2,000) … and then we spent a little time trying to find the Baltimore Beacon, although we eventually had to turn back without success. Those tiny roads can get confusing, and the afternoon was wearing on, and we still had a way to go to get to Kenmare. And that way isn’t always easy driving.

So … onward, N71. Turned sharply north at Ballydehob (pop. 810) and headed toward Bantry (pop. 3,309), which has a spectacular bay. The road drives right alongside the water, and has many places to pull over to admire the natural beauty.

An early look at Bantry Bay.

Just before you get into Bantry town, there is a bayside cemetery that really grabs your attention. Gerry and I had stopped here in 2003—before they turned it into a tourist attraction. Bantry Bay is quite large, and has been the site of more than one maritime disaster—now memorialized in a small park just next to the cemetery (which seems to house local residents, not disaster victims). This turned out to be a theme on this trip: things have been “improved” … but I mostly don’t care much for the improvements.

It’s quite crowded, this cemetery just outside Bantry.

But then … this. I know it’s intended to be all beautiful and hopeful (see next photo) but honestly, it spooked me.

In remembrance of those who lost their lives in Bantry Bay.

Perhaps you see it as the spirit of love? Looks too much like drowning people to me. (I should add that drowning is a personal freak-out fear of mine.)

And then back in the car! We must keep going! Except, of course, when nature calls in Glengarriff (population 800). We popped into a gas station to use the facilities. Next door, a massive hotel. Across the street, still, the bay.

This is the Glengarriff Eccles Hotel.

Walked across the street to look at the beautiful bay. See those mountains? We’re about to drive through them.

As we drove through the shopping district in Glengarriff, some shops piqued our interest, so we stopped again. The most interesting thing (although one shop had some nice sweaters, with a good selection and prices—and if you’re in Ireland, a sweater is a good souvenir to buy) turned out to be the garda (police) station!

It’s pink! And look at those magnificent hydrangeas! They were were fading, nearing the end of their season, but still lovely, I thought. (Margaret’s photo.)

When Gerry and I were making our way to Kenmare nine years ago, he warned me that those last twenty miles into the town are … exciting (even with the pause!), and I did try to warn my traveling companions how wildly beautiful it is, the pass through the Caha Mountains … in the late afternoon … in the rain … through the tunnels. I have tons of photos of this stretch of the road from that trip. I have no photos from this trip, as the mountain road was a little too exciting for some members of the party. So we just didn’t stop. 🙂 However, I want you to see this—so here’s a little video that I am thrilled to have located. And it was made on a pretty, sunny day.

At last we arrived in Kenmare (pop. 2,175). In the pouring rain (although it did stop, finally). Both times I’ve been here it’s been late in the day without any time left on the schedule to explore … and what was on the schedule today was dinner at Tom Crean’s, a locally celebrated restaurant. (We also lodged here for the night; there are a few rooms upstairs, though it is not a B&B, as no breakfast is offered.) It’s named for Kerryman Tom Crean, who enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen and in 1901 volunteered to join Robert Scott’s Antarctic expedition. He participated in four major British expeditions to Antarctica, including the one led by Ernest Shackleton.

A view of Tom Crean’s restaurant and accommodations, on the corner. Parking must be found on the street. You check in inside, but then must come back outside and walk around the corner to go up to the rooms. Interesting. Our room was on the corner. (Margaret’s photo.)

View (to the left) from our window—yes! And Margaret actually got to visit. (Margaret’s photo.)

View straight out of our window. We had breakfast here the next morning. (Margaret’s photo.)

Beautiful downtown Kenmare! I love how wide the street is, actually. (Margaret’s photo.)

As noted, Tom Crean’s has quite a word of mouth reputation for fine dining, and we were looking forward to it—even more so because Gerry knows the owner/chef. He had called and made these reservations especially for us. And as it turns out, this may have set the bar for our expectations too high.

I’m sure the restaurant is very nice. Lots of folks have left glowing reviews on TripAdvisor and such. But it wasn’t good for us. Jill and Alli declined to eat there, and they may have been right to do so. Again, the service was very, very slow. We’d had slow service at the Shelbourne for tea, it was slowish at the Pearl Brasserie in Dublin, it was very slow at Paradiso Café, the vegetarian restaurant in Cork. And it was extremely slow at Tom Crean’s.

Again, I think this is must be an Irish thing. I was checking the review of Tom Crean’s and found this, from the owner/chef: “As regards the bill, I have warned the staff to allow guests to relax and enjoy their evening and not present the bill until requested.” So clearly this is a cultural difference from the States; we are brought a bill, usually with a cheerful “don’t rush!” and we sit there until we are ready to get up. No one feels pressure just because the bill is lying there, nor do we feel pressured if the bill’s been paid and we’re still sitting there chatting. So that’s an illumination, for sure, about how to dine out in Ireland.

But get this: we were seated at 6:30, and the restaurant wasn’t busy, just a couple people in the dining room. It had been a long day, and we were ready to eat. Bread was brought, which we devoured, but the water didn’t come with it; we weren’t brought water until after 7:00. The starters arrived at 7:30. (Mine was French onion soup, but thickened, and not all that special; I’ve had better out of a can, honestly.) Again, the dining room was quiet; this was Sunday evening. The menu is predominantly fish and seafood, which is not good for me; I ordered the one chicken item on the menu, and it was unmemorable. Although I did eat it, because it didn’t arrive until after 8:00. That’s ninety minutes before the entrée arrived. And yes, we waited and waited and waited for the check; it was 9:30 before we were released from this award-winning (and expensive!) restaurant.

I should note that not all the service was this slow: the man at the next table came in long after us and was served before us. He was eating his dessert by the time our entrees arrived. So not only did we not get any sort of acknowledgment (“Oh, you’re the Yanks Gerry called us about!”), we actually got worse service than others in the room. I really hate to give a bad review, especially to a place I’d really anticipated with excitement. I hate to say it, also, because I checked the reviews online as I wrote this, and while most are enthusiastic, a few folks had the same sort of experience we had—slow service, so-so food, and high prices—and in every case, the owner responded very defensively (at least to these American eyes).

I won’t recommend this as a place to stay either. There’s no parking; you park on the street (good luck with that) and then roll your luggage up the hill. And you enter the accommodations from outside the restaurant. The wi-fi didn’t work; I called and asked what I was doing wrong but got no sympathy other than “It’s slow for us too.” Our room was freezing, with three single beds squished into it; the light in the hall was on all night; the rooms had ridiculous antique keys that were difficult to use every time. There was also a sharp point (the end of a nail, hammered up from the bottom) sticking up on the tabletop; I became aware of it pretty quickly but a person could hurt herself on that. The tiny cheap duvet cover barely covered the top of the bed; I had to tuck myself in like a sleeping bag to stay covered. I don’t think they’re particularly interested in the lodging part of the business, frankly. Which is fine; I don’t think I’ll ever go there again. Good night!

Today’s Image

The man seated at the table next to us in Tom Crean’s seemed to get a meal from a different chef in a different kitchen. He relished every bite. Then he chose the cheese tray from the dessert menu—and I truly lusted after it. There were four different cheeses, with fruit, artfully arranged. I could have easily made a meal from it! Yum!