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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.