So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 7): Let’s Go Shopping!

This series started with an introduction, and here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a souvenir shop in Ireland, so sooner or later you’re going to find yourself in one, if for no other reason that to pick up some postcards. But what you really want is something nice to remember your trip by. Something lasting. Right? I know I do.

When you’re shopping for gifts for yourself or others (I like to do my Christmas shopping in Ireland), look for things you can’t get at home, or—in the case of international brands like Waterford Crystal or Belleek porcelain—that you can get somewhat cheaper than at home. (Particularly when the exchange rate favors the dollar.)

So here’s a quick list of things you might buy in Ireland:

• Knitwear: sweaters, scarves and more
You’ve seen the sheep, now buy something woolen. I buy sweaters and scarves every time I travel to Ireland; they’re available just about everywhere. And the range of colors and styles! Oh! They make lovely gifts.

• Clothing made from Irish linen or tweed
You can buy beautiful woven wool scarves, too—and tweed caps, jackets, waistcoats (you may call this a vest). Some shops sell piece goods so you can sew your own at home. Look for beautiful table linens and handkerchiefs and you’ll think of Ireland every time you sit down to a meal.

• Crystal and glassware, china and pottery
Waterford Crystal is the category leader but there are other good quality brands equally beautiful (research it before you go). Jerpoint Glass is one of my favorite places to shop (Co. Kilkenny) but you can find their pieces in nicer shops all over the country. I also love Nicholas Mosse Pottery, which is readily available. Check department stores for Royal Tara china or Belleek, for a lot less than you’ll pay for them in the States.

• Handmade arts and crafts
There is so much to choose from here: jewelry, pottery, prints and paintings … we could go on and on. Look for small art galleries, museum shops, individual studios (like Jerpoint Glass and Nicholas Mosse) and workshops … and larger outlets like Kilkenny Design Centre in Kilkenny and Dublin (which often, by the way, runs free-shipping-to-the-States promotions). Here’s a website that will give you some ideas. Steer away from those Philip Gray prints; aside from the fact that Gray’s the Irish version of Thomas Kinkade (a hack), these reproductions are poorly done on cheap paper. You’ll know real art when you see it.

• Books
Ireland is a nation of readers (and the home of many fine writers), so you’ll find a bookstore in every town of a few thousand or more. Look for books by Irish authors, photography books, books on Irish history or of local interest (architecture, say) in both new and secondhand shops. Or choose a cookbook!

• Music
If it’s in the budget, you can buy traditional handmade instruments (tin whistles, flutes, fiddles, pipes, bodhráns) from craftspeople in their workshops or in more traditional music stores. While you’re in that music store, you might be interested in sheet music or teaching CDs, such as the one I purchased the featuring a how-to on fiddling traditional Irish melodies and techniques. Music stores and record shops will feature the recordings of local musicians and bands, too; these are affordable and make one-of-a-kind gifts.

• Fashion, design, and up-market personal products
Ireland has a youthful population and has a growing reputation for fashion and design; a special item of clothing might be just the thing to take home. There are many Irish designers (research it) but lately I’ve been loving Orla Kiely; you can find her bags all over Ireland (and they’ll be different from what you’ll find in the States). I also love Moulton Brown hair care products (it’s a British company but I was exposed to the products in Ireland), and I make sure I bring some home from every trip.

• Antiques
Dublin has an antiques district but even small towns have an antique shop or two. Look for unusual prints, vintage jewelry, a teacup … something small and special you can carry home with you.

• Foodstuffs
I am a real sucker for farm shops as well as the upscale grocers you’ll find in larger cities and department stores. I bring cheese home on every trip. And chocolate (see below)! Other delights: tea, jams and jellies, Sarah’s Wonderful Honey, cookies … and did I mention the chocolate?

• Chocolate in particular
On the other side of the pond, chocolate must contain at least 20 percent cocoa solids. In the US, on the other hand, cocoa solids need only make up 10 percent. So there’s definitely a taste differential. My three favorite chocolate brands are Áine, Butler’s, and Cadbury. I stock up on the big bars to bring home for gifts, Christmas stocking stuffers, and so on.

• Little gifts for friends
As mentioned, chocolate bars are always a hit. Irish-themed Christmas ornaments are nice (you can find them in souvenir shops or department stores). And, frankly, though it may seem cliché, the Guinness line of trademarked souvenirs (T-shirts, hats, and so on) are generally of good quality, so if you’ve someone who’d like that sort of thing, go for it. Now … if you really want a nice, truly Irish T-shirt … you’ll have to drive to Lahinch, on the west coast, to the Celtic T-Shirt Shop. A family-owned business since 1979, these shirts (and other apparel) are original designs screen-printed by hand—and they’re gorgeous. Honestly, the website doesn’t do them justice.

See? You don’t have to let the souvenir market drive your purchasing decisions. Don’t buy the first thing you see. Look around! You’ll find something perfect. And don’t forget to pick up a bottle of Jameson’s in the duty-free on your way home. 🙂

A few things that came home last time: scarf from Avoca Hand Weavers, Nicholas Mosse mug, chocolate-covered cookies from Cadbury.

A few things that came home last time: scarf from Avoca Hand Weavers, Nicholas Mosse mug, chocolate-covered cookies from Cadbury.


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.

The Morning After

Friday, February 10, Co. Dublin/Co. Kildare/Co. Laois/Co. Tipperary/Co. Limerick/Co. Clare
You’ll recall that we were out late last night at the pub …

I was awake at five a.m.—apparently the time needed for my body clock to adjust to a different time zone is just forty-eight hours. I’d hoped to sleep longer but unfortunately that was not to be; perhaps I was just excited about leaving for County Clare.

We’d had a small disappointment yesterday when the booking agent for our planned destination (some of you may remember how excited I was that our apartment in Clare was to be right on the ocean) called and said that our rental had been storm-damaged, and they were putting us in a holiday village just one minute down the road. Uh-huh.

Definition: holiday home, holiday village
Ireland—especially towns near the coast or in some desirable destination—is peppered with holiday villages, little neighborhoods of identical or nearly identical houses that are intended to be rented to vacationers. People rent a holiday home by the day or week or month, but no one actually lives there permanently. So there’s no landscaping, no pleasant potted geranium on the front porch, no wreath on the front door. I find them sterile, sad, and lonely-looking.

Definition: storm damage
Storm damage is what happens when you’ve promised an apartment to someone who’s only going to rent it for three days during the off-off-season (and paid for it in advance!), but then someone else comes along who wants to rent it for a week (or, to be fair, maybe longer). Even if there hasn’t been a storm on the west coast of Ireland for weeks. 🙂

So, I’m awake with a bit of a nervous stomach that might or might not have something to do with County Clare. That’s it, no more drink for me (don’t we all swear it off on the morning after?). And no shower either—I couldn’t bring myself to take off my clothes and get into cold water feeling that lousy. Maybe our apartment, er, holiday home in Lahinch would have a reliable shower … so I decided to wait.

But no, no, actually, the reason I couldn’t sleep and felt so lousy was I had the scratchy throat of an impending cold. After the “full-Irish” (i.e., breakfast) downstairs, I realized truly that I was sick; it wasn’t a hangover I had—it was a full-blown head/chest cold with a ferocious sore throat and cough. I drank some more Airborne and resolved to pick up some over-the-counter cold remedy once we got on the road.

As was the case during my last visit, I managed to get us just a little bit lost at first (I’d forgotten that the pictographs on the road signs are as important as the words are), but then I began to hit my driving-in-Ireland groove. The real problem was that I getting visibly and audibly (anti-audibly: I was losing my voice) sicker by the minute, and we finally stopped to buy cough syrup and medicine that would at least alleviate the cold symptoms.

I’d planned to do some sightseeing along the way—taking the N7 from Dublin south and west to Portlaoise to see the Rock of Dunamase—but as we approached the town (pronounce it port-LEESH) it was evident I wasn’t up to climbing rocks, so we continued on. I wasn’t even much up to enjoying the scenery, frankly, although it was beautiful—and completely different from the countryside I’d experienced in September 2003, since it was a different season altogether. Gone were the charming, tree-ceilinged lanes; instead I saw dramatic branches outlined starkly against the soft winter sunlit sky, and wild gorse in brilliant, yellow bloom. A harbinger of spring, the gorse—I’m sending a photo—is a spiny shrub that grows nearly everywhere in Ireland, providing shelter for birds and small wildlife.

Wild gorse!

Wild gorse!

We continued on the N7 through several counties … through Roscrea and on to Nenagh, which skirt the lovely Silvermine Mountains (Gerry pointed out every mountain range as being the “Dublin Mountains,” which don’t actually exist—Google them and you are redirected to Wicklow Mountains—and this became a running joke for the entire trip: “Amazing that you can see the Dublin Mountains all the way from County Clare, eh?”) before dropping you down into the basin of the River Shannon.

The Republic is in the process of switching from miles to kilometers (don’t ask my why; Wikipedia seems to imply that metrication is being done to impose a single system on the whole world—but that doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to me!), which means all distances and speed limits are given only in kilometers … so I got a chance to practice my math skills on the drive as well. The change means that all those quaint old pressed-tin signs that listed both miles and kilometers are disappearing, replaced by new, flat signs that only indicate distance in kilometers. The locals still refer to distances in miles, though, I learned to my amusement when I stopped for directions. You can take the miles off the signs, but you can’t take them out of minds and hearts, by golly!

Irish humor: I wondered out loud where all those historic old signs were going, and Gerry replied that “they’re no doubt being sold in America at a handsome profit.”

The Ford I was driving was brand new, and the speedometer was in kilometers, which was good, since I had no idea, when I started, how fast 120 kph is, although those of you familiar with my lead foot can imagine the little thrill it gave me every time the speed limit was 120 (it’s 74.56 mph)!

The N7 takes you all the way to Limerick city (we used the bypass to avoid traffic in this very busy city rather than going in to explore, because at this point I just wanted to be “home”), and once you cross the Shannon, you’re in County Clare, which was our destination.

From Limerick we jumped on the N18 to Ennis, a town we really enjoyed in 2003; today there was a traffic jam in the city center, and we spent more time than we wanted there. Though we’d been driving in lush dairy farmland, once you reach Ennis the landscape becomes more and more bleak until you reach the Burren, the vast limestone plateau that dominates northwest Clare (and which really must be seen to be appreciated).

In Ennis we found the N85, a smallish road that heads northwest straight toward the coast, through Ennistymon to Lahinch … at last! A journey of just 160 miles took us six hours—and most of that was on main roads. This was the Ireland I remembered, and love.

The Links holiday village is on the main road (the N67, in fact) between Ennistymon and Lahinch, just before you enter the little seaside village itself; a walk into town might take five or six minutes from the front door of our house (which had been left open for us). Again, back in August when we made our reservations, we’d rejected the Links in favor of the Wharf (which, as mentioned earlier, sits, ahem, right on the wharf). Parked in front of this grim—but pink—house, I wasn’t sure if I was as disappointed as I was—deeply—because I sick, or what … but I do know I’d had my heart set on watching the tide roll in from the warmth of a cozy apartment.

Warm and cozy are not words that can be applied to the place we’d just arrived at. Lucky for Gerry, I’d completely lost my voice at that point—so I couldn’t complain! Ha! The place was freeeeeeezing; holiday homes are not kept warm and toasty in anticipation of your midwinter arrival. (In fact, you pay extra for heat.) We immediately overrode the automatic timers on the radiators, and turned every single one to the equatorial setting as we unloaded the car.

Our little pink house in the Village of the Damned.

Our little pink house in the Village of the Damned.

In retrospect, the place was not so bad. It was very roomy, with a bedroom and bathroom downstairs, and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs as well. The full kitchen was large and adequately supplied with cooking utensils, a microwave, dishes, flatware, and so forth (and an electric kettle, the likes of which most of you have probably never seen, but which is, let me tell you, one of God’s great blessings in this dark world). There was a cheery dining room, and a comfortable living room with both a television and a fireplace (and a comfortable couch and large coffee table, on which we ate all our meals). There were ample windows.

No, there’s really no reason for me to refer to the Links as the Village of the Damned (well, OK, perhaps the teenagers renting the home next to us shouting drunkenly outside at three the next morning have something to do with it), but in my cold, cranky, coughing state, that is what it became, and what it remained for the duration of the trip (world without end amen amen), even though we did manage to warm it up after the first twenty-four hours.

More pressingly, however, there was one unresolved detail: there were no towels. The fact that we needed to bring our own was clearly stated in the written material and on the website; in our excitement, we’d just failed to make note of it. This oversight had an unexpected, and pleasant, consequence, however, as we were forced to drive back to Ennistymon for towels, and where we got some excellent recommendations for places to eat in Lahinch.

Lahinch, you see, is pretty much a resort town. The population is just 800 or so, and it only has one retail area about a block long. But—and this is a big but—it has two claims to fame: it has a magnificent mile-long beach (locals call it a strand) enjoyed by sea-lovers and (as I was amazed to discover in cold, cold February) surfers, and it also has a world-class championship golf course that dates back to 1892. There are several pubs and restaurants, a few shops, a grocery store, a church, a post office, a seaside aquarium along a boardwalk, and—even in February—a casual, surfer dude vibe. (On Saturday morning the beach was teeming with surfers in colorful wetsuits.)

But—no bath towels. Ennistymon is just five minutes’ drive from the Links, though, and it is a bit larger, with a busy city center. And, as I’ve said, the woman who sold us towels gave us two recommendations for eating, both of which we tried over the course of our visit. Neither of us had eaten since breakfast, so we hustled back to Lahinch and the Corner Stone, which is a snug little pub with an excellent menu. I choose exactly what I’d been fantasizing about for the last three or so hours: beef stew. And oh man, it was just what the doctor ordered! The beef was fork tender, the stew was loaded with meat and carrots and potatoes, seasoned with porter ale and onions, and was served with thick slices of brown bread.

I wrote in my notes, “I am so going to indulge myself in this Irish brown bread,” and I did. This simple wheaten bread, made without yeast, had caused me to search out local artisan breads when I returned from Ireland in 2003. Nowadays that’s all I buy. Interestingly, I’d noticed in every grocery store we’d been in so far that the artisan bread mania has hit Ireland too. Only there it’s—oooo la-la—labeled French Bakery, and the choices are fantastic. It was easy to give in to temptation!

After dinner we strolled Lahinch’s main street, shopped a little (I bought a mohair/wool scarf, which I would use on the rest of my trip), picked up some turf for the fireplace, then headed back to the Stepford House.

For those of you who’ve never smelled a turf fire, I’ll say you’re missing one of life’s great pleasures. Just imagine the coziest, homiest smell possible, though, and you’ve got it. It’s a little smoky-flavored, and makes me think of what it smells like on a fall day when someone in the neighborhood has been burning leaves. Gerry built the fire while I boiled water for tea (for Gerry) and a stiff hot toddy (for me—the best possible thing for a cold!), then we skootched the couch up close to the fireplace, pulled the duvet off the bed, and huddled up underneath it while we watched an Irish American-Idol-type show on the television. After a second hot whiskey I was asleep and snoring on the couch, and at eight-thirty I gave it up.

Gerry’s Hot Toddy Recipe:
Place two thick slices of lemon in a large mug; squeeze the juice of whatever’s left of the lemon into the mug too. Add a teaspoon (about two dozen) of whole cloves. Add whiskey (I prefer Jameson’s Irish Whiskey) to fill half the mug. Pour boiling water over lemons, whiskey, and cloves to fill, and muddle (mash) the lemons with a spoon to bring out the juice. Add sugar or honey to sweeten if you’d like (I do).

Saturday, February 11, Co. Clare
We were both awake around three-thirty (which is what happens when you go to bed so early, I guess), listening to the kids next door, who were outside in the yard, shouting and carrying on. Actually, they woke me up around midnight, too, with similar antics, but I’d thought the party was over. Oh, how wrong I was.

We’d been wary of the kids when we’d come in yesterday; there were several of them, boys and girls, in expensive cars that they’d parked carelessly, thinking they had the cul-de-sac to themselves. This, as it turns out, did not bode well. Gerry had asked the village superintendent whether we should be concerned, and he’d said no, they were Good kids! Locals! Just on their spring break! If we had any trouble, he said, call and he’d sort it out. Of course, one doesn’t really want to call anyone in the pre-dawn hours.

Later I woke myself up coughing, and I decided to get up and drink some medicine and some hot tea. I was, I realized, very, very sick—probably developing a sinus infection. Gerry took excellent care of me, though, by cooking big breakfasts, keeping the fire built, and making sure I always had a cup of hot tea to keep my cough down. Meanwhile, I had no energy, and no “wind”—it felt like something was constantly pressing on my chest.

Finally around eleven a.m. we managed to get out of the house. It was overcast and windy, but there were patches of blue sky trying to peek through, which was encouraging, and off we went, heading straight for the Cliffs of Moher. You may recall that on my last visit here we weren’t able to see the cliffs due to heavy mist, so I was particularly anxious to see them on as nice a day as possible.

They’d changed the entrance to it since the last time I was here; in the past you could drive by and see the cliffs in the distance. If you wanted, you pulled into the parking lot, paid the per-car entry fee, and walked down to cliff’s edge. Well, no more. The temporary visitor center is on the opposite side of the road, and they’ve built up a huge earthen barrier, which prevents you seeing anything of the cliffs until after you’ve climbed it. I wish now that I’d taken a photograph of this path, because in my memory it looms as large as Mount Everest.

Construction at the Cliffs of Moher.

Construction at the Cliffs of Moher.

It will be nice when it’s done, I guess, but right now it’s all still a construction site. (In point of fact, it’s a twenty-one-million euro project, with the tourist center to be dug into the side of the cliffs, leaving it virtually invisible from ground level. We saw plans for it, and when it’s finished, the views should be stunning. It may be that the path we climbed was on top of this structure, which is due to open in spring 2007.

You can see why, though: this was the path that tourists used to use to walk along the edge of the cliff. Probably a bit dangerous, all things considered.

You can see why, though: this was the path that tourists used to use to walk along the edge of the cliff. Probably a bit dangerous, all things considered.

This is a bit of the new path. Better, but still dangerous. If you wanted to go over the edge, you could. A work in progress!

This is a bit of the older path. Better, but still dangerous. If you wanted to go over the edge, you could. A work in progress!

See? I took this standing next to the danger sign.

See? I took this standing next to the danger sign.

Still, the cliffs were there, they were visible, and that made me really happy, even if it did take every bit of my energy to climb the hill to see them. You really get the sense, as you stand there struggling against the wind, that you are on the edge of the world, with nothing but the roiling Atlantic between you and New York City. The cliffs are five miles of sheer rock face with a massive 700 foot drop; get too close to the edge and a gust of wind—and there’s plenty of that—could carry you right off the edge. Walk the dirt path along the edge at your own risk.

But it made me happy, sick as I was.

But it made me happy, sick as I was.

We even walked up to O’Brien’s Tower, a Victorian-era observation tower (that is, a tourist attraction).

O’Brien’s Tower in 2006, just after the remodeling at the Cliffs had begun.

O’Brien’s Tower in 2006, just after the remodeling at the Cliffs had begun.

This is what it looked like in 2011—all shiny and new! (I got this photo from Wikipedia.)

This is what it looked like in 2011—all shiny and new! (I got this photo from Wikipedia.)

In fact, it was extremely windy and cold, but that was invigorating. Invigorating enough, that is, for me to drive us back to Lahinch. (It was a continuing theme of this trip that my original itinerary had to be modified, cut back, to accommodate the fact that I was moving slower and had less stamina. And really, that was OK. We thoroughly investigated the things we did see, and we enjoyed them. The rest can wait for another time.)

On my 2003 trip I’d picked up a brochure for a shop located in Lahinch that offered silk-screened T-shirts featuring original Celtic designs; when we’d driven through that time, though, I’d failed to find it. Since we were to be staying in Lahinch on this trip, I wanted to be sure to visit, and—knowing that some places shut down during the winter—I’d emailed the owner to ask if he’d be open.

This was the response I’d gotten last September:

Dear Jamie
I apologise for not answering this mail last month.
I think it was because I like to reply immediately ..but didn’t know the answer.
February is so far away !
If you get to our door and find it closed, just call [redacted]
and it will magically creak open within minutes
in fear of forward planning
Mike O’Connor

So when we got back into Lahinch, we parked and walked along the boardwalk (I’m sure that’s not what they call it in Ireland, but that’s what it is), where there were, again, quite a few young men in wetsuits surfing in the vigorous waves on a day when the temperature couldn’t have been over thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

The low-tide beach at Lahinch, February 2006.

The low-tide beach at Lahinch, February 2006.

The shop was closed, but I raised Mike on the mobile phone; he was watching the big rugby match (Ireland/France) at one of the local pubs, and preferred to continue watching it, so we agreed to meet at the shop at four p.m., and Gerry and I hustled home to watch the game ourselves.

At four we were banging on the door, when a young man—not Mike—showed up. It turns out that he was the silk-screener, and was planning to work a little. He was a bit puzzled by us pounding on an obviously locked door, but when we explained the situation, he laughed, said Mike might have dozed off at the bar, and let us in the back door, where we had a private shopping excursion. After that we went back to the Corner Store where we’d eaten the day before, because I was hankering for more of that hot beef stew.

So this was not an action-packed day, but it was as much as I could handle. That evening we watched an interesting show on the subtitled all-Gaelic channel (yes, a channel for Gaelic-speakers, complete with news shows, documentaries, and even soap operas in a language that is a marvel to hear, as it’s not like anything—French, German, Swahili—you’ve every heard before). It was about how the indigenous folk on the island were a matriarchal society up until the time the Celts arrived in 500 BC. The Celts were warlike, and men did the fighting, so that influence began to change the society, and then when Patrick arrived with his Christianity, the switch from a woman-revering society to a patriarchal one (even, one might say, a misogynistic one) was complete. It was suggested that perhaps Mary’s importance was emphasized here to gain allegiance from the locals who still intuitively remembered the old, female-centric ways. Regardless of what you believe, it was an interesting hour of television.

And that seems as good a place as any to close this episode, curled up in front of a warm turf fire, nursing a hot toddy, munching on a scone. There’s more to come, including my semi-annual rant about tour buses. 🙂