Saturday, May 10, 2008

Journey To Ireland and Northern Ireland (Part 2)

June 5, Sunny, with a light breeze, temp. 15C. We slept warm and cozy last night and woke up with another delicious, Irish breakfast. We are on our way to Galway, in the Irish Republic, by way of the Coast Road.But first, we stop off at Belleek Pottery in the quaint village of Belleek, which borders the Irish Republic. Belleek Pottery is the oldest and most famous pottery producing fine glazed porcelain in Ireland. Uninteresting to me, mom seemed to be in the right place.

We stayed in Belleek for a while and found Fermanagh Crystal just around the corner. Brian Flannigan, the owner, treated us to a demonstration of how he cuts the designs in the crystal, a true art form. It was a real treat and I actually bought two whiskey glasses with the Cassidy Crest on them accompanied with the Irish Harp (Ireland's national symbol) on both sides. They are nice!

By lunchtime, we are on our way out of Belleek through BallyShannon and Sligo to Galway.

On the way, we notice in Cliffony, what looks like a big castle sitting on a hill in the far distance, so we decide to check it out. After going about 10 miles down a narrow road, we meet a bicyclist and stop to ask her about what we have discovered as a gorgeous, yet big, house. Thanks to the lady because if it weren't for her, there is no way we would have made this discovery.

It used to be Lord Mountbatton's (Prince Charles's favorite uncle) house. The IRA assassinated him in 1979 along with 3 others on a fishing boat. The mystery is why he was not more careful or thoughtful with his actions during these times. The house was huge and sat on a high cliff neighboring the Atlantic Ocean. It was now owned by someone else and was private property.

On our way again…

Our next stop would be in Drumcliff, to see W.B.Yeates's grave, as well as the high cross that sat so beautifully with its Celtic design in the neighboring graveyard. The church and graveyard weren't in the best shape, but volunteers were making an effort to fix it up.

"Cast a cold Eye

On Life, On Death

Horseman Pass by"

W.B.Yeates June 1, 1865 - January 28, 1939

We arrive to Galway by 20.00 and decide to stay at a B & B called Lawndale. It sits upon the Galway Bay with a nice view of the harbor. What's in Galway? Well, the Church of St.Nicholas, where Christopher Columbus prayed before his long voyages. Galway is a college town and just a neat, fun place.

My first question to the owner of the B & B, "Where can we listen to good, traditional Irish music"? She answers, "You're lucky tonight. Every Tuesday night at Monroe's Pub is live sessions with traditional Irish set dancing". Need I say more?

By 20:30, we are at Monroe's Pub awaiting the show, which begins at 21.30. We are hungry, so we split a large pizza to pass the time and ease our hunger.

21:20- The pub is beginning to fill up, the air is a little smoky, and the glasses are filled with Guinness, including mine. I am excited and ready to hear fantastic Irish music. We arrived here at the right time. The place is packed and we have the best seats in the house, neighboring the dancing with a bird's eye view of the band.

The dancing and music begin. Another 3-man band, except this time playing guitar and 2 box accordions. Wow, this is Irish culture and I love it. High paced dancing with quick spinning and a rapid, beating foot movement, similar to clogging and square dancing. It is called Set Dancing and goes back to the 16th Century and was brought to Ireland by the Scottish and French. It is spectacular to watch. High speed turning that would leave most dizzy. This is sport and the dancers really are in good shape.

The dancers are young, old, short, tall-all shapes and sizes. We are sitting together, but it is nice to talk to some of the dancers between sets and especially nice talking with one of the dancer's father. He is a nice, jolly old man just chatting away with me like we have known each other forever. This was an exceptional, cultural experience belonging to Irish life and tradition.

June 6, Waking up in Galway, we now see the Irish rain and raining it is. Our plan of visiting the Church of St.Nicholas, Christopher Columbus's praying sight, would have to wait. And of our view of Galway Bay is not visible due to the rain. Oh, well, we must be on our way. Hopefully, the rain will stop before we get to our destination, the Cliffs of Moher.

We spent much of the morning in Tara Hall, home of Royal Tara China. I have to admit, they really had nice China and mom seemed to especially enjoy it. The China is hand made from start to the final painting of the China, same as it has been done for the last 300 years. The mansion, Tara Hall, is a 17th Century mansion (1750) and was formerly the seat of the Joyces, one of the 14 tribes of Galway. Ireland is rich in
history and culture and it seems as if everywhere we go, we find something new.

From there, we traveled along the Coast Road to DunGuaire Castle, close to Kinvara. This castle was built in the 1520's and served as a family home to the DunGuaires. It stands on the site of the 7th Century stronghold of Guaire, where the King of Connaught dominated the shore of Galway Bay. Luckily, the rain had eased up long enough for us to get out, take some pictures, and go inside for visit.

Like I said before, being in the presence of these Irish castles throughout the countryside is something that totally fascinates me because of their preservation, history, skirmishes, age, and just the idea of Kings, knights, medieval banquets, and chivalry. Seeing these castles in person is much more educating than the mere pictures I have only seen in history books.

Moving right along through Kinvara and BallyVaughan, County Clare was gorgeous with breathtaking landscape surrounding us. The infinite, green fields on both sides geometrically separated by ancient stone, rock walls were simply amazing because of the time and effort that someone had to take to place each stone in its place. And, the fact that the walls had withstood the duration of time to still be standing as strong as ever, was miraculous.

We have now been blessed with sunshine, which means we will be able to see the breathtaking sights of the Cliffs of Moher. Although the sun is shining, the wind is blowing heavily and can literally blow you off the cliffs if you aren't aware at all times. A short walk to the cliffs and we are there.

Wow! Breathtaking, rocky, jagged, high, dangerous, divine, windy, beautiful, panoramic, heavenly, enormous, tranquil, and scary. These are the thoughts racing through my mind. The Cliffs of Moher reach 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and run for nearly 5 miles. In addition, they are home to many species of birds making their homes in the rocks and gorges along the cliffs. The view of the beautiful scenery is overwhelming and in all directions. This is definitely a "don't miss" sight to see in Ireland, but it is
extremely dangerous and several people fall to their deaths each year, even with the warnings and fences, simply because they test fate and get too close to the edges.

We traveled back to the small village of Doolin. And I do mean small! With a population of 200 and only one main street with town shops and a few restaurants, we missed it on our way to the Cliffs of Moher. Luckily, we found it passing back through.

Doolin is a one-street, quaint, little village that rests peacefully along the rugged coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. It has only 3 pubs, but is known for the best traditional Irish music in all of Ireland. This is perfect for me because I loves to listen to live, traditional sessions. Credit must be given to mom, though, because if it weren't for her reading in the back seat during our journey, we probably wouldn't have ended up here.

We found a nice B & B, St.Anthony's, and walked down the street to check out the shops. Interestingly, there were a lot of international people living in Doolin. We met some Germans, a Canadian guy, a British lady, and a waitress from South Africa who all live here now. Nearly all of them said they ended up here after passing through and falling in love with the place. However, the British lady said it gets boring during the winter.

Evening had arrived, we had eaten, and only live music and fresh Guinness were on my mind. Our first stop was at O'Connors, with a 3-man band of guitar, flute, and box accordion. They were basically playing sets of the traditional jigs and reels. The pub was quite packed and the glasses were filled with strong stouts. I really enjoyed the music, but Dad thought they took too long in between sets, which they did, but I guess they were on Irish time. We stayed there until about 22.30 and headed over to another pub down the
street called McDermmot's Pub. At this point, I was feeling good and pleased with the music, but had no idea what was coming…

22.30- We walk into a packed McDermmot's, which was by far, much livelier. The bar was crowded and a little smoky, but that is typical for a real Irish pub. I order a thick, dark, fresh Guinness and sit on a small bar stool located near the bar. I was close to the band with a clear view and am feeling great right about now. Mom and dad stand nearby.

They had the audience's attention and were simply, JAMMING!!!. They were awesome, lively, and played long sessions displaying their talent modestly on every instrument. The band playing was the C�ili Bandits and played some of the best Traditional Irish music I have ever heard.

They had passion, fire, and enthusiasm to play and their love for performing showed. They were a 4-person band made up of a bodhrán (pronounced bow-ran), a mandolin, a violin, and a guy who played guitar, mandolin, and didjeridu.

The bodhrán was thumpin' and was the heartbeat of the band. The guys playing the mandolin and guitar were good too, adding the main rhythms, but the violin was the soul of the music. She played it well and made the strings "squeal". They played well together and were having fun, which are the ingredients for great music.

Hopefully, and I am sure, we will hear them again someday. On my way to the bathroom, I even met a lady with her daughter and husband from Clemmons, North Carolina. It really is a small world.

If you have a passion for traditional Irish music, peacefulness, beauty, and breathtaking sights, Doolin is a must. And, it is safe to walk down the street at night, too. Doolin, I'll be back!

June 7, We wake up to a beautiful, sunny day and are on our way to County Kerry to journey along the beautiful "Ring of Kerry", which makes up the southwestern corner along the coast of Ireland.

It took some time getting there, but by mid afternoon, we were driving along the narrow, curvy, high, and dangerous roads along the Atlantic Ocean with breathtaking views of countryside, water, valleys, and mountains.

Shortly after reaching the ring, we take a detour leading us to the Ring of Skellig, which is another road off the Ring of Kerry along some smaller, rockier islands. Mount Eagle, in particularly, is a jagged, unpopulated, small island that is home to many birds. It is amazing the way it sits alone and just pops out of the ocean with the sun and clouds in the midst.

Again, the views along the Ring of Skellig were miraculously captivating. It seemed like we were driving straight up a narrow, old road in the middle of pastures with earth as shoulders. This meant that every time we met another vehicle or tractor, we had to stop and "Squeeze" by. It was quite an experience.

As we made it to the top of the road, we were simply blessed with a magnificent, panoramic view of the ocean, mountains, and valleys of green pastures. And, as if it couldn't get any better, I was fortunate to catch a brief sighting of a rainbow. Imagine that, a rainbow in Ireland only meant one thing- a pot of gold somewhere and a Leprechaun trying to hide it.

The mountains seem to rise out of the sea. The green pastures filled with either cows or sheep fenced in by ancient, stone fences that look as if they had been precisely stacked throughout the years to withstand father time. It was marvelous!

Another common site through the countryside is stacks of peat bog, which is basically unfertile land that has been dug out and dried. Some Irish people still burn it. When burnt, it smells like popcorn. It was burning last night in our restaurant and I actually thought someone had been popping popcorn.

After making it back onto the Ring of Kerry, we were quite hungry and tired. We ended up in another small village sitting on the Atlantic Ocean, Waterville. We stayed at a B & B called Sunset House with the most beautiful view of the mountains coming out of the sea.

Soon after arrival, we ate at another Fish 'N Chips restaurant, which was actually the best one. Afterwards, we were delighted with the most beautiful sunset over the mountains and ocean. The clouds were puffy, like enormous cotton balls and huddled together while the orange sun gazed through on to the ocean. It really was something to behold.

June 8, After another Irish breakfast, we were on our way. We continued haphazardly along, stopping on the side of the road when the scenery inspired us, which was quite often. Mom really enjoyed all the wild rhodadendriums.

We stopped off in the small village of Sneem, where I bought a handmade Aran sweater. And then, yet another surprise. Dad and I met and talked with Mr.Martin Scheen. He was friendly and on vacation too. We didn't bother him with taking any pictures or ask for his autograph, just a friendly and brief chat with the president of "West Wing". It was, however, unbelievable to meet him in such a small village.

We left Sneem after brunch and are heading to Glengariff. Again, we were driving along a dangerous road nicknamed "Tunnel Road", which was a narrow, high, mountainous pass overlooking grazing sheep in rocky pastures on both sides. It was so narrow, that when a two-ton truck and tour bus met, the short line of cars behind them had to back up so they could get by each other. It was quite funny, but nonetheless another part of Irish culture.

Continuing onward through Skibbereen, I took my parents for a short climb and short visit to the Beacon in Baltimore. It was interesting and overlooking a ritzy, little sailing community smothered in-between land and mountains along the Atlantic Ocean. We stayed briefly and were on our way.

It was evening by the time we ended up in the village of Kinsale, which was basically the get-away spot for Europe's finest. With luxurious yachts filling the harbor, I definitely felt out of place and ready to leave. By 21.00, we found a B & B about 3 km outside of the village. We were hungry and tired, as we had just finished the challenging "Ring of Kerry". We would sleep well tonight.

June 9, After breakfast, we were on our way again, this time to Blarney, a small village outside of Cork City. It is home to the Blarney Castle and Blarney Woolen Mills. It was my second time here, but still as nice as ever. Blarney Castle is well known for the Blarney Stone. Travelers wait in line to climb
to the top and kiss the Blarney stone upside down. The legend is that if you kiss the stone, you will have the gift of gab. We decided we would forgo this and walk the garden trail to see what we could find in the woods. Besides, we already have the gift of gab, or so my teachers always told.

It was interesting because it was filled with folklore and superstition, something the Irish are known for. There was a witch's kitchen, a sacrificial altar, a Druid's cave and Druid's circle. It was mysterious to take this journey back in time to the Druids and imagine what life must have been like then. We didn't hang around too long, though, and on our way back to the car, it began to rain.

After some shopping in Blarney Woolen Mills, we decided to stay in Blarney for one last night of Irish Music. Our B & B was the Glenmaroon House and was, in my opinion, the nicest one yet.

One thing we have noticed about Ireland is that many of the castles and other attractions are located in small, rural villages.

21.00- Now it's evening. Our destination, the Muskerry Arms pub to hear a band called Scapa Flow. I was told that the band gets its name after a stretch of water in upper Scotland where the Germans sank their ships.

This band was large and really mixed it up. They played some traditional ballads, but on a modern level. They were made up of a tin whistle, bass, a box accordion, bodhran, congo drums, guitar, and mandolin. Simply put, they were enjoyable to watch and listen and it was obvious they were local and having a good time.

We were sitting with an older Welsh couple who was really friendly and chatty. Then, shortly before the band was starting, their "fan club" made up of friends, wives, and relatives came in. This was a treat and real culture!

I learned a lot by talking with the family and even got introduced to the band, as well as getting a song played for me. The band played and announced a song for me and by the time we left, everyone in the pub knew who we were.

The audience came alive towards the end of the night as the band livened it up even more and played Irish anthems that many danced with. It was a wonderful evening and luckily, the bass player's wife, Mrs.Lilly O'Driscoll, told me if I was ever back in
Blarney to look them up. Will do!

June 10, Waking up this morning wasn't so easy for me. Last night was really nice and I think I had a few too many of those dark Guinness's. Unfortunately, the lady at the B & B was really "talkative" as she noticed my dodgy condition. She was really hospitable and friendly, as were most of the B & B owners.

Our first stop was in the small town of Cahir, pronounced Care, located in County Tipperary to visit Cahir Castle, a 13th century stronghold of the powerful Butler Family. It is one of Ireland's largest, best preserved castles and the movie "Excalibur" was filmed here.

The most interesting feature of this castle, other than its preservation, is its line of defense. Each court or section has different means of defense in case an attacker was fortunate to break through. The castle's history runs deep through the years. Eventually, after hundreds of years, the family left the castle after realizing how hard it was to keep it.

Our next stop, also in County Tipperary, is the Rock of Cashel also known as St.Patrick's Rock. Its origins as a center of power go back to about the 4th or 5th century AD. It was given to the church in 1101. St.Patrick visited here in the 7th century baptizing kingship.

It is HUGE! By far, the largest castle we have seen. The view from the castle is amazing, as it is possible to see for miles in each direction, which is another reason it was such a favorable spot for kings.

Located behind the castle or to the west about 300 meters, is Hore Abbey, which is the last Cistercian Abbey to be founded in medieval times in Ireland and was founded in 1272.

I visited here shortly and it is amazing just how old these buildings are. The Abbey is nearly in ruins, as mainly the outside and interior walls remain. The roof is of course gone, but it is over 700 years old. The view of the "Rock" is wonderful from here and I am picturing in my mind what it must have been like on a daily basis to look up from the Abbey at the massive castle sitting up above the landscape.

From Cashel, we headed straight towards Dublin. In my mind, I am thinking of how wonderful this trip has been. I don't want to leave. It is sad to think we must leave Ireland. I somehow feel connected. But, I guess it is time to go. We found a B & B located near the airport. Our last night in Ireland…

Tomorrow we will be on our way to London. I am not too excited about visiting London, for all reasons. Oh well, I will be back next summer.

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