Ireland Report #5 — Proper!

Finally! Uninterrupted emailing time! I can fill all the gaps from the past three emails!

From August 24-27 we stayed in the Benners Hotel, on Dingle’s Main Street. Dingle is a very small, colorful harbor on the westernmost of Ireland’s many peninsulae. Basically, if you were an Irish Christian before proper medieval history began, you were probably a hermit or monk way out in the middle of nowhere. Read: the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. You also spent your time building stone huts, catching food, eating food, sleeping, and communing with God/Nature. Therefore, we took a lot of long bus rides through lots of pretty country and gorgeous vistas; at least two hours’ worth of travelling on each of the 3 days we were there.

The Blasket Islands (only the big one’s inhabited) are just off the tip of the peninsula, so they’re literally the westernmost part of Europe. The Irish Christian tale of St. Brendan the Navigator is all over the Dingle area, and the locals kept trying to convince us that on a clear day we could see a bit of New York. See, the legend says that good ol’ Brendan was the first to discover Amerikay. Therefore the Vikings and the Spaniards and stewpid English Pyooritans have just been thieving all this glory from poor oppressed Ireland for lo these many centuries, and it’s up to us lovely American girls (from California, Pat, didja hear that?) to put the history books right and restore Ireland to her place at the top of the intellectual heap. Time for another pint, lads.

While in Dingle we discovered that we’re a bit of a popular commodity among the locals. In the part of Dublin where we were staying, well, all the “locals” were either just tourists or people paid to be there. Naturally, we were thrilled to find pubs with actual pedigreed Irishmen hanging out therein – ignoring, of course, that the harbor part of Dingle was crawling with French types due to the big yacht race that weekend. On our second night there, we stumbled into a bachelor party at the pub across from our hotel. The prospective groom was pretty well hammered at that point, so when we were volunteered to write questionable messages on his back, he made no protest. I don’t suppose it hurt that Erin was decked out in glamourous jewellery and skintastic tube top… anyway, we were made to write on him for the privilege of conversing with his learned compatriots. I think I heard the “so, have ye ever visited Wexford? It’s a lovely part of the world, Wexford… that’s why we’re in Dingle, to get away from the town and kin” about 5 or 6 times. Sara’s happily married to a Frenchman back in Davis (long story, don’t ask), so she gleefully started playing matchmaker with us singletons. If Laura and I never again get cornered by a sweaty bunch of fellas who insist that they’re great equestrians and excellent lovers, I will die happy. No worries, we had more laughs that night than I’d had all summer, and at least one girl of our group came away with phone numbers. Apparently the Girly Girls ran into another bachelor party at their chosen pub, but had a much less enjoyable time of it.

I think I’ve decided on a favorite Irish city. When we first arrived in Galway, it was raining (naturally) and we’d arrived at about 6 PM on a Sunday, grumpy and hungry. After that, though, we had a great time. Galway’s a bit like Ventura – there are the touristy streets, the residential bits, the estuary of the river filled with over a hundred mute swans (and we met soem of the swan rescue people – oh so much fun), and then the smaller areas that not many tourists find. I wasn’t there long enough to explore properly, but I really enjoyed my time there. It doesn’t hurt that the Burren (read: brooding rocky boggy landscape with lots of fun formations) and the Connemara region are right there. For those who love The Princess Bride, may I suggest a trip to the Cliffs of Moher, which are perhaps more recognizable as the Cliffs of Insanity (inconceivable!). There’s a college (University College Galway – UC Galway!) and all kinds of day trips available, so it’s an excellent place to use as a home base. It’s the first of the cities we’ve visited that I didn’t want to leave. We were there for over a week.

If you’re into J.M. Synge’s plays and bits of prose, yes, we visited Inis Meain, which is the middle of the Aran Islands. We hung out in the cottage where he lived when he visited, scampered out to the cliffs and his rock chair, and generally took lots of scenic photos. Whee. I’m ashamed to say that the lovely rough seas put me to sleep on the way out there and back. Not as wild and exciting as the trips out to the Channel Islands — the closest we could get to the waves was the deck on TOP of the boat, so I quickly got bored and headed inside. The islands also break up the waves more, so it wasn’t as rough as I like. Sigh.

At the tourist office (which is where they list all the really really popular things to do) there were about 4 different stables offering horseback tours. I found one that would let me go out solo for the same price as the group ride, so I got two hours of hard riding on a horse that wanted to RUN. She nearly ran away with me on a sand bar when we first started, but her attitude and I had a little “discussion” which made the rest of my ride utterly blissful. The rolling green pastures are full of birds and hedges, and they literally roll right on down to the beach. I kid you not. AND I got a sunny day for it! Those are rare here, let me tell you. Oh… so very nice. That night, I was unfortunately a little too stiff and tired to join the rest of the goofy girls at the pub, but trust me when I say that Laura left a piece of her heart in Galway… with a fella named Barry. Um, yeah. Enough of that. Onward!

Then on Monday we left Galway for Belmullet, which is one of the small coastal towns in County Mayo. On our way up, we stopped in Westport, where the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and his party were gladhanding everyone and making plans for the big election next year. Hurrah for politicking. On the bus ride into town, I happened to notice a little sign for a cafe, which turned out to be next to our parking lot. When I saw the sign, I had to try their soup. So I had lunch at Cafe’ Mahon, run by an actual Mahon (not O’Mahoney or McMahon or Mahony or Monahan), and it was really a nice little place. Uncle Henry would have loved it. Naturally I got pictures.

For photo ops, I highly recommend County Mayo. Rugged coastlines that scream “golf tournaments here!” and sheep-filled patures and winding oxbow rivers and neolithic sites.. something for everyone. Unfortunately for the Girly Girls among us, there’s not much to do in Belmullet besides drink, sleep, read, harass sheep, harass locals (slightly more challenging than the sheep), and complain. Me, I go walkies with my group, and we have a marvelous time taking “modelling” photos by the beach. In the rain, in the sun, in sweaters or t-shirts… mostly we look for excuses to make fun.

Yesterday we took our first Mayo field trip – bog excavations and the animal sanctuary. Our illustrious professor Seamus loves birds. Therefore, we took an afternoon at a wild raptor sanctuary, where they flew all kinds of birds for us, including a turkey vulture, American bald eagle (gorgeous bird, held by a gorgeous man… er, yeah), kestrel, black-chested eagle, and a hand-raised eagle owl who reminded me of Mom’s cat Anya. Big eyes, fluffy face, flat beak, and whiny juvenile call. All of this on a fullgrown specimen of the largest species of owl… hilarious. The sanctuary also shelters goats and donkeys, bunnies, chickens, hedgehogs, and guinea pigs. I was in critter bliss. And no, they don’t feed all these smaller critters to the raptors – we have chicken farms for that. Oh, marvelous day.

Anyway, I’ve rambled enough and you’ve got some idea of how much fun I’ve had. I promise I’ll post photos as soon as I get home.


~ by jackelopette on September 7, 2006.

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