Brilliant week

Hill of Tara

I set up this entry so that if you’re not interested in reading all the blah-blah, you can skip it and scroll below, and click on each day’s blue link to take you straight to that day’s photos (and other blue text for videos). And if you’re really in a hurry, there’s a fun five-minute slideshow with music and video clips.

I have to say how very proud we are that Mom and Dad hiked and climbed their way with aplomb across rocks, up and down steep grassy slopes, passed their way through tomb entrances, persevered through a kilometer’s worth of heavy hiking with very long and steep stairs to then gracefully cross the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, trekked across many steep sand dunes, and handled uneven castle spiral staircases with ease. All these things were on their must-see list for their trip, and they handled it all like a couple married 5 years rather than 50. Way to go, Peg and Jim!

It was great to catch up with the Cassidy, Quinn, Maguire, and Farrell cousins again, but we were disappointed to miss Ann, who was with Daniel O’Donnell and friends on a Mediterranean cruise. Fearghal will be turning five in August and he’s quite a character. Thomas now has his own furniture business, and in the mornings has a bread delivery route, and Mary is busy with the shop. Annie and Alfie are looking great, particularly Alfie, considering his hip replacement six weeks ago. On our second night in Inver, he ventured out to play cards for the first time since his surgery (and did very well I might add, winning 150 Euro). Alfie still has a few cows, and one recently had a wee calf. Paddy is also looking very well considering his recent hospital stays. He has daily home help for his meals, and there seems to be a steady stream of neighbors who check on him throughout the day. He’s sold most of his sheep, but still has a few on the land, and the remnants of his thatch cottage are still out back. He also has doggie Shep, the same doggie from Mom and Dad’s last visit, who wanted to play the same game of catch that Dad had with him on that trip, with the same ball. It was deja vu all over again.

The Cassidy’s shop and Ann’s post office are doing well, but what used to be the shop storage room is now the post office, so the storage items are now kept in the house sitting room. The government won’t allow Mary to build a new storage room behind the post office, and they’re requesting that the adjacent field be turned into a paved parking lot for sixteen cars with at least six handicapped parking spots, which would be a big cost for the Cassidys. The government is also talking about creating a road that would run straight to Killybegs that would bypass their shop, so they’re concerned about potential loss of business, and Mary has been going to town meetings to have her say. Politics as usual.

Also on the political front, this was my first trip back since the peace process and it was wonderful to not have to deal with a border to/from Northern Ireland. Now you sail through without having to stop, and there are no signs indicating you’re entering or exiting the North; the only way you know you’ve crossed over is the change in road numbering. It made me think back to my first trip in ’85 when I took the bus from Dublin to Inver and we crossed the border to come out the other side in Donegal. I was traveling from London with Caroline, a Cassidy cousin, and when the bus stopped at the border, a British soldier came on board with his rifle drawn, and slowly walked down the aisle inspecting every passenger and looking under every seat. Caroline had instructed me not to make eye contact, and I obeyed and looked out the window until he left and we were on our way again. No more of that, happy to say. Yay for the peace process.

As for Ireland being part of the EU, Paddy doesn’t seem too happy about it. He was complaining that the farmers can no longer cut their own turf, only the government can do it and they use machinery that destroys the bogs (I’m glad I still have the image from a previous trip of watching Paddy and Joe cutting their own turf with spades). The farmers are also no longer allowed to sell their own cow milk or fresh eggs. The day we left Boston, Ireland voted No to the Lisbon Treaty. When we arrived in Dublin I asked our taxi driver about it; he had voted No and everyone seemed happy with the final decision. And there were substantially more street signs in Ireland to vote No rather than Yes.

Rose is also looking great and still talks of moving back to the Enniscoe gatekeeper’s cottage, if she can get paperwork showing it belongs to her. She misses Vincent and Peggy very much, and recently lost her most precious kitty, but she has two other kitties keeping her company, Twink and Fluffy. She’s still sewing for the drapery shop, and she was telling us about her neighbor friend, Paddy Clancy, who stops in for visits. I snapped a few photos of her old family photographs and am including them in the online set.

In my previous trips I’d never been in June, and we were all surprised that the length of daylight near solstice resembles Norway; at 10:30 p.m. the sky was still blue. The only unfortunate thing about that was missing the night stars which are always tremendous in clear weather. And clear weather we had. By Monday evening we were sunburned. We only had two rain squalls pass over us during the week, and the only steady rain was the day we were leaving, where all we had to do was return the rental car and board our flight home.

In the afternoon we met up with Mom and Dad at Dublin Airport as they arrived from their week in London, and after lunch at the hotel we took a taxi to the Guinness Brewery. From there we walked to the Temple Bar neighborhood, and then along the River Liffey to the Ha’penny Bridge and to O’Connell Street, where we caught a taxi back to the hotel.

We began our driving tour by heading north to the Hill of Tara and were grateful to be there before the planned motorway is built nearby. From that seat of the High Kings we then headed northeast to Newgrange. We squeezed through the passage tomb to the interior where they gave us a demonstration of the solstice light streaming into the small cavity. Then from the tomb we were back on the road to Northern Ireland. We made an unplanned stop in Belfast city center to get directions because the road we needed was closed and the detour was a mess. We luckily stumbled on a line of taxi drivers who were over-the-top helpful to get us back on track to the Antrim Coast Road. Our final destination for that evening was our B&B in Portrush, Northern Ireland.

Our first stop was the Giant’s Causeway. Then from Finn McCool’s land, we headed east to Carrick-a-Rede so we could cross the rope bridge, and then it was on to Dunluce Castle where we encountered the first rain squall of the trip (and where a movie was being filmed). From that northern coast of Northern Ireland we drove back down into the Republic, crossed into Donegal and headed straight to Inver to visit with the Cassidys and Quinns, where Mary gave us the keys to Ann’s beautiful house for our three nights’ stay.

After checking-in with the Cassidys in the morning to let them know our plans for the day, we visited with Paddy. Then it was back on the Ardara road to Grandpa’s house. The current owner is keeping it in beautiful condition, and thankfully has not removed Grandpa’s pine trees. In Ardara we had lunch at the Nesbitt Arms and strolled through the town and I bought a cape handwoven by Eddie Doherty at his weaver shop. Then we headed out to the Caves of Maghera at Maghera Beach, but the tide was in, which made the caves impassable, so we stopped at the Mare’s Tail for photos once again (I pose here on every visit), and then headed back to Inver. (The Ardara road now has an official heritage sign pointing you to the caves. Years ago when I first stumbled on the caves, it was a handwritten sign on cardboard, with a slightly-drawn arrow. Things change. Especially the fact that they’ve also added bathrooms at the base of the foot path to the caves, which is a change I embrace.) After another visit at Cassidy’s, Mary and Thomas took us out to dinner at a Mountcharles pub where we had an amazing meal.

We had a morning visit with Cassidys so that Shawn could experience the shop and post office, and then it was off to Glengesh Pass, where I also pose on every visit. Then it was back to Maghera Beach, and we had timed the tides correctly and were able to visit the caves. After the caves, on our sand dune hike back to the car, we were caught in a massive rain squall and were soaked-through. On the Ardara road back to Inver, we stopped again to visit with Paddy, and he and Shep received very wet and cold Yanks. After our visit with him, we made a pit stop at Ann’s house to change into dry clothes before heading to the Donegal Town diamond, where we visited Donegal Castle (in any trip I’ve made, I’ve never been inside the castle). We made another stop at Cassidy’s before we headed out to dinner in Ardara, where we were hoping to catch some music at the Cornerhouse (the new version of Peter Oliver’s), but there was none to be had, nor do they serve food, so we tried Nancy’s, which had food, but no cráic.

We said our morning goodbyes at Cassidy’s and were on the road again, this time south to Mayo to visit Rose in Crossmolina. Turns out, Twink misses the cottage as much as Rose, and gives Rose her opinion when asked if she wants to go home to Enniscoe. We all went out for tea and Rose pointed out fellow Crossmolinians who were Murphys or Farrells, and she mentioned her friend Paddy Clancy’s visits. From our afternoon with Rose, we were back in the car to head further west to Westport, but before we left Crossmolina we stopped at the Enniscoe gatekeeper’s cottage. Who did we run into at the cottage but Paddy Clancy himself, who was checking on it for Rose (or watering the daisies… we’re not quite sure why he was there alone… the cottage is locked). It was a big (and typical) coincidence, and he’s certainly a character… eighty-nine years young, walks with two canes, still drives a car, and is “Rose’s best friend”. After our Paddy Clancy encounter, we were back in the car and made it to Matt Molloy’s pub in Westport, but it was too early for cráic agus ceoil. We couldn’t stay too long since we had to keep heading south that night to Cong, but everyone had a pint for The Chieftains (except me, as the driver) and Mom danced to the piped-in music in the Yard Bar in the back of the pub where the seisiúns usually take place. We needed to be in Cong for Thursday night so we could stay at Michaeleen’s Manor, a B&B dedicated to “The Quiet Man” because it was filmed in Cong, and is one of Mom and Dad’s favorite movies. A rainbow led us to Cong, and when we arrived and checked-in to the B&B, Mom and Dad were assigned the room that’s named for the movie’s bar owner Pat Cohan, and Shawn and I were given the room named for the movie’s Reverend Playfair (I suppose it made us Protestants for the night).

After our B&B breakfast in the White O’Morn dining room at Michaeleen’s Manor, we headed to the village of Cong for a walking tour of movie locations. We also toured the White O’Morn museum and then drove out to “The Quiet Man” bridge, which is further south in Galway. From there we kept driving south to Clare where we passed through the Burren once again, and got caught in a logjam on the N67, also known as the Corkscrew Hill road. We made it through the logjam without a dent or scratch to the car, shockingly, and arrived at the Cliffs of Moher on a gorgeous afternoon. It’s quite a to-do there now, with gift shops, a restaurant, and stone slabs to keep you from falling (or jumping) off the cliffs. On my first visit there it was a dirt path along the cliff edge and nothing else. Moving on just south of the Cliffs was St. Brigid’s Well, and then another wonderful cow encounter on the road (it isn’t a successful trip without one), and then it was on to Bunratty where we stayed for our final night. We whooped it up and went to the Bunratty Castle medieval banquet, the tourist trap. We’d never done it (because it’s a tourist trap), but we figured what-the-heck. And it was fun, despite the group of rude French tourists who were annoying the actors to no end, and the actors were letting them know, and coming out of character to do so. Amusing. Mom made a new friend who was also in the audience and seated at our adjacent table, Irishman John Doyle, who at the end of the evening privately serenaded her as the clean-up crew worked around us. (He had also been the audience member chosen to be thrown into the dungeon who then had to sing his way out to freedom. Turns out, he’s a singer. Amusing.) It was a grand way to end their two-week vacation.

After a few hours’ sleep we returned the rental car on Saturday morning, an ’08 Nissan Tiida, and checked-in for our flight. I drove 1,246.5 kilometers in six days, equalling about 775 miles.

We wish we had time to see more family, such as the Cummins cousins in Sligo and Olivia in the North, but I only had five vacation days to use and we couldn’t fit everyone into the week. We’ll make sure to move them to the top of the list for the next trip back.

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