Ireland part one - Castlegregory & Dingle  

posted october 2013

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The first photo on this trip was of Manhattan at sunset, taken on the approach to the Newark airport, where I had to run to meet my sister Doris and her husband Paul for our next flight, which was to Shannon Airport, close to Limerick, Ireland, on the south-west coast, where we'd hook up with Mary, a second  sister.   

One World Trade Center, the 6th tallest building in the world, at 1,776 feet, was completed just recently, but occupancy did not occur until a year later, in November, 2014.   

The long flight over the Atlantic - when four of us compared notes upon landing - was mostly a sleepless journey.  I glanced at the map-screen now & then as we slowly crawled across the planet.  Maximum data values occurred about two hours from landing when the plane reached elevation 38,400 ft., and was going 680 mph, with the outside temperature at minus 75 deg. F.  

This is probably as close to being in orbit, or, breaking the sound barrier, as I'll ever get, I mused, in my half-awake, half-asleep state.  I had a window seat & whenever I peeked out, there was an immense cloud cover, far below, sitting atop the north Atlantic, illuminated by a full moon, a beautiful sight. 

On Saturday morning, September 21st, Mary, Doris and Paul (who live in Colorado Springs) and I converged at Shannon Airport around 6 am.  We saw a large poster there on the way to luggage proclaiming 2013 as an "Irish Homecoming" year. 

We drove to the nearby town of Ennis, and found breakfast on the 2nd floor of an old building, with a lot of character.  Good food & coffee was just what the doctor ordered.  After ATM visits, we drove south for an hour, towards a ferry crossing and then to an eventual first overnight stay at a B&B in Castlegregory, in south-west Ireland     

A quick aside here - my sisters planned the entire trip, so I never knew  - or asked - where our next destination was, a mode of travel that feels very

spontaneous.  Later in the Epilogue page, I acknowledge my gratitude for their comprehensive trip planning. 

Ennis is the largest city & source of Hurling players in County Clare.  Hurling ?  I knew nothing at all about Hurling, but, in a week's time we'll be watching the nationwide final rematch at a bar in a Castle.  The first game, between Counties Cork & Clare, which ended in a 24-point tie, happened on the afternoon of the day we arrived.  Little did we know.....   

The Hurling final in Ireland seems to have a similar level of importance as the Super Bowl at home, except for a few huge differences, because here the teams are County sponsored, and all are volunteers, and no one, not even the manager, draws a salary.  Sounds like true sportsmanship !  Mary and I had a fairly amusing experience, a week later.  

As we walked the streets of Ennis, the intensity of local sports feeling was evident.  County Clare's Hurling Team's colors are blue & yellow.  Their contender County Cork has white & red colors. 

Ennis   winners 14 years ago   
  the hand of fate brought me here looks like Ireland ! flowers displays were everywhere  
sailboats at Killimer  on a ferry to Tarbert, see note the drive to Castlegregory Tarbert lighthouse

note - Killimer and Tarbert ferry terminals were directly across this bay from each other, a mile or so apart, so it was a short & straight ride.

The B&B at Castlegregory was close to a beach, and we had an refreshing afternoon walk upon arrival.  We stayed here only one night.  

Castle House B&B on the 5 minute walk to the beach the lay of the land advanced rustication
  a great way to recover from  long flights baby foot at  lower right warm enough for Mom to bathe in, see note

note - All bodies of water shown on this page are part of the north Atlantic.   

Later in the evening we drove to the far west end of the peninsula, way out in the country, for a sunset dinner at Spilane's Restaurant, highly recommended by the B&B owners, and, about to close for the season, in a few weeks.  The family-run place had terrific seafood and service. 

Near the end of our meal, at sunset, a boisterous set of young lads arrived followed by some girls, high school age, so a Saturday night gathering of some kind was getting underway.  I caught a few hostile glances from young men, essentially willing us tourists to 'get the hell out'.

Among them were many pale-ish faces, with ruddy cheeks & freckles sometimes....healthy looking Irish lads!!  We weren't lingering, and got the message. 

At the same instant when we walked out of Spilane's, the boys began to re-arrange the tables, the restaurant on Saturday night becoming a community center of sorts for these over-energized kids.  My guess is that a lot of fish & chips are part of the ritual, as are sodas.       

at Spilane's Restaurant & Bar North Atlantic Mary just said  "we'd finally made it here" locals talking  

The four of us did pretty well on our first day in Ireland !  The B&B beds were great and I had a big crank-out window that let in a lot of good air, as well as the sound of waves breaking in the distance.         

Sunday, 9/22/13

The next morning I took a 40 minute walk down the nearest lanes in the tiny burgh of Castlegregory, prior to breakfast.  I was pleased to find that we were surrounded on one side by the sea, and by mountains on the inland side. 

As for our first breakfast in Ireland, Holy Cow !!  I had no idea how much food is served in Ireland (or throughout the UK) for breakfast.  There's 10 or 15 items on the menu, and unless you've informed the kitchen beforehand, you get all of them.  From here on out we found that B&B owners typically pass out a menu list the afternoon or evening before, and you check off what you don't want.  (black or white blood pudding, for instance)      

After mobilizing, we had only a short drive up & over Conor Pass to get to Dingle, our next destination.  Our next overnight was at a B&B in Ventrys, a few miles south of Dingle.  Conor Pass is the highest mountain pass in Ireland.

new Gaelic above old Gaelic it seems a coolish morning Irish scenery water everywhere  
  driving up to Conor Pass we parked & climbed to a higher viewpoint constant wind on the ridge  
Kerry Peninsula on the horizon closer look sunny Dingle down below  in a mighty wind on Conor Pass
  back to the car local road Dingle     

Dingle is one of the few places in Ireland where the sun often shines.  It's also one of the best places in Ireland to see traditional Irish music being performed. There are two classic drives around here, the Ring of Kerry, and the Dingle Peninsula route.  The Ring of Kerry is kind of an all-day committment and it can be slow sometimes, being a one-way road, with tourist buses taking priority over cars.  We found the Dingle Peninsula drive to be uncrowded, with terrific scenery.  

  coffee or tea at the visitor center red fuchsia was everywhere    
  a curragh type boat Paul at visitor center ancient Dunbeg Fort was across the street colors indicate the owner
a promontory fort in use since the stone age  accidentally under-exposed a few shots contains 8th and 9th century remains Mary and Paul
  see note potato famine house this part of Ireland had the worst starvation  

note - On the main path to the famine house, an Irish boy was posted, warning tourists not to go near this horse. 

The Potato famine has a complicated history, but the main cause was failure of the Irish potato crop, basically the only crop Irish could grow for their own consumption, because just about every other food product of quality, including meat, went to England.  Ireland was very much 'under the thumb' of England at the time, and decisions made at Parliament in London lead to families dying out in Ireland.  (note that living on potatoes is a terrible, low-nutrition diet, mainly empty carbs)

MPs refused to believe stories of their policies causing widespread starvation in SW Ireland.  In fact, word got out via good journalism, and world opinion turned heavily against England, with editorials blasting the elites in London for their callousness. 

Complicated, yes.....and Ireland lost a third of its population, as an outcome of those terrible years.  More on this later....  

When I saw the starvation houses, and the north Atlantic Ocean, just across the street, I had to do you starve to death when such high quality protein is right there for the taking?  I found this bewildering ! Later at home I found that Irish people back then often looked down on eating fish, as something indicating, to me this is incomprehensible, when you're starving.  A mystery, and not the only one on this trip.   

Dingle peninsula drive, mostly on Slea Head Road.  

Slea Head the westernmost  part of Europe Paul facing the Atlantic at Coumeenoole Mount Brandon, area in the distance (note 1)

Smerwick area

tourists at the ancient church of Gallarus early Christian church, since 800 AD, note 4  Celtic symbols
Saint Brendan's area B&B in Ventrys yes, palm trees in Ireland... see note 2 view from B&B  
  Mary spotted a Norman castle ruin nearby back in Dingle for dinner & pub music (note 3) Paul in sunset light  

note 1 - Mount Brandon (not really visible here) is the second highest peak in Ireland at 3,123 ft. There's some kind of Catholic Pilgrimage trail to a monument at the top, related to Saint Brendan, who was born in Ireland in the 400s and grew to be a great scholar and preacher of the Word. 

note 2 - palm trees do indeed appear on the SW coast of Ireland, testifying to the warm currents in the Atlantic which sweep up from a 7 o'clock direction, originating in the Caribbean.  I'm pretty sure we stopped seeing these tropical trees once we headed north even a little.

note 3 - There are 36 pubs in Dingle, with some having music every night and others only on weekends. Being here on Sunday meant we had a lot of choices.  The summer crowds were non-existent, and there was no waiting for dinner, and you get more attentive service compared to when it's crowded.  The Pubs were the same way...good seating for music for two or four of us.   

After listening to music in one of the Pubs, Mary & I loitered on the street for a bit and got into a conversation & shared a smoke with two locals who grew up here, but in fact had not seen each other for 15 years, until just now, one of them living in Vancouver. It was nice to hear their accents and they were fun to talk with.  The woman from Vancouver was very happy to be back here after so long. 

As we talked you could look way down the main street and hear small passages of music whenever someone opened a door to enter or leave a pub. 

Doris & Paul had gone up the street seeking Irish fiddle music and apparently found it.  They came back downhill to collect us just as we were finishing our chat with the locals.  I seem to recall the streets were cobbled & it was a full moon night....     

note 4 - Gallarus Oratory is a beautiful structure, having never been modified since original construction. Anecdotal evidence establishes that it has been water tight and services have been held here, for the last 1,200 years. 

Not a bad second day in Ireland !  This time my upstairs front bedroom had a great look out across open water, and a large crank-out window brought in great air quality and the sound of waves breaking.

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