Ireland and Northern Ireland Travelogue and Photos
1997: Days 15 on

Today we had to head up towards Cavan for the wedding tomorrow. Bob and I decided to go up through Kildare to see the Japanese Gardens and National Stud, which we missed last time. There was a light rain coming down (finally!! The poor fish were dying in the dried up streams everywhere) so we figured there wouldn't be tons of people there. We went the same way we went last time - through Mallow and Port Laois and such, and easily arrived in Kildare. Sure enough, there were few people at the car park, so we went right in.

The gardens first, which would never have been built in the states because the lawsuit-happy people would have slipped on the stones or fallen in the lakes and sued. Which is a shame - it was quite pretty. It was laid out like the "life of man", starting with the birth in a cave, the walk of childhood through the "tunnel of ignorance" (a pitch dark tunnel), etc. After adolescence there was a decision path between bachelorhood and marriage and childhood and Bob wanted to sprint for the honeymoon completely avoiding the island of engagement and marriage bliss. Ah well. I of course got confused and instead of going over the marriage bridge started heading over the 'bridge of life' to the rest of my life. Eventually get got sorted out and were heading towards 'the hill of achievement'. Bob realized we had missed 'disappointment' and went out to hunt that down. I instead persevered on and found achievement, which he avoided in the search for wisdom. Hmmmm. We eventually joined back up again and went through the rest of the path.

There was a teahouse in the middle (middle age I think) but it was sadly in disrepair, the doors didn't slide, no flowers or scrolls or anything. I'd think they'd keep it up and use it for special occasions, but I guess not. On to old age and death.

The stud was interesting - they had a museum with a famous horse's skeleton, studies of the history of the horse, etc. Apparently roads in Ireland were either sized for two chariots to just pass (for much of their history they didn't ride horses, they used them to pull war chariots) or for two cows, one perpendicular to the other, to stand in the road. Then we went out to the foaling yard, and saw the miniature horse with her foal who was quite a feisty little creature. They were trying to get him in his stable because of the light rain and he DIDN'T want to go. Then on to see the race horses that were there for stud, and then around the fields to see all the mares and their baby horses. They were quite darling.

After that, we headed north to Cavan/Meath. The roads were horribly marked (or unmarked) so we got misguided a few times but eventually ended up on the lake. Lough Sheelin - it sort of sits on the line between Meath, Westmeath and Cavan. Great fishing lake. Barbara and Tom were there already so we had dinner in the bar. A foursome of English cops were there for the fishing so we all chatted a bit. We then watched the Millstreet concert on TV but apparently where we were sitting was just outside the camera's reach so we weren't on video. Ah well.

Today was wedding day. We all woke a little late, had breakfast. There was the cutest little bunny in the field by the inn! It was a cow pasture and a bunny was hopping through eating only the white flowers. He'd grab the flower by the base and then suck it into his mouth, finally getting the flower in with a POP. It was neat.

Then we took off to the wedding church, in Oldcastle. We barely got there at 1 (ceremony time) and got into the pews. And waited. And waited. It was around 2pm before the bride finally showed up, much to the relief of the groom. It was a Catholic ceremony with pretty singing and guitar. Everyone was done in orange sherbert colors (it appears to be the 60s again in Ireland - mint green, orange sherbert, light blue and bright yellow). Eventually the ceremony ended and we all went outside for a "group shot". And off to the Clover Inn for the reception.

The Clover was on the other side of Lough Sheelin, quite nice. Only 10 rooms or so, and initially we got a great room with a huge window overlooking the lake. As more and more people decided to stay, though, they shoved 2 families in that room and we got a smaller one to the side. Everybody just drank from when we got there - the bar had all sorts of neat spots on the TV - cricket, road rallys (amazing speeds for these winding roads), etc. Election results from Friday weren't even starting to come in yet. I suppose it takes a while to count given their various systems!

We drank until around 6, when we started dinner. It was good - chicken pie, soup, ham and turkey and free wine. The band was a brass band that played all sorts of songs, and we changed and came back down. Bob didn't want to dance, but we all sat and listened until morning. Apparently some people stayed up until 5 or 6am. They had set dancers (sort of professional) showing some of the neater dances although the Clare folk wished they just played more music for US to set dance. Ah well.

We got the "breakfast ends at 10" call at 9:45 and raced down, finding only 1 other person in there. The rest sleepily came down after us (probably receiving the same call) and the room was full when we left. We packed our stuff in the car, finding a cute little baby squirrel (the first we'd seen here, besides a dead adult one outside our window that morning) (hopefully not it's mother) by the car. Bob left some fries for it. Then we headed north.

We crossed back into Northern Ireland by Swalinbar in Fermanagh. The border is extremely squiggly here so the crossing was very reinforced - a separate 'checking' area complete with guard towers, iron bars that come out of the road to prevent escape, one-way tire puncture things, etc. I guess things are quiet now because it wasn't manned - you just had to drive past the military creation. We drove up into Enniskillen, which was mostly closed on a Sunday. We went into an open mall hoping to find Union Jack darts for Bob's friend, but no such luck. I figure maybe with tensions able to flare, the last thing you'd want to have in a bar full of drinking men with pointy objects is something which made you a potential target.

We did see a car or two driving by waving a flag with just white and green on it. I asked Bob, "where's the orange?" and then got the point. Again, I suppose you're asking for trouble if you go around in your car deliberately putting down the other side. Ah well. We eventually headed back down the same way we came in, and then went down through Athlone, across Shannonbridge to Clonmacnois.

I really wanted to see Clonmacnois because Seamus Heaney's famous poem about it was so pretty, but it is of course an important site in it's own right. Built around 600, it has towers from 900, and crosses from that same time. Lots of old buildings. The museum with it was extremely nicely done and quite informative. We wandered around outside and then climbed back into the car to head home.

The rest of the trip home was about the same as the way in - Mallow, etc. We got home around 9pm and stopped at the chipper first to bring home chips and garlic mushrooms. Yum yum! Around an hour later the rest of the folks came by and we all headed out to Corkery's for the Sunday night drink.

The elections had finally come in this morning, with some recounts still going on to round 11 or 12. In some races peoples' names were spelt similarly so they were arguing about which person the voter had meant. I said I wanted to look for the few remaining birds I hadn't seen tomorrow, like the pheasant. Barbara said they used to have them in their back yard here before the house was finished. Michael said he was just in the field a few days ago with the tractor, saw a rustling and stopped the tractor. A mommy pheasant with like 12 little baby ones went wadding right in front of him! Maybe I should go roaming some fields to find them. He also saw 11 white swans sailing overhead a few days ago, in a straight line, for one of the local lakes. Neat.

Apparently one guy stopped by Friday to ask Bob to go fishing with him, and the dart guys from Knocknagree called to see if Bob would come out and play. So we'll have our choices to make tomorrow to see what we want to do. We know we want to sleep late so we're prepared for Monday night and Tuesday morning when we have to fly out.

I'm really content with all we've seen at this point - we saw everything I wanted to, with maybe the exception of Glendalough in Wicklow but we made a conscious decision to avoid the whole Wicklow/Waterford/Wexford tourist area. We spent tons of time in Kerry/Cork, which I wanted, and went through everywhere else. I think we only missed 5 counties maybe. The weather's been beautiful, completely sunny until these last few days and by that point we WANTED rain because it was sad to see the lakes and rivers so dry (and to keep getting sunburnt). The people here, especially in Millstreet, are incredibly friendly and took us in as their own.

Today we relaxed and slept until 12. Bob went out with Tom to get lumber for the fence, and I packed up everything. Then when he got back and we'd eaten we drove into Killarney (yes, evil Killarney) to get presents and such. And my shotglass/thimble/magnet. We drove in past the evil money-grubbing jaunting carts and 12, yes 12, tour busses lined up in a row. We parked in a lot and snuck in.

There were tourists EVERYWHERE. In no way did they resemble anything else. Loud clothes, loud voices, you would not BELIEVE the outfits on these people. Maybe you would. One of the Irish friends later said they have these whirlwind tours for people - 2 days in Killarney, 2 days in London, etc. so all they do is drink and shop in each city. Not much for seeing what a land is really like! Bob and I talked about this after talking to another Irish woman who was going to Chicago for a wedding in a few months, who said she'd hang out in Chicago and fly to Florida for a few days to see Disneyland. I mentioned that it seemed a shame to only go to "touristy" places when somewhere else, but that I supposed it was a "fun" trip sort of like just seeing carnivals when you travel. That would be what some people would think was fun, but for me personally (and Bob agreed), I like to *meet* the people, see the landscapes and animals and birds and just chat with real life people on a real level. Not as a 'tourist' but as a 'person'.

Bob said he agreed and that he wished we'd done more on this trip, but actually most nights we were out talking to family and relations about everything, and when we were 'on the road' we met a remarkable assortment of people - the waitress who had worked in Boston, the B&B guy in Oughterard, etc. etc. We were genuinely interested in what they were doing, and we didn't come across as 'tourists' (they usually thought we were Irish hanging out) so they were quite friendly.

But back to Killarney. The tourists would argue over how much 'real American' money was in Irish pounds (with a variety of really bizarre guesses) or ask "what is this THING" holding up a St. Brigid's cross (the shopkeeper was very patient, I suppose they have to be) or just being rude or arrogant. It was embarrasing to be from the US given most of these tourists were American (except the cross-woman who was German I think). We went to a bunch of shops, and I had Bailey's Irish Cream Ice Cream (I've become immensely fond of Baileys over Ice, I can keep up with the guys drinking pints of "G" if I just have a small glass of Baileys for each of theirs). Then we headed back home.

We went by Carmady's in Knocknagree and found out darts didn't start until "half-ten". So we went home and Michael showed up around 7pm (our original plan for drinking was darts + drinking until 9, then home for Barbara's dinner party). I went wandering down by the stream for a last look at the birds, but the flowers were all dying off now and the birds were much quieter now that mating season was over. Tom went out with Michael anyway, and eventually around 8:30 Bob and I headed out to Carmady's. It's light every night until past ten anyway so it was a great evening.

We arrived with just four dart players on the better board. The blonde thin woman apparently ran the bar with her young husband and both were playing. We found Tom and Michael and got some drinks; Bob showed off his neat darts and two guys at the bar tried them out. Then Tom and Michael wanted a try, and Bob challenged Michael to a game; I chalked. Bob ended up losing 2-1 and then the men had to head home for the party.Bob went over to the players.

They were doing a pairs luck-of-the-draw 301 and ended up with 11 teams. Bob got teamed with a woman who wasn't great, but hit some good points. I sat with the group and chatted about all sorts of things while they played; Bob and the woman ended up winning! One of the women there asked if I was "home for the holidays" since this past Monday was a bank holiday for them. I said no; I'd had enough of being laughed at for thinking I was Irish even though I wasn't born there! It was neat to think that though I obviously had an American accent they took me as a 'normal person'. Then they played a round of like 13-person Shanghai which was neat to watch. Then home, where everyone was still hanging out and talking so while I went to sleep, Bob hung out with them a while.

The final day. We woke bright and early at 8:30 and climbed into comfy clothes. Had some Irish tea and watched the birds in the back yard. Then we tossed everything into the car and headed out.

I did stop at the railway to get my squashed pennies, and the marks where it was squashed was on the tracks, but the penny was missing. Some evil penny thief absconded with it.

Some inane radio stuff about "Kermit the Frog" and a weather report for thunderstorms later in the afternoon. Definitely the right day to leave! They only do the weather for "the day" - never a thought for tomorrow! We drove through Limerick and into Shannon, dropped the car off and took the van into the terminal.

It was too late to get seats together, but after a very easy run through customs and such we went right on the plane and managed to get that worked out. There were a mix of tourists returning home and young Irish guys and gals going to Boston to work for the summer - no job, no plans, just wanting to have fun. They said it never rained in the states, that there were only beaches on the Cape. Ah well, the dreams of youth. It was a smooth trip over, and we landed to 90 degree heat (gasp) ... got to work around 4 and worked until 7:30!!

Overall impressions of the trip? We got to see a lot. I liked that. I liked the quiet fields in Kerry and the rocky shores of Cork, the glens in Antrim, the causeway, the mountains in Donegal. I loved talking with the people and learning about them, that they'd stop a tractor and marvel at baby pheasants. Learning how voting worked and how the IRA and loyalists were thought of. Just roaming around, looking at things. Climbing to Queen Maeve's cairn. Seeing the puffins!! Especially driving Beara with the free roaming sheep and the just-born lambs all over. And the baby calves and horses. Spring was definitely a great time to visit. Having the 'family' all around us was great, too. Being able to walk into town to the Millstreet library, and waking to all sorts of birds flocking around in the yard. It was sunny for almost every day, and the sun was up way before we woke and didn't go down until after 10, so we did what we wanted all day. Now that we've seen "the sights", if we go back we can just hang out in Cork, go golfing, fishing, take boat trips to the various islands, hang out in the wildlife refuges for hours and relax. And play darts, of course.

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