Monday, August 22, 2011

Lessons From Ireland

Having a grand time in Ireland.
To summarize: Ireland was an amazing experience.  Or, as the Irish would say, "grand."  I took a little zanax to help me relax on the plane and I felt like it lasted all week.  Or maybe it was the Guinness.  Really, I think it was all of Ireland--the beautiful views, the interesting history, the friendly people.  We had a lot of fun and learned a lot too.  I'll tell you a little about our trip, along with some of the lessons we learned along the way.

Aillwee Cave
In Ireland, drive very carefully.  Oh, everyone tells you to drive on the left.  On the highways it is pretty easy and the roundabouts were a fun alternative to traffic lights.  It's the smaller roads that are tricky.  They are about as narrow as a sidewalk and have no shoulder--instead being flanked by limestone walls or large shrubbery so you can't see what's coming.  Then the speed limit is 100km.  I don't have a picture of the roads because I was too busy holding on to the car and pressing my imaginary brake a lot.  Our first day there, Paul sideswiped a lot of shubbery, drove up on a curb and knocked our side view mirror in with a telephone pole.  In Paul's defense, he was doing a much better job than I would have been, especially with no sleep after the plane ride. 

Pulnabrone Portal Tomb

Our first day we went to The Burren, and all the driving was worth it.  Burren is from the Gaelic word meaning "stony place" as you can see here.  We toured a cave there, hiked around the limestone fields and stopped to check out various relics, such as an ancient tomb believed to be over 4500 years old.

Limestone in The Burren

Paul at Bunratty Castle

Day two was rainy so we stayed in Bunratty to tour the castle and visit their folk park.  Although it was cold and wet, all the little houses and cottages around the castle had fires burning.  Jack spent a lot of time adding peet for fuel and tending the fires.  When we were hungry, we stopped in a pub for some lunch.  We walk in and wait to be seated.  As we are standing there, I can overhear the couple at the table nearby talking.

"Why are tose people just standing tere, do ye tink?
"Ah, tey must be Americans, ye see."
"Why, how would ye go on knowin' a ting like dat?"
"In America, tey need de invitation to sit down."
"What a strange custom!"

Window in Bunratty Castle
So our next lesson: In Ireland, there are no hostesses at the pubs.  There are, however, great stews...if you like lamb.  We never had a problem finding a place to eat or good food to eat. The kids ate lots of chips (french fries) but were dismayed to find out that Irish ketchup tastes funny.  Once we were in a pub and they had little packets of Heinz on the table.  One by one, that ketchup was transferred to Jack's pockets to be used in future meals.

Over the next few days, we had lots of adventures.  We took a ferry to the smallest of the three Aran Island and spent the day hiking and playing on the beach there.  
At the beach on the Aran Islands 
We saw the Cliffs of Moher and attended a Traditional Irish Night full of storytelling, dancing and music.

Cliffs Of Moher

It wasn't until day 5 of our trip that we hit a major snag.  We were travelling to the Dingle Peninsula for the day.  Since it is a 2.5 hour drive to get there, we decided to spend the night at a B&B.  The arrangements were made and confirmed with a lovely woman named Veronica Houlihan.  We took our time getting there, stopping along the peninsula to enjoy the views and play on the beach.  When we finally arrived late afternoon, there was no answer.  We tried to contact her with no success.  Finally we decided to ask the shopkeeper next door if he knew her.  "Oh, yes, I know Veronica Houlihan.  A shame about her husband's brother, isn't it now.  And the funeral's today."  

Any idea how long an Irish funeral lasts?  Neither do we.  We wandered around town a bit.  Still not home.  We ate dinner in a pub.  Still not home.  We ate ice cream at Murphy's.  Still not home.  We played  cards.  Finally, we decided we needed to try Plan B.  We started driving along the road looking for B&Bs with vacancy signs.  When we found one, I would run up to see if they could accomodate the 4 of us.  Three more times we struck out.  Paul was starting to think about having to drive back to Bunratty.  Katherine started to cry.  "Give me one more chance," I pleaded.  We stopped again.  The woman answered the door.  I told her my story.  "Come in," she said.  "In Ireland, you can always find a bed."  We had a great night's sleep and a full Irish breakfast in the morning. And that became one of our lessons: In Ireland, you can always find a bed.

Dunbeg Fort in Dingle

I'm glad we stayed in Dingle because we had more time to see everything in the morning.  We saw some ancient stone forts, potato famine cottages, farms, the Blasket Islands (great visitor's center), amazing beaches surrounded by sheer cliffs, pottery studios (the kids got to try using a potter's wheel) and lots and lots of sheep.  The kids loved all the farm animals.  They were so used to people feeding them, they would try to eat your sleeves if you came empty handed.  That's why Katherine decided one of our lessons should be, In Ireland, the horses eat your raincoat.  Dingle was beautiful.  But it was time to move on.  We only had one day left in Ireland and we still wanted to go to Killarney.  Killarney has a beautiful National Park.  We hiked around, toured Ross Castle and Muckross House.  And, knowing it was our last day, we started talking about places to go next time, when we return to Ireland.  Our last lesson: In Ireland, you are always welcome.

Fáilte  (Welcome)

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful trip!! It was so nice seeing you for a spontaneous visit & I can't wait to see all the photos and hear more stories soon! xoxo