Day 7: Cliffs of Moher in high winds, the Rock Shop, Ross Castle, Druid’s Circle in Kenmare and Baileys’ Cheesecake!

The morning was bright and blustery with gale-force winds, as predicted. Still, we’d only walked along the Cliffs of Moher in one direction the evening before, so we wanted to start off in the other direction today. The crazy winds meant we did not try to overstep the lower, safer path and take the upper right along the cliffs with no barrier whatsoever (the better for taking pictures). We didn’t dare! My hat blew straight off my head at least twice, though luckily not to anywhere I couldn’t rescue it. And we were walking into the wind, which occasionally got up enough power to actually blow us back a step. We gave it up far sooner than I would have liked because the alternative just didn’t seem safe. Still, we got some amazing views, especially on our way back where suddenly it seemed as though small white birds were flying up from the depths of the cliffs…except the movement wasn’t quite right. When we got closer to where the objects had landed, we saw that it was sea foam. The power of the wind and the water were such that it tossed the foam over 200 meters to the top of the cliffs! Incredible!

I convinced Pete then that we had time to visit The Rock Shop. Because…Rock Shop! Yes, it is a store. No, it’s not an amazing natural formation or an incredible historical site. Still it was a high point for me. It merits blogging! I could easily have bought out the store if only I could have gotten it all back to the states. Gorgeous fairies and other ornaments (for the lawn and otherwise), fossils, really amazing jewelry…just about everything your heart could desire. I, um, ended up with just a few things. Presents, a stunning opal ring. Pete bought me an adorable little fairly named Sarah with dragonfly wings and a blue-patina. I got him a claddagh ring… It was over far too soon.

Our next lodgings were in Killarney, and we were lucky to discover that the ferry from Killimer to Killarney was still running despite the weather. I guess the weight of all the vehicles made it safe and steady enough even in the high winds. So, we sort of got our cruise, if not exactly the one we wanted.

In Killarney our bed and breakfast was right down the road from Ross Castle. I can tell you all about when Ross Castle was built and by who (and probably will in a minute, though I’ll have to look it up because they were out of their English guide books and I can’t remember off the top of my head!), but the really impressive thing about Ross Castle is that it’s been restored and provides the best glimpse I’ve had into how the tower forts were arranged and how people lived within them. The tour was wonderful and enlightening. For example, we learned more about murder holes, trip stairs at different heights and with slight tilts meant to trip up marauders unfamiliar with them, spiral staircases in a clockwise direction so that right-handed swordsmen (the majority) would have trouble swinging on their way up, but defenders coming down would have an easier time, and the reason beds were shorter than in modern day. I’d always thought this was because people were generally shorter, but apparently the reason is that the rooms were poorly ventilated and smoky. The poor air quality led to difficulty breathing, especially when laying down, so the nobility would sleep sitting up, propped against the bed’s backboard. Thus, furniture-makers began making the beds shorter to save on materials. The poor children and anyone else relegated to the floors would have to sleep on rushes (rarely changed) strewn on the hard floors and deal with the terrible conditions. I don’t generally refer people to Wiki, but the page on Ross Castle has a picture with a nice cross-section of the castle and a write-up with essentially what we learned on our tour. Oh, and Wiki says, “Ross Castle was built in the late 15th century by local ruling clan the O’Donoghues Mor (Ross)” so there you go.

While there is a ton to see and do in Killarney ( see Day 8 when it’s posted), we went from there to view the stone circle in Kenmare, which according to the flier is “the biggest example of over 100 circles that exist in the south west of Ireland.” As with all the stone circles, it’s believed to have held ritual and spiritual significance and were laid out according to the position of the sun. This one was interesting because the circle was complete, but not nearly as impressive as Stonehenge or Avebury, which you can see in the blog from our trip to England back in 2006. Avebury was my favorite. You just…felt something there. Well, I did anyway. Can’t speak for everyone. We’ve also been to and loved Scotland, and you can see that journal here.

Is it wrong that the high point of our evening was the Bailey’s cheesecake we had for desert at a pub in Kenmare? If I were ranking our Ireland deserts—and I am—this would have been second in line behind the chocolate Guinness cake and right before their whipped ice cream, which is Ireland’s answer to soft serve, but which has a wonderful consistency somewhere between marshmallow and whipped cream!

I have to interrupt these blogs of my Ireland trip for amazing book news…after all, this is primarily a book blog!

mullinsnrca First, huge congrats to Debra Mullins, who brought home the National Reader’s Choice Award for Best Paranormal Romance for HEART OF STONE, the second in her TruthSeers series.  The first book, PRODIGAL SON, won first place last year in the Book Buyers’ Best Awards!  Plus, among other accolades, Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review and said, “Suspense and romance are wrapped together in such a way that neither overwhelms the other—and they combine beautifully with intriguing secondary characters, sensual passion, and powerful themes of trust and loyalty.”  Take note, paranormal romance fans!

alicehis father's eyesfifth season Because I don’t believe a TBR pile can ever be TOO big, I’m excited to pass along Kirkus Reviews’ list of “The Must-Read Speculative Fiction Books Coming Out in August”, which includes ALICE by Christina Henry, HIS FATHER’S EYES by David B. Coe and THE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemisin.  Such a great list!

the veilfifth seasonnightwise Barnes & Noble’s Bookseller’s Picks for August is also full of win!  B&N gives well-deserved nods to THE VEIL by Chloe Neill (first in a brand new series!),  THE FIFTH SEASON by N.K. Jemisin (also the first in an exciting new series) and NIGHTWISE by R.S. Belcher (his first contemporary fantasy)!

ShadesInShadow[2] In case you haven’t already taken the hint that THE FIFTH SEASON is among this fall’s must-reads, Bibliotropic just gave N.K. Jemisin 5/5 Stars and called THE FIFTH SEASON, “A legend in the making” and Publishers Weekly gave it a great starred review!  Incidentally, her Inheritance Trilogy triptych of stories, SHADES IN SHADOW, just released this week, and you should check that out as well!

Day 6: Dunguaire Castle, Caherconnell Stone Fort, Poulnabrone Dolmen, Ailwee Caves and Birds of Prey Center, Cliffs of Moher, Medieval Feast at Bunratty Castle

We had another very full day ahead of us and so, sadly, couldn’t wait for Dunguaire Castle to open and only had the opportunity to view it externally, though this was certainly impressive. Dunguaire overlooks the beautiful Galway Bay. It was built in 1520 by the O’Hynes clan. In the 1920s it was bought by Oliver St. John Gogarty, who began restoration, and, according to Shannon Heritage, “It became the venue for meetings of the literary revivalists such as W.B. Yeats, his patron Lady Gregory, George Bernard Shaw, Edward Martin and J.M. Synge.” Impressive!

Then we were off to the Burren to see some considerably older sites. Our first stop was Caherconnell cashel, a drystone fort (otherwise known as a ring fort), which dates to the 10th century A.D. (ring forts themselves were generally built between 400 and 1200 A.D.) and which was occupied as late as the 17th Century! Radiocarbon dating of the remains of a woman and two children found in burial boxes (cists) right inside the walls shows that they date way back to 535 A.D., demonstrating that use of the site itself long predates the building of the fort and that the family’s ancestral remains were incorporated into the holding. A 7th century firepit quarried into the bedrock and other evidence also argue for earlier use of the site. Caherconnell means the caher of Connell, and based on the size of the stone fort (large for its kind), the Connell family was well off and had plenty of room to bring their animals inside the walls (as the lay-out indicates they did) during times of attack. Luxury items found at the site, like glass and amber beads from outside their territory, further demonstrate their wealth. Also found during excavations, cool things like bone combs, harp pegs, arrowheads, buckles, musket balls, needles, gaming pieces (again showing wealth as well as leisure-time activities). Excavations are still on-going and while it’s been a while since college and my dig days, I really wanted to roll up my sleeves and join in!

Next we were on to the Poulnabrone Dolmen, an impressive and scenic neolithic portal tomb that dates back to around 3,600 B.C.! I love the term “portal tomb”, since you can absolutely look at this and imagine the ancient people who’d built it thinking of this as the portal to another world…a.k.a. the afterlife. Poulnabrone itself means “hole of sorrows”. Excavations and analysis indicate that remains were taken elsewhere to decompose/skeletonize and then brought to their final resting place within the dolmen’s chamber. Remains here indicate the burial of a baby, six juveniles and sixteen to twenty-two adults, only one of whom had lived past the age of forty. You can find more information here.

It decided to rain while we were at the dolmen, which put to rest our thought that we might visit all the outdoor sites of the Burren. Instead, we decided to head for Ailwee Caves and Birds of Prey Center where there would be less precipitation dripping on our heads. I hadn’t been to caves since Howe Caverns (which I loved) as a kid. While not as extensive, the Ailwee caves were really interesting. They’d been found in 1944 by a farmer looking for his disappearing dog, though not revealed to anyone until thirty years later. According to the Clare County Library, “Aillwee Cave was originally an underground river fed by the melting snows of the ice age. The river dried up as the ice retreated leaving the cave as it is to be seen today.” Today any water entering the caves seeps away through the stone floor, leaving them mostly dry except for some current dripping, still adding to the stalactites and stalagmites…except during especially wet weather, which the caves will reflect. Glacial activity backfilled the caves somewhat, and the farmer was only able to go so far, but today much of the scree and stone has been removed (revealing a set of brown bear bones, demonstrating that they’d have called the cave home). There were some cool features like the “frozen waterfall” you can see in the pictures.

Apropos of nothing at all: the little cafe at Ailwee sold the best scones I had while I was in Ireland, though there wasn’t nearly enough jam! Yes, I love scones. Yes, I had them even though I’m allergic to wheat and yeast. Yes, it was worth the discomfort.

The Birds of Prey Center was great as well. Though it was drizzling, we got to see an owl, two vultures and a peregrine falcon fly…all very neat. We also saw and read about many other birds that they had on-site. It would be difficult to pick a favorite. I love owls, as you can probably tell by the number of pictures I took of them. However the peregrine falcon has always been a favorite, and the Bateleur Eagle (the bird with the black feathers with the brown saddle on his back, the gray wing accents and the red face and beak) was pretty darn cool.

We were staying that night in Liscannor at the Cliffs of Moher Hotel, where, unfortunately, there was no internet in the rooms and very slow/poor internet even in the lobby, which we were told was because we were in the Burren and that’s how it was. A bit tired (rainy days and Mondays will do that and this was the former), I took a small nap and awoke to the light streaming through the windows. With the weather cleared, Pete and I rushed off to the Cliffs of Moher, which were absolutely breathtaking, as you can see. So gorgeous we wanted to take a cruise the next day so that we can look up and see them from their bases and travel next to or even through some of the arches created, but the weather called for gale force winds, and no cruises were scheduled.

That night was the medieval feast at Bunratty Castle, for which we arrived a little bit late, because the lady at our hotel told us it was only half an hour away when it was actually more like fifty minutes. (We were so rushed, I didn’t even stop to get pictures!) But we only missed a little bit, like the choosing of the guests of honor for the evening. Personally, I think Pete would have made a wonderful king/chieftan and could totally have rocked the crown. It was a fun night. The singing was beautiful, our table companions nice and the meal (remarkably) not a problem given all my various food allergies. Especially tasty was the turnip soup. If you’d told me that in advance, I’d never have believed you.

It was a great end to an incredible day.

Day 5: Westport House, Fjord, Flying the hawks at Ashford Castle, Cong Abbey

We’re in the habit of getting up and out early every day so that we have time to do everything possible, and today was no exception, especially since there was so much to fit in before our appointment to fly the hawks at Ashford Castle. (More on that soon!) First we headed to Westport House, since we were already in town. Unfortunately it didn’t open until 10 a.m. and by the time we’d have waited for it and taken the tour, we’d pretty much have put the kibosh on anything else.

If our son had been with us (and younger), we’d have planned to make an entire day of Westport, since in addition to the historical significance of the house and grounds, which were well-preserved, there was a Pirate Adventure Park (in honor of Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connaught) with a carousel, zip lining, archery, canoeing, combat games and about everything else imaginable for the young-at-heart. Given our time crunch, we simply paid our fee to walk around the grounds of Westport House. The house that stands now dates to 1730, but the original Westport House was built in 1650 by Colonel John Browne and his wife Maud Burke, who was Grace O’Malley’s great-great grandaughter.

Then we were on to Killary and the only fjord in Ireland, which we’d added spontaneously to our schedule after hearing about it from a local. We’d never seen a fjord before and couldn’t miss the chance to do so now! So, we gathered our travel chocolate, as had become a tradition with us to help the miles go by (dark chocolate whiskey truffle bars, mostly), and headed off. It was beautiful, as you can see, though since we’d had no idea what to expect, we might have built it up a bit bigger in our heads…

It was just as well that the fjord didn’t require a hike to reach, because we had an appointment at the Irish School of Falconry beside Ashford Castle in Cong for a “Hawk Walk” on the grounds.

This was without question one of the high points of our trip. For the cost, we got a private lesson in falconry and a personal guide. It was just Pete and me, our guide Anya, and our brother and sister hawks Beckett and Sonora. Both were Harris hawks (originally of Colorado), since they’re the only ones that will fly and hunt communally. The hawk walk was…there are just no words. It was amazing. Magical. We learned about how the falconers know when to fly them. Harris hawks are generally between one and two pounds and their weights are recorded every morning, because they should be flown when they’re just hungry enough that they want to hunt, but not so hungry that they’ll make bad choices, as we humans do at fast food counters. Beckett was a very well behaved hawk, but it turns out Sonora was addicted to mushrooms, which she can’t really digest, and so she kept ignoring our guide’s calls to return to fill her crop with fungi! She did come back around, however, and it was an absolutely amazing day. We also got to see and hear about other birds as well, like the peregrine falcon, which can fly up to speeds of 273 mph and needs wide open spaces because of its speed, wingspan and prey (it hunts other birds). We also met Dingle, the Indian Eagle Owl, who was absolutely beautiful!

Also in Cong was the gorgeous Cong Abbey, pictures of which are below. It turns out that in Cong and Connemara, they’re all about the film The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, which was set in the area. There’s memorabilia everywhere, and I quickly snapped a picture of this statue on the way to the abbey.

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The abbey was beautiful, and I’m so all about the Celtic high crosses it’s ridiculous. There’s a good write-up of the history here, so I won’t go over it all myself except to say that the architecture that remains dates back to the 12th century.

Dinner involved probably the most amazing desert we had during our time in Ireland, chocolate Guinness cake. A quick note: there should be absolutely no question of what to order anywhere in Ireland once you see the word Guinness in a description. To quote Monk’s theme song (the OCD detective, not someone who might have lived at the abbey), I could be wrong now, but I don’t think so…

Day 4: Neolithic Passage Tombs in County Leitrim and Westport, County Mayo

We did have a very nice lunch at the tea room, as advertised, and then went on a search for neolithic passage tombs in Manorhamilton, County Leitrim…. Now, it was a wonder we’d heard about these tombs at all. I saw them listed on an attraction-side map somewhere in Duncliff and hoped their label (Tullyskeherney ) would lead us to them. Unfortunately, there were no road names to indicate how to reach them, just a green line extending out from a town labeled Manorhamilton. Our GPS, of course, had no idea, since passage tombs don’t exactly come with a street address…and yet when I said to my husband, “Let’s go. We’ll ask the locals,” he agreed instantly. Forty-five or so minutes later (I think, I didn’t note the time), we were at a petrol station in Manorhamilton asking the young man and woman behind the counter. They had no idea, but were very nice, which was true of all the people we encountered in Ireland, and the girl’s eyes lit up with an idea. “Wait, I know who might know!” She was off, and a minute later came back to wave us in the direction of two older men bent over their coffees like they were pints at the pub. The man were glad to see us interested and told us we couldn’t miss it. We were to take a right turn after the cattle market and go up and up the mountain, veer left when the road separates, and keep going. If we found ourselves coming back down again, we’d gone too far. Well, we all know “can’t miss it” is code for “good feckin’ luck!” but we were determined and excited. So, as instructed, we went up and up the mountain, searching all the while into the sheep pastures looking for the tombs and not seeing them. When we’d gone up as far as we could go and were in danger of heading back down the mountain, Pete’s eyes lit with mischief, and he stopped the car, pulling as far to the side as he could on the narrow, one-lane road. He rolled down the window and asked the sheep, who looked at him in utter amazement, then looked at each other to see whether they should answer. Once some sort of sheeply consensus had been reached, they turned and started heading even further up the mountain than was possible by car. Pete wondered whether we should follow the sheep, but I didn’t want to trespass on someone’s property and wasn’t so sure about letting ourselves into their pasture.

Instead, we went a bit further (now heading down the mountain) and found a house where no one seemed to be home. We got back into the car, headed the other direction down the mountain until we found another house with the world’s friendliest dog…and people too! The woman there assured us that the top of the mountain where we’d been was absolutely right, the sheep knew what they were talking about, and we should use a set of wooden steps someone had built and placed over the paddock fence to let ourselves in. Thus armed with permission and directions, we did just that. The sheep, since we hadn’t taken their direction now wanted nothing more to do with us, so we picked our way through sheep patties until we came upon not just one passage tomb, but an entire hillside of them! As you can see, this was very impressive, despite the fact that the tombs had clearly been raided for stone to build a now-abandoned shepherd’s cottage nearby (based on the similarity of stone not in evidence elsewhere on the mountain and the matching tool marks). Yet you can still see the basic configuration of the tombs and the ancient tool marks. It was amazing!

After communing and geeking out for awhile (I was an anthropology major as well as English/writing, so I eat this stuff up), we were own to our accommodations for the night—in Westport, County Mayo. I’d never even heard of Westport, which is a beautiful seaside resort town that many French but few American tourists visit apparently, based on our conversation with a couple of lovely locals on our stroll out to see the sunset.

Voracious from our hike, we received a recommendation on a place to go for dinner and were told unequivocally to visit The Helm. What a great recommendation. Pete and I both had the rack of lamb, which you could not quite have cut with a butter knife, but it was probably a near thing. It was so good and we were so full that we decided to take that aforementioned walk to see the sun set, which happened at about 10ish at that time of the year, to work up our appetite again.

The landscape was gorgeous, even before sunset, with Croagh Patrick (a sacred mountain on top of which Saint Patrick was rumored to have fasted for 40 days) in the background.

Clouds came in and hung around that kept it sunset from being as impressive as it could have been (and we were told had been the previous night), but it was still beautiful, and our stroll and talk with the nice Irish couple and their crazy-energetic dog was wonderful. We discovered that they were related to Aoife Beary, one of the students who’d survived the balcony collapse in Berkley ,CA where six students were killed and seven seriously injured. She was still unconscious, but as of yesterday, the update we saw said that she’d been moved off of the critical list. Prayers for healing for Aoife and the other students and families are still very welcome.

Day 4: Donegal Castle, The Dubliners (sadly not in person), Rossnowlagh Beach and Yeats’ Grave

We started today with a leisurely walk (and shopping!) around the town of Donegal, seat of the county of Donegal. When we’d killed enough time and spent enough money, we hared off to the castle there, which was built around 1494, but upon a site dating back much further at the very least to a Viking stronghold in 900. The first Red Hugh O’Donnell was an Gaelic chieftan who could trace his lineage all the way back to Niall of the Nine Hostages, who I had to look up once I was home and who had a very colorful history. Eventually, it was taken over by another Red Hugh, who burned it to the ground at the end of the Nine Years War to keep it from falling into English hands…which, of course, it did anyway. Thus Captain Basil Brooke and his family took over, rebuilt, and added a manor house, which they later left when they were granted larger holding in Ulster. I was amused that they took the roof with them to avoid England’s roof tax (as one does, apparently, because this wasn’t the only time we heard this story!)

We stopped at a music shop in Donegal before leaving to buy good Irish music, since the few radio stations seemed to have talk, country (the country seemed obsessed with country music) or weird pop-rap. Okay, I know “weird” is judgmental, but let’s just say not our cup of tea. We bought a three disk set of The Dubliners, and thank goodness for that! Perhaps our favorite song on the disks was “The Sick Note”. Trust me, it’s worth the listen.

Then we were off to Rossnowlagh Beach, which was recommended to us by a very nice woman at the hotel. It was, as you can see, beautiful, but also windy and a I couldn’t have imagined being in the water (chilly), but many people were, some learning to surf. Also, there were many cute dogs being walked. A beautiful seaside resort area.

Then, of course, we had to visit Yeats’ grave. We were warned that it wasn’t that the grave itself was so impressive as that, well, it was something that probably had to be done and that there was a lovely tea shop nearby. She was right that the grave was not impressive of itself. Yeats had died and was buried initially in France but he was later (per the wishes he’d expressed) moved and reburied in Drumcliff, Ireland at a church where a relative (grandfather or great grandfather, I forget) had been rector. There are rumors, though, that the body that made it back wasn’t Yeats’…or at least not his entirely!

If you’re not familiar with Yeats, you have to read A Dialogue of Self and Soul for a taste. Yes, have to. I’m bossy like that.

We did have a very nice lunch at the tea room, as advertised, and then went on a search for neolithic passage tombs in Manorhamilton, County Leitrim…. To be continued!

Interlude: evening of Day 3: Napoleonic anchor and Franciscan Abbey in Donegal Town

I realized in going over my pictures from the trip that I neglected to post about the end of day three, which involved the anchor from a Napoleonic ship and might…hypothetically…have involved us jumping a stone wall when we somehow missed the entrance (or even the road) leading to the old abbey in Donegal (despite the fact that you could see it from where we’d eaten dinner).

Yeah, I have no sense of direction. For those who know me, this comes as no surprise.

The anchor came off the Romaine, a frigate from a small fleet Napoleon sent to help the Irish against the British in 1798.  Unfortunately, the ships were spotted by watchers loyal to England and sunk or captured.  See how well my husband wears it on his arm and my pretty poor attempt to look like a pin-up girl.  Not to self: do not give up day job.

Anyway, the abbey was certainly worth seeing. According to sources, it was built in 1474 by Hugh O’Donnell (the Irish did like their Hughs) and Wiki says it “withstood ransacking, burning and ravaging before it was finally abandoned in the early part of the 17th century.” The cemetery, however, was not abandoned, and continued in use for many, many years. The abbey was apparently the place where the Annals of the Four Masters was written to preserve as much as possible of the Celtic culture and history of Ireland, which, it seemed, the English had tried pretty hard to stamp out.

I am now determined to get my hands on an edition.