Friday, March 13, 2009

Ireland Keeps Getting Better All The Time


In honor of St. Pat's day, here's a diary entry on my favorite place: the Emerald Isle.
Dear Diary:

Husband and I off to admire Erin's southwest pearl--the Ring of Kerry tomorrow.

Cold, drizzly; sky filled with huge fists of clouds. Green fields everywhere with black and white cows scattered like dice on a poker table. Smell of rain, wet hay and sheep who don’t need Metimucil. Outside of Killarney, cars parked in street from one end of village to the other. “Tag sale,” I said and asked husband to stop. “Hurling match,” he countered, in hysterics. Both wrong: turned out to be funeral. Cemetery black with hundreds of townspeople straining to hear the priest. Looks as though Mafia kingpin died, but just ordinary farmer. On the road hours later, another line of cars. “Funeral,” husband and I say in unison, then have a good laugh. Turned out to be wedding.

Stopped at Muckross House, (Killarney). Didn’t go in because what was outside was hard to beat--manicured lawns stretched out like velvet rug, trees the size of the Empire State building, exquisite shrubbery; lake vista and string of rollercoaster mountains. More shades of green than ever imagined possible. Did something always wanted to do: rolled in the grass down an embankment, stuck my face in the earth, and took a deep breath. Smelled great. Freaked Swedish tourists, though.

Day still like underexposed photo, with soft rain and ghost-like mist. Gives scenery eerie aura. Goosebumps at a spot called Ladies View. Rolling hills, valleys and lakes as far as the eye can see. Giants must have walked this way once, leveling it in spots and leaving footprints that wound up as lakes. Could they still be here--posing as hills--asleep under blankets of moss, rocks and bushes they pulled over their heads? Half expect one to turn over and shake me from my spot. Moll’s Gap--more of the same.

Bought a pint for a celebrity in O’Shea’s bar in Sneen--an ancient flushed-faced local who’s pictured in postcards of the place. Got his autograph and a bit more.Pulled me close when we left and gave me a hard hug. “Send her out when you’re finished,” husband quipped. Campsite in town scattered with stone fairy huts, some shaped like cones; others notched triangles with wholes in the middle. Asked resident pixies to join in for picture. Will see if they did when photos developed. Out Portmagee to Valentia Island to stay in roomy B&B with the sea outside window. Light until 10:30! Known as divers paradise and for ruins on Skellig Islands. Must be mindboggling when the sun’s out. Cold, wet weather following us.

Know now why most everything in Ireland painted in bright colors: offsets fierce bouts of gray that can linger for days. Took ferry across charcoal water to Cahirciveen to continue journey round the Ring. Met up with people traveling in red, yellow and black, old-fashioned wooden, horse-drawn caravan with shuttered windows. Folks been vacationing this way in Ireland for years.Definitely not for hyper people. Horse clips clops about 20 miles or so a day, but probably more economical. Grass and hay free--gas around $4/$5 a gallon.

“Catch Your Own Fish,” the sign read. Enterprising local had dug a pond in the middle of a field, filled it in with water and the odd fish, and set up business, much to the astonishment of sheep and cows. Empty, though. Tourists weren’t biting. On scenic drive around Dingle Peninsula saw remains of Dunberg, a (promontory) fort on precipice with sheer drop to jagged rocks and crashing sea. Great defense against nasty invaders; bummer for soldiers who walked in their sleep. Found out why sheep, like Biblical Joseph, have coats with stripes of many colors. Farmers paint different colors on animals so they can keep track of whose ewe is whose.

Had coffee in “The Enchanted Forest,” where a seagull (who was probably a princess in her former life) let me take her picture with the magnificent Blasket Islands in the background. With fingers of phosphorescent white fog tickling them, Islands looked like partially submerged sea monsters. Roads on route, narrow, curvy and two-way, with nothing but a flimsy rock guard and chicken wire between them and crag to the sea. Teeth-clencher when tourist bus coming around the bend from opposite way. Will never be frightened of husband’s driving on I-95 again! No wonder churches so crowded on Sunday. Slea’s Head, another dream-like sea panorama with egg-shell beach and aquamarine water. No sun in sight.

Stopped in Ballyferriter in one of the regions (“Gaeltach”) where Irish language spoken and promoted. Husband who studies and teaches Irish had great “crack” (“fun”) conversing with locals in Irish, visiting Irish-language schools and buying books. In Heritage Center, discovered Blasket Islands produced famous writers, (Tomás Ó Criomhthain, M. Ó Suilleabháin and Pieg Sayers) who chronicled what it’s like to live on sparsely populated rocky atoll in the middle of the sea with no cable or pizza delivery. Islands abandoned in the 50s for safety reasons.

Found nice B&B and then into town for dinner at eatery named after Pieg Sayers. Ate fresh prawns and crab claws cats would kill for. Really tasty but drop in bucket in my stomach. Note to order lasagna and order of brown bread with it next time. Heard traditional footstomping Irish music from artists who played guitar and arm-held bagpipe. Chatted with Swedish tourists staying in hostel and locals who run tours. Fantasized about writing novel of American on holiday in Ireland, then retiring to Dingle and opening up the “O’Zobel-Nolan Pub and Cattery.” Off to Tralee, Limerick and finally Tipperary to see nieces. Plans are to take in some castles on the way back to Cork (Rock of Cashel and Cahir Castle). Uh, oh, out of space already. Note to bring thicker diary next time.

Happy ending, though: Sun came out!

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