Date of Trip: October 2005
Monday, October 17, 2005 Dublin, IE – mostly sunny What an adventure getting here! We left Kent early yesterday afternoon, October 16th, my 60th birthday. We arrived at the airport in Cleveland three hours before our scheduled departure time. When we went to check in at U. S. Airways, we were told our flight to Philadelphia had been cancelled because of mechanical problems, but that we had been re-booked on a Continental flight departing at 3:15 p.m., which was then less than one hour away. The ticket agent printed our Philadelphia to Dublin boarding pass and then sent us down the length of the terminal to the Continental desk to check our baggage and get our boarding pass for the first leg of the journey. Our vouchers were marked “involuntary” flight change. Involuntary, meaning it wasn’t our idea!
By now we were down to less than 30 minutes before the scheduled take-off. We get to security and Carmen and I are both put into a “high” security check status because of our late check-in! We waited in line for fifteen minutes for our in-depth security screening. By the time we got to the gate after the security fiasco the plane’s doors were closed and it was ready to pull away from the gate. The gate agent got the pilot to reopen the doors and let us on, but there were people behind us in the security screening who didn’t make the flight even though we told the gate agent that they were stuck in security due to no fault of their own. Remind me never to fly Continental ever again. The TSA screener told me we were in the high security screening because of the way the ticket agent at Continental marked the boarding pass!
The flight from Cleveland to Philadelphia was 55 minutes on the 737 versus 1 hour and 25 minutes on the U. S. Airways Express shuttle we were originally booked on. So we arrived in Philadelphia with lots and lots of time to spare. Philadelphia airport is comfortable and the wait was not unpleasant. We boarded our aircraft in an orderly manner and we pulled away from the gate on time! I congratulated myself that we had gotten through our “glitch” and we were on our way to Ireland! Fifteen minutes into the flight, a woman on board suffered an apparent heart attack and we had to turn around and return to Philadelphia airport. It is really scary to be landing in a fully loaded 757 with full fuel tanks. We came in hard and fast, but the pilot was a real pro. The EMT’s were waiting at the gate. The rest of us stayed quietly in our seats while the woman was taken off the aircraft. She was one of a party of four. Two others off loaded with her. The fourth passenger – a man – decided to continue onto Ireland and accepted responsibility for the luggage. This was a blessing because looking for and unloading their luggage would have been extremely time-consuming. The mechanics checked the wheels and the brakes to be certain nothing had been damaged in the hard set down and fast stop. Our fuel was topped off and we were on our way only 1 hour and 45 minutes late. While we were on the ground in Philly, I called Go-Ahead on my cell phone to give them a heads up that flight would be late arriving in Dublin.
We landed in Dublin at 9:15 a.m. local time and there was no tour guide. We waited an hour but he never appeared. We took a bus from the airport to the hotel, Jury’s Inn on Parnell Street, registered, and as of 3:05 p.m., our tour guide has not appeared. We ate lunch at a little cafe across the street from the hotel. The menu offered both chicken sandwiches and chicken salad sandwiches. I ordered chicken salad. I received a chicken sandwich with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and onion. It was a chicken sandwich with “salad” on it. I think what we call chicken salad, they call chopped chicken or something similar. This was my first experience with English as spoken in Ireland. Carmen and I went to a bank so that she could change some U. S. currency into Euros. For security reasons, the bank entrance had an airlock. You push a button to be admitted to the airlock chamber. Once the door from the outside had closed, you push another button to open the door from the chamber into the bank. A similar lock exists to exit the bank. Sure would make a quick getaway hard to achieve.
We wandered down O’Connell Street. It is the main thoroughfare on the north side of the Liffey. The City of Dublin is building an underground tunnel for through traffic, so O’Connell Street is all torn up. It is a challenge to get across and it must be worse for the drivers. We visited the General Post Office, the site of the 1916 uprising. It is being refurbished so we weren’t able to see much. As we look out of our hotel window there are construction cranes everywhere. Dublin is in a building boom brought on by the growth of their economy. Wouldn’t you know it, by the time I am able to visit Ireland, instead of being a cheap vacation it is now the most expensive of the European Union countries. But I am happy for the Irish. After centuries of poverty and serfdom, the Republic of Ireland is now a leading European economy.
Our tour guide, Sean, knocked on our hotel room door at 3:30 p.m. He and the London pre-excursion contingent had been fogged in at Heathrow. Sean had arranged for a cab to be at the airport to pick us up at 7:45 a.m. (our scheduled arrival time). He didn’t receive our message about our delayed arrival so he is out of the doghouse. He even reimbursed us the expense of getting from the airport to the hotel. It was only €3.00 each, but I appreciated that the tour company stood behind their guarantee of including “all transfers”. We had a get-to-know you dinner in the hotel. We ate with a couple – Melody and Steve – from Minnesota. She has a friend who works for the Pleasanton School District. Small world. ***
Tuesday,October 18,2005 Dublin, IE – Overcast w/occasional drizzle
We met this morning at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast in the hotel dining room. We were offered canned fruit (I guess fresh fruit is not an option in Ireland in October), fried egg (sitting in the warmer – not terribly appetizing), bacon (looked like very thin ham slices, tasted like neither bacon nor ham), toast (also sitting in the warmer, pretty dry and crusty), croissant (delicious), plain yogurt (used in place of milk on dry cereal), Muesli (tasty), orange juice (just like home) and Irish coffee (not Irish Coffee). Tomorrow I drink tea! We were on the bus and away promptly at 9:00 a.m. If today is any indication, this is a group that will not have stragglers holding everyone else up. Thank God for small favors. Our bus driver’s name is Dan. He will be with us for the entire tour. We are an “old” group. At age 40, Carmen is the youngster in the group. At 60, I am merely middle aged. Most of the group is in their 70’s and a few in their 80’s. Dan is extremely helpful to us all getting on and off the bus, and very patient as we work our way into our seats.
We took a motor tour of Dublin. I didn’t keep track of the exact route we took, but we saw Temple Bar, Grafton Street, the Liffey, Ha Penny Bridge, St. Stephen’s Green, the President’s house, Trinity College, Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin Castle, Millennium Spire, all from the bus.
We arrived at St. Patrick’s Cathedral just before 10:00 a.m. I was surprised to learn that St. Pat’s is Church of Ireland not RC. Morning worship was just concluding so we were able to enjoy a few minutes listening to the Boys Choir. We received a guided tour of the Cathedral. I would have liked to have more time and to wander on my own, but you don’t keep a tour group on schedule by turning them loose. I did take a picture of a manuscript copy of Handel’s Messiah. It is not the original, but it is a hand copied manuscript of the same period. Books and music what a wonderful combination.
At 10:30 a.m. we were back on the bus on our way to Trinity College. We visited the Old Library building. I finally have seen the Book of Kells. It is a beautiful work of art and worship. The main chamber of the Old Library, the Long Room, is nearly 65 meters in length, and houses around 200,000 of the Library’s oldest books. When built, it had a flat plaster ceiling, with shelves for books on the lower level only, and an open gallery. By the 1850s these shelves had become completely full. In 1860 the roof was raised according to plans by the architects Deane and Woodward, to allow the construction of the present barrel-vaulted ceiling and gallery bookcases.
“Marble busts are placed down either side of the room. This collection began in 1743 when 14 busts were commissioned from the sculptor Peter Scheemakers. Other sculptors represented are Simon Vierpyl, Patrick Cunningham, John van Nost and Louis Francois Roubiliac, whose bust of the writer Jonathan Swift is one of the finest in the collection. The harp is the oldest to survive from Ireland, and probably dates from the fifteenth century. It is constructed from oak and willow with brass strings. As an emblem of early bardic society, this is the harp which appears on Irish coins. The attribution to Brian Boru, high king of Ireland (died 1014), is legendary. One of the dozen or so remaining copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic is on display. This signaled the start of the Easter Rising when it was read aloud by Patrick Pearse outside the General Post Office on 24 April 1916.” (Trinity College Library, Dublin)
I saw on display an 1859 edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species. That was almost as exciting as seeing the Book of Kells. I was able to look at it longer since there was no line of people waiting to view it. The library is fascinating. I can’t remember ever seeing so many books – old and valuable books – in one place. There is a beautiful wrought iron spiral stair case going to the upper level of books. It is roped off. I am not sure it would be safe. But it is certainly a beautiful work of art. After the tour at Trinity we were on our own for the rest of the day. We spent more than an hour at Trinity gawking like the tourists we are.
Then Carmen and I walked to the National Gallery. We ate lunch there in the cafeteria. I had a panini sandwich of tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella and a diet coke. Not so different from what might be available in a museum cafeteria at home. After lunch, Carmen and I spent about an hour wandering among the Old Masters. We knew we couldn’t see everything so we didn’t even try. We just took our time and enjoyed what we were able to see. One could easily spend an entire day at the National Gallery.
From there we walked to St. Stephen’s Green. We took pictures of the wonderful Georgians along the way. Every door and lintel is distinct from its neighbors – and the colors. The Irish love color – perhaps because much of their weather is dull and grey they paint their houses in bright vibrant colors. And the chimneys are an art form in themselves. We walked through St. Stephen’s Green and exited at the Grafton Street Gate. We walked along Grafton Street (the Rodeo Drive of Dublin). We stopped at Powerscourt Shopping Mall (the converted Georgian townhouse of Lord Powerscourt). Then we walked through Temple Bar scouting out likely places for dinner. We crossed the Liffey on the Ha Penny Bridge (which is pedestrians only) and arrived back at our hotel in time for a wash up and a cocktail. Our guide, Sean, was impressed with all that we had managed to see. Carmen thinks we walked two miles, I think it was more. But then she is twenty years the younger. We were on our own for dinner tonight, so we walked back to Temple Bar and ate at Oliver St John Gogartys. I had lamb and it was very tasty.
Located in heart of Temple Bar, Dublin’s Cultural Quarter and named after Oliver St John Gogarty (1878- 1957) friend of James Joyce and W.B. Yeats, Gogarty was a poet, a writer, one of the most prominent Dublin wits, and for some time a political figure of the Irish Free State. Enjoy the craic, live traditional Irish music, and great service in our award winning traditional Irish Bar or visit our traditional Irish restaurant on the second floor where you can sample our menu which contains Irish dishes dating back to the 1800’s. The Oliver St. John Gogarty offers a wide choice of accommodation ranging from budget hostel accommodation to holiday apartments. Both are available for long or short term stays and are centrally located in the heart of Dublin City Centre in the Temple Bar district and within walking distance of Dublin’s most famous landmarks including Trinity College, Christchurch Cathedral, and Grafton Street , Dublins’ premier shopping street.” (Oliver St. John Gogarty Brochure)
There was traditional Irish music playing on a sound system, but the live performers didn’t start until 9:00 p.m. Neither of us was up to staying that late. After dinner we walked about some more and returned back across the Liffey about 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday, October 19,2005 Dublin, IE – rain
Today’s weather was wet and wetter. We left Dublin at 9:00 a.m. for our excursion to Glendalough and Powerscourt, both in County Wicklow. The highlight of the day – I discovered just how wonderful scones and Irish tea can be. We climbed around the ruins of Glendalough and through the cemeteries in a light drizzle. It was really not bad at all, soft rain as Father Terry calls it. I walked with some of my tour companions to the lower lake. Misty, damp and green. Carmen hiked to the upper lake and to St. Kevin’s Cell. She is the only one of our group who did. But then she is the youngster on this tour. And while she was exploring and seeing all there was to see, I was making my culinary discovery. I enjoyed tea and scones at the Glendalough Hotel, just outside the monastery grounds.
“Glendalough, with its famous round tower is one of the most enduring images of County Wicklow. A truly beautiful location which is steeped history. The English name Glendalough comes from the Irish Gleann Dá Locha which translates to “The valley of the two lakes”. It was here that St. Kevin founded a monastery in the sixth century. From this beginning the site grew to become famous as a centre of learning throughout Europe. Indeed, Ireland was known as the “Island of Saints and Scholars”. Standing amid the remains of this monastic settlement, one can feel a powerful sense of peace and tranquility. The settlement continued to expand for 600 years and was destroyed in 1398. The buildings which survive date from the 8th and 12th centuries. The most famous is, of course, the round tower which is 34m high and 16m in circumference at the base. A cathedral, stone churches and decorated crosses also survived.” (Wicklow.com)
We left Glendalough and started our return to Dublin with a planned stop at Powerscourt Estate. The rain quit for a while and we were able to walk through the gardens. They are beautifully landscaped and maintained – but, of course, since it is October, there are no blooming flowers. There are sculptures, and fountains, and ponds. Walkways twist around to secluded benches and hidden grottos. After spending time in the gardens, we toured the interior exhibits. Sadly most of the building was destroyed by fire 1974. To finance the restoration that is now being done, much of the space has been leased to commercial specialty shops. I did buy Angie a scarf of Merino wool, but I am sure we will find things of equal quality for lower prices elsewhere. Here we are a captive audience. Carmen and I bought cheese and crackers and settled down in the forecourt for a bit of a snack. No sooner seated and it started to rain – hard! It rained most of the way back to Dublin. Sean told us this was the hardest rain this year. This evening we went to a pub in the west Dublin hills. The entertainment was terrific. We heard a group called the Merry Ploughmen at a pub called Taylor’s Three Rock. The dancers were so-so, but the musicians were wonderful. It was an evening of traditional Irish craic. ***
Thursday, October 20, 2005 Cork, IE – sunny & clear
Today we left Dublin at 9:00 a.m. for our next overnight stop in Cork. Dublin was wonderful but it is a big city just like every other big city – except that it has lots of history. Much more than anywhere in the U.S.
On our way to Cork our first stop was at the Irish National Stud Farm. It is off season, neither breeding nor birthing going on. But the area is beautiful. We saw foster mares that foal every year for ten years so they are available to wet-nurse thoroughbred foals that may need it. We also saw miniature horses originally bred to work in the coal mines. They are no longer used for such purposes, thank God. We saw beautiful thoroughbred studs. Each ensconced in his own huge pasture. We toured the beautiful gardens at the Stud Farm – everywhere you go in Ireland, there are gardens – and we ate scones and drank tea at elevenses – just like the hobbits.
On our way from the National Stud Farm to Kilkenny, Sean pointed out a huge field that was used to film the battle scenes in Brave Heart. I didn’t take a picture because it would just look like a big green field. And there are lots and lots of big green fields in Ireland. We were on our own for lunch in Kilkenny. We looked for somewhere we could eat cheap and light. Eating out in Ireland is expensive. After lunch we toured St. Canice’s Cathedral. It was a very interesting tour provided by a local parishioner. As an Anglican, he was very patient with a group of insensitive RCs.
“Prior to his death in 1202, it was the vision of Bishop Felix O’Deleaney that the monastic settlement that was St Canice’s should house a cathedral church. Since the 1120’s the see of Ossory had been shifted from Aghaboe to Kilkenny but no new building was erected to mark the move. The bishop was one of the few who realized the significance of the Norman settlement of the region. In consequence, he established the foundations of the cathedral with a view that the practically minded Norman overlords would sponsor the stone masons to erect a house of God worthy of both worship and prestige. Bishop O’Deleaney died before his vision became real. However in laying the foundations he left the challenge to his successors to complete the task. The 13th century cathedral of St Canice is the second longest cathedral in Ireland . The site on which the cathedral stands has been a site of Christian worship since the 6th century. The architectural style of the cathedral is Early Gothic and it is built of limestone. The cathedral has been carefully preserved in its original style and form. It is richly endowed with many stained glass windows including the East window which is a replica of the original 13th century window. The cathedral contains some of the finest 16th century monuments in Ireland. The memorials stretch right across the social spectrum from the great figures of the house of Ormonde to the humble shoemaker and carpenter. The baptismal font is original and the ancient stone of enthronement for bishops still exists under the seat of the mediaeval throne in the North Transept, where to this day the bishops of Ossory are enthroned. The continental carvings on the choir stalls and the hammerbeam roof are not to be missed. Beside the cathedral stands the 9th century round tower. It may once have been a watchtower and a refuge and it can be climbed to give an unsurpassing vantage point to view the city of Kilkenny and the surrounding countryside.” (Norman Lynas, dean of Ossory)
We made a rest stop in Cahir and arrived in Cork at 6:30 p. m. We are at the Rochester Park Hotel. Carmen and I could not get a non-smoking room, so we will probably reek of stale tobacco tomorrow. We have been spoiled so far on this trip. Within the past year or two, the Irish Republic passed a “no smoking in public buildings” law similar to the one we have in California. So we have been blessed with smoke-free atmosphere most places we have gone. Even though it is raining tonight we are sleeping with the window open. Thank goodness it is only for one night. Tomorrow night we will be in Kenmare. ***
Friday, October 21, 2005 Kenmare, IE – Overcast
We left Cork promptly at 9:00 a.m. this morning for the little community of Cobh (pronounced Cove). We toured the Emigration Museum. Not only did the coffin ships set sail from Cobh, but the big ocean liners made Cobh their last European port of call before crossing the Atlantic. Both the Lusitania and the Titanic called at Cobh before their fateful voyages. From Cobh we returned to Cork for the city tour. Sean scheduled the city tour second so that we could avoid the morning rush hour traffic. After driving around Cork and seeing the Cork City Gaol, Sean took us to the English Market – a lot like Pikes Place Market in Seattle. We spent about an hour there and then boarded our bus for the ride to Kenmare with a stop on the way.
Our stop was at Blarney, County Cork, where we toured Blarney Castle. Carmen climbed the 91 steps to the top but declined to kiss the Blarney Stone. Since I have already kissed an Irishman who has kissed the Blarney Stone I did not need to make the trip to the top. Good thing too, because there is no way I could climb up that narrow twisting stairway to the top of the tower. One of the best things about the town of Blarney is the Blarney Woolen Mill. I bought Joe a sweater and a cap; and I had a wonderful time window shopping as well. From Blarney we drove to Kenmare, County Kerry. We are staying at the Kenmare Bay Hotel. What a lovely little town. I looked at real estate prices and they are a little below our part of the U.S. I can only dream of living here. And I am not sure I would like it for the long haul. But I would be willing to give it a try. ***
Saturday, October 22, 2005 Kenmare, IE – sunny & clear
Today we drove the Ring of Kerry. We stopped first at Killarney, also in Kerry, and rode jaunting carts pulled by Irish draft horses through Killarney National Park. What fun! We shopped at the outlet center in Killarney and at the Blarney Woolen Mill outlet store. I bought a sweater for me. We ate lunch at the Thatched Cottage near Cahersiveen, County Kerry. We enjoyed the most incredibly clear and beautiful weather. Sean says that if you drive the Ring of Kerry 15 times, you might get one day like ours. We were able to see the Dingle Peninsula and the Skelligs. Sean told us that a boat trip to Skellig Michael is only possible when the weather is perfect and the seas are calm. The island has seabird colonies, magnificent scenery, and a fine example of early Christian Monastic architecture on a cliff top 200 meters above the sea. All the tour buses travel the Ring of Kerry in the same direction. The road is too narrow in most places for two buses to pass side by side, so they all go counter clockwise, so they never have to pass each other. I don’t know if it is the rule of the road or just self preservation, but when we meet a car coming toward us, it is always the car that pulls onto the narrow shoulder up against the hedgerows to let the bus pass.
When we returned to the hotel in Kenmare, Carmen and I walked to see a druids’ circle on a small hill in the town. It was a small circle, but still impressive – a place of pagan worship more than 2,000 years old. We also walked the two main streets in Kenmare reading the menus at every pub and restaurant. After Saturday evening Mass at Holy Cross Church, we ate dinner at Foley’s. We both ordered lamb chops and they were delicious. ***
Sunday, October 23, 2005 Galway, IE – Overcast
We said good bye to Kenmare this morning as we departed for Galway City, the last stop on our tour. The time has passed so quickly. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to see. I would love to spend six months touring Ireland – but maybe not the rainy season. Our stop on our way to Galway was Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, County Clare. It is quite interesting. There has been a lot of restoration. We started out at the castle. I managed the narrow circular stairways up a couple of levels but didn’t feel adventurous enough to climb all the way to the top. My depth perception and my knees both leave much to be desired. The Folk Park was fascinating. The houses are authentic with thatched roofs and peat burning fireplaces.
The trip from Kenmare to Galway is almost five hours, so mostly we were on the bus looking at the scenery as we drove. I think that both Carmen and I actually cat napped along the way. Dan played Irish music on the bus sound system as he has during the whole trip. It makes the bus travel so pleasant. Sean has shared with us so many stories and historical facts along the way. He taught school for a while, in fact he may still be teaching history, he doesn’t talk much about himself. We have learned that he lives in Northern Ireland in Belfast. While he steers clear of discussing Irish politics, I get the feeling that he is probably a Protestant. But if so, he has been very tolerant of a busload of mostly Roman Catholics – all descendents of immigrated Irish – with all our biases and grudges. The Irish don’t have the same animosity for the English that we Irish Americans do. I guess that is because they are still in Ireland, and we are exiled.
We arrived at the Imperial Hotel in the heart of Galway City. Carmen and I freshened up a bit, then we went exploring. We walked all the way down to the Corrib River which flows through Galway and into Galway Bay. We treated ourselves to an expensive but wonderful dinner at a place called Martine’s Quay Street Restaurant. We were seated by the window looking out onto Quay Street. At the top of the window was a transom that opened out. Standing right outside the window was a young man smoking one cigarette after another. Our kindly waitress closed the transom so that we could enjoy a smoke-free environment. When we finished dinner we took a short walk along the river and then returned to our hotel. We had no sooner arrived in our room when the rain let go but good. It poured rain right outside our bedroom window. It rained hard most of the night. ***
Monday, October 24, 2005 Galway, IE – Overcast & some drizzle
Today we took an excursion to the Cliffs of Moher and to the Burren, both in County Clare. Last night’s rain has stopped but it has caused all sorts of pools – called turloughs – If you drive through part of eastern Galway or Mayo in the winter, you will see a large number of lakes and you may be puzzled that they do not appear on the half-inch to a mile Ordnance Survey maps. If you look a bit closer, you may wonder why some of the lakes have walls leading down into them, or telegraph poles in the middle of them. Then, if you return to the area in the summer, you will find no sign of these lakes, but instead a landscape with green fields and grazing cattle. Only a few clues, such as the black moss covering the stone walls, indicate that these are no ordinary fields. In fact, they are turloughs. Turlough, or Turlach, is the word used to describe these strange disappearing lakes, which are found in limestone areas of Ireland, mostly west of the Shannon. The name is thought to come from the Irish tur loch, meaning dry lake. The features are unique to Ireland and they are an important part of Irish heritage.” (National Parks and Wildlife Service)
The limestone formations of the Burren are porous and fill with the water and allow it to surface in different areas. So what appears to be a field today may be a lake tomorrow. I don’t know how the Irish determine where it is safe to build and where to avoid. The Burren appears barren. It is rock, but it also has a unique ecology that allows plants to grow there that grow nowhere else. We saw a Dolman, a grave built about 4,000 years ago. The Cliffs of Moher tower between 400 and 700 feet above the Atlantic. It was particularly misty while we were there. Just made the cliffs that much more intimidating. As elsewhere in Ireland, there is construction going on here. They are building a new visitors’ center. If you are brave, you can climb the path to the top of the cliffs and walk along. The hike is more strenuous than I am willing to take. And the paths are clearly marked as being dangerous. I love the Irish. They warn you if something is dangerous, but unlike America, they don’t force you to avoid danger. They still believe that an adult can make his/her own decisions. Of course, if you cause damage to their heritage they will make certain you pay for it. ***
Tuesday, October 25, 2005 Galway, IE – Overcast & drizzle & sunny
Today we had a real adventure. It was rainy and windy when we left Galway to drive to Rossvael, County Galway, to board the ferry to the Aran Islands, specifically Inishmore. This excursion was too strenuous for many of our tour group so less than half of us elected to go. The crossing is about 45 minutes and when you get outside the protection of Galway Bay it is bumpy. On the way over we were being pitched on 7 and 8 foot swells. When the ferryboat crashed to the bottom of a swell it felt like a roller coaster ride. Pitch down and then up and over the next swell. When we got to Inishmore the rain stopped and we were met by a little bus which took the 15 of us to Dun Aengus.
“A stone fort on the very western edge of Europe; mute about its history when questioned by scholars; subject of romantic speculation on one of the most romantic spots in Ireland – the Aran Islands – Dun Aengus was created out of the stone and mystery of Ireland. Dun Aengus (also Dun Angus and Dun Aonghusa) is located on Inish-more, the largest of the three Aran Islands. A visitor is not impressed by Dun Aengus when he views it from the low point of a long, rock strewn slope. Nor does the dun (fort) emerge slowly into view, for the visitor must concentrate on every step of the treacherous walk up the slope, every step a risk of ankle turned on a stone. But atop the slope, the visitor sees a semicircular stone wall of obvious antiquity enclosing a space that ends dramatically at a 300 foot cliff that falls off into the Atlantic Ocean. The fort consists of three irregular semicircles, each a line of defense. Aside from the walls, one mode of defense is a band of stones set in the ground. Called a chevaux-de-frise, the stones are closely packed, set at an angle and intended to thwart an attack up the slope. Fortunately for the peaceful visitor to Dun Aengus, an intact chevaux-de-frise does not surround the fort, but the debris of such a defensive use of stone makes the walking trip to the fort slow and hazardous. The inner wall is awesome, thirteen feet thick and eighteen feet high in places, immortared with stone laid by hand upon stone. The enclosed space is 150 feet north and south and 140 feet east and west. The cliff at the western edge of the fort is as sheer as the Cliffs of Mohr, but at 300 feet not as steep.” (Irish Cultural Society)
The view from atop the parapet is stunning. To the west is the expanse of the ocean to the horizon and 3000 miles beyond to North America. To the east is a moonscape, the rock strewn slope the walker must traverse and beyond, the openness of Inishmore and the stones of Aran everywhere. Sean told us the fort was built 2,500 years ago. He says it is the oldest known fort in Western Europe. The only way to get to Dun Aengus it to hike up a steep and treacherous path. Since the Aran Islands were once attached to the mainland at the Burren, the island’s terrain is the same. The island is limestone. There is no peat, so they import fuel for heat from the Irish mainland. To create top soil the residents gather the sea weed that washes up on the beaches and the spread it over the terrain and allow it to dry and decompose. That is how all the top soil on Inishmore has come to be.
The climb to Dun Aengus is over gravel and limestone. And the wind is fierce. As I attempted to enter the first ring of the fort through a small arched entryway (obviously designed to slow down invaders) the wind funneled through at 60 or 70 mph and blew me off my feet. I wasn’t seriously hurt fortunately, but my pride was damaged and I skinned my knee and sprained my finger. The wind was so strong I couldn’t walk across the outer bailey, so I walked along the ring wall using it for protection until I could get inside the second ring. The fort sits literally at the edge of the cliff about 500 feet above the Atlantic. Chicken that I am, I would not venture too close to the edge.
We spent time in the town of Kilronan. We ate lunch in a restaurant that opened especially for our little tour group. In October, most of the tourist accommodations are closed. The major industry of the island is fishing. And since the men make their living at sea, there is a monument dedicated to all those who have lost their lives at sea. The story about Aran Island sweaters is that each wife knitted her own special pattern. Then if her son or husband was lost at sea and the body decomposed or otherwise unrecognizable, the particular pattern of the sweater would serve to identify the victim. I don’t know the truth of the story, but I do know that Aran Island sweaters are some of the finest in the world. They are knit of Merino wool from the sheep who struggle to survive the harsh environment of the islands.
We began the crossing back to the Irish mainland about 5:00 p. m. On the return crossing we were in rolling seas. The ferryboat is very stable but that doesn’t stop one from wondering if the boat is going to recover when it rolls so far to one side. Sean told us that people who live on Inishmore and work in Galway take this round trip ferry ride every day. It seems that the ferries run except in the most extreme weather and seas. You must be of hearty stock if you live on Inishmore.
This is our last night in Ireland. Tomorrow morning the bus will take us to Shannon Airport where we will board our flight back to the U.S. It has been a wonderful trip, but eleven days is a long time. I must admit I am glad that the tour is no longer. I would like to return, especially to the west of Ireland. I would like to take a cottage and make day trips from one stationery location. If I was traveling far enough, I might stay the night in a B&B, but traveling from city to city is tiring and I didn’t even have to drive.
Observations: With the exception of the highways, the roads are very narrow and, of course, they drive on the wrong side. In addition, learning to negotiate the roundabouts is a real challenge.
The reason that Ireland is so green – and it truly is – is because it can and does rain somewhere on the island every day of the year. So be prepared for rain. Always!
Showers and bathtubs in Irish hotels are very narrow.
Don’t try to convert a U.S. $100 bill to Euros in Ireland. Irish banks will not take U.S. $100 because of the problem of counterfeiting.
As for leftover Euros in change and Irish stamps, I gave both away as tips at the end of my trip. If you plan on traveling again in the European Union then hang onto your Euros because you can use them in any EU county.