May 18, 2006
Who chose this flight? It’s three-thirty in the morning and I’ve got to get ready to hop on a plane departing at 6:00 a.m. for Shannon, Ireland. A 10:00 a.m. flight would have been pleasant. Alas, it’s time to get out of Phoenix for a while. It’s already 80 degrees in the moonlight.
Later that morning…Tom’s crabby and cramped in the middle seat. I’ve the aisle seat across from the much visited loo! I’ve got the dry heaves. Luckily we are de-planing in Newark for a connecting flight to Shannon. We will have aisle seats in the middle of the plane-nowhere near the lavatory. I was sleeping when the stewardi delivered the breakfast but when I awoke the remains of Tom’s food were on my tray table: a chocolate muffin wrapper, a box of corn flakes and some semi-hard raisins. I’m happy to have slept through it. I brought a movie to watch on my laptop, The Ruling Class, but it never piqued my interest so I’m now trying to get my mind off the smells of el bano (I can’t insert the necessary tilde over the “n” in bano but you know what I mean) by writing this and listening to Peter Gabriel. It’s not working very well.
Even later that day…At the Newark Airport for a four hour delay we, of course, got something to eat straightaway. I decided I needed to develop my beer palate for this Irish excursion so I had a Sam Adams with my lunch. I much prefer a nice Pinot Noir but Ireland isn’t known for wine so…
On the plane to Ireland…After an hour of waiting in the plane on the tarmac, listening to inanities from a spirited and irritating stewardi we finally took off. We are flying on Continental Airlines, whose dubious motto -”We have a passion for being on time,” left much to be desired. Yeah, well, “passion this!” I scream. Luckily the flight is only five hours from Newark, which might explain why the plane is no larger than the one we were on from Phoenix to Newark. No free booze, either. Tom had to front me the five bucks for a glass of vino. The dinner that was served was, er, well, yeah, no. I’d better have another glass of vino to keep up my carb intake while I listen to The Pernice Brothers on my iPod.
May 19, 2006
I’ve no idea what time we landed, what time we got the rental car or what time we actually made it to Abbeyfeale. In fact, I’ve no idea what time it is as I write this. I’m so tired I don’t care. I’ve now been awake for 32 hours-too tired to continue this journal entry. Until tomorrow…
May 20, 2006
We woke this morning from the sleep of the dead having crammed two nights of slumber into one. Standard issue instant coffee in our room would simply not do. I headed out for a latte with the oh so yummy Irish cream I’ve come to crave. On my walk back to the hotel my acute sense of smell led me to a bakery where scones and soda bread were just coming out of the oven. If I’d had more euros in my pocket I’d have bought the lot. So, we began our journey north with a chunk of Galway cheddar, soda bread and plenty of sunshine. That’s right, sunshine. A glorious day was spent driving through the Connemara region with the sun in our eyes. A stop in the village of Clifden for an espresso and a slice of rhubarb pie was all Tom needed to continue his Mario Andretti maneuvers on the narrow, Irish roadways. Yikes! From Clifden we went up the Killary fjord through Westport, inland to Castlebar and north to Ballina to our final destination of Ballycastle.
May 21, 2006
The sun is shining, the coffee-brewing, the view-spectacular, who could ask for more? Well, me. There is no internet connection so I’m unable to post my photos and journal entries. I will have to drive 27 km to Ballina (pronounced Bal-in-naw) and visit an internet cafe to get online. If you’re reading this I’ve succeeded. But first things first. We’ve got the famous Lacken Strand Races to attend. Lacken Strand is a huge stretch of beach and once a year people from all over Europe converge for horse races held on the beach…a must-see I’m told.
Later that day…To quote myself…er, well, yeah, no. What started out as a most perfect morning turned in to a most miserable day. We got to the beach just as it hit, gale force winds and rain that could rival a Phoenix monsoon. The sand was blowing across the beach like a Saharan sand storm all the while the crazy Irish horse enthusiasts were out in full force betting on and watching the races. I watched from the comfort of our rental car. I’d had enough after about ten minutes but we stayed to watch a couple of races and then left on my quest to find an internet cafe. My search was a success as you know by reading this. Well, tomorrow is another day and I hope to spend it driving to Sligo to visit W.B. Yeats’ grave and hiking to Slieve League, Europe’s highest cliff face. I’m confident the weather will change for the better at least for five minutes.
May 22, 2006
The sun is shining yet again but this time I will not be fooled…Oh, there’s rain right behind the next cloud I can feel it. We are off for Sligo and Slieve League today. I hope to finally sit down in a nice restaurant and have a full meal. Sure, I’ve eaten…a morsel of bread here, a slice of cheese there, but there has been no fine dining experience. I know what you’re thinking-fine dining and Irish food are contradictory. As true as that may be, we are headed for one of the busiest fishing ports in all of Ireland where seafood reigns supreme. I’ll let you know the outcome.
Later that day…Finally! I’m not ashamed to admit I need civilization (and the internet) to feel like going on. Sure, a lonely, desolate, windswept and rainy day can be nice once in a while. Wait. No it can’t. Who am I fooling. I can’t stand it and yesterday was as bad as it gets. Today? Yes, today I’m in heaven. As I sit in the luxurious Bayview Inn overlooking Donegal Bay in Killybegs, I’m consuming an outstanding bowl of seafood chowder, a slice of warm brown bread smothered in butter and a pint of Smithwick’s. When I finish here I’m off to explore the town of Killybegs while Tom naps. To each her own, I say. We visited the grave of Yeats in Sligo and tomorrow we take a boat out on the North Atlantic to Slieve League.
May 23, 2006
It turns out the weather was far better than the food yesterday. The sky was crystal clear and there was very little wind. Killybegs is rather quaint with not much to choose from when it comes to dining. We had fish and chips in the hotel restaurant….I’d rather not talk about it. So, on to today’s adventure. We woke at 9:30 am just in time for the Irish breakfast the hotel offers-gratis. My goal for today was to see Slieve League and as I’ve been told, what Stacie wants, Stacie gets. Anyway, we started out for Teelin, the boat tour origin. Through the village of Kilcar I saw a small, handwritten sign for a local weaver selling hand-knit Donegal wool sweaters 5 km up the road. “Let’s stop for a sweater,” I begged. Five kilometers turned in to five stops asking for directions, through twisted glens, over peat-colored brooks, through slanting rain and confusion. We stopped, finally, at Dun Ulun House, a quaint and cozy, slate-roofed cottage where we met Margarhet. Her directions, like most Irish directions, were to go to the top of the steep hill and there she’d be on your left. Sure enough, she was. Michael’d been dead these six years but Mary kept up the trade. I got my sweater and we were off for Slieve League on the edge of the world. The first sign we saw to the summit we took. We found out later it was a sheep track but not before we were sliding backwards on the edge of a praecipice in the driving rain. They call it the Pilgrim’s Track and boy, was Tom doing a lot of praying. He was in full-tilt panic, backing up between a ditch and sheer cliff face, mud up to our axles. The sheep on the hillside were the only witnesses to our demise. I, on the other hand, had to hold back the laughter. Saints be praised, we made it down the hillside into the dock at Teelin to inquire after a boat. “There’ll be no boatin’ today what with the wind wippin’ the way ‘tis,” screamed Paddy above the gale. But all was not lost-what Stacie wants, Stacie gets! “We will see Slieve League if it kills you, Tom,” said I in my calmest of tones. We were told there was another road to the top, a paved one. We took it. We reached the top just as the driving sleet hit but I was not to be denied of snapping some photos.
Later that day…We crossed the lonely bog country of far west Donegal where we saw turf being cut by a lone shoveler. We were headed for Glencolumbkille, a magical hamlet on the very edge of the world. Tom had spent some inebriated nights here a quarter of a century ago (yeah, he’s old) and he wanted to see if it had changed in any way. It hadn’t. The thatch roof homes and views of the Atlantic were stunning. It was a lovely day.
May 24, 2006
’Twas a turn down day, ‘twas. We stayed in the area of Ballycastle and visited Ceide Fields. (pronounced Kay-jah) Surrounded by heather-clad moorlands along a dramatic stretch of north Mayo coastline, it is a Stone Age land enclosure. Remains of farm buildings indicate it was an extensive community. The fields were slowly buried below the creeping bog formation where they have been preserved for 5,000 years. Fascinating. Tom and Co. are headed out to do some fly fishing. I don’t expect them back ‘til dusk which happens to be about 10:30-11:00 p.m. in this part of the world. I am going to head out on foot to shoot some photos and sit by the beach. It’s a rough life but someone has to do it, no?
May 25, 2006
Seems we can’t get started before noon most every day what with sleeping until 10:00 a.m., my morning cup of coffee while sitting on a bench overlooking the north Atlantic and the all important jog to work off the cream I’ve been pouring on everything. So, we set out at noon for Achill, Ireland’s largest island on the far west coast of Mayo. The first stop was Belmullet, a quaint hamlet where we had lunch. The drive from Belmullet to Achill takes one through a broad, tawny plain of bog and rolling hills criss-crossed by bog water creeks and rivers. The island is accessed by bridge, one that can supposedly be raised but I saw little evidence of that. We took the Atlantic Drive through the southern section of the island and the views were stunning.The craggy, broken cliffs, plunging to crystal clear water were covered at the top with spongy, close-cropped green grass. The drive back to Ballycastle, though only about 50 miles, took the better part of two hours on the narrow, twisting, undulating roads. Did I mention really bumpy? I’m trying to craft this journal entry as Tom drives but I’m feeling a bit car sick so we’re going to have to pull over. I’ll be back later.
Later…We made it back to Ballycastle and were in the cottage for no more than five minutes when we took off for the ruins of Moyne Abbey, constructed in 1460. What a treasure. We had to hike through a farmer’s private land to get to it. I told Tom to pay no attention to the sign that read-BEWARE OF THE BULL! “There’s no bull,” I laughed. “That’s a ploy to keep people out.” As we approached the abbey, some 500 meters from the car, Tom said, “Uh, yeah, is that a bull off to the left?” “Sure, Tom…whatever!” I chided. He charged, (the bull, not Tom) and we ran, jumped a stone fence and narrowly escaped the charging of the bull. “Let’s get outta here!” I cried. Like a blast from a gun we were back at the car and on our way to dinner.
May 26, 2006
It’s now 10:00 a.m. Our plans to travel by ten o’clock have come and gone. It’s foggy, windy and cold. We are headed for Bunratty, a medieval castle with superbly restored furniture, tapestry, stained-glass windows and historically significant artifacts. Local lasses, dressed in period costume, serve much wine and meat to would-be chieftains. The folk park, adjacent to the castle, took root when builders at Shannon Airport couldn’t bear to destroy a quaint cottage in order to build a runway. Instead, they moved the cottage to Bunratty. Since then, reconstructions of turn-of-the-century houses from all over Ireland have been added. Bunratty also claims one decent pub. The first proprietress at Durty Nelly’s (founded 1620) earned her name by serving Bunratty soldiers more than just beer, if you know what I mean. Who knows what stops we’ll make on the road from here to there…should be interesting.
On the road to Bunratty…Our first stop, the village of Foxford on the Moy River, came less than an hour into our road trip. I needed to relieve myself of the morning cream (with just a splash of coffee) and get a scone or two or three. We had a delightful chat with the store owner about the best route to Galway. He said, in a most Irish of accents, “I’d tell ye a quicker route but I’m sure ye’d get lost. You’ll be takin’ the main road to the top of the road and turn right.” The top of the road? Why is it always to the top of the road? The road never ends so where in God’s name is the top? We stopped in Galway for a quick internet hook-up and some scones and were on our way in an hour’s time. The weather was on again sun with an occasional mistfall…perfect for driving all day. We made it to Bunratty at half-five-just in time for a pint at Durty Nelly’s. Of course, any time’s the right time for a pint at Durty Nelly’s-but you knew that.
May 28, 2006
Well, we made it back to Phoenix after an excruciatingly long flight. We were both assigned middle seats and the flight was chock-full. That’ll make you crazy. Other than narrowly missing our flight out of Newark to Phoenix the day was uneventful. I fell asleep at 4:00 p.m. and woke at 2:00 a.m. so here I am writing my last entry for this journal. Our next adventure takes us to Iceland but that won’t be until August…stay tuned.