Tennis, Anyone?

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I’m not the athletic type. I never had the opportunity to play competitive sports growing up. I did try out for the basketball team in high school this one time, but after the first try-out, the coach promptly approached me about being a scorer/time-keeper for the team. I never got to chase a basketball around the court in my squeaky running shoes, but I did enjoy complete control of the big lit-up clock– including the deafeningly loud buzzer.

One sport I did get a little interested in was tennis. That started the summer I was fourteen years old while I was camping with my family. There was this boy named George at the campground. George was close to my age. He took to following me around and badgering me to play tennis with him. The fact that I didn’t know how to play did nothing to deter him. He was determined to teach me. Finally, as there was little else for a fourteen-year-old girl to do, I went with George to the tennis courts and he proceeded to patiently teach me the game. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed it, although I had no natural skill for the game. I even knew how to score by the end of the matches.

As a younger person, I played tennis in the summers quite consistently. My game was never great, but I could serve inside the line, get a ball over the net with a backhand from time to time, and keep the ball in play here and there. I was never the player someone would be excited to have as a partner during doubles, but I enjoyed being out on the court and found it to be a fun way to get some exercise, as long as my teammate and the opposition didn’t take the game too seriously.

A few weeks ago, I was out playing tennis with my husband as my partner, the opposition being my brother and his fourteen-year-old son. We all brought our own supplies of green tennis balls. The courts were full. This fall has provided ideal tennis-playing weather and several people were taking advantage of it that evening. Behind the courts are several apartment buildings and there are a lot of kids living there. And since these kids don’t have the benefit of a back yard, they tend to run around the tennis court area.

I was happily engrossed in the game, but I noticed that two little boys, maybe around six or seven years old, were tearing around the interior of the court area where people were playing. I figured they belonged to a couple inside the courts who were playing tennis and had brought their kids along with them. After about an hour of these two charging around, my husband pointed out that they had a basket with them. These two hooligans, obviously not being watched by anyone and probably residents of the apartment buildings behind the courts, were dashing around STEALING ALL THE TENNIS BALLS and putting them in their basket. These were the balls that people were using in their games, the ones that were missed and had bounced over to the side or behind the line. No one was saying anything to these two kids, although aware of the situation. Some of the players were even laughing a bit at the bold audacity of the little miscreants.

Mom of four retired Kindergarten teacher wasn’t laughing. I watched them as they made their way over to our court, their sights fixed on the collection of balls I’d missed near the fence behind me. Closer, closer, closer they came, their gleeful laughter becoming clearer.

I set myself between the fuzzy green balls and the boys, hands jammed on my hips.

“Ohhhh, no. No, no, no,” I said.

The two of them stopped dead in their tracks, uncertain of what to do with this strange word they had obviously never heard before. They both looked at me, as confused and outraged as puppies who had been interrupted at the beginning of a slipper-eating rampage. The people around me grew quiet and I realized there was a possibility that I was being judged as a “mean lady.” And so I adjusted my tone. And I said sweetly to the little thieves, “We need those balls for our game.”

And then, once everyone was back to paying attention to their games, I chased the little stinkers off the court, wielding my racket over my head.

Just kidding about that part.

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.

 

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The Last Days in Ireland

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Although tired from the previous evening’s festivities, I got out of bed the next morning early enough to allow myself a half hour of wandering the grounds of Abbeyglen Castle. So pretty there, with a lovely fountain overlooking an almost tropical landscape. It is common to see palm trees in the areas of Ireland that we visited. I was able to snap a few photographs of the castle grounds as it was a beautiful morning, the cold drizzling damp of the day before dissolved into memory.

Breakfast in the dining room was sumptuous. Brian served me a pancake and poured on some good old Canadian maple syrup. Our group had a bit of fun over our meal, reliving our evening in the piano bar before Denise arrived with the bus. This was the first time on the trip that I experienced a real reluctance to leave a place. I would have liked to tour around the halls for an hour or two and have a peek into some of the bedrooms my fellow tour members had occupied. Actually, I would have loved the opportunity to simply enjoy my own room, cuddled up in one of the soft robes that were provided and settle into an easy chair, gazing out over the splendid views with a cup of tea. A good, long chin-wag with the delightful Brian in the sitting room would also have been an enjoyable event. This is one of the down-sides to doing a tour. A tour requires an itinerary to be successful, and that means being slave to the clock. You can build some flexibility into a tour, but when all is said and done, you are watching your wrist for the better part of your time. There is no lingering, no reorganizing, no shifting around. The sand in the hourglass runs out, and there is no flipping it back over again.

That being said, I think the tour format was the best way to go. I never would have seen the incredible things I was able to see if I hadn’t been on that little green bus. And I would have missed meeting all those wonderful friends who were on that bus with me.

And so, we were back on the bus again, and its nose was pointed in the direction of Dublin. We would be back in the city by early evening, and it would be time to say our good-byes, then face the long trip back to Canada.

But, the day wasn’t over yet.

Denise took us down some narrow back roads and through some hills, and we were soon pulling into the lane of a working sheep farm. I had been looking forward with much anticipation to this part of the tour, and it truly was a perfect way to end off. The farm was nestled in the green hills, and below was an enormous dark and shimmering lake, lined with rows of mussel traps. The sheep dotted the slopes like cotton balls. Misty clouds bent to graze the top of the distant hills. It was just a gorgeous sight to behold, and I remarked to Tom, our host farmer, that it must be pretty tough to wake up to that view every day. Tom is the fourth generation farmer to run the place and this has been his view every day of his life. I don’t think I would ever get over the shock of the beauty of it myself, but Tom seemed to take it all in stride.

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Sheep farming is far from lucrative in Ireland these days (wool is not a sought-after commodity with softer synthetic fibres available now), but it has been a big part of their traditions for generations. Sheep are still everywhere you look when driving around the Irish countryside. Tom inherited the farm, but is only able to continue running it because of his wife’s income as a teacher.

The star of the show was Roy. Roy is a black short-haired Border Collie, and he herds sheep. Tom trained him for three years and the feisty, lean little canine is worth 8000 euro. Roy was quite friendly with us, but if Tom hadn’t been present, it would have been another story. Roy had a very intense, wolfish look in the eyes, and he never took them off his master. I’ve never seen a dog with such a muscular frame. He sat poised, every hair on alert, waiting for Tom’s command. Once given, he sailed like a gazelle over the fence and tore off down the hill in the direction of a group of sheep. Tom stood at the top with his whistle, calling out directions. “Away” would send the dog immediately to the right. “Come by” would bring him left. “Walk on” would bring him behind the sheep. When Tom called, “No!” the dog would plunk to a seated position. In no time at all, Roy had gathered all the anxious-eyed sheep into a ambling formation and the little herd were soon clustered in the pen at the top of the hill. It was an enthralling sight to witness. It was as though the dog and owner had an intense psychic connection.

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Busy Roy was difficult to photograph, but there is he in the top right, and the sheep all looking pretty worried. I wonder if they think he is about to devour them?

Before we leave the sheep farm, meet “Sweep.” He is Roy’s predecessor, and now happily retired at the ripe old age of 13 and enjoying the high life. I love his name!

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As Denise was travelling back to the castle to retrieve a tour member’s forgotten cell phone, we had some time to linger and gaze out over the lake at the magnificent scenery. We were also toasting a birthday of a tour member, and gathered around a picnic table to enjoy some champagne. Tom agreed to take our picture. I was wearing the lovely green Aran sweater I’d bought on a whim in Galway. One too many of us sat on one side of the table, and we almost tipped over. My new sweater was thoroughly baptized in champagne!

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After a final lunch together, Denise did some fierce driving for the remainder of the afternoon and got us all back to Dublin, dropping us off at the same place we’d begun the week before. By this time, we were all “friends” on Facebook, so saying good-bye, although sad, was made easier by the knowledge that we would be staying in touch. It has been awesome to see everyone’s pictures of the trip, as everyone has a unique perspective even though we were visiting the same places.

My travelling companion and I had one more full day in Dublin before leaving in the wee hours the morning after for our flight back. We deliberated taking an excursion out for the day, but frankly, I was by this time “bused out.” We caught up on some sleep, walked through Trinity College, and did a bit of shopping, buying some small gifts to bring back for our families.

We were at our gate in the Dublin airport in plenty of time, and as I amazingly still had some euros left, I went to browse in the shops. It was there that I found the perfect memento of my time in Ireland, something to remember a special friend by…

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Farewell to beautiful, unforgettable Ireland.

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If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.

 

A Night in an Irish Castle

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The following day began on the top of the Burren, a vast and rugged uplands of primarily limestone in NW County Clare. It was a grey and blustery day, with sheep grazing between the limestone deposits under the old stone-piled walls. I hopped from rock to rock, avoiding the mushy wet ground between. The layers of pale rock pocked the landscape for as far as the eye could see. Centuries of rainfall is slowly eating away at the limestone, leaving impressions and little holes scattered across the rock face.  In spite of the vast amount of rock, it is a protected habitat for many varieties of plants and flowers, many unique to the Burren.

Our main mission (aside from trying not to be blown off our feet by the wind) was to observe Palnabrone–an ancient portal tomb, hunkered down at the top of the Burren. This site is purported to be over 6000 years old. The portal was probably surrounded by dirt after it was built originally. The enormously heavy capstone on top was likely dragged up once the tomb had been buried under the earth. Countless years of wind and rain took the dirt away and left the entire rock tomb exposed to the elements. It was left undisturbed until the mid-1980’s, when the capstone split, the one piece upended behind the structure. It was then that the site became accessible and archaeologists were able to excavate the site. Inside were found the collective bones of more than twenty people. It is thought that the bones were all put in there together, well after the bodies had decomposed. The oldest of the bones belonged to someone around 40 years old, showing evidence of severe arthritis. There were also the bones of children, demonstrating signs of malnutrition. It was sobering to stand under the grey sky in the wind, contemplating these people–their short lives where every day was a fight for survival, the things they valued, their spirituality and beliefs.

Luckily for me, a day in the ruins was on the docket, and our next destination was Corkmore Abbey. Legend has it that the man who commissioned the building of the abbey in the 12th century had the architect executed once the job was done in order to ensure the design would not be duplicated.

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So many stories there, whispering in the stones. Here is the little cottage nearby where the monks would have slept.

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As in other ruined abbeys I’d seen, this one quietly maintained its decaying presence in the form of a cemetery. The church floor contained many graves from not so long ago times, and several of the gravestones outside were far from ancient.

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The dead are not aware of where they are laid and I suppose it doesn’t matter, when all is said and done…still, it seems a lovely thought to have one’s remains interred in an old abbey ruin and to join ghostly hands with those who went long before.

From there, we were bound for County Galway and Aughnanure Castle. It was starting to rain again, but I didn’t mind as I had learned by this time that gloom and rain are perfect backdrops for ruins. These were tower house remains, built in the 16th century by the Fierce O’Flaherty’s to block Galway from Cromwell’s invaders. Many of the protective walls were still in place, as well as a much-diminished black river that curls along the path up to the ruins.

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The site included a watch tower, and the main tower where the family had lived had a murder hole in the entryway–a little room above where guards sat, ready with rocks to drop through the hole and onto the unsuspecting heads of invaders. The stairs winding up to the different levels of the tower house were cleverly designed to prevent a man from swinging his sword on the way up, although people coming down could swing theirs. The actual stairs were also built unevenly, so that people unfamiliar with the place would misstep and stumble on them. It was interesting to see a tower house design and to learn how a 16th century castle fortress protected itself in such ingenious ways.

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As the rain geared itself up into one of the Irish’s more advanced levels of rain, we arrived at Abbeyglen Castle in Clifden, Connemarra for the last night of our tour. This was a more recent model of a castle–mid-1800’s, and it could not have been any more charming. I wanted more time in this place. Rooms were all cozy and comfortable, every one different, and accessed by skeleton keys. We were welcomed by Brian Hughes, the owner and manager, who ushered us all together for a group photograph–each one of us were given a copy as a keepsake. Once we had our suitcases put away and a quick refresh, we were invited to the bar for a champagne reception before dinner in the magnificent dining room. During the reception, Brian gave us a history of the castle, which included a previous life as an orphanage. Apparently, this orphanage was an unusually happy place for the children who lived there, and many recount lovely memories of their time there. (Stories, stories, must write stories). Every time I turned away, my glass of chamgagne was brimming to the top again. I have never been in a place where the wait staff are so attentive. You know. The kind of place that millionaires usually go to and you think you will never experience because you are lucky enough if you’re a hundred-aire.

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Dinner was a covered dish affair, another thing I never thought to experience in my life. The menu was incredible, and also affordable, as Brian had given all of his guests generous discounts on their meals. Our tour members gathered around a large table which was donned with an immaculate white tablecloth. I chose a sweet potato and coconut curry. All our dinners came out at once, covered in silver domes. The wait staff counted to three and swept the domes off at the same time. We couldn’t help but applaud. Then they came around with trays of hot vegetables and potatoes to add to our plates. My meal was just delicious. I resisted the dessert buffet, which was beautiful to behold. I was just so stuffed.

After dinner, several of us adjourned back to the bar. There was a baby grand in there, and Paul (another owner, Brian’s son) sat down at the keyboard. It was a piano bar, and they wanted guests to sing. I bought myself a Jameson Irish whiskey and ginger to brace myself and after taking time to gather a bit of courage, I marched up to the mike. I sang “Piano Man” as a solo. I had wanted to sing “My Lagan Love,” but a performer has to read the crowd, and they were all in jolly moods, singing along to songs like “Sweet Caroline” and “King of the Road.” Several of the ladies in the tour got up and we sang together, mostly old Irish standards. It was just so much fun. Suddenly, this amazing jazz band gathered near the piano and tuned up, and they were just incredible. Finally, I had to tear myself away because we were supposed to be ready to get on the bus again at 9:30 the next morning…which came far too soon. Abbeyglen requires more than a brief night’s stay. I could’ve settled in there for a good week.

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HELP! I’M BEING HELD PRISONER IN AN IRISH CASTLE!

(Lucky little devil).

 

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.

 

The Shocking Cliffs of Moher

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After our relaxing stay in Dingle, it was time to cram everything into suitcases again and head out in the bus with Denise once more. We had a brief stop in Tralee for a stroll through the rose gardens. Every year, the Irish are glued to their tellies to watch a pageant called “The Rose of Tralee.” Names of the Irish or Irish-associated lovelies are all posted in the park to commemorate the contestants and winners through the years. And there are many rose bushes there to memorialize them, although the flowers were on the sparse side at that time of the year.

From there, Denise drove our bus onto the ferry to cross the mighty River Shannon from County Kerry to County Clare. It was a short trip, barely time for the winds to ruffle our hair.

The big event of the day was the viewing of the Cliffs of Moher. Big sky, big water, big cliffs. A real tourist hub, with several large coach buses in the parking lot, and crowds of people streaming over the pathways around the cliffs.

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I was surprised to see how different the views were of the cliffs from different angles. The upper photograph is taken from the left side of the view, and the lower from the right. It is almost like seeing two completely different locations. At any rate, both views were spectacular–high and rocky and rugged, with the dark ocean waves breaking below. Walking along the paths in the windy sea air was exhilarating.

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The hills preceding the cliffs were used for cattle pasture, and thus, there were fences to keep the cows from getting too close to the edge. The path went along the fences, and became more and more narrow as you walked up. Some spots were rocky and required a bit of climbing and side-stepping. As I was coming back down from the top, several people were coming from the other direction. Being the polite Canadian that I am, I stepped back, pressing again the fence to let them through. ZZZZZZZ-POW! I had somehow missed the little signs that notified pedestrians that the fence was electrified.

It’s not everyone that can say they got electrocuted at the Cliffs of Moher.

Speaking of smashing waves, perhaps here is a good lead-in to the subject of Irish toilets. Things being as they are with me, I saw toilets a-plenty on my visit to Ireland, and there were many different models and flushing methods. The common thread that connects them is the ferocity of the flush. I would speculate that the Irish use at least three times the amount of water in their flush design than the more conservative Canadians. You push the lever or yank the chain and the whoosh is thunderous, water pounding in from all sides like a waterfall emptying into a cavernous basin. I was almost afraid to flush at times, and refrained from doing so at night for fear of waking my roomie.

From the cliffs, we drove on to the quiet little town of Ballyvaughan. There wasn’t much to see there, but I enjoyed a lovely home-style roast beef meal (that was my revenge on the cows and their electric fence) served with “mash” and fresh-steamed carrots, cauliflower and cabbage. I’ve heard it said that the food in Ireland isn’t that good, but the meals we had on our tour were all stellar.

Some of the tour people went to the “Whiskey Bar” that evening, but I cuddled up in front of the fire in the lounge with my art journal and sketched a picture of one of the falling-in, abandoned stone cottages that are sprinkled all over the landscape in Ireland. They sit there, roofless, the roaming sheep grazing in the long-abandoned yards. These little forgotten places make me think of the primitive little hovel portrayed in Emma Donoghue’s “The Wonder.” And they make me think about writing a story or two of my own…

 

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If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.

Two Days in Dingle

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The charming town of Dingle’s claim to fame is a dolphin named “Fungie.” That is pronounced “Fun Jee,” not “Fun Guy” as I had originally thought. Stores were decorated with dolphin motiffs and shops along the water advertised boat tours to head out into the water to meet Fungie–there was a money back guarantee if you didn’t see the dolphin. Apparently, Fungie is a bit of an oddity–there are no other dolphins in the bay, and attempts to introduce him to both male and female dolphins has only resulted in Fungie chasing them out of his territory. Fungie is a lone wolf and he likes to be the star of the show. I didn’t meet the guy. I was happy to cuddle a bit with his effigy outside the tourist stand.

We had a nice stay in Dingle. The rain cleared at last and we were able to wander the streets in dry shoes and shop around a bit. Our hotel room was cozy and bright, with sloped ceilings and everything spic and span. The sunsets over the harbour were gorgeous, as were the sunrises. The harbour was filled with all manner of boats, and the water calm and serene. A nautical artist’s paradise, filled with many subjects for painting. There were nice walking paths along the water, too and I enjoyed a fine invigorating stroll there on the first morning.

There is a small ice-cream chain in Dingle named “Murphy’s” and everyone raves about it. The ice cream is served in tiny portions like gelato and my tiny bowl was “over” inside the space of a minute. That is why the ice cream in Ireland has far less calories than the ice cream in North America! There were lots of interesting shops to explore, as well as some nice restaurants and of course, many pubs.

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We did head out for a few hours on the bus with Denise to take in some of the sights in the surrounding area. We visited an oratorium–a very primitive spot of worship and prayer constructed of rock (with no use of mortar) in the early days of Christianity. This structure is dated around 800 AD. We were welcome to go inside. It didn’t have the atmosphere of the later Christian ruins at all, and even someone with a good imagination would be hard-pressed to connect with anything spiritual in here. I felt kind of like a beaver in a dam.

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We headed out towards the tip of the Dingle Peninsula on the incredibly beautiful Slea Head Drive–a gorgeous curving vista of enormous sea and rocky islands scattered within. Denise pulled the little green bus over and we lingered there for a bit, enjoying the views and visiting with a cocky little seagull who bobbed along the ledge, hoping for handouts.

Below us in the dark blue sea, we were able to view the northern-most Blasket Islands. Like Canada, Ireland has a “sleeping giant.” Here is theirs, sprawled out on his back in the ocean in the background of this photograph.

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He’s also known as “An Fear Marbh” or, “The Dead Man.”

Here is Canada’s sleeping giant, located in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

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Our giant in Canada is a little bigger. Everything in Canada is bigger!

Before returning to Dingle, we were able to see an interesting demonstration by a glass-cutting craftsman. The man who ran the show used to work for the famous Waterford Crystal Company. The glass was not blown on site, but he and his sons were the artists who designed and created the unique cuts. Every piece was unique.

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Our afternoon back in Dingle was restful and leisurely. It was nice to wind down a bit from the fast pace of the tour. What a great idea to have a bit of a “recess” in the middle of the tour.

As the fish entrees were so great that first night, we had our second dinner at the Anchor Away. This time, I had fish “goujons.” Here in Canada, we would call them fish fingers or fish strips. Fresh Atlantic cod in batter, and big “chips” to accompany them. When in Ireland, you have to have fish and chips at least once. No regrets!

That night, we went out to Dingle’s “Court House” pub. My friend and I are not beer lovers, but thought we should at least taste the Guinness while in Ireland, and the barkeep was kind enough to pour us a bit of the dark brown brew. I am sure he was heaving heavy inward sighs to behold the look of repugnance on our faces after our taste, but he was happy to serve us up two bottles of cold cider to get the taste out of our mouths!

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The Irish pubs are so lovely–nothing like the bar scene here. They look like little cottages–perhaps a few hundred years ago, they were. Pubs can be found everywhere you go, and there is always someone in them. They are the furthest thing from a “meat market” you could imagine–just a homey place to pop into for a pint and a chat and to listen to some Irish music. The ones I saw were not very big, but people just squish over and make room. The evening we ventured out to the Court House, several members of our tour group were there, and we had a great time. To our delight, a bride and groom came in off the street, still in their wedding attire. The groom had patches on his coat sleeves, and the bride wore a simple white gown with a square open back, and carried her pretty bouquet.

Imagine, forgoing your no expense spared $50,000 wedding with massive reception, and just having an intimate ceremony instead, with close family and friends. After the vows, you link arms and go out into the town to the pubs, being congratulated with cheers by the patrons within, listening to the entertainment woe you with love songs, and being served a celebratory drink. To me, that sounds like the loveliest wedding day ever. We were all thoroughly enchanted; some of us had tears in our eyes. The simplest things are the most beautiful.

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If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.

 

 

More Adventures in the Rain

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The next morning, I was disappointed to discover that the rain was still coming down. Luckily, I had brought along a second pair of Skechers as the other pair were drenched. Next time I go on a tour, I must remember to invest in some good waterproof shoes.

We began the day quietly at a stone circle in Kenmare. This ancient egg-shaped formation is dated between 2200-500 BC. When it comes to stone circles, everything is speculation because they pre-date written history. They are connected to rituals and ceremonies, and appear to be associated with the sun’s position in the sky at various points through the year. The stones have many stories to tell, but their voices are faded whispers now. I’d like to hear the one about why the massive capstone in the centre has knife-marks slashed into its surface.

The rag bush in the picture is covered in bits of string and cloth, left by people in the hopes that by the time the bit of cloth dissolves, their problems will have dissolved with it. One of the tour members donated some of her embroidery floss to those in the bus that wanted to leave their problems with the rag bush.

The stones were slick and shimmering with rain. It was a weirdly timeless spot with a strange vibe, but it wasn’t unpleasant there.

After withdrawing from the stone circle, we were once again dry in the bus and on our way to Killarney National Park. Our first mission was to take a short hike out to the waterfalls. Opening my umbrella, I set off up the trail, following the noisy, churning river along up to the falls. It was a gorgeous view, with water gushing and tumbling from the rocks and the mossy green trees crowding around.

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After coming down from the waterfall view, we were directed over to the cluster of “jaunting cars” that were waiting to take us on a rainy tour of the park. Our driver was Patrick and his dripping equine companion was Sylvester. Due to the rain, the cars were covered in thick plastic. Five of us climbed in, and Patrick gave us cozy lap blankets to cuddle under as our jaunting excursion began. Off we clip-clopped through the beautiful park. I couldn’t help but think about how much more lovely the park would have been in the sunshine. I cheered up a bit when Patrick explained that Sylvester worked one day on and one day off–to drink, and he preferred Guinness!

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After about a half hour of peering around the thick plastic covering for views and listening to Patrick’s commentary, Patrick drew the jaunting car up the back of an monastic ruin named Muckross Abbey. My spirits picked up immediately, because have I mentioned how much I like ruins? He told us to go in and have a look around. I leaped from the jaunting car. Did I leap, really? It felt like leaping…

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I have many pictures of this place, far too many to post here. Suffice it to say, I was absolutely transfixed by the abbey and could have spent an entire day here exploring. The abbey was built of limestone in the 1400’s and was home to the Franciscan order of monks until Oliver Cromwell’s troops drove them out in 1654. The devils set fire to it, but the stone walls stand still, and the abbey is amazingly well-preserved, in spite of the centuries of rainfall that has streamed down into the roofless structure.

The cemetery alone would have made for a day’s intrigue–some of the stones were centuries old, and others were more recent as it is still an active cemetery. Like seriously, LOOK at this place, and this is just one little corner of it.

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The inside of the abbey brought further intrigue and captivation. Narrow stone stairwells brought me up to the upper level of the abbey–appearing to be the former lodgings for the monks who had lived there, with two enormous fireplaces and the chimneys still intact. Raindrops plunked with loud echos onto the stone floors and dripped down the walls.

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The destruction of the abbey and all the quiet dead resting outside in the cemetery, the dripping, endless rain and grey skies above the roofless wet walls brought a quiet sadness to my spirit. I went carefully down the wet steps and found myself in a square cloister, surrounded by arched openings. It was when I approached one of these openings that I came across THE MOST INCREDIBLE TREE.

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I have been a tree-lover since way back, but this one…

When I visited my friend Google later that night, I learned a few things about the tree. It is a YEW tree, thought to be 600 years old. The early Christian church, still influenced by pagan traditions, is thought to have built the abbey around this tree. Yew was an important symbol of longevity to the pagans. (UHHH, YES!!!) September 2017, and this tree was still flourishing, its red twisted bark spiraling up into its massive crown of green. Here was this beautiful abbey, laid to waste by the English, graves and crypts everywhere, and in perfect juxtaposition, this living, breathing and stunningly beautiful tree.

I climbed through the arch and put my arms as far around the tree as I could reach. The things this tree had heard and witnessed…I lifted my face and droplets of rain dripped in slow-motion down from the lofty branches like gentle tears. It seemed to me then like the rain had been perfectly orchestrated for that moment between the tree and me. I stopped hating the rain in that moment.

I dragged myself away after a few minutes of quiet communion with my new friend.

The bus took us into the town of Killarney, where it was time to bid adieu to Mia, whose hours with us had come to an end. We had our lunch and were soon joined by Denise who drove us over the Dingle Peninsula.

Image result for the patchwork hills of the dingle peninsula

Even in the rain, the views were stunning, a patchwork of different shades of green blanketing the hills. These patches were surrounded by stone walls, and Denise explained that these walls originated in the Penal times when the English made laws to suppress the Irish from being wealthy property owners. Irish farmers were forced to divide their lands up to each child, and then each child in turn had to divide their land up with their children…soon, all the people had was a miserable square or two to farm. After a lengthy time of a spiraling drive up and down these enormous hills, we arrived in the beautiful harbour town of Dingle. We were delighted to settle into a two-day stay and leave our suitcases unpacked for a longer stretch.

My friend and I enjoyed a meal of fresh lemon sole in a fish restaurant. The owners caught their fish during the day and then cooked it up to serve that same night. It was soooooo good. During dinner, we chatted with two English gentlemen at the next table. They came to Dingle every year to fish, ferrying over and then driving eighteen hours. It was the highlight of their year. And so, I figured we were going to like Dingle just fine.

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Rainy Day in Ireland

Image may contain: tree, plant, grass, outdoor and nature

We were up early enough the next morning to enjoy a brief hike around the lake at Gougane Barra. The sheep were already well-engaged in the hard task of grazing, and weren’t too concerned about the humans that ambled past them. The morning air was fresh and cold and tasted of rain. The skies concurred that a change in the weather was on the way.

We enjoyed our first Irish breakfast upon our return. The hotel had prepared a beautiful spread of fruits (including stewed prunes, just like my Oma used to make), various breads, juices, cereals, yogurts and granola. We filled our bowls, and once sitting at the table, the waitress then gave us menus for “hot breakfast.” On top of the cold buffet, we were also invited to choose a full Irish breakfast or a big bowl of porridge with apples and honey or to choose from several other selections. Apparently, the Irish are proponents of the old saying that directs one to “eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch, and a pauper at dinner.” I chose the “Irish Mini” which was precisely half of the full breakfast, and included a fried egg, a savoury sausage, one slice of Irish bacon (very similar to the Canadian bacon we have here) a roasted tomato, and a side of “black pudding” (not my thing).

Image result for irish mini breakfast

Once we’d eaten our breakfasts, we loaded up the bus again, but before leaving the area, Mia drove us to the nearby forest to enjoy a hike. It was starting to get a little wet, and Mia attempted to explain the Irish “11 Levels of Rain.” It rains a lot in Ireland. This is why everything is so green. That mossy leafy abundance can be attributed to the plentiful natural irrigation. It was my hope that the rain might hold off in the interest of dry feet on my trip to Ireland. Not only a selfish expectation, but a highly unreasonable one.

At this point in the day, it was only “sprinkling,” nothing worth discussing or even acknowledging–if you’re Irish. Off we plunged into the woods. I was delighted to be starting the day with a hike. I am a hiker back home, too. I am right at home in the woods. These woods, however, were different than the SW Ontario forests I am accustomed to. The trees were blanketed from top to bottom in moss. The high level of moisture draws moss growth right up into the crowns of the trees. The forest floor was also a thick green blanket of moss. Mia picked some up and gave it a squeeze, and water oozed from it like a sponge. Another unusual sight were the sheep that foraged through the woods. They have full run of the land, and the sheep farmers throw a bit of colour on them after sheering to determine which animal belongs to who. Every time I tried to get a picture of them, the sheep would turn around so the tail ends were facing me. I muttered, “That’s great. I came all the way to Ireland to take pictures of the ass ends of three sheep!” Unbeknownst to me, another member of the tour was close by, taking some video, and my comment was recorded for posterity.

We had a brief stop at a pretty little Catholic chapel on the lake before heading out on the road again.

Image result for church in gougane barra

By the time we arrived at Bantry House, the weather had not improved too much. Nursing a bit of a stomach ache, I was happy to make my way to the cozy fire in the reception area of the house and cuddle up there for a spell. Exploring the house was a trip back in time to the early 1700’s. Although windows were plentiful, the original interior design was quite dark and ornate and cumbersome, as to reflect the styles at the time. Enormous rugs and drapes and tapestries, dark heavy furniture, over-sized jugs. We decided or deduced that one of the tour members was a relative of the family, and his picture was taken beneath the austere portrait of the original owner. Henceforth, he was referred to as “King Richard.”

The gardens overlooking the water were enchanting, but the rain had graduated to “rotten” level and umbrellas were required.

We left Bantry House and headed for the ferry to Garnish Island. The weather was downright crappy by this point. (The term “crappy” isn’t in the Irish list of rain types, but it is a well-merited term in my mind!) We paid for a boat ride (which seemed quite over-priced, in my opinion), saw a few seals sprawled out on the rocks, and pulled into the drenched island. There was a tea room there and we had some lunch while the rain came down. It was here that I had my first taste of the delicious Irish brown soda bread. They serve it all over Ireland, as it turned out–usually with a hearty bowl of chowder or home made soup. Two of the tour members were twins, celebrating their 30th birthday in Ireland and Mia had a cake and champagne for them while we were in the tea room. After that, we began our soggy, sodden walk-about on the island.

It might have been a more enjoyable excursion had it been a pleasant day. Gardens in the rain are really not much to see, everything drooping and dripping and miserable. There were some Italian gardens there, but my companion and I agreed that if we wanted to see Italian gardens, we wouldn’t be in Ireland. It took forever for the boat to ferry us back over, and there was nowhere to sit while we were waiting. Our pass through the Ring of Beara into County Kerry might have been a spectacular ride had we been able to see it, but the rain and the mist made for miserable viewing conditions.

We stopped at Molly Gallivan’s for a fortifying shot of 90-proof home-brewed potato whiskey (maybe diluted a bit from the rain as we were standing outside) and a look-about in the shop. It was a quaint little spot and pleasant to hide away from the rain for a spell.

Molly Gallivan's, Ring of Beara, Ireland

From there, we were off to Kenmare for a hot pub meal and some Irish entertainment. We enjoyed the music, but particularly the Irish dancing, performed expertly by a teenage girl and a young boy. That fancy footwork was a marvel to see!

I went to bed, hoping for an end to the rain and a return to the glorious weather of the first day of our tour. I was hoping at the very least that it wouldn’t be “hammering,” because Mia had described that last level as something akin to fatal!

 

 

If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.