This is an Angular that I saw fishing for salmon in the River Carrib in Galway, Ireland.
And this is one going off to do a spot of sea fishing in Portugal.
This is an Angular that I saw fishing for salmon in the River Carrib in Galway, Ireland.
And this is one going off to do a spot of sea fishing in Portugal.
Having gone as far west as possible we were driving east again now on the last leg of our journey back towards Killarney and we followed the coast road as far as the village of Sneem, another tourist logjam with a car park full of growling coaches.
There were two distinct parts of Sneem so we parked in the quieter one next to a plaque dedicated to Charles deGaulle who apparently visited the village many times and selected a shocking pink pub with a garden terrace for a Guinness in the sunshine.
After lunch we crossed a bridge over the river, obviously turbulent in winter judging by the tree debris caught and tangled in the saw toothed rocks but rather indolent today as the water trickled rather than surged over the boulders. On the other side was the main tourist business with craft and souvenir shops and swarms of day trippers pondering whether or not to buy a traditional Aran cardigan and all along the pavement the street entertainers all hoping for some loose change to be transferred from pockets to collection tins.
Our planned schedule was beginning to fall behind the clock now so we walked back to the car past a lady belting out opera at full volume and the parks full of public art and then left Sneem and followed the coast road until it turned sharply inland at Kenmare and headed towards mountains and the Killarney National Park. With so many panoramic viewing areas it was stop-start motoring now for a few miles as we stopped as often as possible to admire the scenery most memorably at Moll’s Gap, a mountain pass at the highest point of the climb before the descent towards the Killarney Lakes and the look-out spot at Ladies View where more accordion players and fiddlers were attempting to entertain the bus tour visitors.
As we approached Killarney we left the Ring of Kerry and to be honest I wasn’t disappointed to do so. On reflection the decision to drive it in just one day was a mistake. It was too far and it really needed a day or two with a couple of overnight stops to be able to enjoy it fully. I’ll bear that in mind if I get to go back to the south-west of Ireland.
As we arrived in Killarney the traffic began to get heavier mostly on account of the fact that it had to compete with a fleet of horse-drawn jaunting cars that seemed to enjoy priority over the motor cars and exemptions from the normal rules of the road.
It was too late now to do any real sightseeing, we were way behind time and our plan was to find somewhere for a last meal in Ireland before driving back to the airport at Shannon. This wasn’t as easy as we had imagined because we were in that late afternoon period when pubs and restaurants close down for a couple of hours but we eventually found somewhere suitable and enjoyed a very good meal and a final glass of Guinness.
After the meal we left Killarney for a final two hour drive to the airport which confirmed the days bad planning as we had already spent four hours or so motoring around the Ring of Kerry and everyone was beginning to get a bit fidgety as we drove the unremarkable and rather dull main road towards Limerick.
The dashboard warning symbols were still continuing to blink on and off like garden fairy lights but I became increasingly confident of getting it back without major incident the closer we got to the airport. We refuelled the car and returned it to the car hire office and I crossed my fingers as the man at the desk examined the paper work and made an inspection. I explained about the warning lights but this didn’t seem to concern him greatly as though this was a regular occurrence and he signed off the contract and agreed to the refund for the value of the full tank of fuel but for the next few days I kept my eye on my credit card account in case of any damage charges being charged through. Nothing happened!
I’m so sorry if I disappointed anyone expecting an engine explosion story!
Back at the airport now we prepared for our flight, fortunately one of a handful not delayed due to a French air traffic control strike, with some time to spare to reflect on out holiday. Ireland, I have to say, had been a revelation to me and had far exceeded my pre-travel expectations, Galway, Dublin, Ennistymon and especially Dingle were all so wonderful that Ireland is now firmly placed in my ‘must return to’ list.
“The Burren is a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.”
Later in the morning we were leaving Galway to drive south through the Burren and towards our next scheduled overnight stop at the town of Ennistymon in the heart of Father Ted* country but as this wasn’t an especially long journey we were in no particular rush to leave and so after breakfast we wandered off into the city again to visit the Saturday morning street market.
I have explained before (several times) that I am not a fan of shopping but I don’t mind the local market especially one that sells regional produce and handmade crafts so it was quite enjoyable strolling around in the sunshine, tasting local food and debating whether or not to buy a pointless souvenir or a piece of traditional Irish woollen clothing that we would possibly never ever wear again once back home. So we didn’t.
As midday approached we turned our backs on Galway, threw a few more coins into the collection boxes of the street entertainers and returned to the hotel to check out and load the car.
The car! OMG the car!
Over the last forty-eight hours I had forgotten about the warning lights on the dashboard and they flashed up again like casino gaming machine as soon as I turned on the ignition and although they are normally supposed to go out after a couple of seconds or so they took it in turn to blink and flash and most worrying of all there was that pesky engine management warning light again. The engine sounded sweet enough however and there were no plumes of black smoke or sounds of exploding metal so we carried on and resolved to ring the car hire company later on.
We drove inland along the north shore of Galway Bay, then south before turning west along the south shore and into a region called the Burren, an area that makes it into every top ten list of natural wonders in Ireland. A vast barren area of bare limestone rock and at first sight very little else and the first coastal village that we arrived at was Kinvara where we stopped at the outskirts at the site of the restored Dunguaire Castle.
According to legend if you stand at the front gate and ask a question you will have an answer to by the end of the day. While Richard and Pauline went to the top of the battlements and Kim made a circuit of the castle looking for photo opportunities I made my way to the front gate and asked my question, ‘is the car going to blow up?’
Out of all of us Richard was the most excited about the Burren and plotted a route to take us into the interior to see rock formations formed by criss-crossing cracks known as ‘grikes’ and isolated boulders called ‘clints’ which between them have formed deep crevices with layers of fossils and the home to a multitude of alpine plants and he wandered off and poked his camera lens into these interesting places. Kim and Pauline were obviously much less impressed by this rocky wilderness and returned to the car after only a very quick and discourteous glance but I took a look around and tried to get a better understanding of the bleakness of the place and if I had been a geologist or a botanist then I am certain that I would have got very excited, but I’m not and I didn’t.
With Richard outvoted three to one we now returned to the coast and to the village of Ballyvaughan which seemed unexpectedly busy.
The reason was that there was a cycle event taking place today called the tour de Burren and nearly two thousand cyclists were taking part and were all due at the finishing line in Ballyvaughan later this afternoon. We stopped for a short while for a Guinness and a sandwich and then we made our way out of the village and headed west before it was completely taken over by women in inappropriately tight lycra, men with shaved alien legs, those weird helmets that cyclists wear and competitors and spectators alike in garish bright colours that for driving safety reasons required the use of double sunglasses.
Driving became increasingly difficult now because all of the cyclists were coming towards us in the opposite direction and it needed total concentration not to knock any of them off their bike and spoil everyone’s afternoon. There was only one near miss when a cyclist choose to make a risky overtaking manoeuvre at the top of a ridge just as we were approaching from the other side. I demonstrated the reactions of a formula one racing driver and braked hard to avoid a collision and caught the look of sheer panic on his face as he swerved back to his own side of the road just in time but I am quite certain that it was the sort of incident that would require him to disinfect his saddle later on!
The scenery was spectacular now as the road swept around the coast in a roller-coaster sort of way and we stopped several times to admire the views and walk across the grikes and even Kim and Pauline were finding it interesting now. And so were some of the cyclists because many of them were also pulling up and taking photographs in a leisurely sort of way that convinced me that this wasn’t a cycle race in the same way that the Tour de France’ is a cycle race because I am sure that Chris Frome doesn’t stop to take pictures whilst cycling through the Pyrenees.
At Black Head Point the road turned an abrupt 90° and we headed south with the Atlantic Ocean to our right. The road all along this coast is called the Wild Atlantic Way but there was absolutely nothing wild about it today and with blue skies, sunshine and no wind the sea could hardly find the energy to make a slight ripple let alone a crashing wave and the water caressed the shoreline in a gentle peaceful sort of way.
With the dashboard still lit up like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise we carried on now towards the Cliffs of Moher.
* As my UK readership only makes up about 20% of all my page views an explanation is required:
I am going to mention Father Ted again in the next couple of posts so I need to tell you that this was a cult UK situation comedy about three priests living in Ireland which generally pokes fun at Ireland and its stereotypes. It probably doesn’t travel too well. There was once talk of a US version but the project was abandoned before it started.
“Dubliner seems to me to have some meaning and I doubt whether the same can be said for such words as Londoner or Parisian” – James Joyce
I was enjoying Dublin but have to confess that I was a little disappointed with the banks of the river Liffey, I thought that there would be more activity there and it would be postcard picturesque but I found it more workmanlike than touristic and slightly down at heel. All of the action in Temple Bar is in the streets immediately behind the riverside and this was exactly what I had anticipated.
Narrow cobbled streets with beer bottle tops crushed for near eternity into the tarmac joints, winking like silver coins and capturing the memories of wild party nights and happy drinking, brightly coloured buildings decorated with hanging baskets with brassy flowers spilling over like floral waterfalls and street entertainers on every corner. All along the main street a succession of pubs and restaurants with happy music leaking out of the open doorways like the song of the Siren’s enticing people to go inside and get wrecked and a lot of people were falling for it so they were!
It was lunchtime now and we wanted somewhere to eat but a lot of the pubs were full to overflowing until we found one with table space, The Auld Dubliner, where we had our lunch time Guinness, ate toasted sandwiches and listened to a singer belting out a medley of traditional Irish songs mixed in with some soft rock classics.
There was still more of Temple Bar to see so after lunch we continued along the main street, diverted to the bridges over the river Liffey and then explored the side streets and looked for the statue of Molly Malone but when we arrived at the spot where she should have been singing about cockles and muscles she had been taken away for repairs and a clean.
We were on our way to Dublin Castle which is not a castle in the fortress sense of the word more like a Palace I would say. This is where the British governed Ireland from until 1921 when it was ceremonially handed over to the Republic on the occasion of independence and it is easy to get a sense of guilt walking around a place like this especially as the information boards are fond of making a point about British colonial injustice.
Except for the church, where there was free admission, we didn’t go inside but opted instead for the adjacent memorial gardens set around a helicopter landing pad where important visitors arrive before being taken to the state rooms inside the castle.
After the castle we took a dangerous route along Grafton Street back to the bus stop at St Stephens Green; dangerous because it was lined on either side with shops and there was the constant fear that at any moment we might be dragged inside by Kim and Pauline. We were a little earlier than planned so we spent ten minutes in a curious place, The Little Museum of Dublin, which chronicles the modern history of Dublin through faded photographs and aged bric-a-brac.
We had allowed ourselves an hour to make the second stage of the bus tour and to get back in plenty of time for the return train journey and it was a good job that we did because it was Friday afternoon rush-hour now and the traffic was crawling at snail’s-pace away from the city centre.
We passed the Roman Catholic Cathedral and the Guinness Brewery and then through the site of the original Viking settlement. Previously we have been to Haugesund in Norway where the Vikings started their sea journeys and it was cold, barren wet and miserable and I can only imagine that when they found this place they must have been delighted to find somewhere less (but probably only marginally) less cold, barren, wet and miserable.
But the sun was shining today as we sat on the top deck and nervously kept our eye on the time as the bus made several diversions from the direct route to pass the places of interest along the way, going as far west as Kilmainham Gaol where in the past the British used to detain anyone who stirred up any nationalist trouble before executing them and then eventually arriving back at Heuston station with just a few minutes to spare.
On the return journey I reflected on Dublin, I had liked it but half a day was so not enough time to do it justice so I mentally added to my list of places to return to one day.
The train arrived back in Galway at eight o’clock which gave us a few minutes to get changed before walking into the city that was swaying with pavement music and bursting with people thronging the main street until we found our chosen restaurant that we had selected the previous day and enjoyed a second excellent evening meal. After that it would have been nice to find a pub with some Irish music but we were all too tired so we decided to postpone that until the next night.
I confess that I was surprised to be able to sit at a table on the pavement because I had prepared myself for cool temperatures and lots of rain because the west of Ireland is one of the wettest places in Europe with some parts getting some precipitation for two hundred and twenty-five days a year. Thankfully there was no sign of any unwelcome wet weather today.
After Guinness and sandwiches we left the busy pub and made our way into the centre of the city passing first through a street of brightly coloured buildings, yellow, green, red, vibrant, vivid and loud, the sort of thing that would have town planners in England descending into a frenzy of planning permission refusals.
Galway is the fourth largest city in Ireland and the streets were so busy I couldn’t help wondering why no one was at work. There were a lot of tourists but also a great many local people spilling out of the pubs and restaurants onto the pavement all the way down the main street and down to the banks of the River Corrib which was flowing briskly towards the Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps it was on account of the weather because a man in a bar told me that they were in the middle of a ‘heat wave’, ‘hotter even than Spain’ he proudly informed me.
At the bottom of the street we came to the Latin Quarter, so named because a very long time ago Galway carried out a lot of trade with Spain and Portugal (some of the ships of the Spanish Armada were shipwrecked along this coast in 1588) and then to the Spanish Arch, one of the few remaining sections of the old medieval town wall which by a twist of fate was severely damaged by a tsunami caused by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.
There were some nice gardens along the elevated bank of the river and as we strolled along we spoke to several fishermen who were casting lines into the water in the hope of catching a salmon which were making their way inland towards their spawning grounds in Lough Corrib just north of the city. We walked past the abandoned and rotting salmon traps that haven’t been used for several years now and to the section of the river below the salmon weir where several fishermen were struggling to keep their balance against the flow of the water as they continuously and optimistically cast their lines and lures. Behind them stood a solitary heron and he was a lot more successful in catching fish let me tell you.
Richard was keen to see a salmon jump the weir but after several minutes watching and waiting we had to concede defeat and move on. As we did so Kim and Pauline both shouted out ‘there, there, did you see it? did you see it?’ We were taken in by this for a moment or two but then the tale became wilder than the salmon as they embellished the story with a four foot leap in the air. I was annoyed by this because generally speaking I like to be the one that does the kidding and the teasing so on the walk back I decided that I would have to come up with something to get my own back (more on this in a later post).
By now it was a glorious afternoon and the temperature was continuing to rise (‘hotter even than Spain’) as we walked back through the main streets where there were street entertainers every few yards, some playing traditional instruments, some improvising on spoons and bits of wood and metal and others standing around as statues. I make it a rule not to give money to beggars who just sit around looking sorry for themselves with a big scruffy dog but I don’t mind throwing loose change in the collection box of someone who is working for a living so by the time we had walked the entire length of the street my pockets were empty of coins.
Kim and Pauline went shopping now but Richard and I declined the opportunity to accompany them and instead went to get our train tickets for tomorrow’s journey to Dublin and to find an off-licence for some wine and gin which we sampled back at the hotel while we waited for the shoppers to return.
In the evening we returned to the main street which despite the fact that the shops were closed were even busier now with people ambling through the streets, music on every corner and the pubs and restaurants doing brisk business. A restaurant that had caught our eye earlier was fully booked so we asked them for a recommendation and made a reservation for the following night and then found the alternative eating place and enjoyed a fine meal and a glass or two of red wine.
I wasn’t absolutely certain exactly what I was expecting of Ireland and the city of Galway but as we walked back to the hotel after a long day I knew for sure that I liked it!
There is a pub quiz question that comes up regularly and which I always get wrong, which is ‘what is the nearest country to the United Kingdom’ and the answer of course is Southern Ireland or Eire but I always forget about the border with Northern Ireland and blurt out ‘France, it must be France’. Not surprising then that until now I have never visited the country.
Later this year of course, if the Scottish Nationalists get their way, then there will be two correct answers to the question which is likely to cause a lot of bar-room arguments!
2014 has been a big year for me as I reached the birthday milestone of sixty years and I was planning something special to celebrate the occasion and then some friends asked if we would like to visit Ireland with them and that seemed special enough so we set about making travel plans.
I suppose I have always been a bit hesitant about travelling in the British Isles because being English I have always been rather conscious that we are not going to win many popularity contests with our nearest neighbours.
A lot of Scottish people seem to hate us and the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond and his dreadful deputy, the Anglophobe, Nicola Sturgeon, desperately want a vote in favour of independence. Until quite recently the Welsh used to burn down our holiday homes and the last time I went there I got a speeding ticket which I am convinced was issued only on the basis that I had an English registered car. So I was a little concerned about visiting a country who apparently regard the English responsible for all their recent disasters from the Irish Famine to the failure to qualify for the Football World Cup!
In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting. Most impressive is that Ireland is placed seventh in the Human Development Index which means that it is the top ten of the most highly developed countries in the World and before the recent economic crisis it used to be in the top five! The Index ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income.
The economic crisis has had a negative effect on Ireland’s position in the European Happiness Index however and it is rated at only fourteenth out of thirty which is a very long way behind the United Kingdom but I was interested to see that in a recent poll in the Irish Times that Galway was voted the happiest place to be in Ireland and I was glad about that because that was where we were planning to go first.
Ireland has only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites which, lets be honest, is a rather poor performance and I would suggest that someone in Dublin needs to start travelling around and making some applications – Australia has got nineteen for goodness sake! The country also needs to do something about its Blue Flag Beaches because it now only has seventy when a few years ago it had one hundred and forty-two!
But some statistics continue to be impressive and Ireland remains the most successful nation in the Eurovision Song Contest, which with seven wins is higher than all other competitors so who really cares about the economic crisis anyway?
We flew to Shannon Airport early one Thursday morning and after arrival set about finding the car rental office. Being a skinflint I had arranged a vehicle through ‘Budget Rent a Car’ and that should have been a warning in itself. The cost of insurance doubled the original quote and then I was alarmed to find that we had been charged for a full tank of diesel at way above sensible pump prices but to be fair they did promise to refund the charge if we brought it back full but at this stage I have to say that I was not especially hopeful.
We left the airport on the very edge of the river Shannon (the longest river in Ireland and the British Isles) past the peat bogs of the estuary shoreline and headed north to Galway and then the first warning light came on. It was the engine heater plug warning light so this did not concern me greatly and we carried on but then more lights started to appear until the dashboard resembled a Christmas tree in New York Times Square or Saturday night on the Las Vegas strip.
We carried on because these seemed only to be linked to the instruction to get the thing serviced and I decided to call the hire company later after we had parked up and checked in to our hotel. And then the Engine Management warning light came on and I thought this might be serious but I didn’t want to spoil the day so on the basis that ignorance is bliss I placed a fold up map over the dashboard display so I couldn’t see it and just carried on while I mentally calculated how much I might be charged for a new engine if it blew up.
So we found the hotel and I was interested to check out this whole Irish happiness/friendliness thing and sure enough the desk clerk was happy and friendly but I remained sceptical and thought, ‘well, of course she is, it is her job’ and then we went into the city centre. It was lunchtime so we found a pub and I went to the bar and ordered some beer and a man immediately started to talk to me and he was happy and he was friendly and as we enjoyed our first pint of Guinness in the sunshine I instinctively knew that Ireland was a special place to be.
I have just returned from Ireland and will be posting about the journey soon, but before I get around to it this is a little taster…