Tag Archives: Ireland Postcards

Entrance Tickets, The Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

The road was quiet and there weren’t a great deal of traffic so I was shocked when we arrived there and found a car park that covered several hundred square metres and was completely full of cars, I couldn’t imagine where they had all come from, it was as though they had been beamed down from space.

The second shock was the admission fee which at €6 seemed excessive to me so at the pay booth we asked for four senior tickets at only €4 each and got away with it.  This was a massive shock to Kim who sulked for the next few minutes because she hadn’t been challenged and later that night she used a lot more miracle night cream than she normally does.

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Ireland Cliffs of Moher

Ireland – Mizen Head and the Fastnet Rock

Ireland Mizzen Head

The Rock Hill House served a first class breakfast in a dining room overlooking the gentle sea and a big blue sky and we lingered for a while before we left and after dining took some time to explore the surrounding wild flower gardens.

Today we were heading west, to Mizen Head, the most south-westerly point in mainland Ireland and the location of a lighthouse station and a rocky cliff top terminus and after only a short drive along a spectacular coast road overlooking sandy beaches and the Atlantic Ocean we arrived at the visitor centre and bought our entrance tickets.

The walk to the old lighthouse took us up and down steep raking steps and across a bridge where the Atlantic Ocean surged with anger and rage between fiercely jagged rocks  just thirty metres or so below our feet and very soon we were at the most south-westerly point of the peninsula and could go no further and we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.

At 10°27’ longitude Dingle, slightly to the north of our position today, claims to the most westerly town (as opposed to city – this is important) in Europe but whilst this may be true there are lots of other ‘most westerly’ claims to take into consideration.

Mizzen Head Ireland 1

The Blasket Islands (10°39’) at the end of the Dingle Peninsula are the most westerly point in the British Isles but these have been uninhabited since 1953, Iceland is the most westerly country in Europe and Reykjavik is the most westerly capital city (21°93’); Lisbon (9°14’) is the most westerly city on mainland Europe and furthest west than anywhere else are the Azores at 31°30.

When someone tells you that something is the biggest or the longest or the highest or the heaviest it is always worth checking up I find.  The most westerly point in Asia is Cape Baba in Turkey and in the United States it is Alaska which is also the most easterly as well because it stretches so far that it crosses right into the eastern hemisphere (a good pub quiz question that).

Fastnet Rock and Lighthouse

Four miles further south we could see the Fastnet Rock a small rocky islet in the Atlantic Ocean and the most southerly point of Ireland. It is the location of a famous lighthouse because these are some of the most dangerous waters around the British Isles.

Due to its location, Fastnet is known as “Ireland’s Teardrop”, because it was the last part of Ireland that nineteenth century Irish emigrants saw as they sailed to North America.  There are sixty-three lighthouses around the coast of Ireland but there are no lighthouse keepers any more because these days they are all automated and controlled from a secret central point somewhere on the mainland.

After an hour or so we left and drove east, stopped for a while for a walk on a magnificent sandy beach and then continued to Crookhaven, the most southerly village in Ireland, which is a leisurely place today which depends on tourism but was once a thriving port because the harbour here was the first and last place for ships to stop before or after crossing the Atlantic to and from America.

Ireland Beach

Lots of people crossed the Ocean from this part of Ireland because it was very seriously affected by the Irish famine of the 1840s and it isn’t difficult around here to find museums and restored cottages dedicated to the memory of the disaster.  Inside the cottages there is generally a recreation of a typical mid-nineteenth century family home and information boards about the famine and the consequences.

It seems that at that time Irish people lived almost entirely on potatoes and that a working man would eat as much as fourteen pounds a day – that is a lot of potatoes, roughly equivalent to two hundred and fifty bags of potato crisps (chips)!

Now, I know potatoes are versatile – boiled, baked, mashed, fried, hash browns, dauphinoise, gnocchi etc. but I imagine this sort of diet can become awfully monotonous!

potatoes

Unfortunately not only did the Irish rely completely on the potato they specialised in just one variety.  The Arran Banner was a reliable heavy cropper but not such a reliable heavy cropper when the  potato blight virus dropped by and a succession of harvest failures in the late 1840s led to starvation, death, farm failure, cruel and vexatious evictions by English absentee landlords and eventually mass emigration to the United States.

Interestingly it is most likely that the virus came from the United States in the first place (just like the phylloxera virus that infected French vine crops at about the same time) but regardless of this they blamed the English and five million Irish (80% of the total population at the time) chose to go there anyway.  Today nearly sixty million people in the USA, almost 20% of the population, claim Irish heritage and twenty-two out of forty-four of US Presidents (including Barack Abama!) have claimed Irish ancestry.

Canal du Midi near Beziers

The U.S.A also stands accused of destroying the iconic Plane trees that line the Canal du Midi.  A fungus has been attacking the trees, spreading along the waterway and defying all attempts to cure or control it.  Tree specialists have concluded that it is almost certain all the planes will have to be chopped down, burned and replaced because the trees have been struck by an outbreak of a virulent, incurable microscopic fungus which spreads through the roots and is thought to have first reached France with American GIs in the Second-World-War whose sycamore ammunition boxes were infected with the virus.

After we left Crookhaven we drove to the next peninsula to the north and drove around the Sheep’s Head Way but I am afraid I am unable to explain the curious name – it doesn’t even look like a sheep’s head!

We finished our drive in the town of Bantry which turned out to be one of those places that sound as though you should visit but when you get there you wonder why?  We walked along the main street, contemplated staying a while for an early evening meal but eventually decided against it and returned directly to Schull where later we dined at a French restaurant and for the second time finished the evening in Hackett’s Bar.

Ireland Dingle

Ireland – Cobh Harbour and Cathedral

Cobh Waterfront Ireland

“I went to Cork, Ireland, and stood on the dock some of my ancestors had left from.  I felt their ghosts gather round me, and I cried to imagine what it must have felt like – leaving that beautiful land and those beloved people, knowing it was forever” – Luanne Rice

After a lunch of sea food chowder and Guinness the sun was shining as we returned to the streets of Cobh and took a walk along the charming waterfront.  With brightly coloured houses and  working boats with  barnacle encrusted hulls resting in the harbour we walked among fishing nets and lobster pots drying in the sun and it reminded me of the coastal villages of Cantabria and Asturias in northern Spain.

Close to the Heritage Centre there was a statue of Annie Moore and her brothers. Annie Moore?  Well,  Annie Moore was the first person to be admitted to the United States of America through the new immigration centre at Ellis Island in New York on 1st  January 1892.

Annie Moore Cobh

From 1848 and for the next one hundred years, over six million people emigrated from Ireland and over two and a half million departed from Cobh, making it the single most important port of emigration in the country.

This mass exodus from Ireland was largely down to poverty, crop failures, the land system and a lack of opportunity.  For many people Queenstown (Cobh) was the last sight they had of Ireland and for some it was the last land that they ever saw because this was the last port of call for RMS Titanic before it began its fateful journey in April 1912 and an unfortunate and terminal encounter with an unforgiving iceberg somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Another tragically notable ship to be associated with the town was the Cunard passenger liner RMS Lusitania which was sunk by a German U-boat off the Old Head of Kinsale while on route from the USA to Liverpool on 7th May 1915. One thousand, two hundred passengers died and seven hundred were rescued. The survivors and the dead alike were brought to Cobh, and the bodies of over one hundred who perished in the disaster lie buried in the Old Church Cemetery just north of the town.

Cobh Cathedral

After the harbour we made our way to the Cathedral and stopped briefly to chat to a coach driver who was killing time waiting for his tour group to return.  He enquired about our plans and itinerary and warned us not to be fooled by this afternoon’s pleasant sunshine because, in his words “the next three days are going to be absolutely shite…”.  That was nice of him, if it was me I would have said something encouraging even if it wasn’t true!

It was a tough climb to the Cathedral up a set of steep steps set into the hillside.  St Colman’s Cathedral is the second highest in Ireland, a few metres shorter than St John’s Cathedral in Limerick, and its elevated position makes it seem even taller as it looks out over the town, the harbour and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

It is a fairly modern Cathedral, less than two hundred years old, built in the Gothic style and its interior is impressive indeed, soaring columns, stained glass windows and opulent decoration, we visited the Cathedral and all of the side chapels and towers and when we were satisfied that we had seen all there was to see we left and took the steep climb down back to the harbour.

RMS Titanic Postcard

Finally we were going to visit the Titanic experience, a small museum housed in the old White Star Line booking office and embarkation jetty.  We were keen to do this because in the previous year we had visited the Titanic museum and exhibition in Belfast and we were interested to see how this compared.

It is much smaller of course and instead of rides and reconstructions this is a virtual reality tour which was easily worth the cost of admission but couldn’t possibly compare with Belfast.

More about the Titanic next time…

By late afternoon we were ready to return to Cork so made our way back to the train station and the journey back where we were faced with another stiff climb from sea level to the top of the town (about ten minutes or so) and the Montenotte Hotel.

Kim, Richard and Pauline went directly back but I stopped off in a pub to watch the European Championship football match between Ireland and Sweden.  The place was crammed full, standing room only and the roof nearly blew off when Ireland scored the opening goal and there was a collective roar that could be heard probably in Stockholm.  Later Sweden equalised and I imagine there was a roar in Stockholm that could be heard in Cork and that poured cold water over the gathering but I had a good time and a complimentary portion of sausage and chips.

Later we dined at the hotel and whilst the others had a full meal but after my unexpected sausage and chips I could only manage a small bowl of chowder.

Cork Harbour Wall Mural

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

Ballyvaughan Ireland

‘The purpose of signing on the road network is to promote safety and efficiency by providing for the orderly movement of traffic’                                               National Roads Authority (Ireland)

We were anxious to continue with our journey now because we had a distance to travel towards our next destination of Dingle and we were unsure of the travelling time on account of conflicting information at breakfast.

We were planning to take a ferry across the River Shannon and although the lady who served breakfast said that it wouldn’t be too busy and there would be no problem, Sheila said that it might be so we should allow some extra time for the journey.  This created some uncertainty but everyone knows of course that in Ireland road signs are contradictory and confusing, distances are approximations and travel advice is as reliable as a government economic statistic.

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Ireland, The Cliffs of Moher and Ennistymon

Fenore Burren Ireland County Clare

I was still pondering how I might get my own back for the leaping salmon trick in Galway and at our next stop I had my opportunity…

At a place called Fenore where the barren grey rocks of the Burren meet the blue water of the Atlantic Ocean we stopped the car and walked across the fissures to the shore and then I pulled my trick, I feigned shock and when asked what was wrong told my companions that I had dropped the keys to the car and they had fallen down a very deep crack in the rocks.

We were miles from anywhere and before you could say the word crisis Kim and Pauline moved in an instant from slightly concerned to blind panic as we all got down on hands and knees and peered hopelessly into a narrow gap that seemed to go as far as the centre of the earth.  Arms were thrust into the crack and fingers probed for the missing keys, we looked for a stick that might help and looked back woefully at the car that was all securely locked with no access to a mobile phone.

It was a good trick but unfortunately I am not very good at keeping a good tease going and it wasn’t long before I could no longer suppress the smirk that was creeping across my face and my ruse was discovered but I was happy that I had got my own back for the phoney salmon sighting story.

Our next destination was the cliffs of Moher, an eight mile stretch of cliffs that soar vertically out of the sea to a height of nearly seven hundred feet at their highest point.  They are the third most visited visitor attraction in Ireland after the Guinness Storehouse and Dublin Zoo and attract nearly a million visitors a year which is even more than the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.  They are so famous that in 2011 they were included in the final twenty-eight candidates in a global on-line poll to find the New Seven Wonders of Nature. 

They didn’t make the final seven but then neither did the Grand Canyon or the Galapagos Islands!

Ireland Cliffs of Moher

The road was quiet and there weren’t a great deal of traffic so I was shocked when we arrived there and found a car park that covered several acres and was completely full of vehicles, I couldn’t imagine where they had all come from, it was as though they had been beamed down from space.

The second shock was the admission fee which at €6 seemed excessive to me so at the pay booth we asked for four senior tickets at only €4 each and got away with it.  This was a massive shock to Kim who sulked for the next few minutes because she hadn’t been challenged and later that night she used a lot more miracle night cream than she normally does.

There is no doubt that the cliffs are a wonderful sight but they have been commercialised with a vengeance with tarmac pavements, concrete viewing areas, an arcade of touristy craft outlets and a visitor centre with restaurants and a gift shop and the cliff top walk has been sunk below the level of the ground where visitors are safely separated from the land which ends surprisingly abruptly above the sea and the vertical drop beyond by a metre high rock wall which effectively destroys any effective communion with nature.

The Irish Independent newspaper include the cliffs in a list of Ireland suicide black spots* so I suppose it also prevents people throwing themselves over the side…

I like my cliff top natural environment experiences to be more natural, moody and solitary, rather like Wordsworth wandering through his field of daffodils or John Masefield going down to the sea again but that was impossible here, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of people swarming over the hills and any natural experience has been brutally denied so I came away cursing Clare County Council for building the carbuncle that is the visitor centre and feeling a little deflated and uninspired by the experience we walked back down the path past the coach park and the buses with growling engines and returned to the car park.

It was late afternoon by now so we continued the short distance towards the town of Ennistymon and found our accommodation for the night, The Grove Mount Bed and Breakfast, perched on the top of a hillside just outside the town.  It was a small and simple place and Sheila, the owner, made us welcome and gave us some advice about dining options for later on.  This didn’t take her very long because it turned out that there was only one so to be on the safe side we drove down to the town and booked a table.

We explored the main street and came across a pub called Eugene’s with a plaque on the wall declaring that it had been awarded the James Joyce Pub Award for being an authentic Irish Pub.  This was based on the fact that Joyce based many of his fictional characters on real people that he met in pubs.  It also had a painting of the Father Ted cast and whilst we stopped to photograph it a man who had far more drink than was good for him offered the information that the crew of the show used to stay in the Falls Hotel just around the corner but preferred to drink at Eugene’s.  We thought that we might come back later.

Back at the accommodation I remembered about the car and the question that I had asked earlier about the engine blowing up so I phoned the car hire company.  I explained about the mudslide of dashboard warning lights but they didn’t seem terribly concerned.

I told them that there was a reoccurring message that a service was due and the person on the other end of the line immediately diagnosed this as the problem and that it was therefore perfectly safe to drive.  Just to be sure I asked her the same question that I had asked earlier at Dunguaire Castle, ‘is the car going to blow up?  ‘Oh no’ she replied casually ‘It will be perfectly all right’ as though this was a question that she was quite used to dealing with.  On a scale of one to a hundred my confidence levels went up one notch –  from zero to one.

Eugene's Pub Ennistymon Ireland

* Most sources claim about ten suicides a year at the Cliffs of Moher but it seems that there are no really accurate statistics available  – there are eight miles of cliffs and a raging ocean below so it is possible that many go unreported.

According to Wikipedia the three biggest suicide black spots in the World are:

  • Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, Nanjing, China
  • Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
  • Prince Edward Viaduct, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The three most popular suicide spots in England are the London Underground, the one hundred and sixty metre high cliffs at Beachy Head in Sussex and the two thousand two-hundred and twenty metre long Humber Bridge.

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