I Found Yeats Country!

Yesterday (February 2nd), I had a late start.  And a bit of a hangover from being up so late to watch the Super Bowl via Skype with the family.  I had a cup of tea with Steph and Rob, and we talked about what I was going to do in the afternoon.  They both recommended I go to the Burren, a National Park very close, and so off I went.  

I made a stop at Coole Park, which was the estate of Lady Gregory and her husband.  This little guy jumped up right in my car to get a scrap of food.  

 

Frequent visitors to Coole Park were W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Jack B. Yeats, and the list goes on and on.  There is an autograph tree in the walled gardens, where they all carved their initials.  A beautiful, peaceful park, it is now maintained by the Irish State.  I could feel the inspiration as I walked around the grounds, through the woods and over to the lake.

 

I left Coole Park, went down the road and found Thoor Ballylee, Yeats' castle home.  It is not open for viewing, but, I wandered around and took photos and got a feel for the place.  And I had the place all to myself.  The great thing about this time of year is there is no one anywhere, except for the big sites like the Cliffs of Moher.  The downside is everything is closed, as far as many of the smaller visitor centers and shops.  There is a lot of information online about these places, and I need to do more research (www.ladygregoryyeatstrail.com).  It is so fascinating to trod in the trails the feet of these great authors have walked.  

 

After I left Thor Ballylee, I continued on to the Burren via Kinvarra.  Steph told me to take the road through the heart of the Burren, and so I did.  I found a castle or two, and ended up at the most delightful chocolatier, the Burren Chocolatier (http://www.hazelmountainchocolates.com).  Turns out one of the chocolatiers is from the States, and used to live in Corvallis.  Small world.  I chatted with Dara, he was in making chocolates, and another random lady from Dublin who died over their hot chocolate.  I didn't end up having any hot chocolate, but I did take a slice of strawberry sponge cake home with me for later, and some chocolate bars.

I made for the Burren Perfumery next.  It's another kind of out-of-the-way place.  I got there and they were open, but just for a few more minutes.  I bought a few items and talked with the shopkeeper there, and then headed out again.  I am delighted because I can order items online from them (http://www.burrenperfumery.com). By this time it was getting dark.  I didn't want to be stuck out on some road in the middle of the Burren too long after the sun set.

 

I made my way back home via Ennis.  Lately all roads seem to lead to there or from there.  On my way back, though it was well past sunset, I stopped at the Dysert O'Dea castle.  It's pretty cool and a little scary to be walking through a country lane in the near dark to a deserted castle.  But, walk I did.  Of course I could not get in, but, did manage to get some photos.  Apparently there is an archaeological trail you can walk around this castle and see a bunch of different monuments.  That will have to be another time. Too much to do and see all in one shot.


The Burren is beautiful.  Just when I think I can't see another different kind of landscape, Ireland gives me something new to look at.  Incredible.  I am never disappointed.


Yesterday was another wonderful day here.  And now, I'm on my last day.  I woke up with snow this morning, so decided to wait a few hours to go out anywhere.  I'm going into Ennis to do a last bit of shopping, and then driving up to Moran's Oyster Cottage for lunch.  And then it's time for packing and away I go back to the States tomorrow.  



Celtic crosses and medieval banquets.

Today I had a very busy day.  I spent most of the morning burning things.  You name it, I can burn it in the stove.  Cooked food, paper products, whatever.  And it's reduced to a small pile of ash which I then put in a bucket and Steph dumps somewhere in her yard.  

And then I went in to Tulla.  This afternoon was GORGE0US, as you will see from the photos.  I had been dying to get up to the cemetery to take some photos and boy did I.  I was in awe at the headstones.  I hoped I was not being sacrilegious by traipsing through the cemetery to get better shots. It was hard to miss stepping on graves, they took up a lot of space.  The roofless church and old headstones gave me lots of fodder for pictures.  So beautiful I was dying.


I finished up at the cemetery and took care of some errands in town.  I went in to the Fruit/Veg store and had a long conversation with the guy behind the counter.  Then I went to the butcher, Steph suggested I go get some of his beef, so I came out with a few sirloin steaks.  I got some groceries and stopped by the fuel depot on my way out of town to get some more fuel for the fire.

The medieval banquet was scheduled at 5:30, so Steph suggested I stop in at Quin to see the Abbey on my way.  And so I did that too.  Another roofless stone building with lots of graves.  I love them. I met a lady in the cemetery who told me I should ask someone about seeing the inside.  Someone or other had a key to it, but she wasn't sure who might have it.  The Abbey too was gorgeous, and the drive to Quin also took me by Knappogue Castle, but that is closed for the season.  

I managed to take every road to get to Bunratty except for the actual road I needed to take.  4th time is a charm.  But, I made it, with time to spare.  At the banquet I was greeted by a man and woman in medieval costume, and the whole evening was charming.  We had a reception upstairs in the great hall, where they served us delicious honey mead in small ceramic cups.  Delicious.  A man and a woman were playing a fiddle and a harp in the middle of the hall.  

We were given a brief history of the castle, and then led downstairs to the banquet.  I sat next to a mother/daughter from Seattle and they were great all evening.  We started with a delicious soup, followed by a platter of spareribs, a quarter chicken with roasted vegetables and potatoes and some kind of dessert known as "lovers kisses".  He elected one of the couples the Earl and his Lady for the night, and another poor man got thrown in the dungeon.  


The servers also were brilliant singers, each one of them.  They put on a good half-hour of entertainment after the meal, which was wonderful.  Really beautiful voices.  We ate only with steak knives, no silverware.  It was rather fun, I didn't mind.  It was refreshing to just eat with your hands.  It was a lovely, charming evening, and I would recommend going to the dinner.  

At the end of the night, they sent us downstairs for coffee.  I ended up chatting with the most adorable Irish couple who lived just a few miles from the Castle, and had won tickets to come.  They thought it was quite good as well.  Both the mother/daughter and the older couple recommended visiting Loop Head, in addition to the Cliffs of Moher.  So I think that might be my plan tomorrow.  We'll see.  

Driving on the left

I can proudly say I learned another skill today.  Because today was the day.  I would finally get my car!  I was excited and nervous all at the same time.  Really, picking up the car was no issue, and I adjusted to driving on the other side of the road on the other side of the car pretty well.  Steph took me back to the airport this morning to get the car and away she went and away I went.  She suggested I stop at Bunratty Castle, since I had been there before, to have a bite to eat at Durty Nelly's and let the nerves out before continuing on, and so I did.  

 I managed to get myself from the Shannon Airport to the Castle, only having one mishap where I drove too far and had to get off the motorway about 5km down and come back around.  No harm done.  I decided if I ended up in Limerick, it would be fine.  But I didn't.  I made my way back, got to Durty Nelly's, and had a "glass" of Guinness, or a half-pint, and some beef stew for lunch.  Quite delicious!  Durty Nelly's has been around since 1620, and it's just right across the street from Bunratty Castle.  Tomorrow night I'm going back to Bunratty for the medieval dinner.  

So now, I will have been to Bunratty Castle three times.  I think that's enough.  Before I left home, I purchased a ticket for the Castle & Folk Village, so I decided to go today since it was a nice afternoon.  It was awesome because I had the castle mostly to myself!!  I had seen a little bit of it on Saturday, but wanted to come back and explore and get photos.  

If you want a good work out, try going up and down several sets of steep, stone castle stairs, at almost a straight up vertical angle.  There were a few times where I tripped, or my foot didn't quite catch the whole stair.  Thousands of feet have trod those stone steps.  I had visions of missing a step and ending up with some broken bones so I proceeded very, very carefully. Luckily, no injuries here.

 

I took loads and load and loads of pictures today!  Not just the castle, but all over the village.  There's a small town you can tour around and cottages as well.  Mostly everything in the town was closed, but many of the buildings were open for viewing.  I ended up going all the way to the furthest end and found a church and a paddock near Bunratty House where I came face to face with a stag!  A small one, but he looked at me, and I looked at him, both in equal surprise!  He was gorgeous.  

 

I have learned something about myself.  If there is a place I am not supposed to go but the door is open, I'll go, just to see what I can see.  I went around to the front of Bunratty House, even though the sign was posted and said the house was closed.  In the church, because no one was there, I went beyond the rope and actually stood at the altar and in the preacher's "box", for lack of a better word.  Of course I opened the piano and then saw the note that said, "please don't touch".  I don't generally obey rules very well if there's something I want more.

 

 I toured around for 2-3 hours, just enjoying the sunshine.  High point of my day was when someone asked me if I was with the "students abroad" group.  Ha!  I still look like a college student.  Luckily I wasn't, because as soon as I got done touring the castle 2 busloads showed up!  I was lucky to have the castle mostly to myself, with only a few other people.  Perfect timing.  

I saw so many great rooms at the castle.  The South Solar was my favorite.  Beautiful design on the ceiling, long table facing the afternoon sun.  It felt like a library to me.  There was the North Solar, Captain's Quarters, Castle Basement, the Dungeon, Earl's Pantry, Earl's Private Chapel, the Great Hall...I loved every minute of it and felt so at home!  I've got tons of pictures I'll be posting, so be sure to check them out.  


Yesterday was fairly quiet, except for Steph took me on a walk and showed me a stone circle some of her neighbors erected on their land.  There was something sacred about it.  I guess someone came in and divined ley lines and told them how to lay it out.  I am sure in times past there had been one there as well.  It was cool because they did it the old way, by hand.  They used no machinery to erect the stones.  Only a bunch of guys with ropes.  Incredible!!  


Tomorrow I'm going back over to Feakle and Tulla, the nearest towns to me, in the morning.  And then on my way to dinner, I'm going to stop at Quin, they've got an Abbey there.  Steph is always giving me good recommendations on how to spend my time.  I think on Friday I'm going to take a trip to the Cliffs of Moher and maybe see the Burren.  It depends on how much time I want to spend where.  The days are getting ever so slightly longer, so that's good.

Over the weekend, I may go to Galway for a day, or drive over to Tullamore and take a tour of the whiskey distillery there.  On Monday I think I'm going to head East over to Newgrange in County Meath, and then up to the Giant's Causeway and the Bushmills Distillery on Tuesday.  I'm fairly tempted to spring for it and stay the night here in Bushmills (www.bushmillsinn.com).  The inn is very luxurious.  The other plus is it's only a 10-min walk to the distillery.  I'm doing my best not to do too many overnight trips because I already have such a great place to stay.  But, the trip to Northern Ireland can't be helped, especially on limited daylight.

I wish I could put you all in my pocket and have you here with me.  I love Ireland.  It is magical and mysterious and wild and tame all at the same time.  The people are hearty and vibrant, very kind.  I feel completely safe traveling around on my own, and quite honestly never feel lonely.  It's been such a great trip so far.  Now if I can just figure out how to open the gas tank door on the car....

Sixmilebridge...and the SEAHAWKS!!!

Today is an in day.  And when I say in, I mean cozied up in the daybed next to the fire in.  It's cold outside, and the sky is the kind of white-gray that tells me no sun is getting through.  The only reasons I left the cottage were 1.) to get more fuel for the fire from the shed.  and 2.) to go see Steph's studio, view her work and purchase one of her gorgeous shawls!  She does incredibly delicate work, and you can view it here:  www.saolreirishknit.com

 

Yesterday (Sunday) was a gorgeous day! I decided to go back to Sixmilebridge around 2pm for some more music with Steph and her friends.  The skies were blue, and it was cold and clear.  

Various acts were playing in different pubs around town, so you'd bounce from one to the other to catch different groups.  The first act we caught, The Eskies (www.theeskies.com), were so good!  They were playing at The Olde House in Sixmilebridge.  Seated on small stools against the wall, the pub eventually filled while they were playing, many people standing and sitting on the floor in front of the band.

They were rowdy and bawdy and everything you could hope for from an Irish band.  Interestingly, they played a lot of CCR, some Statler Brothers and the Chris Isaak song, "Wicked Game".  So good!!! I loved their spirit and absolute musicianship.  They interacted a lot with the crowd, yelling and laughing back and forth.  Just good fun.  

We then went on to The Duck Inn to see Steph's friend Rob and the band he's in play again.  Very good as well!  Rob plays "the bones", as well as a washboard he wears over his shoulders and plays with spoons.  So talented!  

After we got home, I cooked some dinner and did some research on what I want to do and where I want to go when I get the car this week.  The Seahawks were playing in the NFC Championship game and I was trying to stream it live with no success; however, I was able to stream the audio live and tuned in to the game. 

Oy!!  Who knew it would go like this.  So, after the fifth and last turnover, I quit the live audio feed.  I couldn't listen anymore. But then NFL Mobile notified me the Seahawks scored a touchdown.  I decided then and there I would listen, however bad it was, and finish out the game.  And I am so glad I did!  All I can say is, wow, what a finish!  Crazy.  

Tomorrow I'm not sure what I'll be up to.  Probably will be itching for a walk as I did not get out today.  There is one more loop I want to do around here before I start roaming the greater Irish countryside with the car on Wednesday.  This has been such a perfect experience, I could not be happier. Steph is a marvelous host and this part of the country is beautiful.  

This country is seeping into the marrow of my soul.  The music and the people. I welcome the sounds of the cattle lowing, the smell of the farm animals as I'm taking my walks.  The simple pleasure of climbing down from the loft every morning and building a fire, or cooking up a simple but hearty meal for myself.  I am unearthing new pieces of me.  I've learned that all I need to succeed is in me.  Not just me, but all of us!  And if you have a dream, go for it.  You won't regret it, I promise you.  

One Week.

It's been exactly a week now.  Hard to believe.  I'm sitting up in bed in the loft, ready to conclude another day.  I spent a lot of today in, between the snow and the wind.  But, I did get out late morning for a 2 hour walk.  

I swear this country is in technicolor.  I'm not sure if it was due to the snow on the ground, and the greens and russets reflected back in the white, but you'll see what I mean if you look at the photos.  

This morning was gorgeous!  It doesn't really fully get light here until around 8:30 or 9:00, and I knew wind was coming in later today, so I left a little earlier than usual.  Even now it's rolling around the cottage and the glen.  Not as bad as the other day, but loud enough that it sounds like thunder rolling through.

I went on my favorite walk, up the hill.  There's a certain point where the road levels out and you can see across the valley and I knew it would make for some good pics.  And it was cold.  I bundled up from head to toe.  

When I got back in from my walk, Steph messaged me if I had seen a ram on my walk.  I hadn't, but I did see some hoof marks in the snow I didn't recognize and let Steph know he headed up the hill.  He escaped to go further down the road to see his love interest, a neighboring horse just past the junction.  I guess he also got out yesterday as well to see his lady love.  But, everyone is back home safe and sound.

I met a farmer walking his horse and two dogs, gorgeous, all of the animals.  Dogs are never on a leash out here, at least that I have seen.  And I usually see more dogs than people.  After I got home and banked the fire, I decided to make a soup.  I had some beets and kale that needed eating, as well as some sausages.  

I did something for the soup I've never done at home, boiled rice in a bag.  I also added potatoes. So, yea, pretty random.  All in all, it ended up pretty well.  I boiled the sausages and used their broth as the base for the soup.  A hearty, simple meal.  

It's interesting how quickly I've adjusted to life here in the cottage.  I love my 2+ hour rambles, most days.  I have barely had coffee, only tea for me.  I can start the fire and keep it going, I'm doing a lot of cooking and being at the cottage.  Steph's cats are my usual companions in the evening. They're down sleeping right now in the living room.  

Next week I'll have a car, so then I'll be getting out and about more.  But I wanted to take the first few weeks to really soak up the countryside and get used to things.  There is something about this place that is special and magical for me.    


Snow Day!!!

It was 4:35 pm here in Glendree when I started this post.  Now, it's almost 9:30pm.  I'm sure you have been dying to know what I've been up to for the last few days.  And currently, it's snowing.  Big, fluffy night time snowflakes. All I need now for my life to mimic "The Holiday" completely, is for a handsome stranger to show up at my door.  

On Sunday I ended up taking a walk the other way out the driveway, down the hill instead of up.  Now I know I prefer doing hills at the beginning of my walk, rather than at the end.  Ever the explorer, it took me about 2 hours to go round trip.  I tried to see how far towards Tulla I could make it.  Not that far.  Steph came out in her bathrobe, before I left, to let me know a group of dressage riders were going through the field right next door, about 50 of them.  I wish I would've seen them all, but I did get to see a few.  I caught a photo of one coming and going on my walk.  The farmers will open the gates to their fields so the riders can pass through.  The riders were in full dressage.  A lovely sight to behold.

That night at 8pm, Steph and I went to dinner at Peppers Bar in Feakle (www.peppersoffeakle.com) so I finally made it there!  We discussed all kinds of topics. I saw a sign for Mass Rock on my wanderings and asked her about it.  Apparently the Catholics would go and have mass at these rocks when under British rule.  The people would gather, and the rock would be big enough to hide the Priest if the British should come.  Once I get my car, I think we're going to drive up there because it's isolated and a bit too far to walk.  She also told me that not long ago, women had to quit working and give up their job once married.  Her mother had done that very thing.  

Steph is a wonderful host, with a soft, lilting accent, curly blond hair and quick movements.  She creates beautiful knitwear pieces under Saolre Irish Knit wear.  You can see them here: http://www.craftbay.ie/Shop/188/Saolré-unique-knit-design .  She popped over today to ask if I need anything while she was out tonight at her yoga class.  She is wonderful.  I am most likely going to bring one of her creations home with me, I cannot wait until I can see her studio in the house!  

And so I digress.  Back to Peppers Bar- I had a delicious baked salmon dinner, a pint of Smithwick's and Bailey's cheesecake.  The food was solid and delicious.  At about nine the trad (short for traditional) music session started. There were a group of musicians, and more kept coming to join in the fun.  Filled to the rafters with people, conversation and beer were flowing.  The bar is in the main room, eating is in a separate room.  Steph and I stayed for awhile listening and then headed home before we had too many pints.  The pub is exactly as you would wish and want it to be, filled with locals talking and guffawing over the day's doings.  Steph and I had a long conversation with one of the other ladies there about traveling and what I should do on my trip and which way I should go to Northern Ireland.  We sorted out I would travel the motorway up to Bushmills, and then come back round part of the Wild Atlantic Way, through Donegal and Sligo and Westport.  Once I get the car next week, I'm sure I'll be off to see everything.  I find myself quite content in the cottage, with no rush to get anywhere. 



48+ Hours Later...Ireland

I touched down in San Francisco 2 days ago.  And now, here I am in Ireland.  On Tuesday, I crossed a continent, an ocean and landed in the West of Ireland.  Not bad for a days work.  

I arrived at approximately 6am in Shannon, 10pm West Coast time.  I made it through customs in about 1 minute.  The passport control agent stamped my passport and away I went.  I came out into the Arrivals hall, no sign of my host anywhere.  Myself and maybe 10 other people were in the airport.  Think a tiny, tiny airport.  My worst nightmare, traveling thousands of miles to a place I've never been, only to find no one there to greet me.  For a very few seconds, I felt alone and disconnected, thinking, "what have I done?"  As I sat patiently and calmly under the "Meeting Point" sign, I saw my host walk through the door. I knew all would be well.

Even at 7am, the weather was dark, rainy and stormy.  Very blustery.  Boston had been a cool 19 degrees and snowing.  This climate is very akin to home.  I was also grateful Steph picked me up!  I could not have even fathomed driving to the cottage after 18 hours of travel, let alone doing it on the other side of the car on the other side of the road.  I am sure my trip would have been cut short as I would have ended up in a ditch on some slaggy, rural road. 

Instead, I arrived at the cottage I rented via AirBnB (https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/152256), in Western Ireland, County Clare, safe and sound.  Even as I'm typing this I still can't believe it!  On the drive from the airport to the cottage I saw road signs for all these places I researched for months.  And now it was real. Steph built me a fire and got me settled.  And trust me, the cottage is every bit as adorable as the photos I had been pouring over.  I am hopeful I can post a short video tour here in a minute.  We made arrangements to go back in to Tulla (the nearest small village) later in the afternoon around 4pm for supplies.  I wasn't sure I could sleep, but I set my alarm for 3pm, climbed the ladder to the loft and crawled into bed.  I woke to the sound of my alarm at 3pm, and could have easily slept more. 

Druid Cottage Video Tour: http://youtu.be/bwIYB1qtJE8