Ireland '99: Day Eleven
Day Eleven -- September 6th, 1999
We began the day with exquisite
french toast, consistent with the excellent quality of the stay. One of the
other couples eating breakfast at the same time, mentioned that they had been
there for a “fortnight” – which caught my eye for its Britishness.
I had a good deal of difficulty
walking up and down the stairs to our room, as my left calf muscle was now
really hurting (last night’s soak did not seem to do the trick). I thought it
must have been the dancing and the walking, but when we headed out by car early
this morning, upon shifting into second gear, I realized that the constant
driving has taken its toll on me and my calf. You see, in order for me to push
the clutch in on this tiny car I have to lever my foot just right, causing my
calf to bear all of the force. Add that to the constant shifting on the back
country roads (and doubtless, also still some of the wedding dancing), and the
mystery behind my calf charlie-horsing is solved.
Because of my leg, I let Jenn drive
for a few hours in the morning as I tried desperately to catch up the journal
and to avoid not getting car sick in the process.
While I am here writing away, let me
comment on Irish radio stations. There is not a whole lot of choice on the FM
dial, a good many of the stations have plenty of talk. As for modern music,
there seems to be only two types of stations. First, there is the Galaxy or Kiss
stations that are uniquely Dublinesque, and basically plays dance grooves over
and over and over – it seems like it is all just one long groove with the
occasional commercial. Then there is the opposite side of the spectrum with
stations called Radio Kerry, Downtown or 2FM that will successively play Tom
Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Willie Nelson, Will Smith, Mary Black, Beach Boys, Shania
Twain and Ricky Martin all back to back. This of course would be followed by the
farm report and an hour long discussion about some farmers who went to Italy to
encourage Italian purchases of sheep which derailed into a lengthy discourse on
the decline in sheep prices. Talk about musical whiplash! It has been impossible
so far to find any happy medium between the two types of stations.
By early afternoon we hit Glenveagh
National Park, a beautiful spot back in the Republic of Ireland. The main
non-hiking spot of interest was the Glenveagh castle, which we situated just off
of the Beagh Lough. We walked around the lovely gardens, and by the time we
reached a viewpoint a few hundred feet up the side of the mountain, the clouds
had pulled back enough to let us peer down the beautiful valley that protected
the lake. The whole park was rather pleasant.
On the bus ride back, I talked to a
red head from Australia who was living the work-for-four-months,
tour-for-two-months way of life. I was quite impressed by her ruggedness and
Also in Glenveagh, Jenn and I first
learned of midges – nasty little gnat size bugs that packed a wallop in their
bites. Jenn ended up getting several bits, all that resulted in small red welts.
I somehow proved to be resistant.
Moving on from Glenveagh, we drove
through mile after mile of peat bogs. Peat fields are a very curious thing. Many
of the fields have been “mined” for peat, which all of the locals seem to
have huge black piles of the stuff in their back yards for burning (just like
wood is in the States). The peat itself is rather soft, causing the roads laid
over them to quickly become quite uneven in their surfacing – riding across
them is like one long rollercoaster. I think we have quite literally used up all
of the shock absorbers of our little car in the trip so far, the car seems to
just bounce like crazy over all the dips, and the strongest squeaking noises are
echoing not only from the front struts, but even from the springs beneath the
driver seat! One time, while I was taking a picture, Jenn was standing out on
the road when a small truck drove by. She said that she could actually feel the road
bounce up and down when the truck passed.
The north (e.g. Donegal) is very
Gaelic. People seem to use it as their primary language and most signs are only
in Gaelic. This made for difficult navigating, for the Gaelic version of a town
name was not always intuitively related to the anglicanized version.
We next moved to The Rosses – a rocky coastal landscape with houses constantly scattered across the rural landscape. The small cottages were nestled in between the rock faces and the small localized hills and bumps of the landscape. The towns were not much more than an increase of house density by a factor of two or three, coupled with a flat spot leveled out for a soccer field. Many of the houses had cattle guards over their driveway, and many lawns appeared to be naturally mowed by the roaming sheep herds.
Heading south from The
we went up to Glengesh pass through a beautiful, classic glacially carved
U-shaped valley. It was quite simple and nearly text book in its example, but
nonetheless, it really seemed to exemplify that aspect of Irish landscape.
On the backside of the pass, by the way, we saw an older fellow herding his sheep up the road on his bike. When we stopped to let them passed, I waved to him in the manner common to what I have observed with other fellow drivers. The older fellow gave me a wink back that was truly Irish; his whole face seemed to wrap its wrinkles around his right eye. The scene happened as if it was straight out of a movie.
Coming down from the pass, we also spotted an old church rising from the edge of a lake. It was incredibly beautiful; closer inspection revealed that it was a rather recent church that had gone into ruins. We hopped around the gutted shell for a while.
We then hit Glencolumbkille, where we picked up an older chap by the name of Jimmy McNelis (17 Cashel, Glencolumbkille, Co. Donegal, Ireland). Jimmy turned out to be rich in culture and one of the highlights of the day. He just needed a lift over the mountain to Carrick, which we were glad to give him. His accent was thick and we made out only 60% of his words, but even still, we felt like we were talking with a legend. Here are some of the things he mentioned:
He boldly claimed (but
not pretentiously) that “everybody knows Jimmy McNelis.”
This was later verified when we dropped him off, everyone in town said hello to
He talked about how great
the weather had been this summer (“When the rain
falls, the grass grows, and grows well for the sheep”) and
consequently, the price of sheep was quite low
We asked him why they
painted the sheep, and as we suspected, it was for identification
He is one of 12, the
eldest had just passed away in Wicklow at the age of 79. There was a long story
about how he had just missed him passing away. He ran through where all the
others were (California, New York, England, Wicklow, etc)
He had been to England
He commented on how young
we were and that I reminded him of his nephew.
He worked for a while in
a peat bog in the ‘40s(?), where they shipped the peat to America as bedding
He spoke of how some
gal/lass from Philadelphia studying at the University came and talked with him
for two weeks, and he told her story after story and taught her as much Gaelic
as she could handle. She disappeared and then showed up a month later. He asked
her where she had been, and she told him that she had compiled his stories and
had placed them in the university library, getting a PhD from it. He was quite
proud of this fact, as he should be. (Incidentally, he did tell us one of the
stories, but it was so rich in accent that neither of us understood a thing. I
guessed the punchline by inflection, I think Jenn might have been a few
sentences early :-)
As he got out of the car,
he winked at us and told us how much he liked the “American
slang”. We told him jokingly that he was the one with the
accent. He laughed, commenting on how many people come from miles around to hear
the lovely Donegal accent, but he much prefers the American slang.
Upon hearing that we were trying to get up to the Slieve League, he warned us not to go this late, saying many people have gotten lost up there in the fog and mist for 48 hours. He rather insisted that we wait a day and head up there in the morning (and if we did, that we should look him up and stop by to have some tea).
dropped him off in Carrick (which took forever because he kept insisting that we
not go up to the Slieve League and to stop by the next day for tea) and then we
debated privately on what to do. I first called up to the B&B for the night
and reserved a room. Jimmy was sitting on a bench right next to the phone, and I
told him we were headed up to see the Slieve. Another long conversation ensued,
I asked if I could take a picture of him, and I snapped a photo of him and
another fellow on the bench in town. Incidentally, the other, younger fellow had
cap that said “Venice beach, California”. I asked him if he had been there,
but he said “no, no” in a rich accent, saying that the hat was all that he
had left of the Roy Orbison days.
The view from where we stopped
(the Bunglas route) was simply overwhelming. (We do not even remember the swarm
of midges from the viewpoint). The site was by far the most fantastical of the
entire Ireland trip to that point, and it matches, perhaps even surpasses
Glacier National Park’s Garden Wall Trail and Snowy Range Peak as the most
beautiful spot I have been to on earth. There was even a tall waterfall crashing
down one of the cliff’s edges directly into the ocean visible in the far
distance (it joins the one in the Columbia Gorge as the waterfall I most wish to
see up close and personal).
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