Ireland '99: Day Eleven

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Glenveagh National Park
The Rosses
Glengesh Pass
Jimmy McNelis
Slieve League

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.

Secret staircase in the forest brush -- it felt like if we walked up it we would enter some mystery world. It was roped off and I have regretted not going up it anyways ever since.
Looking down into the Glenveagh valley
Glenveagh Castle and its gardens
Soaking up the rain

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 freedom.

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.

A Typical town in the Rosses
A Tannin filled stream in Glengesh Pass

Heading south from The Rosses, 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.

Glengesh Pass take #1
Glengesh Pass take #2

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.

Doesn't this speak a distinctive mood
Our church beneath one of Ireland's tallest mountains
An Exercise in Perspective

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:

Jimmy McNelis and one of his buddies

We 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.

We then headed up the treacherous road to the Slieve League. In essence, the Slieve is a mountain range that angle upwards right to the point where they hit the sea, where the drop down 2000 feet straight into the ocean, resulting in a fantastical place. They are said to be the tallest ocean cliffs in all of Europe. The road there is so steep that one of the tour guides wrote “at times, all that you can see is the bonnet of your card”. 

Part of the Slieve League 

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).

The sunset begins its glorious display
Jenn at the edge of the world

The sight was truly set aloft when it became apparent that the sunset was going to be spectacular. The sunset seemed to last for ages, and like most really gorgeous sunsets do, it became better and better unexpectedly as the sun sank farther and farther. The sea and the massive rock cliffs were set a’fire with the red and orange of the sunset maturing. There were even a layer of soft clouds spread across the sky, upon which traveled a wall of pink fire stretching across the sky as the sun sank below the horizon. We could see the red wall approach us like a rolling wave of fire.

Another view of the Slieve League lit by the sunset
Jenn beholding life Shining
The Firewave begins 

Quite simply, the experience was utterly phenomenal, shaking us both quite deeply.

Another shot
The Firewall continuing
Final Silence

It was the most beautiful sunset, I think, that I have ever seen. Jenn agreed, saying it was the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. Jenn asked, “have I lived all of my life to see this?” My response to this was that if that was the question she was asking then most certainly, it was the most beautiful thing she has witnessed.

It was hard to head down from the Slieve, but darkness was setting in fast and we were quite late for the B&B.

The entrance to the B&B for the night had a beautiful stone bridge and had multiple roads in. It turned out that the B&B was rather upscale. The owner use to be a senior person inside the Hong Kong police force and now was retired to Ireland where he ran the B&B and bred horses. The estate was quite large with multiple buildings. The main house was 17th century in origin and had a lush garden around it.

I fell asleep that night once again in the bathtub, this time a huge, high rimmed bath tub. As I got out, I felt a curious tickling feeling in the back of my throat and a slight nauseous imbalance in my head. The meaning behind both would be resolved the following morning.



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