Sunday, September 24, 2017
We were in Iceland three years ago and fell in love with the scenery, the people, the incredibly clean air. One way to get home from Dublin was via Iceland so we thought, "why not!" We rented a car and headed out. You can see far in Iceland. There are very few trees and there are many flat areas, covered with lava from one or another volcano. The steam rising from this mountain is from the earth and in many areas this geothermal heat and energy are used to create electricity and to provide hot water to homes.
Much of the land near the sea is very flat and is met suddenly by mountains. The mountains, bare of trees seem sculpted - their shapes undisguised.
While some sections are covered with grass or heavy moss, many parts are bare rock. Farms cover the grassy flat land. We stayed overnight on this farm. We were told that this area was covered with ash during the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and saw a photograph of the farmer, face covered with a surgical mask, driving his animals to a place where they could find grass.
There is quite a bit of farming in Iceland. One big difference from Ireland is that most of the sheep are left to roam free on the mountain sides and in open fields. In September they are rounded up as they could not survive the winds of winter. While Iceland is quite far north, its climate is more temperate due to the gulf stream, but being an island in the North Atlantic, it is still subject to heavy rain and winds.
It is not uncommon to see small churches like this in very small communities. The entire population of Iceland is about 330,000 and about 200,000 of them live in the capital region in and around Reykjavik. From here the nearest village, Vik, has a population of just over 300 and is almost 50 km away.
Icelandic horses are still used on farms - you would not be able to round up the sheep with motorized vehicles. Dogs and horses are far more useful in the terrain where the sheep are. The sheep were due to be rounded up about ten days after we left the farm on September 1.
Saturday, September 23, 2017
We took a little detour on our way back to Dublin to see the Corlea Trackway. This iron age bog road (dating from 148 BCE) was discovered buried in the bog in 1984. Part of it was preserved (a complex process) and was repositioned in a climate controlled building exactly where it was found. It was only used for about 10 years before it sank into the bog. It was a huge undertaking to build and there is much conjecture as to what its purpose was.
Its existence was passed down in myths. The trackway is built of oak and birch (estimates say at least 300 oak trees were felled for its construction)
Much of the trackway remains buried in the bog outside the visitor centre. It was once possible to walk on a wooden walkway over the bog but this is now closed as it, too, is showing signs of sinking and needs to be repaired to ensure visitors' safety.
The area is surrounded by bog and lovely heather which was, according to our guide, much more highly scented than is usual.
In a nearby pub where we had lunch I snapped this sign. It still has not convinced me that Guinness is good (tasting, that is) - though I am not a fan of beer of any sort.
After a night at a hotel near the Dublin airport - a jarring experience after our days in the countryside - we left Ireland and headed to Iceland for a few days before returning home.
Friday, September 22, 2017
We drove north and stayed in an odd sort of inn. The views were beautiful - across farmland to the rocky hills - The Burren.
The hotel takes its name from the wells - the natural springs that bubble up from limestone caves. You can hear water run in different parts of the property.
Our first stop on the Burren was at the Poulnabrone Portal tomb. From Wikipedia:
It dates back to the Neolithicperiod, probably between 4200 BC and 2900 BC...With its dominating presence on the limestone landscape of the Burren, the tomb was probably a centre for ceremony and ritual until well into the Bronze Age period. It may have also served as a territorial marker in the Neolithic landscape on the important north-south route from Ballyvaughan bay to Kilnaboy. It is possible that the inhabitants of extensive settlements near Kilnaboy erected the structure to delimit the northern border of their territory.
The area near the tomb is wide open. The limestone pavement was exposed partly from the last ice age and partly from the removal of any trees by the long ago inhabitants to build homes and burn as fuel. The rock that is left looks like jigsaw puzzle pieces
Some of it is sculpted by weather and water.
Small flowers grow in the spaces - each area a mini micro-climate.
We stopped at Caherconnell - a ringfort or enclosed farmstead. It dates from some time in the 10th century and was probably inhabited by a high status family. It was used right into the eighteenth century. The surrounding wall still exists.
Stone walls in Ireland are built in a number of different styles. This was the first time we encountered walls built with vertical stones as well as horizontal stones.
Near our hotel the remains of Newtown Castle are situated. While the base is square the tower is cylindrical. It probably dates from the late 16th century.
I liked the way its doorway framed the surrounding countryside.
A number of farms are located nearby. Sheep and cows inhabit the pastures.
In the afternoon and evening we could hear them lowing. (Make sure your sound is turned right up).
We were staying not far from the coast (Galway Bay). At low tide, this heron was hoping for a tasty dinner.
As everywhere else in Ireland, pubs abound.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Roads on the Dingle Peninsula are narrow. We were warned to travel clockwise - in the same direction of the buses so we would not have to pass them. Our first stop was in Ventry where we took a lovely walk along the long beach. We were luck that the tide was out and the sand provided a nice solid surface on which to walk. We shared the beach with people on horseback, people with dogs and lots of birds.
Every part of the peninsula seems to be neatly delineated except where agriculture of any sort is impossible. Stone walls and hedges climbed hills.
This sign intrigued us and we decided to stop.
This is from the paper they gave us
The early pre Celtic inhabitants of Ireland known as Tuatha Dé Danann and Fir Bolg were associated with stories of fairies, fairy forts. Folklore asserts that ringforts like this one were "fairy forts" imbued with "Druids magic" and believers in fairies did not alter them. "
"Cutting brush especially the whitethorn (also known as a fiary tree) on fairy forts was reputed to be the death of those who performed the act. Legend also has it that anyone who enters a Lios (ring fort) like this one between the hours of one and five in the morning would not leave the Lios alive."Happily we were there in the day time and so did manage to leave with our lives. Though a ram in the centre of the fort did make us a little wary.
There is so much stone in Ireland - stone walls, stone barns, stone houses...
And many sheep.
These cottages were Famine Cottages. During the famine in the mid eighteen hundreds the population decreased by over two million due to death and emigration. From a flyer given to us The main cottage was built in the 1840s by the local landlord. The Earl of Cork ... had the roof changed to slate making it one of the earliest slated cottages in the area. The outhouses (not the loos but the cow house and stable) were built in 1880.
The peasant's cottage was lived in by a man who had been evicted from his own home. His main source of food was potatoes and fish. It is known that his daughter emigrated to the United States.
Many Irish came to Canada in coffin ships. Montreal welcomed many resulting in a typhus epidemic that spread from the immigrants to the city. You can read about it as well as Irish Montrealers' attempts at creating a permanent memorial park here.
This is a beehive hut. They were human dwellings in ancient times but were later used to house the household pig.
These are a form of beehive hut. They were built round like a beehive and taper towards the top. There is no mortar used in the building. This group is made up of five structures. The whole group is surrounded by the remains of a stone wall.
This one still has the roof; the others are open to the sky. It could have been occupied by a family with some of the area used for farm buildings and storage. According to information we received, they may have been inhabited from ancient times to 1200. This grouping (cashel) is called Cathair na gConchúireach (Caher Conor).
These builders knew what they were doing. The stones have a downward tilt in order to shed water.
The views along the coast are breathtaking.
Looking down at the beach at Coomeenoole.
At the tip of the peninsula you can look out to the Blasket Islands. Once inhabited, they were abandoned in the early fifties when the population dropped to 22 after the young people had emigrated.
The Gallarus Oratory is about 1300 years old. It, too was built without mortar. The sides slope inward until they meet to form the roof. It is believed to have been built by early Christians. The only light comes from the door and a small window on the opposite wall.
This path near the oratory is lined with fuchsias. Their bright colour adds to the Irish landscape.
Sunday, September 17, 2017
The town of Dingle / An Daingeanis is very colourful with brightly painted shops and pubs. It's a delight to wander the streets.
This is a seaside town complete with an amusement park at the waterfront. It is in a part of Ireland where Irish is spoken (Gaeltacht). We stayed at a B&B and were told that once the tourists leave, Irish is the main language spoken. On the Dingle Peninsula, particularly the western part, Irish is prevalent in homes and schools. In fact, to qualify for social housing and new building permits, you must be able to speak Irish.
Like most of Ireland, the bulk of people are of the Catholic faith. Since Ireland has been a member of the EU, there has been an influx of people, particularly from Poland. This has led to an erosion of the use of Irish in Dingle as these immigrants have come with some skill in English, but have not learned Irish.
There is no shortage of pubs in Dingle and, of course, music. The time it starts is flexible: "ish" covers a range of starting times.
We were told which pubs had more local music.
At O'Flaugherty's the bar tender doubles as musician. He kept changing instruments from accordion to mandolin, guitar, tin flute, bodhrán as well as singing. A cello provided the bass line. Again we were struck by how passionately, songs about Irish history are felt and delivered.
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Driving in Ireland, the countryside is quite lovely, but usually very orderly with fields delineated by stone walls or thick hedgerows. It was delightful to spend some time in Killarney National Park, hiking through woods near a lake. The day was overcast and mist hung on the mountains.
There was a freshness to the air.
And a wonderful sense of peace. Although we only hiked for part of an afternoon, the path led through changing scenery.
In this area, trees seems to grow out of rock; there didn't seem to be soil to hold them, yet the trees thrived.
I enjoyed the wild flowers.
We passed swaths of heather.
And areas with a thick coat of moss over everything
A little animal (vole? mouse?) scattered across our path and stopped under some leaves. There is felt protected and nibbled away at something it had found to eat, unperturbed that we were so near.
The hike was near Muckross House, an imposed building. We did not go in, but it served as quite a contrast to the natural woods nearby.