These are the cobbled-together notes from the 2016 trip, but I’m posting it now because being here in Ireland again brings those memories more clearly into focus, and also to get it out the draft folder and the mental to do list. Be warned, it’s long. Photos are limited to what I have with me on the ipad, and I lost a few thousand back in March when the last one died on me.
Driving off the Cairnryan to Larne ferry, we headed straight up to the Giant’s Causeway, so our own Finn could follow in the footsteps of a giant, and the rest of us could marvel at the geometry of volcanoes. It’s now an ‘Experience’, which seems to mean you pay a padded entry fee, and walk through a big fancy building with a gift shop and cafe attached. Then you can walk down to the coast and explore. While our Finn and Benandonner wannabes chased each other around, I snuck some shawl posing pics.
We wound our way up to Malin Head that night, to sleep in a little wind-slapped car park perched above an imposing cliff. The boys tore round like March hares, wind-drunk, and leant into the gale to see how far it would hold them. The van rattled and creaked all night, so much so that J kindly moved it to the back of the park, so I could stop worrying that me might blow over the edge. Toward late evening, the kids finally asleep, J on his laptop in the back and I working in the front passenger seat, an official looking car pulled in beside us. The driver wound down her window and called to me.
‘Gibberishgibberishgibberish Star Trek gibberishgibberishgibberish?’
‘Um, sorry?’ I gawped. Did she just say Star Trek? Surely I imagined that..
She tried again, and I realised she had seen the Dutch plates on our van and blurted an explanation just as she cottoned on and we both laughed. She turned out to be a dutchwoman married to a local, and looking for a chat in her own tongue. She said ‘have you come to see the Star Trek set? And settled in to explain that they were filming just around the corner, and that lots of people were driving round the bluff for a look.
The next morning we too drove off round the bluff to see the set, and had a great 20 min chat with a lovely local farmer in the middle of the road while he was moving his tractor. Friendly folk. The first thing he asked when he heard we were Australian was ‘how long are you home for?’ We heard this question a number of times, and I loved the welcome in it, the kinship implied.
This is easily my favourite photo from the entire trip. We don’t normally pose them, but they were all hugging anyway..
We skirted round the top and down the left side of country along the coast in a sort of big C. Not intentionally, it just sort of happened that way. We visited the site of an old family farm on J’s side, hiked up Slieve League, the boys and I got to tour a working mill in Co Donegal, then we stayed a few days near Eagle Rock, in among the sheep.
The midges are a force to be reckoned with. We are besieged by a fine mist of midges which steal in at dusk like the tide on a flat beach, abruptly and triumphantly. We have the dubious honor of being more tasty than sheep. Or at any rate, less hairy. We hurl ourselves into the van, shut all the windows, and don’t venture out until morning except in dire need. No late night drinks on windless nights unless you can wee and run at the same time.
We followed the coast road, found a very interesting museum about Neolithic life on Ceide Fields, and studied peat collection in the surrounding area, puzzling over the idea of burning something so slow to make. (The fate of fossil fuels..) We traipsed round Achill, took the ‘Experience’ of the Cliffs of
Insanity Moher and imagined Fezzik/Andre the Giant hauling his 3 passengers up a rope, and dabbled on the beaches in Dingle. We stayed a couple of nights in a very picturesque traditional cottage, all thatched roof and red sills, which was so mould-ridden we all sprouted allergies. We got to explore a section of the fascinating Burren, a carst landscape of rock riddled with shallow crevasses which are teeming with plants and mini ecosystems.
We spent the anniversary of our departure camping just outside of the unfortunately named Killinaboy. But, we reflected, we hadn’t done it yet, not even after a year of frequent provocation, so surely all was good. Who knows, maybe it translates so something like ‘peaceful haven’, or ‘lovely place to rear children’..?
Late one afternoon, having spent a very long hour-and-a-half with increasingly fractious children on narrow bumpy backroads looking for a campsite, we pulled into the car park of a small pine forest. The forest had a melancholy look to it, and a pile of logs stacked in front, warning the remaining trees of their fate. The kids immediately began exploring and found an interesting ditch, and something like a stone mortar and pestle, while we took a deep breath, at the frazzled stage. After a few minutes, the farmer came over to see if we were stealing his timber, and we ended up having a great old chat. He spoke fast, his accent so thick and rich that we were straining to understand, and still only catching one word in five.
‘H’y’heard o’ farter tud?’ he asked after a while.
J and I looked at each other blankly. ‘Um..?’
‘Farter Tudd? P’raps y’don’t have’m down in Australia, but he’s very popular on d’telly here.’
‘Oh, Father Ted! Of course!’
‘He was based on the local priest here…’ and off he went into another great story.
He kindly let us camp the night on his land, and the kids play in the forest. He told us that the logs were supposed to have been collected months ago, and he was still waiting for the truck. We must have brought him luck because at 2 am a semi-trailer pulled in beside us, and at 5 am, first hint of light, he started up and began the task of loading the logs onto the truck with a large crane. Naturally, we had to move the van first. A particularly frenzied cloud of midges supervised the entire process with voracious interest.
We trickled gradually down the weather-battered Wild Atlantic Way, tried circling the ring of Kerry before deciding it was better to get off the main road and head for the hills. Which turned out to be a good move as it was magical up there. Mountain top lakes cupped by amber-lichened rocks and purple rhododendron, and lofty oak forests shot with brilliant white streaks of May blossom like scented bolts of lightening.
Knitting accidentally but conveniently colour matched to its environ.
Making a cork of ourselves.
We stopped in Cork for a bit of city life on our way round the south coast It’s an engaging city. We wandered around, taking a look at the markets, spending some time in the great playground, and having a huge lunch at Wagamama (a kid-friendly restaurant chain we discovered in London, which sort of feels like an Asian food chain presented by Ikea). Then it was time to go find a camp up in the hills.
On the walk back to the car, A complained of a sore tummy (unsurprising, given the amount of noodles he’d put away at lunch), and the boys expressed increasingly urgent requests to find a toilet. Soon, soon, we said, and walked faster. No toilet could we find on the way to the van, so we thought we’d look for one on the drive out.
But when we got back to the van, the parking ticket seemed to have done a disappearing trick. While I searched increasingly frantically for our coy ticket, the boys wee’d under the bush behind the van. (It was that or wet themselves.) J went to find a help button to talk to, and the man on the other end kindly agreed to let us out, if we let him know when we reached the exit. We climbed hastily into the van and made a dash for the exit, A’s complaints now escalating alarmingly.
At the bar, trying to press the right combination of buttons to call the operator, I all but set off the fire alarm. We finally got through to the remote operator (J took over button operation since I was clearly incompetent) and the man on the other end of the camera raised the bar. We drove 5 metres, and A started vomiting in earnest. We pulled up to contain the damage. While I mopped up with our last remaining toilet paper, A filled a 50ml ex-takeaway coffee cup with what had recently been a huge bowl of Wagamama noodles, and we were still blocking the car park drive.
I gave A a second cup, taking the first one from him. It was full to the brim. What would you have done with it? I did the only thing I could manage to think of with the assorted racket going on in the backseat. Carefully sliding out the van, I tried not to spill anything and found a bush in the densest part of the shrubbery which fortunately surrounded the car park, to offload its contents. Mercifully there was a bin nearby, and the now empty cup went in.
Finally, after a hasty clean up, we made our shamefaced getaway, slunk low in our seats.
Ten minutes later, after the horror/stress had subsided, the absurdity hit us and J and I developed an uncontrollable fit of reactionary giggles. The boys demanded an explanation, and as I summed up the appaling list of our transgressions (breaking every rule of the carpark, behaving like drunken teenagers, and then not even paying for the parking space), T suggested that ‘he probably just cut his losses.’ And it was at this moment, naturally, that I found the ticket under my seat. Sorry, Cork University car park, we didn’t mean to, honest.
‘Do you know where is the shaking carpark?’ It was later that same night, we’d driven to Co Waterford to a spot we’d planned to camp, near Mahon Falls. A young couple with heavy Germanic accents have pulled into the carpark beside us to call out the question. It’s blowing a ‘slight breeze’ (by Scottish standards), and with its top up, the van is bouncing around like its listening to its own inner music. ‘Um, sorry?’
A place where you park the car and it feels like the ground is moving. There’s a magic tree with CDs and things hanging off it?
Really? ‘Um, no.. Sorry.’
We wished them good luck and they drove on to continue their quest.
Intrigued, I hit up google, and soon found this http://www.dochara.com/places-to-visit/magic-roads/, with convenient gps coordinates. And it was 200 meters down the road. How could we resist? But either we were coming from the wrong direction, or were still too shattered from by the afternoon gastro experience to quite see the illusion. Oh well. The search had been entertaining.
The next morning found us staggering into Lismore. There happened to be a great playground and even takeaway coffee, so we sat in the sun to regroup while the kids got their monkey business out fo their systems. Braced by this, we took in a dramatic documentary at the information centre, and were directed out to the Ballysaggartmore Towers, a very curious structure (all gatehouse and no castle) with a rather sad story, but a great place for a picnic.
Walking back from the Towers through the surrounding forest, trees with trunks like gargantuan green mammoth legs, canopy high above, branches arching as if to form a glowing cathedral, echoing with birdsong and the sussurus of the stream. Magic.
Later, driving up through the hills we caught a glimpse of a ruin and an intriguing name, and google supplied this. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cú_Ro%C3%AD Walking the ground where myths lived is sometimes.. I can’t seem to put it into words.. slightly eerie? Both promising and disappointing, a subaudible echo, just beyond perception. What would it have been like back then? Where did these stories come from? Why? Like Greece, Ireland is a land with myths knit into it’s structure.
(Ok, pulling my head out of the clouds now..)
Our last stop before catching the Rosslare-Cherbourg ferry was Badger’s Hill Lodge, outside Wexford, where we stayed in an inspiringly quirky site full of interesting details, and hosted by a really lovely family. This ended up being the first place we went this second trip. 🙂