Sunday, September 27, 2015

Ireland, Day 2b: Back to Bréanainn

A few months ago, I'd bought my fiancé a pair of EnChroma sunglasses, which let people with red/green color blindness see more colors (it filters out some wavelengths to intensify greens and reds). Our part of the country is a lushly green area and I knew Ireland would be, too. I wanted him to be able to see that. I've read that one of the reason so many Irish immigrants settled in the Smoky Mountains is that it looked so much like home.
After our lunch in Castlegregory, we stopped at a grocery store for chocolate and wine, and then wound our way back along the coast to our cottage at Brandon Point (Srón Bhroin).
We hiked up the mountain behind our cottage. The rock walls have little stairs built over them so that people can cross the walls but the sheep can't.
The remains of an old WWII lookout still stand.
Four planes crashed here, one in 1940 and the other three in 1943.
Some of the wreckage of a WWII plane (a FW 200 Condor for those of you who find that sort of detail relevant) which crashed on the mountain now sits in An Clocháne outside a pub.
Now the only guards are the sheep, who do not seem to mind the heights.
Or serving as photo backdrops. They are remarkably placid creatures, moving out of the way only if you get very close.
We hiked up toward An Sas (the trap, a recessed area in the cliffs that collects detritus), and then back down to our cottage.
We drove back to Bréanainn a little later, to Nora Murphy's pub. It sits right on the pier, where a man and his son were pulling in fishing nets for the day.
There was a border collie being harassed by an overly-friendly boxer (the one on the dock). She hid from him under our table and then brought us a soggy tennis ball.
After a long game of fetch, which the dog was remarkably adept at, we sat at an outside table with a Yellow Spot (which became a favorite) and a Jameson's and watched the entertainment.
Okay, it wasn't designed to be entertainment for us, but it was very funny. A couple of guys were inflating one of those launch pad. You've probably seen it - one person gets on the pad and the other jumps from a high place to launch the first person into the air. Except they didn't seem to know what they were doing once they had it in place. The one guy would start inching his way out and each time it would tilt to the side and he'd slide into the chilly water. And yes, we laughed loudly each time, as did the other spectators.
We checked the menu at Murphy's and then decided to head back to An Clochán for dinner. The dog with heterochromia was sad to see her new ball-throwing friends leave.
There was no music at any of the pubs, so we returned to O'Donnell's, which has coasters from all sorts of beers on the rafters.
We went the traditional route on this day, good fish and chips with pints of Guinness. The tiny pub was crowded, so we shared the table with a young local couple who spoke Irish to each other. And then back to our cottage for wine and chocolate and to think about where we might want to go the next morning.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ireland Day 2a: Plans? Who needs them?

I realized that I am going to have to break up most of the days to even get a sense of the things we saw while we were there. (You know, the whole on-line journal thing.)
The next morning, we set out to drive over the misty Conor Pass. The sign warns that you can plunge to your death, and that trucks and buses shouldn't cross here. Cas Siar Anois! (Turn Back Now!).
This doesn't even quite capture how unnerving it was. At times, we had to pull off onto widened parts of the single lane road to let oncoming traffic pass.
Down to Dingle Harbour, to find breakfast and start our planned drive around the western coast of the peninsula.
Into Daingean uí Chúis, where we looked in vain for an open breakfast place. We finally stepped into a small grocery to ask and the friendly guy took us outside to direct us to various options. He asked first if we were looking for a "fry-up" or something lighter. He said the Irish liked their heart attacks. He also let us know that breakfast places typically opened at 10 or 11. To my way of thinking, 11 is almost lunch time.  We decided to walk around while we waited, and went on down to the waterfront.
Where the Dingle Marathon was just getting ready to start.
After all the runners had passed through, we wandered around on the docks to look at the sailboats.
Oh, oops - one of the men on the fishing boat crew noticed I was taking a picture.
Finally, this restaurant opened and we decided to try a modified version of a fry-up - eggs, toast, chips and coffee. I'm hoping these sheep were just headed to someone's farm.
Turns out, the marathon closed down the Slea Head Drive we'd planned to take. No worries - we were not tied to our plans, and headed in the opposite direction to explore the other side of the peninsula. We passed this bridge to nowhere along the way.
Through Anascaul and the rolling green countryside divided into small pastures we saw everywhere we went.
We stopped at Inch Beach to walk around. This sand spit stretches into Dingle Bay. Warmer than I was expecting, but not warm enough to go in!
My fiancé, who is a romantic soul, drew a few hearts in the sand for me.
Then on up to the other side of Brandon Bay, to Fahamore at its tip. Just north were the Maharees, a set of tiny islands also referred to as the Seven Hogs. Apparently, from the many lobster pots we saw, it has a good supply of lobsters as well. We did NOT see them in restaurants, though, so they must be part of the ship-to-France phenomenon.
This area was quiet and sparsely populated except in the small town's center.
I don't know why, but this boat looked to me like something you'd see in a museum display about fishing in the middle ages.
Anyone know what kind of bird this is? A kestrel, maybe? Whatever it was, it had caught itself a small fish.
We climbed up over the rocks above the pier to walk around in the fields a bit.
We hit Ireland at a good time - it had been a very rainy summer, we were told, and everything was in bloom. The weather magically cleared as we arrived though, and we did not see any rain until our last day.
Fermoyle Beach, the longest continuous beach in Ireland, begins in Fahamore and curves along Brandon Bay.
It had warmed up by mid-day and we walked for quite a while on this beach, picking up a few rocks and shells to bring home.
Then drove back down to the town of Castlegregory.
We got out at an old church that had the ruins of an even older structure and a graveyard.
This weathered cross had seen better days and many of the gravestones commemorated entire families and carried the rather ominous plea, "Jesus have mercy on them."
We found a café with tree-shaded outdoor seating and had delicious panini sandwiches (one with caramelized onions and local goat cheese and another with  chicken and cheese) and pints before starting the second half of the day's adventure.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ireland, Day 1: Into the Gaeltacht.

We've been back for a week and still busy. As this blog functions in part as an online journal for me, I may bore you to tears with a day-by-day review of our trip. Here goes: With only 8 nights to spend, we decided to fly into Shannon Airport and concentrate our time in a small area of Ireland. In part because of the whole driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road thing. Which is no small thing on the sometimes insanely narrow roadways. Incidentally, we'd never even heard of a Seat car. I had to look that up when we got home to discover it is a Spanish brand.
We decided we'd stop along the way in Newcastle West in County Limerick to walk along the River Arra.
We went to lunch at Dan Cronin's Bar. We had Smithwicks on draft (and yes, I knew how to pronounce it) with chicken and prawn quiche and curry. We would soon learn that in spite of being an island with a strong fishing industry, seafood is not big here. Most of what is caught is exported to France, where they understand the deliciousness of good seafood. Instead, meals lean heavily toward pigs, cows, and of course, sheep. None of which I eat.
On from there onto the Dingle Peninusula, County Kerry. Maura, the caretaker for the cottage we were renting, told us we'd pass her own place on our way through An Clochán. We'd see the sign that said "Brandon Bay Cottages," she said. It wasn't until our last day that we noticed the sign nearly covered by ivy. I actually took this photo our first day because I thought it was pretty - and even then I didn't see the sign!
But An Clochán was a metropolis compared to where we were staying. We continued up the mountain, through Bréanainn, and on up Brandon Mountain. Below us was Fermoyle Beach, which begins above Bréanainn and curves around to the other side of the bay.
We drove along roads which narrowed to one lane at times. As often as not, brush on the roadside was scraping my side of the car. All the way up to the very last house, the Stone Cottage.
It was a three-bedroom place, but we took the front bedroom.  Both for the double bed, and because of the view.
Like this view out one of the bedroom's windows at the foot of the bed. Nothing but rock-wall divided hillside, sheep and sea.
And the view from our kitchen, which made washing up dishes a pleasure. At times the sheep were just the other side of the wire, watching us watch them.
And this was the view from the living room window. It didn't rain, but was a little overcast, with the sun breaking through.
After we'd unpacked, we drove back to Clochán and picked up eggs, sugar, bread, cheese, coffee, and pastries. The woman running the store told us we could get a bottle of wine at one of the pubs in town.
We decided to start with O'Donnell's. It was just so cute, with its thatched roof and colorful boots leading to their entrance. It was dark and small inside, a very cozy atmosphere. Only a bar and a few small tables.
And we were ready for a beer. I had been told that fresh draft Guinness was so much better than the bottled stuff and I'd love it. Well, the truth is I liked it well enough, but didn't love it. I find it bland. Maybe it's because I've developed a taste for strongly hopped beers like IPAs. Still, I had it many times during the trip because I like having local food and drink.
That first night we had a fish and prawn pie, which was quite good. And chips, of course. Because apparently virtually every meal is accompanied by potatoes.
This sign on the wall of the pub just made me giggle.
Before we left, we bought a bottle of wine to take back to the cottage with us to drink with the fresh pastries from the market. I tell you, if I ate all the time the way I do when I'm traveling, I'd weigh 900 pounds. I pack away an unseemly amount of food on vacation.
And back for the night to our little cottage on the point. See it way off to the left all by itself? It was just that isolated and serene, and we were thrilled to be spending the next four days there.