Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ireland, Day 4: Ni Éireannach mé, 'sea mhuise, ach tá beagán Gaelainne agam.

The next morning, we went for a walk along the road to Brandon Point to pick more of the blackberries we'd been eating with our breakfasts. I was surprised to see them ripe so late in the year - I guess it's the shorter growing season.
Then back in the car to drive to An Clochán. Driving on the wrong side of the narrow roads stayed a little nerve-wracking for me which meant that I would occasionally say, "Go mall!" when I thought my fiancé needed to drive a little slower. I'm pretty sure that was helpful.
Bréanainn was born in 586 AD in Trá Lí, a town we had passed through our first day. He became a priest and later built a monestary at the foot of Mount Brandon. He set out from there to search for the Garden of Eden, which he believed would be located on an island. As it happens, I've listened many times with my younger son to Mick Moloney's version of a song about Brendan:
"Oh, I was an artist with canvas & paints
I sailed with St. Brendan & his jolly saints.
We told a good people goodbye for awhile.
We sailed for St. Brendan's fair isle, fair isle,
We sailed for St. Brendan's fair isle."
St. Brendan stands in a strangely small boat outside the church in Clochán, where we parked to walk along a path walk through the townlands of Clochán Sídh and Doire na Muice. But honestly, we weren't even sure when we were passing through "townlands." Apparently a couple of houses makes a townland.
We did find this little glade with a spring back in the woods. Maybe it was Doire na Muice, where St. Brendan banished the pagan wild boar, who protected the magical wood of oak. St. Brendan used the oak to build his boat to sail from Ireland to Scotland, then Iceland and Greenland, then America.
The boar was banished to Loch Geal where he appears every 7 years to light up the whole valley.  It's not clear exactly what that would entail.
And indeed, there was not a wild boar to be seen. Just the placid black-faced sheep grazing and watching us walk by.
It was a gorgeous day, sunny and clear.
We passed a few houses and lots of farmland.
When this tractor came through we had to duck into the shrubbery along the side of the road to get out of its way.
At one house, this friendly dog left his porch and leapt up onto the rock wall along the road, eager to play.
We took a wrong turn on Mullach Road and extended the walk a bit. That took us out by the little market in Clochán, so we bought a chocolate scone to split before returning to our cottage.
It was still morning, and we were headed for a day in Dingle, so it was back over Conor Pass.
We'd decided to tour the Dingle Distillery, and artisan distillery over the bridge in the Milltown area.
They produce small batches of gin, vodka and whiskey in these copper pots.
There were only a handful of us on the tour and the guide, who we dubbed "Whiskey Joe" had us each lean over the fermenting barrel of "distiller's beer," which would later become whiskey. One by one we breathed in and recoiled at the acrid scent. It was flat impossible not to react to the burn.
The barrels where the whiskey ages are marked depending on what sort of alcohol was originally produced in them - bourbon, port or sherry.
At the tour's end, we sat down for a tasting. First the 63.5% (127 proof) new spirits which would age into uisce beatha. Then Whiskey Joe gave us generous pours of the vodka and gin to sample, poured over lemon slices and ice. I added tonic to both of mine but still could not choke down the gin. The vodka, though, was excellent.
We had walked around earlier buying gifts for the kids.  I'd texted both my younger son and my older son's girlfriend about what my older son might like and as I waited for answers, we spotted a music shop and bought him a tin whistle made in Ireland. Just after I bought it I saw a text from his brother suggesting a tin whistle. A few minutes later, I got a text from the girlfriend suggesting a musicals instrument, but for her sake, anything but a tin whistle!  Oops. Shopping done, we walked up to Caifé Deirdre for tea and scones with current jam and clotted cream.
To balance out the crazily late breakfast times, we discovered that "early bird" dinner is much later here than in the states.
Down to the harbor again to Murphy's pub to try half pints of Hop House 13, a Guinness Irish Pale Ale.
We walked around on the pier for a while just enjoying the beautiful day.
Then to John Benny's for half pints of Guinness, where we chatted with the bartender JP, who was adopted by a couple from Connecticut but brought back here to live when he was 7. He had an overly romanticized view of the U.S.
We'd asked around and ended up at Out of the Blue, which looked unassuming from the outside. It advertised "No chips, nothing frozen" and looked like a fish and chips stand but came highly recommended, so we went in. Turns out, it was an elegant restaurant with a French chef who worked with local catches. We had a duo of smoked and pickled salmon, mussels Marianne, and char-grilled cod with beets, snow peas and potatoes. All with a tempranillo and all absolutely delicious.
We headed back through town and then drove back over the pass under a darkening sky. We decided to stop one last time at O'Donnell's for a nightcap. John, the young bartender, was there along with a couple of old sheep farmers and we spent quite a while talking with them. I was itching to use the Irish I'd learned for the trip and said hello and ordered an Irish whiskey and then asked my fiancé if he wanted one. "Día dhuit. Dhá uisce beatha, le do thoil." (then to my fiancé) "Ar mhaith leat rud éigan a ól? Uisce beatha?" He answered, as coached earlier, "Ba mhaith liom." John looked bemused and I asked him if my pronunciation was close. He said it was perfect but also wondered if I had expected that everyone there would speak only Irish. I had to explain my habit of learning a little of the language of any place I travel. We stayed for three drinks because it was fun talking with them about life there in Clochán. Before we left they had been picking lotto numbers so we had each of them, plus the woman who cooked, pick a number for us to play when we return. (Ahem. We did not win.)
Finally, we drove back to the cottage and built a turf fire. Rather, we tried to build a turf fire. There were no matches to be found, so our landlady's husband, Seamus, brought matches and stayed long enough to get the fire going thoroughly.  We had a last shot of whiskey in front of the smoky fire. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Ireland, Day 3: The Slea Head Drive.

Okay, where was I? On our third day we drove back over the pass and took the Slea Head Drive we'd had to punt the day before. There were a few things we'd wanted to see along the way, including these beehive huts (also called clocháns, like the town we stayed near). The information about when they were actually built is a little sketchy. Thousands of years ago, anyway.
On our way in, there was a warning on the bathroom door to not let the sheep get in because they'd eat the roll of toilet paper. Silly sheep.
 The lichen on this stone looked floral to me.
 The huts are of a dry stone construction, so no mortar. Many have long since lost their tops.
Either the huts were inhabited by leprechauns or people didn't mind stooping way over to get in.
 We drove on along the rocky shoreline toward Dún Chaoin.
We took the Dunquin-Blasket ferry out to Great Blasket Island (An Blascaod Mór), formerly a fishing village. We hadn't planned this, but arrived just in time for the ferry, and waited for a bit on a pier with a small flock of sheep who must have been catching another boat.
I'm not sure they were all that excited at the prospect of taking a ferry across the water.
Fortunately we got an absolutely gorgeous day for the trip. It was sunny and clear and even the steep walk down to the little pier was fun.
We all loaded on and were instructed to don bright orange life vests as we set out.
I wondered why they dragged a little boat behind us until we got close to the island and anchored. Turns out we had to climb down a little ladder into it and be ferried a small group at a time to the landing.
 Yes, this was our walkway up on to the island. Not for the unsteady!
But it was worth the climb. The island housed a small community for hundreds of years until 1953, when the government decided it wasn't safe for the 22 remaining inhabitants. The little rock houses are pretty primitive. Apparently, three famous writers (whose works about life on the harsh island have been translated, but were originally written in Irish) lived on this island.
 A memorial to the people who used to live on Great Blasket island.
This little beehive hut has an impressive living headdress.
We hiked along the hillside and down to the beach area. On the other side of a rocky divide was a much larger beach which everyone else trekked over to. Which was great luck for us - we had our own private beach!
It was actually warm enough to kick off our shoes, roll up our pants and wade in. Not the sort of bathwater warm ocean water I'm used to, but still very pleasant.
In fact, we came back from the beach sporting a little sunburn on our faces.
I don't know if people decided to leave us in peace on the smaller beach, but it was hard to drag ourselves away from the secluded spot.
We'd not been able to find an ATM on the drive down, so when we hiked back up to the hostel, we used the last few euros we had (no credit card machines here!) to have tea and a scone with jam.
We found a spot away from the midges and had our tea overlooking the Atlantic ocean below.
 Then another hike back through the sheep pastures.
This must be where the imagery for counting sheep comes from. One by one, they slowly crossed the path in front of us.
It was so glorious there we hated to leave, but we got back on the ferry and waved goodbye to our little beach.
On along the coast to the Gallarus Oratory. Séipéilín Ghallarais is "the place/shelter of the foreigners," possibly harboring pilgrims.
It was an early Christian church, of uncertain date like the beehive huts. 6th to 12th century is as close as they can ascertain.
These are cut sandstone, shaped to fit so that they meet tightly and slope inwards to a pointed top. There is only a single tiny window and a doorway providing light.
While we were there we walked over to Caisleán Ghallrois. It was a "tower house" of the sort built by wealthy landowners in the 15th century. The focus was on protection rather than architectural beauty, and so it is basically a huge fortified 4-story box with narrow windows. The best part was petting this friendly donkey who lived in the field next to the castle.
Finally we made our way back to Dingle and walked around until we found live music at the Marina Inn. We had another round of very good fish and chips made with their own IPA (this confused me at first - it means Irish Pale Ale here, and isn't as hoppy as my beloved India Pale Ales) and balsamic-glazed bruschetta with pesto and sun-dried tomato. With the food we tried their IPA and a Crean's, a lager-like beer brewed in Dingle. I can't say much for it. We also tried an O'Hara's IPA, which was quite tasty.
And then the music started up, so there was nothing to do but order a whiskey and stay for a while.
It was dusk when we left and we discovered, as we sat in the middle of the road waiting for the herd to pass, that we'd literally stayed out 'til the cows came home.