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Friday, June 2, 2017

Bernie's Chickens: Leinster to Ulster

Continuing the theme of song titles (real or imagined), this post sounds like the name of a jig. Or possibly a reel. Either way, we have completed the second of our four legs of a very rough "diamond" shape around the four traditional regions of Ireland. 

I have a couple of corrections re. my last post. First, “Cozy Cabin” should of course be spelled (spelt) cosy, and cosy it is too, on a day when the rain spills down in Ireland. I never understood “cabin fever” so well—but that’s why God, or my late father-in-law, gave us the gift of noise cancelling headphones. The other clarification is that I probably do have enough pages in my passport for all the countries we are planning to visit, even if each of them takes up as much stamping space as Ireland. And they won’t—most of Europe is in the Schengen Zone, and once you enter that, from France to Poland, you don’t get another stamp until you exit. Which we may do in the Balkans and reenter. But that’s a story for a more practical day.

One of the highlights of Ireland is Glendalough, “valley of two lakes.” In the pouring rain, I sometimes break down and visit museums or other indoor attractions, which is how I learned of a hitherto unknown-to-me saint, Kevin (Caoimhín). St. Kevin founded the monastery at Glendalough in the 7th century, and it is one of the country’s most significant monastic sites. The ruins are still visible, including a round tower. 

There are dozens of round towers still preserved around Ireland, but the feature is almost unknown anywhere else in the world.

Doing nothing does not come easily to me. I suppose listening to birds, sheep, and cattle is a thing, as is sitting at a picnic table trying not to get my toes pecked by a hen. I guess I’d be indignant too, if I saw someone soft boiling my eggs.
But this is the pace at which we were moving in County Wicklow. Then a dry day came, and we were able to appreciate the true beauty of Wicklow Mountains National Park.

This is the type of day The Discreet Traveler dreams of: a proper hillwalk, up a steep trail by the Poulanass Waterfall and more than 600 wooden steps to a boardwalk overlooking the Upper Lake (of the two). I was really impressed by how well maintained the boards are, allowing us to hike for some time along the clifftops, which would otherwise be impassable bog. We had a lunch break under an overhanging rock, and then a long, rough track led down through heath into the Glenealo Valley, home to deer. Finally, we passed the ruins of the Van Diemen’s Land lead mine and took the Miners’ Road back along the other side of the Upper Lake. 
People for scale
And so we left Co. Wicklow. A number of anecdotes make clear that we are nowhere on earth but Ireland: The customer in front of me in the post office saying “See you again, please God” to the postmistress. The radio announcer informing us that there was “quite a lot of cloud but the sun is trying to break through,” by which she meant it would rain steadily the entire day. While the UK news is dominated by the upcoming general election, the Irish news was all about the Sisters of Charity not running a maternity hospital—which is a step forward in secularizing women’s health care. 

While we left the UK last week, we were briefly in it again—British news and all. That is because our route to Co. Donegal, in the northwest of Ireland, cut across Northern Ireland, a border only recognizable now in that road signs suddenly turn from kilometers/hour to miles/hr and back again. Signs for the UK general election, however—“Respect the Remain vote”—reminded us that decisions affecting residents of Ireland are still made in England. The UK is leaving the European Union, but what will that mean when the Northern Irish border becomes an external boundary of the EU? I doubt many people who live and work on either side of the border want to go back to the days of customs and checkpoints. I’ve written before about the impression the difficult history of Ireland makes on an outsider. On this journey there were only sporadic reminders, such as Sinn Fein posters urging “Marriage Equality Now!” (Same-sex marriage has been legal in the Republic of Ireland for years, but N.I. is still a holdout among countries of the UK.) 

One thing that is almost universal throughout Ireland, though, is a warm welcome. I once spent a long weekend in Portaferry during a period of my life when I was abstaining from alcohol. Despite, or perhaps because of the fact that everyone around me was drunk, I had just as much fun. The sole exception to this Irish welcome was a restaurant in Rathdrum which, like the pub across the street, boasts of being a setting for Michael Collins and other films. 

Great food; no service to speak of. My advice is to stick to the Railway and get a Chinese takeaway if you are hungry. 

We arrived in Co. Donegal in steady rain, and were making our way up the road to Cranford when the brake light blinked on and off. Then the car behind started flashing us. “Maybe my brake lights are stuck on,” T. mused, while I observed that it was a taxi trying to pull us over. Who do we know in the north of Ireland who drives a taxi?
Sure enough, it was T’s cousin, with whom we were staying and who just happened to spot us stuck in traffic on a roundabout. Welcome to Ireland!






1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From round monastic towers, through a beautiful hike along the lakes, to reflections on Brexit's impact, and then Bernie's surprise arrival--a delightful journey. Groove & Pop