I am resorting to a list. Of course I am. We’re all a little bleary, waddling a bit from overconsumption of pub grub, and pleased to still be speaking to each other.
Actually, the kids were great, despite the fact that only one of the hotels had WiFi in the room (Himself Jr is on a “Steam” kick; if you know what that means, you’re his kinda people) and Madam had a stomach bug that involved her vomiting at least once in each of the four hotels and one of the restaurants. Yay.
My fault. Not the bug, but the fact that we decided to cover the entire northern half of Ireland in six days. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Himself and I used to do that: jump in the car and go to Cork or Kenmare or Clifden–or all of them–just because we wanted to. Of course, that was pre-kids. This time, we were traveling with a large adolescent who needs food and craves screen-time every two hours or so, a small child who both caught a bug from our recent houseguests and inherited my motion sickness (I get queasy in hammocks), and my seventy-year-old father who is lovely, but it was his first trip to Ireland, he had a brand-new camera, and he needed to take at least twelve different shots of everything.
It’s going to be a while before we do it again.
That said, there were real highlights and plenty of high points. And here are some, as the Herself-Himself-Madam-Jr-Grandad see ‘em:
The Five Top-Half-of-Ireland Things Not to Be Missed Even While Buggy and Grumpy
1. The Burren, Clare (Madam’s pick).
If you are interested in ancient Ireland or geology or Doctor Who, you gotta see this place. Archaeologists can only guess at when the Poulnabrone Dolmen was erected (sometime around 2500 B.C.) and we know almost nothing about the 30 or so people who were buried there. It’s stark and mysterious and beautiful. Below and around it, the natural limestone formations are incredible; the rock under your feet looks like it has been tunnelled by a million prehistoric worms. I am not a geologist (geology being another of those “life’s too short” thangs that, in its very definition, says “life’s too short”), but it’s impossible not to be fascinated by the sight. It’s…right out of Doctor Who, actually. Circa Himself’s childhood Doctors, with their overacting and wacky sets. Even the geological terms are pure sci-fi: grike, clint, karst. Okay, so maybe invoking the Doctor is gratuitous, but it’s the only sci-fi I know well enough to invoke. And this is definitely an unearthly landscape.
2. The School of Falconry, Ashford Castle, Mayo (Himself Jr).
There’s no crying in falconry. You can’t be sentimental. According to K–, the completely awesome vet student who was our guide and trainer, the birds couldn’t care less about the people they work for. “We fall completely in love with them,” she said. “But they just tolerate us because we feed them.” Which leads to: they’re carnivores. They eat mice. And bunnies. And fuzzy yellow chicks, which is what K– was using during our afternoon. Whenever she wanted us to summon the falcons (they were hawks, actually) back, she would stick a piece of chick into the palm of our leather gauntlets. Some of the pieces were easily indentifiable. By nature, I am vegetarian. By nature, I cry at Hallmark commercials. There’s no crying in falconry. And no petting, either. That was hard. I really really wanted to pet the gorgeous bird sitting on my hand. But I know it’s not good for the feathers and, more importantly, I suspect, really not good for the school’s insurance policy to have people’s bare hands poking at the raptors. Anyway, we didn’t pet. But we had an amazing afternoon sending the birds off into the Ashford forest and calling them back again.
An honorable mention to Ashford Castle itself. It’s lovely, not to mention dramatic. This was the view from our window.
3. Southern Donegal (me).
This is where I would want to live if we ever settled permanently in Ireland. Well, okay, maybe I would ultimately choose Dalkey for about nine practical reasons and the simple fact that I am a spoiled urban creature, but I am a seaside girl. Just not of the tropical, sun-and-Bacardi variety. I like rocks and salty spray and needing a sweater in July.
I especially loved sitting in the bow window of our hotel room (gotta get a plug in for the Sandhouse Hotel in Rossnowlagh, with its fab views and even more fab staff, who took Madam’s quiet upchucking in their dining room with more humor and charm than I could ever have imagined), watching the surfers catching waves almost right in front of me. So maybe the waves were only about five feet high, maybe most of the surfers fell off their boards even then, and maybe the people walking along the rocky strand were wearing parkas. As far as I’m concerned, it was perfect.
(a fave sign…well, yes, driving beyond that point would not be advisable)
(in case you can’t read it, that’s the Fin McCool Surf School)
4. Lettergesh Beach, Connemara, Galway (Himself).
See above re: coast/beach/Dalkey. This is one of the reasons Himself and I are happy together. We have geographical compatibility. You scoff? Picture someone who adores Maine going to live in Nevada. Anyway. Himself spent a number of happy holidays here in Connemara, as well as attending Irish College (as close to summer camp as almost his entire Irish generation ever got–a unique combo of summer language school and Scout camp) in Carna.
Along with Galway City, I will add Clifden to this rec. Love Clifden, with its almost Joisey Shore-like combo of posh and tat– and the tale of Wrong Way Corrigan, a Machiavellian aviator who did the transatlantic thing his own way. No pictures of Galway or Clifden this time because I didn’t get to go. I spent the day with an unwell Madam and Crazy Eights and iCarly. We actually had a nice day. The fact that it was at Ashford Castle certainly helped. Had it been three days later, it would have been a different story. Our last hotel smelled like cow poo…
5. The Giant’s Causeway, Antrim, Northern Ireland* (Grandad’s pick).
Yes, it’s almost always so packed with tourists that it’s hard to really get the whole experience. Yes, it’s smaller than most pictures and guidebooks make it seem. Yes, it’s wet. But it’s also magical, not just in the mind-boggling, myth-inspiring uniqueness of it (the less-scientific explanation of its genesis involves Fin McCool, taking a break from surfing in Donegal, and a Scottish giant), but also in the earth-sciencey “Even if I can explain it mathematically and chemically, it’s still freakin’ mindboggling” way. It’s precisely where science and fairy tales meet.
(for reference, those are my size 9 feet)
We’re home now. Grandad has gone, the laundry is done, the kids are back in school Monday. So, the way I see it, car and feckin’ freezin’ weather (Himself almost made me fall off the edge of Slieve League laughing by asking, “Melissa, am I a polar bear?”–find that joke if you’ve never heard it) and upchucking child aside, we just had six days in one of the few fairy-tale corners left in the world: the West (and Northwest) of Ireland. Yeats, whose heart was in Sligo even when he wasn’t, understood; his poems are full of mythic imagery and he compiled one of the best collections of Irish folklore ever. One he missed, one I’d never heard of, was on the wall of the visitors’ center at the Cliffs of Mohr. It was about a corpse-eating eel. I’m not repeating that one. This, familiar to anyone who knows selkie lore (or has seen “The Secret of Roan Inish”), also from the Cliffs, is a favorite:
Yeats’s take on mermaids?
A Man Young And Old: III. The Mermaid.
A mermaid found a swimming lad,
Picked him for her own,
Pressed her body to his body,
Laughed; and plunging down
Forgot in cruel happiness
That even lovers drown.
*I get fairly regular email questions/confusion about Northern Ireland. I figured now would be a good time to address that. As briefly as possible. For anyone who is unclear on the matter, I am living in the Republic of Ireland. While it is part of the EU, it is a completely independent country. It is not part of the UK and hasn’t been since 1922. It covers about 4/5 of the island land-mass, is made up of twenty-six of the island’s thirty-two counties, and contains most of the stuff that shows up on the postcards (Dublin, the Aran Islands with their famous sweaters, Blarney Castle, most of the sheep…). Northern Ireland shares a border with the Republic of Ireland, but it is part of the UK. While it is largely self-governing, it is still part of the constitutional monarchy of Elizabeth II. As for its rep: in simplest possible terms, the “Troubles” that people associate with the North refer to decades of often-violent opposition to British rule. I won’t even try to explain the division, as it isn’t anywhere near as as simple as Protestant v. Catholic or Have v. Have-not. I will just say that yes, there are still tense, even violent moments in the North; no, you don’t have to drive through barbed-wire, gun-towered checkpoints to get there (this time, I only realized we’d actually entered the North because three phones pinged: our service provider texting Himself, Himself Jr and me to tell us we were now in “roaming” territory); and no, I have never once, not ever felt unsafe there. An average day in just about any major American city is more threatening than a similar day in Derry or Belfast.