We haven’t left Ireland yet, but this is the last leg of my journey. In the previous installments of my three-part Ireland adventure, I’d been to Dublin, Giant’s Causeway, and visited the Republic of Ireland cities of Belfast and Derry, while enjoying Guinness and Irish stew all the way.
Days ran together in a glorious delight of vacation pleasures. We stopped here and there and did this and that, even making a quick stop to see the grave of Irish poetry legend, William Butler Yeats, in the peaceful country cemetery at Drumcliff Church.
Our next stop was the town of Ballina. It was raining but we all had rain jackets and wanted to explore. On one corner was a shop filled with fresh salmon and other fresh catch. When you see something like a fresh fish shop, you wish you could take it home. I felt the same way when I spotted a magenta feathered fascinator-hat in a shop window. “I must have the charming thing and take it home!” I said to my friend. In agreement, she nearly pushed me into the shop to try it on. I was determined to wear it home on my head if need be, as suitcase space would soon be threatened because I still had sweaters to buy!
I will never forget seeing the lush green Irish countryside in Connemara County as the bus wove along the narrow, curving roads to our next stop. On the opposite shore of a calm lake stood grey-stoned Kylemore Abbey and its Victorian gardens. Now owned by Benedictine nuns it was originally built by a wealthy man for his bride. When she died of dysentery on a family trip to Africa he built her a Gothic chapel and mausoleum on the grounds. Such intertwined romance and tragedy abounds in Ireland.
We then ventured to the village of Cong, where the 1951 movie “The Quiet Man” was filmed, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. There is a bronze statue of them there and I recognized some of the landmarks from the movie. While walking down a street I spotted a corner shop with a sign that read 40 percent OFF ALL ARAN SWEATERS! Bonanza! Once inside, my eyes feasted on the soft stacks of folded sweaters in rich colors. There were pullovers, shawls and cardigans...with so many crafty buttons and let me tell ya, “it was pure hell to choose.” I bought a green pullover for Bill and a natural tone shawl for myself. From Cong we boarded the bus and headed west toward the port town of Rossaveal on Galway Bay to catch the ferry to Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands. We said goodbye to our driver Mick who would be leaving us for good.
It was a 35-minute ride through very choppy waters to the island village of Kilronan. A van picked us up and took us to the family-owned B&B we’d be staying at for two nights. The inn was darling, the landscape was bleak, rocky and barren, yet so beautiful. The houses overall were small and plain. There were few cars on narrow roads and most folk were walking or bicycling. Fish, sweaters and tourism is what it’s about there! The island people are very self-sustaining and unpretentious and many still speak Irish Gaelic. Arthur, our island guide, took us to see the ruins of medieval churches, Roman graves, and structures destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s invasion in the 17th century. The locals still talk about the invasion like it happened just ten years ago. We hiked to see the medieval hillfort of Dun Aengus built at the edge of the 300-foot vertical cliffs above the Atlantic. In Ireland they don’t build safety fences at tourism sights so I stayed a good distance from the edge not to tempt a determined wind to knock me off my buxom balance. After more Celtic pub music and the best seafood chowder I’ve ever had, we headed back to the B&B, visiting each other’s rooms, laughing and doing show-n-tell with our new purchases. The next morning we boarded the ferry and crossed to Galway on calm waters. The ancient pagan Celts call the Aran Islands “thin places,” where the distance between heaven and earth collapses. It has been said, these are surreal physical spaces that allow us the ability to catch glimpses of the divine or infinite. They are places where we become our more essential selves. Ireland has many of these places.
On the shore of Galway Bay we met our new bus driver and traveled south to see the Cliffs of Moher. The wind was blowing hard that day. I had enough of being “on the edge”...of cliffs, and opted instead for a satisfying latte. Later that afternoon, we checked into our hotel in Ennis for our last night in Ireland. Then we all dressed to attend a medieval dinner nearby.
Bunratty Castle is a well-established tourist site for medieval banquets but has a long, long real history. The original structure had been a Norse settlement destroyed around 977. The current (fourth castle) was built in 1425 after others had been destroyed by centuries of clan fighting, raids, wars with the English and more. I was excited to be going to this place! I elected to wear my new fascinator and a special Renaissance top I’d carried over just for the occasion. Hey, my first and probably last chance to visit an authentic Irish castle and I wasn’t going to go bare of jewels, hatless, and dressed in a Herberger’s clearance frock! When we arrived, I was thrilled there was a bagpiper outside the castle setting the mood. Upon entering the castle we enjoyed mead and early English music before climbing a steep stone spiral staircase to the upper level for dinner. More than one-huff and two-puffs came from my lips by the time I made it to the top. We were seated at long wood tables and NOT given any cutlery to use. Really! We all managed to unboorishly tear, dip and feast on our food. Sláinte! A fine group of costumed singers and musicians entertained us in the lantern-lit room. I listened while studying the ancient carved furniture and faded tapestries that decorated the stone room with its high arched ceilings. I went to the restroom at one point and noticed a narrow arched doorway with pie-shaped steps leading down into darkness. It was like being in a movie! Who ran down those stairs and from whom were they fleeing? Being there, I could imagine all the sights, smells, sounds, fears and discomforts of past ages...best summarized, “Nice place to visit, wouldn’t want to live there!” Hate to eat and run, but goodbye Bunratty.
On departure day we arrived at the airport in Shannon and were soon in the security lines, able to clear customs on the Ireland side. My magenta fascinator was packed in a small sturdy box at the top of my backpack. I was rockin’ it. I was nearly through security and was putting my shoes back on when I was alerted by a security person. My friend had gone through her near-strip search in another line and was putting herself back together. A large gruff security guard approached me, carrying my backpack. I smiled, as I usually do…and he said, “Ma’am did you know you have a knife in here?” My mouth dropped, eyebrows wrinkled in confusion as I replied, “I do?” He replied, “Uh huh!” As he started unzipping the pack it dawned on me I had bought my son a carved wood pocketknife in Dublin and forgot it was in my carry-on. I started explaining, as he listened to my matron-toned “I’m so sorry’s,” followed by, “I fully intended,” and “I am rather an inexperienced flyer,” ending in, “Oh no, I suppose you have to take it?” He studied my sweaty, cherub-like face under fuzzy, humid hair, then looked back at the knife. The officer looked at my eyes through glasses a bit ajar on my nose by this time, and he tipped his head. “I tell you what, I’m going to let this go,” he said, “but I need to get my supervisor’s final approval.” With my knife in hand he walked over to his superior who listened and studied the weapon through his bushy eyebrows, took a quick look at me, then replied, “Yes, we’ll let this go.” I was amazed. How did I rank? Must have been the fuzzy hair and crooked glasses. I conclude, looks are everything!
That does it for Ireland. It was a great trip and also great to get back home in one enriched piece…with my tattoo, fascinator and knife. Sláinte!