Sunday, May 2, 2010

April 2010

The Aran Islands
Three islands make up the Aran Islands, arranged like beads on a necklace extending from the shore of County Clare (although technically they are part of Co. Galway to the north.) We had already been to Inisheer, the smallest island and closest to the mainland, when we were wwoofing around Ireland in 2005. We've been wanting to go to Inishmor, the biggest island, for ages and when a weekend of perfect weather was predicted we booked two places on the ferry.

The ferries that go to the islands are quite small and do not take cars - just people and bicycles. (People who live on the island often have two cars - an old one to get around the island, and another newer one on the mainland to make longer trips around Ireland.) It takes an hour to get from the pier at Doolin, County Clare, to Inishmor, about 16 miles from the mainland.

The other way to get to Inishmor is by plane. The island has a small airstrip and its own airline, Aer Aran, with a fleet of two.

Visitors to the islands can rent bikes or bring their own (as we did) or hire a pony trap and driver to tour the 8-mile long island.

Gaeilge (Irish) is the main language on the islands - the sign above this beautiful horse and cart says 'Yield Way' in Gaeilge.

We dropped our stuff off at the hostel right near the pier and took off on our bicycles along the flat road bordered by tiny patchwork fields on the north shore of the island.

The north shore of the island slopes gently to the sea with occasional white sand beaches.

The mediterranean-blue water looks inviting (and in fact there were a couple of people swimming) but it was approximately the temperature of melting ice cubes and Bill waded for about 3/10 of a second before running back out.

Dun Aengus

This is one of the big attractions of Inishmor - the remains of an enormous triple-wall ringfort built on the high cliffs of the island's southern edge. The walls date from around 2,000 BC but were rebuilt by archeologists in the 1800's.

There are two theories about the cliffside location of the fort - some believe that it was deliberately built as a half circle terminating at the cliff edge for the ultimate defense. Others say it was originally a complete circle but thousands of years of ocean weather have eroded away the cliff and with it half of the fort.

Approaching the entrance to the inner wall of the ringfort.

Doing this made my stomach feel really funny.........

......but Bill said it gave him a funny feeling in a slightly lower part of his anatomy.

Click the play button on the lower left corner to watch a panorama of the ringfort walls and cliff edge.

Outside the ringfort wall there are thousands of rocks stood on end and wedged into cracks in the rocks below. This is another line of defense called a 'chevaux-de-frise' and it's designed to keep horses and humans from charging at the outer ringfort wall.

Looking back at the three walls of the ringfort, and the chevaux-de-frise beyond.

Sheer cliffs all along the south edge of the island.

Dun Eochla
After leaving Dun Aengus we cycled about 5 miles to another ring fort. This one is set on the highest hill in the middle of the island, not near any cliffs so it's still completely circular.

Inside the ringfort there's a raised area that might have been used as an altar.

Totally knackered after all the cycling.

One more stop at a megalithic tomb before heading back to the hostel/pub for dinner and some well-deserved pints.

Dun Duchathair

The next morning we cycled to another part the island to Dun Duchathair, or Black Fort. I liked this one the best because it was off the beaten track - we had to park out bikes and walk the last 1/4 mile or so along some very beautiful coastline.

It's called Black Fort because as you approach it the sun is in your eyes, so the ringfort stones always look dark.

The huge triple wall terminates at the cliff at both ends, so it too is likely a victim of erosion of the land. Within the fort are foundations of circular huts joined together condo-style.

We noticed an opening at the base of the inner wall.

Bill went in as far as he could go and took this looking back at to where he went in. He said he could see daylight through the stones at the far end of the tunnel, so perhaps it used to be an escape route?

Teeny tiny Bill on the cliff edge.

A little more time till we had to catch the ferry back to Doolin, so we found another nice beach to explore.

A funny thing happened on the way to the ferry.....

We were all packed up and within sight of the pier. I went into the hostelkitchen to take a few pictures of the cool chicken painting on one wall and the nice tiled table in the dining room. Then we headed off with bikes and bags to catch the ferry.

We got as far as here when Bill remembered that he left something back at the hostel, and while I waited for him I started snapping photos of this beautiful horse and carriage. We weren't too worried about the time because the boat had left from the Doolin pier an hour and half late the day before, due to the tides, so we figured it was the same kind of relaxed schedule.

While I was taking pictures of the horse and carriage, the horse's owner returned and insisted that I climb up on the carriage seat so he could take my picture. We got chatting, the usual stuff - where-are-ye-from, why'd-ye-move-to-Ireland, etc. Then Bill shows up, I remember that we have a ferry to catch, and look over at the pony-driver's shoulder to see the boat motoring away without us!

This was the last boat of the day leaving for the mainland, and while I ordinarily would have been delighted to be 'stuck' on the island for another night, I had something really important going on at work the next day and had to be there.

Bill looked at the ferry ticket in his hand and noticed that the phone number for the ticket office in Doolin was printed on it. I grabbed my cell phone and called the number, and when a woman answered, well, I didn't come right out and say anything like 'We missed our boat and we have a plane to catch tomorrow', but I'm sure the combination of my panic and the American accent might have led her to that very conclusion.

She said 'I'll call the captain of the ferry and see if he might turn around for ye,' and sure enough, as we headed out for the end of the pier with our bicycles and bags in tow we saw the ferry turning around and motoring back to us. Only in Ireland!!

We walked up the ferry ramp apologizing profusely to the crew and captain, and were greeted by a round of applause from the 30 passengers sitting on chairs on the sunny upper deck. After bowing deeply and blushing profusely, we exiled ourselves at the aft of the boat, back by the stinky engines.

The boat made a quick stop at Inishman, the middle island, topped by a castle and

In the Garden

The gardens burst into life in April after a chilly spring.

A floriferous primrose.

The veg garden is almost all planted.

A lovely pastoral evening.

March 2010

We went to the little coastal village of Doolin for a trad fest in early March, and took a walk between sessions at the pub to watch this lovely sunset from the rocky shore.

St. Patrick's Day Parade
St. Patrick's Day isn't a big drinkfest like it is in the States. Or maybe it's more accurate to say that it's no more of a drinkfest than any other night of the year, and they wouldn't dream of dyeing the beer green.

It is a public holiday and a holy day, and some people start the day off by going to mass in honor of Ireland's patron saint. Every town and small village has a parade, and we marched with the Ennis Farmer's Market group.

Getting ready to walk with our wheelbarrows of garden produce.

St. Patrick and his minions.

Parading down the main street in Ennis. Bill and I are just visible behind the scarecrow.

Awesome hat - four creamy pints!

The Burren
We had some unexpected visitors in March - I got an email from the daughter of someone I worked with about 10 years ago. I used to carpool with Brian to our jobs at Cooperative Extension in Tioga County, and the last time I had seen his daughter Jenny, she was probably about 12 years old. She emailed to say she would be stopping in Ireland on her way back from spending 6 weeks in Jerusalem, and as she is interested in farming she was hoping to stay with us for a few days and help out in the garden. Jenny came with her friend Linus from Sweden. They spent the first day volunteering at Seedsavers, and the next day we took them for a walk in the Burren.
Bill, Jenny and Linus.

This is in the northern part of the Burren, overlooking Galway Bay and the mountains of Connemara in the hazy distance.

Looking down at the coastal village of Ballyvaughan, North Clare.

These little ponies (or are they miniature donkeys?) were incredibly cute. It's like they were trained to pose for the tourists' cameras.

As I started snapping, they moved closer and closer together.

They were working it like models on a catwalk!

In the flat limestone expanse of the Burren, we found this deep hole that is likely a blocked off cave entrance. The limestone is very porous, and it's riddled with caves. There are several large caves nearby that are open to tourists (Ailwee Cave and Doolin Cave) and hundreds of smaller ones that are explored and mapped by cavers. That's our friend Geraldine at the bottom of the hole.

And here's how the rest of us looked, gawping down at Geraldine down in the hole.

March - time to tear up the pea patch.

Turn up the volume and listen to this fantastic chorus of birdsong. Ireland is a refueling stop for birds that migrate from their winter homes in southern Europe and west Africa to their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic. The droning, watery sound in the background is from a huge flock of starlings (native here, not a pest like in the US) in a distant tree in the neighboring field. Over that you can hear a lot of other little birds that are in the trees right around our cottage. These trees have ivy-covered trunks and the little birds love the ivy berries and also the cover provided by the evergreen leaves.