Monday, 9 march 1998
I got an 11.15am bus headed for Limerick this morning, leaving Cork for the last time this time around. There were lots of round towers and standing stones on the way, sticking up into the sky, mostly on the tops of hills. And then there were the abandoned farmhouses as well; this seems to be the country for those. Stone structures that just have a lot of the stones missing, and a wide variety of thistles and ivies spreading over whatever is left.
We arrived in limerick at about 1pm, and I had 4.5 hours before my bus to Doolin departed. So I left my luggage in a locker and then explored limerick. First I got lunch soup and tea of course at a pub and then I went to King's Island, which is right in the middle of the River Shannon and right in the middle of limerick. That was fine, no big deal, not much to see except one guy driving a horse cart (it was a racing cart, actually, but the horse didn't look like a racehorse of any sort) and some more old buildings. I did find out there that 'radharc,' the name of a DCD song, is irish for 'view.' Then back to the rest of the city.
There I walked around some more, then went to a very green park to sit and rest from walking for a while. I people-watched and wrote. Then on to a cathedral with a high steeple which I just aimed for because I could see it, and then to the bus terminal to be well in time for my bus, since I had no map. Still, it wasn't hard to get un-lost. I retrieved my stuff and got on the 5.35pm service to doolin. By the end of the ride, from the next-to-last town to doolin, I was the only passenger left on the bus, so I chatted with the driver who lives here. He told me that I should go to McDermott's pub (Mac Diarmada) for music tonight; doolin is famous for its traditional music scene.
So after I got into the Rainbow Hostel, I went to McDermott's. the music didn't start 'til nearly 10.30, so I had about an hour to kill, and I wound up approaching a little group and just jumping in on their conversation. This country is rubbing off on me; I'm doing things I'd never do in NYC. The group turned out to be an american and two brits, and we talked about music, about accents, about ireland ('They will treat you very well if you are a stranger, but if you let them down once, then you're done,' said bob). The music eventually started but it wasn't too thrilling; the quality is higher during the summer. Still, it was fun to watch the guitar, bodhrán, banjo, and accordion players go, and to watch a German guy sketch them as they went. Closing time legally that's supposed to be 11.30 was ignored, so when the owners got tired at around 12.30 they put shades over the windows, and then at about 1am they told us that it was time to go.
Tuesday, 10 march
in the morning I headed out for the Cliffs of Moher. When I left, there was a slight drizzle. As I walked uphill and against the strong wind it started slashing rain at me from the sea. Once in a while it would let up, but then it would start again stronger than before; that is the norm for the area of the cliffs, a few miles south of doolin. ('If you can see the Isles of Arran from the Cliffs of Moher, then it's going to rain. If you can't see the Isles of Arran from the Cliffs of Moher, it's raining,' goes an old saying.) but still I walked, and had some staring contests with cows, and a couple of times I managed to get lifts. One an american who's been living here for three years took me right to the cliffs.
So I went along the edge of the highest one, and the wind was unbelievable and even made me stumble a few times. more wind than even on Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh; there was one point at which a waterfall (runoff from the land) was half of it actually going up, as spray into the air. And then the rain started again, and this time I didn't want to take it since I was already soaked through. So I went to a tower up there, where there was (of course) a shop, and I stayed in the shop to wait it out. It wasn't warm but it was dry, and there was interesting conversation with the shop owner. when the rain finally stopped I went down to the tourist centre to use the restroom's hand-dryers. The clothes I dried a little bit but mostly I started to dry out my notebook.
I left, and got a lift, with a lady who was going to Lisdoonvarna. Rather than get off early for doolin I just stayed in the car and talked with her, about media and computers and such; she works in computer training. Then another ride, right to the hostel, where I dried off my clothes and had myself a lunch of instant soup from the shop across the road; every eating place is closed for the season. Outside was dry by then so I headed out again.
This time I went first to one of those remains of a building: a church with a graveyard, on a hill, overrun with grass and mud. I liked it very much. Then on to the sea. I went to Doolin Point, across from Crab Island. As I peered out to the sea, I noticed a strange piece of driftwood: it would go under, but then come back up. I suspected it might be a seal, and I had my binoculars with me, so I checked. Sure enough. I saw a seal! On the Atlantic coast of Ireland! I wonder if she was a selkie? She was beautiful, and I watched her closely every time she came up for air (every 2-3 minutes). Maybe it's from watching The Secret of Roan Inish, but that thrilled me enough to possibly be the high point of the day.
A lady came to the rocky shore and I pointed out the seal; she said that she'd been coming for years and had never seen one. So we watched her together, and then I wandered around more on the rocks. The lady to whom I'd shown the seal (who was english and has been living here for ages; the place draws quite an international crowd) gave me a lift home, with her dog on my lap. I watched the sunset a little bit and then came into the hostel and got myself nice and warm. For the rest of the evening I just relaxed; music is on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays around here.
Wednesday, 11 march
I caught an 8.45am bus for Galway. That ride was interesting; the driver and I talked a bit and we went along some gorgeous mountain passes with views of Galway Bay, and then we had to stop on the road for about half an hour because of a school bus that had crashed, head-on, into a car. The driver knew everyone on the route, it seemed, including the Gardai (police) who were at the scene, and told us that one lady had been hurt but not severely, and no kids.
We arrived in Galway around 10.45, and I had an hour and a half before my other bus left. So I wandered around a bit, sat in Eyre Square for a while, had tea. Then on my bus and on to Westport, Co. Mayo. There were some fabulous mountain views toward the end.
We arrived in westport, and I checked into tonight's hostel, called the Old Mill Hostel; the building is part of an old brewery. I left my stuff there and then headed for the road toward Leenane, which someone I met in doolin said was the most beautiful place in the world. I got three lifts: a mechanic, a man going to his mother's funeral, and then a man who works for the Department of Agriculture here. On the way, while I was walking, I stopped off at a little stream and climbed on the rocks, with the sun-filled mountains all around me. And leenane was indeed gorgeous, with a big saltwater lake in the middle of it and mountains surrounding it.
just before it stared to rain, I got another lift all the way back to westport, with a banker, and then I walked around town and explored. The person running the hostel gave me a little tip about where to go for music: Matt Molloy's; he's the whistler for the Chieftans and has a pub here. She said that they had music every night and that was where the local crowd all went. So I headed over there. Two guys, one with a flute and one with a melodeon, began to play, and it was quite impressive for just two. Soon a fiddler (who looked like she was about 16) and an accordionist joined in, and later on even a guy playing a version of the spoons (so there'd be more than just stomping feet for percussion), and a few people (where there was very little room) got up to dance. This place actually did close at the official 11.30 time.
Thursday, 12 march
I caught another early bus, this one for Sligo, where I waited in the bus station for another bus to Donegal town. The landscape got more desolate as we worked our way north.
In Donegal Town, I went to the only information spot I could find the Chamber of Commerce to find out if there are any buses from there into Northern Ireland, anywhere near where I need to be on Saturday. After I checked that out I headed for the road, to hitch to Kilcar. There are buses that run to Kilcar, but it would have required me waiting for a few hours in Donegal and then a few hours in Killybegs. So I just got one lift (eventually) with a fisherman from Donegal to Killybegs (which is a fishing village), and another, with a pair of expat Germans, from Killybegs to the tiny town of Kilcar.
In Kilcar I called the man at the Derrylahan hostel, to come pick me up since the hostel's actually a bit out of town. I arrived around 3.30pm, and they gave me tea and biscuits as part of my welcome; I like this hostel! I wound up mostly talking for the rest of the afternoon with an American girl who has been wandering around ireland for 8 months, and an American guy who is studying in Limerick.
All this time it was raining; when the rain turned into just misting, I headed out, and walked around a big loop that went down to the beach (they're on a beautiful blue bay here) and back. Another twilight walk, as I do wherever I go. Then back to the hostel, where we all sat around and talked 'til midnight. We were talking about what one could do with a can of spraypaint here, since all the farmers mark their sheep with blobs of colour on the wool. And then one guy talked about a kid in the Aran Isles who had tried to sell him a chicken which he was about to steal! I love the image of a hiker with a squawking chicken strapped to his pack, and a flock of rainbow-coloured sheep following behind him.
Friday, 13 march
Near to the hostel there is a trail that takes you to the highest sea cliffs in Europe, the Bunglas cliffs. Though the trail starts right across the narrow bay from the hostel, one has to go all the way around the bay before starting. We who were hiking it longed for a bridge, but I think it was good to have to go around, and take your time very much the way of the country. so I walked up to Carrick, and then down to Teelin, where the trail starts, a good 10km or more from the hostel. I would have tried for a lift but only cars which were about to turn off passed me, and a few tractors; in Co. Donegal, supposedly, sheep outnumber people 100 to 1.
The spot where I ate my packed lunch (so that I'd not have to carry it further) was windy, and utterly, intensely gorgeous. A perfect view of the bay going into the ocean, along with the rocks that jutted out on the bay's either side. So I ate while some sheep stared at me; the sheep were just nonchalantly sitting on the very edge of the heights. (Someone told me that not all of them make it through the season, and sure enough, I saw the carcass of one on the way down the mountain, who had fallen off a 3-foot overhang and rolled along some heather...)
After eating I stood behind a rock to have shelter from one of the squalls (they came in every half hour or so), and a car with Germans in it, and a fellow-hosteller in the back, picked me up. we went as far up the cliffs as autos can go, and then I talked with still another fellow-hosteller before heading up the strip of mud and heather and grass that was the trail.
At some heights I could look one way and see the bay emptying into the ocean, and look the other and see the ocean waves seem to silently crash against the cliff faces, far below. When I was fully satisfied in my awe and was tired of dealing with the rain that was constant in those heights, I headed down the side of one of the mountains, on no trail. the trail continues around, goes to the highest peak (about 2000 feet), and then circles back down, but I didn't have the energy or patience for that. So I tromped over heather and later basically waded through places where the field was flooded, 'til I got to the trail that went back to the road. I love my boots; soles cracked or no, they kept my feet mostly dry.
I got a lift to Carrick, and then another lift back to the hostel. Back home I had some soup and a good hot shower, then hung out by the peat fire.
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