Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ireland, Part V: Doolin to Kilrush

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I’m really not bad with maps. I thought we were about halfway to Doolin when we came upon a sign welcoming us to Ennistimon…which was not on the way. Well, it could have been a lot worse. We took off from Kilfenora at a perpendicular angle to the way we wanted to go – not completely opposite. We ended up detouring along the busy coastline and past the Cliffs of Moher down a teensy road into Doolin.

Doolin is a tiny town in three sections, each of which is about half a block in size. These three little sections sit in a vast green field sprinkled with hotels and large, almost hotel-like B&Bs, because Doolin is very popular with tourists seeking traditional Irish music. Apparently in the 70s the town became pretty known for music sessions that happened in the pubs there, and an accommodations industry has grown up all around this. Other than accommodations, Doolin is very, very small! We had to call our B&B to find it, and when we arrived it turned out they’d given our room to a guest from the previous night who fell ill and had to stay over. But, no worries, the proprietor, with the awesome name of Maeve, had gotten her friend around the corner to save us a spot at her B&B. So, we dragged our waterlogged selves over there, where she had indeed nicely saved us a room. We made some tea in the common room and changed into some dry clothes before heading out for some food and maybe music.

I was a little worried when I found out after making my booking that Doolin was sort of touristy – “trampled” as the book put it. With touristy towns there’s always the danger that the tourism industry ends up turning the place into a goofy parody of itself. But, the pub we ended up at, McGann’s, wasn’t too cheesy or themey and the food was pretty good. However, the vast majority of people there appeared to be fellow tourists. We had to order at the bar and then the kid would just find us later to bring the order. A little after 10, they did have some live music. We stayed for the good fast-paced stuff, and took the slow vocal stuff that came after as our cue to head out.

In the morning I was kind of glad to discover that there was a choice of breakfasts available aside from the usual Irish breakfast. I like Irish breakfast as much as the next guy, but it was nice to break it up with something a little healthier – so I took the fruit and yogurt plate. (For those who haven’t seen it, an Irish breakfast consists of sausages, bacon, fried egg, tomato, sometimes mushrooms or potatoes, and sometimes black and white pudding [which are more types of sausage, not pudding as we call it in the US]).

Our wishes for what the weather would do were constantly downgrading over the course of the trip. At first we hoped for sun. Next, we only hoped that it wouldn’t be raining. Then, we just hoped that it wouldn’t be raining hard. So, it was a special bonus that the sun came out for around an hour on Sunday morning! We got a few photos then of the area around Doolin as we drove over to the oh-so-famous Cliffs of Moher.

Cliffs of Moher, Hag's Head, & road to Killimer 08

The Cliffs of Moher are quite beautiful. The grassy hills just suddenly end, with a sheer stone face ending in the ocean. However, the experience of going there is pretty sterile. All the areas where you are supposed/allowed to go are fenced off and paved over, and on the way to the cliffs, within the limits of the official visitor area, is a row of several gift shops. It lends a feeling that the cliffs were put there specifically to be gawked at. (Does that make any sense? I don’t really know how to put it in words.)

We decided to wander out to Hag’s Head, a pointy end of the land south of the cliff visitor center, to see what was there, and ended up getting the non-sterile cliffs experience: what it must have been like to visit the Cliffs of Moher before it was visitor-ized. After lots of aimless driving around trying to find a place where we were allowed to go across the land to walk out to the end of the point, we found a spot and set out. After about 45 minutes we ended up at the cliff edge, and there was no fence there! You could just see right over. It was windy so it was kind of scary. There were a few people walking right along it, though. We could look north to cliffs we’d seen earlier at the visitor center, and below us was a cool sea arch. At the end of the point is a tower that was erected long ago to watch for Napoleon in case he tried to come get Ireland from the west. We tried to get all the way out there, but the weather got worse and worse (wind and driving rain!), so despite having to climb under a few electric and barbed-wire fences to get as far as we had, we ended up saying the view we got was definitely already more than worth it, and headed back to the car, to set out to seek some lunch.

We headed for Ennistimon, as our book warned that the nearer, more coastal towns were on the fancy, resort-ish side. We figured we’d find cheaper food in Ennistimon. Also, Ennistimon features a big cascade (stepped waterfall) right in the middle of town! As it turned out, nearly everything in town was closed and there were a lot of empty storefronts, but we found a café that was really hopping. Sandwiches and chowder were our low-price choices and they were great. We were really a mess, completely soaked and muddy. I’d had my wallet in my coat pocket and even it and all its contents were pretty wet.

Before leaving town, we stopped to buy some whiskey and I nearly got hit by a car. Damn pedestrian-unfriendly towns! Since we were such a mess, we decided to start making a line for our next B&B, in Adare, County Limerick, stopping on the way if we saw anything interesting – which we did! Check out the pictures to see some of the little this-and-that things we stopped for along the way.

When we got to the town of Kilrush, not long before making it to the ferry that would take us across the Shannon to the Limerick/Kerry line, we were just commenting on on freaking adorable it was when we heard music!! We decided to stop and see what was going on, and it turned out to be a local festival of some kind. In the main square of town was dancing. All around the square people were watching, both standing at the sidelines and parked in cars all around the square to watch. We got some drinks at a nearby café and watched for a while ourselves.

The announcer asked the kids to get off the dance floor because “it’s too dangerous” and said they were going to do a Kilfenora something-or-other. I don’t know if it’s a song or a dance or both, but either way, isn’t that cool? Kilfenora is a little tiny town. I grew up in a little tiny town, and wouldn’t it be cool if we had our own “Wall Lake Shuffle” or something!? Anyway, here is a video we took of the dance that followed! If you have a good connection, double click on the video to go directly to youtube, then in the bottom right under the video, click “view in high quality” – it is much easier to see everything.

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