Not very long after we moved into the cottage we had visitors for the first time. First, it was the family’s turn. Falk’s parents had announced themselves for early May for four days, so we planned many tightly timed highlights in our area for them. What we didn’t have, was the problem where to house them – after all, our cottage is quite large, with space for at least 6 people. Being excited for what our first guests would probably say to the house and to Ireland, we prepared everything carefully. When the time came, we drove to Kerry airport, which is two hours away, to pick them up. In the car they were greeted by typical Irish drinks, so that the rather long drive back home flew by at least for three of us. After our new temporary home was sufficiently viewed and admired, we comfortably sit in the living room in front of the fireplace and talked. We didn’t go to bed too late, eventually a lot was planned for the coming days…
Arriving, goggling, enjoying
First, the capital of our county Clare was on the program. Once in Ennis, we guided Falk’s parents through the cute, colorful streets of the medieval city center and showed them some sights. For lunch we went to the typical Irish, rustic Knox’s pub and restaurant. This place is really well decorated, it even has a matching bike hanging from the ceiling. If this doesn’t put you in the Ireland mood immediately, we don’t know what will.
After the delicious lunch, the highlight of the day was the Burren. Although the weather didn’t play well today, the rocky karst landscape was able to impress. As an icing on the cake, we visited the Poulnabronne Dolmen, an ancient, heavyweight burial site that is said to be older than the pyramids of Giza. Falk’s mother and I tested who’s stronger by trying to move a huge rock. When we failed, Falk sat down on it and moved it alone by his meditative powers – at least in his mind. 😉
After the showdown, we showed them the witch garden of the Burren Perfumery – a hidden oasis in the midst of the stone masses.
We finished the day in a good fish restaurant, the Barrtrá Seafood Restaurant near Lahinch, overlooking the sea and with a good glass of wine. However, Falk and I didn’t dare to order the exotic fish menu including mussels & Co. We preferred the vegetarian menu. Our experimentation has only increased over time in Ireland.
Of strange Healings and spectacular Views
The next morning a small misfortune happened: Falk’s father did himself an injury unfavorably and got a painful lumbago. One more reason to first drive to St. Brigid’s well in Liscannor – probably the most popular and famous holy well in Ireland. The green island is home to more than 3000 sacred wells, of which at least 15 are dedicated to St. Brigid. In Irish folklore Brigid, also called “Mary of the Gaels”, is the goddess of the higher hemispheres, of higher learning and consciousness, and at the same time the goddess of the druids and the foster mother of Jesus. Indications of the druid’s language can still be discovered today in this well if you look close enough.
This is not the only thing that can be seen in the open stone grotto around the well. Thousands of old and new souvenirs, photos, candles, prayers and scraps of cloth adorn the damp and somewhat sinister grotto and, beyond that, the trees and bushes that line the path to the old cemetery on the hill beyond. This graveyard is the final resting place of numerous mythical kings and clan leaders of former Ireland.
At first sight it’s overwhelming, one wonders about the many “garbage” that people have hung up everywhere here. However, if you take a longer time to look closer, you’ll realize that many people simply hoped that their Brigid will help them or their loved ones here. In front of the grotto there’s a round place, in the middle of which sits a figure of St. Brigid in a glass box overlooking Lahinch and the Atlantic Ocean. Around it there are many stones inscribed with prayers and wishes. I could have spent hours reading, because people from all over the world have left their traces here. If you take your time and are open to it, you’ll notice the mysterious attraction of the well and the trappings that make it special even in a land known for its myths and roadside shrines.
Now some of you are probably wondering what this has to do with the lumbago. This source in Clare is one of the oldest of those attributed to have magical healing powers. Many are supposed to have left behind their crutches after visiting the holy well, because they were healed. However, for the healing, a complex procedure consisting of several prayers in Irish, certain pathways around the figure and a subsequent prayer and drinking from the well is necessary. It was still worth a try, and so Falk’s father bravely drank from the source – even though the fresh water was difficult to reach and had to be drunk from a foreign, not exactly clean measuring cup. At least he said that he was already feeling a bit better afterwards (but that could’ve been due to the previously inserted painkiller ;).
At lunch time we went to Lahinch for a short trip to the beach. Freshly “healed” and strengthened, it could go on sportsmanlike now. After a short drive over hill and dale, we parked our car and went uphill to Hag’s Head – a part of the Cliffs of Moher, where the cliffs are “only” about 120 meters high. From here we hiked the approximately five-kilometer-long cliff path to the visitor center of the Cliffs of Moher. On this day, it was quite foggy, moody and drizzling, which gave the cliffs a mystical and slightly gloomy appearance. The climb on the way to the summit of the cliffs is limited, so that the walk is well manageable even for older people (or people with lumbago). It took between one and a half and two hours for the route and in the end we were rewarded with a respectable view. At least it wasn’t so extremely foggy and clouded over, as it is here sometimes. Then you can’t see the hand in front of your eyes and have to hope for improvement for hours. Today we could even see the three Aran Islands in the near distance. Since it was too much for Falk’s parents to walk all the way back, we got a taxi back to our car.
In the evening we spoiled our visitors with a homemade BBQ including Irish potato salad.
A shaky Affair
The next day started quite early, because we had a fixed appointment that we mustn’t miss. We had to be on time for the ferry to get to us to the smallest of the three Aran Islands off the coast of County Clare and Galway. Before that we didn’t want to deprive our guests of the little, famous Doolin, from wich harbor the ferry went off. Doolin is best known for its good traditional pubs with daily Irish live music. After a short walk through the village and some photo stops, we went onto the ferry boat – a shaky affair! The crossing took about an hour and some got pretty seasick. Although the weather was really good today, including blue skies and sunshine, the sea was quite restless and it swayed a lot. We were glad when it was finally over and weren’t looking forward to the way back.
Never mind, now we had just under five hours to explore the island of Inis Oírr (anglicised Inisheer meaning East Island). We decided to rent a few bikes and explore the island on our own. Already at the beginning it became clear that the Aran Islands are actually extensions of the Burren on the mainland. What caught our eye first was a fine mesh of low stone walls. We learned that the demarcated parcels are so small because the only 15 centimeters deep soil would otherwise be blown away by the whipping winds in no time. This fertile soil was created by laborious and tedious layering of seaweed and sea algae in the first place, otherwise nothing edible would grow on this barren stone ground. How impressive – the few families who have lived here for centuries never had it easy. That’s probably one of the reasons why the clock seems to tick much slower here than it does in Ireland anyway. For example, it wasn’t until 1997 when a reliable power supply system was set up on Inis Oírr, and the Internet hasn’t been around for very long either. Anyone who still manages the arduous agriculture or cattle breeding is financially supported by the state. Otherwise, it’s switched to a tourism-based economy more and more, which shouldn’t be a problem in the busy summer months.
So we rode our bikes for a while along one of the island’s two ways, lined by stone walls to the left and by the blue waters of the Atlantic to the right, until we spotted a small grey seal colony in the distance. They were hard to view from a distance, but there was no time to scramble to them. A few hundred meters further we discovered a monument with a hole that made us curious. It was a memorial to all the people who died in the sea – another indication that life on and around these islands is no picnic.
Then we came across another holy well named Well of Enda, Turas or Tobar Éinne. It’s customary for the natives to make a pilgrimage here on three consecutive Sundays, to pick up seven stones, to circle the well seven times, each time dropping a stone and speaking a so-called rosary. If you have done everything right, a strange eel is supposed to appear, which should equip one’s tongue with certain powers. After that, for example it’s said to actually be possible to lick one’s wounds healthy. We didn’t try that though. We used the well as a short stopover and Falk let his drone fly briefly.
After driving through a small village and exploring its church, we finally arrived at our personal highlight of the bike tour. In 1960 the cargo ship “Plassy” was shipwrecked in a storm and thrown high into the rocks where it still rusts today. Miraculously, the entire crew survived. We enjoyed the unreal sight of this rusty monster, as it lays there against the backdrop of the bright blue, cloudless sky on the gray limestone cliffs. Falk didn’t hesitate to explore everything with the drone from the air again and also I had a blast. Thereby not only a few photos were taken, that still fascinate us today. Please excuse the large amount of pictures, but maybe you’ll like them as much as we do!
Before riding back to the ferry, we had to hurry a bit, because we wanted to see the lighthouse of the island. The sight of it from far away seemed promising. Once arriving there, however, we realized that the access to the beacon was blocked and the way was practically for nothing. Quickly we cycled the long way back to the ferry, where we arrived sweating, only to find that it was delayed anyway. Now we had time for a delicious ice cream for refreshment.
Only now we noticed that, despite mild temperatures between 10 and 15 degrees, our faces were drawn by a violent sunburn. We were convinced that there are things that nobody says in Ireland and for sure that also was:
“I think I have a sunburn!”
Who would’ve thought that? Meanwhile we know of course that in Ireland, no matter what the temperature, you can get a sunburn, and not too little. Whether it’s the fresh sea breeze that makes the air seem cooler than it really is, or the UV rays being stronger than anywhere else for other reasons – anyway, now it’s clear to us: there has to be sunscreen always, even if you aren’t as pale as the typical Irishman!
On the way back by ferry we hid ourselves away inside the boat, where it swayed a little less and fell asleep, as we were so done.
We drove back hungrier than ever and went to eat something in Byrnes restaurant overlooking the still rushing cascades of Ennistymon. I’m writing “still” because Ireland was soon to find a long drought. After a nap and a good shower, we visited a pub on the last night with Falk’s parents. It was bustling and traditional live music was played.
Féile na Bealtaine
Finally, we served our visitors a real Irish breakfast for the long day ahead of us. For the last day something special was planned. It was the beginning of May and in many places in Ireland the Féile na Bealtaine took place this weekend. It’s said to be particularly beautiful in Dingle, so as a shortcut we took the ferry from Killimer to Talbert, which connects County Clare and Kerry directly and doesn’t lead over the land detour through County Limerick. Arriving on the Dingle peninsula, we didn’t want to keep back the highest passable road in Ireland from Falk’s parents – the Connor Pass. However, the view was quite weak again…
In the capital of the Peninsula of the same name things really took off then. The Féile na Bealtaine sparked a fantastic mood, everywhere young and old ones met to celebrate with plenty of music and confetti. We tried to capture this special atmosphere in photos as well as in a small video collage.
When the party was over, we also visited a beautiful church and admired a sculpture that was made exclusively from old bicycle tires (THE highlight for Falk’s father).
On the way to the airport we drove along the coastal road lined with stunning views along the Dingle Peninsula until we reached Inch Strand. We have been here before but in bad weather. Now the weather was perfect and the view of the strait called Dingle Bay with the mountains of Kerry’s neighboring peninsula in the background was breathtaking. A culmination for our first visitors!
After lunching at Inch Beach the way to the airport was blocked by a herd of cows – typically Ireland (okay, sometimes it’s sheep)! The farewell at the tiny Kerry airport was not our last one – a few more visits that would end here again, were supposed to follow.
Verena & Falk