We’re on the bus again at 9 AM this morning. This riding around the country and learni
ng everything about it is the most fun thing ever. I’m so excited to be starting again! Today we’re heading to an area of exposed limestone called the Burren, which means rock in Irish. From there we’ll see the Cliffs of Moher and then come back along the Costal Road. A lot of empty fields again as we start out today. Brian starts out by telling us that there are four provinces (north, south, east, and west) in Ireland. They’re called Munster, Ulster, Leinster, and Cannacht. There are 32 counties, 6 of which still belong to England. We’re leaving County Galway today as well as the province of Cannacht, and we’ll be going to County Clare in the province of Munster. Our first stop was at Dunguaire Castle. This was one of Tammi an
d Vance’s first dates. I personally think that a castle is like the best date ever. The castle is very well preserved, because it’s been renovated twice since it was built in the 14th or 15th centuries. Because of this it was bought by a company who holds medieval banquets inside of it. We went into the gift shop, but we weren’t allowed much farther because you have to have a ticket. That’s all right, though, because I found this awesome little path that went all the way around the wall of the castle, basically on the side of an incline (because castles are built on hills, those are the most defensible spots). There’s marshy land behind the castle, now, but the water used to come right up to the back of it. Next we enter the Burren and start driving up. A lot of the limestone isn’t as exposed anymore, because when they build roads in Dublin and places like that they bring the soil here so that farmers can have cows and things. According to Brian, 5000 years ago peopl
e used to grow crops and things here. Like the rest of Ireland, it was very forested. Most desert landscapes are a product of people and climate, really. Through the years it changed to bare rock, and now the vegetation is starting to take the rock back. We see a little tower on a peninsula called a Martello Tower. The English built them there to keep the French from coming into Ireland and helping the Irish during the Napoleonic Wars, which the French tried to do several times. The towers were flat on top with a fire basket, and if someone saw a fleet coming they would light the fire and it would spread to the other towers. We saw the ruin of an old church with a cemetery around it. Generally none of the stone structures in Ireland are older than the 10th century, because earlier than that they built them with wood. In the Burren, however, they built with stone even earlier than that because there wasn’t any wood. This was a perfect, quiet place for the early Christians to move because no one would follow them. There was no work. There are lots of pre-Christian burial sites called dolmans here. There are many different types, one of them being a portal tomb. The people were probably sun worshipers, because most of the graves face the rising sun. It was farmland, then, and there were forests. You just have to imagine it. There are all kinds of caves, some formed and some still forming. Brian says it’s really exciting to go and explore them. It’s one of his hobbies. The vegetation is mostly hazel, because it’s roots don’t go down into the ground. They just grow along the top. We stopped to see one of the portal tombs called Poulnabrone.
It’s really super ancient. Brian says 22 people are buried in there, mostly children. After this we drove past an ancient ring fort built by natives. The chief lived in the first ring, and the animals in the second one. I guess the rest of the people lived outside of that. This one’s pretty small, but Brian says we’ll see a much bigger one later on. At one point we stop on the road going straight down and look down into a deep green valley between the big limestone hills, and all of the cows are grazing happily at the bottom behind their little stone fences. It’s like looking at some sort of miniature set. The brush is almost taking over these tiny roads that we’re driving on. It’s pretty crazy. There are these big depressions in the ground everywhere where weak cave systems fell in. It’s very interesting. After a few more minutes we reach a trail which leads all the way up to the top of one of the huge hills, on which sits another ring fort. This one was enormous, and it wasn’t roped off or anything. No one else was there. We could climb into it, and we could feel, smell, and experience history like we never could reading signs beside a roped-off display. The hike up to it was about 0.87 miles. We were on our way again. Brian showed us the ruin of an old house which was a tower house with a manor house built on. It was a perfect view of the change that began to happen in Ireland as the nobles felt safer. The people who lived in it, the O’Brian’s, were actually part of the first wave of English nobles sent to “Anglicanize” the Irish. It didn’t work, though, the first wave loved Irish culture so much that they became Irish themselves. The O’Brian’s are still very highly respected in Ireland, because they did a lot of g
ood for the people. They’re the ones who opened up the Cliffs of Moher for tourism and things like that. Following this we drove through a little town called Loondavarna, which is packed this time of year because of the matchmaking festival. It was this town, actually, which saved Irish culture after the Great Hunger by beginning the Loondavarna Irish music and dance festival. That festival no longer exists, as it grew too big for the little town, but the matchmaking festival still goes on. Anyone want to go find a husband? Now we’re seeing Galway Bay from the other side, and we have a good view of the three Aran Islands, Inishir (small island), Inishman (middle island), and Inishmore (big island). We’re approaching the cliffs. These aren’t the highest cliffs in Europe, they’re 680 feet high, the highest are in Donegal, and they’re over 1,000 feet high. Yes, the Cliffs of Moher are the ones used in the Princess Bride. So nothing else really matters, right? Luna, Emily, Izzy, Shelby, Aaron and I climbed up to the top on the “safe path” (AKA – the one which was separated by a low, makeshift wall from the “dangerous path”, which crossed closer to the cliff edge and had no wall.). We were almost at the top when we met Ben, Paul, and Elisha. A little farther on an artist had a stand set up where she sold handmade clay necklaces and earrings with Celtic symbols on them. She told us that she’d been doing it since 1989 and that she only made each design once, so they’re all unique. We lost most of the group right there, pretty obviously, but I really wanted to get to the very top of the cliff so Paul and I went the rest of the way. Nobody worry, I didn’t get very close. Even so, the view is spectacular. I took like three of the usual picture of that ruined tower on top of one of the cliffs. It’s called O’Brian’s tower. In case you haven’t guessed, it belonged to that O’Brian guy whom I was talking about earlier. There was barely a shade of color difference between the sea and the sky.
The cliffs fall straight down into the water, gray and green the whole way, as though someone cut into the rock with a giant knife. I feel like the color is stronger here than it was at home. The green is so much greener, and the blue is so much bluer. It’s like living in some kind of enhanced reality. Like the New Narnia in The Last Battle. In that book Aslan tells the children that every adventure they’ve experienced before is only a title page to the adventure that heaven is. We agreed that we preferred the cliffs at Dun Aonghus because we could actually get really close and experience it firsthand (it’s harder from behind walls, especially when there are tons of tourists all around), but at this location it was definitely safer the way that it was. And we got the most unbelievable pictures, just the same! On the way back we stopped at a place where a lot of the rock that’s so prevalent in this area had broken off and fallen into the sea, making a much-smaller cliff area. It was awesom
e. We found a perfect hideout-cave for pirates. It sounds weird to say this, but it reminded me of the zoo. The water was so clear, almost a pure green, and the big boulders lying in the water were just like the ones in the exhibits. Well, this is a super-long blog post, but as we head back to Tammi’s apartment for grilled chicken, I don’t regret one single word of it. I know that these posts definitely don’t display my best writing…but that can come when I get home. What I hope to accomplish here is to give ya’ll a glimpse of the beauty, the color, and the magnificence that is Ireland. I want to give you a peek into the three months that are making my life-long dreams come true. I love this place. I love its people, it’s landscapes, and its accent. In fact, let’s just pretend that I’m never able to get actual photos on this blog (I probably will be, at least at some point). Can you still see what I’m describing? If you can, I’ve done my job.
Quotes of the Day: “There’s another tower house. You’ll see those all over the place here.” – Brian (he just talked about castles the way that we talk about deer…)
“As you can see by the road, not many buses or coaches come up here. Only old diehards like myself.” – Brian (oh, believe me; you didn’t have to convince me of that one!)