Tuesday, 2 October 2001

I tell you, it can’t go on like this. Lord Dunsany has a comment in one of his novels about how time can be compressed (i.e., more can be fit within a given time span) by at least two methods: plays and combat. The intensity of life in both situations has the effect of stuffing extra living into a period of time. I’ve fit at least two days into this one, and it’s not even 9 pm (Ireland time).

The plane trip to Shannon airport on the West coast of Ireland is quite brief--we did it in less than five hours. I saw my first Irish folks of the trip then, of course. Some were passengers, some crew members. It got me used to the accent, which I find quite pleasant. We landed before sunrise, so all that was done before the day started. I picked up my rental car, feverously anxious about driving on the “wrong” side of the road. Here, they call it the ‘proper’ side. And what a baptism by fire. I started out from Shannon in time to join the local commute, which has the added component of hundreds of Catholic school kids finding their way to school without buses, etc., and contending with the hundreds of cars on tiny little streets. And all the time I’m saying “stay on the left,” “watch out for the roundabouts,” which Young Pope had warned me about. Oh, and remembering that the gear shift lever is in my left hand. Yes, and trying to figure out where I’m going.

I have maps, but they’re never detailed enough for what a town is like. So I just ask. Constantly. A great way to meet the natives, who have all been quite helpful and friendly so far. The owner of a 7-11 kind of store drew me an elaborate map of how to find the nearest car park (so I could get out and walk around). Another young clerk, when asked where the N18 was, told me that she knows no street name (for good reason--they’re not marked), but can easily answer the question “where’s the road to Lehinch?” I haven’t seen a freeway, but perhaps when I get to Dublin. That makes traffic all the worse, because too many cars are trying to fit into what are still village and country roads. Anyway, my luck so far has been incredible. I’ve managed to find every place I’ve looked for.

I can’t get used to the scale. This is a small place. And, so far, it’s incredibly rural. Much like driving through central and western Pennsylvania. On the wrong side of the road.

In the town of Liscannor, I found the hotel I’d picked out closed for the season (=summer). It was the only one in town. But every other building is a B&B, and I just looked across the street to find a “hostel.” 20 pounds for the night. Shared bathroom, etc., but here in the off-season I got my own room. And saved $100.

As I was going out to see the Cliffs of Moher (near the town I’m at), I ran into one of the other guests. He was walking. I asked whether he minded if I joined him, and he said come along. He’d been told of a shortcut to the cliffs. Nearly four miles later, after walking along one country road after another and getting soaked by one rainstorm after another, we joined busloads of normal tourists at the famous cliffs. They’re okay, but the light wasn’t right for pictures, and I’ll have to come again some time in spring. Then we walked back. Same distance. We knew we’d sleep well tonight.

But first a pub dinner. Talk about a shock. Absolutely first rate (except for the smoking). One room had many of the local old men, sipping their beers and chain smoking, while two other rooms were available for eating (and smoking), But oh my goodness. The chef is a young woman who is clearly studying nouveau cooking. I can’t imagine many pubs having grub like that. And we earned it today.

Tomorrow, I’ll drop Daniel off at his walking starting point, and I’ll continue on my picture-taking odyssey.

County Clare

From Shannon airport, people tend to go either northwest (to County Clare) or southwest (to County Kerry). I took the first option, and made my first stop in Ennis, a very cute but real town inland of the wild coastland I was seeking. A nice first stop. There’s nothing more (or less) to see in Ennis than most Irish towns, but the abbey ruins are certainly worth a visit.

My first stop on the west coast of Ireland was at Liscannor, where I found a room and prepared to drive out to the Cliffs of Moher, the main tourist destination in that part of the world. On the way to my car, I met Daniel Bodah of New York City, who’d just gotten off the bus. He suggested that we walk to the cliffs, as he’d been riding for a while. We both lived to regret this decision, but then again it was an adventure.

Most of us look out toward the sea, when at the cliffs. But if you turn around, you’ll find the magnificence of rural Ireland in all its greenness.
On the way back, Daniel spots a castle.
The harbor shots were taken across the street from our hostel. Just before I got my first soaking of the day...