Europe | Ireland (Eire) – The Emerald Isle
Everything is Green and it seems everyone has a gift for the gab. Perhaps its as a result of kissing the Blarney Stone, or perhaps its just contagious, but Ive been found to be talking at length, drinking Guinness(actually liking it), and being mostly good humoured and once or twice hot tempered. In any event, the Emerald Isle, with plenty of cool weather and rain has given me the first sunburn of my trip. The green doesnt stop with the landscape. The green signs, green buses, green roadside reflectors, green haired bicycle couriers, green lit bridges over the Liffey river in Dublin, the green rugby shirts, and the poor green with envy exhibiting a certain hard edge as they glare sitting along the roadside in certain Dublin neighbourhoods are but a sample of the colour of the country called Ireland. But its the friendly banter of the Irish, the lilting sounds of people talking, and the incredible beauty found in quiet countryside moments that are most memorable.
I’ve thought as I ride, how peaceful this country seems, even though it’s hills are drenched in blood. I’m not just talking about the relatively recent ‘troubles’ that surely would challenge me to let go and not hold onto the anger, frustration, and hate that is bred, but of the lengthy history of this island nation. I’ve also thought about how New Zealand’s Campsites are probably among the best in the world. Ireland has a few that come close.
I arrived here after after spending a few days in Wales, then taking my first overnight voyage in a ship cabin since I was a young child, waking up to see the pretty coloured houses of Cobh (Cove) passing by in the early morning sunshine. Fittingly, on arrival in Ireland, the sun was shining brightly and it was pissing down rain. Theres a reason its green here.
I backtracked from the ferry terminal to Cobh, the last port of call for the Titanic and for many of the Irish fleeing the great potato famine, before passing through Cork City and on to the Blarney Castle. Making my way along the narrow winding roads over the hills to Clonakilty and on to Sibereen, Ive decided that Irish gardens are among the most beautiful in the world and the endless wildflowers and hedges of fuchsias belong in a dream. Ive also decided that if a pub is listed as a tourist attraction, it is definitely to be avoided. The true Irish pubs, both contemporary and traditional, are easily stumbled upon and you will find cheerful company even in the singing pubs where it seems everyone has a sorrowful ballad to share. Yes I did sing Heres a health to your company .
From Sibereen, it was on to Baltimore and from there to Cape Clear, or Clear Island, the most southern Irish-speaking Island. Clear Island has 130 year-round residents, and maybe 30 or 40 cars that if anyone is driving them, can be heard coming from quite some distance away. It is extremely steep and almost barren, belying a serene ambience that lends itself to the pleasure of walking the mass tracks that wind themselves through heather and ferns throughout the island. I spent three nights at the terraced campground overlooking the south harbour, and from there, headed across the hills and through the tunnels on the way to the Ring of Kerry.
Discovering that the Skellig Islands were something to see(I booked a boat trip), and that there was a Celtic Arts and Music Festival in Cahersiveen on that weekend, I took the long way over some ever steep terrain and around Valentia Island before bedding down for the night to take in the festival and the Skelligs.
Early the next morning, I was off for the Skellig Islands. The swells of the Atlantic sprayed into the small boat and a few passengers took some motion sickness pills as we made our way across the water. As we appraoched Little Skellig Island, we could see hundreds of Gannets diving into the water to feed. Gannets are a yellow headed snow white sea bird that breeds on the Little Skellig Island – it’s the second biggest colony in the world with about 20,000 birds.
As we docked(if you want to call it that) at Skellig Michael, the swells of the sea kept pushing the boat forward and backward, up and down, making for a precarious embarkment. Our boat was the first to arrive that morning, and I was among the first to arrive at the island’s amazing sheltered peak, home of one of the most well preserved Celtic Christian beehive style settlements from the 12th century. Being there before the other 200 people that are permitted to visit when the weather gods smile, gave me a sense of what it must have been like for the monks that used to live there…on a brilliantly sunny day.
Later in the afternoon, the people of the town danced away the day at the open air Caihlee at the Carsihveen Festival. Amongst other lazy ramblings, I watched the Committments perform their sound check. Later that evening, just before there were to go on stage, the heavens would open and there would be no big Saturday night out for Dave or a performance by the Committments, just a nicely enjoyable evening of laundry and listening to live music in the family room at the campsite.
The next day after watching the hilarious and somewhat dog-eat-dog terrier races, I rode a short distance away to Rosbehy beach in the Kerry coast, and the following day rode to Killarney, before taking the train to Dublin. I did find the campground in Dublin eventually, and stayed there a few nights before moving downtown to a hotel. Dublin is a pretty interesting city, but I’ve spent a lot of time here trying to sort out some bike problems and I have absolutely nothing good to say about the bike shops here. Absolutely nothing, and I won’t bore everyone with a tirade about how you can book an appointment and leave your bike at a shop for two days..and they do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay – I’ve calmed down now. Really – I have.
In the interim, I splurged a little, renting a car and checking out the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. The Giant’s Causeway at first looks like nothing more than rubble, but once you get closer, the amazing geological formations are obvious. Overheard from a young kid at the Causeway: “If I lived near here, I would come here all the time and do my homework”. It’s that kind of place.
May the Irish in your eyes be smiling and “Here’s a Health To Your Company!!!”