Dingle – June 1, 2014 - I touched on this in an earlier entry but I want to return to it.  This was one of the most fascinating stops we had.  What made it even more interesting is that it was a spur of the moment stop that the coach driver just happened to know about.

St. Bridget’s well is a pagan site that was appropriated by the priests as they converted the country to Christianity.  The site was considered to be a holy place where people could come to “talk with the dead”. 

As I was taking photos and looking at the site, the man-made cave full of notes, artifacts, and prayers struck me for the deceased.  I thought about the thousands of stories that must be on those walls.  I wondered what the stories were from the shovel, to the scarfs and jewelry, to the photos.  

Dingle – May 31, 2014 – Today I got the chance to cross two items off my bucket list.  I have always said that I wanted to tour a true castle and to see the Ring of Kerry. 

I have been fascinated with castles since I was in grade school.  I remember learning all about the castle, from its rooms and general layout to it defensive structures.  I recognize that there are different types of castles and defensive homes here (Normal round towers, Mortano towers, and the fortified manor) and they are different from walled cities.  Today, we toured Bunratty. 

We got there first thing in the morning as they opened to avoid the bus rush.  As a result, we were one of the first of the day to tour the grounds.  Now, one of the key differences is that this is not a ruin, it is a completely restored fortified manor house originally built by the O’Connell’s and eventually taken by the O’Brien’s.  As we walked the main hall, the Chiefs Hall and the private quarters of the building It was impressive.  From the top of the castle you could see for miles down to the Shannon River. 

As I was moving through the castle, I got to see the arrow slits, the murder hole, the listening ports, and walk the circular stairs of the castle. 

 

The family that owned this castle progressed through about all states of royal homes .  They started with a wooden walled fort with house (burned down).  The grounds grow through several stages from castle, to manor house, to estate (Dormond – now a famous hotel). 

The second experience was the Slea Head Road.  According to Joe (bus driver), the Slea Head drive is the best.  Our trip, the Slea Head Road, is considered the most spectacular.  The Slea Head drive is after the Ring of Kerry - it is an extension of the Ring roads. 

 

As an additional benefit to the drive, we also had the opportunity to see a bee hive home.  These ancient rock houses were built to provide shelter from the weather in the eighth century. 

Our final experience of the day (actually it was between Bunratty Castle and Slea Head), was to visit with Sean at Dingle Crystal.  Sean was apprenticed as a crystal cutter at age fifteen at Waterford Crystal.  He worked there for fifteen years, becoming a master cutter.  When Waterford Crystal was bought out, he went his own way opening Dingle Crystal.  He showed us how he cut crystal.  He made it seem easy to make all those cuts using a diamond cutter and his hands. 

As I finish this entry, I leave you with perhaps the most important photo of the day. 

Limerick - May 30, 2014 – We made our way from Ballyvaughan to Limerick today.  On our way we visited the Cliffs of Moher, ate lunch at the Cliffs of Moher Hotel (not really near the cliffs), and talked with a local electrical contractor.  Two things strike me about the talk we had.  One, most of the 22 to 30 year-olds from Ireland have immigrated to other countries.  Our speaker, for example, has four children.  Two have migrated to North American and one to the UK.  Second, there construction system seems to make more sense.  Instead of inspecting every job site as it completes a phase of the construction (e.g., foundation, rough plumbing, rough electrical, rough HVAC, etc.) it is the contractor that certifies the work and he or she is responsible if something goes wrong (that is why they carry insurance).  The contractor’s work is inspected four times a year.  The inspector picks one of the jobs completed in the last month and goes with the contractor to the site and inspects the work.  If it does not pass (along with three other instances) the contractor can no longer certify his/her work, the government inspector must inspect work.  This is another example of personal responsibility at work. 

I would have really liked to be at the Cliffs of Moher in the afternoon – the later the better.  It would have provided light to the cliffs to really light them up (assuming it did not get cloudy again as it does most afternoons.  The cliffs themselves are rather impressive, ranging from 700 to 400 meters in height.  It is interesting to note that this is the first location where I have seen safety measures in place.  They have build earthen dams to prevent people from getting too close to the edge.  You can still climb over the dam to get closer to the edge if you are brainless.  I did not see anyone do that.  

Limerick – May 30, 2014 – You cannot escape religion in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.  It is a central part of the culture.  It is embedded in its history, its myths, folklore, and traditions.  It is embedded in people’s identity.  You also cannot escape history. 

For example, we are touring the city of Limerick and one of the comments the coach driver makes is that you will not find a Catholic church in Limerick that is older than 1829.  There are a number of churches that were built as “Christian” churches (build prior to the split between Protestants and Catholics) that became Protestant churches.  It was not until the repeal of the Penal Laws was it legal to again be a practicing Catholic.  At that time the Catholic Church was offered some of the church structures that already existed.  They were refused.  Rather, the desire was to “build their own.” 

Perhaps it was the early influence of the Abbey system.  Perhaps it was the punitive actions by Cromwell.  Perhaps it was the struggles for the English Crown between Catholics and Protestants, or maybe it was the use of the Irish as a convenient army.  What ever the case,  the struggle is written across the landscape. 

 It is still present in the difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic.  Apparently, when the Republic of Ireland was offered a place in the United Nations.  The response was fine, if you give us Northern Ireland.  The UN of course said no (as the UK is a permanent member of the Security Council) and so Ireland said “No thanks”. 

Kinvara/Ballyvaughan – May 29, 2014 – Small.  This is the operative term for both Kinvara and Ballyvaughan.  I have come up with a new measure of size.  It is called pubs.  Kinvara is a four-pub town.  Ballyvaughan is a two-pub town.  Galway is an infinite pub town.  A city block may have three or four pubs.  Both are quaint and beautiful.  Both roll up their sidewalks at night.  In Galway, there was music (much of it traditional) every night of the week.  Here there is nothing until the weekends. 


 

The hotel we stayed at in Kinvara. The Merriman Hotel, has the largest thatched roof in Ireland.  They just had it replaced for 300,000. 

 

Today we went to the Burren.  The Burren is the area of Ireland that is primarily Limestone with some glacially deposited granite.  It was once part of a shallow sea.  What was most striking for today was that I finally developed a sense of what a task it was to clear the fields that we see throughout Ireland and create the resulting rock walls. The walls were intentionally created with gaps to allow the wind to pass through so as to not topple the walls.  The walls helped to keep the limited topsoil from blowing away.