Dublin

In Dublin’s fair city
Where the girls are so pretty
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow
Through the streets broad and narrow
Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh”
Molly Malone Statue
Molly Malone Statue – we did not stroke her boobs, although it seems many people have done so

Well, Molly Malone wasn’t the first person we saw in Dublin. Not the tenth, not the hundredth. There are thousands of people in Dublin, more than we’ve seen in the last 10 days or so. We’ll get used to the crowds soon enough, but it’s a bit of a shock to the system after having the Irish countryside and the roads pretty much to ourselves for so long.

Sadly we missed the great event of the day, but as we drove through Foxford on our way to Dublin, we noticed that they were setting up the world-famous Goat Fair. By the side of the road, we saw goats, chickens, rabbits and other food waiting to entertain the people.

The drive to Dublin was far easier than we’d expected: we dropped our bags off at the new b&b, returned the hire car, and spent the afternoon walking around the capital city. It was a beautiful day, we’ve been so lucky with the weather, on the whole.

We found St Stephen’s Green and had a lie down under an oak tree for a while, watching people, trying not to rest our eyes too much.

We read about the royal wedding, Harry and Megham, the American preacher, the dress, the choir, the crowds, but we were very happy where we were, thank you. Mrs Beckham (see previous post) was there, not really enjoying the ceremony, apparently.

Thanks again to Catherine and her beautiful family for putting up with us over there in Ballina for the last few days. That’s Bally-nah, not Balleener, like something you’d get out of whales. She and her husband, Fionn, whom we first met last night, ran a half-marathon this morning and it’s a shame we couldn’t stay to cheer them on. Or join in.

We’re now in Tallacht, south-west of the city, and it’s quiet here (apart from the motor bike) and the view to the south is pretty good considering we are so close to the city.

The good news is, we found the missing binoculars, in exactly the same place that we’d found a wallet that went missing for a couple of days. There is some kind of gravitational anomaly under that driver’s seat: someone else’s problem, now!

Downpatrick Head

Maybe it was too much fresh air yesterday, maybe it was the beer I drank in the evening (not Guinness), but whatever it was, I am very grateful. For I won a radio competition to help Pink Floyd finish off their latest album, Dark Side of the Moon.

I went to the studio and was told to go into the recording booth with Roger Waters and Roger Dean. The three of us were to sing “That was the news”, one after the other, and this would become the refrain for one of the songs, Our Beauty. In fact, so that I knew what to do, Roger Waters played me the track from the CD.

Meanwhile, in the corner, sat a young girl reading the news. In the opposite corner sat (Jimmy S)a vile man blowing vile cigar smoke into the room.

As the news finished, I heard my own voice singing “That was the news”. Then everyone started laughing! The joke was on me: the radio station just wanted a post-news jingle and I’d unwittingly provided it.

Even within the drean, I then realised that (1) CDs weren’t around when Dark Side of the Moon was recorded (2) There is no such track as Our Beauty on it (3) Roger Dean wasn’t a member of Pink Floyd and (4) The Roger Waters I’d met was an imposter.

Dreams are strange phenomena: you make them up in your own mind and yet you can still be surprised by the things that happen or by what people say. They might come up with a perfectly reasonable answer to a question that you hadn’t thought about.

For example, there was the time I met Victoria Beckham.

“Oh, hello, Vicky”, I said.

“I hate being called Vicky”.

“Oh, sorry. What about Victoria?”

“Oh no, you don’t know me and I don’t know you.”

“Well, what should I call you, then?”

“What’s wrong with Mrs Beckham?”

That was me put in my place.

Today was our last full day in the west of Ireland and I think it’s fair to say: we’ll be back. We’ve enjoyed it immensely, but there is so much more to see. Even apart from that, we just enjoy being here, appreciate all that nature offers and love the friendliness of the people.

We went with Catherine to her favourite place, Downpatrick Head, on the north coast. In fact, this was the furthest north we’d visit on this trip.

It’s a cliff-top, windy place for a walk, and on a stormy day, the sea has been known to wash over the cliffs. Lots of birds, such as guillemots, are nesting on the cliffs and if I were a rock-climber, I’m sure I would want to climb the sea-stack.

Downpatrick Head Sea-stack
Downpatrick Head Sea-stack

The geology of the place is fascinating, some of the rock has cracked into squares, different from the hexagons at Giant’s Causeway. Who knows, maybe one day I will go back and do the Open University Geology course, which I once considered, but I chose another Maths course instead.

There are a couple of blowholes too which I’m sure are exciting to see on a good day, but for now, we were just happy to admire the views.

Liesel and Catherine
Liesel and Catherine adding to the natural beauty of Downpatrick Head

Back in Ballycastle, we enjoyed coffee and scones at Mary’s Kitchen, a really cute little place. According to the menu, Mary has turned grey over the ten years since she arrived, but her husband hasn’t, yet!

We had a quick look in the local gallery, Ballinglen, which had a display downstairs and a library upstairs where I could have spent a long time browsing through the books.

Catherine had to return to work, so Liesel and I set off towards Sligo but in the end, Easky was as far as we went. Knowing we have a long drive, back to Dublin, tomorrow, I think we were both happy to stop here, coffee, millionaire shortbread for me and a sandwich for Liesel, and a walk to the beach where we explored a 811-year old castle and watched a surfer fail to really get going.

Easky Castle
Easky Castle, built in 1207, now incomplete

Belleek Forest Park

Melinda was mine ’til the time
That I found her
Holding Jim
And loving him

So begins Neil Diamond’s song, Solitary Man, which shuffled into play in the car a few days ago. This song went through my mind today when I was in the depths of the forest. Not that I’m a solitary man, and I don’t think I’ve ever known a Melinda, but I was making the most of my solitude.

Today is the seventeenth anniversary of Sarah’s departure from us. Another Thursday 17th May. In some ways, it’s a lifetime ago but in other ways, it’s such a recent event.

I took advantage of the opportunity to go for a long walk my myself, while Liesel went shopping, did some cooking and otherwise had a relaxing day.

Within walking disance of Catherine’s house in Ballina is Belleek Forest Park. It was quiet, peaceful and I saw very few other people. The paths are well maintained, well sign-posted and there is a lot to look at.

I followed the river Moy for a while too, thinking I might get as far as where it enters the Atlantic, but looking at a map afterwards, that was far too ambitious.

The Crete Boom is a ship made of concrete that was used by the Royal Navy but now sits gathering moss and seaweed in the Moy.

Crete Boom
Crete Boom

I was surprised to see warning signs of Japanese knotweed in a couple of places: not the vegetation I would have sought out. The forest was of course full of trees, some of which I could identify and some of which I identified from the flyer I’d picked up. Sycamore, lime, beech, oak, willow, elm, hornbeam and Monterey pine trees are all there, standing tall and proud. And putting all the world’s problems into perspective: I didn’t want to think about Brexit, Trump, Iran, North Korea, Israel, Palestine, plastics in the oceans. I wanted to spend time with Sarah, who has missed out on all our adventures over the last seventeen years, missed out on meeting her grandchildren, and I tried not to go through the cycle of thinking how unfair it all was, and what if, and if only.

Instead, I recalled the happy times we’d had together, with regret that those times didn’t last longer, but equally pleased that we’ve all moved on. I am so proud of Helen and Jenny and I’m sure their Mum would be very proud too.

There are red squirrels in the forest, but I didn’t see any. I didn’t see any rabbits either, nor any other animals bigger than birds. But it was a beautiful day to commune with nature while my thoughts meandered backwards and forwards through time.

Hmm, yes, I was enjoying communing with nature. Meanwhile, some other folks had been closely communing in nature.

Ring Fort with a used condom packet, some folks have all the fun
Ring Fort

When I left the forest, I walked along the road for a while, having seen a sign for Moyne Abbey. I thought that would be a good place to stop, but after every brow of a hill, I could see no sign of an abbey. So as a last resort, I looked at the map on my phone and realised I was still an hour’s walk away. I went back to the forest, again saying hello to the cows and the bulls and the donkey and standing well to the side of the road when a tractor appeared.

In the forest, I followed different paths until I found Belleek Castle. Yesterday, Catherine had said there was a coffee shop here, so that became an urgent destination. Coffee and a scone. I recalled the holidays Sarah and I had had BC, before children, often in the Cotswolds, often in the rain. Tea shops rather than coffee shops usually supplied the scones for afternoon tea, but it’s funny to note how things have changed over the years, but not much, really.

Belleek Castle
Belleek Castle

Yes, I’m sure we will always miss Sarah, she and Liesel would have a lot of laughs at my expense, I’m sure, if they’d ever met.

Back at home, we enjoyed the pasta salad and the banoffee pie that Liesel had made, along with a bottle of beer from Catherine that Lochlainn has chosen for me!

Solitary Man? Not me, I’m a very lucky bloke, I’ve met and fallen in love with two wonderful women, I have two beautiful daughters and two fantastic grandchildren. This is what’s important, not the stupid stuff that I tend to whinge about a bit too often.

So, a million thanks and lots of love to all of you who have made and who continue to make my life as fantastic as it is.

Achill Island

There really is no point in trying to come up with more and more superlatives. If you need more, find a thesaurus, look up ‘gorgeous’, ‘lovely’, ‘awe-inspi\nring’ and ‘incrediy moving. It was a pleasant drive to Achill, on good roads, with little traffic, in the sunshine.

There were some sheep on the road, we had the beaches pretty much to ourselves, we had a picnic on a beach but on the whole, we just enjoyed looming at the stunning Irish landscapes.

Keem
Keem
Rush hour traffic
Where’s Liesel?
Mulrahanny

Ballina

Oh what a miserable start to the day. Grey, drizzly dreich. So the perfect day for a long lie-in.

Yesterday in the car, we played the last of the radio programmes I’d downloaded. So now, we’re playing the other music, songs and albums, on shuffle. And it’s wonderful what pops up and, equally, how well it matches he countryside we’re passing through.

Fisrt off this morning, we heard Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ New Boots and Panties, almost in its entirety but including the bonus tracks that appeared on the CD. I say ‘almost’, because I wondered whether, in a rare moment of prudery when I was listening to music at work, I might have deleted Plaistow Patricia. But no: when I checked later, it was there. It just never came up on random shuffle, while other tracks repeated a few times before we pulled over to change from the one album to a random selection of all songs.

We had planned to drive from Loughrea to Ballina via the west coast, Westport, Connemara, but in the end, because of the weather we just headed straight north. Beautiful roads and probably gorgeous scenery too, but we couldn’t see much of it.

Instead, we sang along to the likes of Rosanne Cash, Neil Diamond, Camille O’Sullivan, Van Morrison, Bic Runga, Björk Guðmundsdóttir, Beatles, Bee Gees, Dusty Springfield: all the hits and more. One or two were geographically apt: Over to Ireland by Martha Tilston and a gorgeous tune by James Galway.

We stopped in Charlestown for a coffee and instead of cake, I had a bowl of chips. Liesel had a scone because there were no muffins!

We reached Ballina, a cute little town, which would be our home for the next few days. We’re staying with Catherine, with whom Liesel used to work. There are three lively, young children here too: Eoin, Siuna and Lochlainn.

And as the day draws to a close, the Sun has made an appearance. All we want to say is, “you’ve left it a bit late, mate”.

Galway

As I write, I’m in a coffee bar in Galway. The wifi is perfect, much better than that at our Airbnb. It’s like the old days of being in an Internet Café, except there are no PCs here, just a few people with phones and one of us with a fullsize keyboard. And the coffee is great: so good, I had a second cup. No cake, though.

The medieval streets and old buildings are in stark contrast to the modern shops and brightly coloured murals. In fact, walking through the pedestrianised area, it had the same vibe as Camden with its markets and buskers.

Our mate Oscar

Need a wee?

Galway though: I am trying desperately to recall whether my Mum ever said that her father had come from Galway originally. It’s all part of the long-term project to track down the family history, eventually.

We thought about staying in town to catch some live music at one of the pubs – something a bit more official than the 12-year old lad playing the banjo in the street when he should be at school – but a late, large lunch meant that we were too full to face more drinks.

We also saw an Irish dancer: she was very good not least because she didn’t trip over her own feet on the cobbles.

Yesterday we went for a long drive to see the Cliffs of Moher. So did everyone else in Ireland, we hadn’t seen so many people in one place since Dublin airport. It was a gorgeous day for a cliff-top walk, but, no, on this occasion, we gave it a miss. We came here to get away from people, after all. We’ve been spoiled by the long, empty roads which are in great condition, on the whole.

Even on the narrow roads when we encounter someone driving towards us, we’ve had no problem, everyone is polite and waves ‘thank you’.

We stopped at Doolin for a while and looked out towards the Aran Islands while walking on the limestone rocks of the Burren. We saw the Cliffs in the distance too, so we can, sort of, tick them off.

When we picked up our rental car, it had only been driven 260km or so. While driving, I keep missing out on seeing various magic numbers on the mileometer: I missed 333, 666, 999, 1000, 1111, 1234 and now I’m just waiting to get to 2000 km. So come to think of it, we’re looking at a kilometreometer aren’t we?

We’re now staying at our second Airbnb place, run by Maura and her little ‘white’ dog, Charlie. It’s a lovely, big house, 5 bedrooms, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, just up the road from Loughrea.

And it’s the second booby-trapped Irish b&b place we’ve stayed at. In both places, the soap dispenser in the bathroom has been rigged so that when you press down, the soap misses your hands and heads straight for your torso.

On arrival at Loughrea a couple of days ago, we spent some time by the lough that gives the town its name. Close by where we parked, there is a children’s playground, there are tennis courts and there is a collection of outdoor gym equipment. I didn’t want to show the locals up by having a go, obviously.

But that’s not to say we’re not getting any exercise. We’re walking a lot and some of it is quite hilly. Not Spanish Point, though. That was another nice, flat, sandy beach, where we had a lot of fun: writing in the sand, juggling pebbles, standing in a cave out of the wind but in which, water was falling, rain that had spent millions of years draining through the earth. Probably.

We left our Airbnb in Milltown a little more hastily than planned. The heating had gone off, and the bungalow was suddenly uncomfortably cold. Plus, the cold water tap in the kitchen had run out of water. We stopped at Tralee for breakfast, at a place called Chopin’s, easy to find as it’s just along the road from Mozart’s.

We caught the ferry across the Shannon from Tarbert to Killmer and that was a smooth ride. We stayed in the car for the duration, and it was a total surprise when we docked as we had had no sensation that the boat was even moving.

The next place of interest was Ennis, mainly because on one of the roundabouts is a statue of a cow. We visited the local craft market to get out of the rain, and two handbags later, we were able to leave. Pretty handbags, it must be said: homemade.

I am now writing in the b&b, in the bedroom, on 3G (or maybe 4G), with the window open to let in the flies and the sound of cows lowing in a nearby field, along with some birdsong.

Ring of Kerry and Gap of Dunloe

Two very different days in terms of our experience, but equally rewarding in terms of natural beauty. Yesterday we drove a long way and walked a bit, and today we drove a much shorter distance and walked a lot further.

The Ring of Kerry is a circular route to the west of Killarney. The book says we should spend four days or more exploring the area, and the author, our friend Fionn, is right. We should have spent a lot more time here. At Ross Behy, there’s a small beach by the jetty, and some very brave little girls were swimming in the sea.

We drove through Kells but somehow missed the Priory: proof that we should have taken our time. But some of the roads, off the main road, were very narrow. Narrow and steep. Narrow, steep and right on the edge of a precipitous drop. I was driving and when Liesel advised me to change gear, I told her there was no way I was going to let go of the steering wheel just to change gear. That was a scary experience, palm-sweatingly so.

We took a ferry over to Valentia Island and visited the lighthouse at Cromwell Point. Cromwell Point as a place name intrigued me since Oliver Cromwell wasn’t much of a hero around these parts, I thought. Again, the views over the water were stunning: too many islands to visit, including one they named after me, Skellig Michael, even though I’m not much of a hero around here either.

We stopped at several viewpoints, but photos can’t do the view justice. Liesel suggested that painting a picture might be a better way of capturing the awesomeness of the landscape. Sadly, neither of us had the skills, time nor paints with us.

Too much about food here, I know but I’ll say just a couple of things. When you ask for a slice of cake in a café or restaurant, you’re offered or just given some cream to go with it, squirty cream from a can, mostly. And when you order a meal, the response is ‘perfect’. Like you’ve chosen the best possible meal on this occasion.

I remember hearing the name MacGillycuddy’s Reeks when I was very small, maybe my Mum mentioned it, or it was a lyric in a folk song. But how exciting to find that it’s a real place, a group of mountains within the Ring of Kerry.

We drove to Kate Kearney’s Cottage, parked up and then walked a further four miles through the Gap of Dunloe. We were offered a ride several times by drivers of ponies and traps, but we persevered by foot. There was one falter when it rained quite hard for a few minutes, but after that eased off, we continued our hike along the narrow road, mainly upwards.

MacGillycuddy’s Reeks are composed of 60% rocks, 25% water, 10% horse manure and the rest is sheep, people, grass and gorse. The waterfalls were too numerous to count, and if we’d tried to count the sheep, we would have been fast asleep at the top.

The wind was cold but when it stopped, the heat of the Sun on our backs was very welcome. Visitors are advised not to drive along this narrow road, but quite a few people thought they knew better.

The water in the streams was brown, possibly peat, possibly very dilute Guinness. The sound of rushing water meant that it was very hard to hear vehicles approaching from behind. The clip-clop of ponies’ hooves was much easier to hear.

Note: the photos need to be edited, yes, but that’ll need more practice on the phone. Also, I will upload many more pictures to Flickr (maybe) but I can’t now as I don’t have the password with me. All things to bear in mind when we go travelling much further afield.