roadtrip summary

When I set out from Dublin, I didn’t have a detailed plan regarding where I would go.  I only knew there was an arts festival in Kilkenny that I wanted to check out, and that I wanted to see Galway.  This is where I ended up:

Glasnevin, County Dublin
Dublin, County Dublin
Kilkenny, County Kilkenny
Kells, County Kilkenny
Inistioge, County Kilkenny
Cashel, County Tipperary
Cahir, County Tipperary
Ennis, County Clare
Doolin, County Clare
Inisheer (Aran Islands), County Galway
Carron, County Clare
Galway, County Galway
Salt Hill, County Galway
Spiddle, County Galway (Connemara)
Carna, County Galway (Connemara)
Roundstone, County Galway (Connemara)
Clifden, County Galway (Connemara)
Leenane, County Galway
Westport, County Mayo
Keel (Achill Island), County Mayo
Belmullet, County Mayo
Aghlearn (Mullet Peninsula), County Mayo
Ballycastle, County Mayo
Ballina, County Mayo
Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim
Kells, County Meath
Slane, County Meath

ancient sites

poulnabrone dolmen
ceide fields

This is probably the most beautiful view I experienced in Ireland.  Located at the northern shore of County Mayo, Ceide Fields is an archeological site where a civilization once thrived thousands of years ago.  Evidence of dwellings and stone walls enclosing what they think were fields for grazing animals were found by a farmer deep in the bog.  That tiny pyramid in the distance is the interpretative center.  Oddly, for a good twenty minutes I was the only person walking around on the boardwalk – everyone stayed in the building to watch a movie and look at the displays.  They were too lazy for this, the best part by far.  Just beyond view are high sea cliffs, and behind where I was standing rolling fields with sheep grazing.  It was absolutely spectacular.

newgrange

Being a bit claustrophobic, I was worried about going into this tomb or temple, they aren’t sure which.  So I made sure I was the last one on the tour in so I could hurry out if the panic started.  But I was fine, despite the very narrow entrance and low ceiling.  Inside is a chamber where, once per year on the winter solstice, the sun is positioned perfectly to bathe the dark interior in light.

fracking

I took a detour along a scenic route between the Mullet peninsula and Ballycastle in County Mayo.  There was quite a bit of rain, and suddenly I came upon what I thought were road workers.  A truck was backing into a work site.  Some other people dressed in street clothes began to run for the open gate, and what I realized were Gardai (police officers) were grabbing them and holding them back.  The Gardi formed a line to prevent the people from passing.  One person was taking photographs.  After ten minutes of sitting on the road, waiting to pass, they finally cleared the people and I was able to get around.  I passed a caravan (camper) with the words “Stop Shell” written across it.  There were far more Gardi than I realized, at least fifty of them.  As I was leaving, they were spaced along the road, one every few hundred meters, each with a radio.  When I reached the end of the road I stopped and rolled down my window to ask the final Garda what was going on.  He said that Shell was putting in some kind of pipeline to a refinery, and that students were protesting it.  It had been going on for years.

squint and you'll see the Garda

A few days later, I caught a new program on television about the process of fracking, which has been going on in the US for awhile.  Essentially it involves extracting natural gas by using pressure from water, sand, and chemicals.  The chemicals are the primary concern of protesters and activists.  It has potentially serious environmental consequences, and is largely unregulated in the US.

rural Mayo

This is peat.  Essentially it is plant matter than has been compressed and preserved in a bog over thousands of years.  It doesn’t rot because of the high water content of the soil.

Farmers cut the peat from a bog like this one.

They lay it in the sun to dry, then bag it up or transport it in a truck.

Many Irish burn peat to heat their homes.  In the grocery store I saw some compressed peat, which seemed to be a bit like one of those duraflame logs, not quite wood but something like it.

As I headed further north, there were many more sheep on the road, as some areas don’t have fences.  Supposedly at night there are a lot of accidents because they sleep on the road.  The asphalt retains heat from the sun and the sheep like to curl up on it.

Where’s the pot of gold?

in the news

I’ve been listening to the radio a lot while driving, and watching the news on occasion in the evenings.  It is clear that the Irish economy is in big trouble.  A man I met in a pub told me that Ireland today is where America was in 2008, in regards to unemployment and the mortgage crisis.  There is a lot of talk about negative equity, and how to fix the situation.  The government says they are not considering mass debt forgiveness.

One pressing concern is the beginning of the new school year.  The government offers support to families who cannot afford back-to-school books and uniforms, things that American families are not required to purchase.  (Yes, we need to buy pencils and binders, but they need to get textbooks, workbooks, and clothing specified by the school.)  There is a 2-week backlog in processing the applications of needy families across the country.  The government fears that parents will keep their children home until the money comes through, to prevent their children from being punished by administration or humiliated by their classmates.  They were urging families not to use payday loans to get their children school supplies, either.

The Rose of Tralee, an Irish beauty contest, is big news, and all of the Irish bookmakers were offering odds on who the winner would be.  (Tara Talbot of Queensland won.)  It’s not like Miss America, in which each state has a representative.  It seems that women can enter from anywhere in the world, as long as she has an Irish connection.  There are roses from America, Australia, and Canada, as well as all of the Irish counties.  This video has gone viral.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone hip-hop dance in an evening dress before.

This one’s pretty funny, too.

bed & breakfast brown bread (love that alliteration)

Only one factor determines if a bed and breakfast is exceptional: the quality of its brown bread.

One should not be able to lift a slice of brown bread in its entirety; it should crumble.  One should have to break off one bite at a time.  It should have a soft, wheaty texture, and should never be eaten with jam, only Irish butter.

Many b&bs use store-bought bread, which is gummy and sometimes stale.  If the proprietor will take the time to bake his/her own bread, said proprietor will not cut corners elsewhere, regardless of the price of the b&b.  If the bread is good, the rooms will be clean and orderly.  There will be soap in the bathroom and a hairdryer hidden in a drawer.  There will not be dust on the bedside lamp or misty strands clinging to the corners of the room.

I am utterly converted.  Brown bread is the breakfast of kings.

through the looking glass

Driving on the wrong side of the road while sitting on the wrong side of the car has been an adventure.

my car in Connemara

Apparently automatic transmissions are rare in Europe.  Budget did not have one available in the category that I chose, so I was bumped up 3 levels on the luxury scale and got a much better car than I paid for.  It’s a diesel, and I absolutely love it.  I drove for over a week and only used 2/3 of a tank.  My dad had a diesel once, and I’m completely sold on it.  I filled the tank for the first time today.  53 euro.  That’s about $75.  Ouch.

I decided to spring for the GPS rental.  I got a good deal, as they cut the normal price in half because it was such a long rental period.  It was definitely the right decision.  The first day or two I was nervous driving, and the GPS allowed me to focus on the road and not on navigation.  I could do without it now, as I am much more familiar with the geography and traffic signs, but I am glad that I have it.

nonexistent shoulder

Driving on the left feels natural now.  The only real issue is the narrow roads.  The lanes are a bit smaller than those in the US, and there is no shoulder at all.  So you can be driving along with a stone wall on your left and a tour bus buzzing by on the right and it feels like you’re about to become a bumper car.  The speed limit on many roads is 100km per hour, but I generally stick to around 60 and pull over to let people pass me.

I am starting to get a little sick of driving, though.  Tonight I am in Westport, County Mayo, and am considering staying here for two nights to avoid driving for an entire day.  It’s a big enough town to keep me occupied, and I’ll have plenty to read (and write!).