Morning I went to Trinity to see the Book of Kells; I had seen it before but years ago, and they rotate which pages they display. And then finally managed to coordinate meeting up with darcydodo, and we entirely failed to go to the Chester Beatty library, since it was not open until the afternoon, but never mind, we had a nice time wandering around Dublin and looking at the river and buildings and catching up on far too many months when we've been too busy to talk.
darcydodo hired a car and we had determined on a plan of
three hours on the extremely boring M4to help her get used to driving on the left. And only a little bit past Galway to a little self-catering cottage just outside a town called Oughterard. I picked the cottage partly for being easyish to get to and partly because it was named Darcy; we learned from the owner that Darcy (sometimes with an apostrophe) is a local name and he'd named his cottage for his own maternal grandfather, so that was pretty cool.
We again listened to marymac's advice and planned to spend our three days in
Connemara, Aran Islands and the Burren. Though not quite in that order, because we looked at the weather forecast and decided Monday was our best bet to take a smallish ferry into the Atlantic and spend the day on an island with little shelter. We picked Inishmaan mostly because our host had told us that the larger island, Inishmore, is really touristy. Anyway, Inishmaan was great, like nowhere else I've ever been either for geology (karst!) or human construction (unimaginable numbers of drystone walls dividing the island into fields we initially thought were too tiny to be actual fields, and some pre-Christian houses and forts). People were very friendly to us, in the way that people are when their tourist trade depends on projecting an image of a way of life that is authentic and unspoiled.
The next day we managed to find a guided walking tour of some of the ecologically exciting bit of the Burren, led by a guy called Tony Kirby, who was just amazing. He's clearly a massive enthusiast, very knowledgeable in a very personal, self-taught way. The group ended up being me and D and one American primary school teacher. We learned what makes the area exciting, namely that it has a mix of plants from an impossible-seeming range of geographical origins, climate and soil preferences. Also lots of just fun identifying plants, greatly expanding what darcydodo had managed the previous day based on the Cicely Mary Barker flower fairies books. Most exciting was Kirby's ideas about the interactions between human activity and nature; he had a really nuanced view about sustainable traditional farming, pointing out that if the place were left completely alone it would be taken over by hawthorn and bracken, which are all very well but not exactly ecologically unique; cattle farming and a small amount of intentional management is required to maintain the ecosystem, while of course intensive, industrial scale farming would just wreck it.
And we rounded off the day with a walk along the coast, which was absolutely stunning, though we ended up only looking at the Cliffs of Moher from across the bay rather than walking along the clifftop. It was so good for me to just walk along with a friend I'm really fond of and looking at the ocean and wandering through hedgerows full of wild garlic.
We spent Wednesday driving very slowly and circuitously back to the east side of the country. So through some of Connemara and more or less all the way round the Twelve Bens, visiting Roundstone which is completely adorable and Clifden where there are lots of things named after the founder, d'Arcy, including an actual castle, and driving along some routes with amazing views, Sky Road, Connemara Loop, and a route across a bog since darcydodo really wanted to see one. She planned all this bit, and I'm extremely glad she did, because we had completely unpredicted glorious weather and got to see some really stunning sights.
It's a complete truism that Ireland is beautiful, but I'd mostly picked up impressions of the country that are to a greater or lesser degree sentimental. It's pretty, it's rural, it's idyllic, it's full of the kind of mostly farmland and "quaint" towns that city-dwellers have been nostalgic about since approximately the Industrial Revolution. I was not at all prepared for landscape that is awe-inspiring and not really human at all. I mean, I knew intellectually that cliffs and mountains and loughs are there, but I had little expectation of the emotional impact of being in those sorts of landscapes.
Especially in the west; the last day of our trip which we spent in the vicinity of Dublin was full of prettily rural places. We took the near unanimous advice of all you lovely helpful people and visited some of the Iron Age structures. Knowth and Newgrange as a double tour starting from a shared visitor centre, and Loughcrew. I don't have anything very original to say about these places but I am extremely glad I got to see them, the really mind-blowingly ancient engineering and art.
Also we ate just amazingly well. We didn't really plan food, just turned up in places and looked for plausible looking pubs or cafés. I haven't really decided whether I'm committing to giving up fish altogether; at the moment I am still in a kind of making exceptions for special occasions state. And it turns out that quite a lot of places in Ireland make chowder out of kosher fish not adulterated with lots of seafood that I can't eat, so I ate lots of that and it was wonderful. darcydodo had a very exciting time eating shellfish, including oysters. Also during the week before I joined her she had been spending time with friends who introduced her to whiskey; I did some cautiously sniffing and tasting the tiniest drop while she was trying out options related to what she'd discovered she likes. I still don't like whiskey but I can imagine acquiring the taste. I have to mention The Roadside Tavern which we stumbled into when we were driving home later than we'd intended and ended up in a town that seemed to be full of rather horrible hotel bars or places that had already stopped serving food by 9 pm. Just when we were about to give up, we found the best pub ever. I think I didn't quite believe that places like that actually exist, so friendly and atmospheric but in a totally natural way (which I'm so used to marketing trying to imitate, it seemed almost weird for it to be genuine), with beer brewed and fish smoked locally, and people (skilfully!) playing folk music.
Basically, thank you so much to all of you for good advice, we did much better by listening to you than by trying to plan the trip off websites and guidebooks. And you were all collectively right about roads and driving. Also thank you to everybody who asked for a postcard, and to ghoti for recommending me the app. It turned out to really increase my enjoyment of the trip; darcydodo brought a real camera, but I just had my phone. It was really good for me to have the motivation to take the occasional snap of something I really wanted to send to one of you, but to spend most of my time looking at things with my eyes rather than being distracted by photography. I missed lots of you, hatam_soferet when we were looking at manuscripts, and forestofglory when we were learning about ecology, and kaberett when we were being amazed by geology, and lethargic_man when we were trying to figure out language stuff. And my musicians and historians and Christians pretty much all the time.
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