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Friday, 10 July 2009

The Dingle Peninsula

I brought you as far as Dingle in my last blog, so here I'll take you round some of the places I visited the next day. It was another hot sunny day as I drove off from Baile na nGall to look for Gallarus Oratory.
It was somewhere I remember visiting with the family when I was a kid. Dad was really into all the historic stuff, and though I wasn't that interested in those days, I am now. This is another Early Christian church from anywhere between 500 and 1200 A.D., not a replica, not a restoration but the real thing. It has survived intact for all those centuries probably due to the way it has been built with the shaped stones - no mortar - tilted slightly to allow rain to drain off instead of in. If you are sufficiently interested to click on the link above you will find more information and pictures. I think that there may have been a wooden ceiling once upon a time as there are stones positioned above head height that look as if they would have supported beams along its length, and it would also have had a door.

The site was crawling with Spanish visitors on a coach tour when I got there, so I hung about till they disappeared before I explored. Next to the church is a standing stone with some carving on it. Apparently it is not possible to find a meaning for the "inscription" on it, but it is likely to be a grave stone.

From Gallarus I continued along the coast as much as possible, passing the Three Sisters across Smerwick Bay, and stopping for a welcome cup of tea and a scone and jam at Tig Aine, meaning the house of Aine.

Apart from the sign on a standing stone, the first thing I noticed were the solar panel out front. Aine and her family are very committed to reducing their "carbon footprint" Aine herself is a weaver and artist who sells her paintings and woven goods in the craft shop, while her son looks after the catering side of things. The cafe is partly situated in an old glass conservatory, where you will also find her weaving loom.

Outside, the ducks and geese waddle about alongside the goat, with wonderful views beyond them.
Next door is the new restaurant, built to fit in with the traditional style of the old stone cottages round about, but it is quite beautifully and simply decorated inside. I actually sat outside on the patio, in a very comfortable white painted rustic rocking chair, just relaxing with my cuppie in the heat of the sun, admiring the scenery, and looking down across the garden with its standing stone over to Sybil Point and the rocky islands.

I swear the standing stone has a face! Can you see the two black beady eyes and the long nose? You'll have to click to enlarge it, I think!
Next port of call was Dunquin where the ferry leaves for the Blasket Islands, and where "Ryan's daughter" was filmed way back in 1970 - can't believe it was that long ago! I have since discovered that the main buildings of the "village" were specially built for the film and that they were demolished afterwards, which is why they can't be found, but the harbour is still there, down a very steep concrete path that zigzags down to the sea. A few curraghs, the tarred canvas-covered boats used by fishermen for centuries, sat upturned on one of the turns, and standing beside them I could see in my mind, the scene where the villagers are hurrying down to the harbour in a big angry crowd - though I can't remember why they were hurrying... or angry! Well it was nearly 40 years ago I saw it! Of course the young man operating the ferry boat out to the Blasket Islands didn't remember the film at all! He wouldn't have been born then!
So once I had climbed back up the steep path - it was easier in bare feet on the grass at the side, instead of sandals - I looked round the headland a bit taking some more pics of the Blaskets.

One of the great Irish story tellers, Peig Sayers, from Dunquin married an islander and spent 40 years on Great Blasket - not an easy life - bringing up her large family and entertaining at night when everyone went visiting eachother, before the island was abandoned by its small population, in 1953/4 and thereafter she enthralled the mainlanders with the tales she had first learned from her father as a child.

The road then ran round the coast to Slea Head, clinging to the cliff, and mayhem ensued when a tour bus came to a bend and encountered a couple of cars going in the opposite direction. Of course you know who won! The cars had to manoevre back into a position where the coach could pass and drive on - and that wasn't easy on the narrow road.
At Slea Head itself, a lifesize monument of the crucifiction of Christ is tucked into the rock face, watched that day by a rather handsome herring gull. What a poser!

Here the road turns round towards Dingle again. I found the farm where the ancient beehive village was, and got out to have a look. The enterprising old woman in the house must listen for all the cars that stop in the roadside parking spot, for when I walked up the track to the gate I could see her, sitting in an old car that obviously hadn't moved in a while, waiting to pounce. "That will be two euros" she told me. Oh well! I paid up and the grandson opened the gate for me. I spent a while there creeping in and out of the buildings, some standing independently and others joined by a door between.
The walls are pretty thick when you look down on them from above - about 6 feet or more (2 metres). In one there was an underground passage they say is where the villagers would hide if the village was raided. I wonder? How would they have hidden it from the attackers? Just then my camera battery ran out, so there were to be no more photos for a while. I thought I had charged up the other battery I carry, but obviously I hadn't as it too was as dead as the proverbial dodo!

Anyway, your woman had disappeared by the time I came back through the gate, so I popped along to the front door to shout my thanks. She came beetling out and thanked me profusely, offering to let me in again for nothing once I had my battery recharged! Best buddies by now, I took my leave and continued along the road unable to take photos of the sea and the beach, and I feel ashamed to say I can't actually remember them, but then I came to the Stone House cafe and restaurant, where I stopped for another cup of tea and piece of cake.
I was kindly allowed to recharge the battery a bit while I was there, but it was only enough really to take a couple of photos or so of the Stone House itself - and it IS stone, all of it, even the roof! Very nice place too. Nice decor, and the menu looked pretty appetising!

My destination for the day was Kilrush in County Clare on the north side of the Shannon river so I must have driven up there without taking a lot into my brain! I saw, but can't remember! Crossing the Shannon on the long ferry took about 20 minutes and from there it was only a short drive into Kilrush with it's wide wide street lined with townhouses with Georgian front doors and halfmoon fan lights.

There's more to the town than that further up but I found the hostel here and booked in, before setting off to explore, and it was here I found an internet cafe the next morning and wrote about the peninsulas of the south west.

So my next blog will be of my journey round the Burren I think! That was something else really special, but more of that later.

Talk again soon.

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