Friday, March 9, 2012

The Land 'O Ire: Part II

Our road trip began. Adam instantly became a master at wrong-side-of-the-road driving, though we did have a few panic moments. For this trip, we decided to go old-school and used nothing but the map of Ireland from the rental place and a few print-outs we made before the trip. We could handle this, especially considering the price of renting a GPS/day was almost as much as the car rental/day. huh? Yes, navigation was my duty, and I'm quite proud to say we have very few 'turn-around' moments. ha.

Heading west from Dubin, we had planned two stops before our final destination, the Rock of Cashel, ruins of a 12th-15th century cathedral and castle and the Castle at Cahir, one of Ireland's best preserved medieval fortresses located on the beautiful River Suir. These two sites were our first introduction to the beauty and mystic these ruins held amongst the county side with their stark contrasts of dark heavy stone against a palate of soft green. And to think, these were just two of tens of thousands of historic sites scattered about the island. Truly amazing to ponder. And truly amazing, that unlike the states, there's no regulations on putting handrails and guardrails everywhere. It really helped preserve the true nature of the buildings; I liked that. If you fall off a stair with no rails, then that's your own fault!

Rock of Cashel

Getting the perfect shot

Castle at Cahir

We still had a bit of time in the car, though, before the reaching Kilfenora, our final stop for the evening near the western coast. And as the sun set and we hit rural roads, the driving became a bit more white knuckled. There's no such thing as a shoulder along these country roads, only miles and miles of limestone walls situated no more than a foot or so from the edge of your car. No room for mistakes here.

We reached Kilfenora, pitch black, in the rain, and pulled into a pub's parking lot located next to our hostel. I think we were the only visitors within miles; you could certainly call this a one-horse kind of town. The hostel owner said the shower was broken, so she put us up in our own house located right across the street...."and as for the keys," she said, "well, we don't have any. I mean, this IS Kilfenora, ya know." Apparently no need to lock out any creepy country folk? The house was a good place to crash for the night, but a little unsettling as we listened to all the strange new noises of the place, realizing we were really in the middle of NOWHERE. Spooky and awesome all at the same time.

The next day we awoke to gray skies (yet surprising just about NO rain the majority of the trip), and headed out for our tour of the Burren. The Burren is a region in NW County Claire that hosts one of the largest 'Karst' landscapes in Europe, a land that was once covered in forests, yet now has been eroded away to vast expanses of limestone and granite severed by grikes (these were our faves), sinkholes, and glacial erratic. Within the next few months, the flora within these rock crevices explode into full color and brings visitors by the 1000s to experience the beauty. We were a bit early for the bloom, but having the entire landscape to ourselves was surreal and just plain priceless. For the entire day we drove through the counry side looking at rock formations, old ruins, cows, and even visited the Burren Perfumery where all products are organically produced using only items found in the area.

Poulnabrone Dolmen: Tomb constructed in 3000BC! (left)
Karst Landscape: Grikes in the Limestone (right)

Church ruins overrun with gravestones (very common we've found)

Corcomroe Abbey:13th Century Cistercian Monastery

Corcomroe Abbey

Stone walls Everywhere!

Sampling at the Perfumery

Newtown Castle

As the sun was lowering, we had one more important stop to make, The Cliffs of Moher. You can't come to Ireland without seeing this spectacular site! Unfortunately (or fortunately?), unlike the unregulated castles we'd just visited, a barrier wall had been erected a few years back, so there's no more leaning over the edge. Yes, people have actually fallen off the cliffs.....down 700ft to an icy death. We witnessed a few hopping the walls to lean over themselves, and it made my heart stop just watching (& photographing) them. Apparently, though, they used to have a permanent table set up on this ledge where you could come out and enjoy a pint or two. Ahhhhh, how times have changed.


Cliffs, Cliffs, Cliffs!

Back in the car and off to Doolin for the night....Doolin, the home of traditional Irish Music and settling ground for what they call the 'blow-ins'. "You see" a local was telling us, "people from all over the world just blow in to this place, fall in love with it, then never leave." And we can see why. More to come in Part III.....

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