Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Lasting Memories

Four things I noticed about Ireland (and then 3 more).

1. The word "wee" doesn't mean little or small, but more like inconsequential, and used as an adjective anywhere. "I'll bring you your wee lunch now" or "Here's your wee bill".  (Mostly in the north)

2.  Newspapers are alive and well in Ireland - most stores would have a news stand of 8-10 different papers.

3. Youse - as in "Can I get youse a drink" - I thought it sounded kind of  'hick-ish' but it makes perfect sense when you realize 'youse' is the plural of 'you'. (Again - mostly in the north)

4. Many Irish people have Irish as their first language.

1. Hurling
We had never heard of this sport before the first time we came to Ireland. Along with Gaelic Football it is a national sport but is only played in certain parts of Ireland. We kept asking along the way about the chance of seeing a 'live' game but we didn't have any luck until we got to Ennis and found a U16 match going on (kind of like Little League I guess). So it's not as exciting as the All-Ireland playoffs that were taking place in Dublin at the time, but we stayed and watched for about 1/2 hour until the rain started.

2. Marcus Hernon
Marcus is an amazing flute player and flute maker we heard at the pub in Clifden. After chatting with him about his flute, he invited me to his place in Carna, about 30 kms away. However, he wouldn't give me his address and just said to ask anyone in town where he lived and they would point the way. In retrospect this makes sense, because there really are no addresses in Ireland and telling us it's the 3rd white house along the road over the bridge and around the corner would make no sense to us. So we got to Carna and looked for someone to ask. I'd estimate there are a mere 150 people living in the area but we found a corner grocery and asked there. The directions were something like - go back to the intersection and turn right, drive a few kilometers, past the college, past the factories, up the hill, around the corner and it's the house overlooking the water that looks like it has 2 roofs. Well we even surprised ourselves when we found it based on those directions!
House with 2 roofs there in the distance
Marcus wasn't there but his wife Mary offered us tea until he arrived a few minutes later. He talked to us about his flute making process and took us into his workshop where he showed us the lathes and woods he uses. He also advised me not to order a flute right then and there, but to try a few others first.

Marcus in his workshop

3. People
The first time we went to Ireland we realized that the most fun we had was when interacting with the locals. We did that a lot this time mostly because the places we stayed were with local people. There were a couple of pubs we went to that were absolutely jammed with tourists (such as in Doolin) and we basically walked out. Not that there's anything wrong with tourists, but it wasn't what we were there for. As well, many of the tourists were from northern/western Europe and it was difficult to interact with them.
Although we booked a lot on Airbnb the places were mostly just bedrooms in people's houses which sounds like it might be a bit awkward but they all were very well set up. The rooms were usually separated off by themselves. Some of our least favourite places were the few hotels we stayed in (could be in any country) or the bnb's that are set up as commercial enterprises and you never get to interact with the host. Almost all our hosts offered us tea/coffee when we arrived and Margaret in the last place even had freshly baked apple pie for us. They all offered us local information and answered any questions we might have. Most Irish people LOVE to chat and you can strike up a conversation in the most unusual places.

Margaret's pie was delicious.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Irish Music Part 2

Here’s a bit of info about the clips/groups in this video:

The first clip is a trio from a party I crashed. We were having dinner at a hotel near the castle we stayed in when I heard the music and went to investigate. I asked the party organizer if I could listen in and she said it was ok. Her grandson is on the right playing guitar but he also sings. The group is called Mad 4 Trad and I was really impressed with the whistle player. I would guess they’re all teenagers. 

The second clip is a duo we listened to in Clifden. 

Following that is the well known flute player (and flute maker) Marcus Hernon with his son on accordion. The man on the cajon drum was from Boston and just sitting in. This is my favourite clip!

The 4th clip is Conall Flaherty - also in Clifden and playing flute, low d whistle, and regular whistle. Great skill. 

The last group is a session (less formal) in Ennis. 

If you don’t like the weather....

......well you don’t even have to wait 5 mins. We decided to golf in Ennis at an average course (no amazing coastal scenery); the weather was a bit windy and it looked like it might rain. To be fair it’s looked like that most days on the coast, with very little actual rain, and the chance of rain was only 20% so it seemed promising   About hole 3 it started to drizzle with a few major gusts, but it stopped shortly after so we carried on. About the 6th it started up again and didn’t looked good and since we were near the clubhouse we made the decision to pack it in. We got to our car, opened the trunk to start packing up and not only did the sun come out but within a matter of seconds there was only blue sky so we headed out again to finish. 

The next morning with a 10% chance of rain predicted we thought we might visit the Aran Islands. Before we even checked out of the hotel the rain had started and again we hesitated. When we got to the ferry terminal in Doolin the wind was howling but we bought tickets for Inis Oirr, the nearest island. 

The ferry ride over was quite a roller coaster but when we got there the sun was out. We hired a 'trap and pony' for a short jaunt around the island. It turned out to be a good decision. The island is unique and our driver Sean kept us entertained for the hour ride. 

The island has an amazing array of rock walls - we’ve seen lots on this trip but this was over the top.

On one side of the island is a shipwreck which is kind of famous due to it being shown in the opening credits of a local-based TV show called Father Ted (think British comedy). The wreck happened in 1960 and all on board survived. 

The pub was decorated with flags and we happened to be sitting under flags that were meaningful to us, from South Africa, Canada, and Australia (plus a few others). 

We stayed the night in Doolin, in a very pretty room. 

Here’s a little clip - enjoy the ride.  And definitely don’t trust the weather forecast in Ireland. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Irish Pubs - we couldn’t get to all of them ....

...but that didn’t stop us from trying.

Here are a few of our favourites (so far):

Patsy Dan's is in Dunfanaghy, Donegal, and filled with locals on Fridays and Saturdays. The session the night we were there had about 8 musicians with more arriving as we left. 

In Crolly, Donegal, we stayed at Teach Tessies (Teac means house in Irish). Our Airbnb host Catherine also ran the pub downstairs which sat about 10 people. The locals were watching an important Gaelic Football match when we came in. Donegal won. 

Across from Tessies was Leo’s Tavern - it’s famous for its music and it didn’t disappoint. Leo died 3 years ago so now his son runs the place. Leo was Enya's dad (she was born here) and the walls are covered in her gold records.

We had a delicious serving of mussels at Leo’s. 

In Donegal town we spent an evening at McCafferty's. The duo singing had powerful, raw voices and filled the room with sound. The bartender joined in on fiddle at times and the men at the bar sang along to the songs. Two older men, at different times, walked up and sang a tune, while the musicians accompanied. It was all very spontaneous. 

At The Open we were having a beverage before heading back to our BnB when we started up a long, involved conversation with some Irish folks. After learning we were going to Enniskillen they insisted that we go to Blake's of the Hollow for Friday night music. The music started at 10:30 and was a 3 man group - 2 accordionists and a fiddler but they were joined by another fiddler (not part of the regular group). You can see by the photo that Blake’s is not very big. At least it’s not wide but it stretches very far back. It’s made up of little 'snugs' which are small rooms that seat 4-8 people. Well we ended up in a snug with the musicians which was incredible.

Heading back to the coast (Wild Atlantic Way) we spent a couple of nights in Clifden, a very scenic area. The place is FULL of pubs with music and we had a difficult time getting into one for a seat. Mostly because it’s quite touristy and the pubs serve food until 9:30. The vibe here is very different as well - the musicians were more 'performers', had a tip jar (or hat) on the table along with CDs for sale. We had not seen this anywhere previously. 

We finally got a seat at Griffin's, luckily right next to the musicians. Wow what a performance. The flute player was the amazing Marcus Hernon who is also a well known flute maker. (I found out by asking about his flute). Irish flutes are a bit different than concert flutes. He invited me to come to his place (down in Carna) to try one, although it takes 2-6 months to actually get one. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Ennis is well known for its music and we stopped the first night at a session at Knox. 

Again it was back to more spontaneous jamming and started with flute, fiddle, concertina and bodhran. They were shortly joined by a couple of woman from the US one on fiddle, one on whistle. 

Of course we visited many more pubs but these were particularly memorable - mostly for the musicians, atmosphere, food/drink, people or all of the above. 

More music from some of these events will be posted in a video shortly. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Castle Ghosts

Ireland is full of castles, many serve as accommodation for tourists. I thought it would be fun to stay in one so I found one called Ross Castle near where I thought we were going. It turned out to be in an entirely different location but after checking it out I decided to book it anyway. 

In 1533 construction began and the tower was completed a few years later. We spent the night in the tower. 

The tower has a room on each of  the 3 floors and we stayed in the lower room, although there is a tricky set of stairs even to reach our room. 

The stairs narrow significantly as you reach the top and if you rent that room I’d advise you only take what you need for the night!

Halfway between the 2nd and 3rd floors is the 9 3/4 Harry Potter room. It has a very low ceiling and is for kids. If you’ve read the books (I haven’t) you’ll understand this better. 

The room at the top is spectacular. 

Of course our room was nothing to sneeze at. To get there you first went through the sitting/eating area which is decorated with trophy heads such as the menacing buffalo in the corner. 

Then through a library with similar decor (kudu?). 

Our room was The O’Reilly Room named after The Slasher. 

But it is beautifully decorated and spacious with a modern en-suite that Myles likely didn’t have in 1644!

It also had its share of dead animals (see the fox pelt hanging in the corner) and a huge fireplace. 

The castle has other accommodation available but it turns out we were the only people staying. No one else was here (not even the owner) and with stories about the ghost of Sabrina, the daughter of the Black Baron, it was a different experience that’s for sure. Read about Sabina's fate here: https://ross-castle.com/history/ghosts

It was a stormy night and there was no shortage of unusual sounds but no ghosts were seen. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Monday, July 15, 2019

Golfing in Ireland - a few unusual hazards

Ireland has some great famous courses - beautifully maintained, pristine condition, pothole bunkers, lavish clubhouses. Ballybunion, Ballyliffen, Portrush, Lahinch etc. 

Yeah we’re not playing at any of those. We prefer to spend the €200+ those ones charge for a round on something like Guinness! Apparently we prefer the quirky, barely playable ones for €30-60. With more interesting challenges than mere bunkers or water holes. 

Our first one was Cruit (pronounced Crutch) Island. Follow a very narrow road for about 4 kms then make sure you honk to warn the golfers you’re coming since the road runs right through a couple of holes. 
Since there’s not much differentiation between the rough and the fairway, it’s almost impossible to know where to aim your ball and there are only two holes where you can see where the green is from the tee box (par 3s). Mostly it’s a guessing game. 
One hole has a gaping drop off to the ocean in front of the tee. 

But some of the views are stunning. 

Below, the view toward the green where Ross advised me my shot was about 100 yards, but turned out to be 70. Never saw the ball again after it dropped toward the ocean. 
Dunfanaghy golf course had its challenges as well. The road to the beach went right through the course so along with cars, there were groups of walkers and families with kids on bikes to watch out for. Most of them didn’t notice the golf happening. 
Also the locals took the liberty of walking their dogs across the fairway - you can see them up on the right in the photo below while Ross waits 'patiently'. 
But what a view. 

The most fun was at Gweedore. I believe it is technically a sheep pasture where golfers are allowed. They greeted us at the entrance. 

A few gates to pass through after teeing off. 

This green is surrounded by an electric fence. I guess the sheep cut down on the mowing. 
Sheep on the tee box rarely got in the way. You did need to watch where you stepped!
Finding the next hole could be an issue. This path was long and uphill. 
Then on 9 and 18, a fence, a ditch, a road, and another fence on your approach shot. Wait for the cars going to the graveyard or beach to pass. Also this course only has 14 holes so you get to play some twice. 
But again some stunning ocean views. 
They may not get any write ups in Golf magazines but we'll remember these courses much longer than if we played a regular course. My advice? Skip the famous ones and try a few rounds at the lesser known local courses that don’t require a second mortgage to play. 

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