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 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. 

Fabulous County Donegal

Even though we’ve barely been here a week I feel that if our holiday were to end today I would be satisfied. We’ve done and seen so much already that it’s hard to put into words. Maybe some pictures will help!

Bonnie plays in a Gamelan orchestra (Indonesian instruments) and she took me to see the instruments which I really enjoyed as I’ve always had an interest in them. I even took a lesson while in Bali. They are metal xylophone-like instruments with large gongs and bells. Apparently there are several of these groups in Ireland. 

After leaving Belfast and a stay in Malin Head we drove to Donegal to stay at Mary's sister and her husband's place (Hillary and James). Actually their holiday home. Many people from NI come here for the holidays. 

View from the top of Hillary’s spectacular garden. 

On the way over we ventured off the main roads and stopped at some very scenic headlands. 

We arrived in Dunfanaghy and stopped in town at the pub where we saw a notice for live music at the castle so we headed over there for a bit. The castle is Glenvaugh, in a national park, and although it was late in the afternoon we caught a few acts performing. 

The next day we golfed at Cruit island (more about that later) and met the gang at Patsy Dan's pub in Dunfanaghy. It was late afternoon, the music had already begun and the place was crowded with babies, grandparents and every age in between. 

The next day we went early to the local fish market - Ross decided we would cook (his famous) seafood gumbo for dinner so we managed to score some delicious scallops and prawns/shrimp. Then more scenic views and a stop at the Harbour Bar jammed with holiday goers. 

We downed our beer while being entertained by the traffic including this farm vehicle with a trailer trying to make its way through the jumble of cars (that red vehicle is parked and it’s a 2 way road). 

Many of the people in Donegal speak Irish, for some it’s their first language. As we drove south toward Crolly it became even more so with many road signs only in Irish. Fortunately our room in Crolly was directly above one pub and immediately across from another that had live music. A trad group started the session but a visiting youth group from Scotland played a set. 

Finally the trad group was joined by 3 youngsters- the Kennedy family - 2 fiddles and a mandolin.. I’ll post some videos of the music later so you can enjoy it too. 

We’ve taken advantage of a few days of (relatively) sunny weather to take in some golf which has been an adventure itself (see next post). 

These photos show the scenic beauty and good times to be had in Ireland. But no photo can capture the sheer exuberance and warm welcome shown to us by the many, many people we’ve met and chatted with. As an example, below you’ll see Seoirse (George in Irish) the shopkeeper where we purchased a few items. Shopping took about 10 minutes. Checking out took about 20. George had to find out where we were from, where we've been and where we were going. We learned about his history, his kids and the house he grew upon which is now the shop. By the time we left, we’d had a few good laughs and you’d think we were old friends. Oh and he threw in my chocolate bar for free. 

Thanks Seoirse!!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Top o' the Island

Malin Head is the most northerly point on the island of Ireland and relatively remote/desolate as you can see from the pics. The rugged bare rocks remind me a bit of Newfoundland but with a tad more green. 

After leaving Belfast and passing Londonderry (although the Irish prefer to leave off the London and call it Derry) we headed up the Inishowen peninsula. The roads became narrower as the number of cows and sheep increased. The road you see below was pretty typical and it is NOT one way. Backing up for oncoming traffic is quite common. 

We've had a few detours and u-turns but mostly due to navigation issues, not Ross's driving. I’m sure I’ll get better with practice. 

Our BnB was perched overlooking the ocean and this view is from the kitchen window before it got really windy and rainy. The sun set at 10:06 but we didn't see it with all those clouds. A good reason to return some day. 

A short distance from our BnB is Ballyhillin Beach, known for its semi precious stones. Pinks, oranges, bright whites, purples - the colours are quite astounding. We headed down after high tide when they tend to sparkle more (according to Charles our host). 

Just down a bit the beach is covered in dark volcanic rock. Quite a contrast. 

Lots of picturesque rock buildings but I can’t convince Ross to stop for pictures each time. 

This is a stop along the road full of, well you can only call them curiosities. Ross bought 2 pigs (ceramic)!

The rain had stopped by morning and we were greeted with this lovely view from our breakfast table. 

Of course we were served the full Irish breakfast likely our first of many. Not a fan of the blood pudding even with Charles' extra slice of apple on top. 

And just out the front door this view of our neighbours. 

Driving here is definitely an adventure but the views are stunning. Well worth the effort. 

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Belfast Bonfires

We’re fortunate to be staying in Belfast for a few days with Bonnie, a friend from schooldays, and Mary. Unfortunately we’ve hit some soggy weather which tends to put the damper on outdoor activities. 

Bonnie lives in the middle of the city in a 'house', which we might call a townhouse or row house. The entire block is one building but divided into narrow, but tall, houses. Much of the housing here seems to be similar.

Of course Bonnie’s “front yard” comes complete with an array of plants and miscellanies. 

 We took the bikes out for a short ride, along a path on the River Lagan which runs right through the city. 

Along the way, and later on our city tour, we saw evidence of preparations for bonfires which will be lit in conjunction with July 12 celebrations. Some of them are 30-40 feet high. 

Some info about July 12: “It celebrates the Glorious Revolution and victory of Protestant king William of Orange over Catholic king James II at the Battle of the Boyne (1609), which began the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland.” (Wikipedia)
There are marches which often lead to problems (to say the least). Because of this Bonnie and Mary always plan to be out of town during these 'festivities '. 

Since we were last in Belfast the Titanic Experience was built and is now a large draw for tourists. It’s an impressive looking building and takes a couple of hours to explore. It begins with Belfast at the beginning of the 1900s and the importance of the ship building industry through to the launch and subsequent sinking of the Titanic. 

One of the walls from above down to the lobby. 

View of the shipyard where the Titanic was launched. 

And then a stop for a beverage while a couple of singers entertained us. 

 Belfast has lots of interesting old buildings and alleyways. 

And inside The Crown pub:

A sign in one of the pubs:

In the evening Bonnie took me to her neighbourhood pub where a trad session (traditional music) was playing with a fiddle, flute, pipes, concertina, guitar. It’s not really a performance but they just kind of play over in the corner and anyone can join in. 

The pub is a maze of rooms and hallways and fortunately within walking distance of Bonnie’s house so we had a couple of pints and enjoyed the music and made it home by midnight. 

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