A day for tears

Trip Start Mar 24, 2004
Trip End Apr 05, 2004

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Friday, March 26, 2004

Day 4 Dingle
 The famine cemetery is on "Holy Rock" or "Holy Mass", a high hill behind the town's old hospital, overlooking the town and harbor. Holy Rock was the site of secretly held Roman Catholic Masses in the 1600's and 1700's. These masses were banned by the English.

 It is almost impossible to get directions to the cemetery. Of the over two dozen locals I asked, including three employees at the town's visitor center, none heard of the cemetery, and all gave me directions to the new Dingle cemetery. Don't attempt to ask anyone under forty. Approach those over the age of sixty at one of the traditional pubs and you will get information and probably an offer to accompany you to the cemetery. Be prepared for an honest yet bitter opinion of the heartlessness of the English during Irelands most troubled times. Generation after generation the atrocity is not to be forgotten in the Gaeltec areas.     

 Unless you were offered assistance in reaching the cemetery by someone you met in the pub, these directions should get you there:  
Facing the old hospital, you'll see a very narrow road on the right (Chappel Lane) that goes straight up the mountain/hill. Drive up as far as you can. This paved, one-lane road turns into a narrow, gravel road and then a goat path. At this point you should be able to look up ahead and slightly to the left and see a 15 foot high white concrete cross.

After 20-30 minutes of a moderate climb, crawl through the barbed wire "gate" (sheep barriers) and continue to the white cross. The cross is almost in the middle of the mass graves of thousands of famine victims. Be careful, the ground is quite uneven as the graves were "trench style." 

 On a clear day just after sunrise, the view of Dingle Town, the emerald blue Dingle Harbor, and the green farm fields below is breathtaking and in stark contrast to the horror of the starving people who died here a century and a half ago. If you look just up the hill from the hospital you can still see the outlines of the foundation of the old "work house," where over 5,000 of these overworked starving Irish died.

There is an eerie peace and quiet here that encourages the mind and soul to reflect on these past victims.

To loose their freedom, land, pride, and the ability to provide even the necessary food to sustain life for their families, would have been devastating for these simple people so used to a self-reliant life style.

What were the thoughts of those still-barely-living Irish men and women as they carried these overworked starved bodies up the hill to lay them in these unmarked trenches?  Would they be the next corpse? Or would their parents, wife, child, or siblings?

Did the survivors pray that future generations and cultures would never face this enforced starvation? My heart hurts. Tears are streaming down my face, and won't stop. How many of my relatives died this unspeakable death, or were unlucky enough to be a survivor, watching those they loved being starved or worked to death.      
The down hill walk to the hospital seems more difficult for me than the climb up to Holy Mass was. 

 Not a word was spoken during our descent.  There is a "knowing" expression in Caoilte eyes as he looks at us when we reach the bottom of the hill. He says the next time we go up the hill again it will still both humble and infuriate us. He hopes to accompany us on our next climb to Holy Mass, and will make arrangements with Kary when she arrives in October. Caoilte  has volunteered to open his sons' shop in town this morning. He declined our offer to drive him. I ask him how long it will take to walk.  "Depends on how many people I meet along the way."  I now understand why the Irish keep their own time schedules, and I accept.    

During breakfast, a mist softens the bay and hillside from our breathtaking window view in the Coastguard Restaurant. Just when you think this is one of the most serene views, down plops a vivid rainbow, right into the bay, not more than forty feet away! I can't stop looking. The employees keep clearing tables, filling glasses and mugs. How many rainbows does it take for a person to become accustomed to this beauty?  What I can remember of breakfast is a huge variety of cereals, fruits, pastries (those wonderful chocolate muffins and brown bread) and hot items. And the rainbow.  
Today is an "easy" day. Some time to tour the Ring of Dingle before heading north to our appointments at two Limmerick hotels and Bunratty Castle.  

On the Ring of Kerry I repeatedly searched for it's beauty and wondered if I was too jaded to find it.  On the Dingle, my eyes are in constant motion, trying to take in the overwhelming scenery and hoping my brain is storing some of it for future memories.  Hugging the coast we drive west five miles towards Ventry (Ceann Tra), a small sea town with a natural harbor and wide curve of beautiful white sandy swimming beach.  Shadowed by Mount Eagle, the narrow ledge-like road hangs on a sea-cliff that drops steeply to the water. Passing Ventry Harbor, we are inland for a few minutes before returning to the coast near Dunbeg.    

Attraction/Rating Dunbeg (Dun Beag) 4* a promontory fort built in the 8th or 9th century AD, with four earthen rings and an underground escape route near the main entrance.  The view overlooks the Iveragh Peninusla and the sea.  Part of the fort has fallen into the sea.  €2.00

Between Dunbeg and Fan (Fahan) are ancient cave dwellings, crosses, stone beehive huts, standing and inscribed stones, and a church ruin. Limited on time, we drive to the stone beehive huts (clochans) in Fahan. There are two "sets" of beehive huts on the main road. We pulled into the first one, paid the farmer for a self-guided tour and set off up the hillside to see the little stone "igloos". Built around 1200 BC, these non-mortared stone farm dwellings housed Celts to Christian monks. Two still have their stone roofs intact, and proved to be watertight, as we stood inside a hut waiting for a heavy "mist" to end. I was awed that over the past centuries, so many people had lived in these houses in this remote area. And looking out from the doorway to the sea, I doubt the landscape has changed.  Another rainbow greets us as we walk down the hillside!  €2.00   daily 9:30-7:00pm 

  We drive past the second group of clochans, then spot a famine cottage. Behind the boarded up cottage is barren hillside. Row after row of rotted potatoes from the 1800's are still visible in the fields. You begin to feel like you have stepped back into history.  Our nest stop is at the Slea Head pullout. The view of the coastline and Blasket Islands is breathtaking, as is the force of the giant foaming waves that are pounding directly below us against the Cliffside, and shooting a stream of mist straight into the air in front of us.

In Ireland, religion and nature mix as one, so it seem appropriate that directly behind us is a giant white crucifix.  The scenery and rainbows that magically appear around the corners keeps me enthralled as we drive to the Dunquin Harbor. (Dunchaoin)  The guide books do not tell you that to reach the "harbor" one parks at the top of the hill and walks down the concrete ramp, a steep series of s-curves. We start down the ramp but don't make it to the bottom, as the ferry to Blasket Island is not departing from the small pier, and there are no currachs (traditional canvas boats) in the water. However, as we climb the hill back to the car, a rainbow spreads a full 180 from hillside to hillside in front of us.

A photo stop with Dunmore Head in the background, proves that I have stood close to the westernmost point in Europe. Going inland, we had toward Reasc Monastery. Once an ancient Celtic sacred place, it became a monastery in the early middle ages. The remains of the walled monastery date from the 6th to 12th centuries.  This pillar stone, 500 BC, at the Reasc Monastery is an ancient Celtic design capped by a Maltese cross, the perfect synthesis of pagan and Christian traditions characteristic of Irish atholicism.   A short but confusing drive takes us to the most famous of antiquities on the Dingle Peninsula. 
Attraction/Rating, Gallaurs Oratory/5*  A large parking lot and visitors center with public bathrooms are a welcome site. We are behind schedule (those darn rainbows keep slowing us up) so we skip the brief slide show and narration on the Dingle Peninsula  (which we are told  have great photos taken by helicopter) , purchase tickets and walk out the back door to the Oratory. I am standing inside this tiny perfectly preserved 1300 year old water-tight, mortar less stone church that resembles an overturned boat, and my thoughts turn to other churches and cathedrals  I have visited in Europe and the Americas. There is no comparison in size or grandeur, no Michaelango-like paintings, golden alters, ornate carved pews, leaded and stained glass windows. Yet Gallaurs, built of simple stone, a small front entrance and tiny open back window, has stood the test of time and faith, while many of it predecessors did not. 
 € 2.00
Attraction/Rating Kilmarkedar Church/4 An old Norman center of worship. Built in the 12th century, in the Irish Romanesque style of architecture. Golden colored stones outline the profile of an ancient Irish boat in the exterior walls. The boat and church are linked to St. Brendan, the navigator. A graveyard with. Ogham stones, Celtic crosses and modern burial stones surround the church. Free.
Attraction/Rating: Moran's Slea Head Tours  -not rated. narrated Bus and taxi tours. Stop at Burnham Tower, Ventry, Dunbeg Fort, Beehive Huts, Slea Head, Coumeenole (location for Ryan's Daughter) Graigue (location for Tom Cruise Far and Away) Gallarus Oratory.    Rates/Times  €15.00  Daily at 10:00am and 2:00pm from Dingle Pier 

It's only a few minutes drive to Dingle. Choices again 1) The Connor Pass? Or the flatter N86 thru Anascaul?   Adventure and scenery win out. 

We head north via the Connor Pass. The climbing road seems tighter than any we have traveled on. The views of the valleys keep getting better, the craggy mountain on our right higher, and the stone wall separating us from a plunge off the mountain closer.  We crest the mountain top and pull in to the parking area and cross the road to the overlook at Mt. Brandon. Unbelievable.

A waterfall gushes close by. Spread out in the valley far below are several blue lakes, sparkling streams and ponds, laying in a rolling bed of emerald green grass, and farmland, fringed by mountain ridges, and in the horizon is the bright blue waters of Brandon Bay.

Behind us is Dingle town. It's hard to walk away from this view.  It's also hard to decide who stops and who backs up coming down the twisting turning 1 1/2 car lane width mountain road. There are narrow pull offs around every bend if you encounter an approaching car, but not all are on our side of the road, and the locals that use this route travel at a speed that is past dangerous. Meeting a min-bus coming head on around the curve is a scary adventure to say the least. At the bottom is the small village of Camp and the Tralee Bay, with it's wide sandy beaches.

We continue on the flat land to Killeton, an abandoned famine village
not listed on the map, and like the Dingle cemetery, not well know. So not known that we passed it and had to backtrack from Derrymore (about one mile). Directions from Derrymore are easy. About 8/10ths of a mile on the left are 3 newly built houses, a white then a yellow house on a small hill. A dirt lane leads to the yellow house. On the right side of this lane, just before the house is a sheep gate.

Park your car here. 
 This was to be a quick "take a photo and get moving" stop. I climbed over the sheep gate, quick walk down a beaten path, encountered a stony creek with fast moving water. Gathered enough flat stones to make a dry crossing, then came to another narrower stream, another quick stone placement, and within a minute or two I was in front of the first abandoned stone building. A glance in the interiors shows most of the walls remain but the support beams and tin roofs now lay inside the homes. Vegetation is slowing invading some of the buildings.

Continuing past the village, I reach the Oratory. Similar in size to Gallarus, only partially preserved, but in this setting with the village to the side it is still an impressive site. I wonder if the villagers held their services here. Going back I stop in front of one of the larger homes, then enter thru an unframed doorway.

Turning around, I gaze out the window opening, past the brush at the beautiful turquoise waters of Tralee bay. This view has probably not changed in the last two centuries. I feel as if my heart has stopped.   I've stood on the famine ship, stood near graves at the famine cemetery, but standing in this famine home is almost emotionally overwhelming, knowing the occupants were forced from their homes and community, some to die of starvation, some to die on the passage. Would any of these families survive?  More tears, and an unendeing feeling of deep sadness that I am having a major problem trying to conquer. 

  Driving on toward Tralee we spot the large white Blennerville windmill signaling the end of the Dingle Peninsula.  
The Dingle is a hauntingly magical place that captures your heart.  A Brigadoon.  Already I am planning our return to hike the Dingle Way, picnic at the base of the Minard Castle, sail out to the Blasket Islands, maybe swim with Fungi the dolphin and of course stop at a few of the 52 pubs in downtown Dingle to renew friendships.                                         
 N21 is a four lane divided (in most areas) highway. Nothing overly exciting, and since we are pressed for time, I am not trying to squeeze anything in. We buzz thru Adare, noticing some thatched cottages and deciding this is just a basic tourist town   
County Clare, Limerick Gary's eyes are focused on "The Castle" I guess we are going to squeeze this one in.       
Attraction/rating: King John's Castle/3 ˝*  With only a half hour to view this massive Norman-Anglo walled castle that sits on the River Shannon, we are skip the two story interpretative information center at the entrance, and head out to the courtyard where 16th century medieval tradesmen are to be explaining their crafts. Well, off-season means limited tradesmen, so we run and climb the stairs of the first cylindrical tower which offers the voice of King John. Interesting, if we had the time to hear all of it. We decide to do the scenic walk along the battlements to the corner towers instead of running across the courtyard and up again to the mint.  There is just too much to see and no time to do it.
Rates/Times Jan- April 30 adults €6.15  Ages 6 -18 €3.80  5 and under are free.  Family rate €16.20 
May- Dec 30 adults €7.00 Ages 6 -18 €4.20  5 and under are free. Family rate €17.50. Group rates available year round.    Times: Apr-Oct 9:30am-6:00pm.  Nov - Mar 10:30am - 4;30pm. Closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Good Friday.    Contact: email: reservations@shannondev.ie    
Within fifteen minutes we arrive early for our appointment at Bunratty Castle. At the information desk, I ask for our contact, Aislinn Mullins and am informed that she has family in and wont be meeting us tonight, but we should tour the castle and folk park before the banquet.     
Attraction/rating: Bunratty Castle & Folk Park/5*     The 18th century recreated folk park is worth the visit, and we stop in two of the farmhouses, a church, schoolhouse, and some merchant shops. The distinctive smell of peat fires burn in most buildings.  The roofs are thatched, sheep and chickens wander about and everything seems in place here. We need at least one and a half hours to do justice here. On to the Castle, which requires a walk thru the bird gauntlet. Large trees provide nests for the numerous birds that have taken residence in the trees and the evidence is on the walk and railings, so we quicken our pace. The castle is authentically restored, with a huge vaulted hall (used for the banquets.) The living quarters, bedrooms, kitchen, dungeon, priest's room and chapel are located on the four corners of the castle and are accessed by narrow circular steps to each of the four levels. We rushed thru to see as much as possible since the castle is closing to prepare for the banquet. The castle is also worth the visit.                                                                                                                                                                       Rates/Times Adults: Jan- Apr 30  €7.70, May 1 - Sep 30 €10.00, Oct 1 - Dec 31  €8.40.  Under 18 Jan- Apr 30  €6.60, May 1 - Sep 30 €5.60, Oct 1 - Dec 31  €4.95.   Family rate: May 1 - Sept 30 €26.65  Oct 1 - Dec 31 €23.00 
Times: Jun - Aug 9am - 6:30pm, remainder of year 9:30am - 5:30pm . Closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Good Friday.       Contact: email: reservations@shannondev

County Clare Attraction/rating:  Bunratty Medieval Castle Banquet/4 ˝*    Ok, it's hokey, but when was the last time you were invited to dinner by the Earl at his six hundred year old castle? Since we are the peasants, everyone gathers in the castle's base before climbing the steps and crossing the wooden drawbridge. At the entrance of the Great Hall medieval costumed hostesses great you with cups of mead. Beautiful tapestries hang from the vaulted ceiling.

There are limited seats, so many of the audience is standing. The "butler" of the castle gives a short but humorous talk on the history of the castle and it's current owner. A trio (harpist, flutist, and bodhran player) perform a few songs before an "Earl and his Lady" are picked from the audience. Then up to the next level to the Banquet Hall where rows of long tables are lit with candles, and benches provide the seating for the meal and entertainment.
Through out the meal of soup, chicken, spare ribs, potatoes and veggies a cast of about eighteen vocalists, a harpist and flutist entertain with medieval songs and jokes. The newly crowned Earl is involved in festivities of the evening. Wine and water flow freely, and before long a raspberry mouse pie appears for desert. Everything is eaten with your fingers. Then time to depart before the next group comes in.       
 Rates/Times Adults: €47.50, ages 9-12 €35.60,  ages 6-9  €23.00.  Group rates available.   Times: Year round 5:30pm and 8:45pm.
141 px capacity.  Contact: Aislinn Mullins  email: mullinsa@shannondev

Doesn't look that far away on the map, but at night, with only one head light, and a light mist the drive is taking a lot longer than planned. After Ennis, the roads are all back country lanes.

When we hit Lahinch, there's a glow in the horizon, and the mist has stopped. We finally arrive in Doolin around 9:00pm.  
Accommodations/rating: The Churchfield B&B/4 ˝* The large multi-windowed entrance with hardwood floors, table with fresh cut flowers and a smiling welcome from Maeve confirmed I had picked the perfect B&B in Doolin.  Churchfield has 6 B&B rooms with private baths (supposedly "power showers" but the power is more than just a trickle). All bedrooms are located on the 2nd floor. Our room was large with two double beds, and had a bay window that overlooked the street. Some rooms have water views, or a distant Cliffs of Mohr view.  A very large guest lounge at the top of the stairs has a TV, coffee and tea station, books, tourist information and discount coupons for most areas in Ireland.  The breakfast room is off the entry, also well decorated. Large windows overlook the adjoining farmland. Choice was that full blown Irish breakfast or fruit, cereal and yogurt. We planned to hurry thru the meal, but Maeve is such a sweety that we took longer than expected.

After showing us around and up to our room she reminded us that the entertainment at the two pubs right down the street would be starting soon and if we wanted seats we would need to leave quickly. That said, we were out the door and in less than two minutes walking into the first pub, Mc Dermotts. 

Grabbing the one remaining table we decided the line at the bar would be quicker than waiting for table service. The place is packed and the band is already setting up. Doolin's musical roots are the mirror of Dingle, steeped in traditional music. Life is good. We're joined by another couple from Dublin, a few more drinks some conversation and the pub is closing??  It's a blessing that the B&B is just up the street.  Entertainment: Doolin has three traditional Irish pubs, featuring some of the best traditional Irish musicians. McDermotts and McGanns, within stumbling distance. Gus Oconnor's Pub is in downtown Dingle, about a ˝ mile walk. Irish music is guaranteed on weekends. Good possibility of a seision most evenings in at least one pub.  The Doolin Café next to McDermotts serves lunch and dinner.  Typical Irish food, exceptional seafood.

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