How can one ever become accustomed to the gift of travel; of seeing wild places unfamiliar? Perhaps one day I may, but I hope not. I hope to always approach new places with wonder-filled awe, humility, and a grateful heart that I am allowed such an opportunity.
This past summer I was able to experience with my darling Kirsten and mother-in-law Diann the beautiful island of Ireland. We flew into Shannon on the west coast after spending a few days in Oxford Oxford, England: Re-Visiting the City That Shaped Me, 10 Years Later and then bussed to the city of Ennis seated in County Clare where we were to stay for the first night and meet our tour group.
I had never vacationed with a tour group, but Kirsten was certain I would enjoy the Rick Steves experience, and so I was off to an eight-day adventure with our marvelous tour guide Stephen McPhilemy!
Staying in the town center, we met our fellow tour companions and then off for a quick walk to the Ennis Friary, a Franciscan Friary built in the 13th century. It was destroyed by the English king Henry VIII by his 1537 dictate of the Suppression of the Monasteries, then rebuilt under the English king Charles I in 1628 only to be suppressed again in 1651 under the English dictator Oliver Cromwell, where it began it’s very slow decline into ruin.
The ruin was fascinating. I enjoyed hearing the history and being present in such a place, but as it is with me sometimes, it is the local culture, especially of small towns, that I enjoy. So it was the walk to and from the monastery I enjoyed the most – the small, colorful shops, the hanging baskets of flowers.
I particularly enjoyed the town’s enthusiasm for the County Clare hurling team who was to play in the championship the next day. Blue and yellow colors were proudly displayed all throughout the town’s charming streets. I had lost my hat in England and so we found a sporting store on the way back to the hotel where I bought a hat sporting the emblem and colors of County Clare!
It was then a very fine dinner and a warm night back at the hotel. While we were there, Ireland was experiencing one of it’s longest droughts and hottest heatwaves. It was in the upper 80s for the most part and one day we eclipsed 90. Normally air conditioning is not a necessity in Ireland since temperatures are typically cooler, and so, with the exception of the Dublin hotel, our hotels did not have air conditioning in the rooms, which made for very warm sleeping conditions. We generally made due by sleeping on top of the sheets with a floor fan blowing on us.
The next day we boarded our bus and headed off to the beautiful Cliffs of Moher, a group of 750-foot tall cliffs against which the Atlantic Ocean crashes. We had a marvelously sunny day, which we were told is rare. Stephen said many time tourists come here and the place is shrouded in fog and you can’t see a thing, so if the heat wave had an advantage, this was it.
This was one of the two locations we visited that I could have used a little more time, though I realize others were plenty done after our hour allotment. I started out by walking along the southern side of the cliffs and, once off park property, I hopped the barrier and walked along the edge (Don’t worry, there were plenty of warning signs and a footpath worn into the grass, so I clearly wasn’t the first.)
I eventually took a seat on the ground and listened to the earth, at some points closing my eyes to really hear. Behind me was ranch land with long grasses and cattle watching from beyond the fence. Below me was the blue water of the Atlantic and her massive waves crashing against the cliff walls. A great number of gulls were also far below, flying around and conversing among each other near the nests they created for themselves in the craggy walls. The sound was powerful but distant. Add to this a light breeze and the warmth of the morning sun, and all was good and right.
I walked the northern side of the cliffs with Kirsten, but just about the time we got a ways up, it was time to get back to the bus and head on. Our ultimate destination was to be the lovely harbor town of Dingle, some ways away (might have been a 2.5 or 3 hour drive.) Dingle demands its own blog entry (or two) and so I’ll end here with the quaint town of Adare where we stopped for lunch.