By the time the calendar flipped from July to August, we were pretty well recovered from the stresses of traveling across many time zones and the other typical discomforts of long-distance travel. We were fit and ready to explore the island.
Here begins the really hard part of my self-imposed soft limit of two photos per day in this blog -- and I'm going to violate it by a factor of two in the very first day's part:
Clonmacnoise and Shannon Harbour
Our first significant outing was on Monday, August 1st. We traveled north from Birr, intending to visit the ancient site of the city and monastery of Clonmacnoise on the south bank of the Shannon just a few miles from our Bothy cottage. Along the way, both to and back, we pulled the car off main roads to less-main ones and happened on Castle Clonony and Shannon Harbour.
Castle Clonony is a typical tower house. It is currently owned by a naturalized Irish citizen, originally from Phoenix, who is in the process of restoring it with the intent of making it an elegant B&B or, perhaps, an attraction akin to the Dungaire Castle farther north. However, she has also described Ireland itself as a "giant, floating valium," in part because of the occasionally slow nature of Ireland's bureaucracy, so rapid action is probably not to be expected.
[UPDATE, June 8, 2008: Clonony Castle is now open to the public. For more information (and pictures of some of the interior renovation), please visit the official Clonony Castle website.]
While wandering the bog in the evening, we saw a few folks cutting turf to stack and dry until needed later in the year. We also met this fellow...
... who you can read more about in this little 12-slide show. (I'm the one not carrying the sign.)
The Aran Islands
We drove back toward Galway from Clifden in the morning, scooting southward about halfway there to the town of Rossaveel on Galway Bay. From there, we rode a tourist-laden ferry to Kilronan, the largest village on Inishmore, in turn the largest of the three Aran Islands.
In a comment on this installment of the HI-POD series, Mike Peterson rightly touts the 1932 film Man of Aran for anyone interested in these three godforsaken rocks and the people who inhabit them. One of the first things Diane did on our return to the U.S. was to order the movie on DVD from Amazon. While watching it, I was struck by three things:
1) How hard it seems to have been for people to integrate a new technology -- sound accompanying pictures, in this case -- with pre-existing ones. Smarter people than I have made fortunes keeping ahead of that ever-present curve, but not necessarily the same people who solved the puzzle. Man's soundtrack was added after the film was essentially done, pretty much as an afterthought, and it shows.
2) The Aran Islands are within sight of far more clement and abundant ground: Connemara to the north, the Burren to the south, and Galway City itself to the east. Fishing, from any of those three places, in the same locales as the Aran Islands fishermen prowled, would have been just as easy as from the desolate Aran Islands themselves. Moreover, the "mainland" areas were severely underpopulated due to the 1840's English Neglect Famine, so there was plenty of room for anyone who wanted to live there. So my astonishment while viewing Man of Aran was simply this: why not just leave? Home is home, I suppose, but, man -- what a place to hang on to, one where soil itself has to be manufactured from rocks, lime, and seaweed.
3) The early 1900's was a time of epochal upheaval throughout all of Ireland... but none of it is evident or illuminated by Man of Aran. And that's a shame.
(Man of Aran can be ordered from Amazon on DVD.)
Click here for a 27-slide show of our day on Inishmore with Bernard and Jessie.
Back to Birr
Exhausted and happy and slightly sunburned after our outing on Inishmore, we slept well on the night of Thursday the 3rd. The following day brought low clouds, fog, and fairly persistent rain, which accompanied us most of the way on our three-hour leisurely drive back to Birr. We would return to Clifden in a fortnight for the Connemara Pony Show.
On this trip, both up to Clifden and back to Birr, we drove right past the Galway Races at the time of their big summer weeklong meet, the Summer Festival Meeting. Horseracing is huge in Ireland (and, possible apocrypha has it, has been since the Spanish Armada had its unfortunate circumnavigation of the island in 1588), so this is no small deal. As far as crowds and traffic is concerned, it's probably a little like having a Super Bowl at the same site for seven consecutive days. We weren't prepared for the delay on our way to Clifden two days before, but we certainly were on this day.
We stopped by the very posh Glenlo Abbey Hotel just north of Galway city for a nosh and short rest, charging our geist-batteries for the crawl past the racetrack. While there, we saw very clear evidence of the clientele that the Glenlo attracts. The taxis these folks take to the races operate in three dimensions. Yes, that's a 350-euro round-trip fare between the hotel and the racetrack -- which was about $440 at the exchange rate of the time.
We decided against taking a ride (which we hadn't seriously considered, anyway -- we had a cat waiting for us back home at the Bothy.)
Miss Kitty on our return from our first trip to Clifden.
Starting the "Red Tree Trail" Photo Project
The last three Earls of Rosse have been botanists, and the Demesne is a big plant zoo. The current Lord Rosse, Brendan Parsons, is a dendrologist as was his father, and the breadth of varieties of trees that populate the Demesne's grounds and forests is remarkable. Fifty of the trees are marked with red badges denoting them as being part of the Demesne's "Red Tree Trail": 50 of the most noteworthy trees among the more than 4,000 named ones on the estate.
While the Demesne's science museum shop sells a very nice narrative booklet to accompany one on the trip around the trail, it doesn't have any pictures. I thought that a good thing for me to do would be to take photos of the 50 trees and set up a website for them once I returned home, and I started that project on this day.
I finished the picture-taking for the Red Tree Trail near the end of our stay in the Bothy, and it was a delightful way to make sure that there wasn't a corner of the Demesne that we missed. We wound up taking at least four pictures of each tree: one showing the whole tree, a closer one showing the branching structures, and closeups of bark (including the red name tag) and leaves.
The finished product can be seen by clicking here. It contains an "easter egg" -- click on tree number 27 (sequoia sempervirens) and scroll all the way down to the redwood's last picture.
Lady Rosse characterized the website as "lovely and useful" in a recent e-mail. What tickles me is the "useful" part -- and, since the site has been indexed by Google and other search engines, it has been demonstrably useful to people around the world looking for pictures of the kinds of trees it contains. During June and July, if Google Analytics is to be believed, the site was visited from 414 different ip addresses ("visitors") from 38 different countries (the top ten being the US, the UK, Canada, Hungary, Germany, Australia, France, Ireland, Poland, and New Zealand.) I just think that's really cool!
Perusing Ireland's Historic Science Centre
We spent Sunday, August 6th, mostly relaxing and preparing for our upcoming three-day sortie to the Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, and rural County Clare. I managed to slice away several hours, though, for my first trip through what initially drew me to the Birr Castle Demesne years ago when planning this trip: its displays of the remarkable contributions of the Parsons family to science and technology over the centuries.
The second of the Astronomer Earls of Rosse was the Fourth Earl. The Science Centre museum preserves his remarkable little infrared telescope which was used for the first IR measurement
of the Moon's temperature in the late 1800's.
Our usual evening stroll around the Demesne included a peaceful interlude in the fernery, and by the time dark arrived 'round ten (Ireland is very far north by American standards, and so evening twilight in summer lasts a long, long time), we were ready for sleep but eager for our next expedition.
The Waterford Glass Factory
While it was a day off for most of the Irish workforce, there was a skeleton crew of artisans on hand for the popular factory tours. We had a delightful time, and the good folks in the showroom at the end of the tour where happy to help lighten our wallets of those burdensome euros (which are about 25% heftier than US dollars, at least as far as purchasing power is concerned.) We bought several gifts to send back to America -- and to ourselves.
On the tour.
One of the truly great things about living in the middle of Ireland is that just about everything is an easy day-trip away. We returned to Birr and the castle grounds in mid-afternoon, the day still bright, and had hours to wander the grounds and gardens and forests.
Click here to be taken to a 19-slide show of our Waterford excursion day.
And I really mean it this time.