Tuesday, July 31, 2007

HI-POD: Part 2 (August 1 - 7, 2006)

Harringtons' Ireland Pictures of the Day, Part 2

[This is part 2 of a one-year-later photo remembrance of our trip to Ireland last summer. The August 8th update will initiate Part 3.]

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:


August 1
Clonmacnoise and Shannon Harbour

The ruin of St. Kieran's chapel (also spelled Ciaran) in the ancient city and monastery of Clonmacnoise. A boat dances along the Shannon in the background, framed by 1500-year-old ruin walls.

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 near Ireland's Grand Canal

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.]

Bridge across the Grand Canal at Shannon Harbour, at the end of a side road from Castle Clonony

Back "home": August 1st's sunset at the lake by the Bothy in the Birr Castle Demesne.


August 2

We set out on the morning of August 2nd for our first lengthy foray: a two-night stay in Clifden beyond Galway. We would spend the day on the 3rd on Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, using a nice little Clifden hotel as our base for that exploration. We arrived in Clifden on a clear, sunny afternoon, just perfect for wandering the town and, later, exploring some of the beautiful boglands to its south.

Tourists enjoy the summer sun in Clifden.

Looking across bogland toward the Twelve Bens (or Twelve Pins) Mountains of Connemara. If you click on this picture for a larger view, you can see a sheep near the right-hand side who appears to be enjoying the sight, too.

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.)


August 3
The Aran Islands

Looking northward from Inishmore toward Connemara and the Twelve Bens mountains.

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.)

Bernard (human) and Jessie (equine), our hosts and transportation on this day on Inishmore.

Click here for a 27-slide show of our day on Inishmore with Bernard and Jessie.


August 4
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.

Connemara detail in the misty rain.

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.

The Glenlo Abbey Hotel on August 4th, 2006.

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.


August 5
Starting the "Red Tree Trail" Photo Project

This day was taken up with housekeeping in the Bothy, some shopping in town, and wandering the Demesne.

Tree #2 on the Birr Castle Demesne's "Red Tree Trail": a Quercus cerris (Turkey oak) against the background of the giant telescope's support structure.

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.

An ancient, magnificent Quercus robur (common oak), more than 400 years old, is called the "Carroll Oak" by Lord Rosse because, as he says dryly, it was certainly growing there when the "prior owners" of the area, the Ely O'Carroll Clan, still held sway in the Midlands.

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.

Right: the characteristic bark of a very different kind of oak: Quercus suber (cork oak).

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!

One of the most-googled trees on the list is this Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca' (blue Atlas cedar), seen here against the background of the Parsons' home, Birr Castle.


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 reconstructed "Leviathan of Parsonstown." The original was the world's largest telescope in the world for three-quarters of a century, and the genius behind it has been a subject of this blog before.

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.

Right: the Fourth Earl's lunar thermometer.

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.

Waterfall in the fernery.


August 7
The Waterford Glass Factory

Monday the seventh was a day splashed with abundant sunlight and bright blue sky. It was also a bank holiday, as is the first Monday of each month in Ireland. We took a day trip down to the southern coast city of Waterford, to visit the famous glassworks there, the home of Waterford Crystal.

An artisan struts his stuff on a bank holiday.

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.

Our Waterford crystal vase, at work back in Fort
Harrington on August 5th, 2007.

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.

Brendan and Alison Parsons' house, August 7, 2006.

Click here to be taken to a 19-slide show of our Waterford excursion day.


Next: The Burren, the Cliffs of Moher, and other County Clare Scenes in HI-POD part 3.
And I really mean it this time.



Mike said...

By total coincidence, I just blundered into an online source for Robert Flaherty's classic 1934 semi-documentary, "Man of Aran," which showed the lifestyle on those islands at the turn of the 20th century.

Dunno if very many people want to spend 1 hr 16 min watching their computer screen, but this is by the same groundbreaking filmmaker who created "Nanook of the North" and is worth it for a number of reasons. Like Nanook, it's largely staged and isn't entirely reflective of true life at the time, but it's still quite a film.
(hope the link works)


Mike said...

... which of course it didn't.

Here's a more manageable version of the address.


Sherwood Harrington said...

Mike -

Man of Aran deserved more comment than just a comment-response, so I've incorporated some of my thoughts about it in the August 3 portion of this HI-POD post.

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Couple days behind here, but i'm enjoying this - and now i know what glacial esker is!

Man of Aran (which i'm watching in increments) is way cool. The soundtrack does seem kind of superimposed, but no way could those early sound cameras do that amazing stuff like the boy climbing down the cliff face. And that roaring sea at the beginning! (shiver). WHAT a place to live. I guess when you have to create the very soil, the love for it grows deep. Whew.