Kilkee to Dingle

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…via Conor Pass and Annascaul…

Unfortunately, Conor Pass is now closed to buses. Some say it’s concern over erosion to the shoulder of the road; some say it’s concern that the buses keep whacking the overhang on the way down. Either way, all we were able to do was go up the wider side to the top, look around, then drive back down. The day was very overcast and we weren’t able to see the full panorama that sunshine would have allowed.

Conor Pass

In Annascaul we found Hanrahan’s pub again. The old owner has retired (we could see him watching television in the back room) and the bar is now run by his son. However, he had gone off to Dublin to see Bruce Springsteen. His sister, Moira, was tending the counter. The place is slightly fixed up from our last visit but still largely the same. We had a Guinness or two and then headed onward.

Dingle turned out to be somewhat of a non-event…or perhaps I should say a major event…for me. We had a quick bite in The Marina Bar (Gavin no longer works there). I started feeling slightly odd but put it down to heat and tired. Later that evening I totally lost my sh** with Laurie over something trivial and, shortly after that, found myself standing on the street by myself totally disoriented, sweating, feeling tight in the chest, and unsure of how to get to our hotel (which was literally 100 yards away). A few hours later I was in the back of an ambulance headed for Tralee. I spent the next 14 hours there having four ECGs, three blood tests, two X-rays and one CT, talking to a half dozen doctors and eating really bad food. They ended up ruling out a heart attack, decided severe dehydration wasn’t the cause (duh, I could have told them that), and no sign of diabetes. However, there was evidence of an ischemic event and they wanted me to stay several days for more accurate testing. I checked myself out of the hospital at that point since they said they weren’t actually going to DO anything for me until those tests (I had them run when I got back to the States and the diagnosis appears to have been correct) and Killarney was only 15 minutes from the hospital if I had to come back.

So, no Dingle for me. I got a cab from the hospital to Killarney in the afternoon and spent a relatively quiet and early evening.

Sligo to Galway to Kilkee

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Somehow I didn’t feel like taking my camera out down through Connemara to Galway. Galway was fun; we spent most of our time hopping between pubs and listening to music. Julie and Becca took a day trip up to the Aran Islands. I had intended to go to the fleadh at Ennis but it turned out that the transportation complications were a little more than I expected. I’m sorry I missed it.

The journey to Kilkee a couple days later included the Cliffs of Moher and Poulnabrone.

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There were some funny moments at the latter due to a group of modern day druids or animists or something who were there partaking of the aura of a tree, the spirituality of a hole, and the essential nature of several stones. Pat tested it for himself but reported no chi.

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Ballymoney to Sligo

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…via Carrick-a-Rede and Giant’s Causeway…

I’m a bit acrophobic, so the rope bridge across the chasm at Carrick-a-Rede had me a little nervous. I was really impressed by those who suffer from it a lot more than I do. There were white knuckles and a couple tears but they all made it.

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The basalt formations at Giant’s Causeway were interesting but, unfortunately, shared with a hundred or so fellow tourists.

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We went out to Shoot the Crows in Sligo that night. There was a session and I got to sit and listen to Rick Epping and (I think) Máirtín O’Connor play. What a night!

Dublin to Ballymoney

…via Newgrange and Dark Hedges…

Dublin was, well, a city. While it’s a nice one, it’s still my least favorite part of the trip. Even as cities go, I prefer Galway. We did the Hop On-Hop Off thing, saw the sights, hit the obligatory pubs, etc. for two days.

Then we headed for Northern Ireland. Our first stop was the passage grave at Newgrange. The outside was as I remembered: a bit too prettified for the tourist trade. The interior, however, is still quite moving and one of my favorite experiences in Ireland. I would love to be able to see it at the winter solstice when the light reaches up the long entrance corridor and illuminates the burial chamber. However, the odds of me winning the lottery for the few slots available are virtually non-existent.

In some ways, the view away from Newgrange to the surrounding countryside is more impressive, if only because of how storybook Ireland it appears.

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We then continued on up to Ballymoney, stopping at Dark Hedges. For all that there is a paved road running down the middle, it still has a Tolkien-esque aura. I can see why it became a set for Game of Thrones.

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Aillwee Cave and Poulnabrone Dolmen

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Today was a drive up to The Burren, a magnificent karst landscape stretching almost as far as you can see, crisscrossed with un-mortared stone walls that have stood for 1000 years.

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In the center is Poulnabrone, a dolmen built in the Neolithic Era.

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During a restorative excavation in 1985, the grave was found to contain 22 adults and 6 children.

I think this was the most memorable man-made thing I saw on the trip, with Loop Head being the best natural feature.

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We also stopped at Ailwee Cave to see the underground waterfall.

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Dún Aonghasa

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We spent the day on a trip out to Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands, to see Dún Aonghasa.

This is a fort from about 200 B.C. that was built on the edge of a cliff.  Parts of the cliff have collapsed into the ocean so the seaward side is now just a drop.

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Julie and Laurie take a peek…

There obviously little in the way of safety precautions.   There were a bunch of young boys playing soccer inside the fort and their ball sailed off the cliff.

...what they were peaking at

…what they were peeking at

Loop Head

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They may not be as high as the Cliffs of Moher, but the fact that we were the only four people anywhere in sight and they hadn’t been turned into a theme park attraction made the cliffs at Loop Head winners in my book.

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We hadn’t even heard of Loop Head but, hearing we were headed up for the Cliffs of Moher, the locals told us this would be better.

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They also gave us quite a spiel on the Church of the Little Ark…touching which would “change our lives.”  You can Google the story about this portable church used to skirt rules about Roman Catholic services held in Kilbaha.  Again, we were struck by the fact that we could just walk in and touch this artifact with no one around.

Frank's life is clearly about to change...

Frank’s life is clearly about to change…

The Cliffs of Moher were higher.

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However, they also had the feel of a Disney theme park.  There were hundreds of tourists.  There were sound systems broadcasting information.  There were vendors all over the place.  There was a wall keeping you from the cliffs!

Of course, quite few folks just ignored the “do not go here” signs and went out to the cliffs anyway.

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I preferred Loop Head.

We stayed in Galway, sampling Galway Hookers — not what you think…a truly wretched beer — at The Quay and The Spanish Arch, two great places to listen to Irish music.

Beehive huts

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The day was overcast and misty.  Nonetheless, we had a beautiful drive up the coast.

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We stopped at some of the prehistoric beehive huts along the way.  Many of these are now sitting atop tall spires out in the ocean, the joining land having been washed away through the centuries.

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We spent the night in Kilkee in a B&B located above a pub. There seemed to be very few tourists in town; perhaps they all head on to Galway immediately.

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Sheep herding and Tad bought a whistle

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Not really much in the way of pictures from this day.  We headed out on a Ring of Kerry tour.  There was no point in using The Beast since the roads in Kerry are bordered by high hedges.  You need to be up high in a bus to see out.

Except that it was pouring and we couldn’t see out.

Lunch was part of the tour and was godforsaken.

The only thing interesting was that the tour stopped at a farm and watched a man herd sheep using two border collies.  When the dogs were close, he used verbal commands.  As they got too far away to hear his normal speaking voice, he used a whistle.  He had a different set of tone combinations for each dog.  From the distance of about a football field, he had the pair round up the sheep and then cut out a single one and bring it down the hill to him.  It was amazing to watch!

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O’Connors Pub in the evening for some good Guinness and good music.  We met Paddy the Groper, an ancient fellow with a bloody nose from face planting on the bar.  As his name suggests, he was a…ummm…friendly fellow.  One of the highlights of the evening was watching a German woman brandish a stool above her head threatening to brain him.