Ireland Revisited, Part 8

On the Famine Trail in Search of Ancestral Roots

June 11 - 26, 1997

 

By Lewis and Betty Nolan

 

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Part 1: Memphis to Dublin

Part 7:  Cork, Kinsale

Part 2: Carlow, Site of Nolan Homelands

Part 8:  Dingle Golf Links

Part 3: Kilkenny, Waterford, Crystal Plant

Part 9:  Dingle's Famine Cemetery

Part 4: Youghal, Dingle Town

Part 10: Ballinasloe, County Galway

Part 5: Dingle Peninsula

Part 11: Strokestown Famine Museum

Part 6: Great Blasket Island

Part 12: Donegal

Photo Album Index

Part 13: Drive in Northern Ireland

 

Thursday, June 19, 1997 - Dingle Peninsula, Lewis -

            Rising to a dreary, misty morning, we dropped our laundry off at a nearby service housed in a squat, concrete block building. I returned to Dingle Golf Club for what turned out to be a delightful round of golf as the morning showers ceased and the sun came out for much of the afternoon. The Irish weather forecasters don't speak in terms of "sunny" and "cloudy," with permutations in between. That's because it's cloudy everyday, or at least every day we've ever been in the country. The best you can hope for is that the forecasters use the word "dry," meaning absence of rain.

            With more cheery weather and the benefit of some hard-won, local course knowledge, I played better than on the previous day, shooting a 44 on the front 9. However, I only managed a 51 on the back 9 as walking up and down the links while pulling a cart through thick turf took its toll. The pace of play slowed considerably due to a ladies' "competition," as they call an interclub match. But the views of the blue Atlantic tossing about the cliffs at Sybil's Point were almost spiritual in beauty.

            Later, I "collected" Betty and we drove to nearby Clogher Beach, a half-moon shaped spread of sand perhaps 150 yards across ringed by steep cliffs. We poked
Betty at Clogher Beach
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around the wave-battered rocks and found the carcass of a long-dead porpoise wedged into some sofa-sized boulders. We then drove up the cliff-side road to Clogher Head, a tremendous promontory that juts a half-mile out into the Atlantic. We parked and walked a good ways toward the edge of the cliffs, where we enjoyed watching the surf hammer the rocks below. The day was bright and the sight of one of the smaller Blasket Islands, "The Corpse," from the stark coastline was memorable. We finally pulled ourselves away about 7 p.m. The light was still full. We had a delicious and amazingly low-cost dinner at Begley's in the fishing hamlet of Ballydavid, followed by a pint of Guinness for me and cup of Irish coffee for Betty at nearby Tigh T.P.'s.

            Since it was so early by Irish standards, the drinking hadn't really started at the pub and we had plenty of time to visit with a chatty, fresh barmaid, who was the daughter of the pub's owner. Her name was Gra'nna (pronounced groan-yah) O'Connor. She told us more about the shooting of "Far and Away," confirming our suspicion that the sloping land-drop to the Clogher Head cliffside we had walked around a few hours earlier had, in fact, been one of the locations. An open area of mostly gravel had been the site of a re-created, 19th Century Irish village set built of fiberglass for the movie.

            Gra'nna told us that a helicopter had crashed into the ocean right at the base of the cliffs while filming. Divers retrieved a very expensive camera, but the helicopter wreckage was not recovered. A few miles away, a pub overlooking the sea has several photos on its walls of local residents who appeared as extras in the movie; oddly, none are of Tom Cruise or other celebrities. The everyday Irish priorities seem to have a different order than do those of star-struck Americans. There were no markers or even notations in the guidebooks about the filming sites, which I'm sure would be of interest to American tourists who had seen the movie.

 

Thursday, June 19, 1997 - Dingle Peninsula, Betty -

            The day started out looking dreary, but as the day went on it started to clear to the point where it didn't look so much like rain. Buzz left for the golf course. I decided to stay around the Wine Rock and catch up on my travel journal and do some reading.

            I went outside and sat in the sunshine on the stone wall around part of the property, enjoying the wide-open spaces, the wonderfully fresh air and the sight of a farmer, his son and their sheepdog across the way. Their tractor was pulling a trailer carrying what looked to be small pieces of pinewood. The dog hopped up on the wood after the lad closed the gate and was quickly joined by the boy, a chainsaw and a jug of petrol. The sheep are grazing in a pasture across the road, Slea Head Drive, and I can see the Wine Strand and cliff from where I sit. The wildflowers on the edge of the road and in the pasture are so beautiful.

            Two Frenchwomen came out of the restaurant, after stopping for lunch with their tour bus, and picked some wild fuchsia growing alongside the road. I thought Noreen would have had our room freshened up by now, so I picked a variety of wildflowers and interesting grasses and took them to our upstairs room, where I put them in a water pitcher. I wish I had all the variety of free flowers at home so I could fill vases. It is truly amazing how many types of wild flowers grow almost everywhere in Ireland. Even the shrubs have flowers. Those who have rose bushes have blooms the size of saucers.

            When Buzz returned from golf, we drove a few miles to a beautiful beach before going to dinner. It was one of the beaches at Clogher Head Point we had seen from the road high above during our drive the day before to the Blasket Island ferry. The waves were rolling in and breaking on the rocks and cliffs. It was quite windy and quite beautiful. We found a large dolphin that had been washed way up into the rocks; it looked as if it had been dead a long time. There were signs posted on the cliffs above the beach saying that no swimming was allowed due to dangerous currents. I know the photos we have taken here will not do any of the views justice. Almost everywhere you look there is a magnificent view of the ocean or countryside on the Dingle Peninsula. I am glad we decided to stay here.

            That night, we ate at Begley's Pub at Ballydavid, for the second time. I had the Smerwick Harbour Crab Claw Salad with pickled red cabbage and a side salad. It was very tasty. The chef made his vinegar/oil and herb salad dressing especially for us again. 

            Photographs taken today included shots of the laundry and Post near Ballydavid and Ceann Sibeal Golf Club near Ballyferriter.

 

Friday, June 20, 1997 - Dingle Peninsula, Lewis -

            Heavy clouds and a brisk wind blowing chilled air off the ocean and an occasional
Betty at Gallarus Oratory
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shower postponed our plans to rent bicycles. So we visited some more spots near Smerwick Harbor that are important to Irish and Gaelic history. Among them was the Gallarus Oratory, built 1,300 years ago as a church. Its construction is of carefully placed, football-sized stones; it has the shape of an inverted boat, with the mortarless stones arching together to form an unsupported roof. The entire structure is about the size of a living room of a large home in the U.S (24 feet long, 15 feet wide and 15 high). Remarkably, it was dry inside the Oratory even though it was raining fairly hard during our visit. Even more remarkable was the fact that it has survived for more than a millennium, undamaged by vandals, souvenir hunters or area residents wanting a place to keep their animals or store their crops.

            Nearby is Gallarus Castle, a 12th Century Norman Tower owned by the Fitzgeralds. They were members of the Irish Catholic nobility, until it was overwhelmed by Oliver Cromwell's Protestant forces about the time the Pilgrims were seeking new homes in America. The tower ruins are being restored and I was astonished to see a work crew using ancient scythes to cut back the overgrowth rather than gasoline motor-powered bush hogs or weed whackers.

            A half mile or more away is the ruins of Kilmalkedar Church, a Romanesque
Betty at Kilmalkedar Church
Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
structure built in the 12th Century on the site of a 5th Century monk's dwelling. The church site marks the beginning of Saint's Road, a pilgrims' trek of several miles up Brandon Mountain to the shrine of St. Brendan, patron saint of Co. Kerry. This is an ancient land indeed. Some very, very old Celtic markings still survive on erect stones, including a few phrases in Ogham writing, a line system of translating Latin, and a centuries-old Irish alphabet. A short distance away, separated by a cemetery that is old beyond reckoning but still in use, is another roofless, stone structure that is called Brendon's House. It was a residence of the Irish Saint and great navigator and was used for centuries by monks through medieval times and later. Many Irish believe St. Brendan's voyages took him to America several hundred years before Christopher Columbus sighted the New World in 1492.

            The markings and signage in what is left of these very important structures is minimal. There is no security, not even fences. A young Irishman, who appeared to be a student working a part-time job during the tourist season, collected one-Pound admission fees at the Oratory, the only example we saw of active government protection of the irreplaceable structures on the Dingle Peninsula. He told us the word "Oratory" was a derivative of the Latin word for "place of worship." He was surprised when I offered my opinion that such a structure would not survive in the U.S. due to the deliberate acts of vandals. He asked in all sincerity,  "why would anybody do that?"  His surprise was genuine. While they seem to blank out the Great Famine, the Irish take extremely long views of history and have a respect for tradition and place that transcends anything I've ever encountered.

            We drove into Dingle Town to change more American Express travelers checks for Punts (the dollar was weakening, down from $1.537 per Pound to $1.552). We were advised by a woman teller at the Bank of Ireland's currency exchange window that it would be to our advantage on future trips to await arrival in Ireland before changing money. The reason is that Ireland wants dollars and will pay more for them than will U.S. banks making available the exchange service. Back home, First Tennessee had given me a rate of $1.59.

            We had a nice lunch at the Chart House and then took in a local history/heritage museum in Ballyferriter that featured many Gaelic objects. Betty learned to write our name in Ogham. We also visited the village church, where all notices, signs and services of the Mass are in Irish. I lighted candles for my Irish forebears and the unnumbered victims of the Great Famine.

            We had a fairly good dinner that evening in what the locals claim is the best restaurant in the area, Gorman's (Tig Ui Ghormain Caife na Mara). While the atmosphere of the place was quite nice, we didn't think the food was any better than that served by the more modest Begley's. We were seated next to an English couple in their 60s who now live in Australia. They were on a walking tour around the Dingle Peninsula that was taking them six days. When the showers come, and they came every day during our stay, the intrepid English put on raingear and keep on trekking.

 

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