Sunday, July 07, 2013

Ireland Day 11: Ceide Fields and Galway

We left the hotel in Ballina around 10:00 in the morning, and headed first for the Ceide Fields. This is a mesolithic and neolithic site, showing old walls that surrounded pre-historic communities. These were found underneath layers of peat in the bog, and explains why some stones look so white in the walls. The rocks are largely sandstone, and were used to keep in cattle and to keep them out of the house areas. The Mesolithic people were hunter gatherers, while the Neolithic people were farmers. It was from this period onward that the land was impacted. The earliest people came about 9,000 years ago.

The tour was longer than expected, and we needed to get moving to get to Galway. There was some grumbling about the tour guide--she was incredibly repetitive, giving us the same information over and over unnecessarily. I think Bill was ready to throw himself off the cliff. While on the pathway, we did see a lot of interesting flora--spotted orchids, bog cotton, flax, and two different carnivorous flowers called sundew and I think butterwort. These latter flowers capture and eat flies, even though they don't look so ferocious.

On a side note, I find that going through Ireland gives me quite a refresher in the Irish language. I took about a year and a half of Irish lessons with a local woman from Flemington, who was from Ireland, though I don't remember what part. I remember very little of what she taught me, though many phrases look familiar. For instance, "Slí Amach" means "Way Out", while "Fáilte Isteach" means "Welcome, come in". "Slán Abhaile" means "Safe home", which is surprisingly written on motorway signs.

On the road to Galway, our bus driver played a narration of a story by Edward Kelley, a shanachie who died a few years ago. The shanachie is a storyteller, or "teller of old stories". The story he played for us was one about a priest coming for a "station" to the house of mourners at a wake. This was before Mass was regularly celebrated at a church. It was raining, and the priest came with an umbrella, which they had never seen before. He had put the opened umbrella on the floor while all duties were done, and when he finally had to leave, the people were secretly relieved, because "they wouldn't get out the bottle until he had left." After being walked to the road, he asked for his umbrella. Larry, the one attending to the priest in the story, went back to retrieve it, but he didn't know how to close it. So, he removed the door hinges, the door frame, and was about to take the cornerstone from the house, when the priest came to see what was the matter, closed it with ease, and left. Larry turned to the group and said, "Say what you like, he has special powers".

The road to Galway was long, and we ended up stopping in a town called Ballinrobe to use toilets and grab a quick bite or a cup of coffee. I stopped in O'Connell's for a pint, and looked in vain for an open chemist shop. Most things in small towns are closed on Sundays.

We finally arrived in Galway around 4:00, and about half our group went on a boat tour of the River Corrib. This took about an hour and a half, and included a free Irish coffee for our group. What I didn't realize was that the Irish coffee was made by Róisín Sweeney, who had the title of Powers Irish Coffee Making Champion for 2011. (Whether she still holds the title, I don't know).

Along the way, we saw many ruined castles and Iron Age sites, as we headed towards Loch Corrib. The very first ruin was of a stronghold belonging to the DeBurgos, which was later known as the Burke family. Apparently there was a scene between the DeBurgos and the O'Flaherties. The O'Flaherties were tenants of the DeBurgos, but when the landlords demanded rent, they invited one of them down to a feast, and then beheaded him. They sent the head back to the landlord house with a note, "Here is your year's rent". I have to say that I only know 2 Flahertys, and I like both of them very much. So, no hard feelings.

Róisín not only showed us how to make perfect Irish coffee, but showed us how to do an Irish dance that I think is called the Siege of Ennis. She needed 4 male volunteers and 3 female--from our group, I volunteered, and so did Gabriel, one of the few men on our tour. I ended up dancing with a total stranger, but it was a lot of fun, and I was told that both photo and video exist, so perhaps these will go up at some point. The day has been the warmest so far, about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

After the boat tour we checked into our hotel, and went our separate ways for dinner and exploration. I found a great little place called the High Street Cafe--it was in an upstairs, fairly busy, but not too busy compared to the rest of the shopping and pedestrian district near Eyre Square. There were comfortable chairs, Moroccan tea, candles, and the most delicious Italian food I've had in a long time, and it was very inexpensive. It was a good opportunity to relax and finish a book that I was reading. After dinner I visited a couple of other pubs in the area, with my favorite being a very quiet pub across the street from our hotel. I realize that weekend nights are noisy, but I prefer a place that is more laid back.

In the last pub, I enjoyed a glass of Hennessy's rather than Guinness. The gent next to me was watching a farming show on the TV. He laughed and said "I really hate the English accent. It sounds so...public school." Further conversation revealed that his grandfather had come for a long weekend to Galway in 1950, and he never bothered going home. I asked him more about that, but he said the history was hazy to him. After a short chat, some friends of his arrived, so I headed back to my hotel, where the temperature control on the shower was broken and I had to call service. That, and the Internet connection, which shows full signal, is not working. But, I eventually got the shower working, and if you get to read this by 5PM U.S. East Coast time, then I will have gotten the Internet working.

Tomorrow is our last day, and we are heading to Ennis. Til then...

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