Friday, July 05, 2013

Ireland Day 8: An Irish 4th of July

Day 8 of my Ireland trip was July 4, which is Independence Day back home. I had asked Bill what the day's itinerary would be the day before at Brennan's, but he would only say it was a surprise.

I woke up fairly early in the morning after another late night, but it was raining and cold outside. I went back to bed for a couple of hours, and when I awoke again, the sun was out. I put on my sweater and took a walk along the cliffs of Bundoran's beaches. I found a place to mail my last postcard, and picked up the cliff walk near the tourist information center. It was very windy, but the scenery was breathtaking; rock formations, cliffs, and small tidal pools of green and gray water dotted the coastline. There were tall grasses along the edges of the cliffs, and everything bounced and swayed in the breezes. I walked past a small amusement park, and a mini-golf course. On the hill a ways down was a convention center. I was looking for a formation called the Fairy Bridges, and I found it around the corner. As I was approaching the area, the wind howled in such a way that I was reminded of M.R. James' story, "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad." After hearing the wind, all I could think was, "Quis est iste qui venit? (Who is this who is coming?)" The howling wind was followed by a sudden wave of rain, and the wind picked up to what seemed like hurricane force for a few minutes. I made my way to the Fairy Bridges, but had to turn back shortly after. Once I reached the amusement park again, everything had calmed down and the sun was out. Such is the nature of Irish weather, at least on the coast.

We got onto the tour bus at 11:00, and we ended up at a place called Ulster American Folk Park. Many American presidents' families came from the Ulster area, and the museum itself is basically a museum of Irish emigration. Much of it happens to be to the United States. The setup is like a Colonial Williamsburg, with replica houses from the period, as well as replica storefronts with antique bottles and boxes of the period. There is also a replica of a ship that took Irish emigrants to Canada and the United States in 1816. The guide stood in front of rather small bunk beds, and said that there were 4 or 5 people to a bed. The food consisted of a dry granola-like porridge, and possibly salted fish if the person was lucky. The average voyage was 3 months. If someone died, they were thrown overboard, as they would not be allowed to dock with dead bodies on board. The guide asked about our Irish background, and when I told him I was a Burke, he mentioned the famous philosopher Edmund Burke. "Edmund was my great-grandfather's name," I told him. "But he definitely wasn't that guy."

We saw a re-enactment of a skirmish from 1776 in Upstate New York, with the Iroquois supporting the British troops. They fought against the colonists because they were concerned about their own freedom. As one of our group said later, "Their concerns were obviously well-founded." A few of us stuck around for a re-enactment of the 1776 reading of the Declaration of Independence, which was dramatized complete with Loyalist opponents. This was supposed to be the re-enactment of a reading in Easton, Pennsylvania (which they incorrectly indicated as being close to Philadelphia, when it's at least an hour away from there, but let's not split hairs.) It's always interesting to see American history from the point of view of other countries, and certainly they pick up on details that you would not see in American re-enactments. Certainly, in the re-enacted skirmish, the British drove the Patriots to a retreat, which you would not be likely to see in an American re-enactment. It was funny to see re-enactors with their cell phones or digital cameras. It created something of a kitsch factor, but there always is anyway, regardless of where or how it's performed. On the whole, one of our group dubbed it "surreal" to see the Irish re-enacting American history. That was probably a good summary. Easton, PA never looked so good, at least not since I've been there.

I learned that the bus driver was a Morrissey fan, and saw him with the Smiths. Funny, I wouldn't have pegged him as a Morrissey fan. But there it is.

After leaving the park, we went to see St. Patrick's Well, and a cave where Catholics said Mass when their religion was outlawed by the English. The area is very green, and near a rushing river. The place was very beautiful, and had a tremendous feel to it. It was difficult to see the well head, but Niamh showed us where it was, at the edge of a lough. After leaving the well area, we headed into Ballyshannon to check out a store selling locally made crafts, and we stopped for a pint of Donegal Blonde, a new blonde beer brewed locally. The owner told us that they've only been brewing Donegal Blonde for about 5 months. It's very good, especially for those who like lagers. I'm more of a stout/porter type of chick, so the bus driver mentioned the off-licence next door, which had a huge variety of brews from all over. It turns out that the owner of Dicey's Bar (where the Donegal Blonde is brewed) also runs the Off-Licence, so he recommended a new O'Hara special edition stout. I bought a bottle of that, as well as a Belfast Black, which I wanted to try. Both are sitting in my hotel refrigerator as of this writing. I'm sure one will be gone by the time I go to bed.

We returned to Bundoran, where Niamh's husband Paddy had prepared some American barbecue to celebrate the 4th, including burgers, chicken, ribs, and corn on the cob. It was all very good, and I returned to my room feeling stuffed to the gills. I could not help but reflect on the fact that I did more to celebrate Independence Day in Ireland than I do at home. While I might not have chosen to go someplace like the Ulster American park on my own, it proved to be an interesting experience in viewing one's own culture through another lens.


folkgal said...

From Easton, PA: I will be thinking of your re-enactment tomorrow when I attend our annual reading of the Declaration of Independence in Easton's Center Square.


folkgal said...

I will be thinking of your re-enactment when I sit in Easton's Center Square on Sunday and listen to ours.