Saturday, July 06, 2013

Ireland Day 9: Sliabh Liag, Glencolmcille, and Donegal

For the first time this week, the clouds broke early and it was a warm, sunny day in Western Ireland. The high temperature here is usually about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, though I've heard it gets up to 80 degrees on occasion. It appears that it will be this way for the rest of the trip, so it should be smooth sailing.

We drove about an hour and a half south to Sliabh Liag, or Slieve League as it's known in English. While driving through Donegal, our driver pointed out the Gaeltacht areas. In the Republic of Ireland, road signs are in Irish and English. In Northern Ireland, they are in English only. In the Gaelteacht areas, the signs are only in Irish--and in some places, in old Irish. John said that the use of the old alphabet was largely discontinued, as Irish was confusing enough to young people without throwing in the difficulty of the old alphabet.

Sliabh Liag means something like "mountain of flat stones", and it is a tall cliff, much taller than the famous Cliffs of Moher in Southern Ireland. Our guide told us that you could walk across the mountain along the top in about 5 1/2 hours. "You can go to the top to take pictures," he said. "But if your photographer tells you to step back, don't listen to them." Indeed, once you get past the area with a fence, there is a steep rise to the top. Most of us who had a fear of heights didn't go very far past the area with the fence. Really, you could just find a rock to sit on, and enjoy the sound of the ocean along the cliffs. And, there's a truck at the car park that sells ice cream, so of course we all had that as well. The views from Sliabh Liag are spectacular, and we spent more time there than we should. We had to take a shuttle up to the walkway, as our bus never would have cleared those roads.

On the road to Glencolmcille, we passed hundreds of sheep. Like other country places, stepping in sheep crap is always a potential hazard. We were amazed that some sheep were standing right at the edge of the cliffs. But then again, sheep are stupid. Our guide said that there were something like 180,000 people in the area, and about a million sheep. (Yes, that was a joke.) But they were definitely ubiquitous.

Glencolmcille is a recreated folk village in Donegal. A 16-year-old young man gave us a tour of the main buildings, which shows Irish homes from the 1650s to about the 1950s. There was no electricity in that part of Ireland until 1956, and that was only a few homes--most people didn't have electricity until the 1970s. We had stopped for lunch, and I chatted with the woman in the gift shop. She asked if I had any Irish ancestry. When I told her that I was from the Burke family, she exclaimed, "Oh, from this area? We have a lot of Burkes in this area." I told her that I was told that my great-grandfather came from Dublin, but that my information is not particularly reliable, so I don't know if that's true. The other woman in the store said, "Oh, well you've got the dark hair and blue eyes, you're one of us anyway." The two women chatted to themselves in Irish, which made this the first time we heard anyone really converse in the language.

The Irish do have a few English expressions that I've noticed. They do say "Tis" out here, as in "Tis a mild day today." When they say "thank you", it's "thanks a million." Instead of "lovely" or "brilliant", they usually say "grand".

We ended our day in Donegal town. There was a tour of Donegal Castle, but I headed for a bookstore to poke around, as if I need to put any more books in my suitcase. The religion section was entirely Catholic, as you might expect, and any materials on other religions were usually some kind of apologetic material warning against them, which is a bit surprising. The Irish myth and folklore section was best, and I ended up with another book of fairy stories from there. I headed over to the pub for a pint, and the locals were anxious to strike up conversation. One red-headed gentleman asked me, "So, are you here with your husband?" I said, "No, I'm here with a tour group. I ditched the husband 10 years ago." He said, "Oh! Then I should go home and put on some cologne." We talked about New Jersey, and the Jersey Shore (he swore it was a TV show and not a place), and mentioned something about Jersey women and big boobs. I said, "Oh, well, you won't find those here." They were betting on horses in the bar, and when he got up to place his bet, the female bartender shook her head. "He's full of some good craic, he is."

I headed back to the bus, as we didn't have a whole lot of time. The place was packed with tourists--the man in the bar told me that there was a festival going on up the street, so apparently everyone was there for that. They don't usually get that many tourists, apparently.

Our night finished up in La Sabbia, where we had another excellent meal, and entertainment was "open mic", where all of us got up and sang or recited something. Kat and I went first, doing our off the cuff rendition of The Philosopher's Drinking Song. Others did more contemporary songs, or ones they wrote themselves. My roommate Deborah came up with another great song about Kathy (who found a used condom in her room, after her experience of being flashed by a leprechaun in a kilt in Dublin), and a group of women having a birthday party in the back, came out and started dancing in a big circle. They sang a few songs themselves, and we sang happy birthday to the two women sharing a birthday, Theresa and Phyllis. (No, we really don't know either of them, they were just really "full of the craic" as they say.) Niamh had her own wonderful song about tequila and late nights in Irish bars, and she ended up finishing with "American Pie", a song I thought was banned by Bill from this event, but maybe it was because Niamh was performing it. Bill himself had to read from the Gettysburg Address, and we sang a few patriotic songs. The Irish ladies sang their own national anthem. It was great fun, and our last night with Niamh, as our last 3 days are on our own. Next up will be County Mayo, and that is for another day...

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