Monday, July 08, 2013

Ireland Day 12: Coole and Craggaunowen

Today is the last Ireland day I will report on, as we head to Shannon Airport bright and early tomorrow morning.

Galway is a delightful city--it has the tourism, the diversity, the history, and the amenities of a place like Dublin or London, but on a smaller scale. I walked through many crowds in the Galway streets, but nowhere did I feel the push of crowds like I did in Dublin. Galway is also easier to navigate--I was able to find my way around the space between the 3 bridges across the Corrib with ease, and without really needing to consult a map. On this particular morning, our driver told us that we didn't need to be on the bus until 11:30, so I had time to take a long walk along the river, and to investigate more of the town.

Once we were on the bus, we headed to Coole, which was Lady Gregory's estate. Lady Gregory was a great friend of William Butler Yeats, and it is her book of Celtic Mythology that is the most well known. She apparently had been on the Aran Islands, and while caught there in stormy weather, came to realize that there was an entire Irish culture that was almost unknown. It was through her that Gaelic schools were started in association with the Gaelic league, though she is also very well-known for her role in founding Dublin's Abbey Theatre, and writing many plays that were produced there. One surprising thing I did not know about her was that her husband was William Gregory, who introduced the hated "Gregory Clause", which forced many Irish tenants to give up their land and emigrate to Canada. If they did not give up their land, they would be given no hunger assistance. If it's not obvious, this was during the years of An Gorta Mor.

The grounds of the estate were mostly in ruin, as the house was destroyed foolishly after Lady Gregory's death, because of sentiments against her husband. The great irony is that Lady Gregory was a key player in the revival of Irish history and culture. In the end she had to sign over the estate to the government, and leased it back for £100 a year. Among the tree-lined walkways around the house is the autograph tree, a copper beech onto which many of her illustrious visitors carved their initials. William Butler Yeats was the first.

After lunch at Coole, we headed off to Craggaunowen, which is a re-creation of an Iron Age village, and also contains Craggaunowen Castle, a tower house from the 17th century. After it was built, the house was taken by Oliver Cromwell and his cronies, and later housed a collection of ancient artifacts now held elsewhere. Our guide was a young woman who looked so remarkably like my friend Ann, I had to do a double take. She's also the only person I encountered that said "ye" instead of "you", and she was not being dramatic. We started by visiting a replica of St. Brendan's boat, created and sailed to prove that the myth of St. Brendan crossing the Atlantic and being the first to discover America could be true. There was a replica of an Iron Age ring fort, and we all took turns risking our various phobias by passing through the souterrain. This is an underground passage used for food storage, and for hiding when invaders attacked. It is accessed by a rather dubious looking ladder, and I might have avoided it, except that it didn't go down very far. When I remarked that I was afraid of heights, one of our group, Gabriel, remarked, "That's okay, those are depths."

We also saw a Fullacht Fiadh, which means something like " boiling pit of the deer". Venison was cooked in these pits, by filling them with water and adding sizzling hot rocks. Bill commented that he'd seen a demonstration of this, and it worked incredibly well, even though you would think the hot rocks would be cooled by the water. We also saw a replica of a crannog (which is made up of two Irish words meaning "young willow"). These were artificial islands created about 100 meters offshore, and constructed with wattles. The only entrances were by boat or by a set of stepping stones, whose configuration was only known to the family that lived there. Fencing around the crannog was spiked wood, so that invaders could not easily climb over the fence. And there was a watchtower, so that anyone coming towards the crannog could be seen. These were lived in until the 17th century.

At the end of the tour, we had a snack before getting back on the bus. As I was walking towards the bus, I was behind a family with a boy who could not have been more than two years old. He was banging on a drum that was purchased in the souvenir shop. I think he was good enough to have a future career as a Druid bard. Or would, if such positions still existed.

Craggaunowen was our last stop on the tour. We headed to Ennis, and there is a musical pub night at the Copper Jug, which I've skipped on account of us needing to be up tomorrow at 5:30 to head to Shannon Airport. My flight doesn't leave until 12:30, so I will have some quality time in the airport before leaving.

If I had to give an overall impression of the trip, it would be an emotional one. I don't talk much about feelings stirred here, but I found many places struck an emotional chord with me. Being with a group had its advantages and disadvantages, as I mentioned previously. While there are many beautiful places here, and I will certainly come back, it will be nice to get home to my house and my cat. It will not be nice, however, to get back to New Jersey summer weather. I will miss the cool Irish summer days.

No comments: