Gireeps, some "Moher" cliffs and Inis Mor
26 Apr 2012
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https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151579999750707.841507.746395706&type=3&l=d383581dc7Wednesday 25th April
Shamrocker Day 3: Ennis - Galway
Poulnabrone Dolmen Portal Tomb – (Poll na mBrón in Irish meaning "hole of sorrows" (bró in Irish)") is a portal tomb in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland, dating back to the Neolithic period, probably between 4200 BC to 2900 BC.
A crack was discovered in the eastern portal stone in 1985. Following the resulting collapse, the dolmen was dismantled, and the cracked stone was replaced. Excavations during this time found that between 16 and 22 adults and 6 children were buried under the monument. Personal items buried with the dead included a polished stone axe, a bone pendant, quartz crystals, weapons and pottery.
The landscape here is unusual to say the least, being part of The Burren national park. It mainly consists of rock, more like a lunar landscape than anything. The limestone is heavily fractured, and some of those splits in the rock run very deep. Tony is not the only one to wonder why people settled here, and how they survived. There is certainly very little in the way of food for livestock, surely any wild animal living here would find it hard to survive, there is not a lot of grass and no trees. It is a bit chilly, there is a lazy wind that cuts through you, and we regret not having our padded jackets, they are in our packs on the bus. Later in the day we will explore The Burren some more. For now it is off to the Cliffs of Moher.
When we arrive at the Cliffs of Moher, Cynthea asks the bus driver to let us get at our jackets, thanks Peter, it was really chilly out. The Cliffs are a tremendous sight, around 200m high, everyone is in awe of them. A wall has been built up around the cliff edge to stop the silly ones getting too close, not that you would want to, it is a long way down.
We head off to a village nearby for lunch at a local bar. Can’t remember the name of the place now, it was probably Doolin, but it has two golf courses opposite each other, and the posh one has built a helipad just for Bill Clinton to use when he comes to town to play around, or did they mean play a round?
After lunch we head to The Burren a further north along the coast. The landscape here could not be any more different to that earlier in the day, or the week for that matter. The lush green grass is replaced a strange barren wilderness and one wonders if Burren is Irish for barren, because it certainly looks it. The limestone rock is even more fractured here than at the dolmen where we stopped this morning. The area is littered with dolmens, forts and towers, and again we wonder whatever people did to survive here, it must have been a very harsh climate, surely not supportive of a great number of people. But a good enough number there must have been to produce these fantastic ancient structures, that still stand thousands of years later. There is quite a variety of plants clinging to life here, with minimal soil to support it. We are told that the icecap that once covered the area brought many kinds of seeds here, and that many plants are not found anywhere else in Ireland. The Burren extends right to the coast, producing a rocky foreshore and some spectacular cliffs.
As we travel along Dave tells us to look out for another unusual animal. Back when there was a foot and mouth outbreak the government experimented to see if they could come up with something immune to foot and mouth. The result was a gireep, a cross between a giraffe and a sheep, yes, he has been at the blarney again. One or two are still looking for them, and Dave points out some animals in a paddock off in the distance, they look a lot like alpacas from here.
We arrive in Galway, where we will stay for two nights at Kinlay House £65 for the two nights. They are renovating, and the lift is out. The hostel reception is up three flights of stairs, there are notices all the way up apologising about all the stairs, and telling us we are nearly there. At reception there is a note saying if you want help bringing you bags up all those stairs then they will gladly help. Nice of them to offer, a fat lot of bloody use it is after you are already there! It is not as though you would have left your bags downstairs unattended, and they didn’t really give an indication that there THAT many bloody stairs before you started. Our room is up yet another flight of stairs, and there are six in the room again tonight. It is a bit smaller than that the last few places, we guess that the rents are dearer. With six in the room one shower/toilet is not enough sometimes, but we have to go down a floor to use the common facilities. There is a TV lounge on our floor, with a dvd player, dvds available from reception at no charge. Behind reception is a large common room, with some computers for people to use. No charge for them either, so that is good, it would nice if a few more places could offer that.
It is a bit of a surprise to look out the dining room window to see a large garden area in front of a number of flats, not unusual you would think, but we are four floors up…
We farewell our driver, Peter, as tomorrow is his day off. We will be using public transport then, and on Friday will have a new bus and driver as our group splits up. Twelve of us will go on to the north, while the rest will return to Dublin.
Dave has arranged for us to go to a local pub for tea as a group, and we head along for 7.30. We thought we would all be at one or two tables, but end up spread around a bit, but still it is a good night. The prices are not too bad, EUR25 for a couple of Irish stews. We have a had a few since being here, and they were all different. Apparently each family had its’ own “secret” recipe, and the competition can be fierce between the cooks.
We leave the pub a couple of hours later, it is pouring with rain, and we are pleased the next stop is not too far off. The next place has Irish music, and dancing ala Riverdance style. They go to great pains to tell us that Riverdance is not true Irish dancing, but so many people want it they go along with it. We stay a good couple of hours enjoying the night, the place is very busy, but there is room enough for everyone. Back at the hostel, some time around midnight, the door we used earlier is locked, no one said anything about that. But we find another entrance, looks like they run a travel agency there when not renovating. We ring the buzzer a few times, expecting someone to question us over the intercom, but there is no response and the door remains closed. It is only when Tony keeps his hand on the buzzer, and asks aloud what the hell you are supposed to do to get in, that the door unlocks. We take our time getting up the stairs, and hostel security is at the top waiting to check our ID, issued by the hostel to prove we are staying there (the key cards are blank). The room is really hot so Cynthea opens the window by Tony’s bunk to cool the room down. The girls sharing our room arrive back before we are in bed, we are surprised they are so early. No sign of the boys get, but back at the pub they had been going well. Tony was woken early in the morning by someone coming home, it was Matt, not being rowdy, but that he had trouble getting into the top bunk, and got the giggles after a few attempts.
At breakfast Tony asked him what time he got back to the hostel, and he said about 3 or 4am. He didn’t say that he couldn’t find the room, and the cleaner found asleep in the hallway at 5am!
Shamrocker Day 4: Inis Mor
Tony has a bit of a sore throat this morning, it got a bit cold in the night with the window open beside his bunk.
Dave had us downstairs by 9am to catch the bus, the bugger had us there half an hour before it left, we could have had a few more zzz’s or another coffee. But he didn’t want us to be late as we are taking public transport to the port at Rossaveal, about 45 minutes bus ride away. We take a fast ferry to Inis Mor, about 25 minutes across Galway Bay. There are quite a few on the ferry, it is nearly full downstairs, so it will have around 250 aboard. The crossing is not bad, we had been told to expect a rough ride.
We spend an afternoon on Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands. As we arrive and see signs advertising knitwear, Cynthea realises that this is where Aran patterned jerseys come from, we are told each family has its’ own pattern.
For an island that is roughly 14km by 4km, this place has a hell of a lot of stone walls, Inis Mór has around 5,000 km of them!
The locals here are fluent Irish (Gaelic) speakers and we hear it often. The hardly, or foolish, have the option of hiring a bike to race around the island. We decide it is too cold and windy, and take the soft option, a EUR10 bus ride. We could also have hired an open horse and buggy, but the weather was a bit on the cool side for that!
We are given a commentary on the way around, the combination of his accent and fast pace makes it sound a lot like he was commentating a horse race. We are dropped off at a village near the Dun Aonghasa fort, and will be collected again at 2 o’clock. Tony comments that the driver has not asked for the fares yet, but we figure he will be waiting at the ferry if we go a runner. Our only dilemma is food or fort, we are told the walk up there is a good kilometre, and will take about an hour by the time we have a good look around. Food wins out, we figure we need to get something warm inside before tackling the hike. A few of us go to the wee café recommended by the bus driver, Cynthea and Tony have the vegetable soup and a scone.
We had never heard of Dun Aonghasa before (we also see it signposted as Dun Aengus, although the anglicised name made no difference!), so we were not even sure what we were going to see. Dun Aonghasa is a 3,000 year old Iron Age ring fort perched on the edge of a 100m high cliff. We each paid a EUR3 entry fee and started the walk up the hill. We had seen a few drawings and photos at the visitor centre, but nothing prepared us for the sight we were to see at the top. Perched at the edge of the cliff is right, and not a fence or a wall to be seen to stop the foolish getting too close. A few of our group are lying on their stomachs looking over the edge, it gives us the willies just watching them. Tony starts to do the same, but chickens out. There is quite a breeze blowing, and we are wary of getting too close in case there is a strong gust. We spend some time around the fort, and Tony gets up the nerve to swing his feet over the edge at a place where there is a wall at his back. Cynthea was nervous, and she was just taking the photo! We wonder what this might have looked like when built, and how much has fallen to the depths below. What remains of the four-ringed fort and defensive upright slabs is certainly impressive.
We spend a bit of time in the shops back at the visitor centre, and Cynthea is talking to a woman who wants her Tshirt – the one that Hayden gave her that says at her age she has seen everything and one everything, but can’t remember any of it. Sorry, but it is not for sale.
We are back at the village by 2pm, the bus driver is not about, as far as we can tell. There are several buses about, but we cannot remember what ours looked like, they all look the same, except for the wee red one the others are white with similar markings on the doors. The bus arrives a few minutes late (island time?) and our race commentary tour continues, albeit at a slow pace as there are few passing places along this narrow road, and there are several horses and carts in front of us. The biggest industry for this island of around 700 people is tourism. A few are farmers, but there is not a lot to raise animals on. Any soil on the island is man made from a mix of sand and seaweed. They even have to buy in wool for their Aran jerseys. We stop by church ruins, and are amazed by the modern architecture of the round stone house on the hill. We stop at a seal colony, and meet a few of our group that took the bike option. We are back at the port in plenty of time to have a coffee before meeting the ferry back to the mainland.
There is some excitement on the crossing back to the mainland, and we don’t mean the very choppy ride. A rescue chopper comes up behind the ferry and hovers over as a stretcher is lowered in what turns out to be a training exercise.
We are soon back on the bus to Galway, and around 6.30 are back at the hostel. When we go to the supermarket for food and a few beers, we find out why the hostel has so many stairs, there is a bloody great mall underneath, taking up most of the block. We know we shouldn’t shop when hungry, and buy too much food when we can’t make our mind up what to have. We can’t take it with us in the morning as there is nowhere to keep it cool during the day.
It is our last night as a big group, and most intend staying around the hostel for a few drinks and after tea the younger ones start up a drinking game. It is funnier to watch but most join in the fun. You have to drink if you refer to someone by their real name, or if you point at anyone (or anything) with anything other than your right elbow. You have to hold your drink the correct way, in the left hand, pinky extended, or with fingers under the can. If you put your drink on the table it must be more than a finger length from the edge, it someone else can touch it, you drink. There were probably other rules, but it was all a lot of fun watching people try not to get caught out, and at times not a lot of drinking going on. At five minutes before ten someone told us that beer sales stop in five minutes, so there was a mad rush to get a few more cans in. Lauren and Josh came back with parcels of hot chips for everyone.
We expected it to be a very late night, but it wasn’t too bad. The boys were back in our room by 1am, we had hardly crawled into our beds by then. We left a small light on for the girls, thinking they would make a hell of a racket when they got back with all their gear spread over their bunks. Never heard a peep out of them.