At the Hill of Tara. Rath of the Synods and St. Patrick’s church. The Mound of Hostages in the Royal Enclosure. Cormacs House south of Royal Seat.
I’ve been with my parents for less than twelve hours, and I’ve already got a headache. They’ve got this retarded GPS system that doesn’t know where anything is. Instead of reading maps and signs, they rely on this crappy machine with a loud voice that orders them around. dad keeps turning on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal.
The Hill of Tara was beautiful. I tried to talk to a man sitting there about the history of the place, but Dad pulled up next to me in the car and wanted to get to the airport to pick up Lynne. I wish I’d had more time there. The hill had more sheep shit than I’ve ever seen. And that’s the place where kings were crowned as early as 2,000 BC, maybe even before that.
At the Mill Bar bed and breakfast now – past Athlone. Nine-thirty and Lynne, Mom, and Dad still aren’t in bed. They’ve been awake for about 32 hours now. Probably more. We stopped to see Dominic’s aunt Maggie in Keenaugh on the way from Dublin to Athlone. She lives in a cottage that used to be the laundry house of a huge estate. In fact, she doesn’t actually have a house number for her address – it is simply, The Laundry. She was the one who was married to Uncle Mickey, who died about five years ago. Now she lives at the Laundry with just her two dogs. Behind the house is a canal where barges used to transport the Guinness out of Dublin. And the cottage still has its original doors. There’s a lot of history on that land. And still more sheep.
I have to write more on the Hill of Tara when I get to a computer that’s connected to the Internet. There were a lot of things that I didn’t know about it. I want to go back there someday. More driving tomorrow. I’ve got a book and a bag of apples.July 27
More on the Hill of Tara – 1798, Irish rebels used Tara as their stronghold because it was such a defensible position (as high ground tends to be), but they were defeated by British troops. The man in charge of the British troops sent three cartloads of whiskey up the road past the hill, knowing that the Irish rebels would intercept it, which they did. They subsequently became drunk – or, at least, not totally sober. The British troops were also more organized. It was a slaughter, as I understand.
We saw a monument to this event on the hill, but neither Dad or I knew what it was – it was all in Gaelic except the inscription on the back that told us the monument had been erected in 1922 by the IRA. Or was it 1936? I need the Internet, dammit.
The hill was also the site of a peace rally held by Daniel O’Connell – the rally demanded the repeal of the Act of the Union with Britain – the rally was in 1843. Then, from 1899 to 1901, these crazy British fuckers calling themselves descendants from one of the last tribes of Israel, tore the hill apart, without regard for the land’s history, searching for the Ark of the Covenant. Crazy fuckers.
Anyway, breakfast at 9am today. Then we headed out. Dad’s driving was better today, but still some close calls. We stopped in Adare for a few minutes to use a bathroom and dink around. There was a cool old church there dating back to the 1200s. I went inside and lit a candle for Father Conroy. I can’t find my glue stick to paste in the pamphlet I got. Later.
Then we went through Kilarny but didn’t stop, and on the way to Kenmare I insisted we stop at the Muckross Estate. It’s 2600 acres, I believe. The manor house was built in 1843 and we took a tour of that. Huge – Queen Victoria stayed there for a night once, but she’d informed the master and mistress of the house of her arrival six years prior. So the couple spent the next six years decorating the house in preparation for the Queen to arrive – they traveled great distances, to the Far East, to gather furniture. They also had furniture hand-crafted locally, new drapes, silk wallpaper that was hand-painted, a new driveway constructed, etc. Then, the day Vicky finally arrived, she came with her husband, Prince Albert, four of her nine children, 120 ladies in waiting, and 400 soldiers to serve as her personal body guards. The whole reason the owners of the house had been so keen to impress her was that they’d been hoping to be given the titles of Lord and Lady. However, two months after their visit, Albert died, and Queen Vicky went into eight years of mourning, during which time she declined to give out titles, large sums of money, etc. By the time she came out of mourning, the family (Herbert?) had gone bankrupt due to their inability to pay back the loans they’d taken out in order to prepare Muckross House for Queen Victoria’s visit. Sigh.
The house was lived in until 1933, when in was donated to the National Trust.
Speaking of the 1930s, we also checked out the traditional farm area on the Muckross Estate, where the National Trust keeps farms in operation exactly as they would have been in 1937, seventeen years before electricity came to the area. It was very cool. I drank milk straight from the cow, which, while warm, didn’t taste much different from the milk I buy at the store. Sweeter. We also had homemade soda bread with freshly churned butter. It was at least as good as anything they would have made in the kitchen of Muckross House, which was enormous and looked really cool.
By the way, “muck” means “pig” or “sow” and “ross” means “peninsula” – I think. The farms also had your standard cows and chickens and goats, ducks, horses, kitties, etc. They had examples of the poorest farm house, where there were two rooms and the kids would sleep six to a bed, and an example of a wealthy farmer’s house, which had four rooms excluding the kitchen and what looked like a common room. we had to rush back to get to our bed and breakfast at a reasonable hour. Didn’t get to see the Torc Waterfall.
On the way to Kenmare, the roads were terrifying. Rocks jutted out at the car and people came fast around the corners. Made me nervous for the Ring of Kerry tomorrow. Mom says she refuses to go with us. I’ll be sure to have plenty of cigarettes with me.
Tonight we’re sleeping at Annagry House in Kenmare, five minutes walk from the town center where we had dinner at a place called Foley’s. The beef and Guinness pie was delicious, though it could have been because I was starving – no lunch today. We all forgot to eat. The waiter was very nice – he even gave my parents a sackful of ice to take back to Annagry for their martinis. I’m staying in the room and drinking chamomile tea. So good. Next it’s time to read before bed. It’s ten after eleven and breakfast is at 8:30 tomorrow. Reading a short story collection by Sir William Trevor called “Cheating at Canasta.” It doesn’t say “sir” on the cover, but he has been knighted. I guess he’s not an arrogant prick.July 28
Dingle – Murphy’s Pub
Had some good fish and chips and now we’re listening to a couple of guys play traditional Irish music. Guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin – I think that’s all. They’re singing songs I’ve heard but don’t really know.
We left Kenmare after stopping by the stone circle. Archaeologists think it’s about 3,000 years old. Fourteen stones make a circle and then there’s a large boulder in the center, mounted on three smaller stones, that marks a burial site. It’s great to be able to put your hands on something that’s been around for so long. One of the stones had a symbol on it called the Awen, which is a symbol with three rays expanding outward from top to bottom.
The ray on the far right represents male, and the ray on the far left represents female. The one in the center represents the balance of nature. I bought a ring before we left with a spiral that represents the sun and endless time.
I found a nice necklace for Olivia’s birthday present. She’ll be eight tomorrow. It’s a fairly simple Celtic cross. Mom bought a couple of nicer, more ornate ones for Kris and Meredith. Now I’m on the lookout for something with fairies for Jayne.
After checking out the local church, which was built in 1864 and had an awesome ceiling with woodwork made from materials imported from Brazil, we went to look at some of the lace samples from when Kenmare was widely known for its lace. Queen Victoria even commissioned some pieces for herself in 1885. Sister Mary Francis Clare started the industry (if it can really be called an “industry”) around the time of the Great Famine to employ local women. I tried to find a book about her, because she was a prolific writer and feminist, but there weren’t any at the Heritage center. She’s also known as the Nun of Kenmare. She later left the Catholic church and became a Protestant. In those days, I suppose no one just stopped attending church. But she was very critical of the Catholics until the end of her life, which came soon afterwards.
Then the drive to Dingle, which was awesome. We took a wrong turn – and when I say “we,” I mean Dad – and wound up on a back road that was barely wider than our car. It took us about twenty minutes to go a little over five miles, and we didn’t meet another car the whole time, thank god.
Stopped in Dingle Bay before we got to our B&B. On Inch Beach I waded in the ocean while everyone else sat in the car. It was overcast and a bit rainy, but it was beautiful. The waves were big enough for surfing. I love the sound of the waves crashing, and then the feeling of the sand coming out from under my feet as the tide sucks it back out. Worth the wet jeans and sandy feet.
It was nice enough to sit outside when we did get to the Baywatch B&B. We sat outside drinking whiskey and wine – with my Commie parents drinking gin – and talking with the owner, Tom, and some of the other guests. One was a woman from the County Down, and the other was a man who was born in Plymouth near Cornwall but is now an expat teaching at Queens College in the North. Both of them were quite interesting and gave me additional insight concerning the biolence and bad blood in the North. as a child, the woman’s school was bombed. There was also an Orange Hall near her home that was blown up repeatedly and rebuilt in the same place over and over because the government would give financial assistance to building owners who rebuilt after a bombing, provided that they rebuilt in the same place. This was to prevent people building somewhere – a shoddy building – expecting it or arranging for it to be bombed and then get government money to build a better building in a prime location.
Now it’s music time. These guys are maybe in their fifties, playing traditional songs for us tourists. They played “Grace” and “Fields of Athenrye” for us, which was nice. Dad and I might have hangovers.
Olivia is eight years old!!! I miss my little cabbage. One more week until I see her and Maddie, then a couple more days and we’re heading North.
My body totally crapped out on me today. It’s probably because I’ve been going tor almost two months now without any sort of break. I seem to recall a lot of sleepless nights and days full of coffee, cigarettes, and adrenaline. Today, I may go with Mom, Dad, and Lynne to see some archaeological sites and ruins. But I may also just want to sit on my ass, even though I got more than ten hours of sleep. Tonight will definitely not be a late night. Too bad our room at the Baywatch doesn’t have a bathtub – I’d be all over that shit, which a kettle of chamomile and a book. Yesterday I bought “The Feckin’ Book” full of Irish slang, insults, quotations, recipes, etc. There seem to be an awful lot of ways to say “she’s ugly.” I’m starting to notice a pattern here…
Went to a small museum about 20 minutes west of Dingle. They had the skeleton of a cave bear, which became extinct 200,000 years ago and a head that belonged to a bull mammoth. The bear had a sign that said not to touch it, but the mammoth didn’t, so I touched its giant tusks. They had some kind of smelly black stuff on them, probably to protect them from the oil on people’s hands. The bull is named “Millie” for some reason. Also saw lots of artifacts from all over Europe and ranging from the neolithic period to the Bronze Age.
We also stopped at the Dunbey promontory fort that was built in the Iron Age (after the Bronze Age, from 500 BC to 500 AD).
Most of its Western half has fallen into the sea. There’s an old clochann on the site, which is a Beehive-shaped building. Down the road, there was another bunch of beehive dwellings, which is thought to be the remains of a single family farm. Again, everyone waited in the car while I went to look at them. Probably for the best – the path up was steep and the rain had been so heavy earlier that day that there was a lot of water draining down the path – enough to constitute a small stream. My feet got pretty wet, but it was definitely worth it when I got there. The site has been pretty well preserved, and I was able to go inside some of the Beehives.
I stood in one of them that didn’t have a capstone on it, so there was a hole in the top. Still, it was relatively dry. The thing was built using a method called “corbelling,” which means the stones were tilted downward and outward to shed water. I stood there quietly for a few minutes and listened to the rain hitting the rocks and dripping through the cracks. I could hear the sheep grazing outside. The site is called Cahon Conor – Cathair na gConchuireach in Irish – and was probably built around 1000 BC, though they were being built somewhere between 4000 BC and 2000 BC, archaeologists are still arguing about it. The site had a great view of the ocean. I could just imagine it the way it was.
Also along the hills today were famine cottages – rural homes that were left to crumble after their residents starved to death or fled during the Great Famine. Every morning in the towns and cities, there would be the bodies of country people who had wandered into town in search of food but died during the night.
We were going to drive the rest of the way around the Dingle peninsula, but about 200 meters down the road from the beehives, a river had formed across the road from all of the rainwater rushing down the hill. We turned around and came back to Dingle. After some bad deli food from the SuperValue, I’m about ready for bed. It’s not even 8pm, but I don’t care. I’m feeling shattered. I’ll read some of “The Feckin’ Book” and then get to bed. Today I got another book called “Bibeanna: Memories from a Corner of Ireland.” Twenty-five women from the Dingle area talk about their lives and how New Ireland has replaced the poverty and pre-modern Ireland that’s gone forever. It’s in English and Irish, so maybe I can learn some more Irish words.
Three in the afternoon in Iowa. I wonder if Olivia is getting ready for her birthday party, or maybe it’s just winding down.
Roundstone. There’s a church outside the town with a graveyard like I’ve never seen. It’s essentially a bog, and people seem to have been buried pretty haphazardly. Because the cemetery is in a bog, most of the grave stones have crumbled and sunk into the ground over time – the oldest intact stone was from the 1890s. Sheep everywhere again. I try to “maa” and make them think I’m one of them, but they seem to know I’m mocking them. Sometimes a group of sheep will stare at me from a few meters away and I think they’re plotting my death.
Mostly just driving today. Scenic overlooks and such. Tonight we’re staying at the St. Joseph’s Bed and Breakfast in Roundstone. Great view of the harbor from here.
The owner, Christine, takes pretty good care of the place – clean, cozy rooms in a great location. The only thing the room is missing is a bathtub. For the first time in years I fel like taking a bath, and there isn’t one. Oh well. Most people take showers these days, I guess.
Getting up at 8am tomorrow to go to the Aran Islands – well, just one: Inismore. It’s supposed to take all day. So excited. Tonight I’ll read “Scientific American Mind” and get to bed by midnight. And listening to the Beatles. And drinking tea.