How I spent my summer vacation : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

My wife and I have only just returned from a 15 day trip to the west of Ireland. To minimize the amount of time time we spent driving, we confined ourselves to Co. Galway (the Connemara region) and parts of Co. Clare and Mayo. When I visit a place, I like to walk more hours than I drive.

Before I left, some other forum participants said they wanted to hear some stories about my trip. So, here are some impressions and a few stories I brought back.

In the small area we saw, the countryside remains very rural in character. People of western still live predominantly in tiny villages or spread out in small farmsteads outside of tiny villages. To say Ireland is green is like saying the Sahara is dry. Some days it seemd like only two colors existed: green and gray.

The only city we visited, Galway City, is the 4th largest in the Republic (or the 6th largest, if you include North Ireland, too). You could drive from the very center of Galway into green fields complete with sheep, cows and horses inside of 15 minutes, even if the (few) traffic lights went against you.

After centuries of poverty, Ireland is very apparently in the throes of an economic boom. We saw new construction and new vehicles everywhere we went. There was an atmosphere of hope. Young people now understand that they have a future in Ireland, without having to emigrate or rot. It is like a cloud has lifted from the national spirit. Earlier emigres are even starting to return and some places are experiencing labor shortages.

Speaking of clouds, there was never a moment in all our time that the sky was cloudless. And I don't believe I have ever seen such changeable weather as we saw in the mountains of Connemara (which includes the well-known Twelve Bens). Rain and sun, wind and calm exchanged places like players in a game of musical chairs. It was rather impressive, really. The landscape was dramatic enough, but the weather doubled the effect.

I can now say that I have acquired a clear and complete picture of what is meant by the word bog , after having done some hill-walking and bog-hopping in the Bens. Every place I set foot was either hard rock, or sodden bog. I was glad of the rocks, even though they are slippery. A rocky path was a good path. The alternative was a boggy path.

When bog-hopping one picks one's way, jumping from one tough hummock of grass or gorse to another, because the alternative is too often half-liquid mud or clumps of spongy moss that squish underfoot. Small streamlets flow across your path every few yards. In a word, a bog is wetness incarnate. (And remember - I'm from Oregon, so it takes some doing to impress me with wetness!)

One vivid memory took place in a tiny place called Letterfrack. It was a Sunday afternoon at a local pub and the place was crammed - almost exclusively with local people since everyone seemed to know everyone else. There was an informal session of traditional Irish music going on, with all the musicians sitting around a low table overflowing with pints of beer or stout, and ashtrays brimming with butts.

Several dogs lay under tables or nosed about between the musicians legs as they played a succession of jigs, reels and hornpipes. The instrumentation was by chance. At one time there were three accordions, three fiddles, a flute, two guitars and a banjo. One would start up a tune, others would join or not as they felt inclined. They'd careen along for 10 or 15 minutes and then stop, sip their beers and talk a while until someone else started up a tune. Meantime, a toddler went from knee to knee around the circle having the time of her life. The mother was one of the accordion players.

This session was going on when we arrived at 5pm. It was going on when we left for dinner at 8pm. And it was still going on when we came back briefly after dinner at 10pm.

In Galway City my wife innocently poked her head through the door of another pub to ask a question. She was immediately engaged in a hilarious conversation with several of the patrons just inside the door, who insisted on sitting us down and buying us a pint of whatever we were drinking. It was over an hour before we got back out on the street and on our way. But we didn't begrudge the time.

Another highlight was visiting one of the megalithic stone circles that dot the landscape. It was located on a rise in a sheep pasture (mind your step), under the shade of a few big, old ash trees. We just stood there soaking up the peaceful scene, with the sun shining on our backs, the murmur of the rustling leaves and the baaing of lambs on the far hillside. No one else came or went. I doubt more than 250 tourists a year go up there for a look. We also saw a very well-preserved megalithic tomb.

One notable fact was that in each village or town the finest old church always belonged to the Church of Ireland (the Irish branch of the episcopal Church of England). The Catholic church was always a newer structure, rarely older than 1820.

Strange to say, the buildings occupied by the Church of Ireland very often predated the founding of the Church of Ireland by one or two centuries. Of course, those old churches had all been built as Catholic churches and were confiscated by the English. When the Irish gained their freedom, it is to their credit that they didn't impose the reverse of this procedure. We did see one very fine stained glass window in a Catholic church in the town of Westport that was dedicated to the memory of the dead members of the local IRA brigade, who died fighting for the Republic against the Black and Tans.

BTW, we saw absolutely no evidence of sectarian friction in the Republic. The times when we talked about N. Ireland the view seemed to be weariness with it all, mingled with disgust with the intransigance of the Unionists. One B&B owner said that during the "marching season" (when the Unionists march through Catholic neighborhoods beating on enormous drums) her B&B fills up with northerners who just want to get away from it all.

We also saw many ruined friarys, monasteries and abbeys. They all had to be abandoned during the period of the Penal Laws, when the Catholic faith was outlawed in Ireland. Often they were purposely destroyed by Cromwell to render them unusable. However, at one monastery we visited, the group of Franciscan brothers who lived there had to be expelled seven times, because they kept returning.

As far as I can see, about all the English succeeded in accomplishing by this extremely harsh oppression was in making the Catholic church a potent emblem of freedom and making the Irish cling to it more stubbornly than ever. It seems like the Irish are supplying half of the world's priests these days.

As for the food, well, does anyone go to Ireland for the food? I am used to eating a wide variety of fresh vegetables. The Irish seem not to recognize any vegatables apart from the potato, carrots, onions and cabbage - with the potato far and away in the lead. The whiskey, on the other hand, was heavenly. So was the Guiness stout.

I suppose I should mention driving. Every tourist from the USA who drives in Ireland knows what I mean. The roads range from bad to worse. The drivers fall in the same range. In Connemara, at least, the "national highways" were scarcely more than twisty country lanes with pavement.

Our rental car had a broken side mirror. It is a common problem, since many roads have barely enough width for two cars to pass one another. Passing on curves is also pretty common there. Let me just say that we had used every ounce of our defensive driving skills and let it go at that. Each time we saw a safe driver we'd say, "There's another tourist!"

-- Brian McLaughlin (, June 16, 2000



Most excellent depiction of your trip,makes me want to go there,Especially the picture in my mind of the taverns.

Thanks and glad you had a safe trip.

-- capnfun (, June 17, 2000.

Summer doesn't start for 4 more days.

-- Andy Ray (, June 17, 2000.

Excellent travelogue, Brian.

-- CD (, June 17, 2000.

Brian, I just could not believe it ! We are moving to County Mayo next weekend & have bought a house and an acre just outside the small town of Ballyhaunis NE of Galway City..Did you go there ? Did you twig what the "hard shoulder" on the road was used for ? We thought the drivers in the cities only were scary.The rest- well it was just like driving down in the West of England.(so be warned)I am surprised that you were disappointed about the food.We just loved the fresh salmon,the Irish soda bread & cheeses.The whiskey wasn't bad either !We are moving because we feel the quality of life is so much better than near neighbours,foxes trotting down the road & sparrow hawks wheeling overhead.Hardly a car to be heard.Funny you you should mention the wetness.LOL.However being English we already have webbed feet !

Something typically Irish...our house which was built in 1905 has no name.The postman just knows who lives where in his area.You cannot imagine how the lack of an address has proved awkward.For instance how do you arrange to forward your mail or complete forms for opening bank accounts etc ??

By the sound of it you & your wife enjoyed the holiday.I'll have to keep you posted as to when they expect the next dry spell .

-- Chris (, June 17, 2000.

Brian, thank you!

-- helen (b@t.s), June 17, 2000.

>> Did you twig what the "hard shoulder" on the road was used for? <<

Yes. Many of the places where we drove had no such luxury as any kind of shoulder, whether or not they were designated as "N" (meaning "national" routes).

There was ample evidence that the Irish government was attempting to improve roadways, but there is a long way to go, yet. Some of the roads designated as "N" routes had stone walls (an ubiquitous Irish presence) about 10 inches from the edge of the road bed. You could not move over onto a "hard shoulder" without taking off the left side of the car. When a hard shoulder was present I felt like saying a few dozen Hallelujahs and a Hail Mary for good measure.

As for the peace and comfort of the Irish countryside in Co. Mayo, all I can say is, the birds sang from morning to night. My wife and I were constantly hearing and seeing bird life. We loved it. There seemed to be more song birds than we are used to in Oregon. And they were happy.

We may have passed through the village in Co. Mayo where you are moving. We got lost several times for lack of a detailed map. The area we saw best was near Cong, but we did drive from Cong to Galway City, so I am sure we saw the area where you intend to move. It was lovely in the (somewhat spotty) sunshine. A pastoral paradise, if you can stand the damp.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, June 17, 2000.

Dear Brian, We are papermakers.Sometimes we get so wet we can't face getting into a bath at night !! Only the Irish & the Cornish can have stone hedges as opposed to stone walls.Next weekend my husband has kindly told me that I am to drive the lorry on the Uk stretch(motorway/freeway) & he will take the Irish end. I expect we shall fight over who has the complimentary single driver's cabin & meal on the ferry!

-- Chris (, June 17, 2000.

WOW. The way you wrote I had a running picture of it in my mind! I even felt the mossy water go up my foot. And tasted the Guiness (my favorite import).

-- Cherri (, June 17, 2000.

Thanks Brian. I really enjoyed that. It's good to have you back, we missed you.

-- Debra (, June 17, 2000.


It's always about YOU, isn't it?

YOU and widey went on vacation and YOU had a grand ol' time hopping around on grass and YOU enjoyed the music in the self-centered can YOU get?

Vindictive Regards,
Andy Ray

-- Andy Boy (, June 17, 2000.


how self-centered can YOU get?

Methinks that you have already answered your own question. Yet I must fess-up, as a poo' ol' ignorant folk, I might be wrong.

Welcome back Brian.

Best wishes,,,,


-- Z1X4Y7 (, June 17, 2000.

That's not Andy Ray, Z.

-- me (address@address.address), June 17, 2000.


As I read it, I addressed it to Andy; not Andy Ray. I am subtle that way. But thanks for the notation.


-- Z1X4Y7 (, June 17, 2000.

I see I have gained an imposter! I will now extend my full, sensual lower lip into a petulant, pretty pout. In viewing the source code, it is noted that my imitator uses a telltale "/p" paragraph closing tag, which only my Titan Of Teal (affectionately known as TOT), Andy Ray, seems not to have learned is superfluous.

Andy Ray, my pusillanimous paramour, have you missed me? Has the pain of my abensce reduced you to a pitiful poseur? Do not despair, mon petite chou, I am always only a wink away. *wink*

Welcome home, Brian. The real Andy Boy is playful, not petty.

Epic Regards,
Andy Boy

-- Andy Boy (, June 17, 2000.

Wow! My very own thread attempted to be hijacked by, well, some unknown smartass. I am (as Andy Ray loves to say) flattered by the attention.

Although, when I think about it, it is somewhat like being flattered by the attentions of a stray dog. Not much to write home about.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, June 17, 2000.


Thanks for the travelogue. I've not yet been to Ireland, but certainly hope to go someday. Your descriptions of the countryside reminded me of Wales, although it was much sunnier there.

"...stone circles that dot the landscape." Weren't these used for rituals, or have I been watching too many far-out movies?

I second the emotion on being glad to have you back.

-- Anita (, June 18, 2000.

>> Weren't these used for rituals, or have I been watching too many far-out movies? <<

AFAIK, the stone circles and other megalithic sites predate the arrival of the Celts in Ireland by 2000 to 3000 years. Because they are so deep into prehistory, no one can say what they were used for with any certainty.

The idea that the stone circles were used for rituals is an educated guess, based on the fact that they were deliberately constructed and required a huge investment of time and effort, yet they don't appear to be related to any mundane functional use. In historic times, that set of attributes pretty much points to ritual use, and there's no reason to think that prehistory is much different.

But you have to take it with a grain of salt. After all, the circles may have had a functional use we just don't grasp, because we don't understand the technology of the Neolithic Age well enough to say. For all we know, the stone circles incorporated other superstructures made out of reeds, wicker or wood that have disappeared. We don't know.

-- Brian McLaughlin (, June 18, 2000.


Welcome back. Since I have finally traced some ancestors to County Mayo I expect I'll be taking a trip over there in the next few years so I'll remember your driving advice. However, if you think the drivers in Ireland are a tad reckless, just wait until you see the drivers in Fiji! A hard shoulder there means that someone had rolled over on you and made your shoulder hurt :^)

I also take it that I should regard the Irish Tourist Board materials about the "fine" weather in June with a grain of salt.....

-- Jim Cooke (, June 19, 2000.


Just recalibrate your meteorological perception. {Drizzle translates into 'liquid sunshine'}.

-- flora (***@__._), June 19, 2000.

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