Ireland – Part 2

5 May

Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal, Londonderry, Antrim, Belfast


It’s funny the things you notice as you travel from villages to small towns to cities, slowly.  There are an abundance of independent butchers in Ireland.  Some small settlements have two or three pubs, one general store and still they have a butcher.  Usually decked out in striped uniforms as well!  Another observation is that whereas in NZ we have white crosses on the sides of highways, depicting where there has been a fatality, here large actual grave stones commemorate the sad event.  I’m not sure if that means the real grave is there as well or not, but they can be quite elaborate.   There are MANY houses halfway through construction and then abandoned, a sure sign of the financial meltdown.  Some stop with only the floor down while others are in various stages of completion.  This was more so in the countryside, where it was plain that farmers had sold a few sections off the farm.  All the radio and TV news bulletins and newspapers are full of stories of how many more people have lost their employment.  Another odd thing, both in Ireland and England, is that the majority of primary schools do not have a grassed area for running around on!  The schools are mostly on small sections with maybe a courtyard and high fences all around, even if they are out in the countryside.

Everything is green in Ireland!

An example of how one builder uses the same design of house over and over

Another of Dennis’ detours took us to view this round tower and monastery, built in 1100. The round tower is getting a new roof

These are crows’ nests and they are pretty feisty at this time of year

The warm weather has passed and I am back in my longjohns braving single figure temperatures again.  Everyone tells us how amazing it is not to be having the usual amount of rain, we have thick cloud from time to time but little rain.  It is surprising how snug we are in the motorhome, even with a decent frost outside.  Although we have the gas heater going during the evening we never leave it on as we sleep and the duvet is sufficient to keep us cosy.

Shannon Car Ferry

We crossed over the Shannon River via a car ferry from Tarbert to Killimer, and followed the coast road up to the small settlement of Doolin.  I mentioned on my last post that I was impressed with Ireland’s rocks.  Travelling up the western coast we came across a fascinating and unusual sight.  Initially, we thought the rock formation was on this one particular beach but it turned out that it extends for 360 square kilometres in a huge circle and is called The Burren Code.  Great slabs of rock which looked like someone had sliced them through with a long knife, horizontally as well as vertically.  Quite bizarre but beautiful.  It has been caused by thousands of years of erosion on the limestone by acidic rain.  We were a little too early in the season but apparently many native flowers burst into bloom in this unlikely grey environment.   The cracks between the rocks are called grykes.

Great slabs of solid rock…

….along The Burren Code

A native flower in Ireland (it looks remarkably like our chives) growing within the rocks

We only got to view the cliffs from a distance in the end

From there we were keen to take another ferry to visit the Aran Islands but arrived too late in the day.  Up that coast, there were huge cliff faces where we could have paid to walk along the tops, to view this spectacle but chose not to as the ferry takes a small detour to view them from the seaward perspective.  We camped the night in the car park next to the small sheds that were the booking offices for the several companies that operate ferries to the Aran Islands.  (That’s Aran as in the famous woollen jerseys.)  We had booked our tickets for the first sailing at 9.30a.m. but just a short time before we were due to leave we realised that we did not have any cash on us and the ticketing booth did not have an EFTPOS machine.  He also assured us that there were no machines on the islands either so we had a quick dash around the various pubs, information centre, shops, etc but no would give any cash out!   So the end result was, we had to forgo our best laid plans and carry on driving and we missed out on viewing the cliffs from either looking down or up.                                                           

This guy was brilliant, busking in Galway

Cute wee houses in the villages

We decided that we really needed to get to a camping site this particular day, for the usual reasons, and so had a big day’s driving ahead of us.  The campsite we chose was at a small place called Knock, well inland, this unfortunately meant we missed quite a huge chunk of the perimeter of Ireland.  This site was part of the Cavaran Club we are members of, so it was worth our while to go there rather than any other camping site as we get a good discount on the tariffs.  We did think it was a bit odd to have the camping ground in such a remote area with no obvious natural attraction nearby but made our plans to go there anyway.  We stopped off in Galway for a good look around and a spot of lunch.  We took in the museum (of course) which started off well with the history lessons, etc but then morfed into an art gallery part way through, which was a bit weird.  Neither one thing nor the other!  We had our first signs of graffiti in Galway and although the buskers in town were great, the place had a rundown feel to it.  We noticed that as you went further inland the less stones there were around lying in the paddocks, and eventually the stone fences gave way to hedgerows again.  The camping site turned out to be surprisingly large and was situated directly next door to a huge complex which we learnt was the Knock Shrine.  Dennis has told me he intends to write-up a post about this site so I’ll leave it to him to explain the finer points of this holy, Catholic site, suffice to say that it receives 1.5 million pilgrims per year and as such has had to have its own international airport built nearby to cater for the visitors!  While in camp, it was a flurry of activity in and around our motorhome, for much of the night.  Cleaning, cooking, washing, drying, etc.   I managed to find a piece of corned beef in Ireland and duly cooked it, using the never-fail recipe I always use, only to have a disappointing result.  Too salty, even though I had soaked it well overnight, and tough.  In England, they do not sell uncooked corned beef anymore, only the older butchers even knew what I was asking for so I was excited to find it stocked in the supermarket chillers.  They don’t know what wiener schniztel is either!!  Oh, and the reminds me that they sell smoked or unsmoked bacon, the unsmoked variety is just thinly sliced pork, very odd.

(Looking from the back) Knock Catholic Church

Mountains made entirely of solid rock abound

As yet we have not been able to find a Protestant Church to worship in on Sundays in Ireland.  This is where the internet is great and we can download sermons of the St. Helen’s website instead.  It’s not the same though, maybe it will be easier when we cross over the border to Northern Ireland.
We made our way back to the coastal route from Sligo onwards.  The scenery seems more varied and interesting along the coast and the roads less busy.  The roads are so bad here it is incredible.  We observed some road works here and there and concluded that they don’t seem to remove enough of the corrugated pavement before adding the new stuff on top.  It looks nice but when you drive over it, the vehicle shudders and shakes with the same corrugations that were there previously, just disguised by a new thin layer of tarmac.  Sometimes you come across a HUGE sign explaining that the following road works for so many kilometres is being funded by the EU and then the job is done well, with the completed work a vast improvement.             

Killybegs is a fishing town that has a natural deep water harbour with  quite a fleet of large fishing trawlers that ply the North Sea.

We followed this trailer for miles and the bull could turn 360 degrees, round and round he went, getting more agitated and rocking the whole trailer! We were convinced that he would escape but eventually we saw he was tethered after all!

We found the whole process of peat harvesting to be fascinating.  We saw it happening so frequently that we were able to recognise the type of country that produces peat before we came across the pickers.  It looks like hard work to harvest it and most of it was done by hand, I only saw a tractor with a special scoop once.  They use a special extra long, narrow spade to dig out each bit of turf, lay it out to dry in rows, then eventually either stack

As always there were beautiful beaches everywhere

them in piles or arrange them in stoukes.  The smell of burning peat was quite distinctive, not unpleasant at all, a cross between when a smoker lights up his pipe and well made silage!  All the firewood  and coal merchants sold turf as well.                                       

Small piles of peat (turf) are seen in most of the backyards along the western coast

Drying the peat before stacking

Eventually we made it all the way to the most northern tip of Ireland, Malin Head.  We settled down in the small carpark here for the night and we were literally rocked awake in the early morning as the slight breeze of the evening before turned into a gale!  Even Dennis was wondering how we were going to make it down the mountain again, but thankfully we did, albeit slowly.  There was a fresh fall of snow during the night reminding us it was still only early spring.

Malin Head, the northern most tip of Ireland

Obviously it’s stormy often around Malin Head as they have tied down the thatch  (Double click on the photo to get a closeup view)

Driving into the city of Londonderry, or Derry as the locals like to call it, we noticed that we were once again back in the United Kingdom.  Not that there were any signs to say that we had crossed the border but now the road signs were back in miles (not kilometres), and petrol was cheaper than diesel (the opposite in Ireland), and the currency changed back to pounds and pence (not Euros and cents).  For some reason, the unit we bought to enable our computer to recharge its batteries while driving has broken down so each time we visit a museum we ask them if we can plug it in, in their office or under the desk, to recharge while we wander the various floors of displays.  And always, once  we’ve explained our intentions people are only too happy to oblige.  I tried this same approach at the Derry Museum and it threw them into a spin!  The manager had to be called and I was asked many questions, lots of umming and humming, but finally the manager declared “that since she was having a good day, and since I was a Kiwi that was alright just this once!”  At first I couldn’t think why it was such a fuss but once I began to go through the displays it dawned on me that maybe they were right to be so suspicious of strange requests asking for a computer to be left with them in the office!  Derry has suffered so much through The Troubles, being one of the main centres for IRA bombings, etc.  The Museum was a great place to begin to understand the misery inflicted on the Irish people by the English, over the years.  Obviously, Dennis knew all about it being a history buff but I am beginning to catch up.

A double-decker bridge in Derry, the top layer was for traffic as well, not rail, brilliant


I am so uneducated that I had never heard of the Giant’s Causeway before!  Dennis is absolutely baffled by me at times….  Anyway, let me inform you it’s 80,000 interlocking basalt columns as a result of an ancient volcanic eruption.  It was fascinating and what’s more it was free to view, not like the cliffs around the coast, where the farmer who’s paddocks you need to trek over, charges like a wounded bull.

The Giant’s Causeway

I’m so impressed with the rocks in the whole Island of Ireland and Northern Ireland

Rocks and more rocks

Fresh snow, daytime temperatures around 5-8 degrees C

We drove into Belfast early in the evening and our first port of call was to stock up in the grocery department.  We parked in the furthest most spot behind the 24 hour Tesco Extra Superstore  and after our spending a good chunk of money in the said store, we closed our curtains and settled down for the night.  We have used other supermarket carparks as a good camping spot, even other Tesco ones but when two hours from entering their site was up, there was a knock on our door.  The security chap, supported by the manager, were nervously standing there and tentatively asked us to move on, we had had our allotted time of 120 minutes but more than that “it was for our own safety”!  This was the first time we have ever been moved along and Dennis was outraged!  So we took a short trip around the corner and parked on the side of the road, simple.  We had hurried to Belfast to make sure we got to visit the new Titanic Experience before it closed for the Easter public holidays. 

What an amazing building! The four faces all represent the ship. It’s made of stainless and standing directly underneath it reminiscent of many waves.

This impressive building and the brilliant displays inside had only been open for a week and was very busy.  We arrived at 9.45a.m. hoping to buy a couple of tickets and saunter on through.  But no, we could buy tickets but they only let a group of about 50 start in blocks and our turn would come around at 2.40p.m.  With a bit of time to fill, we took a walk around the town and was pleasantly surprised at the nice feel about the place.    I had been a bit nervous about coming to Belfast, what with all the stories you used to hear about IRA bombings, etc but it was really nice.  

Every police station we passed while in Northern Ireland was surrounded by very tall security fences and many, many CCTV cameras. You could call them modern-day fortresses

They had the best oompa loompa girls  EVER there!  One of these days I will get myself a photo of a typical specimen of oompa loompa.  They really are a breed apart.  Either jet black hair piled very high in the style of Marg Simspon or the late Amy Winehouse or dyed blond, lank, straight locks, orange makeup applied suitably thick and especially the obvious line between real skin and makeup along the jaw line from ear to ear, thick black eyeliner that strays past the eyes and flicks up to resemble a Japanese maiden, brightly coloured eye shadow and the ultimate – false eyelashes so long and heavy with mascara that you can’t stop looking at her eyes wondering what exercises she needs to do each morning in training, to be able to continue to blink her eyes so regularly!  I think Dennis and I will make it a competition to take the best photo of one of these lovelies to prove that my description is accurate. 

Evidence of past flooding of the River Lagan was the leaning  Clock Tower in Belfast

The Lagan had flood gates that could be pulled up, similar to those on the Thames

All over England and the Irish Isle we saw many cabbage trees. Unfortunately, these ones in Belfast had seen better days!

Looking over the Lagan at Belfast

The roof of one of the many shopping malls. Standing on that top platform afforded a great view of Belfast

The Titanic Experience was the first of two highlights during our Ireland/Northern Ireland experience.  The story of the great unsinkable liner began with the man who commissioned the design, the company which built it, the launching,  the interiors, the people who staffed it, the people who sailed in it, the people responsible for ignoring the warnings that they were given before entering an iceberg zone, those who died, those who survived, those who found the wreck and a video on a huge screen of the wreck.  Very informative.  The only thing I thought they still needed after all that, was to cater for the enthusiasts, like Dennis, who could do with a more detailed description from time to time.  One question left hanging was “What was the technical reason she sunk?”

Crowds queuing for their turn to tour the exhibitions


The famous Harland and Wolff gantry cranes HUGE! Goliath is 96m tall and Samson 106m

A replica chain used on Titanic

Photo of her back end

Photo of some of the 29 steam boilers on board


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