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Waves and and a seaweed whip - what more does a boy need?

Here is a boy who, even after a winter of taking private swimming lessons to prepare for his summer in Kilkee, still didn’t like to get his face wet, let alone put his head under water!

Now he spends hours in the sea playing in the waves and riding them with his boogie board; looking for, and even picking up, marine life at the Pollock Holes; using seaweed as a toy; exploring the rocky ridge called Tucker; observing the changing tides, crashing waves, rock formations and wildlife around the cliffs; and in general enjoying a life near the sea. Now I am even hearing enthusiastic talk about his plans to surf one day… a prospect I am not as enthusiastic about!

Much of the new Eoin, I credit to his time spent this summer at Nevsail Watersports Summer Camp . Thanks to Nevsail, Eoin is now willing to spend hours in the wild and cold Atlantic Ocean, both at the camp and on his own, afterwards. In the camp, he has had the opportunity to try his hand at such watersports as kayaking, canoeing, boogie boarding, snorkeling and more – and has even spent some time building a raft! The enthusiastic young instructors at the camp have been great about encouraging this shy, hesitant boy to try activities that he would never have attempted otherwise and their kindness and sensitivity have made him feel welcome and comfortable in the camp.

Eoin’s daily explorations around the bay of Kilkee and his experience within the camp, have made him, not only more confident and comfortable with the sea, but more confident in his own skin. This makes every minute I’ve spent squeezing him into, and prying him out of, his wetsuit – and then properly cleaning it after each use – well worth the effort!

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The Pantry, O'Curry Street, Kilkee, County Clare

The full Irish breakfast… sausage, rashers, black and white pudding, eggs, a grilled tomato, often beans (but that’s really more English than Irish), a pot of tea and either toast or brown bread served with butter and marmalade. This is what is always offered in the B & B’s, hotels and every restaurant I’ve ever been in that is open in the morning. When in Ireland this is what Declan cannot get enough of, even though he rarely has more than tea and toast for breakfast in the States. The full Irish is as much a part of the Irish experience as the scenery and the pubs!

Well, not for this vegetarian. I don’t eat meat so there goes most of the meal. That pretty much leaves the eggs, tomato, beans, toast and tea… and considering I really don’t like eggs unless they are in the form of an omelette… that leaves tomato, beans, toast and tea. Does this sound appetizing? No!

So while I’ve been in Kilkee I have invented my own “full Irish”, with the help of a delightful little self-serve restaurant called The Pantry. Just a short walk from the hut on Kilkee Beach where I drop Eoin off each morning for his Water Sports Camp, The Pantry is a top-notch restaurant that offers everything from the traditional Full Irish, to a range of gourmet entrées that would destroy any stereotype of Irish cookery. In addition, the baked goods are homemade, fresh and delicious and even the orange juice is fresh squeezed in the morning! Although the scones, several varieties served with cream and their own delicious homemade raspberry jam, are heavenly… I have done my best to limit my scone intake! However, thanks to The Pantry providing me with an assortment of fresh ingredients… fruits, berries, yogurt, granola, homemade muesli, honey and cinnamon… I have been able to create my own personal “full Irish” in a bowl. Add the traditional tea and toast… along with a good book, of course, and breakfast in Kilkee has become a delicious, healthy and enjoyable event each morning!

Janet's Full Irish

How long would I have to live here before the surroundings became routine and not worthy of wonder, excitement – and photographs? I doubt that the dramatic beauty of this place could ever become mundane to me, in any amount of time.

A boat in the Shannon Estuary at Loop Head this foggy evening.

Tonight at dinnertime, Eoin and I decided to drive away from Kilkee and further into Loop Head for a bite to eat. During our many journeys around Loop Head we have often passed a pub that sits along the shore of the Shannon Estuary, which borders the southern part of the Loop Head Peninsula with the Atlantic on the northern shoreline. Keating’s Pub is in the townland of Kilbaha,  just a couple of miles from the very tip of the peninsula where the lighthouse stands. The beautiful setting of this pub and the remoteness of the site have beckoned me to pay a visit.

Dinner itself was a pretty basic affair, with Eoin opting for the usual Chicken Goujon and me, the vegetarian stir-fry with rice. Following our meal, and after a pleasant conversation with the pub owner about a local man whose book I am currently reading, we said goodbye and headed for the car to make our way home. Much to my surprise, in the hour or so we took to have our meal, a cloud had descended upon Loop Head and the whole area was thick with mist. Dusk quickly approaching and the fog around us, the sensible thing to do may have been to head straight home, but I couldn’t resist driving further up the road so that we might see what the lighthouse looked like in such a thick, foggy mist. Visibility made it difficult to see beyond about two or three car lengths so I drove slowly along. Somehow, Loop Head, even in these conditions, didn’t seem eerie to me. It simply presented a scene of peacefulness and a bygone era. When we arrived at the farthest tip of the peninsula the fog was so thick that the lighthouse was just a barely visible outline of light grey surrounded by white.

We didn’t stay long at the lighthouse but we didn’t rush home either. I drove slowly for safety’s sake and we were able to take in the passing scenery with the attention it deserved. The Atlantic on our left and the Shannon on our right were invisible at the narrowest part of the peninsula. It looked as though the world ended at the cliffs. As we proceeded further down the road toward Kilkee things cleared up just enough to see a bit farther into the Shannon and we were able to ponder the fishing boats anchored offshore, wondering aloud about what it was like sitting in a boat in the water on a night like this.

Keating’s Pub in Kilbaha in a cloud.

We passed Keating’s again on the way back and I decided to stop at a clearing at the side of the road to take a photo of the pub surrounded by the mist. Wandering a bit further along the road, we stopped again at a rocky shoreline where seals sometimes visit. No seals were present at the moment, but Eoin had fun looking for them! As I took photos of him on the look out for seals, we heard cows mooing in the mist behind us.

Pretending to spot seals on the rocks!

Back in the car, we drove on toward Kilkee, only to stop again as we passed a mother horse walking about with her youngster, peacefully nibbling on the grasses of the field, appearing unconcerned with the mist surrounding them. This idyllic scene called for more photos, which not only show the horses, but the beautiful field they were grazing upon. Mother and child looked back at us curiously, perhaps wondering what sort of lunatics would be out driving and taking pictures on such a night!

Mother and child observing mother and child – the fog barely showing up in the photograph! Photo by Eoin.

By the time we entered our cottage through its newly installed half-door, we were both physically satisfied from our meal and spiritually satisfied by the delightful drive home afterward. Here on the Loop Head Peninsula, non-events become events and a simple dinner can become a journey through the mists to a place out of time.

Horse and rider on Kilkee Beach in the evening. Photo by Eoin.

Well, we had a bit of a scare, which also turned out to be an embarrassing experience. It all started with a horse galloping on the beach one evening. Eoin and I had just parked on the strand along the beach, on our way to Maud’s Ice Cream Shop for an after dinner treat. As we got out of the car we saw a beautiful horse being ridden back and forth along the shoreline of Kilkee Beach. Of course, we had to stop and behold such a wonderful sight! I took the camera out of my purse and handed it to Eoin and he ran down to the beach to snap a few photos. Finally, the horse and rider left the beach and Eoin and I headed for Maud’s where he chose a strawberry ice cream cone topped with tiny marshmallows and I, a small scoop of the house concoction that consists of vanilla ice cream, caramel and Nutella. Ice cream in hand, we decided to take the long route back to the car and walked down the main street – stopping to laugh at a couple dozen birds maneuvering for their night-time resting spots at the top of the AIB (bank) building, and then continued on back to the strand and up to the car.

It was getting pretty cold and I was in a bit of a hurry to get into the car and head home but was not happy when I spotted the car with what appeared to be a ticket under the windshield wiper. Annoyed and wondering what obscure traffic law I had violated I reached for my keys to unlock the door so we could get out of the spot. That is when I realized my keys were not in my purse pocket where I always keep them! It was late evening and all my keys, those to the cottage as well as the car keys were nowhere to be found in my purse. Panic set in immediately!

The first thing I had to do was go to the only shop we had stopped in, Maude’s. Tired 8-year-old in tow, we made our way to Maude’s in hope that this situation would quickly be resolved. However, after rushing into the shop asking about my keys the owner of the shop and the girl working there shook their heads saying they hadn’t seen any keys. Feeling sheer panic I fretted about how I was going to get keys from the car rental company at 9:30 pm in a town in the far west of Clare, and how I would manage to get into the cottage once I made it back there. The ice cream shop owner looked up the phone number for the Garda for me and then went outside to ask the few people gathered at the front of the shop eating their ice cream. These people came inside to talk to me and assure me everything would be alright. A young man there told me he had served me earlier in the day at the Diamond Rocks Cafe and said he would keep an eye out for my keys. A middle-aged couple offered to bring me back to their house to get the Golden Pages so we could look up the number to the car rental company and for a locksmith if needed. As I left with them the ice cream shop owner took my phone number so he could contact me if he heard anything and also asked that I let him know if I found the keys.

On the way to the couple’s home, which was just a few doors down the street, the man suggested we go back to check the car one more time before making any calls, so we headed down a small lane that brought us back to my car. Just as I had said, the doors were locked and the keys were nowhere in sight. Finally, the man walked to the front of the car and saw the ticket under my front windshield wiper. However, when he said, “This looks like a note”… I suddenly realized that in my panic I had failed to consider that the “ticket” on my car may have been a note! Sure enough, there in the man’s hand was an envelope with a note stating, “Your keys are at O’Mara’s Pub.” That is when the embarrassment set in… I had involved all these nice people in my little drama and it all could have been avoided if I had just stopped to take a look at the paper on my windshield! When I said this to the man holding the note he replied, “You just panicked a bit, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.” I thanked him for his help and headed to O’Mara’s where a sweet elderly couple told me they had found my keys sitting on the wall along the beach – right where I had stopped to watch that beautiful horse galloping… right where I set my purse – and apparently my keys – down to get the camera for Eoin. In my usual way, I felt the need to explain the ordeal to the couple who found my keys and told them how I had involved so many people in the search simply because I hadn’t looked at the note on my car. They were very nice of course and the lady smiled and remarked that she remembered passing me earlier on the footpath and that we said “hi” to each other. Next I went back to the ice cream shop, as I had promised to do if I found the keys. Again, I thanked the shop owner for his help and when I mentioned how embarrassed I was for involving so many people, he said, “Sure isn’t that what a community is for?”

After telling this long story to Anton on the phone later that night, he laughed and said, “Mom, it’s good to know you’re the same person in Ireland as you are here!” Well, that might be so, but I prefer to blame it on the horse.

Our Belfast Sink

My mother-in-law’s Belfast Sink has finally made it from the posh Dublin neighborhood of Clonskeagh, to the West of Ireland! This sink once served in the kitchen of the Dublin house but was removed many years ago to make way for a “modern” kitchen. As long as I’ve known it though, it has been a planter in my mother-in-law’s back garden and is now serving the same purpose at our quaint country cottage. Having this sink, filled with flowers, next to the front door, has been on my mind since the very first time we laid eyes on Rose Cottage. Well today I can say, mission accomplished!

Monday afternoon Eoin and I made the trip to the Kilrush Garden Center, which I found out about in my usual way – by asking the person behind the cash register in whatever shop I happen to be in at the moment. Today it was an art supply shop and the gentleman working there informed me of a Garden Shop, “just past the Tesco (a large grocery/department store ) in Kilrush”. Luckily, I knew where Tesco was and yes, there was a Garden Shop – sign – just past it. However, the sign gave no indication of the store’s site. Getting used to this sort of thing in Ireland, I decided to cross my fingers for luck and make a turn down the road nearest to the sign. After passing a few houses along the way, sure enough, there was the little garden shop! After telling the lady behind the counter about my Belfast Sink, she proceeded to walk me around the shop and guide me toward perennials that should make it through the winter, “as long as it’s not as dreadful as the last winter”. Also, since it is my intention to have a new red door on the house in about a week, we chose a few red annuals for a bit of color.

Upon returning home, Eoin and I got to work filling the  bottom of the sink with stones – of which we have an abundance, followed by the compost mix from the shop, and then our lovely flowers! Finally, we chose some larger stones to surround the bottom of the sink to give it a more “Clare” look.

The last person to plant flowers in this Belfast Sink was my mother-in-law, Eileen, and I feel very honored to follow her at the task. I hope she would be as pleased with the results as Eoin and I are. We are also so happy to have this sink working as a planter in our new home as it did so many years for Declan’s mother because it connects the past to the present so beautifully.

Here is a photo of our front entrance dressed up with Eileen’s transplanted Belfast Sink. Stay tuned! Shortly, a new “old” red, wooden 1/2 door will be in place along with a different sign announcing the new name of the-cottage-formerly-known-as-Rose!

Mates

Safe home Declan!

It was a sad day for us today because Declan left for Chicago and we miss him already! Here are a few photos of Eoin with his best mate in Kilkee…

Checking out a little cliffside cave

Declan & Eoin practicing with their new hurleys and sliotar

Declan and Eoin sitting in "the big nest"

“Mom, sea life is the best thing in the whole world!” … Eoin enthusiastically declared, after a day spent exploring the Pollock Holes in Kilkee!

Declan & Eoin exploring the Pollock Holes together

A swimming starfish

Duggerna Reef is a natural wonder that is located at the southern end of the semi-circle that forms Kilkee Beach. At the inner edge of the reef along the shoreline are the Pollock Holes, which are natural rock pools, that form when the tide is low. Along with three large pools that offer great fun for swimmers, there are many tiny pools scattered about… all teaming with marine life!

Seaweed in a pool I call "Mom's Hair"

The Pollock Holes attract both adults and children alike, many swimming in the large pools and others just wandering about with an eye out for starfish, shellfish, jellyfish and all sorts of assorted seaweed, plant life and living creatures caught in the pools for the day. Many children come equipped with plastic buckets and nets in order to capture sea creatures for a closer look before returning them to the pools. Then it all disappears in the late afternoon with the incoming tide – only to reappear again the next morning!

Local girls holding a live starfish. Their dad said, "Put my redhead in the photo, the Americans will love it!"

Jellyfish are very difficult to photograph!

On our first day in Kilkee we found ourselves so enthralled with the Pollock Holes, that we spent nearly six hours exploring them – only to stop once or twice to refresh ourselves with a break for tea. Eoin was delighted and excited! Now, like most of the other children at the pools, he is equipped with his own net and bucket and is quite sure that the earth’s greatest treasures come from the sea!

Nature's still life

My morning mocha in Kilkee... when iced is not on the menu it's best to have it hot!

While I’m in Kilkee, this is my coffee shop – the patio of the Diamond Rocks Cafe, overlooking the Pollock Holes and the sea, with a great view of the northern part of the bay of Kilkee Beach. I don’t often take a photo of my morning mocha, but this seemed a moment worth capturing! That mocha was the beginning of a day of discovery that had me saying, “Thank you”, silently in my head many times.

Mocha finished, I decided to make the most of the morning and get a bit of exercise by walking along the path called the Cliff Walk, which runs south of the bay along the rocky Atlantic coastline.

The Cliff Walk path

The path passes the Cafe and is visible in the distance going up a sharp incline to the tallest point of the cliffs. Determined to make it up to the top, I set off with exercise on my mind! However, the breathtaking beauty of my surroundings soon pushed away all thoughts of exercise. Quite suddenly, I had an overwhelming sense of wonder at the realization that we had somehow, unwittingly, chosen a humble cottage that is situated so close to such grandeur. Was this just dumb luck, or was it providence? Although we were well aware that our cottage is next to a quaint town with a lovely beach and we knew many of the wonderful sights of West Clare, such as the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher were just a short drive away, we were completely unaware of the treasures that lie in our own “backyard”! I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude as I walked along the curving pathway that brought me past one panoramic view after another of magnificent rocky cliffs and reefs with Atlantic waves crashing far below. And as I breathlessly made it up the last steep trek to the top of the highest cliff, I looked back at the path I had just walked upon and out to the wide expanse of the sea before me, with tears in my eyes and goosebumps on my arms, knowing that all this was now, in some small way,  mine.

Next shore... America...

The outbuilding in our back garden being swallowed by green!

Summer – so to speak – has arrived in County Clare. Although the weather doesn’t indicate it, the growth of the foliage around the cottage shows that summer has taken place in the months since our last visit. Green is everywhere! When we arrived from Dublin last Tuesday evening, we were quite shocked to see that Rose Cottage and its outbuildings had been nearly swallowed up by long, wild grass, weeds and nettles… with a sprinkle of wildflowers for good measure! Some of this overgrowth has even invaded the “stone garden” along the front of the house. Adding insult to injury, the bit of brush clearing Anton accomplished the night before we left last April, just before the ghosts, or fairies, paraded past to have their photo taken (see Ghosts and Piseog in Ireland, April 25, 2010), has been completely undone, as though it had never been touched by hedge clippers… perhaps the fairies had the last laugh by returning everything to “normal” in our absence.

Although Declan thought he might get a bit of satisfaction from renting a hedge trimmer to clear the brush, the man who works at our Kilkee hardware store, the one whose brother lives in Naperville, suggested, “wouldn’t it be better to just hire someone to clear it for you?” It didn’t take much persuasion to convince Declan that this was the best option, so he phoned Michael, a local man recommended for the job. We are hoping that Michael will stop by tomorrow to have a look and give us an estimate for doing the work, and that soon we will have Rose Cottage looking loved again… fairies or no fairies!

Hello from the Camden Court Hotel, just a short stroll from Grafton Street in wonderful Dublin City! Although we’ve been to Ireland twice since last Thanksgiving, we have not been in Dublin for a year, so it’s wonderful being back. Returning to Dublin always feels like returning home. I love this city with its odd quirks; great food and favorite restaurants; familiar sights, lanes, streets, rivers and canals; and both historic and oddly modern buildings and neighborhoods! Dublin is a unique combination of historic, modern, beautiful and grungy and I feel at home and comfortable here!

We arrived in Dublin Airport at around 7:15 a.m Sunday, after a white knuckled, bumpy flight that ended in a very wobbly landing. We realized why the landing had been so wobbly as we fought to walk to the car rental kiosk through extremely high winds that blew dust into our eyes and my hair into a mass of wild chaos! Compared with the hot weather in Chicago, it was downright autumnal when we arrived – grey, windy and very cool. Eventually the sun came out and has stayed out for the most part, but it is still cool enough for a sweater and light scarf. At least the rain has stayed away so far.

Bewleys on Grafton Street, courtesy Dublin Photo Galleries http://www.dublin30.com

We’ve already managed to visit a cousin and a brother (both Declan’s) and to do a tiny bit of sight-seeing, some necessary shopping and a lot of eating! Yesterday we had a very “American” moment when we found ourselves looking out at the historic Bewley’s on Grafton Street while sipping iced mochas at Starbucks, of all places! I thought a photo of Bewley’s through a Starbucks window would have made a wonderful photo for the blog, but alas, with the camera left in my luggage at the hotel, I had to settle for photo of this landmark Dublin cafe that I swiped off the net!

Ranked just below his long anticipated opportunity to visit with a his cousins in Dundrum, a highlight of Eoin’s trip so far was sticking his fingers into the bullet holes on the columns outside the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, which were left by British soldiers during the 1916 Easter Rising. Afterwards, he walked through Grafton Street holding my umbrella as though it were a rifle, pretending he was one of the Easter Rising heros!

We ended our Grafton Street sight-seeing/shopping spree by watching a Canadian street performer escape Houdini-esqu from a straightjacket… a feat he managed to carry out by first dislocating his left shoulder with a popping noise so loud that it made me cringe! Pretty amazing “entertainment” for the mere 3 euro donation we dropped into Canadian-Houdini’s hat! Message to Kate and Kevin – there is work for theatre majors in Dublin!

Tomorrow, after collecting The Traveling Butter Dish and Co. we’re leaving Dublin and heading out west to Kilkee. Although I’ll miss Dublin, I am looking forward to being in the cottage again. Meanwhile though, just to give you an idea of how great this city is, right now, while typing this blog entry at nearly 2 a.m., I am being serenaded by a group of revellers in the street below singing The Rare Auld Times! Yes, I love Dublin!

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