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On the Loop Head Peninsula, neighbors-bearing-gifts bring a sample of their catch-of-the-day! This was our delightful surprise yesterday evening when the friendly couple we met last week, as they walked their dogs up our quiet road, followed through on their promise to bring us some fresh fish. A pleasant surprise was much appreciated in a summer that has so far brought some disappointment. I’ve already written about the changes made to the Kilkee Cliffs, which I am still troubling myself over, but two other setbacks greeted us as well. First was the sad news that Eoin would not be experiencing any horseback riding at Pony Adventures Kilkee this year because it has closed up shop! Not only was this a disappointment for Eoin, who discovered a real love and enthusiasm for the ponies last year, but it was operated by two very nice people and we will miss their acquaintance during our stay this summer. The second blow came when I made my first trip to Doolin a couple of days after our arrival in Kilkee. Doolin is known for its pubs and their traditional Irish music and many years ago served as my doorway to County Clare, so it holds a special place in my heart. Although traveling these days with a young son in tow offers little opportunity for pub nightlife, two years ago I discovered a new reason to frequent the little town of Doolin – the Magnetic Music Cafe, which I wrote a bit about in an earlier post. Much to my dismay, and Eoin’s evil 10-year-old amusement, there is now a sign on the door stating that the cafe is closed for renovation and will not reopen until next summer! Oh, how I will miss its cozy atmosphere and the best rhubarb crumble I’ve ever tasted!

But if I’ve learned anything over the past two years it is that each summer I am lucky enough to spend in the Wild West of Ireland holds its own discoveries and delights. So instead of worrying over changes or disappointments, I am welcoming this summer’s unique surprises – like meeting friendly neighbors along our quiet country road! In fact, another great surprise of our summer so far was also thanks to a friendly neighbor. The man who is good enough to check in on our cottage for us while we are away granted me the best surprise I could have asked for – a clean, welcoming house complete with beds made, staples in the refrigerator and fresh-cut flowers on our kitchen table! I must admit that up until I set foot in the door of Teach de Búrca I had been absolutely dreading what horrors might be awaiting us inside a cottage that sat empty all winter long. But I was truly relieved and delighted with the lovely welcome we found instead!

And tomorrow Eoin will have his first tin whistle lesson and we’ll expand our horizons to Miltown Malbay, a town we’ve had little experience with up until now. Meanwhile, I’ll share a couple of photos that Eoin took today in The Burren and in Ballyvaughan, which remind me of the universal experiences of motherhood and the needs and energy of youth…

“Hey Mom, look how fast I can run!”

“Hey Mom, pay attention to me!”

If all else fails… climb on Mom’s back!

“Hey Mom, look how fast I can run!”

“Settle down Junior!”

A mother’s love.

The only thing spoiling the above view of the Kilkee Cliff Walk is my shadow in the shot. However, this is no longer the case.

Today was the first chance I had to take a much-anticipated and longed for walk along the magnificent, unspoiled Irish treasure that is the Kilkee Cliff Walk. I was very excited to finally have the opportunity to make my way along the meandering path that winds along a breathtaking vista of the Atlantic Ocean and the cliffs of Kilkee and leads up the steep climb to the highest cliff, unencumbered by tourist trappings, very little in the way of signage and – except for a couple of benches placed along the way, a plain, white, concrete building for shelter and tarmac on the main path – surprisingly little else in the way of modern “improvements”.

Now I will “risk my arm” and perhaps bring upon myself the ire of a few local people, but feel compelled to express my horror at seeing the changes, “improvements,” that were recently made to this beloved piece of Irish heaven. Although during the winter I had read in both the Irish Times and the local, Clare Champion (click the links and have a look at the stories) of some controversial and heavy-handed damage that was done to the area in the name of improvements and safety, I was unprepared for the real carnage. The once rough terrain of wild flowers and indigenous grasses that covered the ground along the path has been scraped away like a construction site leaving flattened mud, dirt, rocks and stones and exposed drainage pipes. Jutting up between the path and the beautiful view of the Atlantic in several spots along the way, were pipes imbedded in the ground, which I later discovered, once held signage, some resembling small billboards – apparently meant to tell tourists what they were looking at! But the biggest shock came as I approached the tallest cliff. I could not believe my eyes when I looked up and saw an awkward, plodding handrail running up the view along the once lovely, rustic path that used to take me back in time, as I huffed and puffed to the top.

The good news is that I’ve read that many of the locals are equally unhappy with this turn of events and that the missing signs are due to a blessed few who took it upon themselves to remove them, hopefully never to be seen again! The bad news is that I’ve read that much of the wildflowers and grasses that have been ripped from the ground may take as many as 30 years to return! And as for the garish railing, my fear is that once up, there is little hope of it being removed.

No doubt, there are some who would accuse me of having little understanding of the economic concerns of the area and the need for increased tourism.

A stretch of the path last summer.

But I would ask any of these people to please, prove to me that what once stood between the magnificent, unspoiled Cliffs of Kilkee and tourism dollars was a lack of tacky tourist trappings; a lack of signs blocking the view; or an overabundance of unspoiled terrain crowned with a magnificent high cliff once unadorned by a distracting railing to hold on to during the invigorating climb to the top.

Here is the cliff walk today:

Just what the view needed… more tarmac and signs.

Aer Lingus jet courtesy Google Images.

“Thank you very much, Love,” “There you go, Love.” “Sure, Love” …the warmth of the Irish people softens the blow of a long, exhausting trip across the pond via Aer Lingus’ cramped seating, distracted, less-than-attentive flight attendants and unappetizing food, followed up with the trauma of driving a stick-shift rental car on the left side of the road from Dublin Airport to Bewley’s Hotel at Newland’s Cross, where we fell into bed and slept for several hours. Now, having showered and enjoyed a delicious meal in “The Brasserie” downstairs, we’re back in the room with the tv on, where Eoin, like a good Irishman, just finished watching Ireland lose to Italy in the football match everyone was tuned in to in the hotel pub downstairs.

The weather here is lovely and fresh after the sweltering heat we left in Chicago and everything is both familiar and strange. Eoin agreed with me during dinner that it feels like ‘home’ to be back. But at the same time so much is different that it takes some getting used to. The signs, the roads, using the Irish debit card with its pin number, and even the light switches in the hotel room, take an extra effort to figure out. When we finally arrived at our hotel, with the aid of directions along the road from two men in a truck sitting next to us at a traffic light, I was so relieved that I would have punched my fist in the air and shouted “yes!” if I’d have had the energy. But my last bit of energy was required to figure out how to open the “boot” of our Volkswagen rental car so I could remove the one large suitcase we were able to fit into it. This effort took around 10 minutes – partly due to my brain having already thrown in the towel at that point.

So, tomorrow we will wake up early and head out to The West with a wish and a prayer that I quickly get used to the car and the roads and that, with Eoin’s help reading signs, we arrive safely at our little cottage in the bog …and that it has not become too wild while we were away!

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