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ThePierKilbaha

Keating’s Bar & Restaurant at the Kilbaha pier.

Our first Easter as residents of Lisheen, Kilkee, County Clare, Ireland – on the Loop Head Peninsula, began with a Sunrise Easter Mass at the pier in Kilbaha, the remote, last stop village before reaching Loop Head and the light house. Mass began in the dark, at 5:40 a.m. to be exact, and ended in the light. The between time had the waves of the Shannon Estuary lapping against the shore, song birds waking up, prayers and poetry. And as we walked back to our car in the morning light, a herd of cows was gathered along a wall at the roadside observing the strange morning event, as though they were wondering what all the fuss was about!

Bishop'sIsland

Bishop’s Island

Any of the three main routes home from this enchanted spot on the Peninsula is a pleasure to drive, each with its own personality. But on Easter morning we chose the most dramatic route, the western coastal road with its magnificent cliffs that rise up from the Atlantic Ocean and thrill at every turn with stunning scenery that still takes my breath away, though I’ve driven it many times now. I may no longer be surprised by the view, but the raw, wild energy is always present and the ever-changing weather and light of West Clare creates a new beauty that still amazes me every time I journey along this road. This particular morning it was cloudy and grey with a slight mist hanging in the air. A ‘soft day’. Soft where we were anyway, but down below it was anything but soft, with white waves crashing, thunder against sharp rock and who knows what wild creatures hidden from view. Quite a contrast to the softer waves of the Shannon Estuary that played in the background of the sunrise mass we had just attended. Our peace was shaken but we were now awake and energized to face the day ahead and even pushed along to face our future, as life in West Clare moves forward for us with its many delights, and not to be ignored challenges.

In September of 2016 our cottage retreat became our full-time home.

EasterBunny

Our first Easter in our cottage home.

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When we arrived home tonight I turned off the car and we sat parked in front of the house listening to this beautiful song playing on the radio, while gazing out across the misty bog just as the grey of the day was darkening into night. It always amazes me just how perfectly Irish music fits with the Irish landscape.

Yes, we had another day of what has been the punch line of the summer, “forty shades of green replaced by Fifty Shades of Grey!” However, fast becoming an expert at trying to make the best of the challenging weather situation, this afternoon I purchased tickets to a show staged at the Cultúrlann Sweeney Theatre that resides in the newly renovated library in Kilkee. Tonight, Crack’d Spoon Theatre Company performed “Curtains Up”, a family friendly variety show, that was a delightful mix of comedy, dance and live music featuring local children, teenagers and adults. The comedy provided hearty laughs – and a few eye-rolls, the talented, and sometimes quite nervous, children were darling, the adult performances were very professional and the live music was an unexpected treat tonight following Willie Clancy Week. Some of the night’s highlights were; two young boys dressed as chimney sweeps performing an exuberant sean-nós broom dance; a Monty Python-esque town doctor comedy skit; two excellent male singers performing a “Simon and Garfunkel” tune; traditional Irish music performers playing and singing several Irish classics; a hilarious, quite large, older man dressed as a ballerina performing with a group of tiny, adorable little girl ballerinas, who seemed to take his presence for granted as just part of their group; and two “cleaning lady” comediennes who punctuated the acts with their banter and short spurts of set changing followed by numerous breaks for tea! All in all a great way for a mom and her 10-year-old son to spend yet another rainy Kilkee evening! This local black box theater is a great discovery that I hope we get to enjoy a lot more of in the future.

I also must mention something that I have observed at every performance I’ve attended in County Clare. This is the particularly charming practice of offering as refreshment, fresh brewed tea in ceramic mugs or, as they did tonight, in ceramic teacups with saucers! This was even done in the large venue for the concerts in Miltown Malbay last week. In that instance at one point the emcee of the show politely asked that people who have finished their tea, “please pass your cups down to the end of the rows so that they may be collected.” I love this civilized, homey touch and I hope it is never replaced with the usual disposable cups that are the norm everywhere else!

My Kilrush Farmer’s Market treasures.

Bipolar West Clare awoke in a manic state this morning – dry, mild and bright! At least it did here in the Kilkee region. After a couple of weeks living with its depressive state, which had me feeling a bit like a character in a John B. Keane tale, this change of mood was overdue and very welcome. Also, as far as I am aware the fine weather today was not predicted, so it came as a very pleasant surprise. In the words of a local business owner, “Where did this come from?!”

The Nevsail Hut at the beach.

This morning, while Eoin was occupied in the Atlantic at Nevsail Watersports Camp, I enjoyed the beginning of this dry, mild day with a trip to the nearby town of Kilrush. After a leisurely breakfast of coffee and a scone at my favorite Kilrush hangout, The Potter’s Hand Café, I followed up with a visit to the farmer’s market in the square. Much to my surprise, not only did this market have the usual stalls selling such things as fresh produce, gorgeous flowers, homemade jams and local cheeses, it also had a vendor selling live chickens! After making my purchases, no chickens included, I took my time walking back to the car enjoying the warmth of the sun and imagining myself, produce and beautiful bouquet in hand, strolling through a village in the south of France!

After collecting Eoin at the end of Nevsail (where a seagull ate his lunch – but that’s another story!) we headed over to Diamond Rocks where I took a walk along the cliffs as Eoin, carrying his net and bucket, enjoyed the mild breeze and sun while searching the Pollock Holes for sea creatures.

Eoin inspecting his treasures.

Unlike last night, the only thunder I heard today was the sound of white, foamy waves pounding against the sun-warmed rocks beneath the cliffs. The cliff walk was a dazzling sight with the bright sun shining down from a sky of blue, highlighting a show of wild grasses in every shade of green sprinkled with tiny wildflowers of purple, yellow and white. This vibrant scene practically took my breath away after so many rainy days of muted colors under grey skies. And standing atop the highest cliff looking across Intrinsic Bay, with the warmth of the sun allowing me to finally remove my sweater for the first time in many days, there was no reason to imagine I was anywhere other than the west of Ireland!

As I write this it is after ten o’clock in the evening. The sky is still clear, the air is still mild and I hear the peaceful sound of cattle lowing in a nearby field – perhaps asking each other, “Where did this come from?!”

Mist rolling in from the sea…

Isn’t it great when life comes with a music score? Just as I started my car this morning in the car park at the Diamond Rocks Cafe, invigorated after my walk through a thick, misty fog along the Kilkee Cliffs, my spirits high and my hair a moisture-induced mess of tangled curls and ringlets, the Paul McCartney song, “Mull of Kintyre” began to play on Clare FM. Although Paul sings of a different place, the song could have been written about these particular cliffs on a misty day like today and to me it was the perfect choice as the soundtrack to my morning.

What is it about a thick fog, especially on the edge of the world here in West Clare, that makes me feel so invigorated and at home? Could it be its similarity to my inner landscape and how my dreams and even my waking mind often feel clouded in a mist? Or maybe everyone feels this way and I’m reading more into the experience than it deserves. Perhaps it’s just a human condition – the way a thick fog pulls us into the present, wakes up all our senses and makes us feel truly alive. 

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.

“Are you the lady who lost her keys?” This was my greeting during our first visit to Maud’s Ice Cream Shop in Kilkee! If you don’t remember that story, or perhaps never read it, I will refer you back to Blame it on the horse and my misadventure with keys last July. But the point being, the people of Kilkee and the surrounding area, the shopkeepers in particular who I had the most contact with, have been very welcoming and have made this summer unique from the last in that they remember us and have welcomed us back at every turn.

Dublin is a great city where I love to wander, shop and eat. But for the “Irish experience” of the friendly people sort, which has made this country famous, I have had to come to the West of Ireland, Kilkee and the Loop Head Peninsula. The familiarity of the people who run and work in the shops probably says a lot about just how much I frequented places like Diamond Rocks Cafe, Naughton’s, The Pantry, Keatings, Jo Soap Laundrette and Maude’s Ice Cream. However, considering the vast number of visitors this place takes in during the summer holidays, I was delighted by the immediate recognition and welcome I received from people remembering us and details about our stay here last year, such as Eoin’s watersports activities and our house in the bog – and my missing keys! And though everyone is generally friendly and helpful, I think they go that extra mile when they learn that we own a place here. Although we are blow-ins who don’t stay for the entire year, we have still made an investment in the area, both materially and emotionally, and I think it is appreciated. But, it is not only the people in the shops who have made us feel welcome. The local man who has been so helpful to us all year-long by checking on the house when we’re away, showing up to let the heating oil man fill our tank and looking in on our friends during their stay in May has dropped by twice since we arrived just to check to see if everything is alright! A busy man, he is here and gone like a whirlwind, but has made his neighborly presence known in a way that makes us feel like a part of the community.

And we are still meeting people. For instance, yesterday during a stop in nearby Carrigaholt, I met the man who runs the prettiest Post Office I have ever seen – and I told him as much! Not only is it lovely to look at, but at least while I was in town, soothing classical music could be heard emanating from the open door. And on top of that, this is a Post Office after my own heart because it also serves as a coffee shop! Not only did the friendly man wave and say hello from his doorway, but he walked up to my car, began a conversation and, after learning that I owned a cottage in Lisheen, invited me to stop in and visit the shop when I’m back in Carrigaholt. I took him up this invitation sooner than he probably expected when I dropped in again only a couple of hours later asking for, and receiving, the recommendation of a plumber from the area! Local tradesmen, by the way, are another group of people I am getting to know quite well around here!

A very pretty Post Office!

The West of Ireland is bipolar. At times it is very dark and broody, as it had been since we arrived last Tuesday. Then suddenly the sun is dazzling and bright and there is no place more cheerful in the world! But bring your rain gear wherever you go, because a dark mood is always lurking and threatening a sudden return.

Today Ireland, Kilkee at least, had a manic episode. The sun was sparkling through a bright, blue sky and though the air was still a bit crisp, it was truly a gorgeous day. This morning, while Eóin attended his first of 3 days of horseback riding kids camp, I enjoyed my first walk this trip along the cliffs and it was as breathtaking, and arduous in spots, as I remembered! I somehow managed to get into two conversations with locals both up and down the cliff walk, something I don’t remember doing even once while walking the cliffs last year. Then, after having tea and a bagel at Diamond Rocks Cafe, I drove back home. When I turned on to the bumpy road that leads to our cottage I was greeted by the curious faces of a herd of cows as they watched me pass. Next along the way, about halfway up the road, I had to stop for a pheasant as it took its time crossing the road. And finally, a gorgeous, grey heron took flight from the tall grasses at the side of the road and followed the road ahead of my car displaying his huge wing span for the remaining part of the journey to the cottage!

A short time later, driving along the main road into Kilkee on my way to collect Eóin from camp, I raced to keep up with the sunny spot along the road, which means I was traveling faster than the huge, billowing cloud overhead, and reminded me to cut back a bit on my speed. I arrived at the stables to a very happy son who had learned all sorts of things about horses today. Eóin groomed, walked and rode the brown pony whose wrong end is facing the camera in this photo. Here Eóin sits with his instructor, Aislinn, as he was taking off his chaps at the finish of class.

Eóin was the first to spot the rainbow!

Near the end of this lovely day we had a short downpour of rain that just lasted long enough to give us this rainbow! Perhaps I am judging the West of Ireland too harshly and it is not bipolar, but is simply a Libra like me – scales moving up and down, just trying to find a bit of balance!

I was sitting in the kitchen beside a crackling fire in Teach deBúrca, sipping hot, milky tea from a mug made by a Clare potter while listening to the lashing rain and cold wind howling outside and reading a book appropriately titled Two Months in Clare, written by Mary John Knott about her visit to Kilkee in 1835. If this sounds like an idyllic, cozy scene, it was not. This was me making the best of a bad situation!

Eóin and I arrived in Kilkee last Tuesday morning after a very long journey that included an eight-hour layover at New York’s JFK Airport, an experience that had me rethinking any wish I may have had to return to New York City for an extended visit. Let me just say that my experience with JFK Airport workers did little to dispel stereotypes of New Yorkers! After this ordeal we were in a hurry to settle into the cottage and rest up for our much-anticipated summer. The fact that it was unseasonably cold, windy and wet didn’t really register until we arrived at Teach deBúrca, unloaded our luggage and then realized the radiators were not getting hot. Exhausted and at wit’s end I was in no mood to deal with a cold, damp 100-year-old cottage with a broken furnace, so I promptly threw our pajama’s and toothbrushes into an overnight bag and booked a night at a local B & B!

I’m not sure if the heat had ever actually been on in full force while our guests were here in May but it was not working in June. I’ve heard the weather was better last month so maybe it was adequate for our friends – I sure hope they were warm enough – but the weather this June has become infamous for its low temperatures, rain and hail and has been a common topic of discussion on Clare FM as well as with every Irish person I’ve spoken to since we arrived. The furnace needed to be repaired and the sooner the better!

As soon as we finished a wonderful Irish breakfast on Wednesday morning at the B & B, I got to work sorting out the heating problem. After getting the name and number of a recommended heating/plumbing contractor (I know, strange combination) it was with great disappointment that I learned that he could not make it until Saturday morning!

The Loop Head Lighthouse on a bleak June evening.

This began a marathon of keeping a fire burning in the hearth throughout the rest of the week… and that is where you found me at the beginning of this post, biding time sitting as close as I could get to the fire, reading and drinking lots of tea! But things didn’t get any better on Saturday morning because the repairman, who made me wait so long, failed to show up at all! After sending two early morning text message rants to my husband back in Chicago about Ireland’s “God forsaken weather and unreliable heating/plumbing repairmen” I located another heating man who, much to my delight, came within an hour and fixed the problem!

Now we have a cozy, dry cottage. Ireland, and the reliability of its repairmen, has redeemed itself once again! In fact, not only do we now have heat, but tonight we are enjoying our first absolutely gorgeous summer evening after the skies cleared this afternoon for the first time since our arrival and dazzled us with blue sky, sunshine and billowy, white clouds! The man on Clare FM just promised more of the same throughout the week… and I’m holding him to it!

One of two pots of marigolds left by our thoughtful house guests!

“The radiators are cold.”  This was not the statement we had hoped to hear from our month-long guests on their first day in the cottage!

Friends of ours were staying at Teach deBúrca for the month of May. These are our first guests, which was very exciting for us, yet also caused some anxiety. Because it is a somewhat rustic cottage, if you can call a place with heat and indoor plumbing “rustic”, that sits empty for much of the year in the middle of farmland and bog, we had some trepidation about whether our friends would be comfortable and happy staying there. This anxiety was much relieved when I received a very jubilant sounding voicemail message early in the month stating that they had arrived and were very pleased with the place! However, at the end of the message was a request that we contact them to let them know how to turn on the heat, as the radiators were cold – uh oh. This was not a good sign and it turned out to be two days of conversations via phone and text message by which we tried to sort out a problem with the heat from across the Atlantic. Handling this sort of thing from a distance is not easy, but since we do know a very nice and neighborly Kilkee man who is willing to check on the cottage for us, we had a place to start. We contacted Martin and he kindly stopped by to check it out. At first he couldn’t find an obvious cause, so he built a fire in the stove and probably turned a few switches on and off. As sometimes happens with these things, a few hours later after making a funny noise, the heat came on and, as far as I know, things remained warm and cozy for the rest of month! We were so thankful for this small miracle because we didn’t want the cottage to interfere with our friends’ month-long Irish holiday, and in fact, had hoped the cottage would be a nice part of that holiday. Now, with the month nearly over, our house guests have closed up the cottage and, after a few stops along the way to Dublin, will soon return to Elmhurst. I can’t wait to hear all about their time in Kilkee, in Teach deBúrca and of their jaunts around the countryside!

May was an eventful month for Ireland as far as visitors go! Along with our friends from Elmhurst, the Queen of England and the President of the United States paid a visit! There is so much to say about the historical significance of the first visit of a British monarch to Ireland in 100 years – the first visit ever by a British monarch to the independent, Republic of Ireland. But I’m going to leave that analysis to others closer to the situation and more knowledgeable than me. However, I will say that when I saw the Queen first set foot on Irish soil and witnessed the gracious greeting awaiting her from the Irish President – Uachtarán na hÉireann, Mary McAleese, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and other Irish dignitaries and citizens, it gave me goosebumps and moved me more than I would have expected. For those who haven’t seen it yet, I am including a video, below, of the Queen’s speech in Dublin Castle. The two most interesting things about this video come at the beginning and at the end. First, the Queen started her speech off by speaking in Irish, much to the delight of President McAleese, which is apparent as she mouths the word “Wow!” when she hears it! The second occurrence, of less consequence but something I found charming, comes at the end of the speech when the Queen calls for those present to stand for a toast. After the toast everyone clinks their glasses together and you can hear the Queen say, “I like this clinking glass” !

Continuing the excitement of the Queen’s stay and coming just a few days after her departure, was a visit from President Obama and The First Lady. After much preparation and fanfare the President and Mrs. Obama’s one-day visit to Ireland included a stop in the small town of Moneygall, a.k.a. Muine Gall, which means “foreigners’ thicket” in Irish. Moneygall was home to Fulmuth Kearney, President Obama’s maternal great-great-great-grandfather, who emigrated from this town to America in 1850! Besides being treated to a rousing and warm welcome by the entire town, along with many others who travelled there for the event, the president got to meet his very own Irish 8th cousin, Henry Healy, whom he referred to as “Henry the 8th” during an eloquent speech given at a rally in his honor in College Green, Dublin later that day! Below is a delightful video of our president enjoying a pint at Ollie Hayes’ Pub in Moneygall (I think cousin-Henry is the young man standing behind the president who toasts with Mrs. Obama in the video)! Sláinte, Mr. President!

Even though I’ve spent the majority of my summer in West Clare’s misty, cool weather, I have still somehow managed to get a pretty good tan. When the sun periodically breaks through the clouds it is dazzling and hot and, considering the large amount of time we’ve spent outdoors these past five weeks, I suppose it’s not surprising that we managed a bit of a suntan. Well, today I realized just how much sun I’ve been exposed to during my stay in Kilkee!

A very angry one-armed crab

Eoin and I spent most of this afternoon observing and gathering a variety of marine life at the Pollock Holes. During the hours we were at the pools, we found the usual assortment of small, orange starfish; periwinkle; a few Sand Goby; three Sea Hares (a type of sea slug), which shot out purple dye when we disturbed them; and two little Hermit Crabs that would not stop fighting until we finally threw one back into a tide pool! A highlight of our excursion today came when a much more seasoned tide pool fisherman was kind enough to give Eoin a one-armed Velvet Swimming Crab to carry around in his bucket for a while! Mr. Seasoned-Fisherman also gave us a thrill when he called us over to see an enormous Spiny Starfish that he and his children managed to catch! Much larger than the orange, Common Starfish that we usually find in abundance, this rarer creature was about a foot in diameter and felt, well – spiny, to the touch!

The jellyfish culprit

All this excitement at the Pollock Holes made the time fly by and before we knew it the tide was beginning to come in and the pools were quickly disappearing around us. We gathered Eoin’s bucket and net and began to make our way back to the shore, with me looking forward to a cup of tea at Diamond Rocks Cafe. However, trouble came in the form of a jellyfish. Not the usual pale lavender Common Jellyfish we have been practically ignoring at this point, this was the larger, Compass Jellyfish with its brown stripes and frilly stingers at the bottom. Eoin managed to see it, catch it in his net and transfer it to his bucket before I was even aware that he was not following me out of the pools. After being called back to witness this treasured catch, and of course, taking the obligatory photograph, I urged him to make a run for the shore before we could no longer do it while staying dry at the same time!

Unfortunately, by this time we, along with a few other people, were standing on a rock island surrounded by water! Luckily, it wasn’t deep enough yet to force us to swim, but we did have to walk through calf-high water to the rocks that led out of the quickly disappearing pools. For Eoin in his Crocs, this was not a problem. However, I was wearing the same leather Keds and sport socks that I have lived in since we arrived in Ireland, the only pair of proper shoes with me. Sure, I could have taken off my shoes and waded through barefoot… however, after witnessing the array of sea creatures we had gathered throughout the day – nothing was going to persuade me to walk barefoot on the rocks through that water! So I risked my Keds and walked through the water in my shoes and socks – not a happy camper. After this, I skipped tea and went straight home to dry my soggy shoes and socks. Not only was I unhappy that my leather shoes were soaked through, but it disturbed me to think how it could have been much worse, with us having to swim to safety – all for the capture of one more exotic sea creature!

Now, with my soaked leather Ked’s stuffed with newspaper and drying out, I am wearing a pair of flip-flops, which I lived in back in Chicago, but haven’t touched since we arrived in Ireland with the weather and the terrain making shoes and sport socks de rigueur. So, after slipping into my unused flip-flops, I was very surprised to look down and see brown legs followed by white ankles and feet! My Kilkee tan!

The Kilkee version of a Farmer's Tan

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