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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.

All is quiet today and the sky is bright above my Chicago suburb. No more sounds of plows in the streets as they try to keep up with a blizzard that dumped over a foot of snow on us. No more scraping of shovels or drone of snowblowers going up and down driveways every couple of hours.

Chicago man with snowblower, AP/Daily Herald, Bob Chwedyk

Chicago man with snowblower, AP/Daily Herald, Bob Chwedyk

The snow has stopped and the streets and driveways are as clear as they’re going to get. But with this storm’s one-two punch a brutal cold has settled in that explains the silence. As I type this it is -16 degrees Fahrenheit outside (negative 26.6 ºC)! And this does not tell the story of our windchill, which is much colder and describes how the air actually feels as these brutal temperatures, in the form of wind, hit your body. I haven’t heard a car pass by on the street for hours because those who can, are staying inside their homes. The local schools are closed and even my husband’s employer told him to stay home today, a phenomenon in itself! The birds are silent as though trying to go unnoticed by this biting cold and the squirrels that live in the two trees on my parkway are nowhere in sight. Hopefully, they’re snuggled up close together keeping as warm as possible. We only venture outside to walk our dog, who we dress in a coat with a turtleneck sweater underneath. Even wearing this get-up, he comes back inside shivering, feet frozen and  tiny snowballs clinging to his fuzzy fur. Seán is a Bichon Frise and not made for this weather.

Meanwhile, it is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Ireland. But, a milder temperature does not mean that Mother Nature is taking it easy on them. Lashing rain and 120 km/h winds have wreaked havoc with damaging waves and floods along the coast and across the country from storms that have come repeatedly since before Christmas.

The River Shannon floods Kilbaha Bay on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

The River Shannon floods Kilbaha Bay on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

Tides rise and huge waves explode against the shores of the Loop Head Peninsula and all along the coastline taking down sections of stone walls, washing over roads and flooding promenades. The howl of gale-force wind and the thunder of 40 – 60 foot waves would be invigorating and exciting to witness if it were not so destructive. I imagine the local people snug inside their homes having battened down the hatches, hoping for the best and afraid to venture out to see the damage each time it quiets down between storms.

Storm damage in Kilbaha, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

Storm damage in Carrigaholt on the Loop Head Peninsula, photo courtesy Carsten Krieger Photography

My house on the Loop Head Peninsula just outside Kilkee is inland enough that the waves themselves can’t reach it, but with wind like that and the lashing rain, I am preoccupied with concern for its wellbeing. A huge weight lifted  from my shoulders when we received an email from the local man who checks on the house for us. Reading the words, “You’ll be glad to know that Teach de Búrca stands proud with no damage done to it or any of the outbuildings,” was such a great relief that I felt a surge of optimism and a special warmth for my little Irish house as it continued to brave the storms.

So here I am surrounded by snow and cold so dangerous that I won’t be leaving the house today – not even for my mocha! The cabinet doors under the kitchen sink are open to allow heat to surround and protect the pipes from freezing as are the doors around water pipes in the basement. Curtains drawn and blinds closed through the night in an attempt to keep out drafts, are now open to allow the sun to magnify some heat through the windows. The furnace is on overtime doing its best to keep us warm, so far so good. I am here and I know what is happening and what I need to do. But since I’m not in my County Clare cottage, I can’t see for myself if all is well after each storm so I am haunted by phantom sounds of crashing waves, howling wind and the rattling of my red half-door.

Lahinch, Co. Clare Promenade photo taken by photographer/surfer George Karbus courtesy breakingnews.ie

Atlantic waves appear to swallow the promenade in Lahinch, Co. Clare, photo taken by photographer/surfer George Karbus courtesy breakingnews.ie

Slug, Snail and Hurley

Slug, Snail and Hurley

A slug and a snail went riding on a hurley
one was rather pretty, the other fat and burly.

“Slug” asked Snail, “d’ ye loik hangin’ out wit me,
while dis lad has nuttin’ else to do, and no TV?”

Slug said nothing, just sighed and felt sublime
as he gazed around proudly at his trails of slime.

I tore Eoin away from his dazzling new Christmas iPad Mini with Retina Display so that he could reacquaint himself with his little buddies from County Clare and to see what he thought of the poem I wrote to go with the photo. He laughed after I explained what ‘sublime’ meant and read Snail’s comment with the Dublin accent I was trying to convey. (Although this was a West Clare snail, I settled for an approximation of a Dub accent I’m more familiar with.)

Eoin looked a bit wistful for a moment, remembering how he had amused himself at our cozy cottage in Clare by putting the snail and the slug on his hurley to see if they would race, or fight, or even react to each other.  This is the sort of thing a boy does when he is planted in the middle of the bog for two summer months with no TV and no iPad. After a moment Eoin trotted off, returning to the iPad and whatever game he most recently downloaded with his iTunes gift card… as I sat wistfully longing for a cottage in the bog with no television nor iPad in sight.

slugsnailEoin

Sccrrrrratttchchch!!! Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-scratttchhhh… ssccccrrraaaaaape!! This is a weak and mild imitation of the sound we woke up to this morning. Declan was sure it was outside the window – I swear it was near or under my side of the bed! This went on between stretches of silence for about 40 minutes. Having seen no evidence of the presence of any rodent type creatures in the house all summer, my hope is that Declan is right and we just had a bit of bird activity in the stones outside. Perhaps the pheasant, which paid our house guests a visit each evening in May but has only darted past our car a few times across our bumpy road, has returned to prepare a winter home nearby. Yes, that’s the ticket. It had to be that beautiful pheasant!

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh courtesy oes.org

Just as every cloud has its silver lining, several hours earlier Eoin and I stood in the darkness of the wee hours outside our country cottage gazing up at a clear, night sky that sparkled with billions of stars of every size… glowing, twinkling and even shooting! Eoin had never seen such a sight in his entire life and I only have vague memories of viewing it as a child. I wouldn’t trade the starry night for a quieter morning, no matter what was making that horrifying sound!

It is very dark and violent in the bog tonight. The wind has howled for a couple of hours, occasionally rattling the bottom half of the half-door so forcefully that it sounds like someone is just outside, knocking with an urgent request to come in from the storm! Eoin was pretty frightened by the wind, rain and knocking but after I read an extra couple of chapters of Redwall by Brian Jacques to him, a book we’ve been at for about a week now, he became relaxed and tired enough to fall asleep. Now his ‘brave’ mom has taken the situation in hand and opened the bottle of Bunratty Mead bought in a Ballyvaughan gift shop in anticipation of a night like this! Each rattling knock at the door is followed with a sip of steamy, hot mead – and a request to the bog fairies that the electricity keeps working, because I don’t think even the mead will help if the lights go out!

I have no photograph to go with this night or my eerie little tale, so I will go to the other extreme and post a photo I took today in the Ladies’ Room of the fantastic Magnetic Music Café in Doolin, which by the way, not only has a funny sign in its Ladies’, but serves the best rhubarb crumble I’ve every tasted! I could use a bit of a laugh at the moment anyway…

It pays to keep a camera in your purse at all times!

As I do my best to domesticate this cottage in the bog, all the while learning the true meaning of the term jury-rigged, I take comfort in the fact that, at least as far as I know, no prisoners from the Spanish Armada were executed here. This, however, is not the case for the beautiful Doonagore Castle in Doolin.

Doonagore Castle, courtesy Wikipedia.

Yesterday Eoin and I paid a visit to Doolin and as usual, stopped along the road leading down to Fisherstreet, to gaze at the beautiful tower house that looks down on Doolin and the Atlantic waves crashing on the shore below. Doonagore Castle, has long been a symbol of the romantic Irish past for me. I initially laid eyes upon it during my first trip to Ireland when I spent eight days in a Doolin B&B, wandering the Burren by day and reveling in the music of McGann’s and Gus O’Connor’s Pubs at night. Each day I would either walk up to the castle, or at the very least, pause in my little rental car to gaze upon it as I made my way up and down the steep, winding road that passes this treasure of antiquity.

Unusual for me, I somehow never managed to investigate the castle’s history beyond the information obtained from the owners of the B & B where I was staying – that it is privately owned, fully restored and belongs to “Americans”. However, after our visit yesterday, I finally googled the castle and was quite surprised to learn something of it’s darker side. In 1588 as the Spanish Armada retreated from an invasion attempt on Britain, a ship wrecked on the West Clare coast, after which 170 captured Spanish soldiers were hanged… in my favorite, picturesque, romantic Doolin castle! Alas, as lovely as it is, I don’t think I could sleep there at night!

Meanwhile, this American is doing  her best to make this little cottage in the bog into a home – fixing the negative surprises as they arise one by one and being thankful for all the positive surprises that come with each passing day we are here.

A cozy corner of the Teach deBúrca kitchen.

“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!

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!

It’s very hard to close up and say farewell to Teach deBúrca, Kilkee, Loop Head and West Clare, in general! Our last event in Kilkee tomorrow is “cake day” at Eoin’s Nevsail Watersports Camp and we’re bringing lemon cake and meringues, freshly baked by The Pantry in Kilkee. Following camp, we’ll return to the cottage to say goodbye to this place we’ve called home for the past six weeks and then it’s off to a hotel in Shannon where we will be close to the airport for our Saturday morning flight and the beginning of the long journey home.

This trip has challenged us in many ways. I had to get comfortable driving a stick shift  – with my left hand and on the opposite side of the road! We had to tame a cottage that was a bit wild when we arrived. I’ve had more contact with repairmen and workmen than I ever expected and spent a good part of the beginning of our stay in combat with spiders and even a few mice. I won the battle but I am not naive enough to think I’ve won the war – especially since I must retreat until the next trip back! War or not, I am leaving a clean and cozy cottage that has benefitted a lot by a good start to the improvements we knew we needed to make.

Eoin and I have spent the last several weeks in intimate contact with the ever-changing Atlantic coastline, surrounded by breathtaking beauty and local quirkiness, housed in a peaceful, rural setting, had a braying donkey as an alarm clock, and have even become so used to the local accents that when we heard an American accent today we looked at each other and laughed at the sound! Being back in the suburbs of Chicago will be an adjustment. However, we are thankful to have had this time in West Clare and equally thankful to have people we love waiting for our return home!

"Look, Thor cut through the clouds with his sword so God could look down on Ireland!" exclaimed Eoin.

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