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. 

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!

I’ve started this post with Happy St. Paddy’s Day instead of Happy St. Patrick’s Day, as a nod to the rant my Irish husband has been on all week. Apparently, calling the saint, Paddy, is alright (though, I think Patrick is preferred) – but woe to those Americans, including a certain beer company whose ad decorates a local restaurant, who dare to call Patrick, “Patty”! Patty is a girl’s name you see and not a name you would call any Patrick, let alone the saint Himself!  So to those of you wishing friends, loved ones and nearby strangers a Happy St. Patrick’s Day today, be warned! You may certainly be familiar enough with Patrick to call him Paddy, but should you call him Patty within earshot of Declan, you will suffer the ire of an Irishman who likes his saints’ nicknames to be gender correct!

It is probably fair to say that adding to Declan’s ill-humor is the fact that he has to work today, of all days. During the last several St. Patrick’s Days spent in the U.S. he has lamented that in Ireland the day is a national holiday for which all students and most working people would have the day off to celebrate. Since this year the holiday fell on a Saturday, he might have expected to celebrate a real St. Patrick’s Day! However, his employer apparently didn’t consider ethnicity when drawing up the call roster for the year and Declan was scheduled to work, yet again, on St. Patrick’s Day.

Since we faced the holiday on our own, I had planned to bring my son, Eoin, to the downtown Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade.  A combination of the holiday falling on a Saturday coupled with the strangely warm weather we are experiencing made it feel almost like an obligation to attend the parade.

Inside the ‘L’ train today, photo by Anton.
(Not even close to the ‘sardines’ on the Metra!)

However, after watching a sea of Kelly Green humanity being squeezed onto two dangerously packed Metra trains at the Elmhurst train station this morning, I decided it was best to spend the day far from what I am sure will be Mardi Gras level festivities in Chicago. I may instead celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by making a loaf of brown bread to have with tea tonight!

But parade or no parade, the day is lovely and even my husband’s mood is looking up. He has cheerfully informed me that someone, perhaps another indignant Irish person armed with a marker, has changed the “t’s” to “d’s” on the restaurant’s beer ad! It is good to know you are not alone in your indignation!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Lily-of-the-Valley courtesy of Wikipedia

It is time to welcome Spring with the ancient Irish Festival of Imbolc! Normally this would be a laughable thing to imagine for a person in the Chicago area in February, who would more often than not, be snug indoors peering out at a snow-covered world and listening to the icy howl of winter wind. However this year in Chicago, except for a few normal winter-like days, January and this first day of February have felt more like Spring than Winter! In fact, yesterday I actually saw a child dressed in a t-shirt and shorts working as a crossing guard at my son’s school – though I couldn’t keep my self from mumbling, “Doesn’t that boy have a mother?”  So this year anyway, welcoming Spring does not require a great stretch of the imagination.

Imbolc falls about halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox and was a pagan Irish festival that marked the beginning of Spring. Today Imbolc is more commonly celebrated as Lá Fhéile Bríde,  St. Brigid’s Day. This is one example of the early Christian tactic in Ireland of superimposing itself over the long-standing pagan rites and celebrations, which worked so well, to convert Ireland to Christianity while avoiding the bloodshed experienced in so many other lands. By creating the Feast of St. Brigid on February 1st, the pagan goddess Brigid, was somewhat seamlessly replaced with the Christian, St. Brigid of Kildare, of whom I’ve written a bit more about in an earlier post  titled  St. Brigid’s Day.

So, today I wish you a happy Imbolc and a happy St. Brigid’s Day from lovely, mild Chicago and leave you with a poem that is not only attributed to St. Brigid herself, but is a great example of why she is so loved and admired to this day!

SAINT BRIGID’S PRAYER

I’d like to give a lake of beer to God.
I’d love the heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.
 
I’d love the men of Heaven to live with me,
To dance and sing.
If they wanted, I’d put at their disposal
Vats of suffering.
 
White cups of love I’d give to them
With a heart and a half;
Sweet pitchers of mercy I’d offer
To every man.
 
I’d make Heaven a cheerful spot
Because the happy heart is true.
I’d make the men contented for their own sake.
I’d like Jesus to love me too.
 
I’d like the people of Heaven to gather
From all the parishes around.
I’d give a special welcome to the women,
The three Marys of great renown.
 
I’d sit with the men, the women and God
There by the lake of beer.
We’d be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.

Leaving West Clare and returning to the suburbs of Chicago is like waking up from a dream that fades from consciousness as the day goes on. My life here is so removed from my life there that writing about Ireland and our little cottage in the bog has become difficult.

Since my last post and our return to Elmhurst our days have been busy and filled with both routine and pleasure. After much preparation and adjustment, Eoin is now off and running in 4th grade and has moved his attention from watersports and horse riding to lots of homework, intramurals and band practice. In September I managed a trip to L.A. to visit my daughter Kate and then enjoyed a surprise return visit from her a week later! Thanksgiving was marvelous, in spite of a missing daughter, because my oldest son Anton was with us and we feasted as though there were a dozen people at the table! Now I am preparing for Christmas – slowly but surely – and looking forward to my daughter being home for two whole weeks and to a full house for the holidays! Kevin, Kate’s boyfriend, will be joining us and Anton, I’m hoping, has been adequately pressured into staying the night and waking up with us on Christmas morning.

Life is good, but at the moment it is far removed from Ireland and the theme of this blog. However, my computer is stuffed full of photographs to jog my memory and I still have a few more things to say about the sights and experiences we were lucky enough to enjoy during the coldest Irish summer in nearly 50 years! So, my plan is to get back to writing as soon as possible, which will probably be, after the holidays. But until then, although I’ve been satisfied for the past few months to see Vincent van Gogh’s lovely Starry Night at the top of the page I think it’s time to push it down a bit, replacing van Gogh with Sinéad and this beautiful rendition of Danny Boy that has me thinking of Ireland again!

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!

Is this Heaven? No, it's Ireland.

We have been so busy making the most of our last couple of weeks in Ireland that I’ve had little time for blogging. Declan arrived in Dublin on Sunday and found his way to Kilkee by Monday evening. Meanwhile, Eoin and I made a road trip up to North Mayo and took the scenic route toward home, down through the mountains (hills?) during one of the many foggy, mist-ridden days we’ve experienced this summer. We were rewarded with some of the most magnificent sights I’ve seen to date – and this is saying a lot in a country that dazzles my eyes almost continually! Nearly on my way out the door again today, I only had a moment to download a slew of photos, many that barely do justice to the reality of what we saw, and drop one in here that I particularly liked. I snapped this photograph on the road between Louisburgh in Co. Mayo and Leenane, Co. Galway – a road that extended our trip by an extra day because we couldn’t get enough of it in just two!

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