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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

I have found another reason to like the Irish people and it happened in a pub.

After Eoin’s tin whistle class on Wednesday night we wandered over to a nearby pub to hear his teacher performing traditional Irish music on the concertina, accompanied by his sister playing the harp. I ordered a hot whiskey for myself and a Rock Shandy (1/2 Club Orange and 1/2 Club Lemon) for Eoin and we joined the small group of people in the pub for the music. A television on the wall, albeit with the sound turned off, kept Eoin happy with a dose of the Olympics he has been so sorely missing due to the absence of a tv in our cottage. As for me, the lovely music and relaxed banter with the pub owner and the musicians between tunes, was a perfect way to wind down the day!

At some point the subject of crime came up and someone in the room quipped about how insignificant matters are reported on the local radio station as though they are of great importance, such as the recovery of a missing dog or a truck stalled and blocking a road in a town of only a handful of houses. I mentioned that they’re lucky that such small things are worth reporting here because in Chicago there is enough crime to report about to keep the small things well off the news!

When someone then mentioned how relatively low the crime rate is in this part of the country, I blurted out my usual superstition, “Knock on wood!” No sooner did the phrase escape my mouth than every person within earshot immediately and instinctively – reached over, in front of, beside, or even behind themselves and knocked on whatever wood furniture or molding was closest to them! Then everyone continued on with the conversation without missing a beat. It was so unusual to us that even Eoin remarked during the journey home, “Mom, did you see how everyone knocked on wood when you told them to?” These are my kind of people!

Having made it back to the Kilrush Farmer’s Market, I made a point to bring my camera along and was happy to find that the chickens I was so delighted to see there a couple of weeks ago were back! And, although I again controlled the urge to buy a hen, I came a bit closer this time and bought some fresh eggs from a boy who appeared to be about the same age as Eoin. As professional and businesslike as this young man was, he was still a boy, and I watched as he eagerly pushed forward a particular half-dozen carton, which he seemed to favor, trying to sell it to an elderly man who was ahead of me at the stand. I noticed that the carton contained an oddly shaped egg prominently perched at one end. However, the man didn’t acknowledge the boy’s hints and instead took the carton closest to him. When my turn came I couldn’t resist the boy’s enthusiasm for this particular half-dozen. He inched the carton toward me and though he didn’t guarantee it, he told me that the oddly shaped egg might contain a double-yolk! He said this with the bright-eyed enthusiasm of a child who is not yet bored with the subject of double-yolk fresh eggs, in spite of having to sell eggs at a farmer’s market stand – and probably help gather them in the morning.

Well, as I had promised Eoin earlier in the day, for dinner that evening I made him a bit of an Irish breakfast of eggs and black and white pudding. Of course we had to use the egg with the potential double-yolk and as I got ready to crack it open Eoin stood watching hopefully – and with the same enthusiasm that his peer exhibited when selling it to me. Unfortunately, all this anticipation was rewarded with only a single yolk.

Sometimes an oddly shaped egg is just an oddly shaped egg!

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?!”

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.

Eoin having a scream in Lahinch!

St. Tola's 12th century High Cross at Dysert O'Dea shares its field with a herd of cows.

My husband called from Chicago saying it was the coolest day there in about 3 weeks with a high of only about 75 degrees – he was very happy with the “cool” weather. I told him it was probably the warmest day here in about 3 weeks with a temperature that hit a high of about 73 degrees. Eoin and I were very happy with the warm weather! Warm or cool, it is all relative!

Anyway, the West Clare weather has been very nice for several days now, culminating in weather that today, felt almost tropical! And due to the mild, dry days we have spent lots of time at the Pollock Holes hunting sea creatures, have made a few trips around the Burren, spent a couple of hours touring the castle and grounds at the Dysert O’Dea Castle Museum in Corofin, saw yet another flight display at the Birds of Prey Center, drove along the Coast Road from Ballyvaughan down to Doolin, took a little drive up to Lahinch one day to watch the surfers and generally have kept so busy there has been little time to write about it! So I thought I would just share a few photos of our recent days in Clare.

I hope, wherever you are, you are having a pleasant summer too!

Up close with a vulture at The Birds of Prey.

Eoin rock climbing in the Burren.

Eoin's treasure trove of hermit crabs.

... and I did a bit of gardening, too!

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!

The sights and sounds contained in this video featuring the Cliffs of Moher are all the proof I need that Irish traditional music came out of Ireland’s landscape, as though it once grew there wild, just waiting for some musically inclined ancient Celt to pluck it from the rocky shoreline and share it with the world! For me, watching this video today has eased some of my apprehension over the likely challenges of making the journey in three weeks across the Atlantic alone with my 9-year-old son to our cottage. Also, the music and the magnificent sites have inspired me to begin to tackle some essential tasks, which I must carry out, between now and the day of our departure on June 20th. Wish me luck, I’m going to need it!

If you are so inclined, you may go to the link provided in the video to vote for the Cliffs of Moher in the third, and last, phase of an online campaign for the New 7 Wonders of Nature.

 

Last night as I lay dreaming of the pleasant days gone by,

My mind being bent on rambling, to Erin’s Isle I did fly.

I stepped on board a vision and sailed out with a will,

‘Till I gladly came to anchor at the Cross of Spancil Hill…

This is the opening of an extraordinary poem written by a man named Michael Considine. In 1870 Michael left his home at the crossroads called Spancil Hill, a few miles outside Ennis in County Clare, seeking his fortune in America with the intention of bringing his sweetheart, Mary McNamara, to join him as soon as he was able. Sadly, in 1873 at the age of 23, Michael fell ill in California and died before seeing Mary or his home in Clare again. But, this being the story of an Irishman, it ends with a poem – which of course was eventually turned into a haunting ballad. While he was ill, and perhaps knowing he was dying, Michael wrote this poem and before he passed away, posted it to John, his six-year-old nephew back in Spancil Hill. The original version of the song Spancil Hill, traces back to the late 1930’s to early ’40s and a local man named Robbie McMahon, who was given the original text by a relative of Michael Considine.

I stumbled upon a brilliant version of Spancil Hill on youtube a few days ago, while cruising for music to get me through the winter doldrums of my Chicago suburb. Here the Irish folk legend and balladeer, Christy Moore joins with Shane MacGowan, the phenomenal, albeit tooth-challenged, talent of Celtic Rock and Punk renown, to give a beautiful rendition of the musical version of Considine’s heart-rending poem, which tells the story of the yearning for home, wherever that might be.

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