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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

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!

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!

Thanksgiving feast - provided by graphicdesignblog.org

While I’m here in the States being thankful for my many blessings this Thanksgiving, my husband will be on his way back “home” to spend a week in Ireland. Thanksgiving dinner at our house will be a smaller affair this year. My daughter is having her first Thanksgiving away from home, seated at a table I’ve never seen, in her L.A. apartment. That leaves just me and my two sons – and my husband – if we manage to have our feast on the table before the taxi comes to bring him to O’Hare Airport for his journey across the pond!

Declan is happy to be going to Ireland, or perhaps, just to be enjoying a few days off work! Although it would be great to be going along, I can’t begrudge him this short trip on his own after Eoin and I were able to enjoy so many weeks in Kilkee last summer. The main reason for this visit is to batten down the hatches at Teach deBúrca and to see to it that the fuel tank is filled with sufficient oil to keep our West Clare cottage snug enough throughout the winter months to keep dampness out and the water pipes from freezing. After last year’s unusually cold weather we are even more determined to make sure the cottage stays warm and dry. Also while there, Declan is looking forward to inspecting our two outbuildings, which he expects to be standing proudly beneath newly installed roof cladding. Like the drainage ditches we put around the perimeter of the property last summer, the roofs are a necessity if we want to keep these rustic old relics intact.

When Declan arrives at Teach deBúrca, it will be his first time crossing the threshold through our lovely, new, red half-door, which was not installed until after his departure last summer! Now that I’m thinking of it, perhaps I should supply him with written instructions for mastering the art of locking and unlocking the door. Also upon arrival he will, hopefully, be able to give me the good news that our Belfast sink is still sitting where I left it in August, despite the warnings I was given against leaving such a coveted item on display.

It will be far quieter in Kilkee this time of year, with many of the shops closed for the winter. Kilkee is bustling at the height of the summer holiday season but during the winter months it is a sleepy village inhabited only by locals who are not as inclined to spend their time and money enjoying a lot of breakfasts at The Pantry, pricey but delicious dinners at Murphy Black’s or lovely seafood feasts at Naughton’s Bar. And, though Diamond Rock’s Cafe will still be open on the weekends, it will probably be too cold to have tea or a morning mocha on the outdoor patio. I do hope the weather is mild enough for Declan to be able to walk safely along the cliffs or at least allow him to wander for a time around the Pollock Holes. However, with such a short stay, seeing to the concerns of the cottage will leave little time for much else. For instance, on top of having the oil delivered and ‘battening down of hatches’, I am hoping Declan will manage to get over to Kilrush or Ennis to buy a new, electric stove top to replace the gas stove that came with the house, but was not properly installed for safe use. This will enable me to prepare meals next time I’m there, using the lovely new cookware I am stashing in Declan’s luggage! Teach deBúrca will be more of a home with a working stove and hot meals enjoyed at our kitchen table …

… which brings me back to Thanksgiving dinner and the fact that it is already the end of November and I have taken such a long break from writing in this blog! I can’t explain my absence except to say that I’ve been pulled in many directions since returning to the suburbs of Chicago. The lazy days of a summer spent in Kilkee seem so far away… walks along spectacular cliffs, drives through the foggy mists of Loop Head, braying donkeys in the night, holy wells and abbey ruins, waves crashing against the rocks and upon the sandy shoreline, the daily navigation of potholes dotting the long, narrow gravel road that leads to our cottage, bright orange starfish in the tide pools… such a different world from life in the suburbs. I suppose it has taken me awhile to readjust and to begin to recapture the ability to exist in the two worlds at the same time.

I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving!

A different world.

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.

Yesterday was a sad day for Eoin and me because my daughter, Kate, headed back to Chicago after spending a week with us in Kilkee.

The actress hams it up at the fireside.

Kate’s enthusiasm and the delight she takes in her surroundings – from admiring the grandeur of the cliffs to the tiniest details, like the cup her tea is served in – makes her a kindred spirit and we have great fun together! We laughed our way through The Burren in search of The Burren Perfumery; scared ourselves investigating a holy well at the side of a dark, country road; walked along cliffs and admired the ever-changing views of the sea; took countless drives around Loop Head on bright Irish summer evenings; marvelled at dolphins and ruins; and explored the Pollock Holes – cringing at sea creatures, which Eoin handled with ease.

Kate's "eww" face

We oohed and ahhed over beautiful scenery, baby animals in fields, Irish pottery and handcrafts, cozy, quaint tea shops and even the perfect shade of blue paint that trimmed the windows of a stone cottage!

During our long journey through The Burren in search of the Perfumery, I joked that the three of us were “Thelma and Louise – and Bart Simpson”!

…well Louise, Bart and I had a great time exploring West Clare and sharing the cottage with you and hope you come back again and again! Slán abhaile a Kate!

"Louise" and "Bart" having tea at the quaintest tea shop in The Burren.

Teach deBúrca with its new red door!

With my daughter here for a week-long visit and us making the most of every moment of her stay, there has been little time for blogging from the bog! However, with both Kate and Eoin taking naps to recover from a day of dolphin watching from a boat in the Atlantic, I thought it was a great time to post a photo of our newly installed and recently painted half-door, along with our new house sign, which replaces both the old sign and the old name!

First, the door. A work of art, and an art to work! When the man who made our door installed it and then explained the intricacies of the lock and latch system, I was at first a bit overwhelmed and thought that maybe I had romanticized the old wooden half-doors, a.k.a. Dutch doors, which once graced so many old cottages in West Clare and around rural Ireland, and had bitten off more than I wanted to chew. But within a day, I was in love with this door! The latches and the locks were very easy to master and the opening and closing of this door has become a simple, yet elegant, ritual. And nothing beats having the upper half of the door open to let in the fresh Clare air and light on a mild day! A big thank you goes to Richard Beer of Irish Country Furniture for making us this beautiful, old style wooden half-door with its hidden, modern security!

Secondly, the sign and our new name.  As I wrote in an earlier blog entry, “… a rose by any other name…” , when we purchased the cottage we considered keeping the name Rose Cottage, if it had any historical significance to the house. However, after a few inquiries of the locals, we found out that the name had no connection or significance to the house other than the fact that it was on the sign. Due to the lack of an actual address, the cottage needed a name, but we wanted the name to have some meaning to us. So, after finding a local forge, Paddy Murphy of Kilkee Forge, we decided to just keep it simple and  name the cottage after ourselves – but to do it in Irish!  Therefore, Rose Cottage is now, officially, Teach deBúrca, meaning basically “Burke House” or “Burke’s House”. It’s easy enough to say, with deBúrca pretty much sounding like it looks and “Teach” sounding like “tock or chock” – depending upon what part of the country you’re from when you say it!

Enjoying the benefit of a half-door on a lovely day.

Except for the major work we had done on the property to clear and level the ground and add drainage ditches, many of the details we have taken care of during this stay… such as, the door, the name, the Belfast Sink, and even finally having The Traveling Butter Dish and friends in place in the kitchen, were the little things we needed to do to put our mark on the place and make it ours. And I am happy to say that I feel very satisfied that we have accomplished this goal!

Our Belfast Sink

My mother-in-law’s Belfast Sink has finally made it from the posh Dublin neighborhood of Clonskeagh, to the West of Ireland! This sink once served in the kitchen of the Dublin house but was removed many years ago to make way for a “modern” kitchen. As long as I’ve known it though, it has been a planter in my mother-in-law’s back garden and is now serving the same purpose at our quaint country cottage. Having this sink, filled with flowers, next to the front door, has been on my mind since the very first time we laid eyes on Rose Cottage. Well today I can say, mission accomplished!

Monday afternoon Eoin and I made the trip to the Kilrush Garden Center, which I found out about in my usual way – by asking the person behind the cash register in whatever shop I happen to be in at the moment. Today it was an art supply shop and the gentleman working there informed me of a Garden Shop, “just past the Tesco (a large grocery/department store ) in Kilrush”. Luckily, I knew where Tesco was and yes, there was a Garden Shop – sign – just past it. However, the sign gave no indication of the store’s site. Getting used to this sort of thing in Ireland, I decided to cross my fingers for luck and make a turn down the road nearest to the sign. After passing a few houses along the way, sure enough, there was the little garden shop! After telling the lady behind the counter about my Belfast Sink, she proceeded to walk me around the shop and guide me toward perennials that should make it through the winter, “as long as it’s not as dreadful as the last winter”. Also, since it is my intention to have a new red door on the house in about a week, we chose a few red annuals for a bit of color.

Upon returning home, Eoin and I got to work filling the  bottom of the sink with stones – of which we have an abundance, followed by the compost mix from the shop, and then our lovely flowers! Finally, we chose some larger stones to surround the bottom of the sink to give it a more “Clare” look.

The last person to plant flowers in this Belfast Sink was my mother-in-law, Eileen, and I feel very honored to follow her at the task. I hope she would be as pleased with the results as Eoin and I are. We are also so happy to have this sink working as a planter in our new home as it did so many years for Declan’s mother because it connects the past to the present so beautifully.

Here is a photo of our front entrance dressed up with Eileen’s transplanted Belfast Sink. Stay tuned! Shortly, a new “old” red, wooden 1/2 door will be in place along with a different sign announcing the new name of the-cottage-formerly-known-as-Rose!

Buíochas le Dia… Thanks be to God!

While I’ve been sweating bullets worrying about the heating system functioning properly and the condition of the water pipes in the cottage during the recent Irish freeze, slowly but surely the problem was “circled, sniffed and poked” and I just found out that all is well! Jimmy, Declan’s friend who put in the alarm system and did some electric work at the cottage, finally made it back there yesterday and said everything is in order, heating system is humming along and the pipes made it through the record cold. He also installed a yoke* that will inform us if the electricity ever stops getting to the heating system. More good news is that the cold snap across Ireland appears over and the temperature is back to a more normal 8C, which is about 46.5F. While he was there he met and gave the keys to the  gentleman from Kilkee who has agreed to check in on Rose Cottage for us, which will be a great load off our minds. All in all, Friday was a very productive day in West Clare!

Since I have shared my worries about the situation here I thought it only right that I would share my good news!

*yoke, Irish slang used to refer to a thingamajig or an object… except when used to describe a person.

Doesn’t Curious George look content gazing through Eoin’s Rose Cottage bedroom window? He should be feeling content, after all he’s enjoying a lovely view! By the angle of his head, I’m guessing that he may be focused on the rustic sight of the outbuilding at the front of the property… perhaps making a game of guessing what we might find inside that little building, after the big brush clean up. If George was able to turn his head to the right, he would have the pleasure of looking out toward the wooden fence that separates the property from the road. Beyond that, is a vast expanse of countryside consisting of bog and farmland, that spreads out at a slight incline. Toward the right on a small hill, a house is visible, its lights already having served as a comfort to us, on pitch black Lisheen nights. Beyond that house at quite a distance is another hill. One morning my very excited 7-year-old came running to tell us about a herd of animals he spotted grazing on that hill. The distance and our untrained eyes kept us from being able to figure out whether the creatures were cattle or sheep. But not to worry… because the previous owner not only foresaw our need for a tea kettle, he provided us with a handy pair of binoculars… much to my son’s delight! Binoculars in hand Eoin determined the creatures to be cattle. This sight of grazing dots with legs became a daily fixture in the landscape… just as the binoculars were a constant presence hanging by a strap around my son’s little neck throughout our stay.

As much as the cottage was a physical manifestation of my idea of what a cottage in West Clare should be, it was the surrounding countryside and views from the house that sold me on this particular place. As I’ve described the view from the front of the cottage, the view from the back is equally lovely. Since the cottage is on high ground, from the back windows we look out on a decline across a great expanse of land leading down to where the main road lies and beyond… and if we look a bit toward the left, a two room school house is visible just a couple miles from our little cottage. And though we can’t see it from where we are situated, it is an added bonus just knowing that the rocky, Atlantic coastline is just a few miles away in the distance!

An element of the landscape we had not anticipated though, is the sky. The open, and for the most part, treeless expanse of land, combined with the vibrant and ever changing Irish sky, which seems closer to the ground than the Midwestern American sky, is a sight I’m not sure I can describe here. I know the photographs we took of spectacular sky performances, came back a disappointment. Like trying to capture fireworks with a camera, it’s just not possible to come even close to the beauty or the energy of the actual experience. All I can say, is that to witness a storm rapidly approaching from the distance is an awesome sight to behold and after the storm passes and the sky is still grey to one side with the dazzling Irish sun approaching from the other, you can almost count on the grand finale of a rainbow.

My young son is a boy obsessed with weather to the point of taking real pleasure in watching the weather channel. So this bedroom window of his, coupled with the binoculars that came with the cottage, seems to be pointing him in a particular direction in life. Either that of an artist or a weatherman!

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