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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.

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!

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.

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

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!

Waves and and a seaweed whip - what more does a boy need?

Here is a boy who, even after a winter of taking private swimming lessons to prepare for his summer in Kilkee, still didn’t like to get his face wet, let alone put his head under water!

Now he spends hours in the sea playing in the waves and riding them with his boogie board; looking for, and even picking up, marine life at the Pollock Holes; using seaweed as a toy; exploring the rocky ridge called Tucker; observing the changing tides, crashing waves, rock formations and wildlife around the cliffs; and in general enjoying a life near the sea. Now I am even hearing enthusiastic talk about his plans to surf one day… a prospect I am not as enthusiastic about!

Much of the new Eoin, I credit to his time spent this summer at Nevsail Watersports Summer Camp . Thanks to Nevsail, Eoin is now willing to spend hours in the wild and cold Atlantic Ocean, both at the camp and on his own, afterwards. In the camp, he has had the opportunity to try his hand at such watersports as kayaking, canoeing, boogie boarding, snorkeling and more – and has even spent some time building a raft! The enthusiastic young instructors at the camp have been great about encouraging this shy, hesitant boy to try activities that he would never have attempted otherwise and their kindness and sensitivity have made him feel welcome and comfortable in the camp.

Eoin’s daily explorations around the bay of Kilkee and his experience within the camp, have made him, not only more confident and comfortable with the sea, but more confident in his own skin. This makes every minute I’ve spent squeezing him into, and prying him out of, his wetsuit – and then properly cleaning it after each use – well worth the effort!

The Pantry, O'Curry Street, Kilkee, County Clare

The full Irish breakfast… sausage, rashers, black and white pudding, eggs, a grilled tomato, often beans (but that’s really more English than Irish), a pot of tea and either toast or brown bread served with butter and marmalade. This is what is always offered in the B & B’s, hotels and every restaurant I’ve ever been in that is open in the morning. When in Ireland this is what Declan cannot get enough of, even though he rarely has more than tea and toast for breakfast in the States. The full Irish is as much a part of the Irish experience as the scenery and the pubs!

Well, not for this vegetarian. I don’t eat meat so there goes most of the meal. That pretty much leaves the eggs, tomato, beans, toast and tea… and considering I really don’t like eggs unless they are in the form of an omelette… that leaves tomato, beans, toast and tea. Does this sound appetizing? No!

So while I’ve been in Kilkee I have invented my own “full Irish”, with the help of a delightful little self-serve restaurant called The Pantry. Just a short walk from the hut on Kilkee Beach where I drop Eoin off each morning for his Water Sports Camp, The Pantry is a top-notch restaurant that offers everything from the traditional Full Irish, to a range of gourmet entrées that would destroy any stereotype of Irish cookery. In addition, the baked goods are homemade, fresh and delicious and even the orange juice is fresh squeezed in the morning! Although the scones, several varieties served with cream and their own delicious homemade raspberry jam, are heavenly… I have done my best to limit my scone intake! However, thanks to The Pantry providing me with an assortment of fresh ingredients… fruits, berries, yogurt, granola, homemade muesli, honey and cinnamon… I have been able to create my own personal “full Irish” in a bowl. Add the traditional tea and toast… along with a good book, of course, and breakfast in Kilkee has become a delicious, healthy and enjoyable event each morning!

Janet's Full Irish

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