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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?!”

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. 

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!

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 Round Tower on Scattery Island on a beautiful August day.

Standing 120 feet high, the Round Tower on Scattery Island is among the tallest in Ireland. To the monks of ancient Ireland, the height of the Round Tower advertised the importance and stature, so to speak, of the monastery it represented. Apparently the monks at St. Senan’s Monastery had a lot to be proud of!

When Kate came to Kilkee in early August to stay for a week, I made arrangements for the three of us to take a ferry from Kilrush to Scattery Island in the nearby Shannon Estuary. I figured, since Kate was moving to L.A. she would have lots of opportunities to enjoy the Pacific coastline, however while she was in Ireland, I could treat her to something she won’t find on the Pacific Coast – the ancient ruins of St. Senan’s Monastic Settlement! Scattery Island has a long history that includes Viking Raids and  a community of seafaring residents who once numbered up to 141 and lived in the now deserted cottages. But it is the austere and ancient St. Senan’s Monastic Settlement that really makes this a destination worth visiting during any trip to the Loop Head area. St. Senan, a County Clare native, established his monastery on Scattery Island in the 6th century. Aside from the very impressive Round Tower, the site also includes the ruins of a stone cathedral; a small church called Teampall Senain (Church of St. Senan), also known as St. Senan’s Bed – believed to be the site of the saint’s tomb; the church of Ard na nAingeal (The Hill of the Angel); and St. Senan’s Holy Well.  These ancient ruins exist within a beautiful, wild landscape of natural grasslands and wildflowers, which together, serve to transport visitors into the past.

Legend has it that upon his arrival to the island, St. Senan had a vision of the Archangel Michael, who led him to the highest hill where he could spot “The Cathach”, a sea-monster that was terrorizing the people of the area. The saint faced the monster and banished it, never to return. Once safe, St. Senan set about establishing his settlement and abbey, of which he was the first bishop. Along with banishing the sea-monster, it is believed St. Senan also banished women from setting foot on the island! This history, along with the Round Tower dominating the scene, lends a very patriarchal vibe to the site! Interestingly enough, it is said that the saint died on March 8th of 544, while paying a visit to one of the two local nunneries, which he had established on the mainland. Senan apparently liked women well enough, as long as they were not invading his island!

Teampall Senain, with the Round Tower in the background.

The day we arrived on Scattery Island was one of the mildest and sunniest of my entire stay in Kilkee. Kate, Eoin and I, along with a handful of other visitors, rode a small ferry from the dock in Kilrush to the island. During the tour we were delighted to learn that the ferry captain happened to be one of the last people born on the island, uninhabited since 1978! Except for an embarrassing disruption caused at the onset of the tour by my cell phone ringing several times with calls from Declan  – until I figured out how to turn the unfamiliar phone off – our tour of this historical island was peaceful, quiet and pleasurable. We listened attentively to our guide as we walked among ancient ruins, surrounded by wildflowers and tall, natural grass blowing in a fresh breeze with the warm sun shining upon it all. We were very impressed with the natural setting where only unobtrusive stone paths have been added and briar and nettles removed from the pathways and buildings, for convenience sake. There is no visitor’s center, except for a tiny information shop housed in one of the cottages, and all the historic buildings remain respectfully in their rough condition. To Kate and me, the monastic site was perfectly presented in its natural state surrounded by an unspoiled landscape. However, a 30-something Irishwoman who came along for the tour was not as pleased and let our guide know as much in no uncertain terms. She declared that she thought it was disgraceful that the island was “let go the way it is and allowed to fill with weeds” and stated that she believed it should be “put to better use”. When the guide asked her what she would prefer they do with Scattery Island, the woman responded that it would be a great place for weddings and could be developed and rented out for functions!

Perhaps St. Senan had this woman, with her ideas for improvement, in mind when he decided to banish all women from the island so long ago!

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.

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

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