We surprised everyone — except ourselves — when we announced our plans to honeymoon in Ireland. “Neither of you is Irish,” they said, foreheads wrinkled.
I’m not sure why people assume the reason to go to Ireland is to look for “roots.” The Irish make the same assumption. While we were there, we were often asked why we’d come and on hearing neither of us is Irish, would get looks of puzzlement. Then, they’d look again and ask “Are you sure?”
It was a great place for Americans. There’s strain between the Irish and English for longstanding historical reasons, but they have nothing but smiles for Americans. From Dublin to Sligo, Shannon, Galway, Cashel and all the lovely towns in between, people were friendly, open, and welcoming. When they learned we were honeymooners, we were treated to rounds of drinks and offered the best accommodations. Avoiding big hotels, we stayed in bed and breakfasts which we found using the National Tourist Board guidebook and a map. At first, we’d zero in on a destination and phone ahead. After we’d been there a while, it began to work the opposite way. Wherever we landed, we’d see who had a room and stay there. We always found someplace nearby and each home was spotlessly clean and comfortable, although tiny by American standards.
Our first stop after Shannon was Cashel. The bed and breakfast was like a little European pension. In the shadow of the Rock of Cashel, adjacent to the ruins of a medieval Dominican church, the location was perfect. We stayed two nights, then headed for Dublin.
Dublin, after we began to pick way through the one-way systems and detours, was a city of music and good company. There were evening’s at Foley’s, where Irish music played every night and we all joined in, each in our own key. And then there were the pubs, where the Irish Coffee was always strong and the people eager to wish us well and advise us on our itinerary. We shopped, sang, and drank, not necessarily in that order. We listened to stories, told some of our own, and would gladly have stayed another week or more.
From Dublin, we drove cross-country to Sligo. As we entered Sligo, the rain began to pelt down. For perhaps five minutes, it poured. Then, as the rain slowed to a drizzle, in front of us appeared a brilliant double rainbow. I felt that it was our personal rainbow, welcoming us to Sligo. Our destination was a bed and breakfast called Rathnashee, which we later learned means “fairy ring.” Indeed, there is an earthwork fairy ring in the field adjoining the house. I had selected it because it had a room with a private bath, was on a main road (we never stopped getting lost, but we did learn to enjoy it), and had a library.
The entire parlor of the house was a library about Ireland, and Sligo in particular. Evenings, by the warmth of the peat fire, settled in with a pot of tea and a plate of cookies, we read about Yeats, about the Great Hunger, and the long and often tragic history of the north. In the course of events, Garry discovered that he might after all have Irish roots, while I dreamt of fairy circles and magic mountains.
Sligo is bursting with magic. You can feel it as you explore the ancient earthworks, standing stones, cairns, and castles. I became convinced that the “Little People” live there still. Loch Gill, where lies the Isle of Innisfree, has its own kind of magic. We spent a grand afternoon exploring the recently restored Park Castle. The crystal waters so clearly mirrored the sky that those viewing the pictures we shot that day have trouble telling which is water and which is sky. Later that same day, while heading toward Knocknarea, the mountain top cairn of the legendary Queen Mab, we met Gordon Winter, ex-spy, author, and local character. We were photographed in close encounters with his pet chickens, sipped tea in his kitchen, and bought an autographed copy of his latest book “Secrets of the Royals.”
Throughout our vacation, the weather never stopped changing. The sun shone, disappeared and reappeared in rapid succession. Wind blew, and clouds rolled in, and it rained. A few minutes later, the rain stopped, the wind died, the sun came out, the temperature rose, and just as you had taken off your jacket and put on your sunglasses, you’d realize it was raining again. We took our sunglasses on and off twenty times an hour, and took our jackets on and off almost as often. The second morning in Sligo, we awoke to pounding rain. I peeked out the window to see another rainbow, even brighter than the one we’d seen coming in, in the field across the road.
By the time we went to breakfast, the sun had come out, but by breakfast’s conclusion, it was again drizzling. Such is Irish weather. It never rained all day, but it rained a little almost every day, and we learned to ignore weather and proceed with our plans, counting on the ever-changing skies to give us enough clear weather to tramp through a ruin, scale a castle wall, or walk down by a riverside.
After three days in Sligo, we traveled down to Connemara. One afternoon, we drove to Cong, where John Ford shot “The Quiet Man” years ago. Being ardent movie buffs, we literally climbed over fences and through pastures until we found the “quiet man’s cottage,” now in ruins. The setting is as idyllic as ever, though, and the stream still flows past the cottage door and under the little bridge. Clearly the movie was the biggest thing to ever hit the town. Cong is full of Quiet Man memorabilia, and the local residents full of anecdotes and memories.
Our time was almost up, and as we continued down along the coast, we began to realize that we would really have to go home. The idea was so depressing that we stopped in the nearest pub for some solace.
Probably the only difficult part of our Irish honeymoon was driving. Keeping left was one problem; the roads themselves were another. Narrow, with a terrifying mix of blind curves, roaming sheep, and meandering cattle, local people nonetheless drive these lanes at frightening speeds. Often, on a road that appeared hardly wide enough for our little compact car, we were overtaken and passed. More than once we felt obliged to check and see if the door handles and mirrors were still attached.
Pretty much every intersection — even way out in the countryside — had signs telling you where you were. In Connemara, the signs were often in Irish, which we couldn’t read nor match to anything on the map. Apparently we were not the only ones who found the signs in Irish less than helpful because they were full of bullet holes. Eventually we just stopped worrying about where we were and enjoyed wherever that happened to be. Every place was beautiful, so we let the road take us where it would. It turns out you don’t need to know exactly where you are. If you’re not on a schedule, you can roam and find things that aren’t in the tourist guides. We could be sure that whenever and wherever we stopped, a warm pub and friendly faces would greet us.
We always hoped we’d go back again, but other places called and the years ran away faster than I believed possible. But forever, Ireland lives in memory and photographs.
- Daily Prompt: Journey (DailyPost.Wordpress.com)
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