Monday, April 29, 2013

Corcomroe Abbey and Kinvara

After the Burren, we stopped at Corcomroe Abbey, which was founded in 1194, by the the king of Thormond,  Donal Mor O'Brien, who built many churches.  It was a Cistercian monastery, and apparently the Cistercians often picked isolated areas for their monasteries.  This certainly felt like an isolated area, and I'm pretty sure it was even more so 800 years ago.  By the 1500s, it was too poor to sustain the monks, and was eventually dissolved.

By this time of our day trip, many of the people on the bus were either too tired or too wet to want to get out.  I was one of maybe 6 people who ventured out to see the ruins, but that worked to my advantage, since I was able to take many pictures without a bus full of people in the way.

This is said to be Conor O'Brien, the grandson of the founder.  He was a benefactor of the abbey.

It really was a quiet, lonely feeling place.  I suppose that's what made it the perfect spot for a monastery. 

I wondered about these two stoned-in areas.

After leaving the abbey, our very last stop before heading back to Dublin was the fishing village of Kinvara, which is located on an inlet of Galway Bay (and is also in County Galway).  In the distance you can see Dunguaire Castle, built in 1520.  Literary figures like William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw used to meet there. 

Someone obviously had a good sense of humor.

This was another place with beautifully painted buildings.

 I neglected to get a good shot of Dunguaire Castle, and then was stuck attempting it over a row of people as we left town.

It was situated in a cool location, right on the water.  

Kinvara also had a number of buildings with thatched roofs.  The biggest hotel in town was also thatched - it was actually the largest thatched roof in Ireland, but my situation on the bus didn't really give me a good shot of it.  But I did manage to snag one of a home with a thatched roof.  They were so cool.

And that was the end of my day tour.  It was quite the full day.  I learned and saw a lot, and looking back at my pictures only makes me wish I could've seen more...I wished I had more time in certain places and had the ability to pull over the bus at others.  It is definitely a place I wouldn't mind visiting again!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Galway Bay, Doolin, and the Burren

I was happy that I got a window seat, especially since the bus was pretty full, but I made a newbie mistake.  I snagged a seat on the right side of the bus.  In the US, of course, that meant that I wouldn't be looking across a lane of highway to things on the other side.  But I wasn't in the US, so regretfully, I was often forced to take pictures either across the highway, or across the bus to get the scenic views.  Such was the case when we came to Galway Bay.  This was the best shot I could get of our view of the Aran Islands.  The closest one is Inisheer.

It seemed that everywhere you looked, there were the remains of the old tenant homes.  Those rocks weren't only used for fences.  

We stopped for lunch at a pub in Doolin.  I loved the signs, but I certainly wouldn't want to be driving here, looking for the direction I needed to go.

The pub was Fitzpatrick's, and the food was great.  It was carvery style, with everything from a side of pork to salmon.  I opted for seafood chowder with brown bread.  It was awesome.

It was like any other bar or pub...

but it also had these cozy little nooks with a fireplace.  It was so homey to sit in here, especially after walking out in the rain.

I loved some of the homes in Doolin.

And just like everywhere else, there were sheep.  Lots of sheep.

Our next stop was the Burren.  It is a karst-landscape region made of limestone.  The environment is so unique that it supports arctic, Mediterranean, and alpine plants growing side by side.  Ireland has 28 native orchid species, and 24 of them are found in the Burren.  My visit was much to early to see orchids, but I bet in about May or June, this place is amazing.

Fossils can be found in the limestone, but it was much to wet for us to see anything.

Though not much was in bloom, there were still a few flowers to be seen.  I know that the white ones are called scurvy grass (and were actually used by sailors to fight off scurvy), but I'm not sure what the other ones were.  

The Burren is a huge area.  Though we stopped to see in along the coast, it is certainly not merely a coastal landscape.  It stretches far inland and some areas have few breaks in the stone.

This seems like the least hospitable land for fields in Ireland, and I wondered why there were fences here.  Soon our bus driver explained it to us.  You know how we've heard of the "bridges to nowhere" in our country?  Well, there are really roads to nowhere in this part of Ireland.  It all goes back to the Famine.  

I really didn't know a lot about the Great Famine, other than that the potatoes got a blight and died, and that much of the population was affected.  Well, it was really a contrived famine.  Most of the arable land in Ireland was held by (mostly absentee) landlords, many of whom were English.  The Irish tradition was that all sons inherited a share of a farm equally, so farm plots became very small, and the only crop that could be grown to sustain a family were potatoes.  Many estates from whom the small farmers rented, grew wheat and barley, but sold it as a cash crop.  There was plenty of food in Ireland, but it was being exported.  So when the blight hit, the farmers couldn't feed themselves on the only food they could afford, could successfully grow, and really the only food available.  Even though the price of potatoes went up, the demand went up as well.  Adam said he even studied the phenomenon in business school.

At one point, English authorities were purchasing corn and other meal from the US and other places, but they never stopped or slowed the exportation of food from Ireland (hence, the contrived disaster).  Financial aid was given, but it was the landlords who distributed the money, so it usually went to unprofitable projects so as not to take money away or compete with English interests (i.e. they wouldn't give the Irish seed, because then the Irish might compete and fare better than the English in the food markets).  So they would hire Irish laborers to build roads to nowhere and even have laborers tear up the roads that were just built.  Like the WPA, but certainly more underhanded.  Sometimes building rock fences was part of that deal.   Okay, history lesson over.

Livestock grazing is really all that can be done in this area.  I loved these shaggy-looking ponies.

I learned so much on my day trip, and it's amazing that even the scenery is reflective of Ireland's history.

Harper Turns 3!

We sure love this little girl, and we were excited to wish her a happy birthday.  But, of course, this little sassafrass decided to have so...