Posts Tagged With: views

Sampson Island at Loop Head, Co Clare; You’ve probably never heard of it.

Loop Head is only an hour away from my house near Quilty.  It is one of my favourite places to take visitors no matter what the weather.  So serene and dramatic when it is calm; wild and scary in the wind and rain.  If you have been following this blog you will have seen my earlier posts and photographs. Spectacular cliffs displaying contorted folded sediments, rock arches and caves, a lighthouse, dolphins and in the distance the mountains of Kerry.

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Contorted rocks in the cliffs north of Loop Head

There is a rocky island at the end of the headland which looks like it was sliced off with a giant knife.  It is mad with breeding sea birds through the summer.  The picture below was taken in May and shows just a few early arrivals, taking up prime spots.   A deep and treacherous chasm separates it  from mainland Clare.  As you would imagine, much mystery and legend surrounds this place.

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The island is popularly known by some as Diarmuid and Grainne’s Rock, one of many places in island that reference the famous Irish legend of the love triangle between Fionn Mac Cumhail, his warrior friend Diarmuid and a girl named Gráinne.

The gap to the island is also known as Cú Chulainn’s Leap. And that’s another interesting story in its own right. Here is the short version.

Cú Chulainn was an ancient Gaelic hero warrior gifted with superhuman strength, speed and skill.  He was leader of The Red Branch Knights, who in ancient times would be fighting battles, protecting the folk of Ulster from invaders.  He would, however,  often go travelling.   On one of those trips, he met a ‘cailleach’, translated variously as a wise woman or a ‘hag’. Her name was Mal.  She fancied him and as she had magic powers with which she could ensnare anyone she touched, he took flight.

She chased him all over Ireland eventually following him to this remote promontory in west Clare. He leaped across the channel to the island but she was fairly athletic as well and was able to follow.  Still desperate to avoid her he hopped back to the mainland.  She continued to give chase but she didn’t quite make it slipping on the edge and and ending up in the ocean below. Three days later her head washed up at what became known as Hag’s Head and nine days later her remains came ashore at Quilty. The bay here took the name Mal Bay (hence Miltown Malbay) and the site of the jump became Leap Head or later Loop Head.

All fascinating but I digress.

At the end of April with Spring desperately trying to make an appearance I paid yet another visit. Isn’t it amazing that you can walk past a spot a dozen times and just not realise the significance of what you are seeing?  Well this day I noticed on the cliff edge two metal spikes fixed into the rock and a neat wall and some stone construction above them, including a large stone lined hole.  It all was heavily disguised by the soft spongy grass and the newly budding sea thrift.

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Two Iron spikes fixed into the cliff and a stone wall and hole above.

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Looking from the north to the south

I was intrigued. My first guess was that it was evidence of a former bridge. Perhaps a rope bridge like Carrick-a-Rede, I thought. But why? And in any case, hard as I looked I could see no works on the other side of the island which I would have expected. It remained a mystery but unsatisfied I resorted to Google later that evening.

It didn’t take long to find this truly amazing photo in the archives of the National Library of Ireland.

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Viewing Platform Sampson Island.  c1905

What I was seeing was in fact the remains of the foundation of this viewing platform. The  photo is dated at c1905. and reveals a lot. You can see a sign on the Island that says ‘Sampson Island’ and proffers a date in the 1830s suggesting a landing then.

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Detail of above photo showing sign and shelter.

Did Sampson stake a claim to the island? There is also evidence of a small shelter. Further the people on the lookout are identified by researchers as members of the Sampson family.  But really it is all speculation. Why build this elaborate and hair-raising construction and how did they actually get across to put up the sign?  Why even bother naming it?

Then I saw another image.  God knows how the photographer got this angle

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Crossing to Sampson Island?

That is one very brave woman in that sling. I am not exactly sure what is going on but it is possible that this was how they got across. There’s quite a crowd waiting to try. Perhaps Mal would have been better off to wait for the Sampsons to build this before attempting the crossing.

With Ireland’s long and convoluted history it is common to come across these hidden stories for which only scant evidence remains. Sometimes though you have to look very hard.  Next time you visit Loop Head have a look for it.  It’s close to the edge though so take care lest you end up like poor old Mal.

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Loop Head lighthouse with the sea pink just starting to bloom

Categories: My Journey, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Skellig Michael. Forget ‘Star Wars’. It’s more like ‘Close Encounters of the Bird Kind’.

Finally I got onto Skellig Michael after three tries over two years. The island is 12 km off the Kerry coast and to get there you need quite a bit of persistence and a lot of luck. Fortunately the monks were smiling on an unseasonably warm day in early June. In fact we were in the third week of a sunny spell like no one could remember. Day after day over 20 degrees.

I really was excited as 12 of us boarded the first ferry of the day out of Portmagee, one of 15 that have permits, Twelve of the lucky 12,000 a year to visit.  Leaving the calm, blue harbour of pretty Portmagee, its painted cottages reflected as if by a mirror, we headed towards the mystical island.

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Leaving the harbour at Portmagee

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The village of Portmagee.  Reflective calm

But first we sailed past the nearby Little Skellig, Skellig Michael’s twin rock. George Bernard Shaw said of Skelllig Michael following a visit in 1910, it was the most fantastic and impossible rock in the world”.  Like its big brother, Little Skellig is if anything more jagged and more precipitous and more impossible. As we sailed around the island constantly changing our view different faces were revealed.

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Little Skellig I

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Little Skellig II

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Little Skellig III.

These islands defy geological truth. The Devonian sandstone protrusions shouldn’t be there. It is easy to see how the ancients would have believed they got there by the hand of God. Jagged needles of stone, rocky barbs, thrown into the sea by an angry deity.  Piled one on the other. I can see little vegetative life. Useful to no man.

But useful to birds they are.  Little Skellig is painted white with birds and their droppings. Gannets, gannets and gannets.  Some say 50,000 of them. I can’t not think though of Monty Python and the Bookshop Sketch.  ‘Do you have Olsen’s Standard Book of British Birds? The Expurgated version. The one without the gannet.’

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Gannets on Little Skellig

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Did I mention gannets?

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Natural arch at the northern end of Little Skellig

This is the second largest such colony in the world. There doesn’t seem to be room for anything else as every rock ledge is crowded. A majestic sea bird, second in size only to the albatross, the sky is filled with their gliding forms as some soar effortlessly around our boat.

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Every surface is occupied by a gannet

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A gannet glides past our boat

We head to the Big Skellig.  In much more comfort I should say than the monks who arrived in their curraghs in the 7th Century, or even George Bernard Shaw who in 1904 was rowed by 10 oarsmen who took 2½ hours for the trip. As the island loomed, its jagged peaks towering over us,  to me it seemed softer than the never-occupied Little. There were patches of seductive vivid green on its slopes.

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As we head to the south Skellig Michael is revealed

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Looking back northwards towards Little Skellig

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Skellig Michael looms.  Approaching from the north

We tied up temporarily against a set of concrete steps and you had to time your leap with the rising and sinking of the boat. They warned us about the steps to the monastery but no mention of this.  It would be impossible to land in any kind of swell. I have heard stories of visitors getting to the island but not being able to disembark.

This was not the first place the monks landed but one of three used over the centuries and the only one used today.  This choice  historically provided the opportunity to get ashore regardless of wind direction.  Above us winds a set of steps of stone heading straight up the mountain. This path is not now used.

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Steps rise to the monastery from the north landing place.  Currently not used.

Instead we follow a path that snakes south, clinging to the cliff edge past nesting sea birds on sheer cliffs to the start of another set of steps that is the current route up.

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The access road along the eastern face of the island.  The main steps to the monastery rise up the saddle between the two peaks.

But then I see my first puffin and then another and then they are everywhere. These cute and protected birds are the stuff of legend and a reason alone to ensure your visit is in late Spring or early Summer. We all of us turn into expert wildlife photographers producing copy fit for National Geographic. It is impossible not to take a great photo.

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My first sighting of puffins

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Poser.

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Close Encounters of the Bird Kind.

But I am going to pass on the puffins for the moment. I will have more to say about them in another place. It’s not just puffins though. They share the rocks and crevices with many others. Guillemots clustered together with a similar upright stance on the narrowest of ledges, looking for all the world like penguins. Kittiwakes with specially designed claws that enable them to cling on to their precarious piece of rock. Razorbills with their distinctive white streaks to the eyes. Gulls, terns and others such as shearwaters that I didn’t see. An aquatic avian paradise.

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Guillemots and kittiwakes nesting on the cliff

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Kittiwakes grab their spot wherever they can

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Razorbills

The main purpose of any visit to this place though is to see the monastery. Not tackling the 611 steps to the stone structures atop the northern peak would be like visiting the Guinness factory and not having a pint. The journey up is spectacular but so is the reward.

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Visitors start the climb

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In the footsteps of the monks

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The final leg heads up from Christ’s Saddle, the area between the two peaks

It is considered the best example of an early monastery in Ireland and is of world significance. Developed between the sixth and eighth centuries it is truly remarkable for its preservation.  A series of terraces contains six ‘clochán’-type beehive cells, two oratories, stone crosses, slabs and a later medieval church.   The cells and oratories are all of dry-built corbel construction. This unique method of overlapping stones giving an igloo shape to the outer wall but more regularly rectangular inside is very efficient at keeping out wind and water and have been doing so for 1,500 years.  Other terraces housed gardens. Vegetables were believed to have been grown but their main source of food was fish, birds and eggs. The monks led a simple life of foraging and prayer and sought out remote places such as this, as the hardship and sacrifice proved their devotion, until the island was abandoned in the 12th or 13th century.

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Rich archaeological heritage including beehive huts and a high cross

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Inside a beehive hut

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View through the window of the church

While regaining our breath, one of the OPW guides Catherine, who has been doing this for 18 years gave us the benefit of her wisdom. And cheerfully took my photo as I and countless others posed for the de rigeur ‘selfie’ shot with Little Skellig in the background. Funny how small Ireland is.  I had met Catherine at a music festival, two years ago.

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Proof I was there

For some monks sharing this isolation with other monks was still not enough. On the higher south peak there is an hermitage, where a monk is believed to have led a solitary life. You can’t reach it now but just getting there involve huge risk and athleticism, No steps in places just toe holds cut into the rock face. And squeezing through the notorious Eye of the Needle. In the accompanying photo you can just see the terraces across the valley near the very top of the South Peak.

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The South Peak.  You can just see the stone walls of the Hermitage near the peak.

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A close up of the terraces at the Hermitage site.

I can but wonder at the devotion and sacrifice of these people. Their zeal to be closer to God seemed almost to have given them super powers.

Our time at the top though was all too short. Conscious all the time of getting back to the boat I returned down the mountain gingerly negotiating the steps to the bottom. Just a little quicker I have to say than the way up. I surprised myself actually at how doable the climb was and though I saw many struggling I saw no one give up.

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The southern shore of the island.  One lighthouse is visible on the right

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view of the south peak and the road to the second lighthouse

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The main landing spot for the monks with the ancient steps up the valley

You can’t get everywhere on the island though.  The road to the lighthouses (there are two of them) is closed and they can only be seen from the ocean.  In fact on the way home our helpful skipper from Casey’s took us around the southern shore where aside from the lighthouse you can see the other landing points I mentioned.

I met Christina, a fellow Aussie, who was lucky enough to get onto the boat during her short visit to Ireland.  It was impossible not to be infected by simply being on this ‘impossible rock’.  The joy on her face was real as it was on the faces of the others that were privileged enough to get there on such a warm sunny day.

This will be a lifelong treasured memory for us all.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Big Freeze. March 2018. My Story.

What an extraordinary event.

Gotta say I’m not used to snow.  Not used to the feeling of flakes on your face or the biting wind or the stunning beauty when the sun comes out.  Or the slushy wetness that soaks through your boots and trousers and gets tramped through the house.  Or digging the snow from your front door. Or being stuck in your house. Or the vicissitudes of stupidly taking a remote boreen just as a snow shower starts.  I’ll come back to that last one later.

The snow came from that annoyingly named freak weather condition known as ‘The Beast from the East’ which blasted frigid air across continental Europe and over Ireland. It arrived in West Clare on a Wednesday, the last day of February 2018. But it turned out that that was just an entree to a full three course meal which came Thursday and Friday and continued to Sunday.

But first this ‘Beast’. Where did it come from? And why was it so devastating? As a geologist I make a pretty poor meteorologist but those that do know about these things said the whole thing was triggered by a periodic event called “sudden stratospheric warming”. This involved a huge rise in air temperature of around 50ºC in an area about 30 km above the Arctic (the stratosphere).  The origin of this actually goes back to severe cyclones in January in the Pacific disturbing global weather patterns. A true ripple effect. Anyway, this warming weakened the jet stream and forced cold air from western Russia towards Ireland.  Temperatures on the ground in the Arctic were 20ºC above normal, while Europe experienced lows of -15ºC in many places.  And then to complicate it there was Storm Emma which headed north from Portugal.  When it hit the cold air, blizzards, gales and snow were the result.

Where I could, I tried to record the event with my camera and words. Here is a personal account of how it all unfolded around my little part of West Clare.

Wednesday 28th February 2018

We knew it was coming. Temperatures had been way below normal for days and the web was alive with warnings.  Yet I had no idea exactly what was in store. Just two weeks earlier I was chasing all over Ireland to Louth and Armagh and Kerry and Wicklow and Connemara because of snowfalls there. Now it was here in my front yard.  It was snowing when I awoke and it continued to snow.  I was excited enough to venture out around 9am.  The snow wasn’t heavy; just a few centimetres so I figured there would be no real problems except that is that the weather accompanying this snow was truly living up to the appellation that is the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’.  I headed to Spanish Point Beach, braving snow showers and bitter wind.  I’ve seen this beach battered with giant waves, covered in froth and foam and perfectly still with nary a ripple. Never though with white snow meeting the yellow sand. It was not comfortable as mini blizzards would sweep in between the sunshine. Nevertheless I was totally entranced and happy.  The showers faded during the day and though the temperature hardly went above zero, the snow melted by the late afternoon and the streets of Miltown Malbay returned to relative normality. This turned out to be a temporary reprieve.

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Snowstorm on Spanish Point Beach. Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach, Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Bell Bridge House Hotel.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Mouth of the Anagh River.  Looking across to Caherush.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Bridge over the Anagh River.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach. The sun shone briefly.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Spanish Point Beach.  Looking from the Armada Hotel.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Looking towards my cottage.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Caherush.  Low tide. Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Mutton Island.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Caherush looking towards Quilty.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Miltown Malbay  Wednesday 28 February 2018

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Miltown Malbay.  Wednesday 28 February 2018

Thursday 1st March 2018

I woke up reluctantly poking my head above the sheets with the temperature hovering at -4ºC.  A quick look out the window showed a complete white-out. It was a stunning sight. I love how you don’t know it’s happened during the night. So quiet unlike a rain storm pelting on the slate roof and rattling the windows.

The rocks and cliffs of the bay at Caherush were covered with a thick white carpet and it was still snowing with some vigour.  Around 9am it brightened and it stopped snowing.  I rugged up and took a walk up the Clogher Road.  I was joined by the neighbour’s dog, Valdo.  Briefly. This was much too exciting;  he had better things to do and left me to my meandering. The sun broke through the clouds and its rays made the hills gleam.  My neighbour Michael Talty, stopped his car for a chat. He was heading to Kilrush for some tractor parts. A farmer doesn’t stop for a bit of snow.  So of course I didn’t refuse the invitation to join him. I think he quickly regretted it as I had him stop at Quilty where the snow, the water and the sand united to create a magic world. Mutton Island sat like an iceberg off the coast. I had to photograph them.

As we left Quilty and headed south, there was only a light dusting over the fields. This part of West Clare had escaped the heavy falls that we had experienced. Business done, followed by an hearty breakfast in Kilrush we headed back north to Caherush.

We were passing O’Looney’s lovely pub just a few kilometres from Quilty at Molosky. Stop! I exclaimed as I caught a sight, out of the corner of my eye, of the falls at the Annageerah River. They were frozen! Michael waited patiently as I clambered over a gate and headed across a slushy snowy field to photograph the incredible sight of ice sheets draping the rocks and icicles clinging to wherever they could; where normally water flows. So lucky to see it.

Back home to the Clogher Road which by now was starting to thaw.  It was 2 pm and still -1ºC. The temperature never got to zero during the whole day

Encouraged by the condition of the roads on our journey, I cleared the snow from the car and headed north through Spanish Point along the coast towards Lahinch. The air was clean and crisp and the sun was making a good fist of doing its daily job but the thick cloud resisted. Nevertheless the bucolic landscape had become a patchwork of white fields and the coastline was now the White Cliffs of Clare. The views coming into Lahinch were unfamiliar but truly jaw-droppng. Though thick here across Liscannor Bay the fields were green. The snowfalls were obviously quite patchy.

I continued to Ennistymon. I wanted to see the Falls here.  Would they be frozen?  Well no they weren’t and they were quite subdued, as we hadn’t had a lot of rain for a week or so but they were framed with snow on every exposed rock with icicles hanging from branches and protected crags. The Falls Hotel looked like an alpine resort

A few flurries of snow were appearing now. I love that word ‘flurries’. Not one you get to use very often. Time to head home. Why didn’t I just stick to the main road? It had been treated with salt and grit and was perfectly clear. I was lulled I think into a false sense of safety. So with the help of Google, I took a back route to Miltown Malbay, it wasn’t long before I got into serious trouble. It was only a small hill. A narrow single lane boreen. With a hedge on the left and a ditch on the right. I knew I had to use a high gear and travel at a decent clip but I lost traction very quickly and found myself half way up the hill and going nowhere. Under the snow was a layer of ice. With wheels spinning I couldn’t go forward. With no brakes, reversing was pretty scary. I honestly don’t know how I got out of that. Reversing back down the hill and using the gears to slow down, the wheels went wherever they wanted.  One minute I slid into the hedge. Straightening up then I would head towards the ditch. It was probably only 200m of reversing first down the hill then back up another but it took forever until I came to a farm gate. The drama still wasn’t over as it took many goes slipping and sliding all over before I edged the nose of the car into that refuge and was able to turn around and drive home. To my warm fire and a few relieving tunes and a glass of the small.

That was some day but the wires (as we used to call it before the wireless world took over) were full of dire warnings of another storm. Emma was arriving and would collide with the Beast and batter us with wind and massive snowfalls. Code Red all over the country.  Bread and milk had disappeared from the shops. This really was serious.

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Panoramic view of Caherush bay.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Caherush Bay at low tide in the snow.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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My cottage on the shore. Thursday 1 March 2018

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More snow.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Caherush Bay Thursday 1 March 2018

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Mutton Island.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Sugar Island and Quilty. Thursday 1 March 2018

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The sun breaks through. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Joined on my walk by Valdo.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Joy.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Looking down the Clogher Road.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Driving into Quilty.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Quilty Shore I.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Quilty Shore II.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Quilty Shore III.  With Mutton Island in the distance.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Breakfast at Kilrush.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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The snow falls again at Annagreenagh Falls, near Quilty.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Annageeragh Falls.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Annageerah Falls.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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View towards Cliffs of Moher from Spanish Point.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Near Spanish Point.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Near Lahinch.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Moy House.  Lahinch, Thursday 1 March 2018

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Cliffs south of Lahinch.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Fenceline and cliffs.  Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

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The Falls at Ennistymon. Thursday 1 March 2018

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Falls at Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Looking towards the Falls Hotel on the Inagh River at Ennstymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles I .  Ennistymon.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles II.  Ennistymon.  Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles III.  Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles IV.  Ennistymon.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Icicles V.  Ready to drop.Thursday 1 March 2018

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Frozen grass on the menu today. Lahinch. Thursday 1 March 2018

Friday.  2nd March 2018

It would reek havoc they said.  And they were right about that! Friday morning saw a thick cover of snow over everything with drifts up to a metre. We, in Clare though,  seemed to get off rather lightly. The east and the south of the country were lashed with ferocious snowstorms. Back here in Clare, snow piled up against my door, just like in those movies set in countries where they have real winters.  It was obvious I was going nowhere today, so I settled in with a warm fire to wait it out. Even if I wanted drive anywhere the Clogher Road was not going to cooperate. It continued to snow all day. I ventured out in the late afternoon as the snow eased. The tide had come in and the ocean was tranquil with the bay in front of my house looking surreal with its brilliant white ‘beach’ all the way down to the high tide mark. The car remained in a drift and I went nowhere. No thoughts of a session and in any case most pubs were shut. Marooned. Like millions of others across the Once Green Isle.  Who knows how much fell? I heard a figure of 40cm but I would say much more in some places.  At least it had stopped.

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My cottage.  Marooned.  Friday 2 March 2018

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Going nowhere.  Friday 2 March 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Friday 2 March 2018

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Caherush Bay at high tide.  A surreal calmness.  Friday 2 March 2018

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My front patio.  Friday 2 March 2018

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The ‘beach’ at Caherush.  At my front door.  Low Tide.Friday 2 March 2018

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Caherush. Friday 2 March 2018

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The ‘beach’ at Caherush.  At my front door.  High Tide. Friday 2 March 2018

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The Clogher Road.  Friday 2 March 2018

Saturday. 3rd March 2018

More snow overnight but by the morning all was quiet. Temperatures were up now with a maximum of 2ºC for the day. A veritable heat wave. I was still going nowhere. The predicted rain didn’t arrive but by the afternoon I decided the snow on the roads had started to melt sufficiently to venture out again. Roads had a lot of snow in massive drifts, sometimes two metres high, and in many places were down to one lane. Those roads that were treated were passable but venture off the main roads at your peril. I’d learnt my lesson.  Most residents who live up narrow lanes were were still stuck.  My route again took me to Lahinch and Ennistymon.  The snow was still thick and extensive but the melt had started.  Lahinch golf course was more whites than greens and it was easy to become blaze about the stunning beauty all around.  Snow was still everywhere in Ennistymon, Lahinch and Miltown but the ploughs had been through and it was now more of a hazard to pedestrians.  Businesses were starting to reopen.  Life goes on.

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The Clogher Road is now passable. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Welcome to Quilty Holiday Cottages.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Bell Bridge Hotel and beyond.  Spanish Point.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Caherush.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Behind the Strand.  Clogher Road.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Panoramic view of Surf City Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Ennistymon. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Blake’s Corner. Ennistymon.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Inagh River and Ennistymon.   Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The old Railway Bridge over the Inagh River,  Ennistymon.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Snow dunes, Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch Castle.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The Golf Course at Lahinch..  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Lahinch  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Another view of the Castle.  Lahinch.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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The estuary at Lahinch. Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Snowy hills above Lahinch Golf Course.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

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Miltown Malbay.  Saturday 3rd March, 2018

Sunday.  4th March 2018

No snow last night and finally the real thaw started. It still only got to 2ºC maximum all day but the lure of a music session at lunch time in Ennis was too much for me to resist. The Clogher Road was mostly clear now. Mikey Talty was, like many, shoveling snow off the road in front of his house. I stopped for a chat.  Mikey had been living here for over 80 years. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?” I asked. “Aah yes” he said. “When I lived in the States”. 

Grinning I went on my way. Ireland does get heavy snow every few years. But not so often in these low lying coastal areas such as West Clare. The road to Ennis goes over Slieve Callan and the snow was thick in the hills and again there were drifts, metres high, meaning it was a slow trip. The music at Cruises Pub in Ennis was fantastic, with a huge crowd, desperate for a circuit breaker from the travails of the last few days. I returned about 5pm and it was still felt more like a journey through the alps rather than rural Ireland. I wasn’t ready to go home and called in at Hillery’s, for the regular Sunday evening session.  Life goes on.

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Mikey Talty, resident on the Clogher Road for 82 years clears away snow.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Snow drifts on the road to Inagh.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Heavy cover of snow remains.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Even the windmills stopped turning.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Lonely cottage at the food to Slieve Callan.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Switzerland? or Ireland?  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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The boreens were starting to clear.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Looking forward, looking back.  Mt Callan.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Enjoying the craic at Cruises Pub in Ennis.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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The snow melts in the fields on the Clogher Road.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Caherush.  The rocky bay is returning to normal  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

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Almost gone.  Sunday, 4th March, 2018

Monday, 5th March 2018.  

It wasn’t quite over yet. Still the predicted rain never arrived and most of the snow on the lower ground had retreated but I knew it was still lying in the uplands.  Maybe the Burren would be worth a visit.  I wanted to see it.   Temperature was still around 2ºC in the morning as I set out but by the end of the day it had risen to 5ºC.  So I drove to Poulnabroun and then to Ballyvaughan and back through Carran.   It took all day.  It was cloudy and misty so not ideal but walking in the stillness of a snowy Burren was something truly special.  So quiet with hardly a soul on the road and those that were seemed to be heading somewhere else. A privilege to see it like this. I encountered a few busloads of tourists and they like me were the lucky ones.   The dolmen at Poulnabourn was looking resplendent and I viewed the wonderful stone walls literally in a different light as they stood out framed by the whiteness of the snow and the sky.  See if you agree with me.  The hills actually had a lot more snow than was apparent from a distance with the clints and grykes retaining the snow where it had melted elsewhere.  The Turlough at Carran, a wondrous geological feature  had plenty of water, though much of it appeared to be covered with ice. I imagine a couple of day earlier you might have been able to walk across it. By the way turlough, along with drumlin and esker are the only three words of Irish origin that I know that are  used worldwide as geological terms.  Thick snow was still on some of the Lanes but the snow ploughs were out and about so I imagined most would be passable.

The event that had dominated Irish lives, closed schools, airports highways and even pubs, isolated people for days and created timeless memories was over.

And that seems a good place to end this story.

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Plenty of snow on the way to the Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.  

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Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Near Poulnabroun Dolmen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren scene.     Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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The tourists still come.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Burren. Monday, 5th March 2018.

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On the way to Carron. Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Still heavy snowdrifts.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

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Carran Turlough.Monday, 5th March 2018.

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The Turlough. Much of it is still frozen.  Monday, 5th March 2018.

Here are some pictures of those wonderful stone walls:

Tuesday 6th March 2018

I thought I had finished this blog but it was much brighter this morning and by the afternoon the sun was returning.  The temperature soared up to 7ºC.  Out my kitchen window the paddocks were pretty much free of snow.  Not Mt Callan.  It looked glorious (despite those windmills) with patches of sun glistening off it.  I had to go up and take a closer look.  There was plenty of snow so, sorry, a few more pictures.

Almost a week.  A week I won’t forget.

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Mt Callan.  The view from my kitchen window. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Ruined cottage.  Road to Mt Callan.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Behind Miltown Malbay.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Mt Callan. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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The Summit.  As close as I could get.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Abandoned barn.  Mt Callan. Tuesday 6th March 2018

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The roof of the world.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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Situation normal.  The gulls have returned to Caherush.

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A bird’s eye view.  Tuesday 6th March 2018

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As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains. Part 2. The Gap of Dunloe. December 2017

As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains……

Recently I posted on the spectacular Killarney National Park.  Though the blog only saw the light of day in December it related to a trip completed in June.

Now six months later I had the notion to revisit these mountains.  Storm Caroline had dumped snow all over Ireland so I wanted to see the National Park covered in white.  In this regard I was disappointed.  It seemed the show was restricted to the north and the very highest mountains,.  So I didn’t linger along the road from Killarney to Moll’s Gap, the road I covered in my previous blog (Part 1).  It certainly put on a different face.   Firstly hardly a tourist.  I was the only car at the Ladies View.  Indeed I was almost the only car on the road.  No buses and this time my brakes worked.

Funny how you miss things.  But last time I didn’t see the ruins of the castellated Musgrave Barracks of the Royal Irish Constabulary right on the edge of the road.  The lush green forests I talked about last time were not so welcoming with the now leafless trees.  There was still in many places the carpet of mosses covering the land, that impressed me so much in June.  Sometimes as if a green billiard cloth had been draped over the rocks

I decided to explore the Black Valley and the Gap of Dunloe which runs up the western side of the National Park and maybe head into the higher mountains.  Good decision but unrealistic timewise.  It was bitterly cold and and walking was not particularly inviting but it was truly spectacular even from the roadside and I just kept stopping so I ultimately ran out of light.  Just past Moll’s Gap on the inland road to Sneem (Not the Ring of Kerry) you see a small single lane road to the right.  No sign of any indication where it actually went.  But as it seemed to be the only way to head into the mountains and with no Google, I took it.  The road crosses the broad glacial valley framed to the north with the snow capped ranges of the MacGillycuddy Reeks before heading back east and then cutting sharply back up to the north and over the ridge towards the Gap of Dunloe.

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Killarney Lakes.  view across Muckross Lake

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Killarney National Park.  Ruins of Musgrave Barracks

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Killarney National Park.  Sharing the road.

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Killarney National Park.  A green tablecloth.

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Killarney National Park.  Bare hills and bare trees.

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Ladies View car park

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View from the car park – (December)

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View from the car park (June)

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Killarney Lakes.  View of Looscaunagh Lough

 

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Heading up to Moll’s Gap

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Moll’s Gap

This next series of photos were taken on the Black Valley Road.  Beautiful interplay of light.

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This bridge heading up to the Gap of Dunloe had two passing bays due to inability to see what’s coming!

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This is my kind of country.  Wild, rocky, desolate and seemingly nothing living here except sheep with identifying patches of pink and purple.  The Gap itself is a very impressive break in the sandstone hills caused by a glacial breach.   It has been a famed tourist route since Victorian times. Also easy to see why the area is so popular with rock climbers. We follow along the valley of the River Loe and pass a string of lakes crossed by a number of single arch stone bridges.   The entrance to the largest of the lakes is guarded by by two giant boulders through which the road passes.  This locality known as The Pike seems little changed since the 19th century.

Just the occasional car today but I can well imagine the chaos on this one lane road with the summer tourist traffic, cars, vans, bikes, walkers and pony traps.

Go in Winter!

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The Gap of Dunloe looking north

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Another view of the Gap

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The Pike December 2017

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As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains. Part 1. June 2017. Killarney National Park

As I was Going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains.

Well I didn’t meet Captain Farrell, but I did discover a glorious land of misty mountains, lakes, cascading rivers and verdant mossy forests.  ‘Discover’ is the wrong word, I know, because I had to share it with half of Germany, so I guess the world had already ‘discovered’ it.  Indeed the road I took is from Kenmare to Killarney, two tourist hotspots and on the famous Ring of Kerry.

It was mid June and I was returning from a festival in West Cork;  I had spent the night in Kenmare. As cloud and rain set in I was in two minds to go the ‘scenic’ route or just head straight home to Clare.   Luckily I was talked into going over the mountain but my hopes were not high.  As it turned out my brakes were playing up and when I limped back to Ennis my garage told me that I had done the whole trip with no front discs.  I wondered what that noise of metal on metal was.

So on to Moll’s Gap and then beyond; the rain held off though and occasionally the clouds would part and a startling landscape would be revealed.

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Heading up to Moll’s Gap

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Heading down from Moll’s Gap

I pulled into a lay-by not far from Moll’s Gap to let the stream of buses pass and the cloud lifted long enough to get a glimpse of the valley view. But it quickly closed back in.

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Mist in the valley

Before I decided to head off again, I crossed the road for a pee. I know this is too much information, but, in seeking a bit of privacy, I wandered just 20 metres off the road and I found myself in the middle of a ferny  fairyland (I think I even found a fairy residence!). Moss-covered trees and boulders. It was primitive and primordial.  Vigorous vines embracing trees and consuming them;  epiphytes sharing their world and mosses making their hosts unrecognizable.   Unlike anything I had seen here in Ireland.  I went back and got my camera and spent the next hour attuning myself to this lush, leafy, sylvan Arcadia.

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Hundreds in coaches and cars streamed past headed for the spots marked with brown signs, unaware of what they were missing but no doubt with boxes to tick.

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Having soaked my fill and hopefully capturing a little of the feeling of the place in my photos, I headed on to join the throng at the next brown sign. This was near the ‘Ladies View’. There was room for half a dozen coaches to park.  Sort of.

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Indeed the place was swarmed as dozens disgorged, charged up the hill in the by now ‘soft cloud’, as the Irish call it, pulled out their cameras and recorded the complete white out in front of them.  The perfect selfy with nothing in the background to distract. I too tried to photograph the scenery but found much more interest in those struggling to deal with the reality of touring Ireland.

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Heading down the hill a bit to the real ‘Ladies View’, suddenly the cloud lifted enough to see the valley below. I could now see what impressed Queen Victoria’s ladies so much!

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A lady admiring the view

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But the view is not just for ladies.

Then I heard the skirl of pipes across the valley. Highland pipes not Uillean. I walked back up the hill to where the sound was coming from and found myself back at the coach stop. The crowds were still there but now they had something to see.  And hear.  The highland pipes in their natural environment.  Well almost.  The hills of Killarney are not quite the Scottish Highlands.  Derek said he plays the Uillean pipes too but doesn’t bring them if the weather is bad.   But it was as if the pipes had scared away the clouds and the cameras this time had something to photograph.

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He was very patient with the hordes that wanted a photo record of their moment in the clouds with him.

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It didn’t take long though for another shower to come sweeping in.  Enough this time for the piper to pack up and discreetly retreat along with the bussers.

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The storm approaches 1

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The storm approaches 2

Time to move on.  Further down the mountain I stopped at a lakeside rest. A serene place which the buses had bypassed.  The cloudy, misty atmosphere seemed to add to that wonderful ataraxic feeling.  I wished I had more time.

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Muckross Lake

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Killarney Lakes.  So inviting.

Then I rejoined the multitude at the Torc waterfall. Here again we find ourselves in a stunning forest. Huge trees on steep slopes.  Green and lush.  Chaotic and ordered. It seemed truly ancient and there was this lovely dark light as the sun suddenly had to battle the obstacles of cloud and canopy, in its efforts to break through.

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Tall timber

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Downstream from the waterfall

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Torc Waterfall

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This little taste of the mountain forests and lakes of Killarney national park was a breathtaking tonic. Hugely different to the Ireland I have grown accustomed to – waves, cliffs and buffeting winds are the norm for me in West Clare.  I guess I now understand its popularity.

I will return soon and hopefully the sun will be shining.

 

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Quilty. On the Edge of Ireland.

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I’ve lived in West Clare for over three years now.  My local village is Quilty.  It occurred to me the other day that I have travelled all over Ireland discovering beauty in places known and unknown but I have never photographed this tiny fishing village in my back yard.

So the other day on a fine day in early November I went for a walk around Quilty.  Quilty truly is on the edge of Ireland and inextricably linked with the sea.  Quaint fisherman’s cottages perched on the cliff above what can be a very stormy Atlantic.  And the Our Lady Star of the Sea Church and its imposing tower is a constant reminder of the heroic rescue of the crew of the Leon XIII in 1907. The stuff of legends.

Here is a collection of images taken that day.  It doesn’t need my words so I will let this photo essay speak for itself.  IG3C1467

 

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Árainn Mhór Island. Donegal in a Day.

Arguably among the most beautiful counties in Ireland is Donegal. It is a different reality to the postcard bucolic scenery of Kerry or the treeless wilderness of West Clare but it is no less arresting. Visitors come to Donegal for a different experience. For me its the rolling russet-red hilly boglands, granite strewn boulder fields, jagged and sparkling quartzite hills, deep-blue loughs, whitewashed cottages, steep cliffs disappearing into the windswept spray, empty beaches, its fishing villages and maritime heritage, the language, its raw climate and its welcoming people. But Donegal is a big county and it can be hard to get around especially with the limited time many visitors allow in their rush to see everything. But I’ve found somewhere that has all of that and more wrapped up in a 22 square kilometre package that sits just a 15 minute ferry ride off the coast.

This is Árainn Mhór (Arranmore). Donegal’s largest inhabited island it was a complete unknown to me until I got a message from my friend Pauline suggesting we meet there for a day’s exploring.  Just one of those whims that makes Ireland so unpredictably delicious.   She lives on another special island, Achill in Co Mayo, and was looking for a break and, in the fashion of all true island residents, where better to go than another island? So I instantly agreed of course and made the trek from Co Clare arriving on a wet cold morning at the ferry terminal at Burtonport at the appointed time. Well, as is often the way with things in this country, Pauline’s car died so she never made it.  Having lost my guide and companion I headed over anyway with only the vicissitudes of the weather and the narrow winding boreens to lead me on my discovery.

I was captivated from the moment the ferry left Burtonport.  There are two ferries run by two companies.  Known to everyone as the Red or the Blue.  I took the Red. The port was busy enough but only with those who eke a living along the Donegal coast.  Children on the way to school, a delivery of Guinness and a little dinghy loaded with some of life’s other essentials presumably  headed to one of the remote islands.  We picked our way between these small rocky islands dotting the narrow channel.  Many of these islands have houses which I guess for the most part are holiday retreats.  It is only 5 km before we head into the Ferry port at Leabgarrow.  just as the Blue ferry in uncharacteristically, for Ireland, perfect time made space for us at the wharf.

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The Red Ferry heads out from the port of Burtonport

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Essential supplies for life on a Donegal island

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Can’t tell if it’s coming or going.

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Towards Árainn Mhór

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Approaching Leabgarrow, the ferry terminal at Árainn Mhór

I love this bit. Arriving at a place you’ve never been and know nothing about. Do I turn left or right?  Well I drove off the ferry and headed south and as I did the rain miraculously stopped, the sun burst through and the island glowed. This would be repeated all afternoon. Dazzling sunshine and stormy showers with even a bit of hail and of course wind. I shouldn’t go on about the weather because this is Ireland after all but as I was dead keen to try and capture the island with my camera I was concerned about the light and the rain and my freezing cold hands.  The south coast provides winding roads which snake through the hills giving views of seascapes across to the mainland and passing though hamlets  clinging to the hillsides and strung along the roadway.  Stone-walled paddocks flow down to the rocky shore.

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As it turned out the island put on quite a light show. With the sun coming and going, the light changed every few minutes. You couldn’t plan; you just had to be ready to catch those fleeting moments.

The dominatingly dark greyscape would disappear and the sea would be lit by a fan of radiating beams streaming under the clouds.

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When the sun shone for those brief moments it would dazzle.  The real colours of the Donegal palette were displayed and intensified. The red and brown grass, deep blue lakes, sparkling rocky outcrops, sinuous black roads,  green paddocks and white cottages. IG3C0522IG3C0531

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Then the wind would be so strong it would blow the mist back over the land or even reverse the flow of rivulets making their way to the sea.

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And the rain sweeping in across the ocean would provide interplay with light and dark, waiting for the hand of a skilled painter. The weather was so confused that at one point we had just a beautiful hint of rainbow and an approaching rainstorm juxtaposed.

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The weather can’t make up its mind

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Storms arrive on the east coast

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Storms arrive on the west coast.  Mainland visible in the distance

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Green Island off the west coast of Árainn Mhór

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Looking across towards Errigal

The south coast provides winding roads which snake throught the hill giving views of seascapes across to the mainland and passing though hamlets  clinging to the side of the hill and strung along the roadway.  Stone-walled paddocks flow down to the rocky shore. Then the road turns north and with a few hairpin bends rises to take you to an elevated bog land underlain by granite. That soon changes to quartzite hills – jagged and chaotic. The one lane road meanders across this magic land and you feel anything could happen. And it does.

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village of Torries at the south of the island

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Quartzite hills

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Bog land and granite

I see a figure in the distance walking in my direction. Due to our respective speeds it takes some time for me to reach him. He is wearing a reflective bright yellow jacket and dark glasses. And carrying a stick. Of course that is not unusual in Ireland but a closer look showed him waving the white stick in front of him. He was blind. This was kilometres from anywhere mind you. He stopped as he heard my car approaching and pulled to the edge of the road. I stopped and greeted him. “Lovely day isn’t it?”  he said. In his defence the sun was shining at that time. “Sure is”. A few more words about the weather and the chance of more rain and then quick as a flash he came back “Where are you from?”. I gave him the potted version and we had chatted briefly. It was clear then that he had had his fill of this outsider and wanted to continue his walk.  I watched him steadily and confidently stride away musing on the inner strength that many have to carry on a normal life especially, or perhaps because of, living in such a remote place.  A truly unexpected encounter.

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Off for a walk

The ‘ring road’ as it is known continues past the island reservoir which has a monumental sculpture immersed in the water and topped by two flags, one of which is the US stars and stripes and the other appears to be an Irish flag but missing the orange. It just looks like someone has cut the orange off.  But if any of my readers know more I’d be grateful to know.    The memorial remembers the terrible hardship of the Hunger in this part of Ireland and how many who were evicted escaped to Beaver Island, of similar size on Lake Michigan in the US. There have historically been strong links continued to this day.

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Memorial to the victims of the Famine and links to Beaver Island.

Every island worth its salt has a lighthouse. The elegant white and red structure was built in 1859 to replace a light first erected in 1798. It is still operational but not attended.  Indeed the former keeper’s residence is now a Bed & Breakfast.  In summer.

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The cliffs at Rinrawros Point

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The light and its exposed location at Rinrawros Point, atop jagged cliffs, reminded me of the precarious maritime history of this island. There is a plaque in the ruins of the RNLI building (Royal National Lifeguards Institution) on the south side of the island which chronicles the sea tragedies of the island and it is truly sobering.  From the death of Tom O’Donnell in 1839 and subsequent tragedies, many of which involved multiple loss it has been a rough existence for the Arranmore islanders. And how hard it must have hit some families as names such as Gallagher and O’Donnell which names regularly appear. Worst of all was the Arranmore Disaster when 19 lost their lives in a small boat trying to make it through the passage from Burtonport before the encroaching dark.  As I write this I suddenly realise it was 52 years to the day since this devastating event 9th November 1935. Most of those lost were Gallaghers, many form the one family, with 15 of them returning from working in Scotland.

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A poignant photo of the funeral for the victims of the Arranmore Disaster

 The fishing industry has been the backbone of life on Árainn Mhór. Which makes it all the sadder to see the abundant evidence everywhere of the decline in its fortunes and the ripple effect this has had on the island.  Just near the ferry port two fishing boats stand by the roadside, decaying reminders of the current circumstances.

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Abandoned fishing boats at Leabgarrow.

 

Alleged overfishing by island fishermen, paradoxically while EU super-trawlers vacuum up the sea floor beyond the 12 mile limit, Euro intervention and a ban on salmon fishing.  There are now only four fishing boats operating out of the island.  Previously I mentioned the RNLI building, which I thought initially was a church. Closer inspection revealed its real use.   Surrounding it is a sea of stacked lobster pots eerily reminiscent of a graveyard, which it clearly is, and piles of gossamer like netting resting against its walls. On the nearby jetty sits another decaying fishing boat leaning against the pier for support, in one last attempt to stay afloat.  It is very sad to see and testament to a forlorn hope that perhaps there will be better days .

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With the permanent population continuing to decline to around 500 since its peak in the 1940s (around 1,400), tourism has become the main ‘industry’.  But tourism is seasonal. When I visited in the first week of November there were no hotels open. One large Guest House was for sale.   Early’s Pub, the only restaurant on the island,  only opens on the weekend. The other pub served only toasties (though they were delicious). BnB’s have virtually shut up shop. I was the ONLY overnight visitor on the Island. I am pretty sure of that.  And if it wasn’t for the help of a local resident who was able to contact Annie who kindly opened her BNB for me, I would not have been able to stay on the island.  It is hard to see three months of summer visitors being a viable alternative industry.  If you are going in the off season and I recommend staying at least one night, just arrange accommodation first.

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I’ve spoken of the changing light so I was in high hopes of a classic sunset. While inconveniently placed clouds thwarted me nevertheless the backlighting of orange light provided some remarkable cloudscapes. At time it was like the clouds were alight flames flaring upwards into the night sky and rays of orange directed down to the earth.

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Sunset behind cloud

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Clouds aflame I

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Clouds aflame II

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Glowing thunderheads

And fourteen hours later the display was repeated when I was rewarded for getting up early (7:45 am) with a spectacular sunrise before the clouds descended and killed the show. And then as if to say “Ok.   You’ve had your fun”, rain descended.

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In all I only spent 24 hours on the island. Enough? Not really. I ‘saw’ everything I suppose but I only got just a little taste of the true feeling of the place.  Pauline, any time you want to try again. I’m up for it.

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Giant Steps

Giants CausewY pAnorama 1

The Giant’s Causeway is on every visitor’s must see list on the island of Ireland. For lots of different reasons. It’s a beautiful place on a beautiful coast, It has mystery and mystique. It is intriguing and enigmatic. That’s why over a million people a year visit.

It is located in Northern Ireland in a part of Antrim known as The Causeway Coast.  I have been there twice in the past year – in January 2017 in the depth of winter and in September. Both times I was gifted with marvellous weather.

For me as a geologist it was like worshipping at a holy shrine. So I thought I would put together a few of my observations from the two trips.  Apologies if this is too dry for you but you can skip the words and just look at the pictures.

So what are we talking about here?

The Causeway is part of an extensive coastline exposing thick basalt flows.  The scenery is nothing short of spectacular with sweeping bays and jagged cliffs stretching as far as the eye can see.

 

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The Causeway Coast looking west with Giant’s Causeway in the foreground.  

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The coastal path from the Causeway to the Chimney Tops past the Organ Pipes

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View west showing Causeway and Chimney Tops in the distance.

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Giant’s Causeway is on the right and the Camel Rock on the left.

 

The Giant’s Causeway is most famous for the spectacular columns, or more correctly ‘columnar jointing’ in the basalt. The origin of the columns has historically caused all sorts of consternation. Our forebears did not believe such regular shapes could be created naturally. So if it wasn’t the work of the Almighty then it must have been Finn McCool. Hence the legend of the Irish Giant constructing the causeway to engage with his counterpart in Scotland, Fin Gall.

 

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View from the clifftop down onto the Causeway.

 

 

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And he left evidence didn’t he? In his haste to get back to Ireland and escape from his giant nemesis, Finn McCool lost a boot which remains to this day adjacent to the Causeway. There is a more prosaic explanation and I’ll return to this later.

 

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The Giant’s Boot

 

The Causeway came to the attention of Science however in the late 17th century and right through the 18th century it was the focus of intense debate as to its origin. Geological science was then in its infancy. Two intensely opposed schools of thought developed. The Vulcanists, who believed the columns were basalt solidified from lava and the Neptunists who said that all rocks including basalt were sedimentary and formed in a great ocean. The Giants Causeway was at the centre of this debate. So it is one of the most significant places in the history of the geological sciences. That debate has long since been resolved in favour of the Vulcanists

We now know, however, that the columns are caused by cooling cracks that developed at the bottom of a lava flow where it was in contact with the cooler rock beneath. As the lava continued to cool these cracks slowly propagated up creating regular, generally six-sided (though they can have from three to seven sides), columns. These regular columns are called colonnades. The hexagonal shapes are caused by the joints tending to be at 120º to each other. At the exposed tops of the flows cooling was more rapid where there was contact with air and water, so the jointing was irregular and blocky. This type of jointing is called entablature. You can see this very clearly in many places especially at the, so called, Organ Pipes

 

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Regular hexagonal columns

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Columns with 4, 5, 6 or 7 sides.

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Columnar jointing

 

 

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Spectacular columns at the Organ Pipes

If you look closer at the columns you will see that in addition to the regular vertical joints that create the columns there is also another set of sub horizontal joints which slices each column into regular segments. These were created by the release of stress during contraction within the columns.

 

 

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Horizontal jointing

 

The really intriguing thing is that when these columns break along thee horizontal joints to form the rock platforms they are in fact ont horizontal.  Usually they are either  beautifully concave or convex and the segments fit perfectly together in a ball and socket arrangement. The concave joints are easily spotted on the rock platform as they retain pools of water.

 

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Detail of column surfaces.  water collects on convex surfaces

 

The columns make an impressive display whether on the rock platforms or in the cliffs.  There is a formation at the eastern end known as the Chimney Tops. If the illustration attached from an 1888 book is accurate, then the chimneys are considerably smaller than they were in the 19th century.   I suggest you go and see them before they disappear.

 

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Chimney Tops 2017

 

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Chimney Tops 1888

 

 

 

 

 

It is easy to see how the Neptunists thought the basalts were of sedimentary origin.  There is a distinct layering which could be mistaken for sedimentary banding. Of course it represents different lava flows.  particularly confusing is a distinctive orange red layer in the middle of the cliff.  It is known as an Interbasaltic Formation; a laterite horizon, and is caused by the basalts below it being exposed to weathering for a considerable time before the upper series of basalt flows were deposited. It also suggest a warmer climate at the time as laterites require tropical conditions to develop. It is composed mainly of clays and is rich in iron and aluminium (most other elements were leached out) and has been mined for these ores elsewhere in Antrim.

 

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Layering in basalt flows

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Interbasaltic laterite

 

 

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Laterite in detail

 

Within this laterite hori\on you can see relicts of the original basalt as paler partially weathered rock. There are also some excellent examples of preserved circular structures representing earlier spheroidal weathering within the normal basalt. This is caused by water percolating down vertical and horizontal cracks eventually creating rounded blocks. It is also known as ‘onion skin’ weathering.

Oh I forgot.  Finn’s boot.  It’s actually a glacial erratic, deposited by a retreating glacier at the end of the last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago). Much more boring explanation.

 

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Giant’s boot.  Glacial erratic

 

I know I’ve gone on about the rocks but the spirit of the place is palpable.  The only word I can think of is Romance,.

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Romance and Rocks.  What a combination.

 

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Strokestown Park House. A Living Museum.

I love when I visit a place for one reason (usually music) and discover something totally unexpected. Such was the case with Strokestown in Co Roscommon. I had no reason to expect anything other than long days and nights in one or many of the quaint pubs playing music and sampling the odd Jamesons.

It turns out Strokestown, a planned town, has a pivotal and fascinating history. In the centre of the town is Strokestown Park House, the ancestral home of the Mahon family.

 

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Strokestown Park House

You can’t help but notice the wide avenue that leads to the narrow gate to the grounds.  Aside from O’Connell Street in Dublin, it is the widest street in Ireland. One gets the impression that lined as it is with imposing buildings and Georgian terraces it was meant to create an aura of wealth and prosperity befitting the status of the British landowner; so as they drove the carriage down the avenue his friends would be suitably impressed.  The true state  of the people hidden in the side streets.

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The gateway to Strokestown House in the distance.

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Public buildings.  There’s room to park a bus rear to kerb.

But the family and the name Strokestown has a darker side.  It is now mostly remembered for its connection to the Famine, evictions and land clearances.  That story is told in the Famine Museum attached to the house (which is itself now a museum)  and is an extraordinary one.

The house is a time capsule. The Georgian Palladian style of its architecture reflects the obsession with symmetry at the time and the desire to make the house look bigger than it was. The two wings were largely cosmetic with stables and storage and services. All the living areas were in the main two story house.

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Georgian Palladian architecture.  The central building is the main residence.  To the left are the kitchen and storerooms and to the right the stables.

Built in 1660 the original owner, Captain Nicholas Mahon, was given lands as reward for his exploits with the forces of Cromwell in taking Ireland. The family did well and by the 1840s had an estate of 11,000 acres. An arranged marriage to another prominent British family, the Pakenhams, led to a combined land holding of 30,000 acres spread through Roscommon,.

During the 1700s and into the 1800s Strokestown prospered.  However in the1840s when the potato blight and the consequent famine struck hard in Roscommon, the then owner Denis Mahon implemented a programme of large scale evictions.

In one year alone (1847) he evicted 3,000 people. Though the excuse for the land clearance was the inability of the Irish tenants to pay rent it seemed to be part of a grander scheme.  Immediate steps were taken to advertise the land thus made available in places like Scotland, where presumably Protestant tenants would be more reliable. The clearances were accomplished largely by “assisted emigration” in particular to Canada. As many as 50% of the passengers died amid extraordinary cruelty on these Famine ships mostly through cholera and typhoid and this prompted outrage.  It climaxed in the murder of Denis Mahon at the end of 1847.  The culprits, presumed to be disaffected tenants weren’t identified, but it led to swift retribution against any family that might have had a remote connection as a conspirator.   Much material that relates to this period is on display in the Museum.  In particular there are many original letters and documents which illustrate the plight of the people and the heartlessness of the landlords.

 

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A list of tenants recommended for relief work, 1846.  The notes in blue provide comments as to whether the person had made an effort to pay their rent.  They were favoured.

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A petition from Kilbeg tenants to the owners requesting whether they will be given assisted immigration.  Tenants were keen to go to foreign lands but many never made it.

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A Notice to Quit on Widow Mary Campbell requesting her to vacate the premises.

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A Civil Bill used where rent was over twelve months in arrears.  The tenants’ annual rent was £11 5s and their arrears were £16.  They were to appear in court to be evicted.

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A receipt for £2 to Margaret Brice on surrendering her house, land and manure upon eviction.  Note signed with her mark, an x

Following the joining with the Pakenhams their money enabled the family to survive and prosper into the twentieth century. The last remaining resident however  was Olive Pakenham-Mahon who lived in the house until 1981.

She decided in 1979 to move to a nursing home and sold the house and lands to local businessman Jim Callelly.  He just wanted the land but one day he visited the basement of his newly acquired house and discovered a treasure trove of historical documents that spelt out in intimate detail the story of the house and the evictions. This prompted him to retain the house, restore it and set up a museum based on this archive. And thank God he did.

The house now is furnished exactly as Olive left it. Many of the original furniture and artefacts remain but a lot were sold off to enable her to survive. Olive lived in one room by the end (the Drawing Room) and the rest of the house was essentially abandoned.

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The Drawing Room

Visitors are now able to tour the house. What I enjoyed is that lived-in feel. Peeling wallpaper, organised clutter. Pictures exactly where she had left them. Monogramed personal items lying around.  A toy room with original toys used by her children.  A nursery with original clothes hanging behind the door.  A classroom.  A massive and elegant dining room.

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Entrance foyer

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The Master’s bedroom

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The Lady’s bedroom

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The Nursery

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The schoolroom

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The toyroom

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The Dining Room

 

There is an amazing kitchen with original stoves, furniture and kitchenware. Our guide related the story that Olive had decided the kitchen was too large and wanted it demolished and a smaller modern kitchen built.  The architect was very reticent and came up with a scheme with false walls and ceilings and modern appliances.  The original kitchen was preserved behind these walls.  Jim Callelly had heard a rumor of this and dismantled it to reveal a treasure frozen in time.  Everything was in place and untouched.

 

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The old Kitchen with its massive range

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Beautiful original cast iron cooking range

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Original Strokestown jug

 

The library is also impressive. A chippendale bookcase said to be one of the best in Ireland. A pecctacular Grandfather clock. Beautiful globes. Certaily a life style very different to that outside these walls.  A classic retreat for the males in the house as was the custom.

 

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The Library

 

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Original 17th Century wallpaper lines the walls of the Library

 

 

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Rare Irish Chippendale bookcase in the Library

 

Many magnificent paintings adorn the walls.  One is of  an ancestral relative, General Pakenham who led the British Army in the Famous Battle of New Orleans. We all remember the history as told by Johnny Horton in his 1959 song

In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip.
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And caught the British running in the town on New Orleans……..

We fired our guns and the British kept a comin’ …..

You know the rest.  The poor General did not survive but was regarded as a bit of a hero back home.

 

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Portrait of General Edward Packenham hanging in the Foyer

 

Unfortunately as was the case with many Anglo-Irish families when they came upon hard times many paintings and treasures had to be sold.  We are reminded of this when we see the faded areas of the original 17th century wallpaper where these paintings used to hang.

 

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Walls of the Dining Room showing faded areas outlining where original pictures hung.

 

One such painting was a priceless portrait by Bernardi Strozzi of the acclaimed Cremona composer Monteverdi.  The portrait was painted in c1630 and was sold by Olive for £2,000.  A somewhat amateurish copy hangs now in the Drawing Room in its placewhile the original was returned to Venice.

 

An intriguing feature of the house is the Servant’s tunnel.  Entered from behind the stables it heads under the house exiting at the back door of he kitchen.  Built to ensure deliveries and movement of servants took place with no interaction with the house, it is easily accessed today.

 

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Servants’ tunnel under the house

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Entrance to the tunnel

 

Adjacent to the house is a restored walled garden. A large walled garden of around 4 acres.  After a ten year restoration it was opened to the public in 1997 and many of the original features of this pleasure garden have been retained.  There is a croquet lawn and a Summer House, a Lawn Tennis court, a beautiful lily pond, impressive herbaceous borders (the longest in Ireland), a formal rose garden, beautiful manicured hedges and a pergola. lawns and wildflower areas.  I loved it.  But as with the Vandeleur Garden in Clare which I wrote about in a previous blog, the cruel history of the famine sits uneasily with the beauty and bucolic pleasures of this garden.

 

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Herbaceous borders line the walls

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There are formal and informal pathways

 

 

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Croquet Lawn and Summer House

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Detail of Summer house with Autumn foliage

 

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Beautiful ornamental lily pond

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Secluded pathways

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Perfectly manicured hedges

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Numerous hidden spaces lie behind hedges

Another treasure of the estate is the Woodland.  There is a circular walk through this leafy mossy retreat with huge oak and beech trees and thick undergrowth.   It was first planted in the early 1700’s by Thomas Mahon and some of the original trees still exist. During the 1800’s, to increase the pleasure of the shoot, laurels were planted creating a thick undergrowth.  Eventually it took over but it was sensitively restored in 2011.  The fairies have gone a little overboard though and seem to have occupied nearly every tree.

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When old chairs become an art installation.

 

Truly the house, the museum, the garden and the woodland will keep you occupied for four or five hours.  They will be four or five hours well spent.

 

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The Flaggy Shore and Aughinish. Make the time.

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Just a short distance off the N67 which tracks the northern coast of Clare as part of the Wild Atlantic Way is the Flaggy Shore. This is the perfect spot to see the Burren meet the Bay, in this case Galway Bay.  A sweeping stony shoreline with a backdrop of the bare purple hills and the lush green fields beneath.

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Look north across the bay, now calm and peaceful and you see the villages of Galway clinging to the coast and beyond this the misty silhouette of Connemara and the Twelve Pins.

 

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Cliffs of Aughinish in the foreground and the Twelve Pins on the horizon

 

The place has a permanent spot in Ireland’s psyche thanks to one of Seamus Heaney’s most celebrated poems, Postscript.

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other ……

Heaney in describing how the poem came to him said:   “I had this quick sidelong glimpse of something flying past; before I knew where I was, I went after it”.

He has said it beautifully of course so I won’t try and improve on those words.  All I can do is attempt to give that feeling in pictures…

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There is no beach, as such, at Flaggy Shore. Just boulders, pebbles and rocky outcrops. But a walk on the strand will well reward. You can stroll along the roadway or explore the limestone platform in the littoral zone.

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This is the best place in the whole of Clare to observe the coral fossils that make up such a large part of the 350 million year old layers. Huge colonies of branching corals (fasciculate lithostrotionids) are sliced at various angles revealing themselves from all perspectives.  Their true branching form can be seen often in section on the rock face. Sometimes the colonies seem completely intact and measure over a metre across. If you have been to the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland it is easy to imagine the warm shallow sea that was once home to these corals and the teeming life that surrounded them.

 

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Planar sectional view through a coral colony

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Large fossil coral colonies on the rock platform

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Excellent view of coral colony showing branching and dendritic form. About a metre across.

 

If you look hard you will see long straight grooves etched into the rock. These are called striations and are caused by the movement of a glacier which smoothed this landscape around 10,000 years ago. Rocks trapped in the ice were dragged along the bottom scouring these cracks. We are able to measure the direction of movement of the ice sheet using this evidence.

 

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Glacial striations on the rock platform at Flaggy Shore

 

If you like watching sea birds, you are in the right place.  As well as gulls, this time of the year starlings gather in flocks and search for food on the sea shore. These murmurations can number thousands of birds and when performing their acrobatic gyrations they make one of the truly spectacular sights in nature. They swoop and soar and flit and glide in perfect concert. It’s only when you freeze this motion with the camera that you see how perfectly aligned is the movement of each individual bird. I could watch them for hours.

 

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Starlings I

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Starlings II

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Eyes left

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Eyes right

 

Aughinish Island, just a few hundred metres across the calm water, is comprised of glacial deposits left behind by the retreating ice as the continent warmed. The Island was originally part of the mainland but a devastating tsunami caused by an earthquake in Portugal in 1755 separated it. The British built a causeway in 1811 to service the troops manning the Martello Tower (built to protect Ireland from Napoleon). It is still the only access to the Island.  The one lane causeway actually connects Aughinsh to County Galway which paradoxically means the fifty residents on the island and the occasional vistor who stumbles on this place must travel through Galway to get access to this part of Clare.

 

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The causeway built to access Auginish

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Peace I

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Peace II

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Peace III

 

For the ‘tourist’ looking for a quick fix there is not much to take you to Aughinish.  But it is a place to walk and breathe.  Where the quiet ambience is tangible.  It has a feeling of calm so unusual for the Atlantic Coast.  You will be unlikely to meet anyone except a farmer attending to his boggy field or another collecting seaweed blown in by Hurricane Ophelia.  But you will get stunning views across the inlet and if you are lucky enough to see the sun disappear behind Black Head you may not want to leave.

 

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Looking across the inlet from Aughinish to the village of Ballyvelaghan

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A Martello Tower built in 1811 to defend the Irish coast from the French.

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Lengthening shadows

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Evening serenity I

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Evening serenity II

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The shoreline on Aughinish.  The softest most comfortable grass you will ever find.

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Vivid red growth on the tidal flats

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The high tide mark left by Hurricane Ophelia which exploded the previous day. 

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Collecting seaweed

 

 

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Life on Aughinish

 

As usual I will let my camera have the last word.

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Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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