Today didn’t have much super-exciting stuff going on, so I’m going to do my normal part of my post, but then also try to fill in pieces I’ve been wanting to include, and also be a little philosophical because PK and Marguerite gave me permission to use this as my journal, so I didn’t have to keep doing these posts AND hand-written entries in my journal.
This morning, we headed to Coole Park, where we walked along the trails and saw the Autograph Tree. Coole Park was where Lady Gregory lived, and she was friends with many literary legends, which include William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw. It’s a nature reserve, where many of them got their inspiration. We visited the lake that’s the subject of Yeats’ poem “The Wild Swans at Coole”, as well as the Autograph Tree where dozens of famous authors etched their initials into the trunk. That was really, really awesome to see. Plus, Rory met back up with us and walked with us for the second half. He showed us wild garlic, and had us try it. It was super weird to eat garlic leaves that were just broken off the plant, but I did and they definitely tasted exactly like garlic.
Then, we hopped back on the bus and headed back to Ballyvaughan. Rory took us to one last monastery before leaving us for the rest of the time. He’s been phenomenal, and the monastery was so cool—its Round Tower leans perpendicular three feet. He referred to it as “Ireland’s Leaning Tower of Pisa.” It’s also the tallest Round Tower in Ireland, at 120 feet.
We had some free time, and then met downstairs to listen to world-renowned Irish storyteller Eddie Lenihan. (The New York Times called him one of the only traditional and best storytellers still working in Ireland.) Such an awesome guy. I’ve been reading one of his books, “Meeting the Other Crowd,” for one of the classes I’m taking here. It’s all Fairy (or Faery) stories—really short, no more than ten pages each, but it’s super interesting. I’ve loved hearing about the fairies because we really don’t have anything mystical like that in the states, that everyone’s kind of weirded out by. From what we’ve experienced, no one here will admit to believing in fairies, but they all kind of take precautionary steps “just in case.” When we visited the clay fort the other day, Rory told us not to walk through the middle of the fort, where there was a Hawthorne tree. It was known as a fairy fort, and Hawthornes are known as the trees of the fairies. He said once, he told a group that, and a guy walked through the middle and broke his ankle. But, he still says he doesn’t believe in fairies. Other people we’ve run into say their parents used to leave out a saucer of milk by the back door for the fairies, after they’d milk their cows. And Irish fairies aren’t like the fairies we have in our minds—they always tell us that you could be sitting next to a fairy and you wouldn’t even know it. Other times, though, they say they’re much smaller. Today, Eddie said “the size of a five-year-old child.” I could probably write for hours about what we’ve learned and what I’ve read—I find it fascinating. I’ll probably talk about it to everyone at home until they hate me. So, prepare for that. Anyway, Eddie was awesome and I had him sign my book and take this picture.
And, now we have the rest of the night free. Oh, here’s something I’ve been meaning to mention if I haven’t already—we have SO MUCH daylight here. It’s light outside from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. (and I mean sun completely up light outside) and I kind of hate it. I can never go to sleep, and I’m always awake super early. Plus, I’m just exhausted but it’s impossible to go to bed when it’s gorgeous outside. I say that because it’s 9:23 pm and the sun is still relatively high in the sky.
Okay. So, that was today. Here’s just my fill-ins that I’ve thought of while out and about.
First of all—while I’m thinking of it—I believe everyone should, at some point in their life, stay overnight in the room we’re staying in right now. Like I said before, It’s giant, and we’ve got a ceiling that slants down, with an eye-level skylight that’s about 4-foot by 5-foot, that faces the mountains of the Burren. The last two nights, we’ve had hard rain that hits that slanted window pane and just sounds incredible. Almost like quiet thunder, but you can hear the whooshing of it hitting the pavement, too. That’s not the best part, though. Around 6 pm, you start to smell what I referred to before as “Burning Rome” from Spaceship Earth in Epcot at WDW. It’s like the smell you get when you start a bonfire and are burning leaves and sticks and really dried up, older, natural materials. I know, obviously, wood is itself a natural material, but I mean not the stuff we chop up of the trunk—I mean grass, leaves, and sticks. And maybe Ash wood. One of the types of wood smells like bonfire mixed with cigarette smoke—I think it’s Ash, but I could be wrong. Anyway, from about 6 p.m. on, the village smells of that, unceasingly. Rory told us why—they cut up small strips (six inches by a foot) of bog material, let it dry up, and use it to start the fires they use in their fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. So, what we’re smelling is burning peat, and then completely natural fires. So, that’s been neat to get to look forward to that smell every night. Definitely one of many smells I’ll never forget about Ireland. Here’s part of the view we’ve got from that giant skylight, if I haven’t posted it before.
Okay, other things we’ve noticed is that there’s no screens on the windows here—when they’re open, they’re stick-your-arm-out open. And here, where we have this sky light, essentially, we’ve had the window open as much as six or eight inches, and woke up to birds making tons of noises at 5:30 a.m. in the tree right next to our window, so I’ve gotten up and nervously closed the window. Two people in this room is enough. We don’t need birds up in here.
Today, while thinking about how cute and charming Ballyvaughan is, I thought about how it’s odd that the town is mainly old people. And that sounds a bit blunt, but honestly, almost everyone I’ve ran into here is at least over the age of fifty, which is not at all how Dublin was. Dublin, I’d say everyone was under thirty, or at least it seemed like that. We’ve only ran into one person our age, here, and that’s a guy who works at the market across the street from our hotel.
Which brings up another (non-journal-related) point: many people have jokingly told me to bring home a good, Irish boy, which has been on the top of my “to find” list, but, so far, that’s not looking good. We’ve talked with a lot of guys and stuff, and I sat next to an extremely attractive guy on the plane, but I didn’t accidentally fall asleep on his shoulder and we didn’t fall in love in eight hours because, you know, reality and all. So, anyway, the point here is younger generations seem to gravitate toward cities, and I’m going to die alone.
Other things I tapped down on my iPod yesterday included the fact that it’s a thing here to get one actual key for the room (and when I say actual key, I mean like a house key) that’s got a large, hand-sized engraved metal keychain attached to it. When you leave the hotel, you leave it at the desk, and when you come back in, you pick it back up. Something I’ve never run into before. Also yesterday, on our way back into Doolin, we passed some of the mountains in the Burren, and in two different places there were little waterfalls right out of the side of the rock. That was super cool to see. So unusual.
Something else has been barbed wire. There’s a lot of barbed wire here, and I’ve been able to find it first quite consistently. I guess you could call running into potentially dangerous things a superpower. I don’t know if barbed wire is something I’ve just never come across in Wisconsin, or something that we don’t use. Here, they put it on the edges of pastures, mainly. I can’t recall ever encountering that back home.
One of the other things I wanted to make sure I mentioned was how much Western Ireland looks like Wisconsin. This was actually something I mentioned in my handwritten journal on the way to O’Hare. As we were driving through Fond du Lac County on the bus, I looked up and realized Wisconsin is actually really beautiful, and I guess I’ve never really allowed myself to see that. The hills and valleys are gorgeous and a really spectacular green, and dotted with dandelions. I wrote about that, and mentioned that I’d be curious to see how Ireland compared to that, since the Ireland I had in my head was very similar to what I had just noticed in Wisconsin. And, actually, a couple of days ago I wrote down on my iPod how similar it actually is—the same hills and valleys, wind mills, dandelions… it’s actually kind of crazy. You could make a slideshow of Wisconsin and Ireland landscapes intermingled, and I probably wouldn’t be able to pick them out from each other, if you tried to stay within the same topographic features. So, then, I wrote down in my journal that I wanted to see how people felt about Ireland and living here, since I feel like a lot of people I know don’t particularly enjoy living in Wisconsin. But, so far everyone I’ve talked to has said they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. They’ll complain about the weather, but go on to point that we’ve had beautiful weather in the last week and a half. And I think that kind of ties in with the whole sense of nationalism we talked about in class—everyone here is so proud to be Irish. And I love the fairy stories and folk songs that everyone knows and that has become this universal part of their culture. That’s not something we have in the States, and that sense of community is something I’ve really loved about this place.
Did I mention they spray paint spots on their sheep, for ownership? Because that was something, too, I wanted to make sure I had down.
Okay, one last thing—what my expectations were for Western Ireland, versus what is actually here. Probably the biggest thing for me was I distinctly remember writing down that I thought there were just going to be random rocks lying in fields everywhere, but that I felt like an idiot for saying that because I thought it was this ridiculous Hollywood version of Ireland. But, no. There really are random rocks lying in fields. I have photographic proof. I also, for whatever reason, didn’t think those stone walls would be real. I really felt like the picture I had in my head of this quaint, charming little throwback in time was completely idiotic, and that I was going to be in for a rude awakening. But that’s exactly what it’s been. Today, we had to stop in the middle of a road for a horse. Crazy.
I love everything about being here, except the fact that almost nobody I love is here with me. The other night, as I was sleep-deprived and five steps beyond exhausted and losing my mind, that really hit me. I’ve never been this far away from my family or friends or anyone I love. And when that hits you like that, it’s really overwhelming and probably the loneliest I’ve ever felt in my life, and I lost it for a couple minutes. There’s an entire ocean between me and you guys, and that’s terrifying. But, I slept it off, and have been fine since, keeping busy and climbing mountains and living life. You know… the usual.