Friday, June 07, 2013

Clare Days, Ennis Nights

On the train again, heading for Dublin and our last night in Ireland. I've had a great time, but last night I dreamed of leprechauns and I'm really starting to miss home.

Ennis turned out to be nicer than my first impression. The town is walkably small, with the town center, a commercial district in among medieval streets and lanes, being only a few blocks long and wide - this was not a tourist district, though there were plenty of pubs and restaurants, but the place where locals (probably including people from the nearby countryside) conducted their business. Downtown is where we rented our next bikes - clunkers again, unfortunately - and where we'd begin and end every day, with breakfast from a bakery and dinner in a pub.

During the day we'd ride our clunkers out into the Clare countryside. We had two days: our first day was an exploration of my maternal roots, going from Ennis to Killmihel on the tiniest roads I've ever seen, then on to Milltown Malbay on even smaller roads. We had lunch in Milltown Malbay, then returned to Ennis via a road crossing called The Hand, actually the mailing address of distant relatives even now. (There is no one and nothing there except a road marker, and I wasn't looking people up anyway.)

That was about 54 miles, and our second day was much less ambitious: we rode out to an unusual, rocky terrain called The Burren, and did a loop through the national park there. We took our time, stopped at a few archeological features, and took lots of pictures.

Evenings, which started and sometimes ended in daylight since the sun doesn't set until after 10:00, were spent checking the local "trad" music scene. We would grab dinner in a pub, and some musicians would wander in and start playing, our we'd find some bunch of people playing in the back of some bar. The music was uniformly good, and a lot like the stuff we'd heard in Dingle, but there was a political edge to Ennis that we didn't find elsewhere. It seems kind of silly to hear an Irish version of "We Shall Overcome," until you see newsprints on the walls from the 1916 uprising, and the statues of O'Connor and De Valera in the town squares...

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

And So This Is Ennis

A nice-enough town, and a nice central location for the last day-rides of our trip, but it's not a big town, or a tourist or college town, and after Dingle it seems a bit lackluster...

Luckily we stayed an extra day in Dingle. After all my bragging about how easy it was to navigate the bus/train lines, we came up hard against an unexpected setback: the June "bank holiday." Anne heard people talking about it and was curious, looked it up and found we had no public transportation out of Dingle on Monday (this was Friday might). So, we re-finagled our lodging arrangements, and made today our travel day.

More Dingle Daze: We got in two more rides in Dingle, one a climb up Conor Pass - like Blue Mountain, only on a tiny goat-path of a road, with two-way traffic, and since there are no trees you can see everything you have to climb - then back to town, and the other a ride through the interior of the peninsula, stopping at an ancient "oratory," or monastic chapel, made of corbelled stone, then doing our Slae Head loop in the opposite direction, and stopping again at the little tea shop overlooking the Blasket Islands for tea and scones.

In between those rides was a sort of wet and drizzly day, so we did a hike, which actually took us partway back up to Conor Pass before heading off into sheep country.

The Night Life: Most evenings we would walk around Dingle town, maybe going into a pub to catch some music - real Irish music is more like folk, and much better than the crap I was expecting, and the best place to catch it was Tommy O'Sullivan's - or to grab a bite and a pint. (A pint of what, you ask? We had our obligatory pints of Guiness, which truly is better over here, but we also sampled a few beers from several craft brewers on the peninsula, and our go-to drink actually turned out to be Bulmers Cider. One freaky night we got a bottle of wine with seafood. Me, seafood, wine, this place is full of surprises...) Once or twice we stayed out a bit later, and one night we had a lovely conversation about genealogy - the guy was researching his relatives who'd emigrated  to the US, who knew they did that? - with a couple from Galway.

Last night was another awesome meal, but the crowds, which had grown huge, were now thinning, you could see that the bank holiday was winding down.
We left town this morning, on the 7:15 bus to Tralee.

It took us until 1:30 (and it took us three transfers traveling by train, including one transfer we almost missed), but now we're ensconced in The Rowan Tree, an awesome hostel in the middle of town. We got some lunch, walked most of the town (it didn't take long), and now we're almost done with our laundry and itching to hit the local scene. Tomorrow we ride to my mother's ancestral homeland.