17th Century stained glass from Bunratty Castle

Ireland

17th Century stained glass from Bunratty Castle

Wendy and I spent 2 weeks touring the Republic with my parents, Bob and Eileen O'Boyle who have been their twice before and had a number of places they really wanted us to see.

Galway Bay from Spiddal just west of Galway City

Having taken the red eye out of Boston we had been up for about 24 hours by the time evening rolled around in Spiddle along Galway bay where we stayed the first night. Our flight had been extended because fog on the ground in Shannon forced us on to Dublin, where there was also ground fog, so we ended up landing in Belfast Northern Ireland. Of course the stewardesses were clueless as to where we were,  as I was watching the Welcome to Belfast sign roll by the stewardess announced our welcome into Dublin airport. To make a long flight longer about 10 minutes after we landed in Belfast Air Force One  arrived toting Bill and Hillary Clinton for their visit to the North and the Republic. What a distinct honor that was, sitting for 2 hours in the hot plane on the tarmac till Bill and Hill were off the airport grounds.

After spending the night in Spiddal and breakfasting on massive amounts of food (which turns out to be a typical breakfast at Irish B&B's) we decided to head straight up to County Donegal to see some ancient O'Boyle sites. We spent a few days in the Ardara area north of Donegal Town where there are several O'Boyle sites, one of which we visited. Doon Fort is located on Doon Lough in the townland of Drumboghill and is several miles north of Ardara not far from the towns of Naran and Portnoo. It's all very close to the coast and the drive is beautiful on the small back roads. Sign on Doon Fort showing the O'Boyle family connection

The lake itself is on the land of a Mr. McHugh who was 92 years old when we made our visit (sadly he has passed away since our visit), and he had boats for rent for a few pounds so that we could row ourselves out to the island and have the place to ourselves.  He used to use the island as a garden when he was a boy and set potatoes there to grow. His son Brendan was there also and he gave us a very informative run down on the history of the fort such as it is understood. According to him the O'Boyles occupied the fort from the 10th to the 16th centuries. The last O'Boyle chieftain Conor O'Boyle was slain here at the fort in the year 1530 by a rival O'Boyle group. 

Doon Fort from a hillside above the Doon Lough The date of the stone ring fort (also know as a Cashel or Caher) is estimated at about 4000 years old so that it predates by far the O'Boyle occupation of it. Near by between the lake and Naran a gold lunula (collar) well ornamented with geometric designs was found in 1909 by a man digging turf, he tossed it aside thinking it was from a coffin. That night at the Portnoo hotel he told of his find and a reverend from Liverpool bought it from him for 30 shillings. It was brought to England and later returned to Ireland and is now on display at the national museum in Dublin. It  was dated at about 1700 BC so the thought is that the fort dates from this time or earlier. 
Close by at Killtorish Lough are the remains of the O'Boyle castle which is just about completely gone, not much remains of it. The reason the Doon Fort is so well preserved is because it is on an island and it is difficult to get at the stones so they were not pilfered for use in stone walls and the construction of houses. Nothing is known about the people who may have built the fort.  There are similar forts in Northern Donegal county as well as on the Ring of Kerry and on the Aran islands off the Galway coast. McHugh also made mention that there are similarities with forts built in Scotland of about the same age.  William Larminie, an Irish poet wrote a poem titled  "The Nameless Doon"  about the fort at Lough Doon. This is a stanza from the poem; Bob O'Boyle at the Doon Fort atop the 15' high walls
"Who were the builders?
Question not the silence that settles on the lake for evermore,
Save when the sea-bird screams and to the islands
The echo answers from the steep- cliffed shore"
We spent the better part of the afternoon paddling around the lake and I climbed one of the cliffs on the shore to get a better overall view of the fort in the middle of the lake. The place has a wonderful silence to it, as Larminie suggests, with the bleating of distant sheep the only sound to break the quiet. I was completely taken by the place, it was the usual overcast, windy with spots of rain weather but we did get some nice breaks of sun while we were on the island itself.   Which is how the weather was pretty much the whole time we were in Ireland, each day would bring wind, rain, sun, chill and warmth. Over the next couple days we explored as much of Donegal as we could. This part of Ireland really deserves at least a week to take the time and see the sights without feeling rushed, of course we only had 3 days up here so we just did not get to some of the areas we would have liked to. 
We drove along the coast from Ardara up to Dunglow and then out along the coast of the Rosses. The trip out to the tip of Cruit Island is well worth it with great views of Owey Island which has a very neat looking village that would be great fun to visit were the winds more calm and conducive to taking a boat over.  The houses are in fact occupied at least part time and one should respect the properties on Owey Island if you make a visit. From there we drove on past MT Errigal towards Glenveagh National Park and the Glenveagh Castle.
The Poison Glen with Mt. Errigal in Background We found that the best way to see Ireland was to wander down roads that you did not intend to go along, get lost and see the best sights (it will happen anyway so you don't have to try).  We found this abandon church and great views of the cloud buried MT Errigal this way.  Door of abandon church
The landscape up through the Derryveigh mountains is a bleak and beautiful, grass, hills, sky, mist and rain.  The change is sudden and rather surprising as you drive up the valley and over the highlands toward Glenveagh National Park. We spent the afternoon at the park visiting the castle and hiking up the hills above the castle with awesome view up and down the lake valley, and then started our drive back toward Ardara. Dolmen in farmers field near Ardara
Doon Well Items The landscapes in Donegal are stunning, it seems that no matter which road you take you will be in for beautiful sights. We took the route west from Glenveigh and then visited the Doon well which is an ancient pagan healing well that seems to be something of a pilgrimage spot still, at the bush that stands next to the well are many discarded items such as inhalers, canes, many icons of the virgin Mary, and statuettes that people have left behind after the curative powers of the water took hold.
Nearby is Doon Rock where the O'Donell kings of old we're crowned before a great gathering of their followers.   Leaving here we then got snagged up on some side roads and ended up near Letterkenny, when we finally sorted ourselves out we we're on the R250 that heads into Fintown and on to Glenties, a beautiful ride especially with the rain and sun mixed weather we we're getting. Sunset with rain, Donegal
Cliffs at Sleave League Of course one of the best reasons to visit Ireland in the first place is to spend time at the pubs, and we did our share of that each evening. It is where the best meals are found,  there always seemed to be a very warm cozy atmosphere in the pubs we visited and if your lucky you will be treated to some local musicians singing and playing their instruments to improvised music, the best kind to find!        The weather turned really foul, even for Ireland, so we modified our plans a bit and drove south from Donegal  to the Killarney area, a long all day drive. We did manage a stop at Sleave League west of Killybegs for a view of the impressive cliffs there. Just as high as the Cliffs of Moher we were told. 
Our original plan had been to spend some days driving  down along the coast and touring the Connemara  and the Cliffs of Moher area for a day or two but with the weather turning bad we decided a lost rain day was best spent in the car.   We stayed in Killorglin about half way between Tralee and Killarney, a nice area away from the tourist hoards in Killarney and right on the Ring of Kerry. Some great pubs and excellent food to be had here. 
Dunmore Head, Dingle We spent a wet day touring the DIngle Peninsula, very cloudy and difficult to see much. Out at the tip of the peninsula we did get a glimpse of the Blasket Islands off the coast, home of the extremely hearty people who lived and fished the islands for many years. We visited the excellent museum out near Clogher Head devoted entirely to the Blasket Islands and the stories of the incredibly rugged people who lived there. It is a well enough done museum inside but the architecture of this museum is a blight on the landscape. In the middle of this landscape of sky water grass and stone is this modernist nightmare of a building. It looks like a tire factory or a plastic mold factory stuck in the pristine landscape of the Dingle. 
This is not to take away from the excellent content of the museum, the photographs are excellent and I have a true respect for the Blasket Islanders after visiting this museum. The bookstore here has some outstanding literature written by some of the islanders telling their everyday stories. Tomas O'Crohan and Peig Sayers are a couple of the story tellers who's books area available and they are excellent reading. Pick them up if you go there because they are difficult to get in the states. Blasket sign in Gaelic
Ring of Kerry The following day the weather forecast was a bit better so the plan was to head into Killarney and see the sites. We were tired from all the driving from the last few days so we thought we would spend the day walking around the town.   But I missed a sign and before we knew it we were on the ring of Kerry, something we were going to skip because it is so touristy,  but the sun broke out and we got a few glimpses of the sun over the ocean with the heavy clouds adding to the mood,  we decided to stay with it and do the ring. A good choice as there are some really beautiful spots on the ring.
 It's like many places in Ireland, if the weather is nice then you are in for some beautiful views with the richest shades of green you have ever seen. The traffic was not that bad, the only place we had a problem was between Moll's Gap and Killarney where the road gets so skinny that 2 tour buses couldn't get past one another. Killarney I would definitely give a miss next visit, it is really just a tourist town and any authentic Irish culture seems to have been long scared away from here.  My preference is to spend time in the country side and small villages where you are away from the regular stream of tourists. Coomakesta Pass, Beara Peninsula in distance.
   
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This character was advertising "beehive huts" in the field next to his farmhouse. If I didn't know better I would say that he built the huts from the stone walls surrounding his fields himself and was raking in the pounds selling peaks to gullible tourists like myself for a pound. The construction was fairly shoddy and they didn't look like they had been there for centuries.

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Sheepshead Peninsula Rainbow
Sheepshead Peninsula

After the Killarney area we made our way into County Cork and down to the sheepshead Peninsula which is just south of the Beara peninsula. I have to say that it was one of my favorite places in Ireland after Donegal, half because of the beauty of the place and half because of the wonderful farmhouse B&B we stayed at. The sheepshead would be a great place to spend a week doing walking tours around the peninsula, there is something of an organized route that the local folks have strung together and there are maps to guide you from one end of the peninsula to the other. Unfortunately we were at the end of our trip here and could only stay one night.

But Wendy and I managed a beautiful early morning walk to  catch the sunrise and see the sights near where we stayed.

 

Sheepshead
From Cork we drove to Kinsale since we had heard good things about the place and the food to be had there. We  found it over priced and more or less just a tourist trap. Probably good if you like shopping a lot and poking around in small shops but I get bored with that quickly. Maybe if the weather was more pleasant it would have been a better place. I would have much preferred to stay put in Cork and absorb the country atmosphere. Gatepost
The following day we drove through Cork city and on to Blarney to kiss the stone and shop the mill (complementary Irish whisky).  It was a good day, the castle is worth a look and the shopping is good at the Blarney woolen mills,  picked up some nice sweaters for a good price.
Vew from Blarnet castle Blarney Castle

From Blarney it was back to the Ennis area to spend the last night in Ireland. We visited the Bunratty castle near Ennis in the afternoon and that was quite good, some excellent 14th century stained glass and furnishings.

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