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Irelands Culture and little idiosyncrasies

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Ireland’s culture and little idiosyncrasies

Before I came to Ireland I expected it to be very much like the UK because they speak the same language and they were once a part of the UK a long time ago, however, there are many differences which add to its charm.  In fact the only things the same are they drive on the same side of the road as us and they speak English.

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I would say in most other ways they are nothing like us, I see more similarities between Ireland and the USA or to some European countries such as Spain, Italy and France, which I have visited.

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They are very much like Wales in that they have their own Celtic language which they are trying to preserve and all the children in school have to take Irish language lessons as part of the curriculum even if they might never need it, there are mixed feelings amongst the people of the country over this issue.

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Their public health service is not very good and most middle class people tend to pay for private health cover which means they need to pay an excess for every time they need to go into hospital for anything.

When someone dies they have an all-night vigil almost immediately after the death, usually on the same night, where friends, family and neighbours all go around to the house of the family where the bereavement occurred to see the body in the coffin and pay their last respects, everyone takes food and this goes on throughout the night, the following day is called the removal day where the coffin is removed from the house and taken to a public place for everyone to pay their last respects before the funeral which will be on the next day.  This means that when someone dies they are almost always buried within 2 to 3 days.

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This pic is to support the All Irish football final with Mayo against the Dubs!

Their school and team games are different from ours, in school they learn how to play hand ball, which is played with a small ball the size of a tennis ball but different texture and they play it like volley ball.  The boys play a game called football but it is not like our football which they call soccer, it’s like a cross between basketball, football and rugby, it is played with a football, the players are allowed to run carrying the ball, or bounce it, or kick it.  The goals are a football net with two posts that extend upwards like rugby posts attached and they can score both in the net and by kicking over the post with different points scored for either.  They also are passionate about Hurling which involves a hockey type stick and ball but the ball can fly through the air not just on the ground!!

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Their road markings are very much like Spain and France, some of their road signs also are more European but some are also very unique to Ireland and I really don’t know what some of them might mean lol!! Their traffic lights are different and they have this weird thing with traffic lights where the red light flashes which means you can go, apparently, as I found out last week when someone behind was beeping and gesturing for me to go.   Also the amber flashes sometimes and other times it goes straight from Red to Green no amber at all, (note to self, find out what the flashing red and amber is all about), the flashing red happens when driving in Spain and France too, I know they mean you can go under certain circumstance but I don’t know what those circumstances are.

img_4856Matt Molloys pub, traditional Irish music every night.

Listening to the radio or watching TV and it is all Irish, there are some UK TV programmes which are shown over here but it’s mostly their own programmes, also every radio station is Irish, which I suppose it should be being a separate country, I’m not sure why I expected it to be the same as us, or at least similar.

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It’s funny when you speak to people too, a lot of them who have not been to UK assume you are English because you are British. I have had to explain that I am from Wales which makes me Welsh not English, in that way it’s just like being in a foreign country.

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img_4710These signs can be seen all over the West coast and they denote the Wild Atlantic Way, a coastal route that runs all the way from the North West to the South West!

The music scene is very much their own too, mostly traditional Irish music is played in every bar, every restaurant etc., I haven’t heard any UK stuff over here at all apart from what I play in my own car.

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Their number plates on their cars show the year of purchase first and like us they have two release times per year so if it in the first half of 2016 it would be 161 or second half would be 162 then there is one or two letters which show where they are from usually, unless they bought the car in a different county to where they live and if it shows a D it’s Dublin but if it is a MO it’s Mayo, they sometimes use the first and last letter of the county, then the following numbers denote which order they had their plates appointed.

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Another difference is their fireplaces, they don’t burn wood in this part of Ireland they burn peat they got from the bog, but that is a whole other blog post I have written.

There are also a lot of derelict houses just left to rot at the side of the road; I’m trying to find out more about this as I think it will make an interesting story.

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They are also a very religious people, mostly catholic and most of them go to mass quite often, well the people I have met so far have anyway.  I would say more per town and village go to mass here than do at home.  You will come across statues of Mary in very many places at the roadside and in the towns with flowers and ornaments around the statue.

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img_4790Lovely girl I met washing pots at the hotel!

They are also very friendly people and will go out of their way to help you.  I have loved every minute of my stay in Ireland and I will definitely be coming back, the people have been wonderful, even the ones who gave me crappy jobs lol, maybe next time I will drive the whole Wild Atlantic Way which is 1500 miles.

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Oh yes I forgot to say almost everyone drinks Guinness!! LOL, got to say I’m quite enjoying a glass meself every now and then!!

 

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Poetry in Sligo

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Poetry in Sligo

I went off to Sligo for the day with the intention of enjoying the beaches there and then heading up to Mullaghmore which is supposed to be the capital for surfers which means huge waves, just thought I wouldn’t mind watching these guys.

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Pic borrowed from Stradbrook.com

I stopped off on the way at Strandhill beach which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way and is another beautiful beach, it was a bit of a dull day though so far, so I didn’t stay long, I had my lunch on the beach and moved on toward Mullaghmore, stopping at W B Yeats’s grave on the way.

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Drumcliff, a beautiful church stands beneath the mountain Benbulbin which apparently was Yeats’s favourite mountain, hence also his final resting place.  I met a lovely lady from Belgium who had been over to Ireland 10 times and was thinking of moving here as she loved it so much, she was a poet and writer also and had a huge interest in W B Yeats.

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I have to say I wasn’t very good at English Literature in school but then I wasn’t very good at much, it’s only after leaving school and especially during my travels that I am developing more interest in history, geography, geology and now poetry.  There is a sculpture of Yeats just outside the church under the big yew tree with one of his poems etched into the ground beneath the squatting poet.

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He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven by William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams
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William Butler Yeats is considered to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.  He was born in Ireland and was very proud to call himself Irish, he lived in London for a short time during his life but when he came back to Ireland he focused most of his poems on Irish legends, Irish people and the wonderful countryside surrounding him.  He especially loved Benbulbin, the largest mountain in Co Sligo and wrote a very long poem about it which I won’t quote here.  If anyone wants to read it, it can be found on many poetry sites online.

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Whenever I go to a place, I try to find out more about it so I have been reading poetry since I came back, lol, anyway I’m no poetry aficianado but there is one poem of his that I really like because I can imagine myself in it.

 The Lake Isle Of Innisfree by William Butler Yeats

 I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

 I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

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pic borrowed from Sligotours

I really feel like I know what he means in this poem, Ireland has really captured my heart and soul in many ways.  I feel at home here, not sure why, maybe it’s the diversity of all things natural, the wonderful seashores with crashing waves, the high cliffs, beaches, mountains, general windswept, rugged landscape, it’s just wild and wonderful and I love it.  And I can just see myself living on his island with just the bees for company! Happy days!

 

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Ballintubber Abbey

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Ballintubber Abbey

I  went here on my birthday, it was a relatively nice afternoon and I had promised to make the evening meal for the family today and I told them I would make Apple and Blackberry crumble which they had never tried before, they had never even been blackberry picking.  I was making Chilli con carne which they had also never tried; it’s not a big dish in this country.

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Anyway on my way looking for blackberries I came across Ballintubber Abbey which was down a little side road with a long path across the field to the main building, I walked a little way and was able to pick all the blackberries I needed, then I saw the road ahead leading to the main entrance so I drove around the front, which was most impressive, with its large entrance hall and imposing stained glass windows, it has a main building which was intact, with smaller buildings around it that were obviously ruined, but kept in a very tidy and orderly way.  These ruined sections were related to a previous church that had been built there and there was part of the well that St Patrick used to bless people, along with the arches built for decoration around the church.

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I found out that it is the only Abbey to have been built by a king to still be in use today, and has always been used even when there was no roof.  The ruined part was damaged during the protestant reformation as well as the main Abbey which was roofless but it continued to be used by the Catholics.  In 1966 the nave was restored and the roof replaced in time for the 750th anniversary of the Abbeys’ foundation and in 1997 more of the buildings were restored with plans to restore it all as soon as funds allow.  This year is its 800th year Anniversary.

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The Abbey marks the beginning of Tochar Phadraig, the ancient pilgrimage route to Craogh Patrick (the holy mountain I climbed).  It has been re-opened as a cross-country pilgrimage route and tourist trail.

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There are regular mass services held here every day at certain times and you can even bring your own priest to conduct mass here if wished.  I’m not a particularly religious person but since I have been on my travels I seem to be drawn to places related to religion, not just churches but the mountain I climbed was where St Patrick fasted for forty days and Downpatrick Head is said to have been where St Patrick formed a church, which have been two of my most favourite places since I have been in Ireland.  There is a kind of serenity to all these places, whether that is just in the imagination or it really exists, I don’t know, but like the other places I have visited this place was so peaceful and tranquil.

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It is not far from where I am staying and when I got back and told my hosts where I had been they told me Pierce Brosnan got married there and one of the members of Westlife.  It has a very special ambience to it, even though it is 800 years old, it is also modern and the way it is decorated inside, I imagine would appeal to all ages.

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The peace and tranquillity are obvious as soon as you arrive, there is a little carpark on the right of the church, even the gravestones here seem more well-kept here than I have seen in other graveyards.  Once you enter the church a warm feeling envelops you, it’s not a huge building but imposing and majestic in a homely kind of way, there are candles burning and it feels really warm inside.

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The stained glass windows are lovely here, very modern, I love the ancient ones with the scenes of Christ and biblical events depicted in them, but in this place it was more about the colour and the art and design and the way it all blended with the decorations of the church.

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There was an area outside where some ruins still remain and an area where Sean Na Sagart, the notorious priest hunter was buried, a tree is now growing on the spot he was buried, known as the Sean Na Sagart tree.

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I suppose it might be a strange place to go on your birthday but since I have been on my travels, I’m trying to go with the flow a bit more and not plan too far ahead, just go wherever the mood takes me whenever I feel, today it was Ballintubber, tomorrow it might be Matt Molloys pub! LOL!!  It all depends on how much time I have too!

 

 

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Westport and Clew Bay

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Westport and Clew Bay

The town of Westport was recently voted the best place to live in Ireland by the Irish Times and you can see why when you visit the town.  It’s a seaside town but not beach holiday type, it has a big port where people have their boats moored and it sits in Clew bay which legend says has 365 islands dotted throughout the bay, but it is more like 117.  It is in Co Mayo in Western Ireland.

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It is also on the Wild Atlantic Way, on the way to Croagh Patrick locally known as “The Reek” which overlooks the town.

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It was designed in the 1800s on  a Georgian theme, with a couple of streets of nice little shops and the river running throughout with flower decorated bridges going across at certain points for traffic and walkers.

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Westport is home to Matt Molloy’s pub of Chieftain fame and he regularly still plays live music there during one of the regular Irish music sessions.  Matt Molloy is a traditional Irish musician and plays the flute; he is very famous in Ireland and has won many accolades for his talent.  The pub is typically, traditional Irish from what I’ve seen of Irish pubs so far while I have been here, the main theme seems to be collections, they all have huge collections of memorabilia and Matt Molloys is no different, lovely atmospheric place where fun and joy combine with Guinness and music to make for a wonderful night out.

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When I arrived at Westport it was a beautiful sunny day so I visited the port first and took a walk around the boats and just admired the views out to sea where the horizon is dominated by mountains and islands, an amazing sight.

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Westport is very keen to encourage more cycling and they have steel bicycles placed all over the town encouraging people to cycle more often, part of the Great Western Greenway cycle route runs from Westport all the way to Achill Island and is on traffic free trails.

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After my walk around the port I stopped off at Matt Molloys for a quick half of Guinness which really is a lovely drink over here in Ireland. I met a couple of ladies who had been shopping they were locals who often came in for a quick glass of wine during their shopping trips, we spent the afternoon chatting, I love to meet the locals.

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I also took a walk around the shops not that I like shopping but I knew I was staying close by in Castlebar so wanted to check out my environment, lovely place, it is quite expensive for most things in Ireland though, apart from Diesel which is under a pound over here.

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I drove all around the town to get a feel for my surroundings and further out toward the islands on the road to Croagh Patrick, this was the day I discovered the mountain and I have since climbed it.

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There are plenty of beaches around Clew bay and I drove to most of them on the WAW, I didn’t stay long at each one, but every different one I went to was beautiful for different reasons, especially Bertra Strand, which is a long thin piece of beach which joins the mainland with a small island, so it is like a long sand dune where you can sunbathe either side of the beach, on the inner side you would be looking across the bay toward Westport and on the other side you would be looking out at the Atlantic.  There is a really good view of it from the top of Croagh Patrick.

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The islands of Clew bay are mostly uninhabited but there are quite a few that people live on throughout the whole year.  There are plenty of water sports schools in the area and you can take a ferry trip around the islands.  It is said to be the most beautiful bay in Ireland and I definitely think so too.  Another place I would like to come back to.  I have included a video made by the BBC about Clew Bay, with aerial footage, you can see how beautiful it is.

 

 

 

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Downpatrick Head

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Downpatrick Head
Downpatrick Head is one of the reasons you must go down every road if you decide to drive the Wild Atlantic Way, there is no indication before you go down this road of the spectacle that awaits you when you get to the cliffs. When you come over the top of the hill, you can see a massive piece of land jutting out into the sea which looks like a giant hand from far away, I did take a picture but it is very difficult to capture with my iphone.


As you approach the cliffs the scenery and views of the beach are spectacular in themselves, again with waves crashing against the rocks at the base of the cliffs which curled around the mainland and beautiful imposing mountain scenery in the background. The beaches were golden with lots of rocky outcrops and jagged cliff edges.
The walk up to the top of the cliffs takes you over a blow hole which has been covered with a grid for safety reasons. Blow holes are formed by landward expanding sea caves that push upwards into vertical shafts; the land on top finally caves in and makes way for the blow hole which can be dangerous if you happen to be standing there at the time. During a storm sea water can be seen blasting from the top of the blowholes. There is a visitor area at the top of the cliffs with a fenced off blowhole.

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It is obvious from the way the waves crash against the base of the cliffs constantly that more erosion is taking place, because, as we know nature is a constant moving entity that continually changes everything but some things at a slower pace than others. When you watch the waves rush into the caves underneath the cliffs and rush back out while more are rushing in causing huge high clashes, you can almost feel the changes taking place, which will become evident in the future, not our future, but that of successive generations.

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The terrain at the top on the edge of the cliffs is very strange, it is a series of green mounds which look like grass but on closer inspection are clumps of alpine plants covered in a green moss like growth, but look very beautiful.
It is a very spiritual place, as well as being extremely scientific; from a scientific perspective there is a visitor area which has been erected which is part of the fenced area which is around the blow hole, in order to preserve spectator safety as well as enabling the public to see the spectacle. The place was built as a project called “The Spirit of Place” and it was designed and built by Catholic University of America design and architecture students during the summer of 2014.

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There is a section under cover with information printed for everyone to read and there was a quote which I loved “Landscape is not an objective area of land or coastline or bounded space; it is perceived individually through the lens of personal memory and depends on the accepted beliefs through which it is interpreted. On Downpatrick Head there are a number of different landscapes with the best example being the contrasting landscape of science and landscape of the paranormal, each interpreting differently the identical phenomena which can be seen and experienced there”.

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This quote exactly explains how you feel when you are there! It is an individual experience yet we humans revel in the natural phenomenon which exists at Downpatrick. It will blow you away!!

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There is also a religious context, the name Downpatrick derived from the fact that St Patrick founded a church at this point, the remains of which can be seen at the cliff tops, there is also a stone cross and a holy well. It was once a popular pilgrim destination and mass is still held here every year at the end of July which is also called Garland Sunday.

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There is a section where Eire 64 is written in stone visible from the air, which denotes Ireland’s neutral stance during World War II.

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The magnificence for me exists in the lone stack named Dun Briste (the broken fort) the spectacular sea stack that foretells the fate of more sections of this cliff top as erosion inevitably takes its toll in the coming centuries.
There is a huge history to this place, spiritual or scientific, either way, it is a phenomenal experience. I am going back there before I leave Ireland, it really struck a chord with me, and I feel so at one with nature there. The feeling of the area is all around and I defy anyone to see this place and not feel moved by the spectacle that is Downpatrick Head!! I will return!!

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Achill Island

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Achill Island

Achill is the largest island off the West Coast of Ireland and its beauty holds no bounds.  Every corner you take on every road on this beautiful island has a hidden gem.  It is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, which I am learning more and more about as I spend more time travelling it here in Ireland.  The beauty of what I have seen so far has far outweighed my expectations, not to say I didn’t expect it to be beautiful, I did, as I have been told by enough people of its beauty, but to fully appreciate what they mean you just have to visit and see for yourself.

I am hoping with my blog to give an indication of the beauty that lies within, I have always been a nature enthusiast, since a small child I loved to study wild flowers and loved the wildness of the hills and seashore, especially the waves which have held a special place for me over the years but nothing compares to the wildness of Irelands’ West coast.

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The Wild Atlantic way was finished -and opened in 2012, it was a huge feat and covers 2500 km (1500 miles) of the Western coastline, with roads taking you to the very tip of the straggly bits! And also onto its own islands, of which there are many. As you can see if you look at a map of Ireland the outline shows the straggly way it is shaped and that is part of its beauty with all the islands off the coast and the jagged coastline it makes for some really wonderful discoveries.

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Anyway back to Achill Island, which is just one of the 365 islands seen from Croagh Patrick in Clew Bay. As already mentioned it is Ireland’s largest island and it is connected to the mainland by a bridge over the causeway named Achill sound. It has everything from spectacular walks and drives, beautiful beaches, glorious cliffs and plenty of crashing waves. It is the hub for many sport enthusiasts from sea angling to wind surfing, surfing, hiking, kayaking, canoeing and general walking with no other aim than to enjoy the wonderful scenery.

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It is a very Irish speaking community, most of the signs in Ireland tend to be bilingual but in this area they are just in Irish so if you don’t understand any Irish you won’t understand these signs, it is very difficult to even guess at what some of them mean, it looks like a very difficult language. Most of the people who live in this area are families who have lived here for generations and are very proud of this wonderful island.

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On my trip around the island I came upon lovely little castles, fishing ports, cliffs and pretty villages all tucked away in the outermost points. I went to Mulranny first which is at the mouth of the Curraun peninsula which leads on to Achill island, a beautiful town with a small castle and pretty little fishing port, bear in mind all these villages and towns have fantastic views out to sea one way and inland the other, with the amazing mountains on the island and the other fantastic mountain ranges across the bay.

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After Mulranny I drove along the coast for a quite a few miles stopping every now and then to admire the views, take a walk on the beach or just take some pictures, it was a pretty wild day when I visited and the wind was particularly strong, with bouts of misty rain and low cloud, but I think it all added to the wildly dramatic setting I found myself in at each turn. After crossing the bridge onto Achill there are turnings off the main road which are still part of the WAW and you just have to go down them all, as you never know what you will find. I travelled all the roads from Bleanaskill, Ashleam, Dooega then back to Bunacurry and off on another road to the deserted village at Doogort, which is a range of houses, a school, church and other buildings in varied states of dilapidation from many years ago during the famine when everyone moved out to be nearer the coast so they could eat seafood.

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Then on to Keel, Dooagh and finally Keem beach, the views along the cliffs from Ashleam to Dooega are simply stunning, there are many viewing points along this road and I stopped at them all, I even took this gravelly road that leads all the way down to the beach, it was fantastic down there and because the weather had been rough, the sea was really rough with many white horses and waves crashing against rocks, I wish I had videoed it’s splendour.

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After seeing all this I found it hard to move on but had to finish the trip, when I got to Keel beach where the huge mountain overlooks the beach, I was amazed how wonderful it looked. I could only take a quick walk on the beach here as the wind was so strong it was blowing me back off the beach, but I just had to have a quick look, then on to Dooagh (I love the names of the places in Ireland, Dooagh is especially fab) with another lovely beach. And then the drive of the trip, along a cliff edge with winding roads around the mountain, down to Keem beach, which is absolutely beautiful, flanked both sides by huge mountains and cliffs. It was very scary driving so close to the edge, if one sheep had crossed in front of me I was going over the edge!!! It was much better when driving back because I was in the inside and it really didn’t feel scary at all.

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I loved every minute of my trip to Achill but again didn’t manage to see everything; I would definitely come back here to this wonderful part of Ireland.

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The video which I have included is from the Achill tourist site and it gives a lovely explanation of Achill by one of its residents.

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Cliffs of Moher

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Cliffs of Moher

I have been looking forward to visiting the Cliffs of Moher since I decided to come to Ireland and today I finally went and they were definitely worth the wait.  They were absolutely magnificent, beyond my imagination, awesome, they just blew me away!!  The photos I have taken just don’t do justice to this place, you just have to be there to fully appreciate the enormity of the cliffs and the sheer height is so immense, it really can’t be captured in a photo but I tried my best.

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The cliffs are on the road from Doolin to Liscannor and you wouldn’t know from the road if you didn’t know they were there, especially if driving from Doolin, all you see is the sea and the grassy banks, the wonder they hide is quickly revealed once you take a walk up and over the grassy banks, you will stand with your mouth open at how awesome these cliffs are.

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On the Liscannor side there is a huge carpark and visitor centre where you have to pay 6 euros to park and use the centre facilities, but I didn’t want to pay as I’m on a budget (and I’m tight) and trying to see as much free things as I can, so I decided to walk up from the Doolin side, only I cheated and parked in the layby on the mountain road.

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I clambered over a few fences and touched an electric fence at some point which wasn’t as bad as I thought they were, just didn’t see it and reached out to stop myself falling lol, anyway it was only a short distance of clamouring then through the field and I was on the path with everyone else, a few more steps and WOW there they were in all their splendour.

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Nature is just so wonderful, all encompassing, we are lucky to be able to marvel at it whenever we get the chance, it is such a shame that there are so many humans hell bent on destroying it  through deforestation, pollution etc. etc.  Nature is not only for us to enjoy, we are one with nature, it is one with us, we are part of a never ending circle of life where everythig is constantly changing and the sooner we appreciate this and work together to preserve it, the better.  I have always loved the outdoors and nature in general but on this trip I am beginning to feel more of a spiritual tranquillity when I am at one with nature, it could be just sitting on the beach watching the waves crash against the rocks or it could be camping and waking up to the sounds of the birds or on one occasion the cows, whatever the occasion it gives me a huge sense of peace.

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The cliffs are located on the edge of the Burren and are part of the UNESCO Global Geopark site.  The cliffs start from 120 metres (390 feet) above the Atlantic Ocean and rise to the highest point of 214 metres (702 feet), which doesn’t sound that high but believe me it is high, while I was looking over the edge my legs were feeling all shaky, now height doesn’t bother me at all but this did make me feel a bit queasy, probably because there is a risk that you could be blown over the edge or you might slip whereas if I am paragliding (which would be higher) I am in complete control of the height and it feels totally different.

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The cliffs stretch for about 5 miles but I only walked to the midpoint where a tower has been built so you can climb it to see the views, I could see the Arran Islands quite plainly from the cliffs but I didn’t go up the tower, another 2 euros, when I come back one day I will go up the tower and the visitor centre which is supposed to be fab.  I will definitely be coming back, there is so much I have seen but also so much I haven’t.

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It is the most visited attraction in Ireland and there were lots of people there on the day I visited, which was great because you can ask people to take pics of you on the edge of the cliffs and you take photos of them, it was a really fun experience with everyone really in awe of what they were seeing! Beautiful!

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It is estimated that some 30, 000 birds live at the cliffs which represents over 20 different species including Atlantic puffins and Razorbills.

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You can take a bus trip there if you are not driving, they go from most major cities in Ireland, or you can also get service buses from all the towns and villages surrounding the area.  Once there you can take a ferry to see them from the sea and you get to see some of the fantastic caves which I didn’t get the chance to unfortunately, never mind I will do it when I come back.  There are a few ferry companies taking people from Doolin pier and from Liscannor, where you can also get the ferry to the Arran Islands which I missed too.

img_5875There is no doubt in my mind that I will be coming back to this place sometime in the future, it is absolutely stunning and I love it so much!!

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The Burren

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The Burren

The Burren (Irish Boirean meaning great rock or stony place) is in County Clare on the West coast of Ireland.  It is part of the Wild Atlantic way.  It covers approximately 250 square KM and is encircled by the small towns of Lisdoonvarna, Kilfenora, Corofin, Tubber, Kinvara and Ballyvaughan.  I drove through them all on my trip to explore the Burren.

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The Burren has very dramatic stoney landscape, very much as I imagine a lunar landscape to be, there are areas of layered rock, which look as if layers and layers have formed over the years and continue to form on top of each other, there are other parts of the Burren with huge boulders or piles of stones just lying where they have always lain, there are preservation notices everywhere not to touch the stones or remove any of them. It is very beautiful in a strange kind of way. I imagine the landscape would be ideal for a sci fi movie, it is very dramatic and where it runs near the coast, the sea adds to its nature at nature’s best ambience.

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There is not much grassland in the Burren as it mainly consists of rock formations but it is still home to many plants, it has been suggested that 75% of Irelands species of flowers can be found at the Burren, with many rare specimens only found there and at other karst (an area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, underground streams and caverns) areas in Ireland.

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Apparently it is a wildlife haven although you couldn’t tell from driving through the region, it seems so still and tranquil and not a sheep in sight, I didn’t see one at all in the whole area, which seemed strange, having seen them everywhere else, but I suppose there is nothing to graze on.

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You may come across a rocky cliff in a random part of the Burren just as you drive through, where rock climbers practice their skill.   It is a popular area for all sorts of sports including wind surfing on the sea shore, horse riding on the beach, rock climbing on the cliffs, caving in the many caves and many others, hiking being a particular favourite.

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The Burren contains limestone pavement, calcareous grassland, hazel scrub, ash/hazel woodland, turloughs (disappearing lakes which sometimes flood, or the water then runs away through underground streams and can appear at a spring further along the Burren), lakes, petrifying springs, cliffs and fen.  Most of the area I drove though was rocky and limestone, it was beautiful.  The limestone pavements are called clints and the crevices where the alpine plants and flowers grow are called grikes.

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Along with the Cliffs of Moher it has been designated a UNESCO Global Geopark site, it dates back hundreds of years and settlers are believed to have lived on its barren land for many years,  there are more than 90 megalithic tombs there and buildings of varying states of decay can also be found dotted around the landscape.  Religious type buildings can also be seen, the most popular being Corcomro Abbey.

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While I was driving through the area I came across this little building which housed a spring water well in the ground, with a warning to keep clean as this is drinking water, so I drank some of the water as it looked so pure, I swear my dodgy stomach settled after I drank it.

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I loved the look of the Burren, it looks very barren initially but there is something haunting about its beauty, the way the mists hang in the air at the higher points and the almost artistic look of the stone make it a place to sit and think and just enjoy nature.  There are many points along the road for you to stop and enjoy.  There is much of it I didn’t see so I will have to come back one day, especially to see the caves which have the biggest stalactite in Europe.

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Croagh Patrick

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Croagh Patrick

I drove past this magnificent mountain while I was on my way to my new hosts in Castlebar, I was just taking a drive around the town of Westport and admiring the fantastic scenery and beaches, mountains and harbours, it is a really beautiful part of Ireland.  As I drove past I knew that one day I was going to climb it, just had to be done, it was shaped exactly like a pile of sand or a pile of sugar just poured out of the bag, I could see with the binoculars that there was something on the top but I couldn’t tell quite what it was.

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On the back out from Westport I picked up a hitchhiker who was just going to the town but he told me a bit of the history about the mountain, apparently St Patrick fasted up there for forty days and forty night, it is Irelands most holy mountain and on the top is a church so I definitely knew I wanted to climb it then.

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I got to my hosts in Castlebar and was talking about it and they told me a little about the history too and encouraged me to go ahead so on the next fine day I went, there is a big carpark at the bottom, which was pretty full by the time I got there, but I managed to find a spot, the day was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky, as I approached the mountain I could see the path snaking its way around the smaller mountain in the foreground then making its way up the steep side of Croagh Patrick.

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I started my climb, the terrain was pretty much like most mountains, a bit boggy at the bottom with plenty of rocky streams trickling down the mountain, but there soon appeared a very definite path, so I knew I wasn’t going to get lost on this one like I did on Cadair Idris, apart from that there were loads of people on this mountain, loads going up and loads coming down.  I suppose it was about 1pm as I made my way up.

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It was a very tough climb but then none of them are ever easy but you know it will be worth it when you get to the top; I was starting to worry as I could see some clouds making their way toward the mountain, luckily it was just a shower and the sky cleared again.  I took lots of breaks on the way up and at one point stopped to chat to someone who gave me one of her snack bars as I had dropped mine, as we chatted we bumped into a guy who had been playing the bagpipes up there for a charity event where a young guy with cerebral palsy was being carried up in his wheelchair and was raising lots of money for charity, fab story, I was hoping he would still be there when I got to the top but unfortunately he had gone.

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Once I got to the top I saw the church and it’s not this tiny thing you might expect it’s quite big, apparently every July there is a huge pilgrimage and everyone climbs the mountain to have a service in the church.

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But the views, they are possibly the best I have ever seen from a mountain, because of all the little islands which make up the West Coast of Ireland with houses dotted on some of them and with some stretching out into the sea in a long stick shape, it just made it more interesting, you can also see the Nephin range of mountains across Clew bay and Clare Island, which are also all beautiful.

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I stayed up there for about an hour taking lots of pictures, as you do, then began the descent, I won’t talk too much about that, suffice to say it was super shite, I hate going down much more than I hate climbing, it is so painful and I am so slow, anyway, I got down and about 20 minutes from the end the heavens opened and I got absolutely drenched right through, I was feeling really fed up at his point and in a lot of pain so I decided I needed and deserved a nice glass of red wine so I went straight in the pub at the bottom of the mountain called Campbells, well everyone else had the same idea, it was packed , very difficult to get to the bar climbing over peoples’ wet backpacks and the like, I finally made it and managed to get a stool by the bar, red wine has never tasted so good.

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While I was sitting there minding my own business looking around at all the memorabilia tacked to the ceiling beams mainly foreign money and business cards, loads and loads of business cards, a man came to chat to me and asked if I was with their group the ones who had taken John Tobin up the mountain, I said no, but he carried on chatting to me while he ordered drinks, wanting to take me back to Galway with him, he was lovely too! And then in came John Tobin the guy with cerebral palsy and the story was just being shown on the tv on the news in the pub so we all watched and I got the chance to have a quick chat with John and a photo with him, he was so chuffed to have been up there, he has wanted to do it for such a long time, the whole bar was cheering for him, it was great to be part of it, if only for a short while.

img_4993By the time all the excitement had died down everyone was leaving the pub, the people with John had all come down from Galway on buses, there was about 100 of them so my new Irish friend called Paddy planted a smacker on my lips and said goodbye.  I drove back home the scenic way past Bertra strand to watch the sunset then home to a lovely hot bath and early night.

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Denbigh and Flint show

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Denbigh and Flint show

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When I started my travels, it was with the intention of visiting as many places as I could, having lots of different adventures, meeting wonderful people and above all learning new things along the way.  Well I have learned loads whilst in North Wales.  Today I went to Denbigh show with Nicola and Bim who have a stand there selling their lovely sauces and nut butters and all, so I went for a little walk and have always been interested in learning more about what is involved with showing animals? Cows in particular! Why would you? Lol!!

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Anyway I went into the huge cow shed where all the prize cows were being prepared for the show, and wow did I get a shock, I really didn’t realise how much work goes into just keeping them clean, for example their back ends which seem to evacuate their entire bowel contents very frequently were continuously being sponged down to keep them in pristine condition.

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I chose to talk to the owner of the cows I thought were the prettiest. J  He was a lovely man called Chris Hopley who didn’t mind chatting to me explaining what is involved, he had reared British Blonde cows and was originally showing them as a hobby but they had now become winners many times over so they were actually making him a profit.

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While I was there Chris explained the type of thing the judges are looking for, he said that the particular judge who would be presiding over his competition liked her cows to have their hair ruffled and not lying down flat against the body, so Chris had this wax soap which he had to rub all over the cows hide against the weave of its hair to make the hairs stand out instead of lying flat, this he would have to do all over each cow before they paraded onto the field.  He said sometimes he would use gold glitter in the soap to try and draw the judges attention, so that when the sun shines down on his cows they would be glistening, therefore catching the judges eye.  It’s all in the tactics guys!

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There was a lady helping Chris, whose job it was to back-comb the bushy ends of the tails and spray them with hair lacquer to make them look more attractive! Who would have thought that making a cow look pretty could be such a job Lol!  Anyway he was really interesting to talk to and I enjoyed learning all about his cows, who he was immensely proud of! I wished him well before going off to inspect some of the other specimens.

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There were fat cows, skinny cows, pink cows and generally all sorts of cows and I really did find it quite interesting to learn about this hobby.  Even though I live in an area where farming is very prominent I haven’t really spoken to any farmers or talked to any of them about their livelihoods or hobbies.

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The show was very big and covered many areas of country life as you would imagine, two very large food marquees with lots of homemade produce including beautiful cider, which I just had to try out! Lush it was too!  They also had a lovely stall selling flavoured liqueurs, there was one called Black mountain and it was a flavoured brandy using blackberries, it was absolutely divine.  I had to really stop myself from buying a bottle.

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There was a huge array of different tractors and farm machinery which ranged from the old threshers to newer combine harvesters; I preferred the old threshers, fab machines.  There was also a classic car show, got to love them old cars, wouldn’t want one mind they look like too much work and that’s just to keep them clean!

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All in all it was a fab show, Bim’s kitchen sold lots of stuff and there were a lot of people showing a lot of interest in their products, which was the whole point of the exercise.  I enjoyed helping them out on their stall and learning all about show cows, or should I say prize cows????

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