Nothing much to report from today. Galway is a wonderful city, but, alas, we had to leave that one too soon as well.
During our driving tour of Connemara yesterday, we discovered that most of the west coast of Ireland is composed of huge slabs of limestone. Some of these huge slabs simply push their way out of the earth and form large mountains (what we Americans call “hills”, or possibly “just a big boulder”). Others are used to make stone walls and houses and walls and monastaries and did I mention a hell of a lot of walls? We stopped at a gift shop which was supposed to feature a bodhrain maker in action, but he was out to lunch, so we bought souveniers instead.
After that, we made our way to the Glenfowla Mine, which advertises itself as “Ireland’s first show mine!” You can take a tour of the mine, which was pretty neat. I learned quite a bit about lead mining in Ireland after the Potato Famine that I didn’t know before (which is pretty much everything). The men in those mines worked ten to eleven hours a day, in very grim conditions lit only by candlelight, and they were only paid for how much lead/silver ore they brought to the surface — and if they brought no ore to the surface, they weren’t paid.
And these guys considered themselves lucky to have a job. Times were ugly in Ireland in the aftermath of the Potato Famine.
Pictures from Connemara, including the mine, are here.
Today we mournfully drove all the way from the west coast of Ireland to the east coast, where we have settled into a very nice, probably ill-advised (financially) B&B in the town of Slane.
Let no one ever fool you into thinking that Slane is any sort of thriving metropolis. Dixon is larger than Slane. Our bathtub is larger than Slane. Slane is nothing more than a very, very hilly town (the slope of the main street from north to south is roughly 20 degrees, I think) with nothing in it to speak of. For our Internet access, we had to drive to nearby Drogheda. Slane, I think, is nothing more than a quick stopping off point for people on their way to Newgrange. We will visit Newgrange and post plenty of pictures tomorrow, or possibly some other time. Who knows.
We didn’t drive straight across, though. We stopped at a couple of places; Clonmacnoise is the site of a number of churches and an abbey at the junction of the Shannon River and a major roadway. It stood there, prosperous (for a medieval monastary, which was, of course, quite prosperous), surviving eight Viking attacks, twenty-five Irish attacks, and a few English attacks. Of course, the dissolution of the monastic system under King Henry the VIIIth ensured the utter sack of Clanmacnoise, so by the time we got there there was nothing left but ruins. And a lot of gravestones. You can’t have a holy site in Ireland without a few dozen ancient grave slabs littering the ground. You can’t toss an empty Guinness can without it landing on some dead guy. Really. Some of the slabs had been in the ground for so long that they were mostly covered up with grass, exposing no more than a few inches of stone, even though the slab itself is still a meter or so long.
Pictures from Clanmacnoise are forthcoming. There aren’t many, though; you reach a certain point where all the ruins from medieval monastaries start to look the same, and you can only get a few unique angles and shots to distinguish, say, Jerpoint Abbey from the Nuns’ Chapel at Clanmacnoise. That’s not to say that they’re not all fascinating, of course, and offer a revealing look into the religious history of Ireland, which is so closely tied in with its political history; it’s just that, well, you run out of interesting ruins to photograph.
We also stopped at the Corlea Trackway, which is a few meters of ancient Iron Age roadway built by the Celts who inhabited Ireland. One might look at this (I certainly did the first time I saw it) and say, “So what, it’s just a road. Buncha boards on long branches.” But when you consider that the roadway was over a kilometer long, the sleepers were made of Irish oak which had to be cut and carried over several kilometers to get to the site, and the road was built on top of a genuine Irish bog, you begin to appreciate the scale of work that went into the construction of the thing.
What’s fascinating, to me, is that no one quite knows what the road was for. While the original archaeologist who investigated the road believes it was originally meant for wheeled traffic (and was an utter failure, therefore, because it sank a mere ten years after it was built), others point out the significant lack of anything resembling a wheelmark on any of the sleepers, and the lack of anything resembling a wheeled cart buried anywhere near the site. They did find a cart, but it had no wheels. So other archaeologists are more inclined to think that the road had a more ritualistic purpose. It did, after all, lead from a hill where many of the ancient Celtic kings ruled to a cave system which the Celts thought contained an entrance to Tir-na-nog, the world of the spirits (to put it very simplistically). Personally, I like the idea that it was commissioned and built for one of those Celtic kings; they’ve found massive tombs for some of those guys that could rival the Egyptians for complexity and sheer engineering talent, after all. So why not built a long road over a bog for a king to be carried from where he ruled to the gate of the underworld? Makes sense to me.
Pictures from Corlea are forthcoming.
Jennifer pointed out to me today that today is the last full day that we’ll have our rental car. Tomorrow night we turn it in to the car rental place at Dublin Airport. I’ve been thinking about the differences in parking behavior between the US and Ireland, since finding a place to park has often been an adventure in itself, and sometimes negotiating a tiny two-way street made narrower by the presence of parked cars on the side was such a fun thing to do.
So, a couple of thoughts regarding parking differences.
- In the US, when considering a parking spot in a major city, you note whether it’s a legal spot. If it’s not a legal spot, you move on. In Ireland, when considering a parking spot in a major city, you note whether it’s a legal spot. And if it’s not you say, “Feck it” and park there anyway. I’ve only seen one car clamped during our entire trip.
- In the US, when you park on the side of the street, you make sure there’s plenty of room after you’ve parked for traffic to get past in both directions. In Ireland, you make sure there is at least one lane’s width of traffic. If you’ve blocked half the road, feck it and park there anyway.
- On a country road in the US, no place is an acceptable place to park. On a country road in Ireland, your lane of traffic is an acceptable place to park.
This is complicated by the sheer number of different painted lines next to the sidewalks which mean different things depending on the day of the week. And the fact that in almost all of the parking lots we’ve been to, there have been no lines on the lot to indicate individual spaces; in a way, this has been nice, since there are far too many parking lots in the US that expect a Chevy Suburban to park comfortably in a spot that would be tight for a Geo Metro. In Ireland, you just park wherever the hell you want, and you’re good. At least I haven’t seen anyone double-parked. Of course, we’re only here during the shoulder season; during high tourist season, the whole situation might be more grim.
I don’t have much more to share this evening. We’ve finished uploading our pictures from the Aran Islands. We leave in less than a week, and I’m very sad about that; I feel at home in Ireland, and it’s neat to be in a place that’s just drowning in so much history. After all, Ireland has been invaded and conquered and reclaimed and fought over and fought for so often in the past few millennia, it’s amazing that any sort of cohesive culture, especially one so heavily influenced by the Celtic peoples who vanished from Ireland so long ago, emerged at all. There are certainly differences from town to town and from west coast to east coast, but the Irish are all, to a one, definitively Irish. Most of them are fiercely proud of their country and their history, though you occasionally get one, like James Joyce, who take being Irish as a sort of personal tragedy, rather like being born with no arms or legs. Even then you can take fierce pride in that; “I may be Irish, but at least I’m still human, dammit!”
Nothing much in writing news. I have written nothing more on “The Divergents” since the last time I mentioned it. I have ideas brewing still for An Cerith, though I don’t know what I’ll ever do with the setting. I’ve had ideas for The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, and I can’t wait to get home and start working on that again.
That’s all for tonight. More to come later.