Sunday, March 20, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Cork   Killarney: "I'm one of you!"

I am already behind, because I am writing this as we are sitting in the hotel room in Killarney without wifi. But that is a whole other story that I will get to in a minute. Right now, I have to talk about saying goodbye to Cork—a task that is surprisingly much easier once I am no longer in Cork. I never thought that I would miss it as much as I do, but it turns out that having shopping so close to the hotel was a luxury I was unprepared to lose… Killarney is great, but saying hello to this city has been pretty rough so far.

Saying goodbye to Cork was actually a lot of fun. As much as we hated the hotel staff for treating us like nuisances, the city itself really was quite interesting and happening. Shopping was hip and close, the river was scenic, and the music on the streets and in the pubs was abundant. Things were moving, things were going on, all the time. Plus, the stunning grounds at Blarney were so close and easy to admire for an entire day. It took our arrival in Killarney to solidify my appreciation of Cork's subtle cosmopolitanism. There was an entire shopping mall right across the street. It was so nice to be able to go to a store in the morning, realize we forgot something, and then head back over later that afternoon to grab it. We saw vendors with bundles of enticing balloons, went to Penney's probably one too many times, saw a waterfall in the middle of a city block, and even got to say goodbye to the cormorant who lived in the stretch of river across from our window. As the sun began to set over our last day, we had shopped until we dropped, wandered around the main streets in the center of the city, and even walked through the amazing stretch called the English Market. It was a great way to casually but meaningfully let Cork go. We closed the night with what we thought was a trad session, but ended up being a ska concert that did not start until 11:30. Needless to say, we left after one song, but it was really cool to see the trumpet and tenor players performing in a pub setting. All in all, Cork was a fun city. I would love to go back someday!

Things here are very rural, and very slow. The hotel and hotel staff seem nice, though, so at least they have that over the stuck-ups at the Metropole. I’m happy about that! The wifi, however, has been abysmal, and the only way I can get online is by making the 15 minute walk to the city, finding a café, and buying a tea to use their internet. Not the greatest situation, but we are getting a lot of fun drinks and pastries out of it.

Our trip here yesterday, though, was amazing. First, we stopped at a neo-lithic stone circle similar to Stonehenge, which are apparently abundant in Western Ireland for no decipherable reason. In addition to the circle, which is actually a burial chamber, there were remains of a small private dwelling and a communal kitchen. The kitchen came complete with a natural spring, which left a pool of water still today for us to observe—if we wanted to brave the mud! 

This is a cemetery in Skibbereen, which had the highest death rate during the potato famine. Though we did not actually get off the bus to see, it was very humbling to see all of the graves lined up. There was a large chunk of lawn in the very middle that is an unnamed mass grave. That really hit me; history is fascinating and always has a lot to tell. We drove on, but we are definitely not done talking about history in Ireland. 

The Atlantic ocean was our friend on the way to Killarney. We saw it peek out between mountain tops, a little hazy but just as strong as ever. It followed us the entire day, and we made several stops to see it up close, or look out onto the pale gray horizon. At one point, we apparently saw a little bit of Jeremy Iron's castle on the coast, but it was very orange and really not a castle—I would call it more of a tower. But in the end, he owns a castle and I do not, so props to him.

We also made three stops at different Holy Wells, which have an incredibly old significance here. Many of them actually blend the Christian imagery of the Virgin Mary with the pagan belief of holes in the ground—such as wells or caves—being holy spaces. The first well was housed within a cemetery, which had a section that dated all the way back to the 1860s. That well was not as clear as the others, but sat next to a beautiful bubbling river. We saw a lot of those throughout the day, and it was glorious. I was much more fascinated by the cemetery than the well, which probably makes a lot of sense to people who know me. Interacting with many spirits over communicating with one particular dead spirit is always more fun. 

Our next stop was a beautiful lake complex that also included a well. Sadly, the well was belittled by the extremely beautiful lake and mountains in the background—the well itself looked like a dirty pool in the ground, whereas the clear, cool lake water seemed like it should be the holy water. There was one wedding ending when we arrived, and another starting by the time we left, so it was a busy place to get married on a Saturday. In a surprising turn of events, Diana got to take a selfie with the official wedding photographer as she came off of the bus. Pretty great! Seriously though, I can understand why so many people want to get married here—this has been the best place we’ve seen so far to soak in the majesty of the Irish landscape. I was in awe of the moss-covered stone walls, the little doorways, and the trees that just dipped the water with their scraggly branches. Our bus driver Frank basically made us get off the bus to see the lake and the chapel, and we are so glad he did. Thanks, Frank, for driving us literally all day long and then making us silly Americans do the sensible thing: go enjoy the beauty of nature.

Our next well also involved dipping a strip of cloth or ribbon (called a clootie) into the well, saying a prayer whilst walking clockwise around the tree, and then tying the clootie onto a part of the tree. The tree clad with all sorts of ribbons, hair ties, scarves, and other random bits of people made it a magical little grove. The water in the well was clear as day, secluded underneath the statue of Mary. I felt okay doing this because it is indeed a pagan practice, and it felt really good to pray to something out there in a different sort of way. After dipping our clooties, we all went up to explore an old, abandoned churchyard amidst a ton of mud. Sadly, I had to postpone my exploration because I was not wearing my hiking boots, but I enjoyed seeing what little of it I could. Any experience with history is one I will gladly take a little mud to enjoy. 

Even if the day was long and there was no wifi when we arrived at the hotel, it was absolutely incredible to go into the Dingle Peninsula and see the mountains, sheep, cows, houses, and horses that live there. Seeing all the water has been absolutely great, and learning about all of the mythology has been even better. I can’t wait to go to Ross Castle and Muckross House later this week! More pictures of Killarney later, when we actually get into the city and do some exploring.

photo credit Diana Cleveland 

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