Ireland: 50 Shades of Green

Dia Duit!
That's right, travel fans... we're back and this time we're in Ireland (that phrase is Irish for "hello").  No jet lag, traditional food which you'd rather not sample, difficulty understanding English,  inordinate amounts of rain, cool temps, or gray skies for you; just read along.  Welcome to our new readers! (By the way, Barack and Michelle Obama, with the girls, are also here this week; but their adventures will be different from ours.)  More important, we are accompanied by Pauline (Paulie) Baron--Wendy's mom; so she will attest to the validity of our reports.

We arrived Saturday and are finishing up the first leg of our journey.Our home away from home was the stately Dromoland Castle just outside of Shannon in County Clare (just realized they say "county" in front of the name, not after it like we do. And, of course, they also drive on the "wrong" side of the street.).  Though it is located on the western side of Ireland (as you can see in the map), this area is called the "midwest" by the locals. So we feel right at home!

This beautifully renovated castle has been the ancestral home of the O'Briens since the mid-1500s.
Here is the view from our room (which is in the new wing, built about 15 years ago).

The tour started on Monday, but we arrived a day early, so on Sunday we hired a car / guide to take us to places not on the tour's itinerary. This is what we did last year in Poland, though this time we were not looking for the ancestral home of the MacRhodes's or the O'Barons. First, he took us to Limerick where we saw (English) King John's castle (built by him though he never actually stayed there) and St. John's Cathedral (built in 1861 and having the tallest church spire in Ireland).   Then on to Adare, a charming town with actual thatched roof cottages, and a one-time winner of Ireland's Tidy Town Award

But the highlight of the morning was lunch at "Durty Nellie's Pub" (operating since 1620!). There we had our first taste of real Irish Guinness (our driver told us it tastes different everywhere else outside of Ireland), and our first authentic fish and chips. The fish was quite light and airy and the portions were rather plentiful.  (And the presentation, even in a pub, was rather formal).  Very delicious! By the way, we loved the Guinness!  We may change the name of this blog to "Paulie's Guiness Tour of Ireland".

Finally, we drove to Bunratty Castle. Built in the 1300s, it has been attacked, destroyed, and rebuilt many times over the centuries. For a long time it was the home of the MacNamaras (in this part of Ireland, if you have a castle you're either an O'Brien or a MacNamara). It was somewhat restored for public access in the 1950s after having been vacant for over 150 years!

It is mid-June and the temps have been about normal: upper-50s!  During the day it alternated between a light rain (which our driver said was just "Irish mist"), to a harder rain (umbrellas up!). But the driver just shrugged and said it made things more refreshing. This is why Ireland is so green!!!  But it seems that the people have the same mindset as those of Oregon and Washington: the rain is just a part of daily life, so they don't even notice it.

Monday was our first day of touring with the group. Wendy started it off with a traditional Irish breakfast: eggs, Irish bacon (more like ham), grilled vegetables, sausage, and black and white pudding.  Usually, our criteria for "blog worthy" meals is that they were memorably good.  We are making an exception here because this one was memorably traditional but by no means good.  Indeed, after three bites, she basically "ran for the hills" or at least to the buffet for a piece of brown bread.

What is black and white pudding, you ask? Well, first of all, it has no relationship whatsoever to the black and white cookies of Wendy's youth.  No way.  It is the  Irish version of Haggis--Pig's blood in a casing mixed with oats, flour, barley, and beef fat. The "white" pudding has less blood, hence the lighter color. This was one of those "we're here so we have to try it, but we'll never eat it again" foods. Ugh! (And the sausage was pretty nasty, too!).  In Wendy's own words:  "Ok, truth be told, after a sampling of the b&w pudding, I decided to frontload all the traditional foods on the trip--so I can quickly eliminate whatever doesn't work!" Read the lunch report for more details.

After that memorable breakfast, the first stop of the day was the Cliff's of Moher, about an hour north of our castle. 

These sheer cliffs rise upwards of 390 ft. above the Atlantic and stretch for about 5 miles. It is Ireland's most visited nature area, a home to many species of birds and other wildlife. They were used as the "Cliffs of Insanity" in "The Princess Bride"!  We were incredibly fortunate to have a rain-free day for our viewing.

The cliffs are the beginning of an area called the Burren (meaning "great rock" in Irish, but might as well be pronounced as "barren"). This 250 sq. kilometer area is mostly exposed limestone. It rises from the ocean in a series of plateaus and mountains all up the coast of Clare.

Obviously, very little farming can be done here (though there was some cattle grazing), so most of the area is desolate and empty.

Later in the day, we visited the famed Poulnabrone dolmen.

According to the experts, this is a doorway to a Neolithic period (4,200 - 2,900 BC) tomb. This makes it several thousand years older than the Egyptian Pyramids. Does it indicate a belief in an afterlife? Or was it just an elaborate "gravestone" for someone of great rank? Who knows.

Before we leave you with some general thoughts, back to traditional food that we wished we hadn't tasted.  We had lunch at a traditional spot in the Burren and Wendy and Paulie (on the advice of two tour guides) opted for the bacon and cabbage--which is supposed to be divine.  The Irish in Ireland never did corned beef and cabbage--that's American.  In the day, pork was the least expensive meat here, so bacon and cabbage was "de riguer" for comfort food meals.  Well, we had it and again, another checkmark on our list of "ok, thank goodness that's over with meals."  Check out this photo and decide for yourself.

Extending benefit of the doubt to Irish cuisine, we have had some wonderful meals so far--Irish smoked salmon on brown bread--extraordinarily delicate and delicious--

and fish chowder.  The brown bread is great and so is the butter.  Indeed, so is all the fish we've had so far. We're heard that the cuisine overall is much enhanced from days of yore and we believe that is indeed possible.... so stay tuned for more truly memorable meals over the week to come!

An example of Irish sensibility: There is no thermostat or heat control in our room at Dromoland Castle. When we asked how to change the temperature, the bellman replied, "If you're too hot, open the window."!!!

The Irish language may be at risk. Though it is still a required part of the el-hi curriculum, it is the second language spoken (if at all) everywhere except in County Kerry. And, as our guide informed us, unlike French or Spanish, knowing it has zero value anywhere outside of Ireland.

Prior to the trip everyone told us about how the beer here is served warm (or at least, not cold). Thankfully, those rumors were completely false!

Tomorrow...on to Cork.

Love to all,

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