Celtic Connections

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Sometimes journeys trigger unexpected feelings and reactions. And then you wonder if the unexplored feeling gave rise to the journey in the first place? Whatever the causality, we were heading to Scotland and Ireland to travel around the Celtic fringe. Not a big trip, but three or four weeks to catch up with friends and a bit of family; to somehow reconnect with the country of my birth, and the culture dear to our hearts – after eight months back in angry brexit Britain.

And of course the blog was meant to be finished; done. But this trip ended up as something I felt like sharing – photos and impressions of special places. Not the hours of smiles and laughter with dear friends – that’s for ourselves alone. But there is beauty, joy and adventure in this short journey that might be worthy of interest. If I’m honest I don’t know, we had fun, see what you think.

Scotland

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Starting off in Edinburgh, we followed the Leith walkway with sun and rain flowing past. The tenements of Dean village, the National Gallery of Modern Art and Antony Gormley’s cast iron statues were great company along the way.

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From there to Glasgow and the train journey to Loch Awe – the sky was blue as we hiked around the area. The Tower of Glenstrae was fab as always – and we were able to walk up to the Cruachan Reservoir, explore Glenfinnan and Glencoe with the sun (mostly) on our backs. Happy travels.

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The Glenfinnan monument, Loch Shiel and the Jacobite Rebellion echo through these hills

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and there’s always a few Highland Coos along the way …

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Celtic Fringe

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Ireland

After a quick flight to Dublin from Glasgow, we sorted a hire car and were soon in our B&B in Rathgar. We met up with my cousin and other family members that evening and were rapidly engrossed with family stories and history, not least identifying the house in Limerick where I was born – somewhere I haven’t been back to since those irregular visits ‘home’ as a child in the 60’s an early 70’s.

Our plan was to head south to Kerry, but we headed West the next day to call in on London friends Enda and Maria who had moved back to Ireland and were building their own straw bale roundwood home Radharc Eile in Tullamore. While it was certainly great to catch up with old friends what was truly impressive was the labour of love that’s gone into building this fascinating structure. They have developed knowledge and skills to a huge extent over these last two years – their blog is well worth a look.

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Beautiful Douglas Fir and tightly packed straw bale walls. Plus an intricate and fascinating roof

Back on the road we stopped for a few days at an AirBnB in Adare where we walked the countryside in lovely weather.

 

Although there are similarities with the flora and fauna of the English countryside, Ireland’s history and culture are everywhere. The abandoned Famine Houses of Knockfierna are a standing testament to an Gorta Mór that devastated the country over 150 years ago. The thought of starving souls breaking rocks all day on a bleak hillside in mid-winter for less than a penny of ‘outdoor relief’ from the British is a stark indictment of the vicious colonial rule that created this holocaust and saw over a million dead from starvation and disease. We came across mass rocks (Carraig an Aifrinn), deep in the forest established after the Catholic religion was outlawed in Cromwell’s Penal Laws. And ancient megalithic tombs, circular forts and ruined castles – Ireland is alive with history.

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the megalithic tomb at Labbacallee – aligned with the setting sun equinoxes

We’d called in to Limerick City on our way south, but couldn’t track down the family home. We did see the Shannon waters rushing through the arches of Thomond bridge, King John’s castle and the treaty stone on its plinth.

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The Treaty Stone from 1691. Kids in my parents era sold stones off the streets to gullible tourists as a ‘chip off the Treaty Stone’

Kerry

It was mostly chance that we’d booked a place in Cahersiveen. We decided we needed a base to explore Kerry, and this small town was a great location for that. Plus it had restaurants, bars and music – all in easy walking distance. As with so many small towns in Ireland there were remnants of ancient churches, shops selling religious icons and statues of saints in housing estates.

 

It must have been 40 years since we were last in Kerry. It really is a beautiful county, the weather was kind overall and we had a great week exploring and walking.

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The Skelligs (Na Scealaga) are often visible from the shore
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Valentia Island (Dairbhre – ‘the Oak Wood’) looking west
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The Ballaghsheen Pass

 

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Ballinskelligs Castle on a glorious day

 

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Ballycarberry Castle

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Anne walking towards the clouds – they cleared

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The Caragh Lake Trail
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The joy of getting lost. We did double the planned distance walking around Derrynane

The Skelligs (Na Scealaga)

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Sceilig means ‘splinter of stone’ in Irish, and these harsh Islands are on the western edges of Europe. Remote, swept by wind and waves, you would be hard pressed to think of a more inhospitable place to build a community. Yet, in the 5th Century, Christian monks decided to make this most remote and unforgiving landscape their home. It took hundreds of years to eek out a habitable environment in this bleak place, and the ‘beehive’ monastery they built was thought to accommodate no more than a dozen monks at a time.

The monastery (a UNESCO World Heritage site) is accessed by climbing over 600 dry stone masonry steps, built by the monks. The ‘beehive’ structure of the monastery is also built this way and has lasted over 1,500 years – a testimony to the skills, resilience and endurance of the people who built it.

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Suddenly a rainstorm moved in from the sea and the reality of this inhospitable rock descended

The Skelligs (Na Scealaga) are also a haven for wild life, with Puffins, Shearwaters and Gannets nesting there in the breeding season.

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The colourful beaks and white chest plumage are on display only in the breeding season

 

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Puffins nest in burrows and the parents fish to feed their chicks. Once they are able to fly they do not return to land for 2 to 3 years
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One puffin landed at speed straight into a burrow at Anne’s feet
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Puffins coming in to land have a comical, slightly clumsy look – see enlargement below

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Little Skellig is home to a huge colony of nesting Gannets – they prefer the bare rock and every inch is taken up with these birds. They migrate to Southern Africa at the end of the breeding season.

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We left Kerry and headed north to friends in Connemara for the final part of our journey through Ireland. On the way we  stopped once more in Limerick city and found the house where I and my sister were born and where my grandparents raised 7 children. It must have been very cramped. Although Rosbrien is now a gentrified area with large Victorian houses, some of the small terraced houses remain. The area is described in Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.

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As a child I left open this gate on market day. We soon had sheep running through the house

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Galway

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The beauty of Connemara hits you every time. The Twelve Bens (Na Beanna Beola), the inlets, the peat bogs all combine in a peaceful beauty.

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We had happy times walking the area, breathing in the fresh air and catching up with friends, and once again the weather was pretty kind.

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The home of Patrick Pearse now has an educational centre Ionad Cultúrtha an Phiarsaigh where much of the local history is explained.

 

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So, we headed back to London, with our spirits refreshed. The beauty of these landscapes bring a smile to the most jaded hearts.

In truth though, the part missing from this blog was the best – the smiles laughter and chat between old friends.

Slán go fóill Cuisle!

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