It took us a while to realise that there are, in fact, no sign posts in the county of Donegal unless of course you are prepared to hack your way through 3 foot of hedge to get at them. Our third accidental detour of the day took us nearly into the Atlantic on one side with only 1 half a mile of lake to swim across to get us to Maura's wedding starting in approximately 15 minutes on the other side. Some frantic reversing, cursing and waving at fists at the gentleman in the petrol station who had sent us in the wrong direction (not to mention some swift under-carpet-brushing of the small fact that it was moi who had lef the map behind) got us to the right town with 5 minutes to spare but since I had also forgotten directions to the chapel (yikes) we drove around some of the less interesting back streets of Rathmullan before finally pulling up at the church door and dashing up the aisle right behind the lovely bride. Yee haa! Nothing like a bit of excitement to get a wedding off to a good start.
So, the chapel was lovely, the bride
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was beautiful, the ceremony was emotional and the crowd loved it all. A very nice marriage indeed. Slight panic when the local connoisseur of fine wines, a certain Mr Slim Jim, having spent the morning presumably toasting the happy couple in the nearest public house, showed up uninvited - quelle surprise! - and cheered 'go on ye good girl ye!' as the rings were exchanged. His good cheer was appreciated by all but unfortunately he was reminded of some pressing business that he had to take care of elsewhere by some of the larger, stronger and more violent looking men of the wedding party and that was the last we saw of him all day.
The rest of the day was spent in a lovely haze of wine, dancing, music and craic. The mood of the people was good and we cheered for the speeches and clapped for the bride - Mrs Maura C as she is now. The wind and the rain howled in true Donegal style outside but that only made the wedding party cosier in the candle-filled marquee.
The last of the stragglers straggled home at 6am and not always alone but any such secrets
are kept safe with me and wont be told. The moniseur and I, having snuck away before dawn, were up bright an early for a full Irish breakfast overlooking Lough Swilly and several cups of very strong tea. We walked along Rathmullan beach saving beached starfish and talking until the hunger got the better of us again and we retired to the Beachcomber bar for a feed of burgers and chips. Low fat of course. There were plenty of people from the night before doing the same thing and a lot of chatting and story-sharing kept us entertained until it was time to head back up to the marquee again for a bit of a session with uncles and brothers singing and playing and aunties feeding us chocolate cake. A great nights craic.
Next morning, having gleaned the latest gossip from notorious bad girls Ms Kelly and Ms Mellon and procured a new map we set off back for An Clochan Liath via the coast road. It was gloriously sunny or tipping it down by turns, lierally a minute of each and then back. We got soaked on Portsalan beach, basked at Fanad Head, soaked again outside Kerrykeel then
The blushing bridegroom
dried out over a very fine lunch in a roadside cafe. Taking pity on a couple of hitchhikers meant plenty of craic (in French of course, Nico was delighted) as far as Dunfanaghy but the mood was somber when we left them on our way into the Famine exhibit in the old Workhouse in that town. Such a sad place with such a tragic history. Hard to take in that it could happen in Ireland.
We drove past the mighty Earrigal, through the Gaeltacht towns of Loch an Iuir and Gaoth Dobhar and finally up to Cleendra where my mother had the dinner ready, the fire was lit and myself and the monsieur were fast asleep by 10pm. A great day.
The next few days were spent exploring the forest, seraching for deer tracks and eating a lot of very nice home-cooked food (and one lonely pineapple, a long way from home). The weather was as wet and as foggy as only Donegal can be but we didnt mind. The odd times when it broke we went out and about - to wild Cruitch with not a sinner on the golden sandy beach and the crashing waves of
the Atlantic beating down on the weird stony outcrops and somehow leaving peaceful many-coloured rock pools filled with fat sea anemones, day-glo sea weed and best of all mini-shrimps and crabs-in-shells who fought the bit out in front of my very eyes. After sandwiches in The Viking (Daniel O'Donnells' hotel, pop-pickers!) we followed a rainbow to Bloody Foreland to my uncles house but he wasn't in so we stared for a while at the huge waves breaking on the peninsula then drove back home to Cleendra for a big feed and an early night.
My long-dreamed-of trip to Tory Island was on the cards for the next day. We happened to wake up early and despite the inevitable procession of tractors in front of us managed to make it onto the 9am ferry at Bunbeg. The boat, Torimor, was a gorgeous wee small vessel with about 30 seats inside and a little deck where you could stand and watch as we left the Irish coast and set out into the wilds of the Atlantic ocean. It start off fine, but as we left the shelter of the harbour and met with the huge swell of the sea the only
ones with breakfast intact were myself and the ships captain. Nasty indeed. The boat tipped over on its side til the water was sloshing ino the deck then back the same angle so that walking was a physical impossibility and the whole time Nico stood on the deck holding the railings with the red eyes and green face of a haunted man.
Arrival on Tory was celebrated by a cessation of vomiting all round and some weak waving at the captain as we disembarked onto this tiny tough strip of rock 10 miles into the Atlantic form the coast of Ireland. You can stand on one side and see the sea over the cliffs on the other and right out back to misty Ireland in the distance, so narrow and flat is Tory. We walked the length and the breadth of it, edging as near as we dared to the top of the cliffs which form the boundary right around it to gaze down at the massive waves smashing without a break the whole way from Canada into Torys rough rugged sides. Awe inspiring. We walked to the lighthouse and didn't see a single soul, only a dog and
at least 15 of the thousands of rabbits who are dong their best to eat Tory right back into the sea. Lunch was more chips in the only cafe on Tory, ordered by Nico in his best Irish, followed by a pint and a Club Orange in the only little hotel, a visit to the tiny Tory art gallery in between showers then right up nearly to the tip on the far end. When a shower came in from the lighthouse we watched it coming towards us but there was no were to shelter, not a tree, not a rock, not a house, not even a hole to lie in so we got soaked to the bone in seconds. But of course it passed as quickly as it came and sure wasn't it a good excuse for us to sit by the log fire again in the hotel and chat to the King of Tory, Patsaí Dan Mac Ruaidhrí? It was.
I would have liked to have settled down for the night on Tory - it's a strange spot and so so wild, so savagely perched on the furious Atlantic with not a thing growing but heather and rocks.
I would have liked to have stayed for a month or more but the monsieur was wanting only to get the boat finished with so we headed back to the main island of Ireland (much smoother this time) and never was a man so happy to get his two feet on dry land.
The next few days were great if wet (but you don't come to Ireland for the sun) - lots of walking on beaches and climbing over rocks, gazing in rock pools, staring at mountains, winning at Scrabble (get in!), all topped off by a fabulous meal in Danny Mhinnies in Anagaire.
We were sad, so sad to leave Donegal with it's wild coast, rocks and hills and of course the smell of turf hanging in the air like nowhere else on earth. We will, of course, be back.
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