If John would have asked me if I wanted to get up at 6AM, catch a ferry to cross the North Atlantic, drive halfway across Ireland stopping to climb around and through two castle ruins, and then drive the rest of the way across Ireland to visit friends, I probably would have said no. However, this is vacation and travelling time--it is a time warp. But, I am getting ahead of myself.
Day 11 Sunday: We were up early and organized for departure from Cappa Veagh in Salthill, Galway. Catherine and Pat made sure that we would not miss the ferry and we arrived in time to board and settle for the 40 minute crossing to Inish More. I was only uneasy because the bulk of the travelers were 18 to 30ish years old and carrying backpacks....Had we overestimated our abilities? It turns out that most of the voyagers were day-trippers ("Sunday Driver, yeah...."Beatles, remember?) and we would encounter them swiftly or valiantly wobbly on bicycles touring the island as we made our tour.
Inish More is the main island of the three Aran Islands, way out there in the cold of the 8th latitude of the Atlantic Ocean
(Northern California is the 38th latitude.) It was rainy and windy when we left Galway and much the same when we departed the ferry, pulling our paired down over-night roller bags. We were immediately besieged with offers of "Pony and Trap?" from the lines of horse and buggy drivers trying to snare costumers for tours of the island. We trudged on until we found an appropriately dilapidated red van and a driver who smiled but gave no come-on. "How much to take us to Man of Aran?" our B&B. It was reasonable and after a 4 mile (those are Irish miles) up and down, winding, and narrow rock-walled drive, we were glad we had not tried to make the trek.
A short tour of the Inish More Island road
Now John and I appear to have either the best or the worst of instincts and this time it turned out for the best. We entered the B&B and the innkeeper started laughing. It turns out we had selected the innkeeper's wife's brother as our taxi for the day. We dropped our bags and went off with the brother-in-law for a tour of the island ending in the
middle of the village for a bit of lunch a walk down to the shore, and a stroll through the sweater emporium. The Aran Islands is where the beautiful patterned sweaters come from. Lucky for John they are bulky and I had no time nor space in luggage to buy one or 6 or 7, they are beautiful. Our taxi had waited for us, took us back to Man of Arran, and then we set out for a hike to the Neolithic ring fort Dun Agonsha. It was beautiful. It was also a rigorous hike and the most strenuous challenge of our trip and my past 16 months or so. But, we made it! The fort perches right on the edge of the ocean with a 500 foot drop straight down to the Atlantic and originally enclosed 14 acres bordered by dry stone walls and terraces. Gorgeous and it was SUNNY! Yes! We had no rain and sun for a full half a day!
We actually managed to make it back to our B&B in good time and with body parts intact to fall down on the bed to rest--I call that sleeping--until we roused ourselves to get a
glass of wine from our innkeeper, wander the garden, and find a warm flat rock on which to continue drying out and get wind burned. Dinner was prepared by Maura, who used to work in Buckingham Palace, with all the veggies grown by her husband Joe. I have not felt so healthy since we hit the UK. We retired to our room--did I tell you that the house was built for the cult film "The Man of Aran" and we were staying in the film set?- which was rustic to the maximum, including no heat (that was soon fixed,) low beams (poor John) and an ensuite bathroom that had an open shower (think a toilet with a shower head over it.) We were asleep by 10:30 under a pile of blankets, quilts, and heating blankets that must have weighed 10 pounds, and an alarm clock set for 6AM.
We were up early and out of the Man of Aran in time to handily catch the 8:15 ferry. By 9:45 we had picked up our car from the car park and off on new adventures. Today was an especially important day for John--it was KENNEDY CASTLE DAY! After our trip
a year and a half ago, John made a concerted effort to find Kennedy Castles in Counties Tipperary and Kilkenny. It turns out that we would pass near two of them as we made our way from Galway to Kilkenny. The first castle, Lackeen, was in yet another cow pasture guarded by juvenile heifers. We stared them down and made our way across a poopy field and into the castle. We could actually climb up, but were stopped by a massive and threatening bird's nest--think raptors. We were actually more interested in the second castle, Tullaun. This was another of the O'Kennedy castles but one that is privately owned. John has been in communication with the owner, Sonja, who has been very helpful and forthcoming with information as she restores "your castle," as she always refers to it with John. We were able to drive right up to the front door and we were in awe. Over four stories high, Sonja and here husband are completely restoring the castle. We had been given permission to enter and explore the building and of course we did. It was an amazing experience for me and absolutely overwhelming for John. We are not
sure where this castle fits in his family tree, but we know that at least the family who built the castle in the 1500's was related.
We were leaving the castle, when we found the road blocked in front of us and several people standing on the road: The Tour of Ireland Bike Race was whizzing past us. Usually this would not impress me, but I have to tell you that the sound and speed of the bicycles is amazing! As we stood there, we started talking to one old gent who told us that his father had been hired to strip the ivy from the castle and paint the building. Back then the castle was called "The Black Castle" because the ivy made it appear to be so dark. It turns out that a relative of his had written the castle book that John had used for his research. Of course I snapped a photo of this long lost and very, very distant cousin. Really? Who goes to investigate their distant relative's circa 1500 castle, runs into the Tour of Ireland Bike Race, and then finds a cousin?
So, on we went to County Kilkenny (although I
think I slept through most of this drive) and arrived at Lawcus Farms to the welcoming arms, hugs, and kisses of Mark and Ann-Marie. They have put us up in their family home in a beautiful room with a four poster bed and I am ready to test it out! Coming back to Lawcus Farms is like coming home to the family we just discovered 18 months ago---I miss them when we are not here. So, on to bed with us. Tomorrow we begin again digging into John's more recent past and who knows what we will find?
Family is a funny thing---it is said that you can't pick your family, but with friends who become family, you certainly can. It is lovely having all of you along with us as our family.
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