Thursday, November 4, 2010

3. Ireland 1975: Back to Galway, on to Kilarney

The Gap of Dunloe, Killarney Lakes district, West of Ireland 1975

I went on the bus today to Galway. Werner shlopped up a great mess of baked beans and fried onions last nite and without hesitation I slid a great pile of them down my gullet and then pumped a couple of fast anxious pints of Guinness down on top of them. I was sure I'd die on the bus. I'm just now, later the same evening starting to feel better.

Galway is a tourist trap. One nice pub and some...

...Where it's plain to see my pen ran out of ink. Suddenly in the basement of a large house (it's a temporary hostel and awaits demolition) which must have been build in the 1600s and on the banks of what I thought would be the River Shannon -- though signs in this city along it every 100 yards hail it as "Danger River".

Galway is terribly touristy -- spiffy and generally a drag. I didn't like it first time through and I only went back to try to locate Paul's sister Ruth. I phoned the nurses' residence and from great confusion on the other end of the line came the reply that she was not there. Fair enough. I wasn't really there either.

Slept in the park then for an hour or so and had a parting pint with the Europeans I had been with the last couple of days and returned, foggy headed and moody, to the hostel by bus. It's 2 miles from where the bus turns off to the hostel at Kinvara and it's a very fine walk. Fences of stone on either side of the road, cattle and horses grazing lazily. Strange grey hills of rock -- the only things not covered with some kind of lush green -- stand out to the west for about twenty miles out of small rolling green hills.

Walked to the pub later. The old gents who frequent the place gave out some fine songs. Beautiful starry night to walk home.

Beautiful weather now and I'm in the city of Limerick overnight to catch a train in the morning for the Kilarney area -- famed for its beautiful lakes.

The train the next morning out of Limerick takes a cumbersome winding route first well out of its way over near Tipperary and Cork and then with 2 transfers finally gets around to Kilarney near the west coast. Another day of sunshine with a damp Atlantic heat now settled down over the land.

Travelling has me weary this morning and in deparate need of a bath. The hostel filthy and drab.

The trains are a good way to travel in Ireland, though they make writing in this journal quite difficult. The eternal green countryside goes rolling by as a young hurly team yells and pushes behind me. Later perhaps the film festival in Cork, but first 2 or 3 days walking in the country near Kilarney.

An interesting Irish Times from Dublin this morning. It's a very low key tasteful newspaper similar in style and tone to the New York Times.

A piece reporting a conflict within the People's Republic of China caused by a campaign to restrict the rights of the bourgeoisie having gone too far at the hands of some local officials. Calm, informative stuff. Also a report on the Soviet press' response to Britain's vote yesterday to maintain its membership in the common market. It's clear here in Ireland -- where they await full membership in the EEC upon completion of their short term trial membership -- that the main support for the EEC is from the monied element.

The other thing of interest was a story with a large photograph of Brendan Behan's mother and widow. The accompanying story concerned the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate Brendan, being unveiled at his mother's house. Time to change trains...

Which I did seconds later I was in the bustling little town of Kilarney. On certain warm days when I'm travelling I can just set out and follow my nose and somehow get to where I'm going. A slow walk through town produced a sign with an arrow: Youth Hostel 2 miles. close enough that I could just wander over, leave my stuff, book a bed and walk back to town for a look around. One of the oldest jokes in the world: when I finally got to the hostel a sign pointed back: Kilarney 3 1/2 miles. Dripping with sweat and smelling like a rummage sale, I arrived at Aghadoe House out in the lake and mountain country of the south west.

The hostel itself is a huge building of stone block built at least a century ago. But it and its grounds are kept up very carefully. The land is marked by huge trees and a mountain range is nearby to the south. Clouds are moving in now and a breeze is cooling what has been a very hot day.

At the pub last night the American woman who seemed to be the assistant house parent at the hostel was there and I sat with her. From initial awkwardness, conversation became warmer. She's in Ireland studying for credits through Loyola in Chicago in Irish Studies. She's spent as much time in Ireland as America in the last 4 or 5 years including a year (71-72) in Belfast. She has a sharp and articulate awareness of the political situation and gave me a view of a woman's position in Ireland which I had been very curious about.

We talked of a young North American's reaction to the old Catholic consciousness in Ireland and agreed that it is really no different than the vast majority of places in Canada and the US. She said that there is a very exciting consciousness among some people in Ireland but that it's buried and takes time to discover and to form a relationship with.

The Catholic Church often made her very angry she said but her studies had taught her that it was the Church and particularly its priests that saved the Irish language and culture through the 700 years of British law when both the Irish culture and the Catholic Church were illegal. It was not until it was made the state religion, as was the case always in history she said, that it became a repressive force. She also said that while it is very true that the Catholic Church does oppress women it does not do so nearly to the degree of Islam or Judaism or many other religions. I doubted that a woman fighting her social and religious oppression would find that very comforting. She agreed and said that Ireland certainly had a male chauvinist society. She said that much of the schizophrenic nature of the Irish comes from the imposition of the negative guilt ridden qualities of Catholicism onto the joyful life-loving culture of the Gaels. Irish speaking people are still markedly different from most Irish people in the spirit and the ease with which they will talk of sex, she said.

We also talked of Irish and Anglo-Irish literature and the current political troubles. She said there would be virtually no danger in travelling through the North though she herself couldn't go to Belfast for she had lived for a time with a Catholic family in the Falls Road area. Seems they were Republicans and somehow her connection with them left her known, and in some danger there.

She stressed that although the factions might split along religious lines, as minority coloured groups might in the States, the fight in Northern Ireland is economics, not religion. It was a mess, she said, because the English-ancestory, predominantly Protestant people of the North had been there for centuries and relate to Northern Ireland as much as there own country as I do Canada. For the Irish living there this must be precious little comfort, too. They live in their own country as an oppressed minority. Seems like sometimes soon the Brits will -- as the posters demand -- get out and the Protestant majority in the North, those who stay, will become a minority within the Republic. The North is Irish say the posters all over the Republic, Brits Out Now!

Baltimore, County Cork, Ireland 1975

The sun on me here beside this lake is so luxurious. The country around Kilarney is blowing my mind and I think I'll spend a few days here and then move slowly along the coast to, where they say, "the next pub is in New York City."

I've heard fine things about the hostel at Cape Clear, Clear Island where I think I'll head sometime this week.

The next morning and I've cycled up into the hills to an area known as the Gap of Dunloe. It's a mountain pass and there is a clear, green river running through it. The cloud cover lifted by mid-morning and it is now clear, sunny and very hot.

One of the most beautiful things about this place is the absence of cars. It is accessible by bicycle or horse only. A sign where the road gets rough warns people to leave their cars behind. The road isn't all that bad but there's a thriving pony and buggy business among the farmers along the roadway. An Irish fellow at the hostel warned me that they would tell me that I couldn't bicycle up and would certainly need a pony but to pay them no mind. There must be 150 horses going up the trail. Small groups of them pass every 10 minutes or so.

There are very impressive mountains here and the river forms small lakes as it descends. There are no trees but moss and grass grow everywhere. Relatively recent rock slides give it a feeling of bareness. I can see clearly the bottom of this lake 35 feet from the shoreline. A fairly strange looking breed of sheep which may or may not be wild, graze freely throughout the valley.The combination of the bicycle ride up here -- about 7 miles -- and a few hours in the sun lying on a big flat rock beside a cold, clear lake, give me a very good feeling of calm and peacefulness.

...And the most welcome return of my fountain pen. I have a rather severe sun burn. All across my back is stinging and my face feels like profound eternal embarrassment. I lied in that beautiful mountain valley for hours, had a swim and washed myself from head to toe for the first time in 2 weeks. I am in a very numb and very pleasant state.