Ireland, that’s a wrap

 

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As promised, here’s my blog post about Ireland. And only 96 hours late. Not bad.

Ireland was as I’d been warned and as I’d expected: changed and yet the same. Karen’s castle still reeked of its damp, stony smell and that wonderful, acrid aroma of fire fueled by coal and peat briquettes. It rained — at least a bit — each day. And at night the wind rattled the windows in the castle keep.

But some things had changed.

Karen was spot on about development. Motorways have fast-tracked road travel, eliminating the need to wend along two-laners and creep through villages. But they’ve also watered down the scenery; motorway driving is ho-hum — another generic strip of straightaway threaded through nothing. To a lesser extent, dual carriageways have rendered many rural roads obsolete. And pastures, once home to cows and sheep, now house… well…

…houses.

Still, there are a few of these:

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But also a staggering number of these:

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Irish food? It’s… better. Salads have certainly evolved. Once marked by a single leaf of iceberg, beneath a gelatinous blob of salad cream, salads are actually green(!) and even accompanied by other veggies… and not the spud variety. (Realize that I’m speaking of the country’s western reaches; Dublin has long offered cosmopolitan cuisine.)

But I can’t talk food without mentioning yogurt. The generic, run-of-the-mill, grocery store yogurt is simply delicious. It was my breakfast every morning and dessert most nights. Yum.

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And a few words about kids: children are golden in Eire. Celebrated, revered, always welcome in restaurants, hotels, even stores stocked with crystal figurines and porcelain plates. Shop keepers never scowled when I arrived with Brynn; instead, they considered it their duty to entertain my 3 year old while I browsed their wares. Gas station attendants offered to mind “the wee one, so she doesn’t get a chill” while I pumped gas and consulted my map. In restaurants, I’d leave Brynn alone at the table while I hunted down the bathroom, knowing full-well that the patrons and employees would watch her. It was really nice… this ever-present ‘Zilla assistance.

Oh you kids are having a pillow fight in the lobby? Perhaps we can find you more pillows to throw?”

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Fox hunting? Well that hasn’t changed a lick. It is still thrilling, intimidating and downright scary. Trappy country and imposing obstacles in pursuit of a fox. Sixty riders running headlong toward the same stretch of stone wall, then leaping off a bank and clattering down the road. That’s what I expected and I wasn’t let down. I hunted just one day, but it was 4 1/2 hours of fun and exhilaration, punctuated by moments of terror. 

Typically when riding, I don’t consider negative thoughts of potential injury or disaster. But hunting in Ireland there was a moment — as I stared down a huge, imposing stone wall, fortified with tightly-packed boulders — when I thought, “Ok, this might be the wall that kills me.”

But then I thought, “Get real, Jo. You might break your collarbone or a leg or knock out a tooth, but you’re not gonna die…

And then I thought “shut up, already” and I kicked my horse forward and we sailed over that monster wall. (Thank you, hireling, for being such a handy and athletic horse.)

Sorry, no photo of the monster, but here’s a typical stone wall of modest height:

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Music: Have you ever wondered what happened to the ’80s tunes? No, you haven’t? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. They’re alive and well in Ireland. Duran Duran, Debbie Gibson, Wham, Mr. Mister, Starship… they’re thriving on Irish radio, sprinkled among song sets like salt and pepper. (Though admittedly, I didn’t hear anything from Salt-n-Pepa…). On road trips, I logged plenty of time reliving the eighties.

So there you have it. Ireland. The music hasn’t changed, the villages still smell of coal and peat, the back roads are perilously winding and narrow, the craic is still alive in pubs and shops, and the horses remain lithe and fast.

And, as I discovered one morning — standing alone on a stretch of southern coast, just after a rain… the sun warming the sky and the wind sweeping off the damp:

Irish air is the cleanest and purest that I’ll ever breathe.

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(Early morning, Inchydoney Island)