Last night I fell asleep as soon as my head hit my (Night Flight) pillow. When my wake up call came at 4:30, it seemed like only twenty minutes had gone by when in fact I had actually been out for 7 hours. I was still very tired but I rose and got ready for a long journey to the Cliffs of Moher.
When I left my room, it was cold and foggy. I was grateful for once to be wearing my winter coat. I walked to the Molly Malone statue and there was already a crowd of people gathered. Busses from Irish Day Tours came and took people to Cork and Killarney but the majority of people were waiting to go to the Cliffs of Moher. The bus was similar to the CIE Tour bus on the inside but missing a few of the bells and whistles (like WiFi and a bathroom).
Our tour guide was a woman named Jennifer and the driver was Larry. As we drove out of Dublin through dense fog, she delivered a monologue about different parts of the city we passed. Jennifer talked through much of the day. From Jennifer I learned that in Gaelic “kill” means “church”. Arthur Guinness got a 5,000 year lease for 100 pounds a year, and “Mc” as a surname prefix means “son of” and “O” means “grandson of”. She liked to weave music, history and fables with that soothing Irish radio voice of hers as we ventured.
While our ultimate destination was the Cliffs of Moher, we made stops along the way and back starting with a breakfast stop in a town called Moneygall at a place called the Barack Obama plaza. Apparently Obama has roots in Moneygall and the Irish love him. Jennifer said that Moneygall was rarely stopped in until the Barack Obama plaza was built. Last year, one million people stopped in. It wasn’t much… Just a food court with 4 eating options attached to a gas station in the middle of nowhere. By the time we got there the sun was in full force and most of the fog had dissolved.
As we pulled out of Barack Obama plaza, Jennifer explained that she was an archaeologist prior to becoming a tour guide and discussed Irish history from tombs like Newgrange to bog bodies that were discovered in lakes of Ireland. She passed around pictures as she discussed each topic.
Next, we stopped at King John’s Castle in Limerick and were given about ten minutes off the bus to stretch and take pictures. Once again, I was able to lose the winter coat. As we pulled out of Limerick, Jennifer talked about Frank McCort’s Angela’s Ashes which was set in Limerick. The Cranberries are also from Limerick.
We drove passed Bunratty Castle, the third most visited castle in Ireland. We didn’t stop but drove slowly passed. Jennifer explained that castles are pretty cheap in Ireland and you can get one starting at 200,000 euros. She warned that you needed to be careful as someone’s idea of what constitutes a castle is 4 walls and no roof. While castles are cheap in Ireland, the maintenance is not. It will often cause millions to restore a castle so it’s in livable condition.
We meandered through the Irish countryside in the tour bus seeing lots of clouds and farmhouses along the way. The sun retreated behind the clouds as we entered County Clare and headed west. The further west we rode, the narrower the roads became. We drove by Lahill golf course. Jennifer told us that a special landing strip was created for a particular American president who was in the midst of a political scandal at the time. This strip became known as Lewinski strip and still is to this day. County Clare is beautiful, particularly the portion just before the Cliffs–a small hilly, country town with scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean. There are cows everywhere…20.000 in County Clare, according to Jennifer.
We were dropped off at the Cliffs of Moher. Jennifer told us that we had an hour and a half which didn’t seem like long to me. After I waited in line to use the bathroom and got some water, I now had only an hour and fifteen minutes. Jennifer was very clear about tardiness. If you are a minute late, you have to sing; if you are 3 minutes late you have to sing and dance; and if you are ten minutes late you have to wave because the bus will be leaving you behind.
I started the ascent along the path that leads to the top of the cliffs and heard the sound of an accordion. An old woman was sitting on a bench playing for the passers by. She had a dog with her. The path was wet and we were warned to watch our step as not to fall. As i ascended up the steps, I started humming “Am I the Same Girl?” to myself as an homage to the great Dusty Springfield whose ashes had been spread over the Cliffs of Moher. I kept stopping and looking at the main cliffs hoping to see them clearly but there was always a mist surrounding them so they were more of a silhouette. Still it was beautiful and peaceful.
I walked to this small tower that resembled a castle and then beyond where the Cliffs of Moher visitor center grounds ended and a private hiking trail lay beyond. There was a sign with an enter-at-your-own-risk section. Had I been with someone or had I not had this vision of me waving at the back of a departing bus engrained in my mind by the tour guide, I’d have ventured beyond. Instead I began descending back. This is when the experience truly became magical.
I stopped and listened to the surf while the faint sound of the woman’s Irish accordion music permeated the air. The breeze was just right and a feeling of peace came over me. I stood in that spot for I don’t know how long looking at the ocean. Then I walked down and spoke to the old woman with the accordion. She said her husband usually plays with her but his rheumatoid arthritis is so bad he couldn’t come. She spoke with an Eastern European accent. I tipped her and went back to the bus. I’d have loved to have spent more time there. Incidentally, plenty of people were late, one woman ten minutes late but since it was her wedding anniversary and her husband was on the bus, they didn’t leave her although the bus driver clearly wanted to. We were not given enough time there to fully explore all there is to offer from the gift shops to the sky restaurant with a panoramic views.
After the Cliffs of Moher, we had lunch at a small town in Clare County called Doolin (i’d much have preferred to have eaten lunch at the Cliffs of Moher restaurant). I ate with a guy from Texas who is stationed at a military base in Germany. It turns out we are both going on the Game of Thrones tour tomorrow…. But that’s another day, another tour. After lunch, the sun was gone and it was overcast and cold. We explored Clare County and Ireland’s west coast which was incredible. We stopped at the side of a coastal road where there was a wall of stones with a hiking trail leading up to it. On the opposite side of the road was the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean.
Jennifer wanted to walk up to the top of the stone wall but said we were free to pursue the ocean side if we wanted to. I have always been drawn to the ocean so for me the choice was a simple one. The ocean side was mostly stone with patches of grass. This placed seemed ancient and sacred in a way. I walked down near the edge and was overcome with vertigo when hit with the reality of the drop and and how one slip would be the absolute end of me. Something whirred over my head and I realized it was a drone being operated by a solitary older gentleman about a hundred yards away. It was beautiful and I felt a wave of the same good feeling wash over me that I felt when I descended down from the Cliffs of Moher.
Then we were off again and riding along the coast of Clare and I was struck by its beauty. Stone walls were everywhere. Jennifer said some of these stone walls dated back 2,000 years. The road was a steep drop on the left side of the bus where I sat. I felt dangerously close to the edge but aimed my focus on the picturesque landscape not on the edge of the road. Jennifer explained that in the old days County Clare was a poor county because the soil was bad and couldn’t produce but tourism has made Clare the richest county in all of Ireland.
We stopped yet again at a place called Corcomroe Abbey which was the ruins of a monastery that had transformed into a graveyard. I had seen a few Abbeys in Britain but this was my first in Ireland. It was eerily beautiful and moody. That was the last stop in wonderful Clare County and I felt a pang of sadness. Then we entered Galway county.
We stopped at a town overlooking Galway Bay. Jennifer explained that Galway natives are known for having raven hair and blue eyes and were considered by many to be the “best looking people in Ireland”. I didn’t see any jaw droppers while I was there. I did see boats and kids…. lots of them. School must have just gotten out in this little town called Kinvara.
The tour was great. It was like riding through Ireland and listen to a live radio show on Irish culture and history. Jennifer was wonderful and, like Peter from CIE tours, brought a sense of fun to the tour. It was a very long day, though, and more than 13 hours since I walked out of my hotel to when I walked back in.
Tomorrow, my adventure consists of galavanting to Northern Ireland in a caravan loaded with hardcore Game of Thrones enthusiasts, of which I am one. I can’t wait.