Today was the first day that our smaller group is venturing forth. We went to the Heuston railway station to catch a commuter train south. Our destination is Kilkenney. A city well known for it's medieval architecture.
Back in Dublin. The time here has flown by. We have had the opportunity to see and experience so much that Ireland has to offer. This trip has provided me with many memories that I will always treasure. I have crossed the stones of ancient castles and trod upon the Giant's Causeway. I have felt the spray of Glencar waterfall and climbed the cliffs of Sliabh Liag. I have tasted the salty Atlantic and supped on lamb fattened in the pastures of the Emerald Isle. I have danced a jig in a pub in Donegal and have drank uisce beatha, water of life, whiskey in the land of it's birth. I have walked the hallowed halls of Drumcliffe and seen the beauty of the stained glass in the Guildhall of Derry. Ireland you have given me so much to remember and so much to look forward to. Our group will be smaller and that alone will greatly alter the experience. It has only been a week since we were last here but it still feels like seeing a good friend again after a long absence. The Natural History Museum is amazing. The diversity of the animal life that was native to Ireland is astounding. Ireland is about four times the size of the Big Island but is 600 times older. During the last Ice Age Ireland was accessible by land. This means that many animals that evolved on the European continent were able to expand into what we identify today as Ireland.
I was most anticipating this day of the journey. I had first heard of the Giant's Causeway as a young boy. At the time my eyes lit up at the thought of knights and castles. The sound of such a place as the Giant's Causeway was to me magical. The images that I was able to find looked quite amazing. I dreamt of what the giants would have been like. The geologic forces that have come into play here on the northern tip of the Irish island are quite special. So special in fact that it has been designated as a World Heritage site. It took just the right amount of rock types involved in a volcanic action to create these hexagonal shaped columns of stone. According to our guide the causeway was created by a giant named Fionn mac Cumhail or Finn McCool. The rocks served as his stepping stones so his feet didn't get wet as he traveled to Scotland. As the story goes Finn sees another much larger giant coming to get him named Benandonner. Finn runs home to his wife Oona for help. Oona hides Finn disguised as a baby. Benandonner pounds on the door and tells Oona that he is there for Finn. Oona tells Benandonner that Finn is not at home, only Finn's child and herself. When Benandonner see's how big the "baby" is he leaves in a hurry. Never having actually seen how big Finn McCool is Benandonner thinks to himself If the "baby" is that big I can only imagine the size Finn must be. So as Benandonner makes his way back to Scotland he tears down the causeway so the Finn McCool can never come to his home. I find it interesting the endless creativity that humans will exhibit trying to explain something strange in their environment. I understand the eerie other worldly feeling of this place. The stones appear so perfectly worked and placed together that its easy to think that some human intelligence was at play.
Today was another day spent in Bundoran. Some of our group did horseback riding along the beach, others opted for kayaking in a local lake, and the rest took on the high ropes. I am glad I didn't do the kayaking just so that I didn't have to put on a wet suit again. The high ropes course was set up at the Donegal Adventure Center, the same folks who hosted us surfing yesterday. The main attractions were a rock climbing face of the rappel tower, a rapid descent line, an incline balance beam, and a trapeze leap. This was a good, fun bonding opportunity for our group.
After our day we reconvened at The Atlantic and walked to La Sabbia for a final dining experience in Bundoran. The entire restaurant was shut down to accommodate a group of our size (50+). The evening started with a wonderful performance from our own Ryan McCormack. Both Uluwehi Van Blarcom and Niamh Hamill contributed to the evenings festivities. The cuisine was a light three course meal with hints of Spanish influence.
This day we stayed in Bundoran and took a walking tour of the coastline in the morning to see some of the notable spots. The predominate makeup of the substrate in western Ireland is sedimentary stone such as shale. The rock layers were built up over extremely long periods of time. The surface rocks have experienced a great degree of weathering revealing fossils of marine organisms.
I was surprised to learn that there are not more stringent regulations on waste in coastal waters. We were informed by our guide that untreated sewage is sometimes released through a pipeline that leads out into the bay. I would have assumed that this issue would not be allowed to persist.
In Hawaii we view the coastline as a resource with a wealth of food items. We place a great value on a limpet species that we call opihi. In Ireland they have large limpets also but the waters are so polluted it wouldn't be safe to eat them. The main resource collected from the sea besides fish is dulse a type of red algae. This algae is collected in areas that do not have residential waste inputs.
Previously fishing was a large part of the employment sector in western Ireland, now with treaties with the European Union that sector has greatly shrunk. This break with traditional occupations is having a detrimental impact on the people who live in these remote areas. The lack of economic opportunity causes younger generations to relocate to urban centers.
Strangely enough Bundoran has a vibrant surfing culture. Surfing originated in polynesia and has since spread around the globe. One of the reasons that I was so surprised that there was surfing this far north is the temperature of the water. This issue was dealt with by donning a wet suit, this created a problem of mobility. I guess iʻm spoiled in Hawaii where the water is warm enough year round for unprotected bathing. I was truly uncomfortable while putting on the wetsuit but it made a huge difference when we got in the water.
The people at the Donegal Adventure Center hooked us up with wet suits and 9ʻ spongy boards. We went down to Tullen Strand and got into the Atlantic Ocean, a first for me. We had a brief class on surfing and then gave it a shot. I was able to get to my knees but my mobility was to limited to stand up. I was good craic none the less.
Today we journeyed along the Wild Atlantic Way to the traditional fishing village of Glencolumbcille. This village shows how the people of this area used natural resources for construction and heating of structures for habitation. The small cottages were made of local stones topped by a dense mat of thatching made from reeds gathered locally. The homes were heated using dried peat harvested from the local landscape. The fields of peat had long rows of blocks carved from the ground and stacked up to dry. As we drove through the hills the presence of wool sheep dotted the countryside. Wool was a highly valued resource for clothing, bedding, and all manner of things. The wool sweaters that were worn had different stitching patterns depending on the family. The Atlantic Ocean is so cold at these latitudes that if a fishermen fell overboard he was not expected to survive. If a body was recovered they could identify the family by the patterns of the stitching. This area is very remote and would not have seen much traffic so the people would have needed to be self sufficient. I noticed that the hamlets we passed through were much smaller than comparable villages in the east of the country.
On the south side of the peninsula are the sea cliffs of Sliabh Liag, the tallest in Europe. This dramatic landscape gave a glimpse at the sedimentary stone that makes up this landmass. There were terrific views through the clouds and rain of the Atlantic Ocean, the Sligo Mountains and Donegal Bay as we walked towards the top of the cliff face of Bunglas that rose over 600 yards above the raging ocean. The weather didn't cooperate with us this day. It was overcast and drizzling rain for most of the time. I had a better view at the observation area than all the way at the top.
We began the days journey by traveling east to County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. Here we visited the North West College. This institution focuses on sustainable, energy efficient construction and vocational training. The Campus was a reclaimed Industrial Area that was redesigned from the bottom up for implementation of sustainable design and construction. The school has it's own photo-voltaic and wind turbine electric generation system that provides almost all of the structures requirements. The biggest energy loss in this part of the world is related to loss of heat. A novel approach has been adopted whereby the structures receive not only insulation from the surrounding air mass but also additional insulation from heat loss into the ground. This school hosts studies related to public private partnerships in bio fuels. One of the laboratories that we toured was dedicated to creating pellets for use in electrical generation incinerators. This type of research is necessary to move away from the dependence on fossil fuels.
We next traveled south into the Republic of Ireland to County Cavan. The area was dominated by limestone hills full of peat bogs and primeval forest. We were greeted by local expert Seamus who guided us throughout this dramatic landscape. The predominant substrate is limestone with giant boulders of sandstone dotted about. Remnants of human carving in the stone was evident. There were a number of very large stones that had been cut and then placed together to form niches. According to Seamus the excavations conducted at these sites showed collections of artifacts related to habitation over an extended period of time. The forest canopy was so dense in places that the under story was predominantly bryophytes, non-vascular plants. It was mind-boggling to think that much of this landscape was a shallow equatorial sea at one point in the distant past. We met a relative of one of Hawaii's native forest plants a Vaccinium sp. that was growing as ground cover.
Today's excursion started with a visit to Saint Patrick's Well. This area is along an estuary of Donegal Bay. The natural spring that flows at this site was significant to the people of this area as a clandestine meeting spot. The Penal Laws passed in the 16th century made it illegal to practice the Catholic religion. The predominant religion in Ireland at this time was Catholicism. These laws were used to oppress the Irish population in favor of the relocated English population. People would meet at the Well to practice their religion in secret. This site had been considered important even before Christianity reached Ireland. The Celtic peoples were Animist and believed that there was spiritual power in the area. We observed some swans swimming in the water. Swans are protected in Ireland. A tale about swans called "The Children of Lir" was told about Lir the king of the fairies.
Our next stop was to the city of Donegal, the seat of power for the Celtic kingdom of the O'Donnells. We took a tour through Donegal castle. My first time inside a European medieval castle. The stone and woodwork were highly impressive. It is a true castle in the sense that it was designed for war, not just an administrative center. The stairway to the upper levels was constructed to trip attackers making them vulnerable to the weapons of the defenders. Occupation of the site passed from Norman to Irish to British and can be seen in successive construction in differing styles around the keep. The reasons that different cultures would settle in the same areas were often simple. Often the reason was access to water such as a river or lake. Other times it was access to a resource like stone or wood. More often than not it was because of a strategic importance like hill tops for defense or control of the surrounding area. For sites that had spiritual significance the adoption of the site by successive groups was a type of cultural appropriation that allowed for assimilation of the population.
Gazing upon the oldest megalithic structures on the planet fills me with awe. These complex structures required the efforts of multiple generations working towards an envisioned goal that would not be realized in a single lifetime. After millennia these man made hills stand silent sentinel above the Boyne valley, their construction an attempt to touch the eternal. The mysteries that surround its construction are amplified by the proximity of two similar sites: Newgrange and Dowth. Knowth is the largest of the three and has two passages, East and West. The passage mouths are partially blocked by massive stones that have mysterious symbols carved into their surfaces. What message could these cryptic images be communicating ? Do they tell the stories of the original builders? Are they indications of observed or predicted celestial events. The ground before the entrances is covered by brilliant white quartz rocks with the rumored effect of cleansing and purifying of the soul. This site has seen occupation by several different groups of peoples and belief systems. Each group has transformed the site, whether that be digging encircling defensive ditches or additional tunnels.
As we travel from Dublin in the East to Bundoran in the West we cross the border between the Republic of Ireland and the region of the United Kingdom called Northern Ireland. This border is easy to miss these days because there is no real official demarcation of the border because both countries are members of the European Union. The Schengen Agreement allows for free travel between member countries. This border at one time in the not so distant past was a heavily militarized area. The United Kingdom tried to secure the border so that weapons, munitions, and personnel could not travel into Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland. This time is referred to as "The Troubles". Peace was reached and the border checkpoints were dismantled. In their place were commissioned pieces of art to commemorate the Peace Accords. The border where we crossed was marked by a statue of a man being embraced by a woman. The man was holding tools of war, sword and shield, but was not wearing a uniform. This image is all of the men who were involved in the struggles being welcomed home.