(Educators and authors Whitney and Barbara Snow traveled to Ireland earlier this summer. This is Part 5 of Whitney's account of that adventure.)
When Friday morning arrived, we got to order breakfast instead of simply having a buffet. I absolutely love poached eggs and was delighted to see them on the menu. I also ordered my usual Diet Coke.
All of the hotels we stayed at offered complementary tea or coffee, but I have never been a big drinker of either. I do, however, often start my mornings with a Diet Coke but, alas, had to pay for it. Three euros to be exact. Everyone then boarded the bus and drove to Bantry Bay.
On the road, Mrs. McCarthy spoke a great deal of Gypsies, traveling communities and their social structures. Many of the grazing horses we saw belonged to these bands. We did not see any Gypsies, but she said they are quite prevalent.
When it comes to myth, she also talked of leprechauns which sound more like Warwick Davis’s character in the movie "Leprechaun" (1993) than Lucky from Lucky Charms cereal. In Ireland, leprechauns are known for being devious, similar to boogie monsters. Parents will tell children, “Behave, or the little men will get you.”
Back in 2016, it had been a bright, sunny day when we arrived in Bantry Bay. This time, it was overcast and raining. A little flea market was taking place, and we were given time to explore. While some tour members went into the shops, Mom and I looked around the market which semi-reminded me of Mountain Top back home in Alabama. At one stand, Mom purchased a red blouse. At one selling used books, I bought one titled "Irish-Americans in American Popular Culture." On the cover was an image from "The Quiet Man" (1952) starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. I thought that kind of fitting as Maureen lived in Glengariff which is on Bantry Bay. Once everyone was back on the bus, we were driven to a ferry where we boarded a boat called the Harbour Queen II. It was to take us to Garinish Island.
In 2016, I had relished seeing the seals, and this time was no different. Our boat driver drove by an area popular with seals. I usually take photos with my iPhone rather than my digital camera even though the latter takes better quality images. With that in mind, I had my digital camera in hand, but learned the hard way that it is not very good at taking moving images. As a result, my pics ended up blurry. There had only been one seal in view anyway. In the distance, I could see the white home once owned by Maureen O’Hara. As we neared the island, everyone clamored to take photographs of the roughly dozen seals resting on a point. This time, I had switched to my iPhone and the pictures were much clearer. The seals were resting on a little outcrop overgrown with rhododendron which, while pink and beautiful, is deemed a blight throughout Ireland. It’s gotten to be such an infestation, overtaking indigenous plant life, that Roundup is being used to kill it.
When we landed at Garinish, it was raining pretty heavily, but we had umbrellas and raincoats. For the next hours, we wandered around the gardens and took photographs of the flowers and plants like gunnera. Because of the rain, we did not enjoy it as much as last time and the wet made everyone cold. Before leaving, I purchased a postcard of seals.
Back on the mainland in Glengariff, we were driven to a pub called Lougha Voul Inn. Mom and I sat with Connie, Steve, and Gordon. I had the fish ‘n chips while Mom had the Guinness stew. It was raining pretty hard when we left and that put the kibosh on my picture taking. Even though photos taken through a window are never as good, they’re at least visual memories. When it’s raining, however, the iPhone camera won’t focus through a window. That was unfortunate, especially since we drove through the Ring of Kerry that afternoon.
In 2016, we passed through the Ring of Kerry on a clear day and even stopped for a group pic. This time, it was drenched in fog for much of the drive. For that reason, Mrs. McCarthy chose not to do a group photograph, but she did stop the bus at Ladies’ View. It had cleared a little and we could, at least, see the lake below in the distance.
When everyone got back on the bus, and we barreled down the road to Killarney, Mrs. McCarthy chuckled that 20 years ago, if someone asked to show you their vacation photographs, you would cringe. Today, on the other hand, you can’t avoid them as they’re plastered all over Facebook and Instagram. I suppose she has a point, but I do enjoy seeing other folks’ holiday pics. They get me thinking about where I have been and where I would like to go.
Trying to entertain everyone, Mrs. McCarthy made several book, song, and movie recommendations. She suggested everyone see "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" (2006), set during the Irish War of Independence. She also said we should read "The Green Rushes" by Maurice Walsh, the short story which inspired the movie "The Quiet Man" (1952).
On the drive, what I enjoyed most was seeing the sheep rough grazing on the mountains and learning about peat bogs. Many Irish used to use peat for fertilizer and to burn in fires. It’s important to the ecosystem and does not regrow when harvested. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. So the European Union no longer allows peat harvesting.
At long last, we arrived in our destination for the night—Scotts Hotel in Killarney. After such a dreary day, it was a comfort to see that the sun was out and it had stopped raining. We had the evening to ourselves so Mom and I went to have dinner down the street at Tatler Jack. We both had the fish n’ chips. After dinner, we did a little window shopping, but did not purchase anything. We popped into the Killarney Ice Cream Shop, and then I walked Mom back to the hotel. It was too early to turn in so I went out to look around.
Near our hotel was a western-themed restaurant called Rob's Ranch House and it was blaring country music, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere,” if memory serves. Further along the sidewalk, I came to a used bookstore called The Dungeon Bookshop. Mrs. McCarthy had mentioned several must-reads and I thought I’d try to find them: "McCarthy’s Bar" by Pete McCarthy; "To School Through the Fields" by Alice Taylor; and "The Copper Beech" by Maeve Binchy.
I found two of them. Both were reasonably priced, but rather thick and I didn’t want to have to fit them in my suitcase. I walked to the other end of the street again and went into a bookstore called Eason. While I was perusing the Irish history section, specifically "The Great Hunger: Ireland, 1845-1849," the song “Sweet Home, Alabama” started playing. I looked up from the book and thought, “You have got to be kidding me.” What are the odds, huh? Though the book looked interesting, I didn’t buy it because it was large.
I walked back to the hotel and when I passed that western place, Rob's Ranch House, it was playing Trisha Yearwood’s “She’s in Love with the Boy,” one of my favorite songs as a teenager. Tres bizarre. I then stopped at Celtic Donuts and ordered some Banana-flavored gelato which tasted a lot better than it sounds.
I went a different route around our hotel and spotted a movie theater. I thought about seeing what was playing, but just ambled along looking in the various shops. At one, called Shades of Erin, I purchased a pair of green, blue, and red gloves for Mom, our cousin Sandra, and myself. I figured I would get more use out of a nice pair of gloves than a T-shirt which would wear out in no time. Shockingly, the woman behind the counter asked if I was Australian. That one left me scratching my head. Although, Mom has long said my native Alabama accent has been corrupted by being in Texas for the last six years. It’s not that bad, is it?
When I got back to the hotel, I told Mom about my creepy music experience. I was more annoyed than intrigued. Think about it. I fly almost 4,000 miles to experience another country’s culture and am bombarded with American songs. That evening, I turned on the television for the first time and watched a nature documentary before going to sleep.
(To be continued)