I’ve been AWOL for a while, I know, and I apologise, but I’ve had a pretty hectic two and a half weeks. Apart from the girls having Easter holidays (meaning I’ve been spending whole days with them), I’ve been traveling quite a bit. Aside from London I’ve been to many Irish places with wonderfully silly and fun-to-say names. Here is a list of them, which I have tried to organise according to silliness (from least silly to most), but I’ve found it difficult as they are all delightful. I invite you to say them out loud at your computer as an experiment. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
1. Baltimore (this is only down the bottom because you’ve heard of it before – it becomes very silly when you are walking around the town, enjoying the scenery, and then you think of the name of the place you are in and images of ‘The Wire’ and Omar Little and McNulty and drug addicts come unbidden into your mind, but all around you are sweet, white cottages with wisteria growing over the walls and old people in flat hats walking their dogs and its all a little surreal)
3. Cobh (pronounced ‘Cove’)
6. Sherkin Island
7. Blasket Islands
As I don’t have time to describe them all, I will give you short, paragraph descriptions of each. Starting now.
Well, as I said, Baltimore is the largest city in the state of Maryland, sitting on the Chesapeake Bay… oh, wait. No, that’s not right. According to Wikipedia, Baltimore (in Maryland), ‘is an anglicized form of the Irish Baile an Tí Mhóir, meaning “Town of the Big House”, not to be confused with Baltimore, County Cork, the Irish name of which is Dún na Séad’. So… Baltimore comes from ‘Baile and Ti Mhoir’, but also ‘Dun na Sead’? Go figure. Anyway, as I was saying above, this is a darling little town, where I spent very little time. Its apparently very famous for sailing. There is also a fiddle festival there next weekend, which probably makes it the coolest place around. That is according to the Jenny scale of coolness, of course, which is, unfortunately, not widely in use.
This is where you kiss the famous Blarney stone at the famous Blarney Castle, and you can also visit the not-so-famous Blarney House, and the not-particularly-exciting town of Blarney, which feels ever so lucky to have be sharing its name with such impressive money spinners as Blarney Castle et al. I went here with the parentals, as Dad was very enthusiastic about seeing it and kissing the stone, which is apparently supposed to give you the ‘gift of the gab’. I was less than enthusiastic, due to a recent Lonely Planet survey, which listed the Blarney stone as the most overrated tourist attraction in the world. Ahead of the Hollywood sign and the Canberra Telstra Tower even. But, I told Dad that I would visit the stone ‘ironically’, so that I could report back in a postmodern, sarcastic and amusing way on my blog. Which I am now doing. Except that I can’t really think of anything sarcastic or scathing to say about the place. It was very pretty. The sun was out. I had a slight claustrophobic panic going up the tiny, tiny staircase to get to the stone, and had to keep sticking my head out the ‘windows’ (glorified cracks in the wall), but that wasn’t really their fault. I mean, Cormac McCarthy wasn’t really thinking about me when he built the castle 600 years ago. I had another panic, this time over heights, when I had to kiss the stone, and couldn’t actually reach the blasted thing, but, again, I can’t really blame the Blarney people for that. They did their best to encourage me, but after the one millionith woman who freaks out up there, I’m sure they can’t really be bothered encouraging every single one to reach ‘just a little further’ and ‘yes, I’ve got you, no I won’t let you fall’, if the friggin’ women aren’t going to stop screaming and shaking their heads and doing their bloody bit to kiss the stone too. There was a lot Irish souvenir tat, but that’s kind of hard to avoid in most places in Ireland. They took a lot of my money too, but, as I said before, I’m getting used to it. Despite all this, it was a lovely day. We had a ‘retired’ (disbarred?) lawyer as our guide at Blarney House who was on his first (possibly also his last) day. He was an interesting character, whose nose hinted at alcoholism, who lit up the minute we finished the tour and who barely managed to contain his rage at the other guides, the Blareny House owners, and just people in general, throughout the majority of the tour. It was an intriguing experience.
After Blarney, we headed to Cobh, and specifically, the Cobh Heritage Centre. Cobh itself is a very stately looking town, having been important in the 19th century and the turn of the century, but not so much anymore. So, it has a lot of lovely Edwardian architecture, plus a very impressive cathedral, though my host family tells me that its actually a bit of a dodgy, rough-and-tumble place now. The Cobh Heritage Centre was very sad, as Cobh was the starting place of many Irish emigrants’ journeys overseas. So, many stories of the famine, of poverty, of hopes and dreams, of tearful farewells, of terrifying sea crossings, of home sickness, of ‘American Wakes’ etc. On top of which, Cobh was the last stop of the Titanic before it headed across the Atlantic, and where many of the survivors of the Lusitania disaster were brought ashore (as well as the bodies). So, not the most amusing or uplifting of places, but certainly… historical.
Fota is a wildlife park/hotel/golf course on the outskirts of Cork. I went with the two girls, my host mother, her sister-in-law and her three children. It was lovely, though exhausting! That many children to run around after, even with three adults, is pretty intense. It was actually made worse by my host mother bringing along a buggy for the youngest girl, which we thought would help her if she got tired. However, she had never been in one before, and thinking it was an utterly delightful toy, something similar to a bicycle, she kept encouraging me to go faster and faster, until I was sprinting along the road with her in the chair, her arms stuck out to catch the wind and cheering me on. Of course, the eldest girl then got jealous and I had to push her around as well. My arms were wrecked – I’m not complaining, they bloody well need it. Anyway, it was a beautiful, sunny day, very warm (by Irish standards – 19 degrees) and we saw many awesome animals. Though the kids were probably more interested in the playgrounds and getting ice-cream.
I’ve just returned from Killarney today, and, despite some serious food poisoning from a nasty tuna melt yesterday, I am still very fond of the place. I didn’t get to see a lot of it, as we (me and a group of other au pairs) went on two day trips, but it seemed very nice. We had a great night of dancing on the Saturday at a terrible nightclub called Mustang Sally’s where a totally plastered man, totally plastered us in Bulmers cider as he jumped on the dance floor and then, what should have been an even better night of trad music on the Sunday, except for the fact that I was dry retching in the bathroom and had to go back to the hostel, white as a sheet, to sleep it off. I’m certain everyone thought I was drunk. There was also an uncomfortable moment where a man in a pub grabbed my hand and started twirling me around his circle of mates, who then proceeded to pinch my arse as I twirled past. Charmant. So, apart from the drunken louts, and the food poisoning, Killareny was nice. I’m hoping to go back again sometime and do some walking around the area. I’m not sure, though, as there’s so much other stuff to see around Ireland.
6. Sherkin Island
Well, this is a little out of order, because Sherkin Island has such a fabulous name. The reason I spent so little time in Baltimore, is because that is where you catch the ferry to Sherkin Island. I went with my two girls, my host mother, and a friend of the eldest girl. There’s something wonderful about a place you can only get to by ferry and that has no store, so you have to go back to the ‘mainland’ to get ‘supplies’. About 200 people live on the island, and many of them are artists. Its the perfect place to write a novel, or compose music, or paint or sculpt or anything. Funnily enough though, there are also council houses on the island, which most be the most happily situated council houses in the world, and certainly trump ‘Blandville Estate’ in Gladesville (still the worst joke a bureaucrat has ever played on the Australian poor). It was a beautiful day (again – we’ve been so blessed with the weather these past 2 weeks). My youngest girl has an obsession with water and the beach, so, even though the water was icy, icy cold, she insisted on getting into her bathers, running into the water, then come running out again, screaming ‘its cold, its cold, its cold!’ and then repeating the process all over again 5 minutes later. We stayed there all day, with the lovely dog, Murray, and topped it all off with some food and drink at one of the pubs on the island.
7. Blasket Islands
The Blaskets are off the Dingle Peninsula, which is where we took our first day trip from Killarney on Sunday. They were inhabited until 1953, when the community was evacuated to the mainland, because their supply of turf (used for fuel) became scarce. The Blasket Heritage Centre is also the creator of evil tuna melts, which taste delicious at first, but later turn out to be the devil’s handiwork. Just in case you ever go there: I’d stick to the veggie soup. For this day trip, we had a very amusing bus driver, who would not only tell us the name of passing villages, but he would tell us the advantages of living there, how long it would take us to drive to Killarney from that point, where the houses were cheapest and how close the schools are; he would tell us that he was about to turn right on the next roundabout, which was called the Cleeny Roundabout; he would read out the signs on the side of the road, ‘Now that there is a sign for Kerry Radio, which is our local radio station, it tells you everything you need to know about Kerry, all the local news and activities’; and pointed out the local supermakets, ‘And to the right you’ll see Lidl, its been in Killarney for 10 years now…’ But generally didn’t know the name of the mountains and rivers surrounding us. Still, he was very nice and patient and happy to take photos of all of us au pairs with each of our individual cameras (7 in total) at each place we stopped.
Apart from having a delightful name, the town of Dingle is full of hideous little souvenir stores, all selling the same crap. Ahem. Sorry. I’ll try again. Dingle Peninsula is a beautiful place, full of incredible natural scenery that makes your heart sing, little houses clinging to cliff faces, tiny villages snuggled again mountains, rivers snaking through valleys and bog land towards the gorgeous blue Atlantic, and which is also home to an unfortunately named dolphin called Fungie (I much prefer the lovely alliteration of ‘the Dingle Dolphin’), which you can go and see on a boat and all of this means that lots and lots of tourists go there and so the Irish people have collectively decided to sell these many tourists crap that appeals to the worst Irish stereotypes about stupidity, Guinness, alcoholism, luck, Guinness, knitted goods, leprechauns, Guinness, sheep, weather, Guinness, potatoes and green green greenery. Oh, and Guinness. But there was also a farmers market and a pipe band wearing kilts. I hate souvenir crap. But I love pipe bands and farmers markets. So, fair play Dingle. Fair play.
9. Courtmacsherry and Timoleague
I’m doing these two together as I’m getting sick of this game and I’m sure you are too. Plus I saw them on the same day. I was getting sick of the bike rides with the girls around the Bandon area and was trying to figure out something else to do with the girls on their days off. My host mother suggested taking them to the delightfully named Courtmacsherry. This was a fantastic day, ever-so-wholesome and fun. We parked the car in Courtmacsherry and then cycled back to Timoleague, where we ate our packed, picnic lunch. In Timoleague we also had hot chocolates covered in marshmallows in a beautiful little cafe (which I will take all of the people who come to visit me in Cork to – that’s a promise. You buy the airplane ticket to Cork, I’ll shout you the hot chocolate). Courtmacsherry has a beach, and, as mentioned before, the youngest girl has an obsession, so despite the fact that her teeth were chattering uncontrollably, she insisted on paddling through every rock pool on the beach, and it was only with much focus and quick reflexes that I managed to stop her hurling herself, headlong, into the water.
Today, I also drove around the Ring of Kerry,
which isn’t as amusingly named as the other places (though its fairly evocative), but was very, very beautiful. It was a typical Irish day, weather miserable or barely bearable, but the clouds made for some dramatic pictures. For which, I direct you to my Flickr account – http://www.flickr.com/photos/59477506@N08/
So, that was my Easter. What did you guys get up to?