Déjà vu in the West of Ireland
The west of Ireland makes my heart sing. The first time I went there in 1997, I felt like I’d come home. I’d go someplace and feel I’d been there before; at some sites, I’d break into spontaneous tears. The place seemed to be built into my DNA (and I don’t have a bit of traceable Irish blood in me).
My first déjà vu moment came in a small village called Spiddal just north of Galway City. I was sitting on the beach looking across the Galway Bay at The Burren. I felt like I’d sat here before, a long time ago, waiting for a boat to come get me. It was eerie. Later in the week while visiting The Burren, a unique and historic ecosystem that sits at the northwest end of County Clare, I broke into unexplained sobs at Corcomroe Abby. I have no idea why. (It happened again a year later.) Our next stop was the dolman stone known as Poulnabrone.
Again I experienced a visceral response. It was so intense that when a young man climbed on the ancient stone, I felt an urgent need to pull him off, immediately. I resisted. I knew deep in my soul that I’d been there before and yet, this was my first time there.
My first déjà vu moment came in a small village called Spiddal just north of Galway City. I was sitting on the beach looking across Galway bay at The Burren. I felt like I’d sat here before, a long time ago, waiting for a boat to come get me. Later in the week we went to The Burren, a unique and historic ecosystem that sits at the northwest end of County Clare. At Corcomroe Abby, I broke into sobs. I have no idea why. It happened again a year later. Our next stop was the dolman stone known as Poulnabrone. Again I experienced a visceral response. It was so intense that when a young man climbed on the ancient stone, I felt an urgent need to pull him off, immediately. I resisted. I knew I had been there before and yet, this was my first time.
I loved exploring the west, but I’ve noticed that this is the only place I experienced this emotional reaction. This was my place.
Our next trip, we visited friends in The Burren and then went off for a week in Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. A friend said we’d love it there, so we included it on our itinerary. We’d decided to rent a cottage for a week to use as a base for our explorations. We wanted a kitchen so we could cook. I took to the Internet to search for a rental. Something drew me to Dunquin. I found a place in our budget and we were set.
We arrived in Dingle on a rainy Saturday afternoon and headed to Dunquin, to check out our digs. The cottage, a stone’s throw from Dunmore Head, the western most point in Ireland, wasn’t special, but it came with the most amazing views of the Blasket Islands and the ocean beyond. It was the perfect spot for us. I’d chosen well.
We knew nothing about the Dingle Peninsula when we decided to go there other than it is a place with a vibrant traditional Irish music scene. “Trad,” as they call it is alive and well here. We discovered that Dingle has a long rich history and is part of the Gaeltacht (areas in Ireland that keep the Irish language and culture alive). Dingle is rich with three of our favorite things: a bounty of fresh local food, Irish music and ancient sites.
We spent our days touring the Peninsula and our evenings eating and listening to music. There’s a “session” in at least one pub in the area every night of the week. Sometimes there’s a featured musician and sometimes people just show up to play. If you go, grab a pint and settle in; you’re in for a rousing evening.
Having a kitchen was a great way to eat well and take advantage of the local bounty. The fishmonger sold that days catch fresh from the fleet. The butcher shop featured locally-raised meat. We loved the sign out front telling us which farm the lamb had come from that day. We had a few lunches out and a fabulous dinner out in our last night. We learned a lesson. Even off season, places can get crowded. We showed up at the restaurant of our choice but they were totally booked. The helpful host sent us to the excellent The Global Village, a place we never would have chosen our own.
After dinner we heard local singer Eilis Kennedy at John Benny’s Pub (she and her husband own it). We had discovered her on an Internet podcast and our one must-do for Ireland: come back with one of her CDs. We did better than that. We got an almost private concert. It was another piece of that Irish magic.
We were surrounded by history in Dingle, a place where there are signs of settlement dating back thousands of years. The Blasket Islands were out our window and a wealth of ancient sites was minutes away. Our days were spent exploring the area and taking in its rich history. We spent our days exploring the area visiting sites dating to the 6th Century AD, including the beehive cottages of Caher Connor on Slea Head Drive and the old Dunbeg Fort almost across the road. We visited ancient monastery and church sites and took quiet walks along country lanes and the sea. Because we were there off-season, we sometimes we had places completely to ourselves. There’s something special about being in an ancient holy place alone. If it weren’t for the overhead electric wires running along the roads, we could have been back in another time.
It was hard to say good-bye to Dingle. It was a special time for us. We even got a gift while crossing River Shannon by ferry from County Kerry to County Clare. A lone dolphin surfaced and then disappeared into the river not to be seen again. It was a magical farewell.
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