Day One Saturday. Ampthill–Llanfairfechan–Bangor
A little while before leaving for the overnight stop before the Holyhead ferry on Sunday, we received a call from the hotel: ‘Sorry, we have overbooked you and you are offloaded onto the Travelodge’. The booking was made three months ago, expressly to have an evening in Bangor at the Bryn Mor hotel on the sea front, however, it turned out that it wasn’t such bad news after all. Although the Travelodge was all right for a one-night stopover, there with no food outlet, so we took advantage of the Bryn Mor’s guilty offer of a complimentary meal. If being sat alongside a coach tour of noisy drinkers from Liverpool wasn’t bad enough, the fish and chips was so awful that we both reckoned to be the worst meal we had eaten in a restaurant. Terrible. Back to the Travelodge, with dogs in the corridor and giants’ nocturnal stomping on the flimsily constructed ceilings. Earlier, we visited the October exchange-house in Llanfairfechan, a few miles east of Bangor, a house alarmingly but spectacularly built on the side of the beginning of the soaring Snowdonia National Park.
Day Two Sunday. Bangor–Holyhead–Dublin–Crecora/Manister
Splashing out on Club Class proved to be correct, from the priority boarding to the booked seats facing the front and the complimentary finger food. Crossing at 10.40 took two hours and a quarter, with nary a wave-bump, and soon we were on the motorway to Limerick and the House-With-No-Address. I had managed to eke out the address from our fellow exchanger via the boat’s Wi-Fi and WhatsApp, but with no street number, no postcode and no house name, it was bit concerning. The seven-bedroom house sits in a very rural area south of Limerick, which is only 20-minutes’ drive but a world away.
Day Three Monday. Adare–Croom–Crecora
First irritation of the day is that my iPhone external keyboard will not work, although it did when I tested it at home, two days earlier. Took a short drive for orientation to the ‘Prettiest village in Ireland’: Adare. Discovered that there is no safe walking from the house, but we did amble down a cul-de-sac lane to a disused church, but pretty boring, ten minutes out, ten minutes back. I wasn’t game to walk along narrow, winding roads along which vehicles speed at 50 mph. Also, there are no footpaths as in England; a major disappointment. Crap sleep.
Day Four Tuesday. Limerick
Limerick is slow-paced and pleasant, and that feeling was to extend and deepen as the days went by. We visited King John’s (the one forced to sign Magna Carta) Norman castle built in 1210 by him to help subdue the Irish. Also saw the stone believed to have been rested on in order to sign the Treaty of Limerick in 1691 which helped to secure the English throne for Protestant succession. Very enjoyable, and I also liked Thomond Bridge where a siege was set up by Irish rebels against the British, called the Limerick Soviet and lasting for 12 days in 1919. In the evening, the first of the arguments developed on how to play the DVD, thoughtfully placed by the house-owner on video through, yes, you’ve guessed it, WhatsApp
Day Five Wednesday. Adare
Got my pension from Oz as usual with three ticks on an app that moves any currency into any other. You have to trust thousands of pounds to something you cannot ‘see’ and people you will never meet, but it avoids the tiresome procedures that British banks wield against anyone moving their own money in and out of what should be publicly owned institutions. Lunch at Adare. Walked up and down the cul-de-sac again. Yawn.
Day Six Thursday. Cliffs of Moer–The Burren
An early departure at 8.45 got us to the Cliffs of Moer in 90 minutes, where there were only seven coaches in the car park. The steep paths difficult for Suzanne. When I struck out on my own on the cliff path, there were just too many trippers to enjoy it as a nature visit, especially with people climbing over slate fences onto the dangerous margins of the cliff face. Stupid. After an hour there were thirteen coaches in the car park. After that, the best bit of the day was the excavated hillfort (there are 45,000 in Ireland) showing life in the country in pre-Christian time. In particular was an elderberry bush that had grown out of a break in the drystone wall; apparently it was left that way and the wall not repaired because elderberry had magical powers of saving you from bad things, or something like that. The Burren is quite spectacular, devoid of soil, vegetation, only heaps of stepped rock, at one time anyone’s for the taking as building material. At the Neolithic standing-stone called the Poulanbrone Tomb, we saw further Pagan evidence. There are stern warnings not to pick flowers because of the delicate environmental balance, but there you are, an American was ostentatiously and painstakingly taking posed pictures of his wife, while their son put wildflowers into her hand. Pagan enough?
Day Seven Friday. Ennis–Bunratty–Quin
As a consequence of another dreadful night’s sleep for me, owing to rain battering on the Velux, I have moved again, having now slept in three bedrooms. Ennis, county town of Co. Clare is further confirmation of the delicious, slow pace of Irish country life. At Bunrattty Castle, we eschewed the €17 a head entrance to the castle and ‘folk garden’, especially when we saw another coachload of odd fogeys piling in. At Quin, the Franciscan Friary remains were lovely, with swifts darting in out and around the tower. A victim of the 1520s Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, it was quite lovely, with a little cloister allowing shafts of rain-interrupted light. I walked almost around the whole thing, inhaling a warmish day beside a brook with water-meadow approaches.
Day Eight Saturday. Limerick
Minor disaster, as the power to the electrical sockets had gone off in the night, and that spawned frantic calls to the house-exchangers in Ampthill but they would not answer and we had to ask a neighbour to go down and bang on their/our door. All fixed, eventually, by dint of the arrival of Pat, their electrician-neighbour who did the business but not before he alarmed us by balancing on the arms of a wooden chair to get at the fuse box. In the interim, we bypassed a visit to the RC cathedral [remember the Prod one, earlier on]? because of a funeral, and a dirty great one with hundreds of cars. While Suzanne sat in a Lebanese café, I walked to O’Connell Street, discovered the Apple reseller, O’Mahony’s bookshop and a neo-Romanesque Augustinian church built there in 1942, now in the middle of a shopping area. But the big find of the day was a charge point for the Prius, and free at that. According to the attendant ‘They were going to charge for it, but hadn’t got around to it’, and in answer to my statement that we would be parked more than the time it would take to complete the charge: ‘We close at 6. I don’t care if you are there all day.’ And so we got 65 km’s-worth for free.
Day Nine Sunday. Limerick
Rain prevented the original plan now pushed to Day Eleven, so we went to the Limerick Art Gallery by Pery Square. On view were only paintings by Mary Swanzy and Robert Ryan, not too bad but not too good either. I walked for a bit, enjoying a growing appreciation for the slow, quiet life that this town of 84,000 people exudes, at least for me, and has swamped my feeling last week that ten days is too much, and ‘I want to go home’. Bought a Sunday Timesbelieving it to be Irish, but sadly it was British and Murdoch’s.
Day Ten Monday. Limerick
We tried to do another country tour but gave up in the face of torrential rain, although it turned out nice later in order to mock us. To the city’s Hunt museum we went, near which the same car park afforded us another 25 km of free electricity. The exhibition of Sir John Lavery (1856-1941) and Walter Osborne (1859-1903) Osborne was tacky. Came home and now I am doing this. Which reminds me: I have read Storm and Steelby Ernst Jünger with great pleasure and am now on Ali Smith’s second of her season quartet,Winter. They are, of course, real, second-hand paperbacks, but my other reading is via the great cloud in the sky: New Statesmanand The London Review of Books.
Day Eleven Tuesday. Cleaning up – Glenstal Abbey – Killaloe – Mountshannon – Graves of the Leinstermen–Killaloe – Lough Derg
Another fine sleep! Cleaning up took very little time but the knowledge that it is doneis the trick of it. A tour to Lough Derg through three counties was pleasant enough but didn’t actually see the graves of the Leinstermen, as there was poor signage on top of the mountain and Suzanne was again, as yesterday, thwarted in her bid to sail the ten minutes to the Holy Isle. The Prod cathedral in Killaloe was impressive inside, with a tall Celtic cross and Romanesque door. Lunch was a cup of machine coffee and a biscuit at the rather nice tourist office, beside which a much-needed public toilet swallowed my 30 cents and refused to open; a little later the lough benefited from my contribution. Another unruffled (almost) not straining for world records, and it did not rain on our parade until we had reached home and shelter.
Day Twelve Wednesday. Dublin
Similar to the accommodation let-down on Day One, a 7.15 a.m. text message informed us that our 1.50 p.m. ferry was cancelled and would we like to leave at 9 that night, getting in to Holyhead gone midnight. Wonderful. All because the weather had prevented our smaller, faster ferry from sailing and the bigger Ulysses could better cleave the Irish Sea. We opted to leave the crossing until 8.05 Thursday morning; with hindsight a bad decision. Staying in a horrible and overpriced Dublin B&B overnight almost ruined our holiday, but we did manage a pleasant hour or so at Dublin’s National Gallery of Ireland and had a fine evening meal, drowning our sorrows with two bottles of Sauvignon – yes that’s right, one each.
Day Thirteen Thursday. Dublin–Holyhead–Ampthill
Sailed and drove all day to reach home after 5, a draining, door-to-door journey of ten and a half hours. My unbalanced dosha now correcting by drawing on reassuring familiarity – home.