Stories of Ireland  

 

 

Donegal town is a charming little town with a triangle shaped “square” (I note they call it a diamond). Pat and I have visited Donegal several times and the name brings back fond memories. I think I bought my first Irish music in a little music shop around the corner to the northwest of the “square” near the castle. I painted a picture of the sun behind the clouds creating a golden halo effect from the bench at the public port at the southwest corner of the “square”. The last time we were there in 1996, we were staying at a pink house at Lough Ross Pt over-looking the Atlantic outside the town of Ardragh pronounced “ARE DRAW”. Donegal is the nearest and largest town to Ardragh, inland just over the hill toward the east. We stopped at the Hyland Central Hotel and watched a large TV in the upper room while sipping a Guinness.

 We were seeking food but settled for some CNN. We had just come from the play The MAI presented at the theater near the northeast corner of the “square”. We had seen the pamphlet for the play earlier in the week on our way to our little house by the ocean and we made a commitment to ourselves to return for the play Saturday night. We got there early expecting a crowd and since the box office showed no signs of life we went off in search of an early dinner. We found the Captain’s Table across from the tourist office and settled for what passes as Irish cuisine. We wandered around town stopping at the “port” and peered through the iron gate at the restored castle. We had just missed the tour hours earlier in the day. We had visited the bookstore, which allowed me to glance through a rare set of volumes containing the writings of  “The Four Masters”, a setting down of the history of ancient Ireland from about the 1300s onward. I was anticipating a small volume to purchase but the number of volumes, their size and the price of  IL600  (Irish Punts) kept me from consummating the deal. Finally the box office at the play opened. We paid for two tickets and were informed to return in time for the opening, which would be in a half hour. I implored, “ But you haven’t given me any tickets?”. I was told I was different enough that I was sure to be recognized and not to worry about the tickets. Worried about being scammed I cast an eye of doubt and the young women reassured me that no one got tickets since they didn’t have any and she’d be sure to let me in when I returned. As there were several people queuing up behind us we went off in search of an ice cream cone. Something about the ice cream cones in Ireland -- they seem to be addictive. When we are touring in the car we average better than one a day but never three. Nearby we found the distinctive plastic ice cream cone (about 4 feet tall) that denotes ice cream cones within. Soon we were on our way back to the theater with an ice cream each and were dismayed to find the box office vacant and the area empty. Just then a young man stepped out of the door that led into the seating area. I didn’t quite know what to say but said that if everyone had gone in -- we’d like to be seated and that we had paid for admission but we had no tickets and the lady who took our money was gone. “Oh yes” he said, “you are easily recognized!” “What about the ice creams?” looking around for a trash can, I asked. “What about them?” he said. “Can we take them in with us?”  “Why not!” came the reply? We went in and sat in the front row -- the only seats available --licking our ice creams. I felt a little guilty when the actors came on, but it was great to lick ice creams and watch the play. The play was great, though we had to strain to understand the words due to the brogue. Afterwards the audience was invited next door for a brew and a chat about the play. We probably should have stopped to chat but we were concerned that we didn’t know what to do, what were the customs, thinking perhaps the invitation was a polite but seldom accepted form of social grace. Instead we headed off to your hotel to talk amongst ourselves about the play. We both drew different things from the play and although we both enjoyed the experience we were not sure we totally understood the play in its entirety.  It had sort of a haunting quality which made one think and to this day I occasionally will find myself trying to unlock some aspect of that play.

     

               

On the road back to our rented house we had to travel through Ardragh. This is a neat little town where we had spent some time shopping for sweaters and visiting with Mrs. Campbell and her sons. What a remarkable woman probably in her late 70s. Next to the sweater shop is a very old pub called “Nancy” (honest).  It is pretty famous and is even featured in a recent murder mystery  “Death on a Cold, Wild River”: A Peter McGarr Mystery by Bartholomew Gill. We had lunch there and visited the nightly sessions of “MUSIC TONIGHT”. It has a small bar in the front and a labyrinth of small rooms to the back. We ate lunch in a very small room that looked out on a narrow patio full of flowers -- beautiful. I sketched it but have not painted it yet.  We were joined by an older couple of Baptist missionaries (a man and a woman apparently as yet unmarried) working in Germany. It became clear that hey had run off to Ireland for a little tour and more. Oh well, they were pleasant enough. Almost every night we had come into town for the music at Oliver’s (another pub across from Nancy). Oliver and his daughter were joined by musicians that came from all over Ireland to play in the nightly sessions while Oliver’s wife tended to the bar. It was a lively place that closed the doors with “last call” at eleven but continued within until very late. Everyone would just get several Guinness to last the evening and return to the music. One night there was a big Bentley parked at the front door of Oliver’s. Inside a man that looked much like Glen Campbell was singing away in a beautiful tenor. His wife dressed in black leather pants and a pure white argyle sweater that glowed in the dim light sat erect beside him mouthing the words between puffs on her cigarette. It was a remarkable scene. It turns out the man was a big singer out of Belfast and was slumming on the west coast of Ireland. Outside in the middle of the street was a trailer with two young women inside serving chips and just about anything deep fried or just chips. Standing in line in the middle of the street at midnight seemed odd to me. Actually ridiculous.  On inquiry I was informed that the busiest time of night was yet to come and that they didn’t close up until 4:00 a.m. They never moved the trailer the entire time we were there and of course all the traffic came to a stop to maneuver around this obstacle. On this cold night, coming from Donegal, the idea of chips sounded marvelous. I must say they were fantastic and after that we made nightly runs for chips. Ice cream during the day and chips at night! We never found chips in all of Ireland that were as good, but we did start to notice little chip shops tucked into little out-of-the-way corners that burned a light late into the night. Our next trip to Ireland may be to find the best chip shop.  

We traveled over and around the area with day trips to Killybegs a fishing town around to Carrick, through Glengesh pass and on out to Glencolumbkille -- all rugged and gorgeous. Near Carrick we drove up to Slieve where 2000 foot cliffs dropped straight down to the ocean. It was strange to see the seagulls from above. You could just make them out sailing out over the water and back to the cliffs. I’ve read about an ancient trail that works its way down to the beaches below but I won’t be taking that trail - ever. Too steep! Several of my Irish landscapes come from that area. St. Glencolumbkille is a very sacred place and it felt full of spirits. Westport is a delightful town full of quaint shops and charming vistas. Nearby is the famous pilgrimage location of Croagh St. Patrick that believers crawl up on their knees. I want someday to climb up there but not on my knees. 

The Burren is another magical place with some fantastic tombs and cute little towns. One is famous for match making usually between the farmers and hopeful brides to be. I think I read that this old tradition is being revived at least in the spirit of fun. The apparently solid rock is full of cracks that support a wide assortment of plants unseen except from overhead. The landscape is very unusual.

 

The Dingle peninsula is another gorgeous place of ancient magical stone circles and Ogham stones. My personal adventure had to do with a Mrs. Reines who ran the Slea Head B&B. We stopped there late in the evening. She was so happy to talk with another American we spent half the night talking and drinking tea. She had sold her house, car and business in America after a brief visit, bought this B&B and retired with her mother to this remote point of land that overlooked a lonesome beach with an old rusted wreck of a huge ship. Her house was surrounded by Beehive huts used 1000’s of years ago by the saints. It turns out she was in a book “The Pipes Are Calling”: Our Jaunts Through Ireland by Niall Williams, Christine Breen that I read years later. I visited Niall and Christine to talk about their books at their cottage in Kilmilhil County Clare but that is another story. Dingle is a neat little town where you should be able to get a nice dinner of fresh fish.

Skellig Michael is near the sight of one of my favorite stories. We met an abstract artist in Cahirciveen over lunch who is a principle supporter of the Ballinskelligs Art Center near Finians Bay (hope I’m spelling these names right). Anyway he turned out to be a millionaire artist and gallery owner from Dublin. After viewing some of my work he invited me to show my work in his Dublin Gallery. He titled the showing “An American Landscape Artist in Ireland”.  True story! Alas I have not been able to take advantage of the offer due to other engagements but someday maybe. We ventured down to Ballinskelligs to see some of his art and came back over the mountain through St. Finan’s Bay and on to Portmagee, In St. Finans Bay we came across a chocolate factory with an entertaining Chocolateer or so the owner claimed to be.




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