The past two days on the West Coast have been full of Irish magic. Monday morning, I had a yummy breakfast of poached eggs and wheaten bread at Cafe Zealous down the street from my hostel, then picked up the bus for a tour of the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren. The Burren is an expanse of limestone landscape in County Clare, known as the “land of the fertile rock .” Because of the nutrient richness of the limestone, the Burren is excellent farmland and, according to our guide, home to over 70% of Ireland’s native flora.
There are a lot of adorable fauna in the Burren too. We saw an abundance of cows and sheep, as well as one field full of grown Shetland ponies and their baby Shetland ponies. These teeny ponies were running and jumping around. It is difficult to say when I have seen a more precious sight, though you will find in the following posts that cute animals were not in short supply in my West Coast adventure.
Among many other sites, we also visited several fairy forts, prehistoric farming rings where you supposedly get stuck if you wander into one at night. One of these forts contained a fairy tree, which of course you must never cut down unless you want to die and leave your family cursed for generations to come. We also saw the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a neolithic passage tomb that I had previously learned about in the Ulster Museum, the 6th century Kilfenora Cathedral with its abundance of Celtic crosses, and the stunning and isolated Corcomroe Abbey.
The highlight of course was the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s “#1 Tourist Destination.” These dramatic cliffs, over 700 feet high, feature in many tragic Irish folktales that involve falling off of the cliffs, leaping over the cliffs, etc. They also appear in The Princess Bride as the “Cliffs of Insanity,” and more recently served as the site of one of Voldemort’ s horcruxes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Even though I was on the other side of a stone barrier, I was slightly unnerved by the cliffs’ great height, and their cinematic associations led me to have a sob, Dumbledore, no memorial sort of moment. Some tourists walked beyond the barrier, which ends at the monument to “those who have lost their lives at the Cliffs of Moher.” Really, tourists? Standing on a cliff edge that is constantly battered by fierce North Atlantic waves and could crumble away any second? I ask you. No doubt they are beautiful and impressive, though, and the tourism of the site has not overwhelmed the ancient energy of the place, like that Kelsey and I felt at the Hill of Tara.
In the evening, I returned to Tigh Coili with two friends who I made on the tour, one of whom is from Greenville, SC! These women both graduated from the University of Missouri a few weeks ago, and are traveling through England, Scotland and Ireland for two weeks in celebration. With their encouragement, and that of my esteemed readers, I worked up the nerve to sing for the pub! Some credit for encouragement also goes to Lorenzo, an Italian flute player who I had met the night before and who is in Ireland solely to learn as much about Irish traditional music as possible. He’s very earnest.
I told Lorenzo, “I want to sing tonight, but I don’t know what to do!”
“I introduce you!” he said, and told the band, “This is my American friend. She is a singer.” I took my place sitting with the band, and the accordion player asked, “Are you going to sing for us?”
“Yes,” I said. They were very excited and, as tradition goes, banged on their glasses and called out, “Listen! There’s a singer in the house!” The pub went quiet and I sang “Tomorrow is a Long Time” by Bob Dylan. Everyone really enjoyed it and no one spoke at all the whole time I was singing! I received many complements and one British guy asked me, “Is that a Nickel Creek song?” Indeed, Sarah Watkins of Nickel Creek sings a cover of “Tomorrow is a Long Time” that is far more beautiful in vocal quality than Dylan’s original (I’m sure he’d forgive me for saying so). This was an incredible experience, fulfilling dreams I’ve cherished since I was a little girl listening to the Chieftans.
Yesterday, I took the ferry to Inis Mór, one of the Aran Islands where Irish life is still at its most traditional. I’ll spend the day in Galway today and will blog more about the island tonight or tomorrow morning, when I’m back in Belfast.