Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Emerald Isle

Steadily furthuring on. . . Furtherly steadying on. . . what I am trying to say is I kept doing things, boys and girls.

The week after I got back from Paris I had some mega-homework action so my lovely ladies ABANDONED ME for Edinburgh, but 2/3s of them made up for it the following following weekend when Ariana, Clara, partially Sergio, and I went to Ireland.

I never particularly planned to go to Ireland while I was here, but I am quite chuffed that I did. Not only does it count as another country to scratch off my list but I also experienced one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my entire life. More on that later. (Check out you with your cliffhangers eh? PS that’s a clue).

Our flight from Bristol to Dublin was at the very untoward time of six-or-so (accurate) in the morning, and thus to catch the Bristol Flyer (sounds more exciting than it shuttely-bus is) we had to leave Unite at about three. The team’s general bedtime didn’t allow for much snoozing so our fist day in Dublin was seen through heavy eyes. I was generally alright cause I tend to be able to power through that sort of thing when history is abound, but my ladies were a little more challenged. It made for excellent photos of them falling asleep all over the place, and, correct me if I am mistaken, but started the trend of all of us taking pictures of Ariana when she falls asleep in public. Poor Victim.

We couldn’t check into our hostel straight away, so we went off in search of food, settling upon an Irish Breakfast at a pub nearby. Now, I know all about the political problems between England and Ireland, but honestly I could not tell you the difference between a good English and the good Irish breakky. Maybe soda bread. But is that really something to get all riled about. . . ooh, very hot water. Be quiet, Crompton.

I continued my trend of strong-arming my compatriots into doing what I would like, and so after our fortifications we meandered on over to the Kilmainham Gaol. This gaol was the quintessential Victorian gaol in construction, and, as it were, in history as well. Kilmainham was the home for many of the political prisoners of all the brou-haha of the nineteenth-century independence strife. Victorian ideas on crime, punishment and reform? Not everyone’s cup of tea, but just the Oolong that I favour myself. They were very good to put up with the cold, hard building and long, informative tour that I savoured to the last drop. We had a very knowledgeable and passionate tour-guide who, aside from telling us about the history of the gaol itself, also furnished us with fun facts. For example, did you know that on the Irish flag the green section represents the republicans, the orange represents the monarchists, and the white represents striving for peace between the two? Normally I don’t think much about striped flags because they are so ubiquitous, but that one really struck a chord.

After the gaol we hightailed it back to the hostel (I didn’t mention before but the map we had of Dublin made the city look MUCH smaller than it is, so this was not so much a saunter but a marathon), and the ladies had a bit of lie-down. I was unable to join them in the deep and dreamless however, because my friend Alan happened to be in Dublin as well.

My relationship with Alan is quite serendipitous. He was a year below me at Lisgar, and that only for a few years because he moved far away to the deepest, darkest depths of Ontario half-way through. I then would run into him a lot at McGill when we were both in attendance at that “bastion of pretentiousness along the St. Lawrence” (as Mr. Turner called it), but never have we put terrible effort into seeing each other outside of those chance meetings. It was then, again, superbly coincidental that we found each other across the ocean. Out of the blue we started chatting on fb messenger (mainly about why we weren’t running into each other on campus at all this year) when we discovered that we would both be in Dublin for ONE DAY ONLY. Alan was already quite familiar with the city so we met up outside my hostel, and spent a few hours meandering and talking of this and that. One of those extraordinary chance encounters that one doesn’t expect much in one’s day to day, but considering how our friendship has worked over the years I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

The following day we took in another one of our walking tours. My knowledge of Irish history is very slight and mostly modern, so it was nice to have it stretched all the way back to the ice-age. Again, what I gleaned from the three-hour jaunt across the town was mostly fun facts, but that’s me all over. One of my favourites was the figure of justice over the doorway into Dublin Castle. Normally justice is supposed to be blind, but as a nod to the hardships of the Irish for thousands of years she isn’t wearing a blindfold, for, as our guide put it, “the Irish know that justice wasn’t blind for them.”

After our walking tour we found our way towards the Guinness brewery. It wasn’t totally what I expected, more of a multi-media demonstration over seven floors than a brewery, but boy howdy was that free pint of Guinness delicious. I had never had Guinness before, and I fear I will never be able to again because my first was the best in the world. It really is chocolate-y and bread-y as they say, yet also somehow totally refreshing. Ariana, of course, fell asleep. However, we all followed suit pretty quickly because we had to wake up before dawn the following day to cross the country.

Clara was in charge of the expedition, and I am ever glad that she suggested we do this. We took a bus to Galway (Dublin is on the East coast of Ireland and Galway is directly across on the West), in preparation to go on our tour of the surrounding region and the Cliffs of Moher. We had about an hour to kill in Galway before the tour began, and as it was about eight in the morning and Galway is about the size of MacKellar park, we found a pub to have breakfast. In this pub we witnessed perhaps the most stereotypically (sorry) Irish blokes. They were possibly the highlight of the trip. Throughout breakfast -- remember the time of day mind you -- they kept trying to get booze from the bartender/waitress/employee. In the THICKEST Irish accents you ever heard (I was the only one who could marginally understand them, they would have benefited from the subtitles given to Brad Pitt’s Pikey), they began by asking her for beer. She then explained that they weren’t able to sell alcohol before 10:00 AM.

“We can drink it outside if you like.”
“No, I can’t sell you any alcohol.”
“Fine then, we’ll buy it somewhere else and then bring it back here.”
“Nowhere is going sell you a drink, it’s against the law to do so before 10:00 AM.”
“How about if you make us some rum and coke’s and put it in a tea-cup so if anyone asks it looks like we’re drinking tea.”
“No, I’m not going to sell you any alcohol.”
“You girls drinking this morning?” This was directed towards us. We explained that no, we weren’t.
"Were you drinking last night, then?” We explained (I say we, the girls couldn’t understand what he was saying so I was fielding these answers) that we had been, in Dublin. They were impressed. They get the breakfasts that they ordered.
“Do you have any brown sauce?” they again inquire after the bartender. She gives it to them.
“Do you have any rum sauce, then?”

They made our day.

I say that. Every Irish person in our lives that day made our day. Our tour, which we had to leave these yobbos to go on, was lead by the most unendingly charming little old grandfather rapscallion named Desmond. He had a wonderful habit of repeating every interesting fact directly after he said it (like Jacob Two-Two) with this amazing cadence. Ask me to do it if you are interested, it really was THE most charming thing. The tour was quite formidable, taking about eight hours. We stopped at plenty of castles along the way, the Poulnabrone Dolmen (a sort of Irish Stonehenge), a few exceedingly tiny but exceedingly charming towns (where I had some AMAZING seafood chowder and fudge), the crosses of Kilfenora, and a Fairy Ring all before making it to the Cliffs of Moher.

I again am going to cop out of narrating and just give you a bunch of pictures of these most astounding cliffs. They truly were one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, and if these pictures don’t cut it for you, I still urge you to go. Nowhere else on this earth has the greens and blues of Ireland:Our final day on the Isle continued with the theme of doing things most quintessentially Irish. In the morning (although not as early as our Galway friends) we went on the Jameson Distillery tour. I actually much preferred this to the Guinness because we had a guide, it was kitchily re-done but at least looked like the process they used to make the whiskey, it was much more manageable in size, and we got to do a tasting at the end. They did it right in giving us a Scotch, Jack Daniels, and then a Jameson and though I am partial to Scotch, I now know that I will never ever drink Jack again (despite what Ke$ha may say). That stuff is vile. Jameson though, quite nice. Did you know, for instance, that whiskey and cranberry is a lovely drink? Try it some time.

For our final few hours we took a bus out to the fishing village of Howth (rhymes with “both”). If Galway is the size of MacKellar park, then Howth is the size of my backyard. We walked the length of it (three piers and one street) twice, stopped for lunch (another AMAZING seafood chowder in a bread bowl), took glamour shots on one of the piers again, and still had time to kill before our bus back to Dublin. The weather was again amazing, and I have to say it did feel quite neat to be looking out over the Atlantic ocean one day, and then over the Irish sea the next. Added to the charm and beauty of this island already resplendent with the stuff.

May you be in heaven a full half hour before the Devil knows you’re dead,

Your friend Lina

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