Every year on St. John’s Eve each village on Inis Mor has a bonfire. Many villages along the west coast of mainland Ireland also celebrate this holiday, and if it’s a clear night you can see the bonfires of Connemara and County Clare across the water. Everyone in the village comes to the bonfire, and celebrations might last the whole night through. Refreshments are passed around, songs sung, and tunes played. These festivities take place within a few nights of midsummer, and are in actuality part of a pre-christian tradition that has survived remarkably well in western Ireland.
The first fort I visited on my last trip to Inis Mor was Dun Eochla, an almost cozy sort of hilltop fort that is isolated enough that you might not see another visitor during your stay there.
If you look closely along the left side of the photo below (a view from the Dun’s walls), you’ll see another round, apparently stone structure. It’s actually a concrete water reservoir that has been camouflaged with local stones so as to blend into the landscape. Genius!
The other day I walked out of the restaurant a few minutes before it opened to fetch my forgotten water bottle from the car. The clouds were all fish scales and mare’s tails across the sky, back lit and painted by the setting sun. I wished I could lie down on the grass and just stare up until darkness fell. I even contemplated, on a whim, putting the keys in the ignition to see if I drove off.
But instead I walked back inside. As I took a last glance up at the sky I noticed the pink, sunset light coloring the building’s usual hue. It reminded me of this shot, taken at sunset at Dun Aengus on Inis Mor last June. So glad I was there!
The cemetery on Inis Mor is practically on the beach, because this sand is the only place deep enough the bury the dead. Near the back of the cemetery, hidden from the road, are the stone ruins of a medieval church, half-buried in the sand.
When I first walked in the door, I saw a búllan stone, a sort of one-piece stone basin, filled with coins and rainwater. There were lots of five cent pieces, but also larger denominations, and even some of the old pre-euro Irish coins. I had a twenty cent and a two cent coin. I deposited the latter and continued walking round the church, examining the carvings – spirals, knots, even a knight – around the alter.
Seeing this art, I felt stingy for having chosen the smaller coin. I argued with myself about whether it mattered, and even contemplated going back to the búllan with my twenty cent coin. But it seemed an odd, half-hearted gesture.
Then I turned back toward the door and realized that there were two búllans! A second lay tucked just inside the door. I left my second coin there, with a smile, and dubbed the place the Church of Second Chances.
One of my favorite walks is to go up the road past the old church (see yesterday’s post), then keep going straight to the coast and walk along the rocks and beside the fields to the town pier. Doolin can get quite busy in the tourist season, but it’s possible to do this walk without seeing anyone but cows.
The first photo looks back along the coast where I’ve been walking. If you look closely, you can see some cows and a bull. Their field runs right down to the rocky beach, with no fence needed. That means there was nothing but bad footing between me and the bull! That bad footing dissuaded him from checking me out too closely, but I was very aware that my progress was being watched.
The second photo was taken further along the coast. In the distance, on the horizon, you can just make out the Cliffs of Moher.
When in Doolin, I have almost always stayed at the Rainbow Hostel, just a couple of doors up from McDermott’s Pub. In addition to having an ideal location, it’s a really comfortable, friendly place that seems to attract great conversationalists and just plain cool people. I’ve never had a lonely evening there.
The first picture shows the front of the Rainbow Hostel itself, while the second is the view from the common room window: the ruins of an old church on a hill and the accompanying cemetery. The church is within walking distance from the hostel, and locals keep the site in good condition: clean and mown, etc.
This prehistoric, semi-circular cliff fort has a harrowing entrance along the cliff edge. It also contains the remains of several stone buildings. They still make for good shelter from the wind for a nap or picnic, and so we settled down in one and enjoyed a lunch of brown bread and smoked mackerel.
Flashback: In late May, I flew into Dublin (from Italy) and spent the night in the airport. In the food court I found some really cozy chairs that you could turn to face eachother – thus creating a comfortable sort of tub for myself and my bags – and slept well until about 4:30am, when the cafe opened.
Then I met up with a friend from New York to join him on his whirlwind tour of the west coast. We drove across Northern Ireland, spent one night in Donegal (including a visit to Slieve League; see photos), one in Westport, and the next day hit not only Inis Mor but also Galway. Whew! Great fun, but after all my walking the scenery seemed to whir by awfully fast!
This site is soon to undergo a transition, as I finally wrap things up from my four months of traveling this year. There’s been so much to get done since I got home, that the less urgent things (like making sure my boots are reconditioned and sorting through the thousands of photos I took in Ireland and Italy) have been left till last. But I should have some of my favorite photos up soon. I’m betting this blog will get a new title, too. Suggestions, anyone?
What’s been keeping me? Well, getting a job for one thing. There’s nothing like living and traveling off your savings for four or five months to make a biweekly paycheck look glamorous!
I’m flying back to Ireland the end of May, thence to Donegal. I can’t even begin to write about Italy at the moment…its been a glut of food, history, lovely rolling patchwork quilts of vineyards, and so on. I hate to think of leaving, but it’s always good to be going back to Ireland, and I’ve wanted to see Donegal for a long time.