Friday, August 26, 2011

A Weekend in the West - from Ben Bulben to Loop Head

Ben Bulben from a hill in Sligo town
 Two weekends back we went for a short break to the West of Ireland - hubby had a meeting in Sligo so I went along. We stayed in the Clarion in Sligo town and had booked in a few weeks earlier, so imagine our disappointment on arrival to find our room on the second floor offered a view of...the airvents of the hotel! There was no way at their prices we were going to stay put and even though the Irish are notoriously bad at complaining we were moved up a floor after a phone call. This was a bit better as we could at least see over the airvents to see the iconic table mountain, Ben Bulben, famed in poetry by Yeats "Under Bare Ben Bulben's Head".

The (first) room with a view in the Clarion Hotel Sligo!
As we were only staying a night in Sligo we had a lovely meal in the hotel, and a few drinks in the bar. The journey up had taken over four hours so we weren't ready for a night out in Sligo town, and the hotel was a bit too far for a stroll to town by my reckoning. The following day after the meeting ended our time was our own so we drove around some of the renowned beauty spots of the area - Lough Gill with the Lake Isle of Innisfree famed again by the prolific WB Yeats in his eponymous poem, and Glencar Waterfall which is actually in Co. Leitrim! These were two places I'd often heard of but never visited before, so it was an opportunity not to be missed. Never mind that it drizzled and was a typical Irish misty day, muggy and close but deceptively wetting, as you can see in some of the photos. Val, who lives in Sligo, blogged as Magnumlady the week after of the same places we'd seen only her trip was in glorious sunshine, so you can see in her blog how it can look in fine weather.

Lough Gill Co. Sligo
Lough Gill in the mist.
We drove down through Mayo and into Galway in very inclement weather, after a loop round Strandhill and Knocknarea, with Queen Maeve's burial mound at the top, visible for miles around, and bade farewell to Ben Bulben, which will always be Sligo to me, since I first saw it in 1976 when I went to a number of weddings in Sligo of nursing colleagues who were quick off the blocks and got hitched as soon as they finished nursing school.

The trip through Mayo was blighted by the bad weather so we amused ourselves with taking photos of funny signs - the poll topper being the one for the Cowdung Festival, closely followed by the Enniscrone Black Pig Festival, which takes place not too far from Muddy Burn's pub! We arrived in Galway by early evening and checked into the Harbour Hotel, which we'd booked on the way down from Sligo - thank heaven for smartphones with apps like TripAdvisor! The hotel was nice and we'd another lovely meal. There's something about arriving in a new hotel after a day on the road that never loses its appeal, whether it's after a day's driving or hitch-hiking as we did in our youth, or a day trekking in the hills as we did in our backpacking days in India and Nepal, and indeed Africa, though that was less so as we had kids then and couldn't be as free and easy as when we were on our own. Now we've come full circle, as we're back to just the two of us - our teen queen is at the stage where hols with parents are total anathema unless mitigated by the presence of a handful of peers, such as when we hit Dublin for Summerjam 2011!

Parke's Castle, Lough Gill, Co. Sligo
Sunday morning dawned bright and sunny and we had an early breakfast, followed by a relaxing walk through a sleepy Galway city centre - through Spanish Arch and along Shop St. to Eyre Square which I hadn't seen since the controversial revamp a few years ago. There are some seriously odd pieces in the Square, of dubious artistic or cultural merit, so I can see why the revamp was not universally acclaimed. Padraic O'Conaire, the writer whose statue marked a meeting point in the Square and a photo-op for every tourist who sat on his little lap, has vanished to the confines of a nearby museum. In his stead is part of the facade of a merchant's house from the 18th Century, and a very modernistic Galway Hooker - no, not that, we're talking the type of schooner famous in this neck of the woods!

Glencar Waterfall, Co. Leitrim
Onwards to the final leg of our weekend jaunt - we decided to take the scenic route through Co. Clare and hug the coastal road as far as possible, which was a fabulous trip as the sun shone and we had a lovely day. Through southern Galway and around by Kinvara and the Burren, the famous limestone scarp in Clare. We didn't follow Corkscrew Hill, which would have taken us inland, so we stayed coastal after Ballyvaughan and headed down towards the Cliffs of Moher - we passed the tourist trap of the Cliffs, as it was just too packed with busloads of tourists, and there seemed to be a people jam on the way to the Interpretive Centre which is the gateway to the cliffs. The last time I was there was in 1998 with my mother and three youngest kids, and it was just park the car and you were off on your own up the cliff path and prayed that the wind wouldn't blow you over the edge! There was a barrier fence but it was rudimentary and quite low.

We decided to head for Kilkee and go to Loop Head instead - and were delighted to see unspoilt beauty in West Clare, particularly Loop Head which is like a mini-Moher - cliffs with about half the height but all the wild ruggedness that Moher had before crass commercialism took priority - and there was a splendidly vertiginous sea stack - a breakaway cliff that stood alone and parallel to the cliff we were on - and it was not a place for the faint-hearted or anyone with a fear of heights. There's a lighthouse on Loop Head open to the public but we were a little late for that so we just walked off on a lovely clifftop walk, and looked across to the Aran Islands which are best reached from Co. Clare even though they are part of Co. Galway.

Jan and me in the mist at Glencar Waterfall - soaked!
Something for the weekend!
We enjoyed the drive home through the Limerick Tunnel, bypassing the city, and were back home by 8 or so - in good time for a rest before I returned to work the following day, well refreshed after my two week staycation. Enjoy the photos - they're all taken with my iPhone which has made my poor camera well-nigh redundant.

Muddy Burns pub in Co. Mayo

Somewhere in Sligo or Mayo!

Spanish Arch, Galway

Galway signs

Árd Rí = High King - Galway

Nice juxtaposition of speciality treatments!

Merchant's House facade in Eyre Sq. Galway

A Galway Hooker - sort of - Eyre Sq. Galway

Cliffs of north Clare

North West Clare looking out to Inishere Aran Islands

Cliffs at Loop Head, Co. Clare - with sea arches and caves.

Sea cliff caves Loop Head.

Closer view of Sea Arches, Loop Head.

Closer view of Cliffs and Arches Loop Head

Sea Stack off Loop Head - hard to get closer cos of Cliff Edge!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Big Knit - Little Hats with an Innocent Twist

Up the Deise! The Waterford Colours!
Oh dear I have been such a dreadfully bad blogger lately but now I am on holidays for the next fortnight I have a chance to catch up with no real excuse. Nothing much planned as we are not going abroad on hols this year and we will probably go to Dublin for a few days. Meanwhile the weather is pretty awful - today's the August Bank Holiday Monday and it's a steady Irish Mist outside. Temps equally miserable - 14C - and I have been trying to cycle a bit more than I had been doing in prep for the50km leg of the Seán Kelly Challenge end of August. 

Enough excuses for my non-blogging. Reason for this post is to tell you about the latest crafty business I've been getting up to - a fundraising initiative for charity, namely the Innocent Big Knit for Age Action Ireland. This is my first year participating but it's been on before. The idea is to make little hats for Innocent Smoothie bottles and then they donate €0.25 for every hat and bottle sold. So it's a win-win- Innocent get to sell smoothies ethically and the buyers get a feel-good factor from a) buying a smoothie which is ostensibly good for you and b) supporting a deserving cause. There are patterns on the Website to download and you can join in and post them off by October 14th 2011 if you are living in Ireland - or the UK which has a similar campaign going on for Age UK

A selection to a few days ago!
The benefits for the knitters/crocheters are that creativity can run riot and imagination know no bounds. Plus a hat can be knitted up in no time - about half an hour for a knitted one and about half that or less for a crocheted one. Jany my d-i-l -to-be is a whiz crocheter and has made some wonderful ones, and a whole zoo of crocheted animal bottle toppers - and I've been doing a mix of crochet and knitted ones. There is some fierce rivalry on Twitter over the County Colours (GAA) and I've made a Deise colours hat in Blue/White while the Red/White one I made could be construed as being a Cork hat - or Where's Wally? - or the good old Labour Party red with a bit of white thrown in. You can follow on Twitter at the hashtag #BigKnit and @AgeAction, and on Facebook you can Like the Innocent Smoothies Ireland page here and the Big Knit page here

It's a great way to use up stash scraps, and anything goes - bobbles, tassles, flowers, leaves, beads, buttons, ribbons, you name it, embellishment is the order of the day and you can go with whatever takes your fancy. some of the members of the Tuesday Knitting Circle at the Lismore Design Workshop are knitting hats with great gusto, and Angela will post them all on her Facebook Page which you can check out and Like - here.

Where's Wally? (or Cork, as you prefer!)
Dennis the Menace!
So here are a few of the completed creations - there will be plenty more added to the Facebook and Twitter pages - and my own Twitter stream if you want to follow me @CatherineRotteM here. It's all good fun and the nice thing it they are so quick to do you don't have to set aside your own projects or WIP* to do these little hats - and Jany is great at making baby clothes for prem babies and little blankets for Project Halo which makes keepsakes and blankets for stillborn babies. One of the women at the knitting circle is also making these white blankets and they are welcomed by most of the maternity hospitals which prepare memory boxes for parents who lose their little ones during pregnancy. It must be a great comfort to these parents to know there are so many caring people out there who lovingly make these blankets and clothes. Irish Prems are closer to home and have a Facebook page here - they may be happy to have crochet or knit clothing and blankets too.