Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Weekend in The Burren - The Aengus Finucane Memorial Walk

Aengus Finucane Memorial Walkers 2012 
Two weekends ago the second Aengus Finucane Memorial Walk took place in The Burren in Co. Clare, organised by a committee of former Concern Bangladesh volunteers from the heady early days of Concern, back in the 70s. Aengus was one of the founding fathers of Concern in Nigeria/Biafra in 1968 and it has grown from strength to strength since. Our lives are inextricably linked to Concern since we met as volunteers in Bangladesh in 1979, and we have a great grá (love) for the NGO that was home to us for over a decade between Tanzania, Bangladesh and Laos.

Jan and me at Ailwee caves
The famous signpost the CoCo shrank!

The Bare Burren Mountains 
Hubby Jan and me were walking for the first time as we had been unable to go the previous year when it was held in Leitrim.  This year I came home from the INMO conference in Killarney a day early and this meant we were able to head for Clare on the Saturday morning, arriving in Ballyvaughan in plenty of time to check into the hotel and have a snack before the walk. We also met some of the other walkers, friends and former colleagues in many instances. Most of the Concern family have met up over the decades at various AGMs and reunions, particularly the 40th Reunion a few years ago in 2008. It was a great weekend and it raised money for a cause close to Aengus Finucane's heart, the Jack Praeger Rescue Project in Calcutta (or Kolkata)

Tanzanian Friends Reunited in Ballyvaughan
The Poulbrone Dolmen - 5000 yrs old or so. 
Jan and me went to the pier where the meet-up was, and it was a bit drizzly at first  but this cleared up in jig time and we headed off to the walk, a gentle 5km out and 5km back the same route. We had a terrific guide who talked for Ireland and gave us a potted history of the Burren, its pots and caves and limestone history which you can read for yourself here. It's way too technical and geological for me, just know that it's the most unusual ecological and geological spot with rare unique flora that grows nowhere else in Ireland. The limestone surface is slowly being restored as trees begin to grow again, now that people are no longer collecting firewood in the hills. Seems like there's a reversal of deforestation going on in the Burren and I wonder will it change the place. The bareness is what makes it look so special, and it's very bleak in places with all the drystone walls and the dolmens or standing stones.

Windswept at the Poulnabron Dolmen
The walk was beautiful as the sun came out and we walked and talked through the path to the Ailwee Caves entrance. The caves have to wait for another day as they probably deserve a visit on their own with all the stalactites and stalagmites. We had a group photo taken at the Cave entrance. and then we walked back, with the view totally different and overlooking the sea at Ballyvaughan all the way across Galway Bay to Connemara. We chatted to various people and it was lovely to see everyone reconnecting, and meeting people we had last  met in Bangladesh over 30 years ago, or Tanzania over 25 years ago.

Limestone Burren landscape
We repaired to the pub when we got back, some of us getting ready for the night ahead first. I went for a very hot bath to prevent any possible muscle ache and it worked a treat, and then we headed out. Dinner was for 7pm in L'Arco Italian Restaurant in Ballyvaughan, across the road from the Burren Hotel where we stayed. There were some moving speeches as Jack spoke about his beloved brother Aengus, and the decision was taken to have next year's walk in Waterford - who knows, it may even be around Lismore!

We had a lovely meal and a great laugh at our table with a mix of people from Bangladesh and Tanzania days. Lots of photos were taken and promises to keep in touch, and we went back to a different pub after the meal where we continued the craic well into the night. Sign of the times and the demographic we all represented, we didn't party like back in the day when we would see in the dawn before hitting the hay, and we were all back in our hotels and hostelries between 2 and 3 am.

Hardy walkers under Bare Mountain on the Burren
One of the rare Burren flowers in bloom
The road back to Ballyvaughan
The next morning after breakfast another old Concern tradition was relived as Jack, a Holy Ghost priest like  his late brother Aengus, celebrated Mass in the conservatory of the guest house. It was a lovely personal and warm ceremony, with none of the distance and reserve that a formal church setting demands, and we all gained from it, whether religious or not. We all headed off homeward bound around lunchtime, and said our goodbyes till next year in Waterford!

Connor Pass, Dingle Peninsula, Kerry.
Jan and me took the long road home, going through the Burren and visiting the Poulnabrone Dolmen for a photo opportunity.We continued on down through Kerry after crossing the Shannon Estuary by the Killimer to Tarbert car ferry, going out to Dingle via Tralee and over the Conor Pass which has spectacular views over both sides of the Dingle Peninsula. We came  back via Killarney and Mallow, and we're still awaiting the summer that eludes us thus far.

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