Last Autumn, Celine tagged me for the One Day Photo Challenge. You’re supposed to post a pic every hour during that day. Here’s Celine’s entry. Back in September, when I went on holiday with friends to Ireland, I did take the pics (well, not one an hour, but I did take a lot of them). I’m not sure the challenge still makes sense for me, since so much time has passed, but luckily this is Reading Ireland Month, dedicated to everything Irish, so I thought this is a good chance as any to post my pics.
As soon as I decided I was to post one of my holiday days I knew it was going to be the Cliffs of Moher.
I visited the Cliffs once before, in 1998, when I first visited Ireland. I was attending an English course in Dublin and one weekend a little group of us rented two cars and went West. We visited Galway, Connemara, the Cliffs of Moher and (much too briefly) the Burren. I remember that trip with great fondness, but the Cliffs in particular, so when my friends told me, “Tells us someplace to go, you’re the expert,” the Cliffs of Moher were top of the list.
When I went the first time, it was a lovely cloudy but bright day. This time, it was not to be.The Cliffs of Moher is a special place. When friends asked me where we would go in #Ireland, the Cliffs were top of my list Click To Tweet
On the morning of Friday 11th September, we left our hotel in Limerick and headed to Arthur’s Quey, where we were taking a Paddywagon’s Tour. It was four of us, me, Isabella (from Germany) and two American friends, Melinda and Brendan. And it was raining.
Isabella asked me, “Where’s your umbrella?”
“I don’t have an umbrella.”
“But you are the one who said it was going to rain.”
“I know. I still don’t have an umbrella.”
“I’m going to leave you in the rain.”
Anyway, on account of our 22-year long friendship, Isabella finally allowed me to walk to the station under her umbrella, but while waiting for the bus, she insisted I bought my own in the shopping centre. I found a nice one, black with golden Celtic designs.
We waited for the Paddywagon’s bus under our umbrellas (I used Isabella’s. No point in wetting my new umbrella so soon, you know). When the bus came, we discovered the driver was Mike, who had driven us around the Ring of Kerry the day before. It was a nice surprise.
As we started our journey, it hadn’t stopped raining.
Mike told us a lot of stories and history on the two-hour bus journey. He told us, for example, that the road we were travelling wasn’t supposed to be in the place it was. It should have run many metres on our right, but during the early excavations, workers found a fairy ring.
Fairy rings are rings made of stones, probably the foundation of ancient forts and it isn’t so uncommon finding them in Ireland. There are stories about them, and Mike said if you are Irish and you stumble upon one of these rings, generally you know exactly what to do. So they buried the ring and left it alone, moving the road where it now is.
Mike also told us of a very rich Irishman – a 6 million euro kind of rich man. Years back, he decided to build his own resort. During the excavations, he also found a fairy ring. What did he do? He said, “Get me rid of it. Take it up and throw it away, I don’t want it on my property.”
So they did. The resort was completed.
Four years later, the man went to prison, completely broke, indebted to his neck. His money all gone.
Mike commented: just saying.
The Baby Cliffs
The part of Ireland we were travelling through is the part I like the most. It’s a rocky place, with black rocks sprouting up from the soil, but grass also grows green and bright.
Mike explained to us that rain infiltrates in the ground and in between the rocks underneath. In the winter, it freezes, and because water grows in volume when it turns to ice, it pushes the rocks up. Sometimes it breaks them. Sometimes it pushes them toward the surface. Especially in the spring, these rocks appear everywhere in the fields. In fact, once people believed that farmers farmed rocks in this part of Ireland.
They had so many stones that they came up with every possible way to use them, the most famous being the penny walls. These low walls are built with stones and no mortar. Very common in this part of Ireland, they line the borders between properties.
During the Great Famine, men were paid a penny a yard to build them. This is why they are so common and mark so many borders, back in that time, it was one of the very few ways available to a man to provide for his family.
As I was told at Kilmainham Gaol, between deaths and emigration, Ireland lost a couple of million people during the Famine, and as of today, she has not recovered yet. There are roughly four and a half millions Irish in Ireland today, there used to be six million before the Famine.
We were now approaching a part of the Burren. I really hoped I would be able to see more, this time. In fact, I saw less. The Burren is a vast expanse of flat, black rock and when I first visited in 1998 (it was a very brief stop on the way back to Dublin), I was impressed with its lunar looks. There is a beauty to it that is not easy to explain.
Unfortunately, we didn’t stop anywhere near it, but we did visit what they call the Baby Cliffs, which are smaller cliffs not far from the Cliffs of Moher, that still reminded me of the Burren.
This was a very short stop too (this is why I’m not fond of organised trips, you can’t take your time to do anything), but I liked it a lot. Did I mention it was raining?
I got off the bus, protecting my camera with my scarf and walked in among the stones and the short grass. Isabella told me later that she hated this day because of the weather, but I actually didn’t mind. I think that if you live in Ireland for any length of time, you learn very quickly not to mind the rain too much. Because if it bothers you, you are in trouble. I think this is part of the charm of Ireland – at least it is for me. Her bright colours under the rain, her grey, overcast skies.
Fifteen minutes were all we had. Nowhere near to anything satisfying, but well…
The Cliffs of Moher from the sea
On the way to Doolin, where we were to have our lunch, Mike informed us we now had two options: we could spend an hour and a half on the Cliffs, or we could spend an hour on the Cliff and an hour on the boat under the Cliffs. After some debating (Isabella was a bit hesitant because she doesn’t have a good relationship with boats), we finally decided for the boat. So after our lunch (which was, I’m sorry to say, more of queuing that lunching, though the food was really good) we went down to the little dock, took a small boat and headed out to sea.
The Stack Branaunemore
It was raining. But the sea was rather calm, and the trip to the foot of the cliffs was comfortable enough. The day was dark and misty because of the rain, we didn’t have a very clear view from the window, so in the end, I decided to step out on the deck. Isabella only came to the door, and afterwards, she told me she was ready to grab me when I fell overboard. Ok, fine, I came very near the rail, but I didn’t fall overboard (I’d hoped that much all along), and it was so worth it! Seeing the Stack Branaunemore from down there was an experience in its own right. I suppose it’s beautiful in the sun, but in the rain it was mesmerizing. Everything was grey, the sea, the cliffs, the cost, and the Stack towered over us, black and majestic, with waves crashing down on it. And the boat lolling, the rain splattering my face, the sound of the ocean all around. Brendan was the only one who braved the rain with me and afterwards Melinda told me he was touched by the scenery even if he didn’t say. I understand. As much as I loved my first visit to the Cliffs, in the golden light of sunset, I’m happy I had the chance to experience this kind of weather because it was so different. Yet, I wish you the sun if you ever happen there.
Over the Cliffs of Moher
By the time the boat turned to shore, the sea had become quite rough, so we were all glad to get back on dry land. Well – you know what I mean.
We dashed into the bus, went up the short road to the top of the cliff and got out by the tourist centre. I didn’t need Isabella to remind me to take my umbrella with me.
Melinda and Brendan went off to the cliff. Isabella wanted to see the centre instead. “So we can get a few souvenirs, you know? I don’t think we’ll get any other chance.”
The centre was packed full of people, including the cafes, so we didn’t get any chance to have something warm – which was really a shame. There was a video presentation of the cliffs, inside and Isabella wanted to see it. It was nice. You got to visit the Cliff with the eye of the animals living on, and beneath it… in the sun, as Isabella made a point to make me notice.
The O’Briens Tower
Then we got out, and damn, it was raining. We roamed for a moment around the widening in front of the centre and took some pictures. There must be a science about how to take pictures while holding your umbrella and trying to protect your camera at the same time, but I’m not apt at it. At least I can say I had a very good idea to buy my own umbrella when I had the chance… err. We started climbing the stairs to the O’Briens Tower. By the time we reached it, it was raining cats and dogs.
But again, uncomfortable as it was, personally I loved it. The rain raised a very thin, pearly mist over the cliffs, and they seemed to rise out of some unknown place. And the green of the wet grass. This is what I think when I think to Ireland: the grey of the sky and the green of the grass. The only thing I regretted was having so little time to enjoy the scenery because we had barely an hour to spend at the Cliffs. Isabella was very frustrated with the shortness of available time, and I agree that I’d have gladly spend another hour there, even in the rain.
We finally got back to the car park and got into the bus, where Melinda and Brendan were already waiting for us.
The journey back was very relaxing. Mike put on some music and let us rest most of the way. We just stopped at Bunratty Castle, for the gift shop, because there was no time to visit the castle itself. Which, I’m told, it’s a shame, because the castle is beautiful inside.
And so we were back to Limerick, still in the rain. Which is why we decided to have dinner in the hotel pub rather than go out in the city centre.
You’d think this was the end of the day.
Well, you’d be wrong.
The pub of the hotel is lovely, I was happy to spend some time in it. We had a table near the big window overlooking the street. Soccer was on tv. Music was on.
We were talking about our day when we heard a whistle.
Melinda said, “Is that an alarm?”
But the music was so loud I thought it might be part of it, and I said so. Melinda wasn’t persuaded, but it stopped, and we kept up our chat.
After a while, it came again.
“It is an alarm,” Melinda said. And minutes later two fire brigade tracks stopped in front of our window.
“Are they here for us?” I asked.
There was some activity, and after a while, a waitress came to our table.
“Are we being asked to leave?” Melinda said.
“I’m afraid so,” the waitress said.
We were all guided across the street in the gathering point for the hotel. I saw Melinda talking with a tall man with a full pint of Guinness in hand and Melinda told us afterwards, “He told me he would have been a fool to get out of the pub leaving a full pint there.”
It was pretty chilly outside, especially seeing we were all dressed for a night inside the pub. Other guests came out. We saw a woman in her nightgown and other leaving with their luggage.
After a while, we heard that the fire alarm had gone off at the top floor, and smoke was invading the hotel, but the firemen were unable to find the fire. They suspected it might be inside the wall, probably caused by an electrical fault.
We waited. Fire brigade trucks came and went. There was very little info about what we were to expect for the night, but after a while, we realised it was unlikely we would go back in. Especially when the fireman started demolishing the front of the building.
We learned that the electrical fault had actually occurred in the basement, but the firemen had to find the fire inside the wall and extinguish it.
It was soon after this that the hotel manager got us in a pub nearby, had us something to eat and drink and then started organising our move to other hotels for the night. It must have been a nightmare for the poor man. There were 100 occupied rooms in the hotel, and he had to place each of us in hotels around the area, finding rooms where he could. He also had to find taxis for everyone. Isabella, Melinda, Brendan and I ended up in the same hotel, well outside Dublin. Very nice one too, although we would have enjoyed it a bit more if we had something more than our clothes and handbag with us.
The morning after, we had a lovely breakfast. The woman with the nightgown was in our hotel too. She had fared far worse than us. She didn’t have anything but her nightgown with her, not even her handbag, though the firemen had rescued her medications and some money from her room. She said to everyone, “I’m not mad,” and started telling what happened the night before.
When we got to the hotel, the façade was completely destroyed. Debris was everywhere. We had the advantage to know what happened the night before, not so the new guests who arrived that morning. Some were quite… err… puzzled to find the façade of the hotel on the sidewalk.
The manager of the night before (I wonder if he got any sleep) was at the desk and told us we could go back to our rooms safely, and everything was sorted. But we were leaving as scheduled.
On the bus back to Dublin, we heard the news of the fire at the hotel, and we joked among ourselves that we were survivors.