We unknowingly arrive in Doolin a few days before a craft beer festival, and the tourism town is even more packed than it would normally be. We manage (with the help of incredibly kind locals) to find what must be the last B&B room in the town.
A few things to note about Doolin: the town is near to some of the biggest tourist sites in Ireland (Cliffs of Moher, the Aran Islands) and naturally tourism has shaped the local community. The area is gorgeous, the town itself peaceful, and the people who run accommodation were unfailingly hospitable and generous. There is also excellent music at the pubs. However, a few things about the town are a bit difficult to deal with. The town is overrun with tourist accommodation and shops, but lacks a lot of basics, such as a grocery store and a cash machine. Since we’re staying in Doolin six days (longer than most tourists) and much of the accommodation only accepts cash, this is a bit of a problem. The Cliffs of Moher and Lisdoonvarna are the closest places to get cash, and Lisdoonvarna is also the closest place to buy basics. Anyone who visits Doolin without a car should be aware of the tourism situation and plan accordingly.
The Cliffs of Moher
Well, you have to do some of the touristy things, right? And the cliffs seem stunning, definitely worth my while. Besides, I admit my fandoms. The Princess Bride!
There is a new walking path that connects Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher. E and I are considering hiking, but the weather is less than ideal. After our ordeal on Skye, we would rather not chance being caught in the wind and rain again, so we take a bus out to the cliffs and decide to either hike or take a bus back, depending on weather.
Note: the weather stays miserable. However, the view from the top of the cliffs drifts in and out of mist and light. As always, the most awful weather in Ireland creates the most incredible views of landscape.
Also, time for some tune-sharing! Here is a link to a recording of fiddler Kevin Burke playing “Cliffs of Moher”, a lovely jig that I couldn’t get out of my head during my visit to the cliffs. He plays the tune last in a medley along with the Paddy Fahy jigs.
E and I are nightly regulars at McDermott’s, the nearest pub. The pub features talented musicians nightly, playing traditional music, and the prices are reasonable on food and drinks. The nightly vegetarian dish is consistently a mysterious mixed bean pie, which never really sounds appetizing enough to try. Here, E and I have many discussions about curry chips, friends, and travel.
One night, I decide to go for a short run in Doolin. There is a path leading away from our B&B, away from the main road, out towards the sea. I follow the trail and quickly end up in a less inhabited area. I pass a cemetery built around a ruined church, then an abandoned RV park, where a stone figure holds out a bowl for offerings and a cat balances on a ruined window frame. I pass a field of cows that watches me closely as I run by, and a mother cow runs forward to place herself between me and her calves.
Within ten minutes, I reach the end of the paved road, and can see the coastline up ahead. The cliffs stand guard in the distance out to my left. From where I stand, I can no longer see any of the houses or B&Bs in Doolin– only stone, grass, water and cliff-face.
I enter a grassy area naturally paved by flat stones. Flattened grass marks a path that branches away and I follow it, only to wind up in front of a collection of standing stones. Flowers grow in the cavity formed between the stones. After a short time observing the stones in silence, I walk back along the path and out to see the ocean.
This is where I stand as the sun is setting. There was light rain earlier, so pale grey storm clouds still cover the dusk sky, and a sheen of light marks the spot where the sun is moving behind them. The grasses at my feet are now knee-high and damp, and I have no name for the flowers I see. At one point in the line of clouds, sunlight starts to break through, and a rhombus of slanting light is formed between the uneven lines of water and cloud. The wind is at my back.
I know that I’ll never remember this panorama in its complete form, but I’ll always remember the sensation of where I stand between sky and sea, erected stones and distant cliffs. A sting of nettles grazes my legs. When I start to run again, I feel as if I’ve never really run before in my life, never understood that the strength and muscle motion of my body to be as natural as the force that governs landscape. Every time I stop running to take in my surroundings, I feel that I’ve never really stopped before in my life, never long enough, never truly still.
In Doolin, I purchase a book of poetry by Padraic Pearse, the famously martyred poet of the Easter Rising. The book of selected poems contains English language poems, Irish language poems, and dual-language poems. I find myself most captivated by the dual-language poems because of the vitality of seeing the two languages side and side, and the English translations seem less bound by form than the strictly English language poems.
In “I Am Ireland”, Pease is referring to another type of dual-identification: not between body and landscape, but between individual and nation. In four short, two-line stanzas, I love the way that the poem weaves through Irish history and myth, while maintaining a very personal pathos in the first-person voice. The movement from the grandeur of “Cuchulainn the valiant” to the eerie sadness of the “children that sold their mother” captures a tangible tension between patriotism and shame. Pearse connects his personal experience here to the landscape of something larger, even if the connection is more conflicted than harmonious.
Sine mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra.
Mór mo ghlóir:
Mé a rug Cú Chulainn cróga.
Mór mo náir:
Mo chlann féin a dhíol a máthair.
Uaigní mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra.
I Am Ireland
I am Ireland:
I am older than the Old Woman of Beare.
Great my glory:
I that bore Cuchulainn the valiant.
Great my shame:
My own children that sold their mother.
I am Ireland:
I am lonelier than the Old Woman of Beare.