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There is a kind of weather that I have only experienced in Ireland, and it is what I would call, in Irish, iontach fliuch: marvelous wet.  Where else can it be pouring down buckets while the sun shines bright as spun gold?  I’ve never seen it before, but it’s just one more feather in Ireland’s cap as far as I’m concerned.

We found such weather on Monday morning in our hostel at An Caoláire Rua (Killary fjord).  After sleeping like rocks we awoke early and padded downstairs for some tea and a breakfast of leftovers – chicken salad and gluten-free toast.  We packed up, paid the sweet French ladies who run the place, and even took a quick hike down to the fjord’s edge before taking off for our noon ferry to Inis Mór (Inishmore), one of the Oileán Árainn (Aran Islands) in the middle of Galway Bay.  During the 45-minute drive down to our port of call, Ros a Mhíl (Rossaveel) we saw the beautiful countryside of Conamara (Connemara), widely regarded as the most unspoiled region of Ireland, a “savage beauty” as Oscar Wilde called it.  Forty-five minutes hardly did it justice but fortunately for us, I had completely mis-remembered our departure time to Inis Mór which was to have been 10:30am, not noon.  (Those who know me well know that my mind works well in conceptual themes, but not so much in details…)  The woman at the ferry office gave us a sad look as she told us the next ferry would not be until 6:30pm, but perked up a bit and asked, “Well, have ye seen Conamara?  ‘Tis a beautiful land to be sure.”

Now I have to admit that I did not take to this detour at first, not at all.  Of all our itinerary I had been looking most forward to our scant 30 hours on Inis Mór, and I had just cut that by a half a day.  I was sorely disappointed in myself, and Eric knows me well enough by now that he gave me the gift of empathetic silence while I moved through my emotions, coming out the other end with a plan.

We drove west along the stunning rocky coastline, stopping every now and then in the middle of the one-lane road to snap picture postcard shots all around us.  The weather changed every fifteen minutes and could turn on a dime – sunny and bright, then charcoaled sky and pouring sheets of rain gusted sideways, then fine misty drizzle and sunshine everywhere.  After a couple of hours and a few hundred sheep we reached the town of Cloch na Rón (Roundstone) where I was able to make some phone calls and juggle our lodging reservations so that we would have one night less in Galway but two nights, not one, on Inis Mór in the end!

With our itinerary re-arranged, we enjoyed this seaside town and even got to visit the workshop of Malachy Kearns, master bodhrán maker.  Ten years ago while living in L.A. I had ordered one of these traditional Irish drums from Mr. Kearns, and even though he had just left for the day (I didn’t realize it was he walking out as I walked in) it was a thrill to look into his workshop and see the place where my bodhrán was born.  Eric found a lovely gift to grace his family’s mountain house, built by his great-grandfather after emigrating from the Emerald Isle in the early 1900’s, and I bought us some turf incense, because we are both absolutely intoxicated by the smell of a peat-turf fire.  There’s nothing else like it.

After a stroll along the shore we headed further west to the beautiful town of An Clochán (Clifden) for a short stop, then high-tailed it back to catch our ferry to Inis Mór.

Conamara is also a gaeltacht (Irish-speaking region) and it was on this day that I started, with some trepidation, to use my Irish.  First at the ferry office, with a shy “Dia duit.” (pronounced “jee-a gwitch” and meaning “Hello” or literally translated, “God be with you.”)  The woman behind the counter looked up so quickly I thought she’s give herself whiplash, and a curious smile crept across her face as she answered, “Dia is Mhuire dhuit.” (pronounced “jee-a ‘s wirrah ghwitch” and meaning “God and Mary be with you.”)  I went even further with a “how are you” which she answered again, returning the question to me which I also answered!  Both of us beaming, I promptly lost all the rest of the Irish I’ve ever had, and we went on in English after that, but clearly she was happy to hear her language spoken by a non-native.  I was exhilarated to have been able to create that bond between us, to show respect and enthusiasm for her language and thereby her culture.  In the days to come I would have the chance to do much more of it, for I knew that Inis Mór was part of the gaeltacht but I didn’t know that it’s actually the everyday language of the islanders.  I learned this on the ferry ride over, from my first island friend, MacDeara.

MacDeara is a life-long resident of the island, my father’s age with Paul Newman eyes.  As the boat left the mainland I asked him if he was going toward home or away from home, and we talked the rest of the way to the island.  I haltingly (through a bit of seasickness on the rough sea) told him that I’d been studying the language for the last four years, and he kindly practiced kindergarten Irish with me for the rest of the way.  As we disembarked he took one of my bags and walked me to the owner of our B&B who was waiting for us at the dock.  (Eric would like me to point out at this point that ol’ Mac didn’t speak a word to him the whole time.)  Our B&B owner, Mairtin, greeted us with “What a feckin’ evenin’!  ‘Tis pure winter all of a sudden!”  Jovial and cursing all the way, he drove us through the cold, stormy dark night and showed us to our warm room which, we would learn the next morning, afforded us an ocean view.  We settled in, then walked up the path to Tí Joe Watty’s, the nearest pub serving dinner by a warm fire, surrounded by the language that I love, both spoken all around me and painted on a wave that ran across the ceiling.  A dinner of island-caught mackerel for me, and a burger for Eric, set us right for bed and neither of us got through a page in our books before giving in to sleep, serenaded by crashing waves and intoxicated by the fresh salt air.

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