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Our next two days would be spent exploring County Clare, probably the most popular tourist destination in Ireland after the Ring of Kerry.  It’s easy to see why – but before I get into that I need to quickly tend to a loose end from a couple of posts ago.

You’ll remember that on our first day on Inis Mór we hiked our way to an ancient ringfort,  Dún Eochla, stopping along the way to scale a tiered birthday-cake of a stone structure.  At the top we stood on a solid stonework stage easily 40 feet in diameter – truly an amazing feat of craftsmanship!  Was it an ancient amphitheatre?  A huge burial tomb?  We couldn’t find it on our map, and it wasn’t until the next day that we learned the very recent origins of it.  Turns out it was built last year.

The island apparently suffers from a shortage of fresh water, and as the pin came nearer and nearer to popping the Celtic Tiger economic balloon, a large water tank was installed near the center of the island.  The residents had wanted two such tanks, each costing about a million Euros, but the powers that be on the mainland insisted that the tanks be covered in limestone slabs so that it blended in with the other archaeological sites.  This stone work, at a cost of one and a half million Euros, sent the project over budget and lost the island its second water tank and not one year later, this past June, the island ran entirely out of fresh water at the beginning of the high tourist season, requiring water be shipped over from the mainland.  Our B&B owner, Máirtín shared this story with us, including the fact that he himself had to install a large rainwater tank in his front yard to avoid going totally dry – at a cost of 1300 Euros, “a lot of bacon and eggs if ye know what I’m sayin’.”

On Thursday morning we stocked up on a fantastically filling breakfast at our Galway B&B, then headed south to the Burren (Boireann), a starkly beautiful landscape much like that of Inis Mór, smeared with limestone slabs that can’t keep down the kelly-green grass and Irish moss.  We visited the Burren Perfumery, an odd stop far off the beaten path that offers olfactory poems to the flora of the Burren.  Truth be told, the Burren is a national park so no flowers can actually be harvested, but all scents used are those of flowers that do grow in the park.  I got a couple of things, including a gift of lavender-mint doggy soap for our dear Harper, who has been staying with her aunt, uncle and cousins (my sister’s family) for the last couple of weeks and will undoubtedly have mixed feelings about coming home with us.  Smelly soap should grease the wheels.

After a drive through the Burren and a stop at Poulnabrone (Poll na mBrón – meaning “hole of sorrows” – come on, how beautiful is that?), a Neolithic burial site, we headed to the mother of all tourist destinations: the Cliffs of Moher.

These legendary cliffs were almost off our itinerary because they seemed so over-hyped that we were sure they couldn’t live up to it all.  Happily we were mistaken and the €6 entrance fee was a bargain altogether; after a trip through the Visitor Centre we headed up the path to the crest of the 700-foot high cliffs, struggling against a headwind that could truly knock a drunk person right off the edge, mouths agape and cameras snapping away the entire time.  The beauty is astounding, and the pictures really must speak for themselves because no amount of words could adequately explain the place.  I was particularly interested to see the Aran Islands beyond, and to note the very similar landscapes between County Clare and Inis Mór, most noticeable in the jigsaw-puzzle way that the 700-foot Cliffs of Moher, and the 300-foot cliffs of Dún Aonghasa seem to fit together.

Mid-afternoon we headed up the coast to the village of Doolin, known as Ireland’s capital of traditional music.  Doolin has been on my list for at least ten years, and I was disappointed to find that it is about four blocks long and totally dead in the daytime.  Our plan was to hang out there until the evening and catch some music, but once we were there neither of us really wanted to stay for the next 4-6 hours in hopes of finding some music in the off-season.  Instead we bought some fudge at the Doolin Chocolate Shop (don’t judge) and headed back to Galway.

I am astonished at how difficult it has been to find some ceol tradisiúnta, traditional Irish music, around here!  No longer the tourist season, I suppose most Irish folks don’t really mob to the quaint music of times past – more popular these days is good old rock’n’roll and, believe it or not, American country music is huge here!  We found information about some trad music at the Cranes bar in Galway, but upon arriving learned that it had been canceled.  Instead we had a fantastic dinner of gourmet (gluten-free!) fish’n’chips at Oscar’s, and headed back to the B&B.

Friday was a long drive back to Dublin, intersected by a stop at Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, a 15th century castle lovingly restored by minor royalty in the mid-1900’s, with an adjacent living history park where we could see typical 1800’s and 1900’s homes of poor people of counties Clare, Kerry, Galway, Dingle and others.  The quirky point of interest was an Hallmark Hall of Fame movie being filmed in the village, which gave Eric great fodder for his vitriolic cynicism toward the Hollywood industry.  After much shaking of fists and muttered obscenities about the whole thing, which I found quite amusing (I laugh at Eric’s rage!) we finished with Bunratty and headed east to drop off our rental car and check into the worst hotel ever – see the next post for more about that.

Our original plan was to see a show that night, as the Dublin Theatre Festival is in full swing, but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men…we got settled too late, so instead we wandered through the dodgy streets around our hotel, across the Liffey and into Temple Bar to witness the Friday night mania that we dubbed Irish Mardi Gras – stag and hen (bachelor and bachelorette) parties everywhere and everyone totally knackered.  We did get to catch some trad music at last, in the Ha’penny Bridge Pub, chatting with a very nice and tipsy fella named Feargal who was endlessly impressed that we had visited Inis Mór – turns out he was born there and still keeps a house on the island.

“Ye say ye’s got out to Inis Mór, is that right?  Good on ye!  Wow…so ye’s spent some time out on Inis Mór then?  Well that’s just grand of ye’s.  ‘Tis beautiful….I can’t believe ye’s went out to Inis Mór!  Fantastic….  Well, good on ye fer gettin’ out to Inis Mór, that’s grand, yeah.”

The music was quite nice, but we saw better out on the street in the form of a kickin’ rock-trad fusion band called Mutefish, whose independent CD we bought for a song.

My dear Eric and I have many things in common, but not our body clocks – I’m a night owl while he definitely veers early to bed, early to rise.  The poor guy was nearly a zombie by ten o’clock, so with a few songs under our belts we headed back across the Liffey and tried our best to hit the sack.  Oh boy, did we try…