It’s not Faire, but it’s not bad. The Pirate Queen Festival included a small Midieval Village. It was just a handful of costumed folk demonstrating crafts and fashions from the time of Grainne O’Malley. I enjoyed chatting about macrame techniques with the man who was making a fishing net. He said it is taking him weeks to make it and he is determined to catch fish with it when it is done. I also had a nice talk with the woman who dyes wool yarns using natural substances like woad and onion skins. The resulting colors are quite lovely.
Caught the bus from Westport to Galway, a major port city on the Atlantic coast. Galway is a bustling university town and the center of Ireland’s tech industry. It is a little short on tourist attractions, but is much visited because it is the gateway to the Arann Islands. So we stayed one night in a B-and-B close to the main square and in the morning we caught the shuttle bus which took us to the harbor where we boarded the boat to Ennis Mor.
While in Westport, we got to attend the third annual Pirate Queen Festival, sponsored by the makers of Grainne Ale, and hosted by Gracy’s Bar.
The Grainne Ale Festival was a family friendly event with lots of children in attendance. Unfortunately it was pouring down rain so all the families were crowded into the covered patio at Gracy’s Bar. Along with all the families, was a band playing some sort of jazzy rock music. The music was good, but oh, so loud! We almost left, because there was nowhere to sit and conversation was made difficult by the volume of the music but, we retreated to a sheltered space away from the festival, and checking the schedule and the current time, figured that the band was already on overtime and would surely be quitting soon. I guessed that when the band left that some of the crowd would go as well. Turned out, I was right soon we had a pint of Grainne Ale and some good food and a place at one of the long tables. the woman sitting across from me asked where we were from, we replied “Oregon”. She quipped, “So, you brought the weather with you.” I am accustomed to hearing this from Californians, but had to laugh at hearing it from a resident of a place that receives far more rain than Portland does.
The departure of the aforementioned band was not the end of the festival entertainment. The final act was billed as Mr Whippy! Mr Whippy is a decommissioned ice cream truck that now houses a D.J. and his sound equipment. It was parked alongside the patio and connected to the bar’s sound system. As the band began to pack up, Mr Whippy began to play. He started with some Reggae, then played his theme song, a snappy tune with with indecipherable lyrics about Mr Whippy. He then moved on to some electronica.We had another pint, a Clew Bay Sunset Ale this time, and pulled on our rain gear for the walk back to our charming temporary abode.
Westport is a great tourist destination; beautiful scenery, bustling pubs, international restaurants,friendly people, live music, festivals, theater, historic buildings, bucolic walkways and bike paths. We had a wonderful time just walking around, taking it all in. However, we missed out on seeing the attractions that lay outside of town, just a little too far to walk to.
Our hostess recommended the walk up Croagh Patrick. Crouch Patrick is a hill about 14 kilometers from Westport where Saint Patrick preached and baptized converts. It is a popular pilgrimage site and the walk to the top takes about 3 1/2 hours to climb up and back down.Near the base of the hill is The Coffin Ship Memorial, a sculpture dedicated to the desperate Irish people who set off to America to escape starvation during the potato famine.If I had it to do over again, I might arrange to rent a car for a day to drive along the coast and to visit these sites.
Westport’s most famous former resident is the infamous pirate queen Grainne (Grace) O’Malley. As a wee girl she always begged her father the sea captain to allow her to join his crew and travel with him to far off lands. When she pressed him for a reason why girls should not be allowed onboard, he said that their long hair would get caught in the ropes. She immediately cut off her hair. It, of course, grew back and she grew into a strong and beautiful woman. But she had her way, and became a very capable sailor, and eventually took over her father’s merchant business.
The O’Malley clan controlled a broad stretch of Ireland’s Atlantic coastline and Grainne and her fleet of ships made sure (through hook or crook) that anyone passing through paid taxes on their cargo. For this they called her a pirate! She was fearless and shrewd and fought bravely against Turkish, Spanish and English pirates.
During her reign as Chieftain of the O’Malley clan, the English were gradually taking over Ireland, one kingdom at a time. Grainne was one of the last holdouts. When one of her sons and one of her brothers were captured and imprisoned, she went to meet with Queen Elizabeth to negotiate for their release. She agreed to stop fighting against the English in return for the release of her family member. She also demanded, and got the right to hold onto her lands and the properties of her late husbands. She was able to live quite comfortably off the income from these lands and died at the age of 70.
Today, her estate is a popular park which includes a mansion, and a pirate themed amusement park, and a wildlife preserve.
The full Irish breakfast is a wonder to behold. It has eleven items: two eggs, two bacons, two sausages, black pudding, white pudding, a tomato, toast, and soda bread; all served with a coffee or tea, orange juice,and plenty of butter and marmalade.
We never had the full Irish breakfast. It is too much food, and we don’t care for the puddings. The Irish bacon looks and tastes more like ham, and is quite good.The eggs normally come sunny side up, unless you have a cook who is willing to break with tradition and scramble them for you. Trog had a modified or mini Irish breakfast nearly every day, hold the puddings, please. I usually had yogurt and fruit, toast and soda bread.
Pudding is a very nice euphemism for blood sausage.The puddings also contain oats, pork, onion and spices, but the black (and it is black) color comes from blood. When we asked about the white pudding, we were told that it is like the black pudding, but with less blood.
Dublin has two train stations. Dublin Heuston serves the rails that go north and south along the east coast of Ireland. To head west from Dublin you have to go to Connolly Station. So, first we had to go from Belfast to Dublin, then take a light rail tram to Connolly Station, and then take the train to Westport. Irish people are friendly and will gladly make small talk while carefully avoiding any potentially controversial subjects. Several people had inquired about where we were heading next and they all talked about how lovely Westport is. Westport did not disappoint it is a beautiful town. What people had not talked about is how cold and windy it is there. I guess that is why they call the west coast of Ireland The Wild Atlantic Way.
Westport is nicely laid out with a river running through the center of town. It has a thriving business district with lots of hotels, restaurants and pubs. We stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast called Willow Lodge. Our hostess, Angela, couldn’t have been nicer. She gave lots of advice about where to eat, and where to go for music, and she cooked breakfast to order every morning. I will tell you more about breakfast in another post. The town of Westport was built in the 1700’s, so most of the houses are built in the Georgian style: built out of limestone, two to four stories high with a central doorway and large regularly spaced windows on the ground floor, with slightly smaller windows on floor one , and still smaller windows on each floor as you go up.
FYI: In Europe, the ground floor is not the first floor!. The floor above it is referred to as the first floor, so if you are given a room on the third floor, you will have to walk up three flights of stairs to get to it. Historic buildings rarely have elevators or, as they say in the British Isles, lifts.
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland, which is a part of the United Kingdom. It has a troubled history, but today it seems a quiet, industrious, and almost genteel town. And our tour guide proclaimed it, “the best big city in the world”. They sure seem to love Queen Victoria. Many institutions are named for her and there are many monuments honoring her. We stayed at a youth hostel that was just down the road a ways from Queen’s University. So, having just one day to explore Belfast, we shied away from the more touristy Titanic Experience, and headed instead to the Botanic Gardens, and The Ulster Museum adjacent to the University.
It was a blustery day, so we only spent a little time in the gardens. We did enjoy seeing a statue of Lord Kelvin. It is great to see a scientist being honored along side royalty and writers, even if it only because he was a chancellor of the university. The museum, like the TARDIS seemed to be bigger on the inside. There was much to see, so we happily whiled away the day looking at artifacts and learning more about Irish and Egyptian history and culture.
Ulster was the name of an ancient kingdom in the northernmost part of the island of Ireland, roughly equivalent to what is now the country of Northern Ireland. Ethnically the people of Ulster are more closely related to the Scots than to the people of other parts of Ireland. Ancient Ulster was known for the tenacity of its fighting men. The symbol of Ulster is the red hand, a simple drawing of a hand held up so that the palm is facing the viewer, colored red. They say that this stems from a contest between two kingdoms to decide who would win control of a contested island. it was decided that there should be be a race between two teams of rowers, and whichever side was first to lay a hand on the shore of the island would win it. As the boats drew close to the island, one boat pulled into the lead, the other boat teamed by the men of Ulster just could not catch up. So in a stroke of madness or genius, or both; the Ulster King drew out his sword, cut off his hand, and threw it onto the shore, thereby winning the island. They say that this tale illustrates the determination of people of Ulster to get the job done, no matter what.
In the 1700’s there was a mass exodus of folk from Ulster to the American Colonies to escape religious persecution. These people came to be known as the Scots/Irish. Many of these immigrants took an active role in the struggle to win independence from England for America. And, they claim that fourteen American presidents had Ulster/Scots roots.
Ulster thrived during the Industrial Revolution and its capital, Belfast, is known as the birthplace of the ill-fated Titanic.Since then it has had more than its share of troubles.
Finn McCool aka Fionn Mac Cumhaill was one of the great heroes of Irish legend. He was big (size 47 shoes) and strong and a skilled warrior, but not very wise. Lucky for him, he had a very smart wife. When he heard that there was another great giant living across the sea channel, he decided to challenge this other giant. He wanted to secure his reputation as the biggest and baddest of them all. so he broke loose columns of basalt rock and threw them into the sea to form a causeway, allowing him to stroll over to Scotland to find this giant. When he got there he realized that Benendonner, the Scottish giant was much larger and more powerful than himself. So he hightails it back home, with Benendonner in pursuit. His wife comes up with a plan and puts a bonnet on him and tucks him into bed. Benendonner arrives, she tells him her husband is out and invites him in for tea. She tells him they must talk quietly because the “baby” is sleeping. Benendonner sees Fionn lying in bed, and thinks to himself that if the baby is that large, the father must be truly formidable. So he excuses himself and heads back to Scotland, never to be seen or heard from again.
The one thing I knew from the start that I wanted to do/see in Ireland was the Devil’s Causeway.
It is a fascinating and unique geological phenomenon on the northern coast of Ireland. I had seen pictures of it and wanted to see it for myself. What I didn’t realize, until I started planning this trip is that the Causeway is in Northern Ireland, not in the Republic of Ireland. No problem, there are ways to get there. Surprisingly, although it is a popular destination, there is not a lot of tourist accommodations nearby. There are lots of companies that provide day trips from Dublin, but the drive is so long that they need to start early in the day and they can’t spend much time there. So I added Belfast to the itinerary and booked a day trip from there. The Giant’s Causeway did not disappoint, it is a fascinating and beautiful site. Well worth a visit.
The tour company also took us to the Bushmill’s factory where we got to sample some 12 year old whiskey. I have never cared much for the taste of whiskey, but this was a entirely different from anything i had been exposed to, smooth and delicious. The bartender explained that Irish whiskey is the best because it is triple distilled, American whiskey is distilled only once. Unfortunately, you cannot buy the 12 year old Bushmill’s, it is only available for tasting at the distillery!
We also stopped to walk across the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. A high, narrow bridge to a small island that was first built centuries ago, by and for the local salmon fishermen. The official story is that they needed passage to the island to tend to their nets, although it has also been suggested that the island was used by smugglers, pirates, and other tax evaders. It has been rebuilt, made stronger and safer, and is now a popular tourist attraction.
We had the pleasure of sharing a cubicle with a nattily dressed older man. His well fitted black suit and narrow tie gave him the look of an old-fashioned train conductor, so I was not surprised to learn that he works for the railroad. What was surprising is that he runs the Irish Railroad! He often rides the rails to observe how things are operating, and actually knows many of the employees by name. And if that was not impressive enough, he is also a lawyer, and runs a few small businesses. All that, at the age of 79. He also has traveled the world as a consultant and has worked for most of the communist governments in the world. He states that he got on well with both Fidel and Raul Castro, and Moammar Gaddafi. He says that their governments, and their railroads are well run and efficient.
What he has not been able to rectify is the relationship between the railroad systems of Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland! Although the run from Dublin to Belfast is jointly run, the two systems give out different information about it with slightly different timetables!
Anyway, our round trip went smoothly, although the train from Dublin was a little late leaving the station. The trains are clean and comfortable and the scenery is fantastic. It is a great way to travel.