Our fifteenth day is defined in three ways, listed in no particular order: our visit to a 1,000 year old abbey, our completely serendipitous stop at a sheepdog demonstration, and the Burren. We are pathetic/ecstatic enough animal lovers that the sheepdog demo rates higher up on our list of trip favorites than it ought to, but what the hell it was our honeymoon and we’ll enjoy what we want. :p
When we left Doolin we entered the Burren almost immediately. It’s not a specific place so much as a region; a type of landscape called “karst.” It comes off as alternately a wasteland and a lush garden. The soil is quite rich but is riddled with essentially infinite stone, such that huge amounts of work have to be done if you want to make any sort of use in an agricultural sense. On the other hand, the land and weather make an exceptionally long growing season for grass, meaning that herds can graze happily for an extended period. There is also an incredibly diverse ecosystem of flowering plants, which has led to a unique boutique (tra-la!) – The Burren Perfumery. Now you, too, can smell like a karst!Actually it was quite nice. Beautiful first of all, with diverse gardens on the grounds to supplement what they forage in the Burren. They have a video running on a constant loop that details the ecology surrounding them. Then, of course, is the shop, which smelled all… karsty? Honestly this is more up Lisa’s alley. I think she bought a few things as gifts. Sorry.
Leaving the Perfumery put us back into the Burren itself, which I neglected to describe in terms of driving. Being relatively flat, it lacked a lot of the drama that the hillside roads afforded us, but the views were still really sere and gorgeous. The road itself was well maintained but tiny; the couple of times we ran into an oncoming car one of us had to pull off into the dirt. Fortunately the visibility extended to forever, so there was never really any danger.
As I said above, one of our absolute highlights of the trip was a sheepdog demonstration that we just stumbled upon; just to be clear, it’s not just the dogs but the whole story, which you shall now read. I believe that Lisa had seen a flyer for the Caherconnell Stone Fort somewhere along the way, and we sort of thought we were passing it, but it still came up on us as a bit of a surprise. It’s another of these ancient relics on a family’s land, and the family is trying to strike a balance of encouraging archaeology while not footing the bill. Thus there is a restaurant, gift center, and a small admission fee to tour the site. As you can see from the photo on their front page, it’s quite a spectacular site, and there is still an active dig on the property excavating sections of the fort.
As part of turning the place into an attraction, they have partnered with a local farmer to give daily working dog demonstrations. (I can only imagine the faint air of ridiculousness with which the farmer observes this process. I imagine rural kids coming to my workplace. “This is a kyew-buh-kul. We put people in these. I know, right? But we buy them off with slightly more expensive chairs and tell them it’s good for “collaboration.” What’s that, in the back? … No, we don’t know what that means, either.”) Anyway, we pulled in at about 1:03 PM. The demonstration is advertised as being at 1 PM, daily. We semi-scurried in but had a bit of confusion figuring out what it took to see the demo. The answer was: buy tickets and go out to a separate paddock. By the time that was sorted out, though, it was a little after 1:15 and apparently that’s all the demonstration lasted. Oh well. Alas. Sigh.
But wait! The friendly fellow (whose name, to my shame, I do not recall nor have written done anywhere) saw that we were lingering, trying to at least catch a look of the dogs. “Are you with the tour?” he asked. We explained that, no, we weren’t, just two idling tourists with a fascination for working dogs. “Ah, that’s alright then, I’ll do it again.” SQUEE! Private dog demo! Seriously, we chatted with him 1-on-1 (ok, 2-on-1) while he showed us his dogs. What I most remember is that he had two: one had been raised up with sheep, and the other with cattle. The cattle dog would help with the sheep if commanded to… petulantly… with great reluctance… the way we’ve all seen a dog get muley. But he would comply, mostly. The sheep-raised dog however… my God. I’ve seen dogs fixated on toys, or birds, or other dogs. Hell, Leo keeps trying to stare down the cats in our house. But this dog… gracious. What the farmer explained is that it’s less about raising a dog to take an interest in sheep and more about taking a sheep predator and training it not to kill them. He showed the dog moving the flock around, stopping them, splitting the flock in two, separating out a single sheep, gathering stragglers…. and all with whistles or hand gestures. Really amazing. He spent a good 30 minutes with us, more than with the official tour. I think he appreciated that we asked a lot about him, his trade, how the weather affected him that year (badly, the rain was slow and late in coming), and so on. We really appreciated his time, his care, and of course his animals.
I have nothing much to say about Caherconnell itself. This mimics our growing disinterest during the trip, when we would half-jokingly say things like “what, the chapel is only 400 years old? Not sure it’s worth the trip, really.” That said, this really was a particularly good example of later period (and thus more elaborate) ring fortifications; if you’re planning a short trip and will be near the Burren, I’d pick this one if you have to pick just one.
Our last stop before making it into Galway was Corcomroe Abbey. That thing I just said about kind-of-old stuff not making the cut? Well, 1100 year old monasteries still make it. Corcomroe, to my untrained eyes, is in fabulous shape for its age, with mostly intact walls both exterior and interior – you get a real sense of the layout of the place. This is particularly nice for (hold your eyerolls) gamers who can get a sense of constriction that narrow passages offer. Anyway, the one downer is that the interior infrastructure would have been made of wood and so all of it, along with the roof, was long gone. Still, seeing things like the heat management system that allowed for the baking of bread to warm the upper halls helped humanize an ancient era.
We finished our trek out of the Burren and into Galway, where we ended up spending the most time of anywhere… a bit of a mistake, in the end, but an honest one. More about that tomorrow.