I have joked about the roads in Ireland, and I have ranted about the roads in Ireland. This was a day when I had to respect the roads in Ireland, the way a lion tamer respects the dinosaur that just crashed through the circus tent and is clearly attracted to the sound of a whip-crack. Here’s the reality: the Irish just don’t need many roads. There are towns, and within those towns are whatever roads are necessary for the conduct of business. Then there are one, MAYBE two, routes to get from point A to point B. In this case, we had the option of taking (you’ve heard this story before) the highway from Dingle to Tralee (a waypoint on the way to Limerick) or the other route. The scenic route. Well shit, we came all this way to see stuff, and they’ve even gone to the trouble of naming it “the Conor Pass,” so we gots to go. Do I have to mention that today’s episode is brought to you by Comprehensive Rental Car Insurance(tm)?
I swear, we had an omen. A chance to turn around. The picture to the right? We were on this road less than 30 minutes from when we set out from Dingle. We leave, we take a right at a T-intersection, and we start to climb the hillside… and we’re immediately on to the classic one-lane road. If you click on the photo you can get a better look at the camper coming along. Those particular vehicles are ubiquitous in Ireland, the favored vacationing vehicle for natives as well as Europeans of all stripes. If I had to guess, there’s probably a pull-over spot just behind the 1st bend in the wall on the right, which is where we probably dove in and waited for them to pass. If not, well, one of us did some backing up at that point. You may be wondering to yourself why I don’t remember the details. The mistake you’re making is in thinking that this was “the time” that we had such an encounter, instead of the multiple-times-a-day that it did. In any case, we ignored this omen and pressed on, gaining elevation and making for the Conor Pass.
What drew us to the pass? Well it’s the highest pass in Ireland, meaning it’s the highest point we were going to get to by car, and neither of us are much interested in climbing mountains on foot. People tell you it’s scenic, and by God it is. Beautiful part of the country and since the road is always hugging a mountainside you’ve got panoramic vistas in half of your field of view. Great drive. The pass itself is barely a thing, really – more of a map designation than an actual landmark. We failed to get a picture of it but, at the peak itself, there was a goat in the middle of the road that we had to honk away.
Down from the Conor Pass we made our way to Tralee as a waypoint, and then turned Northeast towards Limerick. Almost all of our trip has been ancient ruins and scenic routes, so we thought we’d switch things up a bit and go to the Hunt Museum, a private collection turned University of Limerick museum. What struck me when we first got to Limerick was, frankly, that we hadn’t been in a city in awhile. Where were all these people coming from? What’s with the traffic? Ah, civilization. We parked, we toured the museum, we realized that we were starting to see a lot of bronze age relics in our travels and were, perhaps, starting to be less impressed with them. What really caught our attention was in the basement. The Hunts were devout Catholics and part of their collecting passion was focused on Church artifacts. They had handfuls (sometimes literally, har har) of reliquaries and a dozen or so iterations of clerical raiment through the years. The real capper, though, was a small, jeweled ornament with a silver coin set in it. It is reputed to be one of the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas. I think that has to be one of the most evil-radiating artifacts in existence if it is. (And the game geek in me immediately thought it made a fantastic plot hook with just a touch of modification.) Fortunately it was a very modest museum in scope because we’d only allotted it an hour or two of the day – we had miles to cover today to get to Doolin, and still one stop left to make: the Cliffs of Moher.
There is not a ton that I can say about the Cliffs other than “(#*YUIDFHsD THAT”S AMAZING DIuIWEgHIWEIDW”. I mean, they’re giant cliffs, and they’re gorgeous to take in, and we actually had sun for a change. They are not, however, formed by the tears of angels, or the site of a major battle, or… anything. They are, and they are beautiful. Although the visitor’s center is a nice touch. In order to preserve the views it is actually built into the side of a nearby hill, with excavations as needed to make room. Thus there are no impediments to your views, your photos, etc… might seem an excessive touch until you learn the the Cliffs of Moher are the single most visited tourist attraction in Ireland, topping out at a million+. Not bad for rocks.
Our final destination that day is Doolin, a small village with an outsize reputation for the musicians it spawns. Not just Doolin says it, either; when we’d ask about the music scene in Ireland, inevitably Doolin came up as the home of some of their greatest. The reputation is founded on the Russell brothers – three gents who each specialized in a different classic Irish instrument. Talent drew talent, and the pubs of Doolin became known as the place to find the best musicians. That, in turn, drew the best craftsmen, and a thriving, if niche, industry has taken hold there. Doolin was on our radar because I wanted to buy a bodhrán while I was in Ireland – it’s an instrument that has always appealed to me. In the end I chickened out, but that’s still the reason. In any case, we settled in at Daly’s House, where Susan Daly herself spent the evening in the role of “gregarious aunt who talks shit and doesn’t care what you think about it”. She was great. We had a lovely meal and bedded down, the night marred slightly by the discovery that we had left Lisa’s special pillow behind in Doolin. My dearest can have a tough time sleeping on el generic-o mattresses but a good tempurpedic pillow goes a long way with her. I get talked out of driving to Doolin and back and instead make arrangements for the pillow to be shipped to our next stop: Galway.