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May 25, 2006: Ireland Trip - Ennis and Surrounding Area

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We lingered in Killarney a little this morning, mainly because the laundrette didn't open until 9:30. So while we waited, we stopped by the Tourist Office, and then headed for the yarn store, which we'd found last night but wasn't open.

It's a tiny little place, not much bigger than the store in Trim, but the contrast here was that this place (Killarney Handicrafts) was well organized and clean and well-lit, and the place in Trim was kind of a scattered mess. And I finally found yarn! A 1kg bag of 100% Irish wool, in a deep purple wine color, which looks like it should be plenty to make a sweater. I suspect I'll be pouring through my book of cables again sometime soon.

Next it was on to Ennis. Today the weather cleared up and so the drive was beautiful, since we could actually see out into the valleys (lots of sheep and cows). We'd originally planned to stop in Limerick to get lunch, but Limerick appears second only to Cork in complete confusion of streets, drivers, and all manner of other things guaranteed to make uninitiated drivers (and their passengers) nervous. In fact, at one point we passed a corner and there was a soldier standing in the middle of the street, complete with large gun. We're not sure what's in Limerick that's so important it needs armed soldiers with guns, and we decided not to find out. So we somehow found a way out of the city and stopped at the first place we could saw to get lunch - a large restaurant that seemed as if it was built specifically to cater to tourists, but which offered huge portions at low prices, of good food.

Before reaching Ennis we took a slight detour and went off to Quin to see the ruins of Quin Abbey, and it was well worth it. First of all, it is completely free; second, it is the most well-preserved abbey in Ireland (actually it was a friary, and the guide there seemed a bit put out by the fact that the information signs out front had it wrong); third, the guide there was more than willing to answer any questions about the history of the place, and even took us off to see a few things, like the masonry mark on one of the stones, and the remains of what was apparently an extremely elaborate carving of Jesus on the cross. The cloisters in this friary are completely preserved so we could walk through them and really get a good sense of how it would have been when it was inhabited. Plus this particular location still had the second floor intact, so we were able to go up and wander through the dormitory areas that overlooked the cloister. There was a dark little crypt, and a door which appeared might lead into a tiny little mausoleum inside (peering through the holes we could see coffins) and as with so many of these sites, it was obvious from the gravestones that people are still being buried there.

The guide was a wealth of information, although I suspect that was partially driven by the fact that he was pretty bored with sitting in a tiny little booth all day. He gave us a nice broad overview of the Franciscans, and thanks to our chatting with him, we now know how to distinguish a Franciscan church from the others (it's the 'string lines' that encircle the towers). We even managed to find a new (to him) carving above one of the doors. He thanked us when we were heading out, since he said that most people just wander in and out in just a few minutes and don't seem to be willing to take the time to ask questions or get to know anything about the place.

Our next stop was to Craggaunowen, which was along the same road as to the friary, and which proports to be a recreation of various structures throughout Ireland's history. I suspect if we had not gone to the Irish National Heritage Park outside Wexford we might have been impressed, but in comparison, Craggaunowen was definitely second rate (plus it was nearly twice as expensive).

We finally made it to Ennis, and found our B&B with no difficulty at all. We checked in, and then immediately headed into town, where the woman at the tourist office handed over a map, rattled off a number of locations to see, and then noted that since they were having their big music festival this weekend, there was a ceilidh this very evening and everyone was welcome to come. Talk about stumbling into a town at the right time!

We had a rather uninspiring dinner at a local pub and wandered around a bit until we tracked down an internet cafe. It's a nice town and I think this may be one of my favorite stops so far (the fact that it has not one, but two grocery stores, one of which is open 24 hours, has nothing to do with it!) and we both wish we'd been able to schedule a longer visit here.

The ceilidh didn't start until 10pm, but when we got there the room was packed, and it was nice to see a wide range in ages (we'd been afraid we were going to be either the youngest, or the oldest). Then the music started and so did the dancing and good grief, no wonder the Irish are in such great shape if they do this kind of thing on any sort of regular basis. I was pulled into the second set of dances and my very helpful partner gave me quick clues as to what was coming up each time things changed, before we would go spinning madly in circles until I was getting a bit dizzy. I intended to sit the next set out, and had come back toward the main dancing area only to try to get some pictures of Richard out there on the floor but they needed a woman in another set, so off we went again. And it is exhausting. Kind of embarrassing to see people twice my age and older dancing about and not even breathing hard and here I was, struggling to keep up.

Richard's asthma decided that being in a large, crowded room with poor air circulation wasn't the best thing, and by then I was pretty exhausted myself, so we took it as the perfect excuse to go. Walking back to the B&B in the light sprinkling of rain was lovely, since the cool air really felt good after going through such a workout. We decided to put the 'open 24 hours' to the test and stopped by the grocery store on the way to pick up some traveling snacks, and then came back to the room to collapse.

If we come back to Ireland again (and I really hope we do) Ennis is definitely going onto our itinerary, and for more than a night. And if we can schedule it for the weekend of their music festival again, so much the better - although maybe next time Richard and I will have to do a bit of practicing before we attempt that kind of dancing again.

Pictures from Killarney, Quin ,Craggaunowen, and Ennis.

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