Articles

Ireland

The days were hotter and hotter, no shelter from the heat could be found anywhere, the air was increasingly sultry; the only fresh I could feel was the thought that my vacation from work was approaching. Just a few days after which I would spend a period of holiday in a quiet land in the Northern of Europe.

Both friends and acquaintances used to tell me that I was about to enjoy an unforgettable experience in the green Island of Ireland. All of them repeatedly said that I would be visiting a land of lush green and boundless prairies spotted with cattle and sheep. All my friends had described to me proved to be real when I, from a listener to their words, became an actor on the “stage” of that wonderful scenery.

On the eve of my departure I accurately checked all the addresses in my pocket notebook in order not to forget to write postcards to all of my friends and acquaintances. Then I revised in my guidebook the main information about my journey. After that I set my travel diary in good order to be ready for my new emotions. The next day I left by plane. It took just 3 hours to reach Dublin Airport. I spent the time talking to a guy sitting on the seat next to mine enquiring him about where in Dublin young people meet in order to spend a proper evening. I also enjoyed a light meal on board served by a lightly moving stewardess. I was not alone because Domenico and Riccardo, my friends, where travelling with me. Soon after stepping off the plane my first thought was that the aircraft had not reached Ireland but the Arctic Circle. A cold, strong wind was blowing and the temperature was not above 18°C. I was puzzled indeed. Was I crossing the North Pole or the temperature I had left behind in Italy was like a nightmare haunting me? Or, still worse, as if in a flashback had I returned to the period when the Romans confused Ireland with Iceland and called the former “Hibernia” from the Latin word “winter land”?.

After that flowing of impressions, I got back to reality and found myself on the outskirts of Dublin where the airport bus took us. We checked at a comfortable hotel where we would be staying .

I felt that my holiday was on the start and celebrated the event over a nice pint of beer: Guinness, of course. I tasted it cautiously but its stout flavour soon enraptured me, and I immediately forgot about any other European brand. I wondered why; the only answer I found within myself was that the high-grade taste was due to the vicinity of the Guinness factory but, to be sincere, I new that it was a white lie told to myself to conceal the enjoyment I was tasting.

And it was on toasting to Arthur Guinness that my journey through Ireland started bound to touch the counties of Dublin, Kildare, Offaly, Galway, Connemara, Clare, Kerry, Tipperary, Limerick and Kilkenny, the towns of Galway, Tralee, Limerick, Kilkenny and the city of Dublin.

The impressions stored in my mind are galore but should I list them they could sound like just data, items of information which are alive today but are soon forgotten in the mist of time. They could only be like fleeting moments which everyone interprets an narrates in his/her own way. That’s why I will mention the big differences: the ones each of us carries with him/herself and that time cannot gnaw. In the last decade Ireland has undergone relevant innovations such as urbanization, immigration from Easter Europe for new economical chance, a fast development for a new Irish identity, the process of pacification hopefully wished for by everybody.

But Ireland has not changed her natural beauties nor her traditions. No tourists of the past, the present and the future can deny the enchantment of her green pasturelands, the villages lying on the hill-sides, the greyish little lakes, the imposing cliffs jutting over the Ocean and the secluded sandy beaches.

I must say I did my best to see as much as I could. But I “must” add the friendliness shown to me by all the Irish people I met all through my journey. Their friendly behaviour and extrovert character are well known all over the world so is their pride of belonging to the European Community. Moreover, if you are in need when in Ireland everybody is always ready to be helpful with simplicity and promptness. But what I will never forget is the general disposition to have a talk with you in a pub. It was just in a pub in Tralee that I had a lively talk with an Australian couple, Lim and Annie. We exchanged our impressions and experience over a glass of beer. What made the atmosphere quite Irish were the notes of a traditional song sung live in a corner of the pub. The dark atmosphere of the pub-room was made cosy by the sweet, low music and lyric.

Ireland and its counties were waiting for me, with their own towns, villages, people and characteristics.

The first County I passed though was Kildare: merry people flying flags of Westmeath province on both sides of the streets, an endless line of cars going to the capitol seemed to welcome me. Actually the rugby final match Dublin vs Westmeath would be played that very day.

A short way away there lies the County of Offaly. Where I visited Clonmacnoise, one of the most famous centres of monasteries in Ireland. I was surprised to see lots of cemeteries all studied with stony original Celtic Crosses. They are all imposing and not weather beaten nor bearing the injuries of time. They were all in front of me greyish or beige, spotted with many a mossy plots lichen-like mirroring the trace of ages. They stood against a plumb-coloured sky with the Shannon marking the background. It was here that I could see the “Cross of Scriptures”, made of limestone, richly decorated whose characteristic is the fact that its arms are turned upwards. It is a copy of the original one belonging to the 8th Century kept in the local museum together with the “South Cross” and the “North Cross”.

Clonmacnoise was the beginning of my tour. Then I made my way to Galway and Clifden. Galway, which does not offer the sight of many monuments, offers the joy of lots of amusements, atmosphere and elegance. July is the “Galway Race Month”: players, jugglers, fire-eaters, dancers could be seen every night along the streets. It was a great experience for me to walk among joyous people, stop for a beer in pubs with friends – which look on every street. The typical pub is the one where Guinness is drunk go-go, traditional Celtic music can be listened to and where everybody toasts to everybody else.

North of Galway I entered Connemara, a big land where people speak both Gaelic and Irish. I did not expect such a sudden change from the county I had just left. I met with a mosaic of bogs, dry-stone walls, shrubs, little windowed thatched cottages, and cows scattered everywhere as far as my eyes could see, a taintless landscape rich in pit, solitary valleys, ashy-coloured mountains, and deep lakes where the sun mirrors itself on clear days. In Connemara it is always windy and the sky gloomy. On the whole, the region attracts and charms you, a region where you can see the “travellers”. They are those nomad Irish people who have chosen travelling and moving as their lifestyle.

Leaving all that wonderful “wilderness” behind me I reached Clifden and Kylemore Abbey in the north. Clifden caught my eyes because of its houses, each of which is painted in a different light colour.

Going southwards along the road sideways of the Ocean unexpectedly, I saw a moonlike landscape in front of me. I was in “The Burren”, a karst region which some of my friends had described to me a few months before I left as something unique in the world. It is the most conspicuous characteristic of County Clare. I felt as if I was treading back upon the itinerary of our geological history. Wherever I looked my eyes saw but bare soil-less limestone plateau shining an glittering with the morning dew. In between the flat large stones of The Burren a peculiar flora grows. Minuscular coloured flowers timidly eyed between the cracks well sheltered from the winds. A big dolmen, Poulnabrone Dolmen, seemed to overlook the whole scenery. As an amateur painter I was fascinated by the palette of colours stretching opposite my eyes: the grey of the rocks and the many coloured flowery little plants enlivened the bareness of that subterranean-drained place. For a moment I felt as if it was my paintbrush moving by itself on an earthy canvas to convey pleasure to the viewer.

After leaving “The Burren” I got to the Cliffs of Moher, which I had dreamt of as much as I had wished for. They are those famous cliffs on the western coast of Ireland well known all over the world. They appear to me even superior to my most daring dream. They were a wonderful, fantastic, unique site: rocks rising boldly over 200 metres out of the boundless Ocean as if they were a perennial act of the creation. The waves broke against the rocks in a rhythmic pattern. Behind me the land gently sloped down to the hinterland. The air was densely charged with petite, salty, drips. The roaring billows and the calm quietness around there made me dream of, think of, and note the atmosphere I was enwrapped in. From the edge of the Cliffs I could see the sea-gulls, white hosts of marine bird, clenching to the cliffs walls. They flew afar over the waves whenever they broke at the foot of the rocks. The scene still arises emotion within myself when I think of that multitude of sea-galls fleeing away from their holes to get immediately back soon after the fringing and bellowing of the waves. I wish I could have stayed there for an endless length of time, that point of time which appeared as if it had stopped to make itself admired and get the tourists standing there imbued with the sensation that something universal was happening around them. I felt as though that was a sort of communitarian moment when all of us felt that we belonged to an only one ethnic group: mankind in front of nature. I was happy: nature was able to unite everybody from the 5 continents in her soft womb. I had the perception that nature was once again teaching us that we can all live together, it was, in my opinion, a way to reflect on the world’s condition.

Late in the afternoon I passed the invisible border between County Clare and County Kerry: the nice town of Tralee welcomed me. At first I thought I had been brought by magic into the land of roses. Parks and private gardens were all planted with roses-plants and bushes. I asked Chiron, my guide, how that could be, and I learnt that every August a beauty contest is held to choose the most charming girl in the town. The prize the winner is given is an original one: the type of rose created that year will be called after her name. The name of the contest intrigued me so once again I asked something about the reason why such a floral name was given to a beauty competition.

The answer was an original one again. The motive lay back in local literature. Actually an 18th-Century poet had composed the song “The rose of Tralee” in honour of her bellowed one. I was told by Chiron that the lyric is still sung in Tralee as if it were a sort of “national” anthem. While I was taking photos of the red, yellow, orange roses, the viewfinder of my camera caught their plentiful varieties from pastel shades to dark ones. But Kerry had other surprises to disclose to me. Actually, I might happen to meet elves, locally called “Leprechaun”, which made their land in the Peninsula of Iveragn – one of the three stretching the County into the Ocean. The Peninsula is highly mountainous with a rough, deeply indented coastline surrounded with numerous islands and islets wrapped in the mist. The scene looked romantic and fairy-like as if calling me back to the mythological atmosphere that elves mean to evoke within a traveller’s mind. I was standing in front of a breathtaking view of the Dingle Bay, the islands and islets, the woody hills touching the water and the many picturesque lake-lets. Here a road sign warned me to beware of elves. It is the only one in the world! Chiron interpreted the expression of my surprised eyes and told me that elves are diminutive supernatural beings belonging to northern folklore. He said that they are usually mischievous and cause diseases and evil dreams. Moreover, he said, they make lonely wanderers lose their way in darkness. Plunging into the mystical surroundings I was really afraid that a teasing elf could work ill to me and cause something dangerous to happen somewhere.

My stay in Ireland made me understand how that fairy world could influence the mood of the Irish people, so merry, joking but dreaming as well. Thus the impression I got is that they like living in a serene world of creative peace.

In the heart of the peninsula there stands Muckross House, a heritage from a nobleman in the 30’s. However, was it the work of some good elf? A sudden sunbeam split to big dark clouds and knocked on the panes of the large bow windows of the House. The grey air gave way to a clear day, which let me observe the slow passing of “Jaunting Car” drawn by Irish bred horses in the extensive park of the estate. Their slow trotting was like the scanning of time towards the past and not to the future.

What about the Dingle Peninsula, that extraordinary place with wild mountains? what about the Blasket Islands facing the western point of the Peninsula? I cannot skip through the description of a land where green pastures descend to the sea in the south and fall abruptly down in the north. The land was like a sheep-studded carpet: motionless white fleecy lambs and sheep where grazing in a kind of Arcadian peace all along the sea line, on the ridge over the Ocean, on the remotest places hard to reach by human beings. Saying goodbye to the Ocean and its cobble-flanked shore, I left that Eden with a melancholic pang in my heart. To make the Ocean feel my presence I dipped my hand into its cold water. The glittering waves seemed to reciprocate my greeting, and a sudden thought struck my mind: “Has the Ocean made itself so beautiful to allure me to get back in a near future?”.

It was a never to be forgotten day with its plentifulness of emotions. And it was a long day as long as the expectations had been to meet Aidan, my pen-pal from County Limerick, whom I would see that very evening. The sunny day was a promising one: the sky was blue, that sort of blue that can be seen after the sky has been washed up by a violent storm. I was heading for Adare, my goal in the afternoon. The main road was busy with people and noisy traffic. The High Street was lined on both sides with characteristic thatched cottages. Either the brick cottages or the white plastered ones were adorned with showy, lively coloured doors and windows. Wild flowers and roses framed all of them with their gaudy hues. I felt as though I was in front of a surreal view of a typical cultural Irish patrimony. The ruins of old churches and walls stood like an appropriate cornice to all that. A well trimmed park was an alternative way out for me. As a matter of fact, I wanted to escape people and hustle. But it was a good opportunity for Domenico and Riccardo to get involved in an improvised soccer match with a few local teenagers. The result was a draw.

After a relaxing walk in the park I set off to the town of Limerick. The evening was falling. How different Limerick was from Adare? Limerick, a big town, opened her coffer to me and I could admire her jewels: red-bricks houses, minute shops, mini-supermarkets, elegant Georgian houses, museums and art galleries.

Limerick, moreover, is the capital city of the homonymous County which displayed historic sites, villages, warm and comfortable, nice, little towns, and pleasant, hilly landscapes before my eyes. Those sights, a fascinating alternative to the other counties I had just passed through.

Aidan and I were to meet in the smart, quite hall of the hotel I was staying in. He was well in advance on the appointment. I appreciated that as I knew he was coming from his place at 30 kms’ distance. I realized he was as eager as me to meet each other. In fact, we were both excited. I was aware why I was: I was encountering a pen-pal whom I knew only through a photo and e-mails.

Our conversation was mainly based on the narration of his own life. I was interested in anything he said: he used to be a jockey and he is a rugger player now, he rears race horses on his own farm. In addition, he told me about the kind of life he lives in that part of Ireland. We spent long hours together and while I was answering his questions on my own life I thought that had our talk occurred in the past centuries we might have been duelling though facetious, humorous, satirical jiggles, popularised under the name of “Limericks”. Time elapsed in a wink: we had been talking like all friends. We had shared emotions and exchanged presents, and the promise to meet again. The rendezvous time had passed in a moment, but the greeting time was a long one full at it was of feelings that only our shaking of hands could testify. The pouring rain seemed to participate in our “Adieu”.

I remember that Ireland is renowned for its frequent, sudden rainfalls. Rain was my companion as far as the Rock of St. Patrick, Cashel, County Tipperary. That was a fortress but after St. Patrick’s visit it became an ecclesiastical site. Little by little chapels, twin towers in different styles, a stone roof, carved doorways were built. I was astonished by the various architectural phases the building bore the marks of. When I was in the part rebuilt in the last century, I noticed how the lancet windows threw a ghostly light onto the lofty wooden choir. Was is the light of the past? Now I imagined I was a member of the clan of the Eoghanachta, the earliest conquerors of the Rock still imposing even though partly crumbled and in ruins. Strolling among the Celtic crosses of the large churchyard I saw myself standing on an immense green stage from where I could see the wide, orderly and well kept fields so intensely longed for by the peasants of that county in the bygone times. The rain had stopped and left a light haze which rendered the countryside and the place mystic and religious as well.

I could also see the surrounding agricultural County of Kilkenny and clearly discern its beautiful panoramic roads and horse rearing farms. I was looking forward to reaching the city of Kilkenny since I wanted to visit the Norman Castle over the rivulet Nore set in a huge park like a precious stone. The visit to the Castle echoing its past history, and the walk along narrow lane in the centre stimulated my fantasy. I wondered: “Have I come to a Norman town? Will these flagstone-paved little street lead me to mysterious corner beyond the limits of time?”.

But as any other thing my journey was getting to an end. A week had passed, and Dublin was my final destination. My mind was full of a great number of emotions but I still had a “niche” within myself ready to be filled with new sensations.

Dublin showed me its young appealing ambience both energetic and lively. The people on the streets behaved gaily and calmly as well. Dublin, rich in monuments, museums, imposing buildings and numerous bridges gave the idea of taking life from the Liffey River. On the other hand, the bridges seemed to go hand in hand to the Liffey in its slow way to the sea. Their evocative names: O’Connell, Millennium, James Joyce, Ha’ Penny, Grattan sounded as if harmonizing with their arches different from each other by day, whereas at night their numberless electric bulbs reflected in the Liffey brightened it with multitudes of different colours. The night and the arches formed a singular combination of light and dark, north and south. I remember thinking of W. Wordsworth’s line: “Earth has not anything to show more fair” – ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College, the eye-catching doors in Fitzwilliam street, the luxurious shops in Grafton street were my “must” to see. When the night darkened everything, flashes of lights pointed out monuments, palaces, and the lot of people all around. I could breathe the air of the old-times. Crowds of people, lively, good looking young people, were all livened with vital force, eager to amuse themselves and to meet in a little square in Temple Bar. Pubs, cinemas, discos and clubs were much sough after posts where to spend a quiet night with friends or simply guests.

The night was rapidly flushing down and I intended to live my holiday’s last hours. I said goodbye to that land with melancholic heart and mind: an earth which had given me more than one stimulus to idle thoughts, showed me many a positive side of an island which I had ingenuously called “A green country of the North” before I left Italy. Greenness, rolling hills, mountains, people and amusements had been the source of my emotions. It was only the emotive sensations which could give me the right feeling of the place where I had been living an unrepeatable experience. Ireland, a unique paradise where I think everybody would like to spend their leisure time leaving their daily routine behind. I am sure this memories will never fade in the going of time.

So this is the end of my fascinating trip. I hope other people can say in the future that I was quite right to tell about Ireland.