There was only one day (well, may one more, but mostly all afternoon that day) of our entire August-early September visit to Co. Clare when the rain fell in buckets the entire day. Other days often had mist, or overcast, two days were bright and sunny, but one day was clearly a “what shall we do so we don’t spend the day drenched?” sort of day.
As is was, we had already picked out a few “indoor option” destinations just for a day such as we had. We visited the sheepdog demonstrations at Caherconnell Fort which provided a tent for shelter for visitors. The shepherd, sheep, and dogs got none of the protections we enjoyed but they soldiered on, regardless of the weather.
The blowing wind made getting pictures difficult, but we enjoyed watching the dogs’ passion to work, despite the conditions. As they waited patiently for their turns to herd the sheep, it was clear that if they were going to be out in the weather, they preferred to be working rather than sitting. It was much easier to keep warm by running around!
The fort where the sheepdogs work is the site of an archeological dig. We were able to see a short video of the history of the area, but the dig site itself was in the open air. We walked through it but did not tarry because of the driving rain. We did, however, take the time to enjoy a bowl of delicious lamb stew at their cafe.
Our next stop was not far outside Ballyvaughan, a commercial cave, Aillwee Cave. Ironically, since it is inside a hillside of extremely porous limestone, the cave provides limited shelter from the rain, since the water quickly filters through the rock. In places in the cave the water truly gushed through the area, creating a rather stunning waterfall for us to enjoy along the path through the cave.
This is a true “tourist stop” complete with a cafe and gift shop. Many small children milled through the shop looking for toys to keep themselves entertained. The gift shop contained many choices for small and bigger children. Piped in traditional Irish music seems obligatory in these tourist spots. Ailwee Cave did not disappoint. The Cafe promised Irish stew, Irish breakfasts, and other aromatic food that filled the cave entrance. Our guide led us on an hours tour of the cavern with the usual for a cave tour “lights out” session, demonstrating the complete absence of light when supplementary lighting is extinguished. My husband, a caver in his younger days, could have spent the rest of the day exploring the cave, but these tours keep a pretty tight schedule. We brought up the rear assuring no one in the group was left behind.
Our last day in Ireland was also rather wet, but we were boarding a plane that afternoon, so we opted to visit Bunratty Castle, quite near the airport. We found easy walking paths between the various sections of the “folk park,” as they call it. It is akin to what we are familiar with in Massachusetts–Sturbridge Village–which provides interpreters throughout the village to bring to life how people lived in times past.
We missed the butter making demonstration at Bunratty Castle, but met up with a man who plays the role of school teacher at the park, who explained a few things about different facets of life as it was lived in and around the castle.
We found a working mill driven by water power,
a courtyard filled with old farm implements,
a country garden,
farm animals, and a “Church of Ireland” church building.
The church structure was in stark contrast to the Catholic churches we saw earlier in our trip. Almost devoid in ornamentation within the church, the building reflected its Protestant heritage.
The mist became more and more consistent (aka–it’s really raining!) so we headed over to the castle, our last stop on the tour.
A banquet was taking place so we saw little of the castle itself, but it offered a spot to stay dry.
We soon packed up and headed for the airport, grateful for the time we had to spend in a place far from home. Different, yet in many ways not so different after all.
Marjorie Turner Hollman
Marjorie Turner Hollman is a personal historian who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, More Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd edition, and editor of Easy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed. Just out is her latest book, Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are.
She has been a freelance writer for numerous local, regional, and national publications for the past 20+ years, has helped numerous families to save their stories, and has recorded multiple veterans oral histories, now housed at the Library of Congress.