Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A tour around Ireland; Week two.

Hello again. I thought I might as well go for it and post about the rest of our holiday before it is too 'old news'. I think the photos for this week are even better than those from the first week. See if you agree.
We left Cork on the Monday morning and drove straight across the country and on to the Dingle Peninsular. It was a very wet morning so our first view of Inch beach was less than inspiring. However, this area is known for its beauty so we remained hopeful, and gradually the weather did improve. There is a designated "Tourist route" around the peninsular that takes in many of the places of particular historical interest, and some superb views. 

We decided that we didn't have time to do it all but we would try to get around most of it, but first we called in to meet another cousin - Joe's sister Philomena and her husband. They have a working farm and also run a small bakery attached to the house where they make bread and scones to sell locally. They made us very welcome and we had a great time catching up on news of the family. We then did our drive around the peninsular and returned to their house for a lovely meal. They then took us to their son's house where they had arranged for us sleep.

The next morning we were off again, this time driving through Tralee and Listowel to board the Tarbert ferry. This cut quite a bit off our journey and we were soon arriving in our next stop - Galway. Here we had booked into a bar near the town centre, so we dropped off our bags and set out on foot to explore. It was a pretty town with a fast flowing river and a canal running through it. We walked to the Spanish Arch which led on to an open area spread on both sides of the River Carrib. It was very fast running water, but several folk were sitting on the wall and danging their feet over as they took in some gentle autumn sunshine. 
We walked around the mouth of the river and on to the Claddagh; a wide expanse of grass used partly as a practice field for a local school football club. We watched them play for a while. Irish football is quite different from Soccer. We then kept walking across the Claddagh, which ran along the coast for a long way, and when we got to the end, as in the words of the song, "We watched the sun go down on Galway Bay". It was a long walk but we enjoyed the sun and there was no rush to get back.

After a very nice meal where we were staying, we went back down the road to Taffes bar to listen to some traditional music. Before we left the next morning, Chris bought me a necklace that I had seen the previous evening. It is a celtic cross with a piece of Connamara marble in the centre.

From Galway we headed up towards Sligo, but I wanted to stop just before there to visit a waterfall I had seen in one of the Tourist leaflets we collected everywhere we went. While we were looking out for it, we saw a sign for Knock Sanctuary and Chris said he would like to go there, so we did another detour  but it wasn't far out of our way. Although I am not very interested in all things catholic, this was a lovely place and it was very interesting to read all the signs around the place. It was built to commemorate a Vision of Mary with St Joseph and St John, seen there in 1879, and apparently witnessed by fifteen people. It is now a place of pilgrimage, and in 1979 the Pope visited it 'as part of his pilgrim journey to Ireland'.
We were soon on the road again and we found the village of Collooney and parked up, and then we set off to ask the way to the falls. It was cold and we decided to have a cup of tea first but we couldn't see a cafe, so we went into a bar. There was a nice fire burning in there and several men drinking Guiness at the bar. But Chris asked if we could have tea and the barman told us to go and get comfy and soon he appeared with a big pot full of tea and profuse apologies that he had no biscuits to offer us. We managed to squeeze nearly three mug-fulls each out of the pot and when we got up to leave, the barman gave us directions to the falls and refused to take any payment for the tea! That doesn't happen very often.
The falls were lovely with a backdrop of grey stone buildings that were the old mill, and bright trees in their autumn attire all around it. I love the sound of falling water, and this was fed by a fast flowing river. Just above the falls there was a rock with big heron perched on it. I crept closer and it stayed so still that I wasn't sure whether it was real. But then it suddenly took to its wings and disappeared.
We travelled on through Sligo and before long we reached our Guest House in Donegal. It was a lovely place run by a very kind and helpful couple. Chris was looking forward to coming here as his dad, Sam, came from Donegal. He knows Sam took him there once but he was very small and doesn't remember anything about the visit. He knew our guest house was in the right area so he asked the proprietor if she knew anyone in the region called Perry and she did. Her neighbour and friend was a John Perry. She rang him up and he came down to see us, and he turned out to be a cousin, the son of one Sam's brothers. He also brought his brother Ozzie, and later John's son David arrived. He was keen to meet us as he, like Chris, is trying to trace the family history. He had our names on his list but didn't expect to be meeting us. He exchanged information with Chris, and showed us some old family photos.
After their visit we set off to see a nearby lake called Lake Eske. It was raining lightly, but we could still see that it was very beautiful. At one end there was a castle and we wandered in to look at it, but then we discovered we were in the grounds of a luxury, 5 star hotel, built to incorporate the old castle. No-one seemed to mind us being there and we wandered freely through the grounds looking at a large collection of black sculptures that were dotted around.
Then we drove around the coast to Slieve League Cliffs, some of the highest in Ireland. The last bit was a steep, narrow road so we were glad we were able to drive up it. The wind at the top was so strong we could hardly stand against it, and I had difficulty holding the camera still, but the views were amazing. The steep red rock cliffs dropped straight into the sea, and the Atlantic ocean beat tirelessly at their feet.
On the way back down we stopped to take more photos at a pretty little river. We stood on a bridge looking at it, but when we turned around, the other side of the river was a rushing, churning bowl of white water.

On the way home we stopped off at Donegal Craft village, which was a group of small studio shops where we could both see things being made, and buy them if we wanted to. There was an artist studio, a jewelry maker, a baker/tea shop, a weaver, but the one that caught our eye was a sculptor who took pieces of bog wood, that had been preserved in a peat bog for up to 2000 years, and carved them into whatever the wood suggested to him. Of course, they were rather expensive, but having walked round stroking all of them, we decided to buy a piece between us as a memento of our holiday, and this is what we chose. It is made of bog-pine and mounted onto a piece of rock so it is quite heavy, but I wrapped it up well and put it in my hand luggage, and it survived the journey. I love the smooth feel of it, and will probably go on stroking it every time I pass it!

That evening some more members of the family came to visit us. Aunty Mary was in her eighties and she was the widow of one of Sam's brothers. Later her son Tom joined us. She also brought cousin Muriel with her, who was married to the son of another of Sam's brothers! Both Peggy and Sam came from such huge families,and they tend to have names that are used in each generation, so it is no wonder Chris has had such trouble sorting them all out. Muriel is also very interested in family history and she had an album of old photos which were facinating to look at.
Our final main destination was just over the border into Northern Ireland. This was the Giant's Causeway, which I have often seen on television, and was keen to see for myself. It lived up to our expectation being both interestingly different, and rather beautiful. We spent a long time there, but I think the photos in my gallery speak for themselves, so I won't say any more about it here.
Just beyond the Causeway there is a little place called Carrick-a-rede, famous for its hanging rope bridge that the not so faint-hearted can cross to a small island. We were not up for that, but we stopped off there to meet one more cousin. John and Ozzie have an older brother called Ron who works for the national trust at the site. He was very surprised to see us, but we had a cup of tea with him in the cafe there, before heading off south down around Belfast to Downpatrick where we had booked in for our final night. We drove the long way round on the road that hugged the coast most of the way. It was a bit bendy for me but I just about survived.
We were up and packed early the next morning and set off for our last day of driving. We had plenty of time to get to Dublin as our flight wasn't until tea time, so we headed first for a town called Newcastle. This is famous as it is the place where "The mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea." Another favourite Irish song of ours. Along the promenade we saw a large sheet of metal engraved with the words of the song, and with a picture of the poet who wrote it, lazer cut in the centre so that you could see the mountains through and around him. We had to drive through the mountains which took us through some lovely countryside, but we realised that we were still a bit early for the airport so we stopped off at a little village called Swords. We found a nice tea shop, and then wandered down the high street. Then we filled up the hired car and returned it to the depot, and headed into the departure lounge. We were relieved when the case went through as we knew it might be over weight, but we were just under by a few grams!

Well I am sorry this is such a long post. There is so much more I could tell you, so believe me, this is greatly edited. There are some lovely photos in my new folder, "Touring Ireland; Week two" so do click on it and have a quick look if you can.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Tour around Ireland: Week one

I think it is now time to go back a couple of weeks, to the time before the boys all arrived for our birthday week. Back in fact to our holiday in Ireland. Because we packed so much into our time there I decided to divide the holiday into two posts, week one and week two.
I wasn't sure what to expect of Ireland except rain, and lots of green, but we were soon both enthralled by the beauty, the lovely people, and the relaxed atmosphere every where. We did get rain, but nothing like as much as we had expected. Some days were showery and I was glad of my nylon raincoat, but most days an extra jumper or light fleece was all that was needed. We even had a few days when we walked around in shirt sleeves. But everyone told us what a wet summer they had had, with no chance of mowing the lawns because the ground was so sodden, and you could hear it squelching when you walked on it, so we were very lucky with the weather for our two weeks.
And we did see our forty shades of green, and some! Most days we found ourselves driving down narrow roads with huge deciduous trees on either side that almost met in the centre, so we were driving through green tunnels. In other places the trees were changing to their autumn colours and we really appreciated this as just about the only trees we see out here are pines.
The thing that was common to just about everywhere we went was water. We saw rivers, lakes and water-falls as well as the sea. Even the cities all had a river or two running through them. This river, running through the centre of Cork reminded me of mum. She used to love the way these little daisies crawled all over the dry-stone walls in Wales. 
And with so much water of course, we also saw the sea birds, with great variety. This is a flock of gulls and pigeons flying over the harbour at Limerick. We also saw some swans take off from this stretch of water, and nearer the coast we saw herring gulls, cormorants  kittiwakes and dippers. And inland we saw hundreds of crows and jackdaws which are so beautiful close up, but also rather menacing.
We altered our original planned route, driving from Dublin straight across to Limerick on the first day, and then driving south to Killarney, through Bantry bay and on to Clonakilty where we stayed for three days. This was the area where Chris's mum, Peggy, was born and spent her childhood. She left when she was only 14-16, but each year she took her children back for a holiday. They used to stay with her mother in a cottage in Shannonvale on the edge of Clonakilty, and we went to see this cottage, which is still standing though it has been extended and modernised. We also saw the ruined cottage where Peggy was born, and the fields and lake that Chris remembered from his early holidays. A few months ago we had a visit from a cousin and friend of Chris from his younger days in Northwood, and from him we had learned that there were still a few of Peggy's family living in Clonakilty, so we arranged to meet Joe Tobin, son of Peggy's brother Tom. Chris had not met him before because he was born after the last time Chris went out for a holiday, when he was about 15. We got on well with Joe and his wife, and they showed us around, and filled in some gaps in Chris' memories. In the evening he took us to visit their grandparents grave, which is also where Joe's father and brother were buried. Joe suggested we also try to get to the Dingle peninsular to meet his sister, which we eventually did, but more of that next time.
Clonakilty itself was a busy little town with a big cathedral as well as a Church of Ireland. There was a big supermarket on the outskirts, but the main road was made up small indivdual shops. I particularly loved this old fashioned sweet shop. Every available space was lined with jars of old-fashioned sweets. I made the mistake of going there just as the schools came out and as you  can see it was very busy! We found the statue of Michael Collins who played such an important role in Ireland's history. By going back far enough it is possible to link him to Chris's family but most Irish folk around there lay claim to that as well. 
Dotted around the town there were large and colourful statues of animals. They were all part of an interactive art project for the children. Apparently there were about thirty but I only found about third of them. I thought they were rather fun and they brightened up some dark areas. I'm sure my boys would have loved spotting them when they were out and about.
We left Clonakilty to drive the short distance to Cork city, where my dad was born. We had timed it so that we were there for the weekend because it was the finale of Cork folk festival (Céilí Mór). This took place on the main plaza which was set up with lovely food stalls all around one end, and a big stage at the other.

On the Sunday afternoon we sat and watched some of the 'warm-up players', and then later there was a series of céilí bands, including Cork under thirteen band who were so good. The youngsters were playing fiddles, pipes and drums easily as well as the adults. They had come second in an all-Ireland competition. As the bands played they had several 'callers' who called out the moves for the dances and everyone went into a cordoned off area and joined in. We did a few dances but they were a bit energetic for us, and mostly we just enjoyed listening to the music.

We wanted something to do before the folk session so we went for a long walk to the area called Shandon. So many of the place names are familiar to me from the wide range of Irish songs that we both like listening to, and I am sure I used to have one about the Shandon bells, but I haven't been able to find it yet. The bells are housed in a tower and some mornings the public can have a go at ringing them. But we were there on a Sunday morning so it wasn't an option for us. The tower is know as the Four Liars because the four clock faces on it's sides never tell exactly the same time. Also in Shandon we spent some time in the butter market museum which was very interesting and we learned all about the brand name Kerrygold, and how it came about.
To get to Shandon we walked across a beautiful park called Fitzgerald park. it was a still morning and there were lovely reflections of trees and bridges in the water.
While we were in Clonakilty we drove along the river estuary to a lovely beach called Inchdonny. It was two wide, almost deserted, sandy bays with a spit of land between them that ended in cleft rocks. Chris remembers going to this beach on his holidays and climbing on the rocks. We watched the sunset there and it was beautiful. And on the other side of the estuary we visited Ring harbour which was also a very pretty spot. The photo of the swans gliding passed an old ruined building there is one of my favourites.
But I think the most beautiful place that we went to during our first week was Killarney. There is a national park as part of the city and we had a long walk in there, and the next day we hitched a ride on a jaunting car which took us passed the lakes to Torc Falls and Muckross House. it was all lovely.I took loads of photos of mossy rocks, toadstools, weird and twisted trees, and a few wild flowers. When we drove on from there we stopped at lady View point from where we could see all down the valley to the lakes. Just stunning!
Well I think I had better stop there. I have added just a few photos to this post and I have tried to use one that aren't in my main folder, but you can see the places I have been talking about, and other too, in the folder "Ireland; week 1" in my gallery which you will find if you click here. I hope you will have time for a quick look. There were far too many beautiful places to do them justice here.
I'll be back soon with week two.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Week of Birthdays

First I must add another couple of photos as a post script to my previous blog. Yesterday Chris and I were invited to lunch up at the home of our friends Julie and Robin. This meant driving to Zurgena village and we were quite shocked by the devastation we saw on the way. We knew their village had been cut off for a few days but we hadn't realised just what the damage was. But this is what we found. 

We left the motorway to drive up to the village on a road we have used many times, but this time the road just stopped in mid-air. You can see the broken tarmac below what is left of the road, and this gives some idea of the depth of the mud that was swept away by the torrent.

Here is a second point where the road should pass over a bridge, but half the bridge was missing. I took this from the car, but you can just see the workman on the top of what is left of it. The tarmac stretches out a bit further, and then - nothing!

This is one of the temporary diversions that have been set us to take the traffic down through the 'valley' and back up on to the main road. As you can see, it is only compacted mud and sand, and yesterday it was raining again. On Saturday they closed the road again because rain was turning the diversion into a quagmire. We took a different route home but on that road we came across another bridge that was washed away with a diversion around that.

It made us realise just how lightly we had been affected in our village.

Now for happier news. We arrived home from our holiday after midnight on Saturday 13th October. Ben was due to arrive that morning for a week, but Tom was collecting us from the airport and had just two more days with us, (or so we thought!). We had arranged a little party with a few friends to celebrate both of our birthdays, and Tom had asked us to move it to the Monday so that he could be there, so we had done that. But as we pulled up to a dark house, a row of faces appeared above the garden wall, and not just Ben was waiting there, but all of the boys, as well as our grandson Mikey! It was such a surprise and I couldn't quite take it in. Apparently they had been planning this for over a year, (starting at Jim's 40th birthday barbeque in June 2011). We had absolutely no idea, and had swallowed all the tales that Tom had told us in order to keep it a secret.
They had even had the forethought to get Tom to book us all in for a carvery meal at our local bar the next day so I didn't have to cook for them.
It turned out that the party had to be moved forward to Monday because Mike and Jonathan had to go home on the Tuesday evening, but all the others stayed until the following Saturday. They each came alone because not all the partners or families could come away during term time, and they knew we would struggle to house them all without prior warning. As it was, they had already set up all the spare beds and I just had to throw bedding at each of them, and they managed.
They were very helpful with the party preparations. I had made a huge curry and chili before our holiday and frozen them, and I had left a shopping list for Tom. On the Monday some went with dad to buy some drink, and the others helped me at home, moving furniture, putting up fairy lights, and doing what was needed in the kitchen. 

I had arranged to borrow a piano for the evening so that Ben could entertain us, and Robin and Julie came with a guitar. Robin is very good at leading 'community singing'. Julie's party piece is to sing Summertime, and Mike and I sang Fields of Athenry (with Chris being daft between us!)

It stayed dry all evening and warm enough for half our guests to sit outside on the porch in the fly-free area. The rest sat around the main room and the piano was set up between the two. 
The food was well accepted and there was plenty to drink though we have more than enough left to see us through Christmas, and some!
We had a lovely mix of friends there; some from Church, some from my sewing group, some from the village and of course family too. They all got on very well together and it was a real success.

When they had all gone home, we sat chatting with the boys out in the yard, and then all the boys went swimming in the pool at 2.00 a.m.

In fact the pool was put to good use all week. The water was still around 22-24 degrees and once you were in it, it wasn't too cold, but the weather has changed for the worse again, so it isn't likely to be used any more this year.
We also had some lovely days on the beach, that were warm enough to need suncream, and to swim in the sea.

We went to our favourite beach at Los Cocedores, and the boys had lots of fun climbing on the rocks. I stayed at the other side of the bay and used my zoom lens to get photos of them. 

Jonathan managed to arm-wrestle with a jelly fish and got a very nasty sting for his efforts, but we went into a farmacia on the way home and got some cream that settled it down.
Later in the week we went down to Mojacar beach and the sea was really rough. I stayed on a lounger and read my book but the boys enjoyed it in the waves. It was good to see Jim messing about with them. He isn't often that relaxed, but they were just like a bunch of boys together and I enjoyed watching them.
My birthday was on the Wednesday so that evening we relit the candles on the cake the boys had bought us, and opened one of the bottles of bubbly we were given. It was another lovely warm evening and we sat outside playing dice games all evening.
Friday was Tom's birthday and he chose to go to his favourite beach-side cafe for breakfast. Actually it was nearer to being lunch by the time we got there, but we had a lovely meal, so it was a good choice.  
That evening we went down to the bar for the karaoke evening, and once again Ben wow-ed them all. He sings with great confidence, and lots of folk came and complimented him. 
They had to be up and out quite early on Saturday. They all had an early flight to Birmingham except for Ben who needed a train to go on to Benidorm where he was meeting up with Dave for their usual half-term break.
It was a wonderful week, probably made even better because it was so unexpected, and we are left with lots of happy memories.
I have dotted quite a few photos throughout this but there are these ones in a larger format, and many  more in a folder on my gallery which you can see  here. Just click on 'Slideshow' to see them all.

I am now sorting out all the photos of Ireland, and as soon as they are uploaded I will do a blog post about them as well.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Back again after so long!

I have been absent for so long that it is a wonder that anyone is still following me, but we have had a very eventful month, with far too much going on to write it all in one blog.
First we had the storm that I know you saw on TV in UK.

Then we had a wonderful two weeks in Ireland. I have spent the last few days sorting out some 500 photos, ready for a blog post and scrapbook.

Last week we both celebrated our birthdays, with a big surprise, and more style than we had anticipated. More about that another day.

But for today I am just going to talk a little about the storm. You might say that it is 'old news' now, and in many ways it is, but for a lot of people it will go on dominating their lives for weeks and months to come. It was also an event of some importance so I want it recorded in my blog so I can refer back to it at some time.

The rain started on the Thursday night. We brought the dogs in because they are afraid of the thunder and lightning, and then, although we were aware that it was raining heavily, we just drifted off to sleep and thought no more about it. When we woke up it was still lashing down and bouncing off the surface water in the yard. We had a big bucket standing on the outside sink and it was overflowing, so I realised that we had had a huge amount of rain over night. But because we had new flood drains put in the village when they built our new road a year or two ago, we were not fully aware of just how bad it had been. We stayed in all day but I have since seen a photo of the rambla that runs alongside our village, and it was a fast flowing river, something that an old man of the village told us he had not seen for twenty five years. The green zone at the back of us was also covered in water, but it mostly drained away by the next day.
That evening we set off to fetch Tom from the airport at Murcia because he was coming out to look after our animals while we were away. It was then we became aware of the damage everywhere. The worst storms had affected a band between where we live now and the village where we rented our first flat out here. We were turned away from the entrance to the toll road that we would normally take to the airport, (a bridge was washed away), so we continued along the motorway to take the longer non-toll route. The old road that runs along parallel to the motorway had been washed away in places and there was debris everywhere. 

Other motorway exits were cordonned off, and then we found ourselves in a nose-to-tail jam that crawled along for a few kilometers, but when we got to the turn-off for my church at Huercal-Overa, the police sent us over the bridge and back the way we had come. (We later learned that a bridge alongside the motorway at Puertas Lumbreras had gone!)  I shouted 'airport'  to the police from the car window and they told us to go back and down through Cuevas. (I am including some place names as folk who have visited us will know where I mean). Beyond Cuevas we were again turned away from another entrance to the toll road, so we had to drive down to the coast at San Juan and on to Aguilas where we did eventually get on to the toll road and from there onwards it was plain sailing. Power lines and phone lines were down, and there was no mobile signals so we couldn't let Tom know what was going on, but he went to the cafe and waited patiently and eventually we got there to collect him, just under an hour late. Of course we then had to take the same long route in reverse to get home.

The next day we tried to get to the supermarket at Vera but again we were faced with road closures. This area was the worst hit, and it is where one English lady lost her life, drowned in flash-flood water. Ten people died altogether and some 4,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. 

Here is flood water up to the top of ground floor windows at Bougainvillea roundabout, and the next two photos show the kind of devastation that was left behind when the water subsided. I took the one above when we were turned away on Saturday morning.

Our friends who live up at Zurgena were completely cut off  because every road from their village was washed away. They have now opened the main one, but the others will be fairly low on the priority list. The motorway is now open with contra-flows operating in several places where the outside lane is not safe because it has been undermined by water. The entire landscape has changed in places. Money is in short supply for the repairs, but they are drawing up a priority list and eventually it will get done. But it will be months, or years, if at all, before everywhere is back to how it was.

We thank God that we were unharmed, but our hearts go out to friends and all those who lost family members, their homes, their livestock, and those who are still struggling to rid their homes and land of the sticky mud and debris that the flood water carried.
Three of the above photos are my own. The other four are courtesy of Spectrum, our local radio station's facebook page, supplied by other followers. Social network pages such as forums and facebook were the one way we could send out information on which roads were safe, and which should be avoided. I published our sucessful route to the airport because every day someone needs to get there.