Tag Archives: Donegal

Facial Types

When I went to Ireland, I began to recognize typical Irish faces. My friend Sam’s father was Irish and I didn’t know how Irish Sam looked until I was in the airport and saw a guy that could have been his brother.

As I travelled through Ireland I noticed this one face that I would call the quintessential Irish man’s face. The men were not really wizened but had broad brows, often creased with a line or two even at a young age. I saw eighteen-year-olds with this look. The eyes not large but big and bright, and the chin narrower, giving a triangular shape to the face. The guy we met in Donegal, that I called a leprechaun had this look. It was hard to tell his age because he looked both young and old at the same time.

There were other facial shapes that would be more Irish than not but this is the one I remember the best. With women, it was a rounder face, with high cheekbones and a bit of a ruddy complexion, or rosy cheeks and pale skin. Darker hair is more common and these people could be ancestrally related to the black Irish, those who descended more from the Picts than the Celts.

I took a university course once with a woman whose last name was Kelly. She had white white skin, rosy red limits and hair as black as midnight. She was a living example of Snow White and could not help but attract the eye with the vividness of her coloring.

When we got to Glasgow I noticed the rounder, broader faces with the fuller cheeks (puddin’ face). In some cases, it might be Scottish or English ancestry but seeing the people in Scotland I thought of my friend Chris and knew he had roots in England or Scotland.

Facial shapes are a general thing and of course the same type of face might be a characteristic of a another country’s indigenous peoples as well. Well known speculative fiction editor Ellen Datlow has very curly black hair, distinctive eyes and cheekbones. Her chin is pointed and her face broad. A couple of months go I was at a local restaurant with a group of people. A friend of a friend came in and she looked a lot like Ellen. She had the black curly hair, the same shape of eyes and cheekbones, the same chin.

She was young enough to be Ellen’s daughter but I’m pretty sure Ellen Datlow doesn’t have children. So I asked this woman if she had relatives in New York. She said yes but when I said the name Datlow, she said no. And she was El Salvadorean. Maybe Ellen has some Spanish ancestry in there.

Nature’s canvas is our faces. Each painting is different. There may be a series Nature does before moving on to try something new. My family is Italian and Danish. My brothers tend to take on the Italian coloring more whereas my sister and I are fairer hair and skinned, like the Danish side. We also look more like that side of the family, but it’s a combination. Nature doesn’t just work in paint but in mosaics as well, and that’s what we all are; pieces rearranged each generation into new and unique works of art.

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Bunratty Castle, Ireland

After we left Ennis we made our way to Bunratty Castle, a huge tourist attraction in the town of Bunratty. It is owned by Shannon Heritage (the county I believe) and is in County Clare. Bunratty means at the bottom (or end) of the Ratty or Raite river.

To this point we had seen many castles, husks and shells of their former glory. Bunrattycastle was set up as a theme park with 19th century cottages outside the castle walls. Some  were little merchant areas and had food and other items that you could buy. We  could wander in and out of all the cottages. Bunratty also makes a mead but I didn’t get a chance to buy any. The park was quite large and we actually didn’t get through all of it as we were trying to make our way to Limerick afterwards.

Ireland 2007–Bunratty Castle

The castle itself was impressive for the work that’s been done in restoring it. It was the most interesting of all the castles in Ireland for various rooms and being able to finally visualize what a medieval castle would have looked like occupied. I’m used to I guess Hollywood movies where the castles look gigantic with long halls and wide spaces. In reality, none of these were gigantic. Donegal castle and Kinbane were probably the smallest.

With Bunratty there were four towers. Each tower held several rooms but you couldn’t necessarily get to all of them from the same floor. I believe this was part of the plan, should there be an attack. The marauders would have to run up and down a lot of narrow stairs (necessitating fighting one on one) to find the rooms. After we left the castle, I looked at a map again and realized I’d missed a few rooms, although I was sure I’d gone through all four towers and the staircases, but it was a maze.

The cottages were also interesting to venture into, each being set as if people still lived in them. They showed a sample of various trades with different styles in size and rooms. Usually they were one and two room cottages. One, I believe had a loft with beds for children. The castles as well as the cottages were whitewashed through time. The white washing, made from slaked lime and chalk, served several purposes. It gave a more appealing look to places, helped preserve the stone against the elements and add light where only torches and candles were used and expensive for many.  

One cottage was being re-thatched and the thatcher talked with us about what he was doing. A thatched roof can last 15-20 years depending on the weather. The dried straw is held down in place with reeds bent to make staples. The thatching is begun at the apex of the roof on boards and worked towards the bottom.

Next time I’d take a lot more time to see Bunratty castle and the rest of the village.

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Slieve League and Carrowmore

On Tuesday Oct. 2 we bopped around Donegal for part of the day, using an internet cafe, seeing Donegal castle (which we drove around three times because we couldn’t find it behind the trees and the wall, and then couldn’t find the parking), and doing a wee bit of shopping.

I tried to call a woman near Carrick on Shannon. I’d been given her name by a friend but the one thing we never mastered were the phones. It was a phone booth on the street. I tried punching the number. I tried putting money in. I tried various buttons on the phone and only got the long distance operator who I couldn’t hear anyways for all of the traffic. So we never did see Bee, but then we didn’t pass through her area. Of course in retrospect, it was probably only a half hour from where we did drive.

Slieve League was past Killybegs, a small fishing town west of Donegal. We drove out and it was a meandering drive along or near part of the coast. This is tweed country; lots of sheeps and a few tweed shops that we stopped in, partially for directions. So we drove and drove and weren’t sure if we there so we asked a man, dressed in that classic Irish farmer attire of cap, tweed jacket, baggy pants and wellies In Ireland the standard greetings is “How are you doing?” This man was walking along the small village road. I believe there might have been a total of 20 cottages at most and it was at the end of nowhere. I don’t know if that was Killybegs or not. I think not but I don’t know what that village was called.

He said we were on the right road for Slieve League and as it turned out it was only about five minutes past that village, and dead ended there. We were high on cliffs and below was a long reddish sand beach. It was a long hike down the stairs and would have been a long sweat up. We didn’t go down as it was getting late in the day. We could see a couple of people sunbathing down there.

As we drove back we found the sign to the Bunglass Cliffs.  Since the guy at the tweed shop had mentioned them we decided to go check them out. I’m sure if my sister realized what we were getting into she would have run screaming.

We drove through a village as tiny as the one at Slieve League, passing dogs, goats and chickens all running about the road. We rounded a corner where the family working in their yard kind of stared at us like we were mad. Then began the ascent. I’ve lived in BC and Alberta all my life. We have mountains, the Rockies, and some mountain roads are treacherous switchbacks. This was something else.

At first it wasn’t too bad but then it wound higher and higher. And then we were on a hairpin where you looked across to the other side of the hairpin (about 75 feet away) with nothing but cliffs down the curve. My sister, who is terrified of heights, said not a word, breathing heavily and grasping the car door handle so tight I thought she’d take it off. I could hear it squeaking but didn’t dare look. And she was on the outside edge.

It was in fact fairly treacherous. I was only going about 5km and if we’d met someone coming the other direction, I’m not sure what we would have done as the road wasn’t big enough for two. Then there were the spot where suddenly we were looking straight at the sky. The car was at more than a 45 degree angle facing up. I had to take it on faith that there was road on the other side and crept over the edge. We didn’t stay up there very long. My sister was a bit too nervous and once you saw the view in a few moments (and the sheep) there wasn’t much else to do. However, the Bunglass Cliffs are the highest cliffs in all of Europe so my sister had a right to be nervous with the height. And I have to say my heart was beating a little fast on the way up. It was easier going down and a pretty good view.

Names like slieve, killy, kil, bally, carrow, bun all mean something specifically in Gaelic, such as hill or bay or mound or… I have no idea what Killybegs meant or Slieve League but there are a few place names that have the similar beginning.

Ireland 2007–Slieve League & Carrowmore

We then started beetling south to outside of Sligo. We wanted to do the Carrowmore passage tombs and thought we would go that far for the night and have a head start in the morning. Regretfully I saw nothing of Galway. We made an error this night by being far too late in travelling. It was dark by the time we ended up in the vicinity and I think we were near Lough Arrow (lough means lake) because there was coast on one side. But it was so dark we couldn’t see a B&B anywhere and finally found a small pub/tavern with rooms upstairs. It was dirty and cold (no heat), the shower didn’t work in my sister’s room and the rooms were so small we had to lift our suitcases over the bed. We did find a little restaurant farther in (if we’d known we could have checked that area for rooms) that had fairly good food. Many places did a combo course of appetizer and/or dessert plus a main course, so for 25 euros it was okay. The food was decent too but never that cheap in Ireland.

In the morning, Wednesday, we trotted off to Carrowmore and with the customary few wrong turns (though not many) found Carrowmore just as it was opening. It rained quite heavily while we were walking through the fields. These are small mounds or rings of rocks, and a few dolmen tombs. Not as impressive of Newgrange, still I found it interesting and the number of graves brought such a sense of time and history. We finished in under two hours, soaked to our knees, so we changed in the bathroom and then drove on. This was the wettest day we had in Ireland and we dropped Queen Maeve’s tomb from the walks as it would have been 45 minutes slogging through the rain.

Still, overcast sky and the wet gave very rich color to all of the photos.

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Bushmills, Dunluce and Donegal, Ireland

Our day started with Kinbane, then Carrick-a-Rede, Giants Causeway and somehow we went on to Bushmills (the town & factory) for a tour. Why? I don’t care for whiskey (Scotch is different), my sister’s a celiac and can’t touch any wheat product. A momentary leave of senses perhaps?

Although Bushmills has been making whiskey since 1675 and it was interesting on how they use bourbon, port and errr, one other type of barrel to age the stuff, and although we got a shot at the end of the tour (I also got my sister’s) it was still kind of a waste of time. There really was nothing to take a picture of unless I wanted to do an article on whiskey making (and maybe I should have taken more). But I took no pictures and had my sister shoot this only picture (and bad one) of me in Ireland with the mega bottle of booze.

Ireland 2007–Bushmills, Dunluce Castle and Donegal

So we did the tour, and then it was getting late in the day, about 4:00 and we found our way to Dunluce Castle… to see them locking it up. It was perhaps our biggest regret. If we’d missed the Bushmills tour that we weren’t that enthused about we would have had time to explore the castle. And this castle had a cave. How cool is that? Alas we could only peer from the locked gates.

Dunluce castle was held by the MacDonnells of Ballymargy fame and was destroyed by a fire in 1641. There was a cave beneath the castle besides the passage under the bridge. I would have loved to explore that are.

Our last stop was driving on to Donegal town. The pictures of Donegal and the castle are actually from the next day as we arrived with enough time to do our usual. We popped into the Reel Inn, had a drink and asked the bartender to suggest some B&Bs. It also turned out they had live music that night. So we crossed the bridge right outside the door and not believing everything was so close, continued driving up the road, to realize we’d gone too far. We turned around and then found several B&Bs just down the road. We stayed at the Bridges.

These B&Bs are nothing fancy on the outside but quite large houses inside with usually 3-5 bedrooms and a large dining room. Bernie, our host, had two cute little kids (never met the husband) and there was only a common bathroom though many B&Bs have ensuites. My sister and I each had our own room, which gave me a reprieve from her snoring. (It’s funny that whenever I had to wake her in the middle of the night to try and get her to stop snoring, the first thing out of her mouth, even half asleep, was “I am not.” Like I had nothing better to do in the dark of night.)Bernie also washed our clothes for a few Euros each. A very nice place to stay.

So that night we went off to find dinner (quiet on a Monday). Many pubs have dining rooms upstairs. We began to notice that service in Ireland is different than Canada. They’ll serve you but never come back and you have to hunt down the waiter to get your bill or they’ll literally let you sit forever. I don’t remember the name of the place but I had a mediocre chicken curry with not a speck of vegetables. but true to form it was a huge portion on rice. I ate it all and then they brought me a megasize bowl of French fries! I didn’t eat any, being quite full. But there was that Irish thing for potatoes again.

We then wandered back to the Reel Inn for the music though we never got farther than a few feet inside the door. I won’t relate the tale here again as you’ll find it if you go back to the Oct. 2 entry. We staggered into bed, a short walk of a couple minutes from pub to B&B, at 3 am.

The next day we went off to Donegal castle. We couldn’t find it at first and our biggest problem was getting in the car. Being used to larges cities and maps of BC, we tended to misinterpret distances in Ireland. We drove back and forth trying to find the castle, expecting something like Dunluce. Donegal castle was comparatively small, tucked behind a store that sold garden ornaments  and a parking lot. In fact the parking lot was on one side of the Eske River, which is not very wide but I presume was a lot wider during medieval times. From our B&B it was no more than a five-minute walk to the castle.

Originally built in the 1500s by the O’Donnells (probably related to the MacDonnells) they partially destroyed it when they left (were routed?) so that it couldn’t be used against the Gaelic clans. Then the flight of the earls happened and a British captain was given the castle. Basil Brooke added the Jacobean wing which are the kitchen and hall. Some of these castles were so small it was hard to imagine them being seats of power. We’re used to these Hollywood movies that show massive grounds yet we drove by the castle three times without realizing that’s what it was.

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Things Irish

First posted in Oct. 9, 2007
Blarney–we heard many a tall tale in Ireland and the gift of the gab runs through many, it seems. Now that we’re nearly on the home-front we’ve checked the internet and if Liam’s fish whacking is a record it’s only in Killybegs or Donegal as there is no listing. But somehow we’re not surprised by this in the least.

Almost all the toilet bowls in Ireland are quite roundish, kinda cute…as toilet bowls go. The handles are on the right instead of the left in Canadian/US toilets. Why one side or the other, who knows?

Latches on almost every bathroom door are slide latches. It seems to be the latch style of choice. Door knobs on exterior doors are often in the middle of the door.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a face cloth at any B&B or guesthouse. I hate water in my face so I always use one. Luckily I brought my own.

About 80% of the places we stayed didn’t have hairdryers.

Everything from toothbrushes (equiv. of $8-13) to hair mousse (equiv. of $10) is really expensive.

I’ve been called love or lass but no other form, besides “girls.” So my friends who think chicken (never heard this one even the first time around Eng. and Scotland many years ago) must be remembering a local idiom from somewhere.

I was told that no matter where you are there pretty much would be the friendly Irish and you wouldn’t be sitting alone for long or they would start buying you drinks. This friendliness was apparent in the towns but by no means universal. The resort areas and modern cities were as friendly…or as unfriendly as every big, trendy place. Kilkenny would have been the same except for the lads from the North.

Food was generally of high quality and in large quantities. I had a traditional cod (I think) and cabbage dish in a creamy sauce. The cabbage is more the savoy cabbage and it wasn’t bad. In the pubs the drinks all have their name brand glasses so you’ll get Bulmer’s cider in a Bulmer glass, Carlsberg, or Guinness in their glasses with the name on them. Some of the pubs in the west and the south still have the small coal fireplaces, and they are indeed stoked with coal. Oh and at least in Donegal, pub night is a Monday, perhaps to celebrate getting through the first day of work.

Every town or village goes back centuries so the streets are narrow and winding, the buildings tall and joined together as row houses. As you get farther out from the town center you encounter newer row houses, or individual dwellings. These seem to be quite large and have at least four bedrooms. That’s why there are so many B&B’s in Ireland.

Traffic circles and few lights. They’re insane and you’ll get honked at for doing it wrong but then find in the next town that it’s different. Speed limits are for decoration. If you see a sign for 60 km, people will easily be going 120. The small roads are usually 60-80 km and the highways 100-120 km. Often you’re getting up to 80 then having to drop down to 30 two blocks later for a traffic circle (roundabout) and this goes on.

We only saw one farmer with a horse and buggy but saw some country fellows in the typical cap, jacket, baggy pants with shiny bottom, and wellies.

Ireland is green and after a few millennia of deforestation, there are border trees and groves, a few protected forests. It was a stunning thing to see flying over the country. However, we did see areas of reforestation. When flying I couldn’t figure out why the trees looked as if they were combed. It was because they had been planted at some point.

Irish roads are almost all bordered by hedgerows or stone fences. There may also be trees that have been growing there for a long while that form tunnels as the branches reach above and leave space enough for car and lorries to go through. It definitely gave a different feel to the countryside. The hedgerows and stone walls are everywhere. We were told by one B&B owner that they recycle everything, so if an old wall is pulled down, those stones are used again to build something new. Makes sense when you consider that a country with 5,000 years of habitation needs to re-use what is there.

It was also interesting seeing the Irish looking face. I never realized how Irish my friend Sam looked. His dad was Irish, and Sam would blend right in in Ireland. Many men have triangular faces with wide brows that may be lined or more wizened then their years. There is the white skin and rosy cheeks of an Irish complexion too. It made me realize where some of my friends’ ancestry began.

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Donegal and Slieve League

FIrst posted on 10/02/07 on Blogspot.
Yesterday was big hike day. We went to Kinbane Castle, a ruin, down many steps to a crag and a rock in the ocean. It was fine gong down but definitely a sweaty hike up the steep steps. My sister couldn’t make it so stayed above.

Then we drove (driving is fine now…mostly, except those traffic circles, which are literally every five blocks when you drive through a city. Very confusing when there are five names on each sign and you’re trying to find one.) to the Carrick a Rede rope bridge. Randi is afraid of heights so I went on and over the bridge (short) to the hummocky island. It’s like it’s covered with peat and then grasses and little field flowers here and there. A beautiful view of the North Sea in its blues and turquoises with the white cliffs, the black rocks and the little green sharp cliffed islands called Carrick Island (where the rope bridge leads to) and Sheep Island. That trip to the bridge was the second, easier hike but with some steep steps to climb back up.

We then went to the Giants Causeway where there were hundreds of people. This is where the land coughed up great hexagonal (six sided) columns of stone everywhere to the water. These columns form natural seats and steps and are very cool. Managed to get some good pics but the haze stopped me from getting good ones of the chimneys farther out and I was a bit tired to walk that far.

We went on to the Bushmills whiskey factory. Why we did this tour I’m not sure. It wasn’t on our itinerary (made up daily) and it wasn’t very exciting or interesting. No old architecture, a bit on the making of whiskey(which was kinda interesting). Bushmills is named for the old Bush river from which they pump the water and the milling of the barley. But because we did this we missed getting into Dunluce castle. October hours means many things close at 5 instead of 6. It would have been the most impressive castle with a bridge, large environs and a cave beneath the castle. All these castles today were coastal castles. All we could do was take pics from the gates.

We then drove and drove through many a roundabout, through Portrush and Portstewart, Strabane, various little towns to Donegal. We stopped in a pub, the Reel Inn, had a drink and got some idea for B&Bs. This was a nice change. A small town center and our B&B just over the bridge, less than five minutes from the town. The pub is just one side of the little bridge. We ate in some restaurant which was okay. I had chicken curry (13.50€) which was only chicken, no veggies. Lots of chicken and rice though and then I was given a huge bowl of fries, which I didn’t even touch. The Irish do love their taters.

We went back to the Reel Inn which was supposed to have live music. We barely set foot in the door when we were mobbed by drunk Irish men. There was a very drunk, bleary eyed, mostly incoherent Liam and his friend who we called Harry Potter, of barely legal drinking age. Enda was a nice guy who looked like he used to play rugby (on the TVs everywhere here) who had his own pub but goes for drinks with the boys on Mondays because one of them is banned from his pub. The banned one, the older Liam (40-ish) with a front tooth missing, regaled us with many a story of his fishing forays, true or not. Liam McGurdy holds the world record for fish whacking and gutting. Supposedly this is true though some of the other tales were not (though we googled this and found no mention of famous fish whackers–more blarney). There was an equally drunk, red-haired Eric. They were all bleary-eyed when we arrived and just stayed the same.

Randi and I had been told that the men buy your drinks everywhere. We hadn’t found this yet or even that people talked to you that much. But it was true here. They all wanted to shake or hold our hands but we never bought a drink all night. Each guy would try to up the other in blarney.

There was also a Pete or Finnbar but it was hard to tell as he was not always on the up and up either, who kept telling me I was a fine woman and asked, if I was there alone would I fancy him. I didn’t want to say outright no and offend him, but I did say no and he asked why. I said because I like to get to know people there and that the gold wedding claddagh (Irish ring with two hands holding a heart) with the hands turned in told me he had a wife. “Oh you know too much,” he said when I caught him at his blarney.

A younger Pete came in and all the guys in the bar started calling old Pete “Daddy.” Younger Pete, Pete Cannon was kind of like a leprechaun, not that tall, pretty eyes, lots of character in his face and brown hair with blond and light red streaks. Turns out he’s a musician and he also contributed to the blarney in his way. But overall the lads were friendly and harmless, if half of them completely inebriated. I got to try Adam’s cider which came in a larger 1.5 pint bottle.

Now we’re off to Slieve League and the western coast. More as the internet allows.

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