This post is another idea of my wife’s, and it was certainly a great idea.
Shortly after my wife and I had learned we were expecting, our thoughts turned to the traveling we had wanted to do. We’d both spent time out of the country (we were both Military Brats in our youth). We knew once the baby came that travel out-of-country would be financially infeasible for many years, so we decided to take one good trip abroad before the baby came. We initially wanted to go to France or Italy, but the cost for such a trip was just a little outside the budget we set for ourselves. Then we saw a great air-fare deal on flights to Ireland. Neither one of us had been to Ireland, but we had one good friend from Ireland who had spent some time in the States and had returned home.
So, last October, we took a trip to Ireland, a country rich in culture. They aren’t known for the food culture (potatoes and lamb in everything, and Full Irish Breakfasts) or their fashion culture, but they make up for it in spades in folklore, mythology, and old-world charm. Ireland was exactly as you’d expect it: green and rainy, and just a sense of being somewhere where Things-Have-Happened-In-Ancient-Times. We’re talking Bronze Age history here.
The highlight of our trip, without question, was our time on Dingle Peninsula on the west coast. We opted for Dingle over the Ring of Kerry on the advice of Rick Steves (Dear Wife’s favorite travel guide), who loved both but preferred Dingle given a choice. We were not disappointed. There is an awesome, primal beauty about the Dingle peninsula, and the driving tour took us past ancient forts built with primitive dry masonry (without mortar) and sites made famous by the movie “Ryan’s Daughter” (set and filmed in Dingle) alike.
On the western shores of Dingle, and from the tip of Dun Mor point, through the gray mists you could make out the rise of the Blasket Islands. The larger An Blascaod Mór and to the north the Sleeping Giant peaking above the waves, suggesting some ancient lost world. The history of the Blaskets was one of the most fascinating parts of our tour of Dingle. Peopled since ancient times, and speaking exclusively a dialect of Irish Gaelic until modern times, the Blasket Islands were abandoned in 1953, making them a true lost world. Many of the former residents still live in Dingle, while others emigrated long ago to the United States.
Life on the Blaskets, we are told, was harsh and unforgiving. But it also held an idyllic, primitive vitality that somehow still resonates with people today. What’s more, the lifestyle, culture, and folklore of this people became the bedrock of an amazing, if unlikely, literary community. While holding a population of no more than a few hundred at its height, the islands were nonetheless home to numerous gifted writers and story-tellers, including Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig Sayers, and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin. Their stories of life on the islands romanticized the troubles and challenges of the island people.
The link I felt, while there in Ireland, to the ancient Celtic people, to their mythology, to their history, and to their folklore and way of life, still lingers with me. Its something I hope to try to capture in my writing in the future. The trip was an inspiration. I regret only that we were able to spend only a week in Ireland (and that because it was late in the season, we couldn’t take day trips out to the Islands or Skellig Michael).
If you readers ever make it out to Ireland, I highly advise a stop through Dingle Peninsula (and stay at the Milestone House Bed & Breakfast; the proprietors were super-friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable; one of my prized souvenirs from the Ireland trip is the photocopy of the hand drawn map they made of Dingle Peninsula for visitors). Take it slow, take it easy, and take in the sights and the language and the history.