We have been here for almost a week now and it is maybe time for some overall reflections or observations I have (Connie will have her own I am sure).
We have seen lots of diversity here, whether it be the weather, people, nature, community or landscape. We have been able to experience the Antrim Glens on the way to Ballycastle, but once past there, we see little in the way of large trees or plantations. Those Glens have a mystical feel to them, especially when shrouded in fog, and everything is covered in moss. The fields and moors surrounding them complement them well and seem to fit. As we left Ballycastle and travel along the coast, we find windswept areas with mostly grass growing, more cattle but still the ever present sheep. Trees are really low scrubby, prickly bushes with some hawthorns and thistles scattered around. Even as desolate as some areas may be, if you just look around there are flowers on the trees, small wildflowers and in some areas bunches of flowers clinging to rock ledges and faces. One can figure that at one time there must have been forested areas, as the castles have remnants of large pieces of wood, or at least where large beams spanned across from wall to wall. There is little in the way of wildlife here. It is not just snakes that are missing. The largest animal we have seen in the wild are seabirds or rabbits. That is it. No deer, no predators – nothing. Apparently there are foxes, but so far we have not seen them.
The communities we have visited have all felt different. Belfast (at least the area we were in) was a mixture of new buildings in amongst very old, ornate architectural marvels. The people were city people with busy lives. Very friendly if approached and asked for assistance, but then back on their way. Different areas in some communities had a different feel to them. Some are inviting and some you don’t spend much time in. They just feel like there is something hanging over them. You can still hear it in some conversations with people that issues are not yet very far under the surface.
Without hardly any exceptions we have found Irish people very friendly, helpful and genuinely interested. When in a store, they will approach you to ask if you need help with anything, and if you say no, they back off and leave you alone. If you do need help, just ask – they come right away. There is a difference with younger Irish than older people. The culture is under stress just like everywhere else. The older generation still feel a connection to the old ways, and still believe in mystical, special areas, whether they be stones in a field that are always worked around, or in fairy trees that nobody messes with, or in the deep history of castles and areas that need to be preserved. One man told me that younger Irish do not have a sense of place, and frankly don’t know where they live.
You do not hear swearing here, whether on the street, in a restaurant, bar or on the train. Have not heard the F word since leaving Toronto. Nice for a change. Don’t always understand what they are saying either, so maybe miss out on something in translation. Church is big here, and in small communities often outnumber the bars and pubs. Churches are generally large, ornate and well kept – and usually very, very old. You have seen some of the pictures. Graveyards seem to be attached to most church yards, and while some upkeep is done, gravestones that have toppled are not stood back up, and areas that have settled have not been filled back in. They are just left to be.
If you travel in Ireland, I feel hiking is maybe the best way. The pace of life is slower than at home, and hiking fits that pace well. You get to see and experience areas, views, vistas and culture that you just can’t when travelling along roads at 60 miles an hour. Guess that fits anywhere. Hiking allows you to get off the beaten path (except when you have to travel on highways) and see things you can’t see otherwise.
For the most part, the people here are friendly, proud, like to talk, glad to offer advice and are very appreciative of having those from outside visit their communities. It is not cheap here and lunches usually cost 20 pounds (which is close to $30 Cdn) and supper is twice that. The economy here is still stressed, and prices do not seem to have dropped to match it. With a fair bit of unemployment I don’t imagine it is easy to make ends meet.
This is our first experience in staying at B&B’s. So far it has been a good one. Different places have different accomodations, with some rather dated, and some very up to date. Hosts are accomodating, but do not smother you. If you need something, just ask. You always have a choice of the full breakfast or something less. I can’t imagine anyone eating the full breakfast each day.
And maybe best of all, I get to do this with my best friend, and that is special. Connie has been a real trooper, and done things she never thought possible, and without complaining (well maybe a little – and she does seem to blow her nose a lot but mostly when going uphill – what’s up with that??). They have been long days, lots of water, wind, wind and water together and hills – both up and down. Definitely not on her favorite 5 list.
I feel quite comfortable and at home here. It’s like a comfy sweater, jacket or hiking boots. Just seems to fit. I don”t have any Irish in my background —-but maybe I have been this way before.
So stay tuned for more posts, and maybe more observations.