The Fog strikes back!
14.08.2009 15 °C
This morning we woke up in the city of Kenmare. After a tasty breakfast we were off to leave behind the County of Clare and discover County Cork. Unfortunately, weather would again play a role in what we were planning to do.
Concededly, we had a lot planned for today. We wanted to see coastal towns that are supposed to have fantastic views of the Ocean from the south of Ireland. As we entered County Cork through fog thicker than days earlier in Dingle, it became clear that the day could end up a wash if we wasted time and energy getting to pretty coastal towns but couldn’t see further than 40 yards in any direction. Switching gears we cut Schull and Baltimore and did a bit more of a historic journey through Cork.
After a multiple hour drive with what I’m sure would have been stunning views we arrived in Skibereen. I know on yesterdays post I spent a lot of time on the great famine so I’ll be brief here. Skibereen is known as the epicenter of the blight, not because it was hit the hardest necessarily (really all of Ireland was) but rather because when people arrived in Cork to investigate what was going on they were directed to Skibereen to investigate the effects first hand. As a result, most of the news reports that were published in England were based on what was happening in Skibereen.
In any event we arrived in Skibereen and went into the local heritage center where all of this information was presented to us. After that we visited the mass grave where tens of thousands of people were buried, coffin-less, during the famine. Its become a traditional marked cemetery now except for one very uneven patch of ground in the center where bright green grass grows. It was, in a lot of ways, haunting.
We left Skibereen on this note and made our way through winding narrow roads east. Our next stop was the Drumberg Stone Circle, another iron age establishment that contained the remains of an ornate burial ground whose axis lined up with the sun’s path during the winter solstice. It also had a couple of huts and a cooking area. It supposedly also had a sweeping view of the coast but, alas, all we could see was white soup in every direction.
After this we continued our eastward trek toward Clonakilty, our next destination. Clonakilty is known for being the birth place of “t’e big fella’ ” – Michael Collins, one of the heroes of the Irish war of independence and an unfortunate causality of the subsequent Irish civil war. We first had lunch at a “glutton-free” restaurant. I’m not sure what that means exactly, but I did not go for the glutton-free option. Indeed, I asked for extra-glutton in my sandwich.* The waitress was not amused. After lunch we spent a good deal of time trying to fix Raquel’s phone, to no avail. I was happy with this time anyway as it gave us a chance just to walk around and take in the city. After this we saw the statute of t’e big fella’ and headed east to see a reconstruction of a ring fort and to see the Michael Collins Heritage Center.
The reconstruction of the ring fort was alright, but the real enjoyment came from our “tour guide” who was a masters student of pre-medeival history named Aoife. She would tell us things like “Well they probably didn’t have a fire in here, right? Because it would be smokey, don’t you think?” And I’d say “Sure.” But its not like I knew at all. At one point she asked me whether I thought they kept their cattle inside or outside the fort. I said I didn’t know, thinking she’d then give me the answer, but she followed it up with a “I’m not too sure either” and trailed off. Not realizing that she was genuinely asking my opinion, I quickly followed up and said that probably sometimes the cattle were inside and sometimes they were outside, depending on the circumstances. She seemed to accept this answer as a distinct possibility. It was quite funny. I’ve learned this trip that the Irish have a very different approach to history and I think this exchange illustrated it. When we in America come across history we tape it up, board it up, preserve it and explain it. When the Irish come across history they allow you to walk around it, explore it, touch it, and in many cases climb on it. They don’t really explain it - its more of an ad hoc approach to trying to figure out what happened. When we were on this tour I was expecting to be spoken at or lectured, much in the same way that we are by tour guides in museums or by explanatory plaques by exhibits in the US. Aoife, while she certainly brought more knowledge to the table of the era, was expecting more of a conversation of Irish history and speculation about what happened; something to muse about and discuss, but not to have a definitive answer on. I suppose it makes sense – no one knows perfectly how sites from 1700 years ago worked, they can speculate, but its all up in the air. In the US we don’t have anything that old – everything (mostly) is written and recorded and we get (and are more accustomed to) more definitive answers.
That’s just my impression anyway.
After this we went to the heritage center and saw a fantastic presentation on t’e Big Fella’. At first it was video clips of him giving speeches (all without audio as he lived before that time). Afterwards, however, the gentleman who owned the center gave a talk on Collins and his life and the civil war. He was captivating and a master story teller. And I also realized it was in the style of oral tradition. Sure, all of the facts I know about t’e big fella’ matched up with what he said but the grandiose style and demeanor was what stole the show. Raquel commented afterwards that he might have just made it all up and we’d never be the wiser. She was right, but moreover, it left such an impression that you walked away with the feeling it just had to be true. Of course, like I said, it wasn’t just made up or purely oral tradition. Everything he said jived perfectly with everything I knew about the era. He also had names and reports that supported what he was saying. It was just the style that struck me.
After this it was around 5 PM – like I said most of the day was driving through pea soup. We decided to head up to Cobh, where we currently are. After driving on every other road in Cobh we finally found the road that our B&B was on, we parked our car and meandered into the town center where there was (and currently is) a very loud festival going on. The festival, however, is geared more towards the teenagers of the town and involves a dance competition in tribute to Michael Jackson (I kid you not). I was particularly moved when a bunch of kids got on stage to “we are the world” and waved their hands back and forth in a completely un-synchronized fashion. Someone held up a globe, upside down, in the background. Just beautiful. In actuality I did get a good laugh out of it. Dinner was good and Raquel and I walked around a bit before turning in. I think the drive took a lot out of us today and we have another monster drive to Dublin tomorrow. We hope to see Blarney castle and a famous rock (still not kidding) on the way, but I imagine most of tomorrow will be getting to Dublin, finding a place, to be followed by many Guinness’s. That’s the plan anyway.
Anyway I’m starting to realize that this adventure is drawing closer to a close. It’s been fantastic and I cannot believe its almost over. As my dad and brother said in the virgin islands, we’re living in the blink – the blink of an eye. Time just seems to race by when you’re on vacation and there isn’t anything to do but enjoy it while it happens. I hope to continue to do so the next few days before I get back stateside.
- No I didn’t