Wednesday, May 6, 2009

En Garda!

Today is the most miserable one yet. Not only has heavy rain set in, it is being driven by gale force winds. At breakfast we are talking with an Englishman over here on business who re-affirms how spectacular the Au Grainan Fort is and that the views are really worth seeing them (if only the day was clear).So after a slightly emotional goodbye to Margaret, with a promise to keep in touch we went up to pack and be on our way.

I was uploading the last of the photos before I posted yesterday’s blog entry when Gen came on line. I had to tell her that she had just caught us about to leave. At which point she told us that we are always leaving. So here is a tip for all you people back home – we are usually online late at night our time – with Skype open as well. You are presently 9 hours ahead of us in time, so it would be early morning your time. If that doesn’t suit, try between 4 and 5 pm – we might just turn on the computer when we wake to check email!

It was uncomfortable packing the bits and bobs in the car in the wet. We have got it pretty well down pat now and rarely take the full suitcase in for short stays. We have a couple of packs that hold our smalls, our toilet bag, the laptop and the camera are the essentials plus whatever clothes we want for the next day. Much much easier when we are going up flights of stairs!

So all packed we head off. Once out on Groarty Road we can see the fort high on the hill behind the B&B. So there it was – in plain sight all the time! The road up is narrow, twisting and very uneven. Surprisingly (given the weather) we pass a number of cars on the way up. Once there, the rain is not so strong, but the wind is. I wait in the car again while Michael takes a sprint up to have a look. Our friend this morning was correct – on a clear day the view from the fort would be absolutely stupendous. Even today, in the bleak weather with its grey skies and misting rain, the view is amazing across Loughs Swilly and Foyle and across Londonderry and Bucrana.

The fort is quite enormous and although its history is not definitely known, it is accepted that it was the royal (clan) citadel in Northern Ireland from the 8th century. It is believed to have been built around the time of the birth of Christ on the site of an older monument. Although they are inaccessible now, Margaret told us how a friend could crawl through a labyrinth of passages under the walls when he was a child. When you see such archaeological sites in weather such as what we are experiencing today, you cannot help but wonder how they have stood such ravages for so long.

From here we are off to see if we can find St Patrick’s Cross out beyond Buncrana where we visited the other day. BUT, first we have to get away from Au Grianan. As we come down off the hill, we are confronted by cars parked both sides of the narrow road and then 100% blocked by attendees at a funeral in the church here. There were very literally thousands of them. Some in military uniform, others from the National Guard but mostly just normal people in raincoats and/or under umbrellas. We were in a bit of a dilemma as the hearse was parked in the centre of the road in front of us, thronged by people. After about 5 minutes waiting I eased forward and thankfully the people parted allowing us and the traffic behind us to pass. We only get about another 100 metres when we get to the T-intersection with the main road where traffic is crawling past cars that are parked along both verges sometimes 3 deep. This traffic is being directed by Garda (Police) Officers. Those cars extended for more than a mile on both sides of the road! We don’t know for whom the bell is tolling, but the crowd is phenomenal.

Further down the road we are stopped by more Garda Officers who ask to see my licence – a random check (or maybe not so random when they are stopping every car). The officer was pleasant enough though busy. We did not know it then, but today the Queen and Prince Phillip visited Londonderry – so we now understand the heightened presence of the police.

So off again we head – eventually arriving at Carndonagh and finding St Patrick’s Cross very easily – it is on the side of the main street into town under a constructed shelter. This area is known to have been founded by St Patrick and although the exact origin of the tall cross is not known, it is believed to be linked closely to the saint as it has an image of Christ on one side. Coming in to town, we see a church with a striking dome on the highest point in town. So cross visited, we brave the terrible traffic jam that seems to plague these small towns to go and have a look. The Sacred Heart Church is absolutely amazing – a very open and bright space with surprising colour. The cornerstone was dated 1942, but the interior has had a facelift since then. The honey coloured timber pews have not even been discoloured by the touch of years of hands. Take a look at the photo – who says that lemon and red are not perfectly at home in a Catholic Church!

It is now after 12 noon and we need to be heading south. Tonight we are headed for Enniscrone on the coast out from Sligo and on the border between County Sligo and County Mayo. But in order to head south, we need to go past the funeral site again. No longer at the church, the massed throng has moved two miles down the road to the cemetery. And the cars still restrict easy movement. And the no doubt by now frustrated Garda are still on point duty. It takes us 20 minutes to get clear of the funeral, still none the wiser as for whom it was.

So down to Sligo we come. We are almost there when I see a sign that I thought was for a roman site, so off I turn to try to find it. Right down to the beach we travel, not seeing anything. On the return journey we spot what the sign was pointing to – a memorial to the Spanish Armada of 1588. How on earth Sir Francis Drake ended up here on the west coast of Ireland is anyone’s guess – my guess is that one of these storms was blowing and they were disoriented or even blown ashore! However it was too wet to get out to further investigate. We then passed the grave of the Poet Yeats in a churchyard in Sligo – if the weather is kinder tomorrow we might just double back to have a look.

From Sligo we turn towards the beach to get to Enniscrone and the Diamond Coast Hotel where we are staying tonight. Only opened in December 2006 it is a huge modern complex in an area where there is an incredible amount of new development happening. Guess that everyone want to live by the beach! Our room is large with a rural view. We have booked a dinner, bed and breakfast deal although we are advised on arrival that the restaurant is closed tonight and we will need to eat (from the same menu) in the bar. So what.

The menu is nicely developed if not very large. But there is a good choice with something for every palate. We select:
Atlantic Coast Seafood Chowder (both of us)
Panfried fillet of Seabass served with Basil Mash and Tomato Coulis (Michael)
Poached fillet of Salmon served with Lemon and Herb Butter (Maria)
Profiteroles with mint ice cream (Michael)
Apple crumble with ice cream in a wafer basket and fresh cream (Maria)
The food was delicious. That seafood chowder was thick with a whole selection of seafood – but not too heavy. It was served with a selection of breads – gosh it is going to be hard to go back to Australian bread. We were served by a very efficient, friendly and pleasant waitress Sabina who is originally from Ostrava in the Czech Republic and she is kind enough to point us to a tourist website on her city once we tell her we are going to the Czech Republic. She was very busy tonight but did everything with a smile! Good on you Sabina!!

No internet access in the rooms, so we are uploading in the bar. We won’t be online much tonight at all – not a bad thing! See you all again tomorrow!!!

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