Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On a clear day . . .

We started our day today with a trip to Foynes to visit the Flying Boat Museum. Now, from Salthill in Galway to Foynes is a distance of 139 kilometres and Google Earth suggests a route that takes 2 hours BUT that is not taking into account the traffic getting out of Galway or through Limerick OR the terrible condition of some of the roads that are designated national roads! In fact, the N18 through Gort is more of a national disgrace than a national road of any standard. It was a shocker and certainly, any respectable car's shock absorbers or sunspension or anything else that hangs from beneath the car could be forgiven for just giving in to it and dying! We were too busy trying to plan where to put the car next to get a photo, but might be able to get one on Thursday when we are travelling south.

Our trip takes us through some very picturesque country and for a while we travel through part of County Clare very near to where Bill and Greta live. Being May, we are surrounded by flowering May bushes - grown as hedges in many areas. Reminds me of my trip with Mum 3 years ago - they were flowering then as well. We drive passed Bunratty Castle and Dirty Nellies where we have been told we must have a meal. There are a number of ruins of castles that just exist as a statement to earlier times, in the midst of everything. They just stand silent, sentinels. Life continues around them, not ignoring them, just not including them. Kind of a bit like the radio telescope at Parkes in the middle of a sheep paddock. They are simply there. Not like the British who seem to want to celebrate every little collection of old stones. Just, there.

The Foynes Flying Boat Museum, while small is very well done. It is located within the Shannon Estuary and housed within the original flying boat terminal and control tower, however access is restricted to the terminal and not the tower. The museum outlines the contribution made by Foynes to the Flying Boat enterprises of the United Kingdon and the USA between 1939-1945.

Upon entering the Museum patrons are ushered into a replicated 1942 cinema, and after sinking into the luxurious seats - it's lights out, camera! The documentary is projected in beautiful black and white, with original footage and 'Movietone' excerpts which outline Foynes' aeronautical origins. It becomes apparent that Foynes was intended to be a temporary base until a more 'suitable' location could be found. However, the Powers-to-Be realised the protection and accessability afforded by the Shannon Estuary would prove a more practical location. So, Foynes it was to be.

The history of the base is provided by audio-visual displays, scale models of the flying boats and one can try their hand at the flight simulator for a Boeing B314 flying boat! There are no actual aircraft on display with the exception of the full-scale Boeing B314. Regardless the hull is a composite of original and replicated parts, surely this display must be the icing on the cake. The interior of the hull is an exact replica from the cockpit to the private honeymoon suite at the rear. The oppulance provided for the passengers was quite staggering, for example, the dining room could seat 14 passengers provided with a 7 course meal!

The outbreak of hostilities in 1939 would gradually change the role of Foynes base. Luxurious flying sea liners shared the mooring area with their more spartan cousins. By 1945 the role played by the flying was gradually being eclipsed by faster and more economical aircraft. Over the following 20 years would see the removal of all flying boats from the skies. Oh, and what is the link to Irish Coffee? Follow the link to find out!

Just before we reached Foynes we had passed the turnoff to (Medieval) Askeaton (Las Geitine) and had decided that we would go and have a look on the way home. This was a little surprise of a town. Hidden from the main road by hedges and trees, you cannot see all that it has to offer. It is only a small town of a couple of hundred people but boasts Desmond Castle, St Marys Church and the Knights Templar Tower, a Flour Mill/Creamery and the Fransiscan Friary. The Franciscan Friary dates from 1389 and Desmond Castle from 1199. The Friary is one of the most complete ruins of a medieval abbey in Ireland. The castle was abandoned to crown forces in 1580 - its walls blown up by the fleeing Spanish defenders after the fall of Carrigafoyle Castle to the English during the Desmond Rebellions. The original church founded by the Knights Templar in 1298 has an unusual belfry that is still standing. With a square base and octagonal top it is based on Norman architecture.

What an incredibly busy place Askeaton must have once been. The township however belies its history and while quaint, is very quiet. We are driving through the twisting streets trying to get to the Desmond Castle when I turn into the town square and gosh, almost into an ambush? The Bank of Ireland is taking a delivery, or perhaps handing on cash. So around the building are platoon of soldiers - all armed and standing at the alert (yep, there are about 30 of them) plus a car load of Garda (Police). We wonder whether the bank has in fact been held up. But no, job done, they all get into their vehicles and with the armoured car in the centre, drive out, convoy style. Wow - overkill or what?? Anyway, Michael checks with the Tourist Office who informs him that the castle is closed as there are maor works to shore up the ruins taking place. These are certainly very evident by the scaffolding that encase much of it.

The Friary is another matter. It is open, parking is free and there are few restricted areas. Even though the main road is just beyond what would have once been the kitchen garden, this is a place of peace and tranquility now. Unlike its turbulent past when is was burned. There are a number of grave markers that have been moved into the sanctuary of the building - many dating back to the 1700s. It is quiet with only the voices of monks passed left to whisper their stories as the air moves through the passages.

From here we drive back to Ennis and then west to head along the scenic Coast Road. We pass through countless little hamlets, villages and towns, one barely finished before the next one starts in many places. And the place names are quaint to say the least - Knockatemple, Ballyduff Beg, Milltown Mallbay to name just a few. We are headed for the spectacular west coast of Ireland that embraces the Atlantic Coast and the most photographed part of that coast - the Cliffs of Moher.

All along the coast meandering from one cove to the next you get the feeling that you have seen the best view yet. That is, until you come over the next hill, round the next corner. Kilkee Beach, Lehinch with its prettily coloured buildings, Liscannor Bay and then up the climb to the Visitor Centre at the Cliffs of Moher. When Mum and I visited here 3 years ago, the day was very hazy. But today in the early evening light (more like late afternoon) it is crystal clear and beautiful. And it could not be more of a contrast to that wild coast of northern Scotand that shares this same ocean's waters.

The experience is very nearly ruined when we go to enter the car park to find that parking is €8 and then an entry fee of €4.95 per adult into the interpretive centre. Luckily it is after closing time and one of the booms is up and the concession booth closed. So we, and quite a few others I might add, are free to wander without charge and marvel at something created by mother nature at no financial burden to anyone. Mind you, the managing authority has done a lot of work since I was here last - the new visitor/interpretive centre, sealed parking areas, bus areas, more stabilisation of the tracks and the stepped area is now complete. And O'Briens Tower is once again open to allow visitors to get even better views of the cliffs opposite. It is now quite easy to get good photos or to explore the site with no danger of toppling into the ocean below.

And that Atlantic Ocean today - WOW. It was as smooth as a piece of silk sliding over a mirror. There was no swell and not a wave in sight. Even around the base of the cliffs, there was barely a ripple. Just a soft caressing of that deep inviting blue. It was somewhere between Delft Blue and Ultramarine. And as the sun settled towards bed somewhere beyond the edge of the horizon, the colours in the cliffs ran through the spectrum of browns and greens to chalky red and metallic deep greys. It was mesmerising to just stand and watch. The only sound you could here (beyond the ooh and aahs of the tourists) were sea-birds calling as they circled in the last of the warm updrafts of the sun.
And on a clear day you can see - forever - well, over to the Aran Isles at least!!!

A little further around the coast we spy Gleninagh Castle and then rounding the tip of the coast in the north we can see The Burren - a vast limestone karst plateau (OK, OK you know I can be a frustrated geologist at times!) - some of the totally unexpected finds in this area. And still the sun shines. We stop to find somewhere to eat as the sun is just setting - at 9:30 pm!!!!

Dinner was at Hyland's Burren Bar Hotel in Ballyvaughan served by the eager young JohnJay.
Mussels steamed in garlic and cream (Michael)
Fishcake with Chilli, Lime and Coriander Salsa and a tossed salad (Maria)
Bacon wrapped Cod served with Jacket potato (and chips!) and a tossed salad (Both)
Desserts: you have got to be kidding - didn't you check out the size of the meals! Just coffees to finish.

By the time we get our mains it has gone 10 pm and we are in no hurry. Strike up a conversation with a Canadian guy sitting at the bar and willing to talk to anyone who doesn't look disinterested! Fed and watered we are now bushed and on our way home to do the blog. We walk in the door just short of midnight. A pretty full day all in all.

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