Sunday, October 31, 2010

Walking in Irish

On the Northwestern coast of Ireland, in County Donegal, the official language is Irish. Everyone speaks English as well, but all of the street signs are in Irish.  That wouldn't be a problem for people who don't speak Irish as well except that all of the town names are vastly different in English.  For example, if you fly to Ireland, more than likely you will arrive in Ath Cliath, which most people call Dublin.  I was blissfully unaware of this fact until the day I went for a walk.

There are many small peninsulas in the Northwest of Ireland and toward to south end of County Donegal.  Donegal Town is just inland of a peninsula.  Further North, Borbag (sp?) is another such town.  Between the two is Dungloe.  The Peninsula to the West of Dungloe is bordered by spectacular cliffs that drop into the sea.  Waves crash into and explode off of these cliffs in a constant, awe-inspiring display of the force of nature.

About 5 miles from Dungloe is the tiny town of Maghery.  The only shop or business of any kind in Maghery is the Strand View Bar, owned and operated by Conol Gallagher.  A road, in places only big enough for one car, winds through the hills of the penisula to an even smaller town called Crowley.  The road is another 5 miles.  About 3 miles down this road is an even smaller 'track' or 4wd road that also goes to Crowley, but runs along the coast and adds another mile.  From Crowley back to Dungloe, there is another road that runs for 3 miles and then hooks back into the road from Dungloe to Maghery 2 miles from Dungloe, and 3 miles from Maghery.

The plan for the walk was to go with my friend Danny to see a special cliff, continue along the road and then on the track to Crowley, and back to Dungloe where Danny and Di would meet me for a pint at a bar called Sweeney's.  We would depart at half eleven, and meet up around 8:30, giving me time for dinner in Dungloe.  An estimated 10 miles in all.

I packed a rucksack with an apple, a plumb, a flask of tea, some chocolate and the camera.  We were off right on schedule. Danny took me to a place he called the blow hole.  It is an amazing geologic anomaly.  There is a huge ricks shelf that drops into the ocean, but in one place there is a thin, deep crevasse.  It is about 7 feet wide and 200 feet long.  Waves crash into the rocks and are channeled into the crevasse where they continue to rage and boil forward until there is no where to go but up.  Danny says on a stormy day when the tide is in, "up" can be more than 100 feet. 

After exploring some of the cliffs, Danny drove me to the top of the hill and sent me on my way.  I took my time enjoying the breathtaking countryside.  Everywhere there were ruins and streams and free-roaming sheep, all amid spectacular views of other peninsulas with spectacular cliffs far off on the hazy horizon.

Along the road there was a great tree that had fallen in front of a peaceful wee waterfall.  The tree was covered in the greenest moss I had ever seen.  Shortly after passing the tree was the track.  I took it and was stunned by the beauty.  All around me were fields of wheat nestled below white cottages, some with thatched roofs. The golden sunlight dripping off of everything it touched.  I made my way down to the shore.  A boulder field about 300 feet wide and a miles long stretched out before me.  I found a nice boulder and sat watching the back-lit waves crash against the shore. 

After a few minutes, I continued on to Crowley.  I walked on the road to Dungloe (the only road in town) until I came to an intersection.  I walked straight, but soon the road was bad and had vegetation growing in it, so I turned back and took the other road.  I thought of what excellent time I was making.  Only 5 miles to Dungloe.  I would be there in no time.

The road I was on was steep and winding and I began to get tired.  About two miles up the road, there was a great tree that had fallen in front of a peaceful wee waterfall.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  I was almost afraid to look, but there it was: green, green moss.  It was time for a decision.  Continue 8 miles to Dungloe, or turn and walk 7 miles back the way I'd come.  I did what anyone would do in this situation: neither.  I left the road and made straight for the top of the mountain that stood between me and Dungloe.  I reached the top just as the sun dipped below the horizon.

Never underestimate the size of a peninsula in Northern Ireland.  The distance of wild land that stretched out before me made me laugh out loud.  I had to strain to even catch a glimpse of the road far off in the distance.  Trying to hurry now, I made my way down the other side of the mountain.  It was wet and steep and muddy.  There were fences and cliffs.  I fell several times and slid down a fair amount of the mountain. 

I reached the plateau relieved, and a bit bruised.  As I began to walk, I also began to sink.  The ground was so soggy that walking through a field was like walking through a foot of water, but water with roots.  All tolled, the mountain climb and swim through the field took me 2 hours.  I finally found a road and began walking toward the Crowley-Dungloe road.  About 1/2 mile later, my shoes had stopped squirting water, my pants began to dry and I was back on track. 

After dodging cars (as it was now pitch black) I reached the crossroad to Dungloe and Maghery.  Of course neither sign read anything close to either name.  I had a good idea of where I was, so I kept walking.  I had 2 miles to go.  I passed a thick grove of trees and a small river and a school house where the road curved left and an intersection that caused me to turn right.  I thought I must be coming to the town soon.  On the road went and I started to second guess myself, but remembering what happened last time I did that, I kept going. 

The road started to slope down and I thought I would surely wind down into town.  That is exactly what it did.  I saw some lights that were obviously a business.  As I got closer, the lights started to look familiar.  As I got closer still, I'm sure I went pale.  Was it?  Could it be?  Oh God it was!  I was at the front door of a bar owned by Conol Ghallagher: The Strand View and I was in Maghery, not Dungloe. If I thought the top of the mountain was funny, I nearly died laughing here. I had 5 more miles to go after having walked 14. 

I turned and started again.  I turned left at the intersection, right past the schoolhouse past the small river and the thick grove of tress.  I was almost back to where I had made the wrong turn when an angel in a Nissan heeded the call of my outstretched thumb.  So the last two miles of my walk were in the comfort of a much-needed seated position.

I got into Dungloe at about 8:00 (it had been dark for 3 hours).  I got a quick, cheap plate of fish and chips (which never tasted so good), and headed to Sweeney's.  I ordered a hot whiskey and started reading.  I finished the drink and a few chapters and it was 9:00.  No sign of my friends.  I ordered a pint and when I had that finished, it was 10:00.  I asked the bartender if there was another Sweeney's in town.  Yup.  Just down the street.

In the other Sweeney's I found Danny, Di, and 5 or 6 of their friends.  I had finally arrived.  After several pints, it was 2:30 and time for the bar to close.  Luckily, someone had a full bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey.  We went to the home of one of the party and drank the whiskey. All of it.

Politics dominated the discussion that night, and together we found solutions to most of the worlds problems.  The evening finally ended and we all went to sleep.  It was 6:30 AM.  Danny and I woke up the next day around 3:30PM.  Try though we might, we couldn't remember the previous night's brilliance.  It was so hazy, it might as well have been written in Irish.

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