So the first week of my classes as an Irish student are over. I’ve chosen my modules (not courses), and I’m doing all my reading, even though I forgot how boring academic writing can be (antecedent variables, anyone?).
On the plus side, there are a bunch of cool people in my program, which should make our discussions interesting. We have students from Ireland, Germany, Belgium, France, Malawi, England, and Russia, in addition to the States. One thing about Europe is that they really encourage students to learn new languages and experience other cultures through programs like Erasmus, which I think is important.
There are still a few things I don’t think I’ll ever get used to, and most of them have to do with driving on the left side of the road. I keep freaking out because I think there’s no one driving cars or that the drivers are texting their way to a six-car pileup. Sometimes I try to get in on the right side of the bus, which might as well be a neon sign that says, “I don’t know what’s going on. Definitely take my wallet.” So far that hasn’t happened, because Irish people are nice.
One thing I do know, however, is that I want to start traveling. This past weekend, a friend and I decided to take a trip to the Cliffs of Moher. A lot of people choose to rent a car when traveling in Ireland, but I didn’t feel comfortable driving a manual, especially on the wrong side of the road, so we opted to see what a bus tour would be like. Spoiler alert: there was both good and bad, and along the way, we stopped by some cool places.
1. Take a photo at Leamaneh Castle.
The first stop on our tour was for a photo op at Leamaneh Castle, which is located in the Burren, a region of Ireland dotted with unforgiving and rocky natural karst. The castle is more of a manor house, really. It’s fallen into ruin now, but in 1648, it was inhabited by Maire Rua O’Brien, known in Irish history as “Red Mary.” The name came from her red hair, but also because she was pretty bloodthirsty. She allegedly used to hang servants from the castle for infractions. After her husband was killed, the story goes that she rode into town and said she would marry the first Cromwellian soldier who offered, probably as a way to keep her property out of the hands of the English crown.
Today, the castle is privately owned and not open to visitors, but you can take a picture from the turnaround in front of it.
2. Explore the national park.
The Burren also includes the smallest of Ireland’s national parks, its namesake. We stopped quickly here and took in sites like Poulnabrone, a dolmen tomb whose name translates to “hole of sorrow.”
If you have more time, check out the caves in Aillwee or Doolin.
3. Take a pit stop at Caherconnell Stone Fort.
About one kilometer away from the Poulnabrone dolmen is this well-preserved ring fort that dates back to medieval times – the early 10th century, to be exact. The stonework is so tight and symmetrical that it looks like a modern-day copy.
Today, you can see the fort for a small fee, and also watch demonstrations given by the fort’s famous sheep dogs. However, I opted to save money by hanging out with the local cows instead. I wanted to show them to my brother, who used to milk cows for a living and wants to be a large animal veterinarian.
After wandering the fort grounds, you can stop for a delicious cranberry scone at the Mountain Haven Cafe.
4. See the cliffs themselves.
After we skirted Galway Bay, I got my first view of the Atlantic. The only way I can describe it is…cold.
The wind was particularly bad the entire day, so bad that at the cliffs we were almost blown against the sea walls. That’s a special kind of wind, one that we don’t even have in Idaho.
The cliffs were the single most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The greenery even manages to grow on the rocks, and the sea around the rock is a beautiful turquoise. I felt like I was at the edge of the world, because the cliffs drop straight down and there’s nothing on the horizon except the sea and the sky.
To the left of the tower, the cliffs stretch out, with a narrow walking path going along the edge if you’re feeling adventurous. Each cliff seems bigger than the last, because they’re staggered, as you can see from the top image.
All in all, our tour ended up being really great – except for the one annoying guy who came back from the cliffs twenty minutes late and made us all wait because he was trying to get the perfect shot for the Gram. Seriously, if you’re going to be interacting with other humans, don’t be a jerk.