Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day 9: Dingle Peninsula

The Dingle Peninsula is an extraordinary place. Monuments dating from prehistory to the present dot the ground like so many pieces of popcorn on the floor of a movie theater—only much more appetizing.

For our part, we started the day by visiting the "Original and Historical Famine Cottage." I'll simply come out and say it: I do not believe for a moment that this cottage is "original" or "historical." It is too big, too well appointed, too nice to be significantly associated with anybody who truly suffered during the famine. That said, the folks who run it have gone to every length to show us just how "Irish" it is. They've got donkeys and ponies, even a dolmen out front. There are we little figures showing us the harsh realities of life during the famine. Still, as I say, I don't buy it.

On our arrival, the students immediately made friends with the livestock... and no wonder. These follows are awfully cute! (Uh, the animals, not the students.)

Then it was up the hill to meet the residents and to check out the cottage. One is greeted by a hungry looking fellow in the barn (which features glass windows?!). He looks a bit like something out of Oliver Twist, but then maybe I'm just being critical.

The cottage stands as quite simply the most beautiful famine cottage imaginable. Funny that it doesn't look a thing like what tourists described when they visited famine Ireland.

This child doesn't seem to be starving. Scary, yes. Starving, no.

To be fair, the people behind this site did put a "peasant" cottage next door. It is probably about the right size and is appointed almost appropriately... though the spinning wheel is pushing things a little far. Heck, in the entire town of Gweedore, Co. Donegal there were just 18 stools for 2,000 or so people. I don't recall a thing about spinning wheels.

Once done at the "Original and Historical Famine Cottage" we were up the road to visit a group of beehive huts. These huts are so called based on their shape. They were likely inhabited by early Christian monks on their way to one of the many local monastic sites—perhaps even to Skellig Michal that sits high atop of rocky craig about 10 miles out to sea.

Our next scheduled stop was the Blasket Center, but there was a whole lot of wonderful scenery to look at on the way to the center, especially around Slea Head. Here are a few of the sights—including some from a brief stop that we took at an area beach.

The above photo shows the "Sleeping Giant"—one of the Blasket Islands.

The following cross is located at Slea Head. Such monuments dot the Irish countryside and are found in many of the most sublime and beautiful places.

The Blasket Center celebrates the life and writing of those who lived on the Blaskets, especially on Great Blasket. For those not in the know, the Blaskets sit just off the peninsula and were hope to a community of fishermen/farmers who spoke some of the purist Gaelic around. When scholars got interested in the language, they came here—eventually encouraging the islanders to either write or otherwise record their stories. The result was an extraordinary library of Gaelic language literature that is celebrated throughout Ireland (and the world) to this day. By the early 1950s, however, emigration took its tool. The island population was aging, dying out. The island was permanently evacuated in 1953, leaving nothing but the rotting ruins of the town behind.

The following image illustrates what the town looks like today (from the mainland).

Here's a model showing the layout when inhabited.

Our guide explains.

My favorite things about the Blasket Center are the displays showing what island life was like. This was one shows the construction of a currach—a traditional Irish fishing boat.

When the left, many island residents emigrated to Springfield, MA.

Finally, I absolutely adore this statue, just behind the center.

Blasket Center done, it was on to the Gallarus Oratory—a small church, probably once part of a monastic settlement. While there are debates about when this building was constructed, the odds are that it is well over 1000 years old, dating to the early Christian period. It is built using dry stone construction and is entirely watertight.

Our final stop—not including a return trip to the hotel because two students forgot luggage and two of us (yes, I was one of those shamed) forgot to hand back the room key)—was to Kilmalkedar Church. This ruin contains a variety of odds and ends that are of extreme interest.

First up, the following slide depicts an early sundial. We had a difficult time figuring out the time, but then, we're a bit slow really.

Next up is an Ogham stone. Ogham writing involves a series of dashes and is quite old. Inscriptions usually say things like "Bill was here" or "this is John's estate."

In this case, the stone has a hole in the top. If a priest was not available (which was common), country people anxious to marry could put their finger into the hole, touching in the middle. For a bit of fun, I tricked John and Paige into inserting their fingers, then I told them they were married. Paige ran off screaming in horror. No worries, Bret stepped up to demonstrate the photo. I confess that it bothers me a little bit that John is now trying to balance the demands of two marriages.

This inscribed stone is the only alphabet stone in Ireland.

With Dingle done, we were off on the long drive to the Burren. But first, we had to cross the Shannon—a very significant thing to do.

Finally, many hours of driving behind us, we stopped for a late evening bit of contemplation at the Cliffs of Moher. Absolutely stunning.

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