Pony Carts and Leprechauns

IMG_0950When you think of Ireland, what is the first impression you come up with in your mind? A few might be Leprechauns, Rainbows, Four Leaf Clovers and Green, right?!!??!!

Now that I’ve experienced this “Emerald Isle”, I can better understand why these symbols pop to mind. When I scheduled a trip for late September and early October, I knew we wouldn’t have perfect weather. After doing a lot of pre-trip research, I found that in summer months we might have rain and cooler weather anyway. So why not go on the shoulder season and save a few bucks? We didn’t go a day without sunshine and we didn’t go a day without rain. What’s the old saying? “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it’ll change.” It was easy to see why Ireland is so, so green. Sunshine and rain! Sunshine and rain! What more could the grassy pastures need?

We were really blessed on the day we scheduled the visit to the Aran Islands. There was sunshine all day and very little drizzle. The temperature was very pleasant. I wore a coat for the ride to the islands on the boat, but I was very comfortable with it open, catching the wind as I rode right on the bow like Kate Winslet in Titanic.

Our B&B, Oceanview, was less than 45 minutes from the dock at Doolin. Doolin is right beside the Cliffs of Moher. I had prebooked passage with Bill O’Brien Line Ferry that left the dock at 10am. The passage is, at times, too rough for a trip and one must call ahead. Our wonderful innkeeper, Kathleen, called her friend Bill and all was well. Bill was standing out front of his place waving us over and shouting, “Penelope”! What a friendly place.

There are three islands of choice so I chose the larger one. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it: Inis Mór is a major tourist destination, with bed and breakfast accommodation scattered across the island. Private minibuses, horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the main methods of getting about for the numerous tourists who visit the island in the summer months, the majority of which are the Irish themselves but with an extraordinary number of British, French and German holiday-makers. There is a small museum illustrating the history of Dún Aenghusa and its possible functions, while The Aran Sweater Market is also a focal point for visitors who can trace the culture and history associated with the Aran sweater through the on-site museum.

The boat ride is an hour one-way. We got off the boat and straight into the arms of a pony cart driver. He was NOT at all a sleazy-tourist-chaser-get-rich kinda guy. He was very polite and told me what he could offer and how much it was. The gang had already said they wanted to see the island via the pony cart and that they would pay extra (besides what they had already paid for the trip) to do this. This was the best decision the “committee” made. We had three carts and three people in each cart. Angela, Lynn and I rode with Donal (Gaelic for Donald) and his horse Silver (not named for the Lone Ranger). His brother Michael carried Carol, Pat and John, while Harriett, Rob and Barbara rode with a real character, Kevin. Donal was a younger man, born and raised and who had spent most of his life on the island. He came back to the island to run the farm after he lost his parents. He had been a school teacher and is presently teaching children’s enrichment classes on Gaelic and the Gaelic culture on the island. He was a wealth of information! We learned so much about the topography, flora, fauna, history etc., etc. Kevin was a life-long resident of the island and full of story and myth according to the Meineckes. I think they got a few wooly explanations about the tiny houses for Leprechauns and the like. When I let it slip that Rob was a vet, Kevin had Rob examining his horse and diagnosing an ailment. Rob was so good-natured to just go along with it all. They came home with an order for a special bit to be mailed back to Kevin.

We took the whole day with the pony traps. They dropped us at the Dún Aonghasa Fort, an important archaeological site that also had a spectacular view. It is not known when it was built, though it is thought to date back to 1100 BC. Donal had actually worked there a few summers back in an archaeological study. We had a leisurely hike to the top, a snack and many “Kodak moments”. I laid down to absorb that ancient earth energy, with my head just feet away from a huge drop to the ocean. Before I knew it, almost all the crew joined me. We just laid there with our backs stretched out on that hard, irregular, unforgiving rock. And it felt good!!!!!

The pony cart trip back to catch O’Brien’s Ferry at 4:00 was along the ocean. We missed the seals and the puffins, much to my chagrin. Just not the right time of day or season, who knows?! I know they’re there. I saw one little seal stick his nose up as we were arriving on the boat. We had thirty minutes to shop in the Aran Sweater Market before we made a run for the boat. I felt like a drill sergeant-“you have ten minutes to finish your purchases!” Then outside counting the flock, “Who are we missing?” No one had to spend the night on the island, thank goodness! Everyone fell silent, almost sleeping, on the hour long trip back to the mainland. The sun was falling orange on the horizon as we came closer and closer to shore with the Cliffs of Moher making a dramatic statement. A memorable segment of the trip, indeed!

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Penelope Moseley