Day 1 | Day 2-3 | Day 4 | Day 5-6 | Day 7-8
The fourth day was the first time that the sun came out for any length of time. And since my plan was to wander around the Carrowkeel tombs, that was even better. The view from up there is fantastic. Better than Knocknara perhaps.
(just a note about the picture above - no, it didn't look like that - I spent a lot of time tweaking the picture in Photoshop - it captures the mood well though)
While it looks sunny here, what I really remember most was the wind. As I got out to hike up the hill I wasn't bracing myself properly. A gust of wind literally picked me up and slammed me into the car. I'm sure it was very comical - Me staggering around among the tombs like Buster Keeton as my camera bag flapped straight out like a banner.
This was my first moment of total idiocy on the trip. Carrowkeel has some very nasty cliffs. Wandering around up there in a wind that had already picked me up off the ground was not smart. Oh well.
Fortunately you can climb inside some of the tombs here. This shot is looking out from inside where there's a rather large room with three small chambers off of the main area. You can see the sun box above the entrance where the rising sun can be seem a few days around one of the solstices. Crawling into this thing is not easy. The stone that would have blocked the entrance is only partially pulled away.
Inside you can easily stand up and it's quite comfy. These pictures are with the natural light and I haven't messed with the color at all, so this is exactly what it looks like. I was worried that the interior would be flooded from all the rain, but I think all the loose stone (which looks like worn river stones) on the floor might be designed to facilitate drainage. There was standing water right outside, but the interior was only a little damp.
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Here's two of the tombs lined up. Supposedly most of the sites that are now dolmens or circles of curb stones once looked like this. The theory is that over the millennia people have used the cairns as quarries and slowly turned them into walls. I'm a bit dubious about that.
I've been inside a couple of the Carrowkeel tombs here, plus the cairn at Newgrange, and none of the sites (wedge tombs, dolmens, or stone curbs) I've seen have anything in common with the structures I saw in those. I'm sure archeologists know more about this than I do, but it just seems odd that all the existing cairns look one way and all the things they claim once looked just like cairns are completely different.
This is the cairn that's one ridge over. If you were to look down and to the left of what I show here you'd see a long limestone plateau which is covered with about 50 ten foot wide "hut sites". This was supposedly a stone age village.
I didn't take a picture because I was sure I had several posted on the last travelogue, but looking back I don't find any. Oops. The whole site is very strange. It's hard to picture how it could have been a village. There's no level ground, no place to grow anything. But I don't know what else it could be.
This is as close as I got to Cairn B. I had really wanted to climb up here. But the cliffs don't have any obvious paths and the idea of fighting my way through the muddy brush didn't sound like fun. The only way up seemed to be along the ridge about a half mile further up.
It looks very sunny in these shots, but the clouds were rushing across the shy so fast that I really only had a few seconds of sun for each. What I'd do is find a shot I wanted and then just stand there with the shutter half depressed waiting for a shaft of light. Very cool.
This was weird. As I went back out the gate below the parking area I decided to take a picture of the valley between cairs C & B (the picture was poo - I over exposed the sky). I went to frame the shot and saw this little sign right in front of me.
Of course it's Martin Byrne's wonderful "The Sacred Island" site. Since he's also a tour guide I suppose this is his version of a billboard. But I was off to see the fabled Keshcorran caves. No time for the Internet.
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I was glad to see the sun holding out. I snapped a few pictures of the area, like this peat bog, and headed down the road to the Keshcorran caves. The way seems very obvious on the map, but it turned out to a bit difficult. I ended up just driving in the direction I thought they were and craning my neck to scan the hill for cliffs. Eventually I got on the right side-road and found the parking area. Of course there were no signs.
Despite the fact that these caves have a long, colorful history stretching from megalithic to current times, the parking area was just a pull out that barely big enough for one car. There was no trail so I just headed across the field and up the hill.
And the hill here is almost a cliff itself. I had to track back and forth to get up it.
Many of the entrances here only go in a few feet. The largest caves in the center go in about 20 feet and then narrow quickly and branch together. It's only about 100 feet from the entrance to the back. I was expecting something much larger.
Of course the sheep use it for shelter, so the whole place is filled with sheep poop. And in most places the ceiling was dripping with water. Very inhospitable. I quickly got tired of trying to avoid sinking into the poo/mud and headed back out.
Nice view also.
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After the caves, I'd planned to make a circuit around Lough Arrow and see some of the other sites, but after driving around the countryside for half an hour I bailed on that idea and headed back to Sligo for some lunch and shopping.
Sligo is very nice. I really should have spent more time taking pictures of the town. It was very sunny. For some the reason, the ones I took just didn't look that good.
Since I was heading up to Donegal the next day I decided I'd better head back to Carrowmore and check things out there. This is a shot of Knocknara seen from one of the tombs. I think you can see some people climbing up there, but it might just be sheep.
Notice the point where the trail becomes indistinct. That's where it suddenly stops being well maintained and just heads straight up the steepest part of the hill. All the mud makes this especially fun. You can't even really tell where the trail is.
I assume it's some sort of joke. Above and below that spot the trail is perfect. Perhaps the locals around the area have telescopes set up and they take bets on whether the tourists will make it up the muddy slope without falling and rolling down.
Carrowmore is also a bit odd. Most of the best sites aren't even part of the official park they have set up. I had to climb over a few fences to get to these two tombs.
The wide angle lens really comes in handy for these shots. And doing this with a digital SLR rather than the film camera I had last time made a huge difference. No need to worry about exposure problems when it's cloudy, no need to scan 300 prints on my crappy scanner, etc. Fixing all the colors in Photoshop is also fun.
This was the coolest tomb I saw at Carrowmore. But it's not part of the developed area. You have to park at the visitor center and then walk across road, climb over the fence, walk through the horse pasture, and head towards Benbulbin. Lots of great pictures from this spot. I could take a whole calendar of photos right here.
You have to fall in love with the weather in Ireland when you have days like this.
Clear air, low rolling clouds, shafts of bright sun. I was just taking one fantastic picture after another. I'm kicking myself now for not shooting the pictures in raw mode. So many of these would be nice to print in poster size.
This was site 51, which they're reconstructing. Unfortunately it wasn't accessible during the work. From the pictures at the visitors center you could see that it wasn't as advanced as Carrowkeel. Just a square tomb buried under a cairn.
Carrowmore may be one of the largest megalithic cemeteries in the world, but it's not too exciting. Most of the tombs are in horrible shape. I think the main point is just to be there and see things lining up. And since they don't have the awful cedar plantations here you can actually see it as the builders must have. Very nice.
This alignment sort of makes me wonder if there's something hidden on top of that hill in the middle ground. Notice that big boulder on the side of the hill. Is that an erratic or was it placed directly in line on purpose? Who knows.
At this point I ran into one of the frequent problems on the trip - Where to get some damn food. It's possible that Americans are just spoiled. In the states, if we want to buy some lunch or dinner there are plenty of businesses that would love to help us out. In Ireland this seems to be something of a novelty. Nothing open. Even with the restaurant guide I only had about 6 good sit-down meals on the whole trip.
I finally found a place in Strandhill that I was assured would open up in 2 hours. So I decided to drive around the Sligo area looking for pictures.
I drove out to Benbulbin and tried to catch a break in the clouds. No luck. This is the best shot I got of the mountain during the three days I was around Sligo, and this one took about an hour in Photoshop to clean up.
It didn't seem to matter how sunny things were in other places, Benbulbin always ended up either darken by clouds or, more frequently, *in* the clouds. I think it just might be too big. I probably should have climbed up there. The trail looked like a pain in the ass though, and every time I tried to fit it into the schedule the top half would be in the clouds.
I drove back to Strandhill, took a few more pictures, and went to the "Jade Dragon" to get some dinner. This place was well reviewed in the tour guide, but I'm pretty sure the reviewer was either lost or addle-brained. You'll have to ask the bartender for directions on getting in. The obvious entrance is locked. I ended up having garlic chicken, which was pretty good, but seemed to be missing the garlic.
I don't think there's a non-silly way to have Chinese food in an Irish pub. It was in a separate room which had lots of very bad paintings around the walls. I'm not sure, but I think they were playing Liberace music. Maybe it was the fact that I was the only person there that made it so surreal. It really felt like a Twin Peaks episode.
Then I headed down to the beach and decided to stroll out towards the dunes. On the way I was walking through piles of beach rocks and noticed the whole place was covered with fossils. I decided to pick up a few and bring them back for Sharon's Beltaine alter and mom's "stone circle".
Then I looked up and saw this rainbow spanning over Knocknara. I think I said something like, "Holy...... Shit......"
I spent about 3 hours wondering around Strandhill waiting for the sunset. It was like no place else I'd been in Ireland. Whole fields of shells, rainbows over Knocknara, fossils, beaches, windsurfers, huge sand dunes, vast tide flats. Wow.
I kept walking down the beach towards the dunes and found one wonder after another. The wind was blowing very strong, and I had some fears for my brand new camera. I'd compose the shot and then quickly pull the camera out and snap some shots.
One of the weird things was the fields of shells. There were several big stretches like this. One thing I didn't get a picture of is all the snails crawling over the sand. Really. See all the snail shells in that right picture? Those were from snails actually crawling around the dunes. I saw dozens of them.
And the rainbow of course. Very nice.
I've read many places that professional photographers will take thousands of pictures in hopes that even one in a hundred will turn out to be a "keeper". These next three pictures are from a series of 15 and they're amoung the best I've ever taken. (of course these were bracketed by 20 more that turned out to be crap) This is another place I'm really kicking myself for not doing a panorama.
I never really think about the beach when I think about Ireland. But Strandhill at sunset was one of my favorite places on the trip. Strangely, I'd been there during the day and found it quite boring.
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