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    Jon's Ireland Vacation Travelogue - May 1998

    Day 17

    The day was very rainy so we decided to drive down to Galway and do some shopping at the walking mall there. We also had lunch at McDonough’s, and a Guinness at The Quays. I had a huge portion of wild mussels for lunch.

    On the drive back we stopped at Ross Abby. I had seen several abbey ruins and had decided that they were all the same and quite boring. This abbey much more interesting though. It was in much better shape and had some great architecture. I ended up taking tons of pictures.

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      Ross Abby from the sheep field it was in. We could climb up to the tower which was cool, but very scary.

    One of the interesting features was a large stone pool where it said they kept live fish. It also had lots of cool stairways and courtyards.

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      This was the pool where the guidebook said they kept live fish. Well maybe. The room it was in had lots of cool brick work. The fireplace was huge.

    The access to the tower was open so we where able to climb up to the top. This was actually a rather harrowing process since the steps were all wet and mossy and worn. The stairways were also only about a foot and a half wide, so I had to turn sideways to get up them.

    The stairs up to the tower and the view from the top. Yes it was a tight fit, but the worst part was that it was pitch black. I could have stepped into a hole without seeing it.

    The view from the top was great, but it was a little scary after I realized I was standing on a five story crumbling tower that was built before the invention of cement or rebar.

    In Shrule we saw what looked like a castle, but it had really bad construction and was falling down. It actually looked like it might have been a school project.

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      We didn't have any data about this castle, but it had a strange shape.

    The usual way we navigate around the countryside is; dad drives, I read the map, and mom reads though the guidebooks to try and find any interesting sites. Of course we’re all trying to see over the walls to spot any standing stone or ruins that aren’t listed. It’s all a rather slow process. The vague road signs in Gaelic and English and the narrow roads don’t help either. You also have to contend with the sheep that are loose along all of the roads.

    Day 18

    I was all set to write that we didn’t do anything interesting on this day, but then we drove off the road and got stuck in the mud. The roads here are so ridiculous that it was bound to happen sooner or later. We tried to push it out but without any luck.

    We decided to try and find someone with a tractor to pull us out. It turned out the nearest farm house was owned by the guy who had told us about the road bowling a few days before. Ireland is one tiny freakin’ country, no doubt about it.

    We got towed out without incident, but we were covered with mud after trying to push the car out. I wanted to go straight back to Breaffy House for dinner but that got vetoed.

    On the road back we came to a small village named Aghagower out in the middle of nowhere. There was a round tower near the edge of town that had lost it’s top somehow and part of the side had been rebuilt. At some point they had cut a doorway at ground level and we could go in and look at the inside. Not very homey looking.

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      From the outside this tower was just like others we'd seen, but it was nice to finally see the inside of one.

    Buying groceries in Ireland: Always read the label carefully. I’m use to buying something labeled as butter and having it actually be butter, not here. Reading the fine print revealed that it was really "low-fat spread". We also had a problem with some foul tasting orange juice. At least we thought it was orange juice. The label on the Squeeze brand "orange" actually read, "Made with orange juice concentrate, contains pure juice". I feel certain they’d used clam juice. Also some confusion with the laundry soap. Do you get the "bio", the "extra bio", or the non-bio"? And I still feel the black pudding should carry a warning label: "Warning. Contains dried, fresh blood and not much else."

    Day 19

    This was the day where we saw all of the good stuff.

    Our first stop was at Colgher stone fort. We didn’t have much information about the fort, but it was the most interesting we’d seen. First of all it was in a beautiful forest which was shading and mossy, and very green.

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      Here's mom crawling out of one ot the tunnels.

    The fort itself had walls about ten to twelve feet thick and walls about 12 feet high. Like the others it didn’t seem all that defendable, and we wondered if maybe it had some other purpose. It really looked more like an amphitheater than a fort.

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      Inside one of the underground tunnels. At this point I'm hoping they don't have earthquakes in Ireland.

    It also had some passages built under the walls, one of which looped around a quarter of the fort. I used a flashlight to crawl though this and get a look at the subterranean walls. Hard to see what they might have used this passage for. It had one large room that you could stand up in, but most of it was a tiny corridor that I had to crawl through, scraping my shoulders most of the way.

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      This is a shot of the forest around the fort. It was one of the greenest things I'd ever seen.

    The best thing about this site? No sheep shit!!!

    The next stop was at Attracta’s holy well, which has been completely Christianized.

    As we drove casually on to our final destination of Carrowkeel, we were surprised to see a sign for the Drumanone wedge tomb, which wasn’t listed in any of our guides. We had to climb up through a cow pasture to get to the site and when we topped the rise we saw a huge stone tomb. The largest of the stones making up the tomb was the cap stone on top which was about 20X15X2 feet, and was over 12 feet in the air at it’s highest point. We spent some time trying o figure out how Stone Age farmers would have created something like this.

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    The wedge tomb. When I came over the top of the hill and saw this thing, all I could do was stand there and say, "Big... Big." Dad was a little behind me and he asked what it was. "Big.... Big."

    Further along the same road we spotted the ruins of Moytara Castle. We couldn’t find any information about this either. It was a high-walled square fort with square towers at each corner. The property was posted no trespassing so we didn’t get a closer look at it.

    Finally we made it to our destination, the Carrowkeel passage tombs. These tombs have been dated by archaeologists to around 2500 BC. They supposedly stayed undisturbed since then until some British twit tried to get into them using dynamite.

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      Looking down from the third tomb towards the first two. The mist up there really set a great mood for exploring.

    Some of the tombs where in good shape and we where able to crawl inside them. Several others had been completely destroyed by the amateur excavations.

    We came well prepared with flash lights since the interesting part of the tombs are the passages that lie under the huge plies of plain rock. While we were there, several other groups hiked up the hill to the first tomb and then turned and left since they didn’t have flashlights. From the outside the tombs just look like huge piles of loose rock. Maybe they didn’t even know what was really there.

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      Here's the entrace to the first tomb. At first I was doubting I'd be able to get in at all.

    The first tomb was one of the one’s that we could crawl into. This was not all that easy. After some squirming at the entrance, I found that if I crawled in backwards on my stomach, I could squeeze in and crawl into the tomb. Real Indiana Jones stuff.

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      Looking towards the back of the tomb. There's actually a little room past those columns.

    After in short distance, the passage opened up into a chamber that I could stand up in. There was another smaller chamber directly ahead and one off to each side. The ceiling was about nine feet high and there was plenty of room to move around.

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      Looking back towards the entrance.

    There was a narrow slit above the entrance and another at the back of the passage that line up so the sun shines directly through on one day a year. The blocks that made up the interior of the chamber and the slits probably weighed between 300 and 500 pounds.

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      Looking up at the ceiling.

    We could climb into two of the other tombs as well and they were both amazing. Especially when you realize that the structure of these rooms hasn’t changed in the 5000 years they’ve been here.

    The hilltops around the area all had the rock cairns on them. In the immediate area there seemed to be about 20 of them.

    Our map showed that the remains of 50 or so stone huts were on the ridge next to us so I made my way over there. The probable reason for the location of the ancient settlement became evident as I tried to get over. The ridge was surrounded by two rows of cliffs that made things very slow and dangerous. When I finally got over there I could see rock circles everywhere. The limestone that the village was built on as very rutted from erosion, which would seem to make day to day life rather uncomfortable.

    After a hard day of hiking up and down boggy hillsides, we decided to stop in at McDermott’s pub for a pint.

    If you haven’t ever used toilets in Irish pubs it might be hard to picture the setup, but I’ll try. The urinal is a 5 inch wide, 2 inch deep trough, which is set directly into the floor. It’s also set flush with the wall so that you have to either stand back a bit and just aim toward the wall, or lean with your face pressed against the wall and aim for the trough. I’m sure there’s an approved method, but none of the guidebooks mentioned it.

    For dinner we decided to go ethnic and try some Indian food. We went to Flavors of India and were surprised to find a great Indian menu in a country known or it’s bland food. All the food was great, though they didn’t serve beer.

    The service however was a total circus. Our waiter was a complete dork. He seemed completely put out that we’d decided to come in and eat. It’s one thing to be incompetent, it’s another to have an attitude about the whole thing. You don’t have to be a freakin’ waiter you know. There’s plenty of jobs out in the bog, cutting peat.

    Day 20

    We spent most of the day on the long drive up to Ceide Fields, which is a touristy excavation of 3000 BC village. We went on a tour of the area, watched a short film and wandered around the displays. Definitely lots of flash and not much substance. They found the remains of some 5000 year old walls. No artifacts, no remains, no tombs. All rightee then. Great view though.

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      The cliffs at the Ceide Fields vistor center.

    It was interesting to find out that the walls we’d been seeing though the whole trip were exactly the same as the one’s being built in the Stone Age. They’d found over four square miles of walls and they were laid out the same as the current farms in the area.

    We met an Irish woman there who’s best friend ran the Roundwood Inn where we’d eaten on our first week. Small freakin’ country.

    On the drive back we saw some great views of the coast and the mountains.

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