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May 31, 2003
After another Irish breakfast, we packed up to get on the road. We had a 10:00 bus from Galway to Kinvara to catch. We took a picture of the B&B we were staying in (right) -- something we meant to do for each night of the trip, but as you'll see if you keep reading, we didn't quite make that.
The bus trip was pretty much like the other bus trips we went on. Normal for Ireland, but still a bit odd to be hurtling down the "wrong" side of a road barely more than twice the size of the vehicle you're in. The other thing that was a bit odd with the bus ride was where we were dropped off. There wasn't a bus station in Kinvara. Nor even a bus stop. We just pulled over to the side of the road where there was this small cul-de-sac which had, among other things, a pub named "Winkles." Suddenly, it made sense why in the bus schedule, the stop was listed as "Kinvara-Winkles". After taking just a moment to get oriented, we found our way to that night's inn -- The Merriman Hotel and Restaurant. It was more like a hotel than the previous place we'd stayed, but would still include breakfast the next morning.
After dropping off our stuff (it was still too early to get into our room), we decided to walk around Kinvara. This took far less time than we expected as we found Kinvara to be a really cute place about 4-5 square blocks in total. We walked past the "Ould Plaid Shawl" pub named for a line from a poem by poet, writer and "life-long worker in the Irish cause" Francis Fahy who was born in the house that was now the pub (see plaque on left).
After a fairly thorough wandering through Kinvara, we settled down at the port (pictures left and right) where Carolyn started writing post cards, and I read, and people watched. As we were doing this, a local cat decided it was unfair that I was just people watching and thought I should be doing some cat watching too. He(?) came over to visit us, and was probably hopeful that we had some food, which we did not. That did not stop him from settling in though. He climbed right up on Carolyn's backpack and settled in for some luvin' which Carolyn was more than happy to provide. This being Ireland, and him having red hair, we named him "Drew Red" (pronounced <<druid>>).
In the distance across the port, we could see Dunguaire Castle. Since we had the time, and the sense that we were in Ireland after all, we should be visiting castles, so we walked down the road to the castle. It wasn't so much a "real" castle as a vanity castle. Built in 1520, it did still have the neat fortification features that made it defensible. It was restored in stages starting in the 1920s first by Oliver St. John Gogarty, "the famous surgeon and literary figure" and then Cristobel Lady Ampthill and opened to visitors in 1966. In one of the pictures you can see a spiral stair case turning to the right as it ascends so that a defender from above has easy access to the way with his sword arm, while a climbing attacker would need to equip on the left to be able to fight his way up. In another, you can see the overhanging machicolation from which boiling oil or water could be poured on would-be assailants. And, on the interior, the cozy straw bed near the fire. Below is also a picture of me at the exterior of one of the castle walls, and a view of Kinvara from the top of the castle. Notice how the tide has already come up some from the port pictures above.
After a bit more wandering around, including to see the small house with the thatched roof above, we returned to the Merriman for our first meeting with tour organizer, Fidelma Ray. Fidelma was a cheery, energetic lady who seemed to know nearly everyone around and knew the area thoroughly. She outfitted us with the Trek 7300s that we'd be riding for the tour, set up the panniers, helped me put my pedals on my bike (so I could use the cycling shoes I'd brought over with me), and introduced the tour route and the map system that we'd be using for the tour. While it had been real ever since stepping out of the terminal at Shannon, the bicycling part was now starting to take shape as well.
We locked up the bikes outside the Merriman and proceeded to dinner there -- in the pub part rather than the pricey main restaurant. After dinner we walk around and find ourselves outside Winkles again. Thinking that we did want to see some traditional Irish music, and not sure when we'd get a chance again (though Doolin, which is known for traditional music was on our itinerary), we peeked in the windows. It seemed packed, and many faces peeked back out at us. Shortly, someone came to the door (between sets) and said, "You can come in, ya know?" So, we did. I had a Red Breast whisky and Carolyn had half a pint of Guinness. I suppose this is where I should wax poetic about one or the other. Both were fine drinks. And I liked the Guinness more than I generally like beer, but I don't generally like beer. The whisky was good.
But the crowd. That was the surprise. There were over a dozen 10th graders from Norway there belting out some Norwegian favorites as well as some traditional Irish songs. They finished up shortly after we'd settled down with our drinks. We needed to relocate though, because we'd settled down where the musicians were starting to gather. So, we did. It seemed like a small portion of the pub were Irish and all knew one another, and a large portion were American, French or other nationalities, and well, didn't know each other. An informal cadre of musicians finally started up playing the banjo, accordion, guitar, irish bagpipes and flute. Shortly into the first set the banjo player broke a string, and was out for a few songs. Eventually, we retired to a very nice room and slept well despite the merriment of a wedding party downstairs.
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