The Republic thereof is, in a word, fascinating.
The last week, from Waterford to Wexford, to Wicklow to Dublin has been a wash out, literally, but the previous two and a bit weeks were well worth the effort.
The little Freddo Frog car has been given back to its keepers and I must say it served me well. Over 2,500 kilometres at a cost of not much more than 100 euros for petrol. Far and away the cheapest part of the trip! Prices in Ireland don't seem to be overly expensive.... until I do the calculations into Aussie dollars. It's been an expensive few weeks and later on I'll probably regret staying in hotels rather than B&Bs - the need for wifi I suppose.
I've seen a fair bit of the country I think, though no doubt I've missed lots too. I think I've seen enough to get a general feel for the country. The main feeling I've had is that sometimes it's just not in the real world. There is magic here. Most definitely. It's hard to explain but sometimes I could sense it - particularly in forest areas. Though maybe I'm just telling myself I could sense it. I prefer to believe in the magic.
The parts of Ireland that are in the real world are, however, in deep trouble. Listening to radio and TV news as I travel round, it's clear that the economy is floundering. The main issue at present is what to do with the collapse of the Anglo Irish Bank. Unemployment is high and about to get higher. It's interesting though, that a lot of the people, especially the women, who work in hospitality are from Eastern Europe - Polish and Czech mostly.
The Irish themselves are not really as the stereotype would lead you to expect. Most do not have red hair or green eyes and most eyes, whatever their colour, are not smiling. People are friendly enough when you speak to them but there's an underlying feeling that this is a country in severe trouble and that life is far from easy.
In many parts of the country, particularly rural areas, the people speak Gaelic. It's interesting to listen to - sounds almost Germanic at times but it's clearly not. Even those who speak English are barely intelligible. That lilting accent you hear on TV, the one so many people love, is very much the toned down, and very much slowed down, version and not the norm once you're out of the main cities. Challenging. However, I only have to say two words and they all know where I'm from. Everyone I've spoken to knows someone, in their family usually, who's moved to Australia. It seems that in past times the Irish would go to Boston, now they go to Sydney, Melbourne or Perth.
The country itself is beautiful. The west coast is much wilder and less populated than the east. There are many more trees in the south and east - out west there are rocks. I'm not at all surprised that everything is built from stone. There's plenty of it about.
I was surprised, pleasantly so, by how much history there is here, just lying about for all to see. Neolithic tombs, stone circles, standing stones, medieval castles and religious establishments - and not all are ruins by any means. The churches are particularly well preserved. But then this does seem to be a very religious country. Catholic of course. Several times I went into a church or cathedral with my camera and there'd be people (both genders, all ages) inside praying, lighting candles, etc. Every town and village has a church (or two, three or several), there's even one in the middle of the airport.
There are abandoned cottages everywhere. I read somewhere that the roofless ones are from the time of the Famine in the 1840s. Apparently, after the potato crop failed, destitute peasants were evicted and landlords burned the rooves to make sure they couldn't return. The Famine is not forgotten here. The abandoned cottages are still there and there are memorials in many areas - some in towns, some in the middle of nowhere.
What I haven't seen is wildlife. I did see a badger dead on the side of a road but, apart from that, I've only seen domestic animals: sheep (who own the roads as well as the fields in the west), cows, horses, donkeys, dogs (sheepdogs mostly) and feral cats (in more populated areas). As for birds - gulls and crows mostly. Crows are everywhere!
What are everywhere, of course, are tourists. I've come across other Aussies, lots of English and, by far the majority, Germans.
Irish roads can be a challenge - once you get off the main highways the roads become very narrow. Signs are to be taken with a grain of salt. Guidelines only. Although, I wish I'd taken a pic of one of the "Traffic Calming" signs. I saw them everywhere when there's a change in the speed limit coming up, usually when approaching a town or village. The best sign ever. :)
It's hard to decide what my favourites bits were: The Burren with its wealth of neolithic history, the Dingle Peninsula for its spectacular scenery and Fungie the dolphin, the village pubs with enough seats for maybe a dozen people, the greenness, Traffic Calming.
There's a lot to like :)
I need to pack up the suitcase, get some sleep and head off to Sweden in the morning.
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