Episode 253: The Quiet Emerald Isle


During this visit, I’m finding Ireland to be a place of quiet satisfaction in a gentle life. I’ve met egg farmers and people with backyard sheep who spend their days spinning and weaving. It is an enviable and peaceful existence.

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Hello, good morning. It’s morning for me and I’m in Ireland. It’s an Irish morning with a bit of misting over the skies, but that is to be expected. So I’m looking out at the chickens, and I’m remembering quieter things, quieter, lovely ways of life. 

Remember library card? Not the ones that you use to take out books, but those paper ones that are stuck in the books themselves where the names of all the people who had taken out this book before you were written. I used to love that – being able to see who had enjoyed that story, scanned those pages, held that cover before you. Which homes had that book been in? Especially the school library in high school – names of kids who’d been in my classes for years. Perhaps I’d discover an unexpected kinship with someone through words and pages of a beloved author. 

Yeah, okay, maybe it seems like this is a random thought, but it ties in with some of my recent musings. I saw characters talk about a book together in the show Sex Education, which I love. Now, fair warning, if you want to go check it out, it is profane and shocking, in its blatant and unapologetic portrayal of teenage sex. But hey, that’s how teenagers are. But anyway, they were talking about a library card and I was like, oh, yeah, I remember that. And also, I was thinking about where I will go when I’m at home at my mom’s when I want to work quietly. I think I will start making much more use of the local library. 

I remember going there to do homework as a teenager. I remember that huge book, there was only one in those days, the Barons Guide to Colleges and Universities, where I did some research to find some colleges to apply to. I loved the research section. To this day I love dictionaries and thesauruses and encyclopedias. I make small donations to Wikipedia each year because I use it so much as being the modern day equivalent of these things. But I loved those volumes of encyclopedias we had at home too when I was a child – the fact that they were brought in in installments only a few volumes at a time, so you could only look up things that began with letters below D at first. Too bad if you were curious about zebras and Xerxes, let alone Golgotha and Nebuchadnezzar, you had to wait patiently for knowledge to unfold. 

My brother and I would sit, each with a huge volume, and turn to random pages and read out something fascinating. We spent hours like this in front of the fire, the thin and fragile pages fanning out under our fingers as we strove to be each the one who came up with the weirdest or most unexpected slice of information. And to think that those huge volumes became obsolete after a few years, as so many new discoveries were made that rendered them dated and incomplete. The world is moving too fast. I’m finding a deep and soulful longing to slow down. Is that just a symptom of aging, or reaction to a chaotic world? Is it the weariness that comes from so much peregrinating? That’s a great word. You can look it up in volume P.

I think I’m growing tired of moving about so much. I’m staying right now in this wonderful warm, tiny home that is attached to a farmhouse. It is lined with all this warm, deep brown wood that is apparently Irish elm. The floor is made of it and the countertops, the doors and even parts of the ceiling joists. It’s just delicious and cozy. And I’m watching the quiet busyness of my hostess, who is an egg farmer, with envy and some undefined longing. I want to live like this. She and I had a delightful hour together yesterday afternoon over tea and some home baked plum cake with fresh whipped cream. Even though she runs this farm as a single woman she had time to bake, let alone time to sit down with a stranger and tell life stories for an hour. I asked her if she had to get up at an insane hour to get started on her work and she laughed. She has a boisterous and wonderful laugh. “Oh no. I’m an Irish farmer,” she said, “I start at half eight.” (that’s half past eight for you Americans). “Especially at this time of year. I have to wait for it to be light out to let the hens into the yard.” 

That sounds perfect to me. I’d have been up for at least an hour enjoying my quiet coffee before ever the hens had to be tended to. Perhaps I’ll be an egg farmer in my old age. She has 600 chickens, that might be excessive. She also has a sauna and a plunge pool on the premises. And two poly tunnels. For those of you who don’t know (because I didn’t) those are half-round tunnels made out of piping and covered with heavy plastic sheeting. It’s a greenhouse of sorts, where you can grow vegetables for a much longer season. She says that she releases the hens inside after the plants are big enough, and they eat all the bugs and the slug eggs. Hey, organic pesticides! The plants were incredibly lush in there to be sure. She took me along as she went through with her basket to pick her evening meal. We munched on figs and tomatoes as she pointed out all her crops. It was very impressive. 

So my afternoon was spent surrounded by chickens, and my morning was padded with wool. I had decided to seek out one of those Airbnb experiences that they offer as soon as you book a place, and I signed up for a workshop in spinning and weaving, figuring I was in sheep country. When I arrived at Irish Fiber Crafts for my lesson, I was greeted by a soft accent from North Carolina. That was unexpected, but also kind of in keeping with what I’ve seen everywhere. There are so many transplants here from other places coming to seek a quieter life with the land here in the British Isles: Nigerians, Germans and Americans releasing the various stresses of their homeland cultures, and embracing the rhythms of this land and the occupations that come with a closer kinship with that land, and its flora and fauna. 

My fiber crafts teacher, Sandra, has lived here since 2005. After coming back a few years in row, she finally made the jump with her husband. She said that she is the first in her family to ever leave North Carolina, let alone to go so far away. She taught herself to spin and now she has backyard sheep and she makes yarn and weaves blankets, rugs and shawls from their fleece. This is another life that I could happily emulate. I guess the question is where? Ireland is so rich with inspiration. There’s so much left to explore. I know I must return. 

This is my last day in the West. And then I go off to Dublin and thence to Paris. Culture Shock awaits. Two weeks was hardly time enough to see much of Ireland especially with my self imposed work demands. But I saw many highlights at least. On a beautiful sunny day – my first full day here in County Clare – I seized the advantage of the weather and decided that I must take a ferry ride out to one of the Aran Islands that lie just off the coast of Galway. I didn’t give too much thought to planning, only doing enough digging to find out the ferry times, and off I went to Doolin, another place that bears more exploration as it is supposed to have excellent music venues. I showed up at the ferry office with no preference. I asked the jolly ticket seller just to point out her best recommendation, and she sold me a ferry ticket to Inish Orr with an added sunset cruise below the cliffs of Moher. Well, yeah, obviously. When she found out I was traveling alone and winging it, she said she was proud of me. I was very pleased to have her hearty commendation. 

Upon arriving in the queue to get aboard I looked out at the rough seas and regretted that I hadn’t bought my cute little anti-seasickness bracelets, especially when some of the passengers who were getting off our boat looked quite green and unsteady. But there was no turning back and I resolved that it was going to be fine. Fifteen minutes out to the island. How bad could it be? And it wasn’t. When I landed there was a tall blustery fellow asking who wanted a horse cart ride out to the beach with the famous wreck, and I said “Me!” It turned out I was the only taker so I got a private tour and a lovely gentle amble with a white horse named Abby. It was a charming way to get a sense of life on that island. 

We stopped to view a giant hulking wreck of a ship that had missed the lighthouse nearby in a pea soup fog and foundered on the rocky shore. The crew had been rescued by brave islanders amidst a howling storm. It seemed a hard and remote place to live, frozen in time in some way, much like that rusted iron carcass of the ship. The driver, Trevor, let me out at the base of the hill where I could climb up to view a sunken church and an ancient hilltop castle. I sat on the grassy knoll in the churchyard and ate my packed sandwich with the sun beating down on my face. Later I climbed the hill to view the castle, but was stopped by a very insistent black cat who defied me to walk on without spending a few minutes in his excellent company. Two people who had been on the same boat with me also stopped. They were from North Carolina as well, and we tore ourselves away from that handsome cat to head on up and explore the castle. 

On the return boat ride, I sat beside another woman who was sitting alone. As we chatted, I discovered that she was also traveling solo from Bern, Switzerland. On a whim I asked if she’d like to join me for dinner and she accepted. After a wild ride over the waves, our ferry sailed beneath the majestic cliffs of Moher which for you Princess Bride fans out there are also the Cliffs of Insanity. It was risky to take my phone out to take pictures as the boat was bumping violently over the rough seas, but I gripped my phone tightly and wedged myself between the railing and the captain’s cabin, in order to be able to use my hands take pictures. After all, I couldn’t come all that way to just carry away the pictures in my head. My old employment as a photo journalist still sticks deep. 

When we arrived back at the port, my new companion, Caroline, suggested a restaurant close by called the Fiddle and Bow. We had a delectable meal of seafood chowder, mussels for her and Irish Sea Bass for me. We shared life stories, delicious whiskey, and laughter, and spent a delightful evening in the company of a new friend. I’m so grateful for people like Caroline who say yes. I hope to meet many more such on my travels. For now, I will be heading off to Paris to meet my dear wonderful friend Annie, who I’ve talked about a lot in my episodes about college life, and who I did an interview with in the episode called My Partner in Crime (#169). So if you want to hear more about her, you can listen to those. It will be a bit of a culture shock, but in Annie’s company it’s going to be a great way to end this incredible saga. I’ll let you know how that works out as we go forward. Thanks for being here. Bye.

Published by dianathebard

Podcasting about growing up in the Hudson Valley in the 60s and 70s, falling in love, raising kids, getting divorced and being a free and creative world traveler!

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