“With a population of barely 4 million (halved since its infamous potato famine), Ireland invokes images of rolling green hills, grazing sheep, and rain. The people are sarcastic, but gregarious, and think it’s a “great crack” to chat with tourists seeking insider’s information on obscure, local treasures. The island, beautifully formed by glacial and volcanic activity, offers a tremendous amount of geological spectacles from the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland to the breath-taking cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare. While these destinations are absolutely worth the visit, there are many other noteworthy destinations which have garnered far less attention, but which are no less impressive.
The Slieve League cliffs in Co. Donegal, on the west coast, are the highest marine cliffs in Ireland, and among the highest in Europe. Tucked away several kilometers up a winding road west of Kilcar, Slieve League sees far fewer tourists and offers turbulent, unique energy to those who do make it. The view point opens up to a steep, wind-blasted, often rain-whipped trail that follows along the edge of the cliffs where one can find himself in danger of falling. Unlike other destinations, Slieve League is still without routine safety precautions. Thick clouds of mist and fog roll over its peaks, and sunlight strikes the water below like gold. The energy of Slieve League makes one want to drop to his knees in euphoria.” (I wish I wish I could make money travel writing).
The trip was something else. A few days ago, you posted the hitch hiking highlight of your 2.5-sojourn in Co. Donegal. Slieve League was the destination in mind, and worth every last effort through the freezing cold and slashing rain. Soaked as you were, you persevered, and hiked the cliffs. Manon was knocked over by the gusts on more than one occasion.
When you say that the cliffs made you want to drop to your knees in euphoria, you make no overstatement. Seeing the way the sun spotted the charcoal grey sea and burnt grassy hills made you stop several times, suck as much sea air into your lungs as possible. You felt strongly persuaded to drop to your knees.
Damn, you wish the grass weren’t so wet.
…Because that’s all you wanted to do–drop to your knees, prostrate yourself on the ground and soak in the energy of that place. So far away from work. The sea opened up to thousands of miles of water, asking nothing of you.
The evenings were equally memorable in their own rite. Because the sun goes down at five o’clock, there is little else to do in Ireland besides go to the pub (actually, it has nothing to do with the season). You spent 11 hours over the course of two days in a pub, ordering a new Guinness every hour, sipping them to the harp and emerging with a foam mustache.
You remember many of the people: the guy who drove an hour and a half to Donegal town, drove up to the front door of an adult education center and said you could pitch your tent on the front lawn–which you did. Two nights in a row. And every morning you walked into the school’s back kitchen and helped yourself to coffee and their facilities.
There was the guy who’d never left Dongel… only once, to Chicago, for three years.
The guy with a stump for a left hand and a newly adopted half-black-half-Asian-4-year-old-American boy who smelled kind of bad and had boogers gushing out of his nose.
There were the van drivers who stopped when they saw how despondent and rain-soaked you were. “Where’re you headed?” You said, “Anywhere but here,” as you were stranded in a small Gaelic village on the coast. They opened the back of the large van, shifted some cardboard boxed and Styrofoam around, and handed you some blankets. You rode for over an hour, on your back on the floor, rolling left and right with the turns of the road and fumbled with your extended “crotch break” because you’d lost the feeling half-way up your hands.
Of course… there was Frank.
And many others.
How about the Drunkest Guy In Ireland, the first night in Donegal? Not even the locals could understand him, but he thought you were a good crack–mostly because you couldn’t help but wind him up, dancing with a Irish-green cowboy hat and your alpining boots. He had something about a bag a biscuits he was carrying with him, gave you his autograph, and told you he’d thought you were a man. Happens at least once a year.
Great vacation. You were not the least bit excited about going home, but it’s nice to know that the trip was stellar, start to finish, and it is always good to end with a swish.