Connemara and Strokestown

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I am writing these last 2 posts about our Irish Knitting Tour from home. I've been telling people that I'm being dragged back into the real world kicking and screaming, not at all ready to let go of the magic of these 10 days.

Just look at this picture taken in front of the Leenane Sheep and Wool Centre. It was an absolutely stunning drive north from Galway through sparsely populated countryside. The steep hills on either side of the road (with but a mere 4" of shoulder on either side of a single generous lane) were marked with traces of "lazy beds", the completely inappropriate name for the hand built furrows in which potatoes were traditionally  planted before the famine of 1845-49.   

As we arrived at the centre, we were met with the great news that all merchandise in the  store was 20% off as an end of season clearance incentive. This call to retail action did not go unheeded. And although it was not a very sheepy treasure, I did buy myself a bracelet of silver and beautiful Connemara green marble. I love it!

Patricia, our guide at the museum, gave us a great demonstration on everything from shearing to weaving the wool from local sheep.  

 Don't you just love this magnificent piece of fabric art. It was made by a French artist for a local woolen mill from pieces of "jumpers" made by the company. When the mill closed, they asked if the museum would like to purchase the piece, and it holds a prize place at the museum's entrance. Too bad you can't see much of the detail in this less than adequate photo, but the aran fleece on the ram and the texture in the rocks can give you an idea of the detail of execution.

The next day, we made one final stop on the way back to Dublin at the Strokestown Park and Famine Museum. This is a picture of Deirdre. I don't think that it's an exageration to say that Deirdre pretty much ran the whole show while we were there. As we arrived, she was working in the gift shop and setting up displays. She led us on the tour of Strokestone House, a faithful preserving of a way of life that was coming to a shabbyish end for some of the great families of Ireland in the 20th century. It was fascinating to see, not just a hint of the oppulence of their glorious past, but the sad decline as times and resources changed.

After the house, Deirdre introduced us to the only museum in the Republic that houses the few remaining documents of the years during and after the great famine. What was particulary impressive was the link that was made between the conditions that led to the famine in the mid 19th century and its dire consequences, and the famines that plague different areas of the world today.

Then we went to the centre's most excellent cafeteria where I had a tuna salad with real fresh tuna, that was definitely the product of false advertising...they absolutely should have noted that it was Salad For 4! Amazing. Oh, I forgot to mention that Deirdre was on the cash register in the cafeteria and then ran back to the gift shop when all were served. She was a wonder, and a beautiful one at that.

After lunch I took a walk through the walled garden of Strokestown House. Since reading The Secret Garden as a child, I've always wanted to see a real walled garden, and this one is a prize. Again in keeping with Strokestown House's commitment to portraying life as it really was at the end of the era, the garden has been allowed to grow beautifully wild around the perimeter while the croquet lawn in the centre is immaculately groomed by the full time gardener.

Just before leaving for the airport, we found out from our very favourite bus driver on earth, John, that we had completed 1800km of driving in the 10 days in Ireland. Now you must realize that only about an hour of that was at our habitual North American speed of about 100km/h. I figure that the distance of 1800km probably represented about 30-35 hours on the roads. That which kept us cheerful and sane were the stories that our guide, Gerry, shared with us as we passed different points of interest. History, geography, botany, geology, current events, all manner of Irish lore and a good crash course in Gaelic were what we were treated to. Gerry knew it all.

So we were a little surprised when we drove through Longford later in the day and Gerry commented: "Ah, yes, the town of Longford...What can one say about it?...Not much actually." But then he remembered about a lovely young woman from the town who moved with her new husband to Chicago (I think) and had a son before they moved on the Australia. They named their son after the patron saint of the Longford: St Mel. You guessed it. Mel Gibson's mother came from Longford. Unfortunately, St Mel's church burned last year and they are in the middle of a campaign to rebuild it. You would think that it's namesake would foot the bill. 

The last post will cover our wonderful time in Dublin before we headed back to Canada. I'll try and get to it tomorrow, before my brain gets too pulled back in to the swing of the old life and loses touch with the magic.