Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Day 5, "Ireland" seminar trip

[These are the daily posts located at Google Maps. Posting one-a-day in the aftermath.]

Connemara, western County Galway, is in some ways the wildest, starkest, most deserted, and most beautiful landscape in Ireland. With famously fierce weather and poor soil, Connemara was also the heart of the Gaelic West, least desirable and most distant from the Anglicizing influence of the “Pales” of Belfast and Dublin. In the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell very famously banished the Gaelic chieftains “To Hell or To Connacht,” with the clear implication that the latter might be a second-best choice. But in its landscape (especially the range of mountains called the “Twelve Pins”) and seascape (especially the coastal vistas and villages of Clifden, Carna, and Glinsk), it is very magical and wonderful place. The Killary, a long very narrow harbor that reaches from the sea deep into Connemara, is the only true fjord in Ireland, and, like the Burren mentioned above, supports unique microclimates, flora, and fauna.

[Later: after farewells (to both friendly Yeats Village staff and resident dogs) and a last clean-and-shine of the students’ individual self-catered houses, a very pleasant drive out via Castlebar through southwest Mayo and Roscommon. We detoured through harbor town Westport, a beautiful Georgian-era resort town which is still very popular seaside real estate with Ireland’s yuppie elite, and out along the south coast of Clew Bay

Connemara is also a very sad place, because it was hit very hard by the famines of the 19th century. Many people died, and many people left. The result was a heavily depopulated landscape (now being taken over with Dubliners and Mittel-Europers building vacation homes) in which the sad memories are very strong. The “Famine Road” that runs south from Westport to Leenaune is one such: in 184?, a group of starving peasants trekked north on the road to ? to ask their landlord for assistance. Following the principles of 18th-century laissez-faire economics, he declined—and on the return trip many of the petitioners died.

[Later: lashing rain made it more attractive for some to stay in the Sleepzone-Connemara hostel (about 4 miles out of Leenaune), a 19th-century hunting lodge turned into a modern appointed youth hostel with magnificent views, down a road lined with 20-foot-high “rosey-dendrons” as the locals call them. Later, a very pleasant evening in the hostel’s pub, where at the invitation of managers Ronan and Frida, the students played, sang, and danced for the assembled company. As Ronan said when we were having a nightcap (“one for the ditch”): “it’s like the Rose of Tralee [a talent competition in Kerry]: they all have their own party piece."

In a little while, off on the Sleepzone shuttle to Rossaveal for the ferry to Aran.

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