An Irish Odyssey, part 1: Bruce Springsteen.

Bruce Springsteen, what can I say? I quite like him, his music; I always sing along to “Born To Run” whenever it comes on the wireless, I love “The River” but it doesn’t get nearly enough airplay compared to “Born To Run” or “Born In The USA.” My absolute favourite Springsteen album is his very first one, “Greetings from Asbury Park N.J.” way back when he was being heralded as the New Bob Dylan, I didn’t think he was the New Dylan, but I did and still do like the songs on that album.
Yeah, Bruce Springsteen, he’s OK, well, apart from that time in Ireland…

It’s 2013 and Kathy and I are off to Ireland to take the remainder of Mary’s ashes (Mary being Kathy’s late mother) to be sprinkled in the graveyard of the church where members of Mary’s family were buried. We set off on Sunday 7th July to drive up to Liverpool, well, Kath was doing the driving, I won’t say I’ve never driven a car, but I’ve never taken a driving test. Cars just aren’t my bag, man, never were. I appreciate the engineering and design of, shall we say, classic cars, but I’ve never wanted to drive. Anyway, Kath and I are on the road to Liverpool to spend two nights in the Crowne Plaza, down by the river and handy for the docks for the ferry to Dublin, a passage on which, we have booked for Tuesday.

View from the hotel

I like Liverpool, Kath who is a Lancashire Lass, used to live there. I’m not enamoured of either football team to any great extent but the place, love it. The evening we arrived we went for an evening stroll around the pier head, the three graces, the sun set in the west and in a day or so we’d be following it, westward.

On Monday we went up to the beach at Crosby, you know, where Antony Gormley’s Iron Men are, ‘Another Place’, 100, cast iron life-size statues planted along three kilometres of the foreshore. It was a beautiful sunny day, as had been the previous day, and I with towel and trunks at the ready, decided to ‘go in’ for a dip. There were several, more than several jellyfish washed up on the sands, I peered at them, they weren’t the ‘usual’ Moon jellyfish, they seemed slightly larger than those particular creatures and I, in my haste to get into the water didn’t appreciate the fact that there were actually dozens of the things along the tideline and out in the shallows. I’d waded out quite a distance and was only in up to the middle of my thighs, so I dropped to my knees and floated in the shallow water in an effort to convince myself that I had enough water to swim in.

I wasn’t fooled.

We’d been to this particular beach many times before and I knew very well that it was shallow a long way out, so I lay in the water and thrashed my legs about a bit and then got to my feet to walk back to dry land. As I walked back, I became aware of a tingling, no, a stinging, like a nettle sting in my right calf and ankle. I passed another jellyfish; a penny, lodged somewhere in my brain began to move and finally dropped. I looked around, another jellyfish, another and another and another; the more I looked, the more I could see. By the time I got back to where Kath was sitting on the sand, by one of Mr. Gormley’s men, the nettle-like sting on my leg had grown in intensity, it was painful, not debilitating but definitely annoying.

We went back to the hotel and after reading-up on such matters, I stood in a bath full of water as hot as I could bare which after a time began to provide a distraction if not relief from the pain of the sting. Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, that’s what they were, earlier I’d taken some photos of those specimens washed up on the beach and now I was furiously Googling jellyfish in UK waters. Lion’s Mane, Cyanea capillata, and I had my own small dose of neurotoxins to prove it. After a couple of hours, the pain was subsiding leaving me with a slightly itchy red patch on my lower leg and a lesson learned.

On Tuesday we drove the short distance from the hotel car park to Gladstone Dock and took our place in the queue to board the vehicle ferry. The crossing to Dublin takes somewhat over 7 hours, the weather was clear and sunny, the Irish Sea, known for its occasional roughness was as calm as a mill pond, it was a beautiful day. As we progressed westwards the land fell away behind us until there was nothing to see but sea in all directions. Looking over the side of the ship it was evident that there were jellyfish everywhere, hundreds of them, thousands, no wonder they had been washing up on the beach at Crosby. At one point we spotted something that could have been a dolphin or porpoise or maybe even a small whale, we couldn’t really tell at the distance it was at, but I duly snapped a shot with the faithful Canon.

We berthed in Port Dublin around half five and after landing we drove the short distance to The Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street, having to circumnavigate the place to find the carefully hidden entrance to the hotel car park but eventually we got there, checked in and went out into the Dublin evening.

I have to admit to being an Hibernophile, yes, Hibernophile, I had to look that up. I was talking to a friend in the pub a while back, about Ireland and Bruce Springsteen and it was that conversation that provided the spark to write this piece but at the time I’d said that I was… and I paused, searching for the correct term and then said I was, ‘an Irelandophile, if that’s a thing’. Anyway, an Hibernophile I am and I just love Ireland and Irish culture.

I also love language and the way it’s used, and I just went through agonies trying to decide if it’s ‘an Hibernophile’ or ‘a Hibernophile’, I decided to stick with ‘an’.

Wednesday was a day spent mooching around in Dublin; O’Connell Street, Bachelors Walk, Ha’penny Bridge, Grafton Street, St. Stephen’s Green, Christ Church Cathedral, Temple Bar, maybe not in that exact order, and we finished the day in J.W. Sweetman’s, a brew pub on Burgh Quay, almost opposite the bottom of O’Connell Street, where we sat outside in the summer evening and watched the world go by and drinking various beers, before retiring to the hotel.

On Thursday we hit the road in earnest, well, actually in a Toyota 4×4 of sorts, and we were bound for St. Patrick’s church in the village of Kilnavart, County Cavan to find the graves of the McHugh family and sprinkle Mary’s ashes. On the way however, we are taking a magical detour to The Hill of Tara. Why? Because Tara is a very ancient and yes, magical place. Having said that, it’s not much to look at, it’s a gently undulating hill and mounds with evidence of earthworks and smallish standing stones. Tara’s fame belongs to what it was. The seat of power in prehistoric Ireland, the place where the High Kings of Ireland were inaugurated and crowned, the dwelling place of the gods.

I’d actually been to Tara once before with a previous partner/girlfriend, on a coach trip which also took in Newgrange, a 5,000-year-old passage-tomb albeit that the frontage of the tomb was reconstructed in the late 1960s – early 1970s, the interior is we are told, in as original condition as it can be, after five millennia. Newgrange is rooted in Irish mythology as are other such tombs, being cited as passageways to the Otherworld, the realm of the gods, the dwelling place of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Aw go on there, Google is your friend…

But back to Tara; seat of kings, home of gods. There is a granite pillar buried in the top of one mound, The Stone of Destiny. The coronation stone of the High Kings. Apparently, it’s 12 feet long, about 3.6 m in new money, two thirds of it buried. It’s tempting to think of it having been there throughout the centuries, but it is documented that it was moved to its present site sometime in the 1820’s. It is also disputed that this is the original stone which is believed by some to be buried somewhere on the Tara site. Anyway, Whatever the truth, The Hill of Tara is indeed an ancient site imbued with myth and mystery.

Back on the road, around two in the afternoon we got to the town of Ballyconnell which we knew was somewhere close to Kilnavart but we’d seen no road signs for the place and I couldn’t find it on the map app I had, so we decided to go into a pub and ask directions. There were a few to choose from and we plumped for The Anglers Rest which, in the short time we spent there with a handful of very helpful and jolly natives, seemed to be a fine pub indeed. I had a pint of Arthur Guinness and Kath has a soft drink. We explained to the assembled audience what we were doing and where we hoped to get to, they knew whereof we spake and directions were issued. Soon, but not too soon, we were on the road to Kilnavart and in due course we found the church, not difficult really as it was right there on a bend in the road, and the remainder of Mary’s ashes were laid with members of her family.

And so, once again on the road, this time headed for Sligo. We had a sort of plan, to go north into Norn Iron and visit The Giant’s Causeway, then take a leisurely journey back down the length of Ireland to Cork, stopping off here and there as we saw fit to do and staying for a night or two, time depending, in Galway. I had booked accommodation in Cork for Wednesday 17th, six days away, but more of that later.

We hadn’t booked any accommodation in Sligo as I reasoned (yes, it was my fault…) that Sligo was a fairly big place and there would bound to be rooms to be had. Getting on for half five we passed a nature reserve, Dooney Rock Forest and Lough Gill so we stopped for a while to stretch the legs and water the horses. We walked through the trees and down to the lough side, there was nobody about and this had all the makings of another magical place.

After about half an hour we left for the short journey into Sligo and pitched-up at a likely-looking hotel. Shock, horror! They had no rooms! We went to another, same story, no rooms. I relented and got on the interweb from my phone and looked for more hotels. I phoned one; nope, no rooms, but this time the person on the other end told me that as Bruce Springsteen was playing, there were no rooms locally. Hmmm, my initial reaction was; “Bloody tourists!” Bruce Springsteen eh? And come on, you were wondering where he came into the story, Bruce Springsteen…

We drove north out of Sligo on the N15 and just kept going, hoping to find somewhere, a bed and breakfast maybe. By now it was getting dusk, as we entered the village of Cliffoney I spotted a sign pointing off to the left and indicating some sort of accommodation, we kept on going right through Cliffoney and out the other side. There was another sign at a converging ‘Y’ junction pointing to the left and rear of our forward motion and again promising accommodation. We decided to take the hint and took the left turn into a narrow lane which we followed until it brought us to the quay at a place called Mullaghmore and there on the quayside was The Pier Head Hotel. I went in…

They had accommodation! No problem. Kath parked the car and we decamped to the hotel; in the fading light we took a walk along the short stone quay. There, over there, was a huge expanse of sandy beach. I’d never heard of Mullaghmore before, but it sure did look interesting. Then we went to the Quay Bar and Restaurant, part of the Hotel, and then as it had been a long-ish day, we turned in.

Next morning, Friday, 12th, one of the first things I did was to go down to reception and extend our stay by an extra night; once again, no problem. After breakfast we both went on an exploratory walk in the sunshine which was pouring down from a near cloudless sky. To the north of Mullaghmore there was the aforementioned sandy beach, to the south it was rugged Atlantic coastline. After a good walk and poke about on the rocks we returned to the hotel, donned swimming gear under our clothes and went north to explore the beach. It was I suppose about the middle of the incoming tide, the beach sloped gently out to sea, you had to walk a good few yards out to get chest deep.

The water was remarkably warm and mercifully free of jellyfish so we both spent a pleasurable couple of hours just messing about in the sea. Later in the afternoon we walked back to the rocky coast, where earlier in the day we had spotted a sort of natural inlet in the rocks, it looked almost as if it had been carved out creating a giant rock pool but more interestingly it looked as if when the tide was in it would be a nice place in which to swim.

When we got there of course, a handful of other people had also had the same idea, maybe they were visitors like us, maybe they were locals in-the-know but who or whatever they were, there weren’t too many of them and there was room enough for all including the various starfish, anemones and other indigenous inhabitants of the rocks.

By now it was late afternoon and we’d had a really lovely day in a really beautiful place and if it hadn’t had been for old Brucie Boy, we’d never have discovered the delights of Mullaghmore.

The evening was divided by a meal in the restaurant, then sitting out on the quay having a few beers and a last walk along the quay before turning in.

One thought on “An Irish Odyssey, part 1: Bruce Springsteen.

  1. Thank you for this post – I haven’t actually finished reading it but i just wanted to say how delighted I was to see your picture of the jellyfish. you see i went to Crosby about 15 years ago to see the Gormleys but I also saw something strange and shiny in the sand. I took some pictures but none could tell me what it was. Now finally I know. thank you. Il’l read the rest now!

    Liked by 1 person

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