There was a steep hill on the road just after the Cliff of Manor. I struggled on this seemingly endless climb when the road turned unexpectedly and revealed a panoramic view of the sea and valley. The landscape was now covered with a few patches of green between the limestone. The waves were high, thrusting against the cliffs, covering the edges in white foam. I arrived in Doolin, a small fisherman's town by the sea, later than expected. The 20-mile ride from Ennistymon took four hours with the climbs, added weight and the non-stop blowing headwind.The hostel was just outside town center.
The main street in Doolin, Fisherman Street, may have at most 15 buildings, including the famous O'Connors Pub, a restaurant, gift store, chocolate store and several B&Bs. The tourist buses were lining the other side of the street across from the Pub O'Connors.
I walked into Pub around 10 p.m. hoping to find out if it would hold up to its reputation for traditional Irish music. Around the corner of the L-shaped wooden bar were 34 older gentlemen sitting in the middle on a table with a flute, accordion and violin. Most of the people in the audience appeared to be tourists. They were sitting on small wooden stools and tables surrounding the musicians, drinking Guinness and taking photos.
A few locals were sitting at the bar, including Ted and Jon, who would be singing throughout the night. They were around the corner out of view of most people until the flutist waved over to Jon, who emerged from the background to share a ballad in a quiet and husky voice. Ted took turns with Jon and had a stronger voice with a dark pitch. In the dim light of the rustic Pub and after a few whiskeys, we all joined in the chorus.
I wondered for those two hours how life must have been before industrialization and technology controlled our lives. Was the music preserved not just for tourists, but because it is a part of the Irish tradition?
The Coastal Road
Some of my colleagues have been to Ireland recently and everyone says, "See the Burrens." If pressed about what it was like, they would just nod their heads as if to say, “You just have to see it.”
Now, I am in their shoes trying to find the right words. I left Doolin via the Coastal Road to Ballyvaughan via Fanor. The sea was to my left and inland to my right. The landscape was slated in grey limestone.
Toward the sea, the limestone was broken into smaller rocks with occasional patches of grass and flowers trying to survive in the creases. The 20 to 30-foot-tall rock beds were inland and in the near distance were hills made out of limestone. After Fanor, the road sloped downward and I was cycling along a narrow road in the shadow of a steep hill with a view of the bay. I was alone and felt so small compared to the magnificence of the elements.
I hoped to stop by a Perfumeries in Carran on my way back to Doolin. The streets in Ireland are poorly labeled and, if there are signs, they are very confusing. I must have missed my turnoff again because I ended up in Lisdoonvarna instead, the only Spa town in Ireland.
At this point, I have given up any hope of staying on my planned cue sheets. My T-Mobile GPS is inaccurate, the maps are not helpful and signs are pretty much useless. As long as I find my way home I will be happy.