Sunday, August 8, 2010

August 8 ... a wee bit o' Irish

So the next chapter in the Irish story was that the day after the mountain challenge, we cycled the Delphi Valley. What spectacular landscape. Lakes dot the valley, and these amazing green yet treeless mountains rise up on either side. The last 7 km (at least) of that day's cycle ended in a torrential downpour. That sucked - but we made it and were stronger for it, and hallelujah, this B & B had bathtubs! So all was good. Had I had a place to write a blog that day it would have been all about the wonders of a hot bubble bath.

Then came the day of the long cycle day - 73km from Lenanne to Roundstone. I was worried, I mean 73 Km - jaysus, how would I manage. And of course my stubborn pride assured me there was no way in hell I would make use of the van! So off we went. More stories will come I am sure, of our long trek, which in the end didn't seem so long thanks to the wind at our back...for at least 20 - 30 km. We didn't even notice that until we had to turn right to go to Roundstone proper, and we all nearly got knocked off our bikes. In 73 km you cover a lot of territory. In the Conemarra region, you cover so many different landscapes that when thinking back to it, it's hard to grasp that all these things were seen and happened on the same day.

We crossed our first "bog". For whatever reason, Ireland doesn't have fields with "earth" in them, it's "peat". They harvest this peat and use it for fuel. It's this fuel in their fireplaces that makes Ireland smell as good as it does. We were in valleys of farmland, saw those small stone fences everywhere, saw what is called the Twelve Bens - the mountain range that sort of encircled us through the bog. Amazing.

Upon arriving in Roundstone everyone except Honey (oh well) said to hell with our rooms and changing, we're having a pint right now! So we sat outside of our hotel, stinky and sweaty and spent and happy, on this tiny strip of street that was Roundstone, and soaked up the grandness of what we had accomplished. We made it, through clouds, and rain and wind and loveliness, we made it.

I loved Roundstone. As a matter of fact I think it may have been my favourite little town. It's where we had the day off (next day). They have a spectacular bay and beach a 6 km walk away, which we did the next day.

The evening of our second night in Roundstone was definitely a peak moment. To begin with, our friends, Team L.A., and Honey and I were excited about our upcoming dinner. We had read the menu at the restaurant we thought we would be eating at and were salivating at the great seafood options. Team L.A. are a lovely young couple, they are both teachers, voracious readers, appreciators of good food, liberal, open and curious, and just a real pleasure to hang out with. As dinner time came, Billy the tour guide said we were not in fact in that restaurant but upstairs. The four of us decided to sneak out and have the seafood offerings downstairs - and were we glad we did! Never have I tasted oysters so fresh and delicious - like the sea. The fish curry had to be the best I have ever had. The four of us sharing appetizers of crab, mussels, prawns (huge ones!) and oysters that were all fished out that day! There came a moment where none of us spoke - we were all too busy enjoying!

We were told that after dinner there was a local concert, and if we really wanted to enjoy Irish culture this would be the place to go. I had thought that it would be an outdoor concert, but no, it was held in the local community hall - and the funds they collected were to support that.

When we walked in, on stage were seated about 15 people from the ages of 10 to 90 something. Each person was a musician. I was taken aback by the coming together of the generations. Such respect one for the other, such importance was placed on passing the knowledge to the young people, of accepting this gift from the elders. The emcee's grandson was a 7 year old dancer. There were Shamus (I'm sure I  have that word wrong) dancers, a girl of ten who wowed the audience, a boy of six, two others in their teens, all excellent, all committed to their craft, all proud. They have steps that are particular to their family and that have been handed down for many generations. A 90 year old man, born and raised in the community, was invited up to sing. He sang a love song, part English part Gaelic. As he croaked out the tune "When Ireland is free, I'll come back and marry thee.." you heard people stifle sobs in the audience. The women behind me, long time, life time members of this tiny community, sang quietly under their breath. Another two men got up - both easily over 80, they regaled us with several Gaelic tunes, and again the women behind me singing along. I looked back at them, admired them, they flashed warm smiles at me. Another gentleman played an instrument I have never seen. Probably belonging to the family of bagpipes, he played such a mournful tune it hit me to the core. I couldn't help but think how perfect it would have been to hear that music while cycling through the Delphi Valley - I suppose Irish music is inspired by their landscape. More kids danced. Then a group of 8 adults got up to show the audience Irish step dancing. What fun! Near the end of the show they called out to the audience. They needed 16 dancers - come up and learn.. don't be shy. I had ants in my pants and couldn't resist. So I grabbed Team Vancouver's arm, and hauled her up with me!!! We danced the Irish, with the Irish, and hooted and howled and twirled and skipped as we tripped over ourselves, and were privy and invited in to this loveliness.

The Emcee kept repeating how vitally important it was for the Gaelic in this community to carry on their culture and language and how proud she was of all the children that were rising to the challenge. Her passion was contagious. And when the old men got up to sing and play - we all understood that yes indeed, many things are worth preserving.

I will forever be grateful for how I felt welcome. How privileged I was to have witnessed that show, that  community, that commitment. And for being given the opportunity to dance a wee bit o' the Irish.

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