Archive | August, 2012

Four Secrets before Mass

28 Aug

We arrived into Kilkee last weekend just in time to catch the sun setting over the bay which is viewed perfectly from our friend Anne’s house on the strand.  She had invited us down for what turned out to be a highlight of our summer.

Not only is the location of the house perfect, but the surf-hut atmosphere and fact that the house is a no-tv/no video-games zone means that the children revert to all sorts of healthy native behaviors such as running around and playing games. 

In the morning, Anne announced that she wanted to show us four secret spots in Kilkee before mass.  So we set out for George’s Head which is a prominent headland at the northern mouth of the bay.  We walked past the first secret which was the “Puffin Hole” (or possibly “Puffing Hole” ) where waves crash into an eroded rock causing water to shoot out the top.  Unfortunately, the tide was too high for any puffing activity there.

The second secret, wasn’t really secret so much, but if you were a tourist you might head out to Byrne’s Cove for a protected swim and find yourself surprised by the tradition of men bathing nude here.  Of course our girls casually responded: “We’re from San Francisco, we see that kind of stuff all the time..”

jumping off point for the annual 1 mile cross-bay swim (which Anne just did!)

The third secret was a little sandy beach in a hidden cove that Anne calls “Horseshoe Bay”.  I think she might be the only one who calls it that (besides us now).   Just past this, we start to get adventurous and do a bit of rock-climbing.

you didn’t just take a picture of my butt did you?

The place we end up is the fourth secret which Anne has named “Seagull Shelf”.  It appears to be one of the highest points of the headlands and is a sharp ridge of rock of rock at the top of the cliffs above the ocean.

You can lie right on the rock shelf and stick your head over to stare at the waves crashing on the rocks far below.  Impressive and terrifying at the same time.  Beats the heck out of the Cliffs of Moher.

We raced back from Seagull Shelf to Sunday Mass in a very large church which was as packed as I would have expected on Easter or Christmas – but this was just an ordinary Sunday.  I’m told it is crowded because they only do one service per Sunday here, where in other towns there might be multiple times to go. 

In any case, we had a beautiful lunch provisioned with fresh produce from the farmer’s market on the main street.  I don’t even think they call it a Farmer’s Market here like we would in San Francisco.  Here it’s just a market…the farmers are a given.

After lunch we headed out to the Pollock Holes – this was cool because you don’t see the name Pollock in too many places so we were very excited to see what geological wonder would be thusly named.  Unfortunately, the fine partially sunny day was growing a bit darker and although it was still dry, it was starting to look a little less pleasant out.  Nonetheless, we couldn’t *not* go to the Pollock Holes.

a view of George’s Head from the Pollock Holes

Turns out that the great rocky coastline of Western Ireland has formed deep protected pools here that are perfect for swimming in.

The Pollock Holes are not only perfect for swimmming, but they also harbor all manner of exciting marine life.   The girls finally found the starfish in the wild that they have been searching for in every tidepool they see.

twinkle twinkle

Here is a video of Grace trying to jump into the water and being distracted by the discovery of yet another starfish that she has to present to her sister.  (you can hear the coastal wind coming in off the sea…and yes it is as cold as it sounds but this does not daunt the intrepid Irish swimmers)

Just as we were finished swimming and getting ready to go, the wind finally blew in a brisk shower which combined with the sun in the most exceptional double rainbow.  Unfortunately, my iPhone camera doesn’t do it justice and only just captures the brighter main rainbow.

As a little parting blog-gift, here is a video of the same rainbow so you can see the whole thing.

Healthy Sibling Rivalry

24 Aug

I had intended for last summer to be “The Summer of the Bicycle” but I only managed to teach Tara how to ride and didn’t really have a chance to teach Grace – what with the move to Ireland and everything…but this summer, after Tara started going on bike rides last week in New Quay, Grace asserted herself and said “Ok Dad, I’m ready, teach me how to ride a bike”.

The bike was her cousin Kate’s.  The location was her Aunt Aine’s house.  The occasion was her grandparent’s 45th wedding Anniversary lunch.

The first step was to learn to balance.  We went to the wide open parking area behind the house which had a little slope and I told her when she could coast down the whole thing without touching her feet to the ground she would be ready for the next step. She proceeded to wreck herself pushing the bike to the top of the lot and coasting down – over and over endlessly.

The second step was to learn to steer the bicycle. Actually, Grace came up with that step because she had gotten so good at balancing on the bike in about an hour that she found a steeper curving path through the gardens and became an expert at negotiating the twists and turns.

The third step was to learn to pedal, so I set her up at the top of a nice sloping section of lawn so she wouldn’t go too fast, and if she wiped out it would be a soft landing.  She didn’t wipe out.

The final step was putting it all together and the next day she picked up a bike at another house and rode it perfectly amongst the cars in the driveway.

I have to say I was pretty impressed that Grace managed to learn to ride a bike in a single day – maybe everyone does that, I don’t know but I was still impressed.

Ticket to Ride – Part 2

21 Aug

I mentioned how many memories we created during our recent week in the Burren, and one is sure to be Tara’s bicycle rides to the Flaggy Shore and around the tiny village of New Quay.

I was working from the office upstairs and just managed to get my camera out when I saw Tara headed off down the road with yet another adult she had managed to talk in to accompanying her.

Although she was willing to go for a cycle with anyone who would go with her, she was very very eager to have me go with her so she could show off how good she had gotten on the bike. I tried to capture the moment on video and realised how hard it is to video someone with one hand and try to steer and brake simulataneously with the other hand. Amazingly Tara manages to stay on the bike as I nearly wreck mine!

By the time we were headed back, I got better at the video thing and got a nice picture of Tara on her first days of two-wheeled freedom.

The Americans Visit

19 Aug

It was a strangely disconcerting emotional experience having Mary’s brother and his family come to visit Ireland this summer.

For the first 12 years of our marriage, we lived in S.F.  along with Mary’s other expat siblings and they would all trade news of the family back home, get excited about upcoming return trips or melancholy when the time between those trips grew too long.

This summer, though, we were on the other side.  We were “home” this time to witness the excited anticipation that precedes the prodigal return of an expat child.  There were dinners planned, schedules made, houses cleaned and all sorts of gyrations, but ultimately it was really about the kids.

The most cousins I got in the frame was 7

This was the first time we had 9 out of the 10 cousins together, and it was worth all the effort that the Americans made to get here and all the preparations that those here made to host them.  That didn’t mean there wasn’t complete chaos trying to out-do every preceding dinner.

We spent the week in the Burren house – 13 of us – and we got some fantastic warm sunny days, created a whole host of memories for everyone and at least one epic sunset that I managed to get a picture of.

The cousins instantly fell right in and re-connected, and it was heartbreaking to see them go back to San Francisco this morning.

Their visit was a wonderful chance for us to share and show off all the fantastic wonderful things we have discovered about Ireland,  but it also made us feel all the things we missed about SF – mostly all those family and friends who we haven’t seen for so long.

Ticket to Ride

11 Aug

The other day Grace comes in to the house and says “Hey guys, my riding lesson starts in an hour”.  Mary and I are like “What riding lesson?!?”  Grace says “Don’t worry, I’ve got a lift there and you don’t have to pay for it.”

Turns out Grace had organised with the girl next door to go with her to her riding lesson where the deal is 6 lessons for the price of 5 and so Grace figured (rightly) the first lesson would be free and joined in on the carpool over there.

the motorcycle-riding helmet makes me think “Easy Rider”

She loved the first lesson and the teacher put her in what grace calls “the first normal level, there are three levels of beginners and then the normal levels…I’m in the first normal level”.   So all those precious moments in Arizona on the backs of her Great Aunt’s horses paid off, the girl has a bit of a seat.

So now Grace goes every week and is learning to ride what we always called “English Saddle” but I’m a little nervous to call it that over here – what with the hundreds of years of opression and revolution and all.  I imagine they don’t call the saddle anything but “saddle” because as far as they’re concerned it’s the only saddle there is, they don’t really have the cowboy thing down here.

Grace tailgates the horse in front…always too slow

I raced over from work early to get to the stables in time to actually see Grace in action and grab a few pictures. 

I’m so glad my girl has initiative, and we are always happy to support her wherever she shows both drive and promise – and she’s got plenty of both when it comes to riding horses.

Eyes Open for Adventure

3 Aug

I have to tell you more about the Burren.  We were up there for the week recently and some of Mary’s friends came to stay with us which was super fun.  The morning after they arrived I was thinking to myself “What will we do today?” and I picked up a guidebook that was there for the tourist-y types who sometimes rent out the house.  I decided to look at some of the nearby attractions that I hadn’t seen yet.

I identified a castle that nobody I knew had ever heard of even though it was nearby.  Nobody really cared where we went as long as there was some adventure to be had, so we all thought Gleninagh Castle would be as good a destination as any.

a hard to find view

Unfortunately, Gleninagh Castle is not very easy to find and we drove completely past it while looking for it.  At some point we ended up at the end of the penninsula there and the land curved around to the south and we knew we had missed Gleninagh Castle, but we were facing the most astounding expanse of limestone landscape I had ever seen.  It is called Black Head and we stopped the cars and got out and made our adventure right there.

The kids took off across the moonscape toward the sea.  This looks rocky and it is.  It is the most rocky place I have ever been except for some of those places in the American southwest that are made out of sandstone.  There is well over a quarter mile here of the most interesting rocky blocks broken up by hidden cracks of greenery and scenery.

There is even the remains of an old rock cottage out there, but because it is built from the very same stones that surround it you can’t see it until you’re standing in it.

The kids had a blast because they could run off and feel independent exploring cracks and dips in the rocks and never get lost because you just stand up on a high one and you can see forever.

When you get to the water, the waves crash on the rocks and the tidepools teem with little bits of life and it turns out that it doesn’t matter if you make it to the castle you set out for, adventure is there if you just keep your eyes open for it.

We love the rugged country of the burren and the next day we took everyone up on the green road behind the house to see the views from up high.  The hills are as rocky as Black Head, but when you look in the right direction you see where the farmers have carved out limited fields of green to graze their stock.

The house, Burren Cove, is located in back of the little rise behind Grace’s head here in the below picture.   Aughinish Island just behind it looks like it touches the land, but it is just an illusion of the perspective.  There is about 25 meters of water between it and the mainland there and the currents that flow through it are impressive to watch.

We’ll be headed up for another week in the burren next week, so I imagine there will be some more photos and stories….oh the stories….the burren is full of them and I’m sure we’ll make plenty of our own there too.

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