after the beach at Inch, our second day of hiking brought us into a picturesque glacial valley and the town of Anascaul, which straddles one of the main roads into Dingle. we had our lodging booked in a B&B over a pub right where the hiking path entered town. as we came down the hill, a youngish guy working in the back garden next to our destination stopped and asked if we’d been walking from Camp today and if we had a reservation at (some other) B&B. his inquiry was the only indication that there were more than four of us hiking the Dingle Way on our schedule and pace.

after our usual post-hike shower and lie-down routine, we headed down the road to a different pub, recommended to us by the guy who served us lunch in Inch. the South Pole Inn had quite the crowd of families out enjoying the weather and a bite to eat on a covered patio. to add to the ambiance, a guy with a guitar was set up at a microphone just beside the door to the pub and performed an array of popular music and Irish tunes. there was a little kid (still in diapers but excitedly mobile) who timidly made overtures towards the musician, who tried to encourage him to come up and sing a song, or ask one of his parents to come up and sing a song. in the end the you guy decided he’d rather just run around at full tilt, sometimes towards the busy road to his parents’ chagrin. towards the end of our dinner, a woman chatted with the performer and got him to call her (not really timid) friend up to sing a song with him. she did, after stubbing out her cigarette and taking a slug of her pint, and it wasn’t half bad. I would never consider doing something like that, but it wasn’t the only time we saw it happen.

the pub, which stood next to a shallow river (named after either a local legend, known as the “Ford of Heros” or as the “River of Shadows”), was once home to Tom Crean (about which more later). the other famous local son was sculptor Jerome Connor, who has a notable work in Washington, D.C. it was, as I said, fairly well trafficked, and Anascaul, on balance, was one of the more bustling towns we visited — probably something to do with it’s location on a major road and a fair number of houses in the surrounding valley. as we descended the long straight road into town, we saw a sign for the Anascaul Walkers Club with an advert for an upcoming trek to the lake across the valley in a spectacular U-shaped glacial basin. farther than we’d ever consider adding to our trek on day three, but certainly worth the effort if driving around the peninsula.

Inch Beach

growing up, beaches for me were usually narrow strips of sand eked out along occasionally weedy-looking lakes. when we went to Daytona on spring break my senior year of college, it was completely novel that people were driving out onto the sand and parking. why would anyone take up precious beach space by parking on it?! well, when you have so much of it, it’s less of a concern.

towards the end of the trip, I joked that we spent more time on beaches in Ireland than we did on our “beach vacation” last year to Key West. miles and miles of long, sandy stretches with surprisingly warm water. the water in San Diego certainly wasn’t this warm to wade in while I was there last month! (apparently the gulf stream keeps the water around Dingle peninsula warmer than elsewhere, and keeps the climate more temperate throughout the year.)
the beach is backed by a series of dunes — reminded me a bit of Coronado beach — but is on a peninsula jutting out at an angle from the Dingle peninsula. Inch Beach is popular with surfers, apparently, and we saw several surfing schools soliciting participants. 
we arrived a bit early in the day for beach-goers, apparently. it was a Sunday and people hadn’t yet arrived for their afternoon lounging. we saw one hatchback get stuck in the soft sand just at the edge of the marked lane onto the beach, though by the time we headed back up the hill to return to the Dingle Way after lunch they’d managed to extricate themselves. during the course of the time we sat, enjoyed Bob Marley, half pints of Guinness, and filling meals, a fair number of cars made their way onto the beach. lots of families, some with vertical windbreaks of a style we saw a lot of during the course of our trip. maybe we’d just arrived to early for families — lifeguards supervise the beach from noon to 7:00 p.m. in July and August.
apparently part of the film “Ryan’s Daughter” was filmed at Inch Beach. as I’ve never seen it, I kept confusing it in my head with the horse race scene in “The Quiet Man,” which I know was filmed farther north in Connemara as I’ve driven through the village that claims the film. the pub we ate at in Dunquin also claimed some of the filming; part of me feels I should now watch it. (apparently it’s an adaptation of Madam Bovary?! set during the 1916 Rebellion …) the beach also served as setting for a film adaptation of “Playboy of the Western World” as well.
ultimately, Inch was the only beach at which we put our feet in the water. it was early enough in the trip that the more persistent and problematic blisters had yet to form, but far enough in that taking off boots and walking along the sand to put our feet in the water was an imminently satisfying thought. it was also the one on which we spent the least amount of time, as the Dingle Way does not actually intersect or follow along this beach. just the ones at Ventry, Smerwick Bay, Cloghane, Camp …

Killelton oratory

as with anyplace whose history and tradition of building erection stretches beyond two centuries, the Dingle peninsula has plenty of abandoned, tumbled-down, excavated, and over-grown structures. one of the first excavated and preserved buildings we encountered was the Killelton oratory near Camp. the first written mention of it dates from the mid-19th century and excavations and fortifications were made in the 1890s — shoring up a wall that had collapsed due to subsidence caused by a drain in the floor.

complete excavations and renovation work took place in the late 1980s, beating back the vines overtaking the site. today, the walls of the oratory stand between 5 and 6 feet high, with space evident for both an eastern window and the western-facing door. I don’t know quite how it works, but evidence also exists for a hinged door. it dates from the 10th or 11th century, but evidence from the more recent excavation indicates habitation on the site prior to the construction of this oratory, and remaining foundations adjacent to the structure suggest more modern occupation. the sign indicated a grassy patch had been used for adult burials into the 19th century, while evidence suggested that infants had been buried inside the church “in recent times.” no items of particular archaeological significance were unearthed in the excavation, simply some quern fragments, hammer stones and polygonal black glass beads.

the oratory is on the old Dingle road from Tralee, which is to say it’s now mostly a grassy, shaded track filled with biting flies and livestock leavings. we also saw several abandoned and tumble-down buildings along the same route, none of which were spruced up or maintained as the oratory.

finding the Dingle Way

first day on the trail brought us lots to see and lots to photograph. the path follows a towpath out of Tralee and into the village of Blennerville, whose claim to fame is a functioning windmill that also serves as point of tourist interest, thanks to the Tralee Urban Council, who procured it in 1981.

after passing through Blennerville — and the last shop (for procuring useful goods such as sports drink, chocolate, or peanuts) we saw for several days — we headed up onto the shoulder of the Slieve Mish Mountains. one of the peaks we passed, Caherconree, is named for a stone ring fort found two-thirds up the peak and overlooking the “road of stones.” myth claims the Cú Roí mac Dáire, a one-time king in Muenster rumored to possess magical powers, was able to raise the stones of the for up at night and spin it around so that enemies could not find the entrance. in another myth, a woman held captive in the fort by Cú Roí signaled her rescuer by pouring milk into a stream. that stream that originates near the ring fort is now known as the Finglas, a name derived from a word meaning “the white stream.”

the day stayed cloudy enough to be pleasant without a hint of rain (as it remained throughout the entire hike). the guide pages upon which we relied routinely cautioned how mucky various parts of the track could become given a bit of rain, and it was easy to identify those sections and give thanks that we hadn’t faced that challenge. we saw an assortment of all the livestock we’d see elsewhere along the hike — cows, sheep, horses — though some of the terrain was restricted from grazing. at one point we encountered a herd of brown and black cows grazing directly on top of a crossroads through which we were directed to proceed. we opted to tramp off over the boggy ground rather than get too close to an unknown herd of mothers and their calves. once past the mucky bit we had our first encounter with the biting flies and humid closeness of hedgerows we’d come to know so well. then down over the Finglas river and up into Camp for a much anticipated sit.


 the other night we stumbled upon a NOVA episode exploring the logistics of constructing Stonehenge and how it connects to Durrington Walls up the River Avon. the heart of the portion we watched centered on one scholar’s theory about how the stones got to the famous site in the Salisbury Plain — placing the several-ton stones on platforms on tracks of milled timber with the equivalent of wood or stone ball bearings to allow the contraption to glide towards the destination. it was an interesting idea … for an age when modern milling and ball-bearings might be common, but I was inclined to agree with the criticism that it was perhaps a bit over-engineered for the Neolithic architects of Stonehenge. logs and lots of people with ropes seemed just as effective and perhaps more expeditious. but then, most of what we know about Stonehenge comes from educated guesses at best.

the earthwork enclosure that encompasses the site dates from about 3100 BCE while radiocarbon testing and other evidence suggest the stones were erected sometime between 3000 and 2000 BCE, with the bluestones (the smaller ones) perhaps going up towards the beginning of that period and the remaining sarsens (the larger ones) later on. Stonehenge was constructed in several phases over a some 1,500 years, replacing monuments that previously stood on the site.

one of the more impressive facts about the site is the distance the stones traveled. while the precise origin remains unknown, it seems the bluestones came from the Preseli Hills in southwest Wales more than 150 miles away from Stonehenge (another theory posits they were glacial erratics left much closer to the site by the Irish Sea Glacier). in 2011, researchers at the University of Wales announced they’d identified the exact source from which the earliest stones were taken — 140 miles away in Pembrokshire in Wales. the sarsen stones are made of a type of sandstone found throughout southwest England but most archaeologists believe these stones came from the Marlborough Downs about 30 miles distant. as I mentioned, the bluestones were erected first, likely in a double-circle, and show signs of human efforts to shape them to fit together in some fashion. the sarsens were worked at the site using handmade tools; the NOVA program included excavation of some of the tools and stone shards carved off the sarsens.

the first signs of inhabitants on the site, however — four or five pits (some which held pine posts) — were discovered in the site’s parking lot between the 1960s and 80s and date to sometime between 8500 and 7000 BCE (the Mesolithic era!). recently uncovered evidence suggests the site may have been used for burials from the beginning, with cremains found in and around pits along the bank and ditch; in the 64 identified burial sites archaeologists have found remains for as many as 150 individuals. the NOVA program also chronicled excavations along the banks of the River Avon by archaeologists, seeking to determine whether the avenue did, in fact, continue all the way to the river and thus, presumably, symbolically and physically connect Stonehenge with Durrington Walls up the river. based on the positioning of the two sites, the researchers proposed Durrington Walls as a “site of the living” (as it aligned with sunrise) while Stonehenge was a “site of the dead” (as it aligned with the sunset and was a site for burial).

beginning in the 1920s, the National Trust began purchasing land around Stonehenge to preserve the setting around the monument as early in the 20th century land nearby was increasingly turned to cultivation. since the 1980s, the National Trust has worked with local landowners to revert some of this previous farmland back to chalk grassland. the setting-preservation effort was undermined somewhat by the two roadways — the A344 and the A303. over the last several decades plans have repeatedly been advanced then shelved to close or reroute the two roads in order to return the atmosphere of the site to how it might have been millennia ago. in 2010, the Wiltshire Council approved plans for a new visitors center to replace the one built in the 1970s, but forward progress is currently held up by getting acquiescence to close the A344 and two other nearby roadways.

of course, the sheer volume of visitors will still affect how one experiences Stonehenge. at the turn of the 20th century, concern for visitor safety (coupled with the toppling of an outer sarsen and its lintel) prompted the then-owner to begin the process of re-erecting fallen stones and stabilising the bases of others. the site was donated to the nation in 1918 by Cecil Chubb (who’d purchased several years earlier in an auction) who became responsible for its upkeep and providing access. between 1938 and today, annual visitors to the site increased from 38,000 to over 900,000. in 1978, erosion of the earthworks due to the increased number of visitors and acts of vandalism to the stones resulted in access to the stones being restricted. today, visitors are only allowed to tour Stonehenge from roped-off paths that prevent too many people from accessing the stones at any given period.

even though access to the stones is restricted, it isn’t prohibited; it just requires some planning, forethought, and approval from the National Trust. my dad was one with such foresight and managed to coordinate an early-Sunday-morning visit for us when my parents came to visit me while I was studying in London. it’s a truly unique experience to get such remarkable access to a monument so impressive, so old, and so shrouded in mystery. the first time I visited England, we focused more time on Avebury and (if I recall correctly) just stopped along the road and looked through the fence at Stonehenge, rather than paying the entrance fee to walk around the roped-off path. it was worth the wait, though, to get to to stand so close the stones, to touch them and walk among them. if you’re ever in the vicinity, I highly recommend taking the time to visit and, if you’ve got some foresight, too, plan ahead for one of those outside-operating-hours access spots.

some final thoughts:
if you’re in Ireland, you should definitely make the effort to visit Brú na Bóinne (it’s on the itinerary for the next trip to Ireland this summer!) another remarkable Neolithic site.
check out the NOVA program, Secrets of Stonehenge, for more on all the projects I referenced above.
lastly, one of my favorite travel blogs, Twenty-Something Travel, posts “Friday Postcards” and the one from this week was, coincidentally, Stonehenge at sunrise!

Celtic Spain

as I mentioned in a previous post, there is a strong Celtic vein running through Galicia — climatologically and culturally. the mountains upon which O Cebreiro sits are the first significant vertical obstacle that Atlantic weather systems encounter on their eastward journey, resulting in frequent rain and fog that leave the fields and flora the kind of lush green that reminds you why there are so many different ways to say green in Gaelic languages. the land is hilly and broken up into a patchwork of farms with much more space for grazing animals than in the more eastern provinces. the terrain at the heart of Galicia is hilly, though not quite mountainous necessarily, though mountains divide it from the rest of Spain, contributing somewhat to its isolation. the region is also crossed by numerous rivers, fed by the regular precipitation, winding through dense Atlantic rainforests. similar to Ireland, the ragged coastline is marked with archipelagos, firth-like inlets and high cliffs.

as with my experience in Ireland, the rain came most every day but not in torrential way. throughout our time in Galicia, there was really only one day where it rained persistently and all our rain gear was essential; the rest of the time it drizzled for a bit, or started out fogging in the morning and cleared up relatively quickly. the average rainfall in Santiago in June (one of the driest months and when we visited) is 57mm, while Galway in June sees an average of 72mm. in May, they both have virtually the same of average number of rainfall days and their temperature trends, even, are relatively close though the highs in Galway remain somewhere between 4 and 6 degrees Centigrade cooler.

emigration and economic problems have affected both Galicia and Ireland profoundly; while I’ve read extensively on the Irish diaspora, I had no idea the extent to which the problem might affect another region, or how it might manifest, until I witnessed it in Galicia. as with so many of the small towns we travel through on the Camino, denuded of younger inhabitants, few opportunities beyond life of getting by as a farmer exist in the small communities of Galicia; with the economic crisis Spain currently faces, there are few opportunities even in the cities for young people (though Citroën has a factory for electric cars in Vigo). the lack of opportunities has prompted young men in particular emigrate elsewhere in Spain and to Latin America; this problem is hardly new, however — Fidel Castro’s parents were both of Galician extraction. because of this migration (and a fertility rate of just over one child per Galician woman), the population of Galicia has grown slower than the rest of Spain. moreover, this problem is exacerbated by a gender imbalance favoring women that stems from the tendency of men to migrate. once I read of the nearly two-to-one gender disparity, I noticed it everywhere; women run everything, from bars to stores to farms. the first pub we ate at in Galicia featured a full staff of women and the number of visitor-men significantly outnumbered the number of local-men in the pub.

 not unlike Ireland, the native Galician language (Galega) has faced attempts at suppression by the nearby dominant language (Spanish). for four centuries, Spanish was the only official language in Galicia; eventually it fell out of daily use in urban areas but now it is the primary language of instruction. efforts to bring it back into popular usage among Galicians seem to have met with more success than in Ireland; the 2001 census found that 99 percent of Galicians understood Galega, 91 percent could speak it, 68 percent could read it, and 57 percent could write it — the latter two percentages up significantly from a decade earlier (the Franco regime forbid the teaching of Galego). it just barely makes it onto the list of 150 most-spoken languages in the world.

one last similarity is the music; apart from the festival performance we saw in Belorado, we didn’t hear or witness much live music in Spain. granted, we weren’t ones for going out late — much less late for Spain — given our propensity for awaking silly early to get walking before the worst of the heat (and to ensure securing beds on the nights we stayed in the albergues). but in Galicia, we saw more traditional dress and heard a tiny bit more traditional music. as with other Celtic peoples, the traditional music of Galicia features bagpipes called gaita. maybe it’s just through the hazy lens of passed time, but I recall the music featuring the gaita as not unlike what I heard in Ireland, though certainly with its own flavor. as we came down towards the plaza in front of the Catedral in Santiago, a young busker was playing gaita under the final archway, sending the familiar yet distinct music echoing out into the plaza. it was spectacularly atmospheric and I cannot think of a more appropriate way to reach our long-sought destination.

coping with the lack of culture shock

in many, many ways, my culture shock/reverse culture shock associated with my trip to the Czech Republic were significantly less consuming or debilitating than what I experienced last year with Ireland.

I find this both fascinating and surprisingly unsurprising. my trip to the Czech Republic was wonderful and relaxing and everything I could have possibly hoped for from the trip and from traveling in general. I met some great people, saw some amazing sights, was generally amazed at how easy it was to get anywhere that I wanted to get (barring the one exception that didn’t turn out so bad in the end), had some spectacular experiences, and very easily could have fallen in love with the country.

but I didn’t. and I’m totally ok with that.

I met many, many people who fell in love with the country and decided to stay, or came back at the first opportunity and I can absolutely understand the attraction. if I were in a different place in my life I can see how I might end up in a similar position. but when it comes down to it, I didn’t have the same intense connection to the history of the places I visited that I did during my three weeks in Ireland. one might argue the tradition of hospitality in Ireland has something to do with my preference for it over the Czech Republic, but I’m not sure my experiences bear that observation out. I had perhaps more ambivalent/neutral hospitality experiences in Ireland than in the Czech Republic. could have been the places I stayed — less conducive to making random friends, or my own anxiety about venturing out on my own in a city that I didn’t know. but perhaps my own understanding of Irish history, as well as how it dovetailed with that of English history, made the historical perspective more intimate to me. as I’ve said before (and will probably say again), my knowledge of Czech history is still limited.

the more I developed a tactile relationship with Irish history, by visiting sites of historical significance, the harder it became for me to reconcile my affinity for English history and culture with the hardships the Empire imposed on it’s closest colony. (am I repeating myself?) it was very hard for me to reconcile these two profound affinities and, eventually, I gave up and tried to disassociate one from the other, to embrace each while ignoring the implications of the other. (there was a rough patch after my trip where I was struggling to reconcile and/or accept all of this). for good or for ill, the Czech Republic did not elicit such strong emotions. there weren’t courses on Czech history in my high school or college; it was only a peripheral mention in comparative politics classes that addressed the Cold War or U.S.S.R., if it came up at all.

and, consequently, there was less baggage available to tag along on my trip to the Czech Republic, fewer layers of complexity, fewer points for affection or contention. more opportunity to simply observe, appreciate, and let go of the unique places and cultural experiences I encountered in the Czech Republic. it was easier to disentangle my sense of self from the way I interacted with Czech culture. and, so, the culture shock was less dramatic in both directions.

I’m not sure yet whether or not I’m glad for those muted reactions.

something sacchrine about what traveling *means* in my life

during the last week or so, as I gear up for my next solo trip, I have been thinking back on last year’s big trip. really, it seems rather disingenuous to confine my reflections to the last week — I’ve been thinking about events and people and places from that trip every day for the last year; if I’m not thinking about my personal experiences, then I am certainly more attuned to political or economic rumblings from Ireland. there are places and names I recognize now which catch my attention when browsing through news articles.

coming to enjoy Ireland as thoroughly as I do was something of a struggle. I had such a deeply ingrained anglophile streak (how many English Lit classes have I taken in my life? and did I not spend four amazing months in London during college that left me nearly-rabid for more?) that it was difficult to reconcile my enjoyment of (most) things English with the reality of how the Empire treated it’s island neighbor. visiting all these places that knew such brutal treatment, that endured such monumental hardships, that bear the signs of 19th century policy decisions well into the 21st century … I struggled with a gut reaction to reject everything English for a long time, both while I was there and when I came back. as I said in a (much) earlier post: the worst of the Troubles might be over, but that certainly doesn’t mean things are resolved, and I had to reconcile my knowledge and affections for the history and present of both nations to one another. farther removed from the experience, it’s certainly easier to let the past stay in the past and be more academic and circumspect about the present-day political relationship between the two, and for this I am thankful, but it took awhile to find that balance.

in addition to all of that, I’ve also been thinking about what the experience taught me about myself and about how I travel. my first truly solo trip (three weeks in Venezuela) was oftentimes more stressful than enjoyable and, in reality, not designed as travel. I spent a good share of my days going through microfilm at the Biblioteca Nacional and making photocopies, or struggling with new (and functionally unhelpful) forms of Spanish grammar. consequently, the experience left me uncertain as to how I would cope when truly traveling solo. my time in Ireland proved to me not only that I could spend nearly three weeks in a foreign land, most of the time by myself, but that I could relish the opportunity. now it is not so much a question of “when” but “how soon” can I come up with the money and time for another big adventure.

granted, there are still elements about this trip to the Czech Republic about which I am nervous — the language challenge foremost among them. the hardest aspect of my time in Venezuela was a combination of language factors: my Spanish is not very good (despite my sometimes-enthusiastic, sometimes-half-hearted efforts) and locals were not patient with my efforts. the Venezuelan economy is not reliant on external tourism by any stretch of the imagination and one could never accuse the random venezolano on the street of being warm and welcoming to outsiders. as such, I am (justifiably, I think) nervous about the fact that I only know a few random phrases of Czech. but this is an entirely new experience in a nation that does rely on tourists, for good or for ill, and I’m sticking in large part to areas known to tourists or with student populations or expats. I’ve got the basics of four languages under my belt and, if all else fails, there’s always charades and writing out what I want in consultation with my phrasebook. in the end, I know that I have the experience, presence of mind, and tug towards adventure that will make the coming weeks another truly remarkable adventure.

Saville Inquiry

today the Saville Inquiry, which was established in 1998 by Tony Blair to investigate the Bloody Sunday shootings, published its report. in short: the shootings were “unjustified.” the soldiers fired without provocation or warning on unarmed civilians and killed fourteen people who were participating in a banned protest march.

not unlike how I felt when Barack Obama was elected President, there seems a real historical weight behind this announcement. the 1972 inquiry completely whitewashed the atrocity and absolved the military from any culpability in the deaths of the fourteen victims. the report by Lord Widgery accused the victims of firing weapons or throwing petrol bombs and while the Saville Report concludes that members of the Official IRA were present and armed in defensive positions, it was the soldiers who opened fire first. moreover, the new report leaves room for prosecution of the soldiers involved — those who fired weapons and those who lied before the current or previous Inquiry.

it’s astonishing to think of how conditions have changed in the north of Ireland in the time since the Saville Inquiry was convened in 1998. it is impossible to imagine that an inquiry of this nature would have come to this conclusion in 1998. the bombing in Canary Wharf occurred in February 1996, and the Good Friday Accords weren’t even signed until late in 1998. but now … now, 38 years after Bloody Sunday the Prime Minister of the UK has stood on the floor of the House of Commons and apologized to the victims. the conclusions of the report “are absolutely clear,” Cameron said. “There is no doubt, there is nothing equivocal, there are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.” obviously it is not the same man vocalizing policy today as in 1972 (Edward Heath), but I find that, in perhaps more ways than in the U.S., the individual becomes the Institution and on some emotional level it feels a little like the men responsible for the backward, horrifying, infuriating English policies towards Northern Ireland have, themselves, acknowledged the error and apologized. and I suppose that, as part of the pieces that make up Institution, they have apologized for their actions, whether they want to or not, whether they still stand by their decisions and actions or have amended their views in light of events of the last 38 years.

tonight, as I pulled into the lot after a nice long workout at the gym, I had a very rare “driveway moment” about Bloody Sunday. that unmistakable drumbeat started up on Triple M with that quality that tells you that the song’s been recorded live. Bono came on to introduce the song and with a raw, emotional edge to his voice said “This is not a rebel song. This is ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday.'” it is amazing — amazing to think of how much has changed in the world — and in the north of Ireland — since they sat down to write that song. and if the last couple years are any indication, it looks like things are still headed up.

coverage on the Report from the Guardiancoverage from BBC Newswikipedia on the Saville Report, and most worth reading, reaction to the Saville Report and the Prime Minister’s speech from the Guardian reporter who was covering the protests in Derry on Bloody Sunday.