This is Mary Theresa White, and her bed and breakfast, Atlantic View Inn in Liscannor. This is where we got treated like part of the family, and mothered in the best of ways for three days. We got to meet her son and hear him practicing the Irish language for a test at school, and we got to toss an egg shaped toy for her much-loved dog Rocko to play with. We were served fantastic Irish breakfasts (bacon, sausage, egg, tomato and toast), heaping bowls of different fruits, tea and coffee at all times of the day, and when we came in we always heard Mary calling out, "Girls, girls," and knew we had to go check in with her.
Her husband, like many men in this area, is a farmer and they keep cows. We took a long walk down their little country lane and just spent an evening watching all the animals of the countryside. It was such a joy to watch the calves play next to their mothers in grass filled pastures. The sun was setting and we marveled at everything, from a climbing rose bush on a house to the swallows that were darting through the sky. I felt a deep peace and acceptance, looking at this fertile land full of new life balanced on the edge of the harsh, unforgiving cliffs.
The Cliffs of Moher are truly magnificent. We went to the visitor's center, which is at the highest point on the cliffs, and followed a path down to the next town, Doolin. Before we started our journey, we talked to a guide. He told us, in typical Irish fashion, slyly and with a mischievous look in his eye, that the walk to Doolin would be fairly easy for fit people like us, would probably only take an hour and we could also likely walk back up after eating lunch there. Two and a half hours later, we found ourselves staring at a sign at the base of the cliffs near Doolin informing us that we had just descended 300 km and walked 8 km (about 5 miles), and the hike was labelled at "extremely strenuous." It was a GOOD walk! Much longer than expected, and we ended up getting taxied back up after getting lunch and a Guinness in Doolin, but I loved it.
Our walk led us on the cliffs' edge and through various livestock pastures. There were no rails or guards at any time and the wind was blowing intensely so it felt very dangerous and wild to be walking on those cliffs. We took in incredible views and crept up to the edge of a rock outcrop at one point to peer over and stare far, far below. Though many people visit the Cliffs of Moher, few do the longer hikes along the cliffs and we mostly had the path to ourselves. A friendly farmer's dog ran with us for a while, and other than that all we had for company was each other and the wind, grass, sea and sky.
The following day we took a boat out to the Aran Islands, just off the coast at the mouth of Galway Bay. Mary arranged our boat charter and got us a deal, after we were asked multiple times if we were ok on boats. When we started the trip, we realized why. Particularly on the Atlantic, before entering the bay, the water was rolling and the waves were large, even though it was a calm day. We decided to get off at the first and smallest island, Inisheer, because we heard it had good natural areas and we didn't want to stay on the boat longer (well, Melinda and I didn't... We were feeling a little seasick).
On Inisheer, we didn't really know what to do so we took a cart ride tour, and thus began one of the strangest interactions we've had with the Irish. Our driver was blunt and unsmiling and took it upon himself to tell us how Inisheer is just a place for tourists now, though families still grow potatoes and might keep a couple cows. It's a surreal place where every patch of earth was once covered with slabs of limestone. The slabs were broken off by the originally inhabitants to build stone walls and to reach the soil beneath. Our driver told us a small amount of history but mostly just pointed out random things, such as the school, the hospital and the racquetball courts. I felt like I was being shown a human zoo. However, we did get to hear him speak Traditional Irish (Gaelic) to other people, which was beautiful, and we liked the way he talked to the horse, Jack. After that we went to a nice pub (seemingly meeting everyone else there who had gotten off the boat with us) and got a Guinness with a shamrock formed from the foam. We decided to leave Inisheer on an early afternoon boat and took a trip back by the Cliffs of Moher, where we saw hundreds of guillemots and plenty of puffins (totally the highlight of my day).
The next day we returned to Dublin and prepared to go on our long journey home. We said goodbye to Mary regretfully. If you ever go to the Cliffs of Moher, I hope you consider staying in her lovely home. Going from the cliffs to Dublin was a little bit of a culture shock, but by the evening we had settled in and were visiting a couple pubs where we saw and participated in amazing traditional music. It was a fitting end to the trip, a celebration of where we'd been.
I usually fall in love with the places I travel to sooner or later, and experience some degree of loss and sadness when I'm forced to return to normality. However, as I was walking through the airport in Orlando, preparing to take my third plane in 24 hours to reach my job training destination in Raleigh, I realized that spending two weeks with my friends, Anna and Melinda, wasn't just a great time, it was a time where I regained perspective, energy and hope for a future. The people we met and the things we did will always be a part of my story, but I can't dwell on them and become unwilling to be present in the rest of my life. It's time to live.