After a look at the Guinness logo many years ago Bas and I had decided that in 2009 we needed to go to Ireland. Guinness exists since 1759, so we figured 2009 would be a good year to help them celebrate their birthday. From both our first sips of Guinness on, both Bas and I love Guinness.
When Bas reminded me early in 2009, I remembered that Laura's aunt Marie Oosterbaan with other people has a house in the west of Ireland. Marie is an artist, and her website (in Dutch) was built by Laura. The house is in the village Polranny, near Achill Island, and it is managed by the Polranny Pirates, a foundation that rents the house to artists and nerds.
Laura asked if it would be okay if we used the house, and we decided to ask Michel to come along too. Michel was the only one of us four who had been to Ireland before. In the past ten years he had visited Ireland four or five times, and now he had almost completely bicycled around the whole island.
After many emails we decided in the pub Het Ledig Erf (we didn't even drink Guinness with it) to go there in the end of March and beginning of April, first a few days to Dublin and then a week in the house. If we were to go by train, through England and passing two seas, we would have to spend the night somewhere on the road because of the distance, and so we decided to fly. The time spent travelling would be just a little over an hour.
We leave on the day Laura and I are married for one year, 26 March. Being in an aeroplane is an adventure for me. I haven't travelled that often by plane, and I'm fascinated by the speed, the power of the engines lifting all those tons of steel into the air, and the impressive view. It is an Aer Lingus Airbus. The plane is about half full, so I choose a good seat at a window. I am still a bit dizzy from a concert by The Ex the evening before and the Guinness afterwards, and I photograph the clouds through the small window. From Dublin Airport we have a Hertz-bus take us to the rental car.
The plane that takes us to Ireland, photographed through the sprinkled window of the airport. Click on the photos for enlargement.
Clouds, photographed from the plane.
More clouds. At the bottom of the picture England can be seen. In the top the blue gets so dark it is almost black.
The car we've reserved appears to be too small for four persons and luggage, so we decide to take a bigger one. That's a Land Rover Freelander 2 TD4 (turbo diesel). Wow. It's huge. We decide to take out an all risk insurance too. Right hand drive, driving on the left, and all that with a machine this size...! Laura and I both do a test drive in the parking lot. Neither Bas or Michel has a driver's licence.
Our rental car is enormous.
We drive into Dublin. It is very big. Double-decker busses turn corners with their tires at less than an inch from the curb. People wearing masks on their mouths walk through slow traffic to try and sell newspapers to the waiting passengers. There is noise everywhere. We have no problems finding the apartment, we unload the luggage, and then we drive to the rented parking garage. Also without any problem. I still have pain in my right knee, because I overburdened it in the past week.
We have diner in an Indian restaurant (A Touch Of India) and visit a pub afterwards. Bas and I decide to count the number of Guinness's we drink during this holiday. Laura and Michel don't like Guinness.
Laura in the Dublin apartment. We received an email with a code, that we enter at the door. There is no landlord present.
The next day Michel buys new shoes in a shop in Temple Bar. Laura and Bas find themselves new shoes too. Then we walk to the brewery. It is a Friday. We hope to avoid the weekend-crowds.
Michel is a happy viking!
Bas, underneath a Guinness-advertisement, on our way to the brewery.
The Guinness Storehouse is not the actual brewery, but a building especially prepared for visitors. People don't have guided tours here. They should follow their own directions. And that's not difficult. It is a beautiful building, something between a museum, a shopping mall and a form of advertisement. There are seven floors, and it's built in the shape of a pint. At the top is the pub, with glass walls so there's a wonderful view of the city there.
We are free to wander about and to pass through almost any door. There's also conference rooms, and a multitude of unexpected corners and corridors. We drink a Guinness that is only seven hours old and that tasts a bit more clear, and we buy bottles with Guinness Foreign Extra. I buy a Guinness T-shirt but nothing else. No slippers, however cute they look.
Everything you can think of exists with a Guinness-logo on it. In vast quantities.
The interior of the Guinness Storehouse. It is a beautiful building, with old bricks and pipes along new glass and escalators.
"Guinness Business Centre, this is Michel, may I help you?"
Four Guinness in the brewery, pulled only seconds earlier.
My knee hurts, so we take a taxi back to the city centre. The driver is English. He has lived in Ireland for long, since he got married here, and he doesn't love Dublin. He lives in the country, about thirty kilometres outside the city, and every day when he gets to go home, he's glad. We sit for a while in the Hard Rock Café (among other things they have Keith Moon's shoes up on the wall). We dine in a Moroccan restaurant in Temple Bar. In the apartment Bas and I drink the Guinness Foreign Extra. Yummie! Much stronger and pungent and rich in taste even.
With our new purchases (and two pints Guinness of course) in the Hard Rock Café.
The elevator in the apartment talks to us. "Second Floor! Doors opening!" We talk back but it doesn't seem to hear us. "Thank you. Goodbye, now!"
The third day we wander through Dublin. My knee can just about take it all. We see churches, gardens and parks, and the old viking-part of town with a map of a viking-hut. Each of our three days in Dublin the weather is beautiful, although it's very windy. I see the first bumblebees of this year.
Near a church we have a conversation with a man who's walking his dog. "They didn't treat us very well," is the understatement he uses about the British. At the end of the afternoon Michel buys an Arran sweater in a shop near Trinity College.
Both Bas and Michel are vegetarians, and this evening we have a very good diner at the trendy, vegetarian restaurant Juice. This night is the start of the Daylight Saving Time.
We travel on a Sunday. My knee almost stopped hurting. We leave around ten o'clock and drive through Galway. We walk around the town for a while, and we have lunch in a Mexican snack bar. After Galway the country gets more and more beautiful. Rocks, stones, walls, lakes, peat and gorse. And sea. Now and then there's rain and then there's sun again, changing about every fifteen minutes.
Shopping street in Galway.
We drive past a car that's in the shoulder next to the road, shortly after having passed the warning sign for a slippery road. There are a few people on the road. I pull over and we walk towards them. "Everything okay? Need help?" They look at their car pityingly and then back at us. "Welcome to Ireland," they say. No, no personal accidents, and they don't need help. When we walk back to our car, we see a towing truck arrive. I myself hit the shoulder once, but I manage to steer the car back on the road. Afterwards we see large sods hanging underneath the car. The roads here are narrow, and our car is extremely wide.
We drink coffee in Leenane (where Michel buys a cuddly finch) and buy groceries in Westport. At around four or five o'clock we arrive at the house in Polranny. It's a beautiful house with wonderful surroundings. There are many books and a lot of dust. In the living room is a wood stove and in the kitchen there's a coal cooker. Bas gets both going. Michel connects the laptop upstairs. We eat omelettes with bread and vegetables.
The house in Polranny. At the left is Laura.
The outbuilding, called the folly, viewed from the back.
Laura at the edge of the back garden. Behind the fence the peat starts.
Michel goes for a run in the morning. Bas gathers wood, and sows and cuts it. Laura and I go for a walk. The pain in my knee is gone.
We walk behind the house to the sea and back again. Peat, peat and more peat. We don't dare to leave the path, fearing it will be boggy. Spotting a meadow with sheep, I call them and they come trotting towards us. At the shore there's a ship caught in the mud. On a path between two large gorse bushes Laura smells something that's vaguely like a mixture of Baileys and coconut.
The house from a distance, surrounded by trees and, of course, peat.
Peat is everywhere.
Laura smells the gorse.
Ruins of a house. There's many ruins like these.
Polranny is on a peninsula. Further west is Achill Island, seemingly the largest Irish island. A bridge connects Achill to the peninsula. Just across the bridge on the island is the village Achill Sound, about three or four kilometres from the house. Polranny has about seven houses and a shed, but Achill Sound is larger. It has pubs and a real supermarket.
We're back at one o'clock and we have lunch. Afterwards the four of us drive around the peninsula by car. There are many sheep, that sometimes walk on the roads. They're used to cars. Many sheep have lambs. There are remarkably few gulls. The weather is beautiful. Sun, sea and beach. On a beach we paddle and we lie in the sun. In a magazine in Dublin we had read a story about Achill Island, saying something like: if the weather is good, the island looks a bit like Crete. And so it does.
Here and there are deserted houses made of large bricks. Some look like they can be rebuilt without too much effort, but others are hopeless ruins. There are almost as many large, newly-constructed houses and estates. In twenty years time this place will be filled with expensive property. Ireland is quickly becoming rich. We buy our groceries and return at around five o'clock.
Bas walking towards the sea.
Gorse and boggy land near the shore. There are almost as many new villas as there are ruins of small houses.
Bas on the beach.
Michel and Laura.
Many rocks and desolate bareness.
The records in the house are mouldy and unplayable. The sleeves stick to the vinyl, and pieces of paper fall to the floor whenever I touch an album. Too bad. Lateron we are told that it is possible to clean them with lukewarm soap, but we don't dare to do it. We eat a rice stew, and after diner we read and write. Bas and I drink Guinness, (two Beck's and) an other Irish stout, Beamish. Guinness tastes better. At ten o'clock we go to bed.
I drive the most this holiday. I like driving very much, and all the more if it gets difficult. I feel at home behind the wheel of a car whenever in a fog, or in darkness or at the left hand side of the road. But this morning Laura drives and takes us to a walking trail, around eleven o'clock. Before we left Michel figured out all sorts of walking trails on the island, and this is one of those, on the western part of Achill Island. We drive up a steep mountain road, then down again towards a beach. It's a beautiful beach. There's a number of islands off the coast, and a river runs over the beach and into the sea. There is a car park. But no path.
Immediately behind the beach is a steep mountain. We start to climb it, sometimes on all fours. From afar we can see a house on the top of the mountain, and we decide to first head for that. It's a very rough climb for us, and all four of us are tired when we reach our destination. It appears the house is no more than a ruin, and is used by sheep as a place to crap. On the edge of the cliff is a rusted pole with a lamp socket in it. Nearby is a dead sheep. But the view of the beach below is beautiful.
View of the beach and the mountain behind it.
We start to climb the mountain.
Bas on the slope (behind him two sheep).
Michel and Laura with the house at the top.
Laura is standing on the mountain, looking out over the Atlantic Ocean.
We leave the beach behind us and walk for a while over the mountain ridge with the sea to our left. It is very deep. But the wind is strong, and so we descend the mountain on the other side. We walk downwards towards bog, fog and peat. It is very wet. Here and there we see a sheep, often with a lamb. We see one sheep with a lamb that was obviously born just a little while ago. There's no real path here, but there often is a short piece of a sheep's trail. The bogs and the sloping mountain-side make it very difficult to walk.
Michel photographs Laura and Bas.
Michel walks over a sheep's trail over the mountain ridge.
Sheep with a newly born lamb.
View of the beach, looking back.
At the foot of the mountain is a narrow plain with the river running through it, and on the opposite side is the next mountain ridge with the sea right behind it. We have lunch in the middle of the field on small spots dry enough to sit on. Bread with humus. And on we trudge. I think of a Donald Duck story about square eggs (by Carl Barks, called "Lost In The Andes"), in which Donald and the nephews wander in the fog in the Andes for days. Sometimes we can see no more than ten or twenty metres ahead of us in the fog. The houses we should be passing, are not here. Maybe we missed them already. Despite the bogs we decide to descend even further, so we can use the river to find our bearings.
Two sheep in the fog.
Laura and Michel on the slope.
When we have reached the river, we decide to turn around. It is a beautiful and impressive walk, but we're tired. After that we find the beach back quite soon. Apparently we walked in a wide bend going away, and took a rather straight line on our return.
Laura walking along the river.
At half past four we're back at the house. Laura takes a bath and a nap, and Bas chops some more wood. Meanwhile Michel and I take the car to go and buy pancake mix at the Achill Sound supermarket, near the bridge between the island and the peninsula. The pancakes are delicious. I sleep from around twelve until ten.
Today Bas and I want to go for a walk. Laura and Michel go out shopping in Castle Bar, and they drop us by car around twelve o'clock at the start of a walking trail on the other, that's Eastern side of the peninsula. We have difficulty finding the trail. We choose a gate near a side-road and follow the path for a while in the direction of the mountain. The path disappears into bog and peat. There's no path and no way to get through. We return, and we try some more side-roads. It should be here somewhere. We ask for directions, but the answers are in contradiction, and finally we give up altogether.
View from the point where the trail ends in peat and bog.
On the map we see that on the other side of the road, between the road and the coastline, there's a dismantled railway. And indeed we see a dike in the landscape. We go there and try to follow it. At first the railway is between two stone walls for a while. The actual rails are gone too. This apparently hasn't been a railway for a long time now. But after a short while there's a fence on the railway and behind it lies someone's back garden. We can't get around it. Let's head back to the road.
But we change our minds and decide to go and try to walk along the shore. This road wasn't meant to walk on. It is quite narrow for cars already, so for walkers it is outright dangerous. The shore is largely made up of stones. It's rough but very beautiful to walk this close to the sea. To the left of us there's meadows with sheep, sometimes a metre above the beach. In some places we get to walk over the grass instead of the stones. We find some beautiful oyster shells, and we take them with us.
Along the shore.
We have lunch near a large jetty. The weather is beautiful, and we're both walking in our T-shirts. We walk into the peat-land again, and after a while we find the railway back and follow it for some time. A woman farmer in a remote little house tells us it is okay if we walk over the meadows with the cows, as long as we close all gates behind us and don't bother the cows. Here the railway is turned into a tractor's trail.
Eventually we walk behind our own house and after a few attempts we succeed in finding a way through the peat, by walking and jumping over the higher parts of it. It is difficult because it is boggy, but we reach our home around half past four, through the back garden. A little while later we chop some more wood. Bas brought some chuncks of peat with him from the land behind our house, and they burn well in our stove.
The living room of the house. Below on the right is the wood-burning stove. On the table are two pints of Guinness, both half empty.
Today we take the Land Rover and drive around Achill Island. Starting at Achill Sound we head southward, then go along the Western shore, before turning off for the beaches in the North, where we meet a young and enthusiastic dog called Bruno.
Michel and the dog called Bruno (we read its name on the collar).
View of the bridge that connects Achill Island with the peninsula and the mainland, near the village Achill Sound.
Michel on the shore.
Two sheep looking out over the sea.
We have lunch in the dunes on a deserted beach. We then drive to the top of a mountain and admire the view below, and we visit a lake with a dam. By around half past four we drink two Guinness in a pub in Achill Sound, and Laura drives back. Bas and I drink some more Guinness outside the house in the afternoon sun. We eat pasta with stew and guacamole, and Michel bakes two loaves of Guinness-bread.
Idyllic view of a beach.
Bas walking through a lunar landscape of peat.
We have our own outdoor café at home, with our backs to the folly's wall.
And we even have our own waiter! We're being taken care of very well.
In the morning it rains for the first time since Dublin. It turns out to be a listless day. Our last day here. Michel runs for a few hours, and around twelve o'clock I take Bas by car to the same spot where the day before yesterday we tried to start our walk. At half past three he calls and I go pick him up at that same spot. He succeeded in walking along a river, in the centre of the peninsula.
Meanwhile Laura, Michel and I eat the Guinness-breads and we make a start at cleaning. In the evening we eat omelets with stew. We drink the last of the Guinness's and we take pictures of the four of us using the self-timer on my camera.
Laura, Michel, me, Bas.
The weather is beautiful again. We pack our things and wash the sheets. At ten fifteen we leave. At first we drive through a beautiful scenery but soon we turn towards the motorway. Bas smokes his last cigarettes. He is planning to quit.
At the place where we stop to have coffee, a cat is walking next to the car, miaowing plaintively. We try a shabby pub that looks like it's closed. I graze my finger on the doorknob. When I ask for a coffee, they send us away, to the hotel across the street. We go and have a drink somewhere else, and I have fish and chips.
At half past four we're back in Dublin again. We park the car, and head straight for the Guinness-store, where Bas buys an anti-stress-ball in the shape of a pint Guinness. We have left the backpacks in the car, in the guarded garage.
In the hostel it appears we've made the wrong reservation; one day early. The make a call for us and find us four places in another hostel, Kinlay. We check in, in two dormitories with six beds each, and afterwards we go into the city to eat. Again we dine at A Touch Of India, the same as last week.
Afterwards we find a large pub with live music and dance. They advertise with signs saying "Pull Your Own Pint", and indeed there's tables that have their own beer taps. Around eleven we're back at Kinlay's. I don't sleep too well. Despite the opened window it is much too hot, and American girls are busy with their laptops until late. One of them falls asleep next to her opened laptop.
We return the car at Hertz's near the airport, check in, drink some, and fly at half past eleven. Again it's an Aer Lingus Airbus, and this time we get in through a staircase. We are all very tired. Bas drank a total of 40 pints, I drank 38.
With the first glass of Guinness I pour myself after having returned home, all of a sudden the whole bottom of the glass falls off even before I can take the first sip. Guinness on my desk, on the chair, on the rug, Guinness everywhere. It is obvious I should never have left Ireland.
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