At the Other End of the World

Each thing has two sides, so does Ireland. Samuel and I have had a long weekend together. We visited the County Donegal, which a lot of people had told about. It is said, that the nature here is especially beautiful and that the people also are very kind. Sometimes the opinions of others agree with one’s own.

When I looked at our itinerary the night before we left Dublin, I noticed that the County of Donegal is not located as far away as the County of Kerry. I had planned three nights for the trip. There are three different hostels in the County of Donegal, though I had booked one night in each of them. Tharsiny, my son’s girlfriend could not take time off from work, therefore it became a mother-and-son trip. It was the last chance for Samuel to really see something of Ireland again, because it is difficult without a car. From the month of September this year, he will be quite alone here on Ireland, because his girlfriend and I will leave Ireland at the end of this month. However, I think, that he will soon make new friends. Although he now has a permanent job, he believes, he will not stay longer in Ireland than until next summer. He does not like the country very much, because of all the walls and fences. However, as a holiday destination, it can be interesting. Samuel thinks, that all of Ireland looks the same and it is enough to have seen one region. I am therefore glad that he is accompanying me on this trip.

This time we started the journey with just a small detour. Since we know the highway, where our journey will begin, we thought we would have no difficulty finding the driveway. However, I had never driven this street in the direction we were heading this time and it turned out again, that the traffic signs were difficult to read, even here in Dublin. The signs were missing in one of the roundabouts, of course. Since we have developed a local sense for Ireland in the meantime, we drove soon on the right highway.

There is not much to see to the right and left of the highways, as they often are surrounded by high ramparts. However, the quality of the highways is very varying and all lead through the city center. Once again we could see, that many places are similar. This is largely due to the fact, that the store’s entrances and shop windows are framed with wooden disguises. With the confirmation of my a booking, I also got directions for the different hostels, but they would prove to be more or less useful.

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Example of Shop Decorations

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Our first stop was in the town of Donegal. The citizens prepared here a weekend with open air music. The town is quite nice with a bay and crossed by a river, but it is very small. We found a well located car park at the entrance to the city. The main street is a 15 minute walk in both directions. There is a railway museum at the end of the main street. Anyway, there are no signposts to get there. At the river, close to the square, there is a castle. Ireland is a country with many old castles and Samuel did not want to see one more castle from the inside. The entrance fee was quite high, though I did not visit it either. A shopping street led to a church. We were looking for a grocery store to satisfy our hunger, because we did not feel for burgers or pizzas and we did not want to go to an expensive restaurant either. Since we could not see such a shop with the naked eye, we asked at the tourist information and were told, that there was a store a few meters uphills. Donegal is the administrative city of the district, but one of its smallest towns and therefore it only has one real grocery store. The store belongs to a chain and the prices were within the normal range for Ireland. We bought a ready-made salad for lunch. We also found plastic forks, that we even got for free. We quickly noticed that the people here actually are more friendly than anywhere else on Ireland. We ate in the car at the car park, because it was raining, but with a great view of the bay. Fortunately, the rain soon stopped.

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View from the Car Park

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From here we drove to our first hostel, Blue Stack Mountain Hostel, because we had to register there at 5pm, which is usual here. Hostels in Ireland usually open at this time. We followed the directions, we have got with the booking confirmation and they were very good, but the information about the distances. Roads were reasonably well described and, when we were in doubt, we followed that road, we thought, was the main road. We reached our destination on time and were warmly welcomed by the hostel staff. When we picked up our luggage from the car, it started to rain again. In the room with the assigned beds (we were the first guests in a 10-bed room), we heard it raining heavily and it was hailing as well. The landscape was soon covered by a 1 cm high layer of a white mass, reminiscent of snow. When the hail hit the roof, it sounded like the end of the world, because the hostel had a tin roof. Just as suddenly as the storm had begun, just as suddenly it stopped again. Outside again, we discovered that the temperature had dropped a bit, but it was still pleasant. The hostel was beautifully situated on a mountain range.

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What Would be a Trip Throughout Ireland Without Sheep?

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The staff of the youth hostel recommended visiting Ireland’s highest coast, what I already had planned. We drove to Bunglas according to their description. We could drive all the way up the mountain. However, the road was steep and narrow. I parked my car at a car park, from which we had to walk for almost an hour. After all the driving, the walk was welcome. On the way up we saw sheep on the steep mountain slopes. They looked abandoned. We also spotted some flowering plants between the rocks. As everywhere in Ireland, the view changes with almost every step and we could not get enough of the different views. The cliffs do not sink into the sea as steeply as the Cliffs of Moher, but they looked as “worn” as them. I thought about how they had taken their shape. After some rest and enjoying the view, we followed other tourists on a trail up the mountain and discovered after a while a sign referring to, that it takes 4 to 5 hours to go to the other end of the mountain, where the rocks look similar to the Cliffs of Moher, but are taller than them. It was almost 7pm, therefore we went back to the car instead. After a light dinner at the youth hostel, we laid our tired heads on the pillows. We heard that more guests had arrived and we now shared the room with two other tourists before we fell asleep.

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The next morning I had breakfast in the kitchen while Samuel still was asleep. There was free instant coffee. While the hostel, and the kitchen in particular, looked very old-fashion on the Dingle Peninsula, the kitchen here was modern and resembled a normal, but large, well-equipped kitchen. It was probably due to better maintenance. I was joined by a seventy-year-old Englishman from Yorkshire, who apparently had been a sailor – or had been working in the navy, responsible for a crew. He traveled with his adult son, who after my guess was in his 40s. We had a really good conversation. When Samuel finally was awake and has had breakfast, we packed our things as usual and were on our way to the next destination. In the morning the weather was dry. We drove via Letterkenny towards Arannmore Island because the island attracted Samuel and I was also interested in it. The road was very nice and we stopped a couple of times, when the view was very beautiful. A small vehicle and passenger ferrie was ready to depart for Arannmore Island. We arrived just in time to get the last place on the ferry. We booked the return trip for three hours later, without knowing anything about the island. We quickly discovered that this island was actually nothing more than a really big rock and I am always amazed about people, who settle in such areas. Recently, many holiday homes have been built here, but the locals have lived on the island for centuries and this also means traces of poverty, e.g. dilapidated houses that have been left to their fate. There are relatively many, but only very narrow, roads on the island and we followed a Scenic Road.

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Sometimes the inclines were really uncomfortable and my beloved car had a lot to do and struggled up the steep slopes. The view from the upper parts of the Scenic Road was lovely, of course. Once we parked the car and followed a footpath in the hope of getting to the sea, but the path stopped in a meadow. The descent from there to the sea would have been too risky. The walkway went through heather and heathland. By the way, they dig peat here to burn and use it to heat their houses. Since a piece of fuel had fallen from a transport car, I broke off a small piece and took it as a souvenir. Unfortunately it started raining again and our walk did not last long. There was also a signposted lighthouse on the island, though we thought, it maybe is something special. When we finally found it, we had passed a sculpture to honor the connection between Arannmore Island and Beaver Island (an island in Lake Michigan), USA. The Irish often feel more connected to the West. The lighthouse disappointed us. It was quite ugly on one side and fenced and locked on the other. There was also an old, unused coast guard station here. It looked very sad, because it was a gray ruin, which did not even seem to have been beautiful in its prime. However, the view from the nearby parking lot was amazing.

We were back to the ferry an our early. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, there was no space left for us on the one departing soon. I parked my car at the ferry station and we walked along the coast, where we discovered one or two pubs. One was really nice and on the very edge of the beach. We stayed there for a while and enjoyed our drinks in the sunshine. The next ferry took us punctually back to the mainland. I drove straight to the next youth hostel (Errigal Hostel), which was not too far away and was situated close to the foot of Mount Errigal. The road description was correct in itself, but the description of one of the places was again so bad that it took us hours to find the right youth hostel – we actually drove for a while in circles – only after a phone call with the hostel, we did find it. Guess what the weather was like! Yes, exactly. It started raining again just after we got back to the main island of Ireland and most of the time it rained in bursts. This youth hostel surprised us positively. It was almost like staying in a hotel, but we slept in a four-bed room, that we would have had to share with others, if the room had been fully booked. The showers and toilets were in the hallway. The kitchen was okay here, too. It was a large kitchen, similar to kitchens of restaurants. Since we had arrived fairly late, we went to sleep right away.

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Mt. Errigal in Glenveagh National Park

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After a hearty breakfast we packed our belongings. When we checked out, we asked the hostel staff where the best place was to climb Mount Errigal. We wanted to get closer to nature and not just sit in the car all the time. The weather was dry, albeit gray. Even the guide told us, that it was good for a hike. A quarter of an hour later we found the described car park and parked our car there. I was wearing hiking shoes, Samuel wore sneakers as usual. We had been told, that the first stretch at the foot of the mountain was quite damp and a bit muddy. However, we did not expect to sink into the soil, which happened to me, of course, because I had better shoes on and wanted to try the nature of the brown strings. I sank down with my foot and could not get it up again. It’s really a shame, that we could not take a picture of the situation. Samuel needed to work hard to help me out of it and I was really happy that he did not give up – especially because I panicked and I wanted to lie down so I would not sink down more. We managed to get me out of it, as you can figure out yourself – otherwise I would not have had the opportunity to write this. With very dirty shoes, both outside and inside, I continued. We were looking for another way,of course, to reach the foot of Mount Errigal and we managed it. As I read later, the area before the mountain is a bog. After a while we came to piles of stones, which were part of the mountain. It was really important all the time to pay attention to where we put our feet.

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I Made it on the Top, but I was so Afraid, I had to Sit Down

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The path up the mountain was neither hewn nor were there flat levels as on the Diamond Hill in Connemara, but a wide, trampled path. In some places there were two different paths, in some places they were wider and in others they were particularly narrow. I needed my time, of course and Samuel was kind and kept close to me all the time. It was blowing a strong wind, but it was not raining , at least not up the mountain. On the top of the mountain it was even windless in some places. The mountain has, so to speak, two highest hills and, of course, one has to be on both of them, not only to enjoy the wonderful view. On the top it also was possible to take pictures with a bird’s eye view. While we struggled up the mountain, we took no pictures, but then from the peaks, we did. There was also a shelter on the side of the path, maybe it had been built of local people. In addition to that, you could see small stone piles in some places. Probably they were put together for making the path a little easier to walk.

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Bird’s Eye View

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I thought the way down from the mountain would be much harder, because of the screams we heard and the gravel rolling under feet. An old man we met had just told us that. We became aware of him as he came down the mountain in a Sunday suit, with a stick in one hand and a dog on a leash in the other. It was actually not that difficult to get down, although, of course, we had constantly to pay attention to, where and how we placed our feet. It turned out, that I had the better technology than Samuel and, of course, I was helped by my good shoes. Now it was easier to find the way through the bog. Our perspective had changed and we could see the creeks from above. We could also see the paths better, that others had walked before us. A few meters from the car park we met our hostel manager. He started climbing up the mountain with his two dogs and was properly dressed for the hike. As usual, not all the people we met here, were dressed for hiking. Some wore training clothes, others wore T-shirts and light shoes, and others wore rubber boots. Hardly anyone had rain clothes with them, but I was prepared as usual, which was good. When we had come halfway down the mountain, it began raining.

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Another Bird’s Eye View

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Because of the rain, some people turned around before they could climb the mountain, others did not care about the rain. When we were back at the car park, a family asked us, how long it would take to get to the top of the mountain and how they could climb it. I explained, that I have done it – up and down – in just three hours – and I’m not a very fast hiker. They did return to the car directly and drove away. I find such reactions interesting even I do not know what else they had planned for the day.

I would have loved to drive through the middle of the Glenveagh National Park, but with the delay from the previous day in fresh memory, we did not want to risk anything and drove on, straight towards the next youth hostel. First we read the map very carefully, because of the shap of the coast of Donegal. It is so irregular and only has a few bridges. We wished to save ourselves a long detour if possible. This time Samuel had the goal very well in mind and we actually found the right path right away. We managed to reach the hostel a few minutes before 5pm. The directions we had received were very good. During the journey we joked at every dilapidated hut we passed. We said, it is probably the hostel. The entrance to this hostel was actually lined with car wrecks, but we were then pleasantly surprised by the destination of the day.

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Trá Na Rosann Hostel

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By the way, on our map of hostels, we discovered that these also are ranked with stars. While the Blue Stack Mountain hostel had three stars, the hostel at the foot of Mount Errigal had five stars. The last we were going to was in Tra Na Rosann and it had only two stars. Therefore we were a bit worried about, if it would be like that one on the Dingle Peninsula. According to the description, the hostel in Tra na Rosann was once a hunting lodge by the sea, so we expected to find a small house with only a few beds. The reality looked completely different again. You could not see the beach directly from the hostel, but you could walk there in fifteen minutes. The house was much larger than expected and at the ground floor there was a large kitchen and a large dining room, an office and a large dormitory for women with 12 beds (there was still room to dance despite the beds) as well as toilets, washrooms and showers for women. On the first floor, but under the roof, there were two rooms for men by about 10 or 12 beds each, as well as toilets etc. for them. The house was simple, but well maintained. What was also unusual for me, was the fact, that the various youth hostels still had a logger (a large bound book) in which the guests were registered by handwriting. Surprisingly, the hostel in Errigal had electronic door locks. In the other hostels there was no security for private things.

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Surroundings of the Hostel

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When we were enrolled in the youth hostel of Tra na Rosann, we went down to the beach while the weather really invited us, but then it played us a new prank. For the first time in Ireland we were able to enjoy yellow sand. A little further ahead we saw brave bathers. I guessed the Atlantic was pretty cold. Although I had my swimsuit with me, I did not want to enjoy the cool freshness, in particular because the sun is not warming. A little later we enjoyed our dinner on the hostel’s porch overlooking the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. It was truly idyllic and breathed freedom.

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At the Beach

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In the evening we visited the small pub in the nearby town. Our host had told us, that live music would be played there. It turned out to be only partially true. It seemed more like the musicians in the area had a small meeting there and they did not really agree on what songs they wanted to play. I expected folk music, but when they finally played a few songs, they played hits from the 60’s and 70’s. Though we went back to the hostel and went to bed quite early.

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SunSet at Trá Na Rosann

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Samuel had already told me in Trá na Rosann, that he wanted to be home early next day, because he still had to clean his room and wash his clothes. Anyway he was interested in a detour to Northern Ireland (Great Britain). I also prefered to go back a different route than I came and had already flirted with this opportunity, when I planned the way home via Londonderry (also called Derry). However, Samuel and I had different motives for the detour. He wanted to see, if he could find a different kind of cheese in Northern Ireland than in the Republic of Ireland – one almost only can buy cheddar here. If you really want to pamper yourself with a few slices of “Port Salut”, you have to pay for it as much as a kilo in Sweden and this variety is not cheap in Sweden either. Samuel became disappointed. This did not surprise me, because most of the food chains in the Republic of Ireland are originally from the UK and even the smaller stores often originate there. In addition to that, there are also Lidl and Aldi markets in Dublin, where you actually can buy sliced Gouda and Edam cheese, but not in one piece. The thick slices of cheese in the packages do not last long either, so the cheese is definitely expensive in Ireland.

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Belfast, Northern Ireland, GB

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During the first three days of our trip we were very lucky with the weather, but the day of our trip home, it rained really continuously – even until we were back in Dublin. Occasionally, however, it just drizzled. First I thought about driving a little further into Northern Ireland, but due to the rainy weather I changed my mind. We were still happy and could smile because we found the traffic signs with different speed limits for the same section of a road. After all we were more surprised than happy about other signposts. The distance signs were sometimes worrying, because they first showed 117 km, the next 106 km and the third one 143 km to Dublin. The next sign, just a few kilometers after the distance of 143 km, showed 84 km to Dublin and we were happy to see, that we still were on the right road. Of course, one wonders how such a signage comes about, if the workers who put it up are either illiterate or drunk or if they simply do not take their work seriously. I have also heard about young people, who turn signs around, that one cannot find the correct direction, because the signs point in the wrong one – the attachments probably must be very bad, if it is true, what they tell. I believe that none can change so large signs, like the ones for distances without a crane and/or a truck! We will probably never get an answer for this issue, but one thing is certain: This is Irish!