Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lough Gur, Ireland

From start to finish, Ireland was absolutely amazing. Our flight from Eindhoven on Thursday ran about 25 minutes behind but we didn't let that dampen our spirits. We touched down in Dublin at around 7pm. Our plan was to try and make it to our bed and breakfast by 9:30. Renting the car took longer than expected because there was a computer failure at the end of the process. Then we had to wait another 15 minutes for a shuttle to take us to a location 20 minutes outside of the airport. By the time we got into the car and on the road, we had wasted at least an hour and a half at the Dublin airport.

The drive from Dublin to Lough Gur (outside Limerick City) was about two and a half hours-- our longest drive of the entire trip. It was our first time on the other side of the car and road. My husband did a great job and I think we both became accustomed to it much faster than we anticipated. The roundabouts weren't even as bad as we imagined. I think this was mostly due to our newly-acquired experience with roundabouts. Also, everything was written in English and that was a welcome advantage for us.

We were excited when we entered Limerick County because the drive didn't take as long as we expected. Up until this point Blanche (my GPS) had been giving us accurate directions. A few minutes into Limerick County we realized she was trying to send us to Limerick City instead of Lough Gur. On a whim, we saw a sign for Lough Gur and decided to exit. We found ourselves on a tiny two-lane road, nothing but grass and trees in the sweeping fields ahead.

"Well," I said confidently. "This B&B is off the beaten path. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about."

We drove for a few kilometers, becoming more uneasy with every passing cow. Finally Blanche told us we'd reached our destination. We stopped Paddy O'Hyundai (this was the name of our rental) and stared into the abyss. Blanche said our location was "on left." The only thing "on left" was an open field dotted with more cows. We turned off the GPS and decided to depend on the tiny signs directing us toward Lough Gur.

We finally ended up at the Lough Gur Visitor Centre. We were at our wit's end and it was time to start asking people for directions. We parked beside a car overlooking the lough (lake) and I said, "Okay. I'm just going to ask these people where the B&B is," I said.

"Well, I don't want you to get out of the car alone," replied my husband.
"It's two teenagers. They probably just came here to make out. Here I go."

I stepped out of the car and the young man turned to me as I over-enthusiastically shouted, "Hallo!"

"Hi," he replied.

Oh right... they speak English too. I cleared my throat and said, "Sorry to bother you, but we're looking for Desmond Lodge. It's a bed and breakfast."
"No bother! But ya see, I'm from the city. I dunno where the lodgings are!" he cheerfully replied.
"No, I don't know neither," said his girlfriend. "But ya might oughta try the big house up the road there! That'll be it for sure! Enjoy your holiday!"
"Thanks so much!" I said. And off I went back to the car. "Geez, they were so nice," I said to my husband.
"Yeah, but they don't know where the place is."
"Oh yeah... well, we'll just have to ask someone else I guess."

We started back down the road. The "big house" they suggested was closed and didn't have any signage so we knew that wasn't it. I was sure Desmond Lodge overlooked the lake and I knew it was within walking distance to the visitor center so I directed him to keep driving, hopeful that a sign would lead us there.

After another ten minutes of driving around aimlessly, my husband suddenly jerked Paddy O'Hyundai into a spot in front of a barn and declared, "This is ridiculous! You don't know where it is! I'm going to Limerick City!"

Calmly I replied, "Okay. Good luck finding Limerick City."

We sat in stony silence for a few beats and he backed out of the spot and started down the road in the opposite direction. We came upon a tiny church with a full parking lot. I suggested we park and ask someone there. As we approached the building a woman was outside talking on her cell phone. We stood a comfortable distance away, staring at the ground, shuffling our feet and waiting for her to finish her conversation. As soon as she did, we said, "Hello! Sorry to bother you. We're looking for Desmond Lodge."

"Ah! Desmond Lodge! Right. Well, ya just drive back down this road and come to a stop. Then you'll take a left outta there and drive past the barn and it'll be on your left a little ways up that road. Wait... did I say left? I meant take a right! Then it'll be up that road past a field. You're just only three kilometers away, lads!"

We clarified the directions a few more times and were sent on our way with, "Come back and join us if ye like! We're just having a little theater play!"

We got back into Paddy and retraced our steps. We turned back down the road we'd stopped at right before the church. Desmond Lodge was just another minute up that road, on the left. We must have been circling it for the past 30 minutes.

With a deep sigh of relief, we pulled into the driveway a little after 10:30. We were greeted at the door by the Geraldine, the owner's sister. She waved away our profuse apologies for the late arrival and showed us to our room. It was lovely and comfortable, with a large window overlooking the lake. She immediately insisted upon making us some tea.

As we made our way to the dining room, the other couple staying in the house arrived back from their night out. They joined us for tea and we finally began to relax after our flight and long, confusing drive.

Geraldine and the couple (from Wales) regaled us with stories about themselves and the village. The couple were in Lough Gur to reconnect with their family roots. They had just attended the launch of a book written about the history of the area. It was so interesting to hear them all talk. The couple would mention someone they met at the launch.
"Oh, we met Peter O'Flaherty tonight!" exclaimed the wife.
"Oh! Peter O'Flaherty!" Geraldine would reply. "Now that's a fine chap. I have a good tale about him. Back in 1842, when his father's father was the priest here...."
And it went like this for several hours. The woman from Wales had a charming habit about her. She would say something declarative and then follow it with, "Doesn't it?!" or "Isn't it?!" and then immediately answer herself by saying, "It does!" or "It is!"

For example:
"Oh, the lake is lovely here, isn't it?! It is!" or "It rains here a lot, doesn't it? It does!" I loved her immediately and wanted to follow them back to Wales so we could have tea together every day.

We finally fell into bed after midnight and woke up the next morning to Bridget, the owner of the bed and breakfast. She was as gregarious as her sister.
"Now, tell me all about yourselves, you two!" she said, as she sat us down and brought us coffee and the most delicious homemade scones and preserves.

The Wales couple and another family joined us and breakfast lasted over two hours as we chatted. It was the quintessential Irish bed and breakfast experience. We were sad to only spend one night at Desmond Lodge.

After breakfast we walked a few kilometers from the house to see the ruins of a church and graveyard. It's amazing that these things are still standing centuries later.

We went back to Desmond Lodge to say a sad farewell to Bridget, Geraldine, and the couple from Wales.

Our next stop was the Lough Gur Heritage Centre. We walked to the top of a cliff overlooking Lough Gur. It was breathtaking. In the time it took, the weather changed from gloomy and rainy to sunny, and then back again several times. Irish weather is extremely unpredictable. I never knew which shoes to wear.

The settlement of Lough Gur was around before the pyramids. It's almost impossible to imagine humans walking around and constructing things that long ago. Local legend is that there is an Atlantis beneath the waters of Lough Gur. Some have claimed to be able to see ancient stone foundations when the water is calm. We didn't go out on a boat that day so I guess we'll never know.

After the heritage centre, we went to The Grange Stone Circle. It's the largest stone circle in Ireland and site of summer and winter solstice celebrations every year. We stood in the center and walked around the edges imagining ancient gatherings and ceremonies. And how did people back then, with no machines to assist them, manage to bring these stones (the largest weighs 60 tons) to that location and arrange them so meticulously? Ah, the mysteries of the world.

We were sad to leave Lough Gur. There are still some ruins and sights we'd like to see. Honestly, I would return just to stay again at Desmond Lodge!

The beginning of our first full day in Ireland was off to a great start. We hopped back into Paddy O'Hyundai and began the drive to Kenmare, our starting point for the Ring of Kerry.

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