Eire is a land of myths and legends, leprechauns and faeries, goblins and mermaids. So we made our way north out of Kerry to make our own myth and meet a couple of legends. But first we had to cross the Shannon River again. The easy way would have been to drive all the way back to Limerick but –
We didn’t want to return to there
There must be another way, but where?
So we boarded a ferry
Waved farewell to Kerry
And sailed the wide Shannon fair.
A ten minute sail across the Shannon estuary took us from County Kerry into County Clare (which I have always thought is a lovely name for a county). From the ferry port at Killimer we headed back to the west coast at Kilkee and then up to Spanish Point. It was so named because of the bodies of Spaniards buried here after the wreck of their Armada ships along the coast in 1588. Those sailors who survived were executed on the orders, so the information board told us, ‘of the representative of English rule’. (Not the Irish, you understand.)
From here our intention was to visit the Cliffs of Moher a few miles up the road but as we approached Lahinch the traffic was building up and an illumnated sign told us there were heavy delays around the Cliffs. Having had enough of the hoards we hung a right and made for Kilfenora, gateway to The Burren. Kilfenora is famous for its Cathedral, though don’t go thinking this is some grand, vaulted affair. The present building dates from about 1200 and is quite tiny. Quite what makes it a cathedral and not a church I have no idea. Today the building is in a partially ruined state and you can only walk around the chancel but you can see some lovely stone carvings especially on the Celtic crosses.
The name Burren comes from the Irish word Boirean and means rocky place. And it is an apt description. The hillsides are a huge expanse of Karst ‘pavement’ – limestone and other sedimentary rocks which form sheets across the land. There doesn’t seem to be place in this landscape where you could grow crops or raise animals. Though, as we were experiencing the worst weather we had all trip, our view was rather resticted to looking through rain sodden windows. It’s a shame because there is said to be some good walking in this area.
As it was we just drove through and made our way to the small town of Gort a few miles away from Galway city. I think it fair to say that Gort would not necessarily be on most tourists list of places to visit but when you are chasing myths and legends you can find yourself ending up in some unlikely places.
Way back in about 1971 I was studying at Teeside Polytechnic on the banks of the river Tees in Middlesbrough. Probably also an unlikely place to end up in, especially if you are a teenager living in Wales at the time. The poly had a good social organisation and was able to attract many top name rock and folk acts so I got to see some great groups. One of these was a folk duo from Ireland called Tir na nOg. The name refers to a fabled land of everlasting youthfulness and health. Definitely not, I can assure you, the land of Middlesborough! Their debut album became a favourite of mine and the band toured the UK with many top notch rock bands in the 70’s.
So wind forward almost half a decade and I come across a facebook page dedicated to the duo who, it seems, are still touring and making albums. I see that they are playing in some strange little town in Ireland called Gort and I say to Jane ‘Shall we go?’. And that’s it. We book the concert tickets, book flights and then work out where else in Ireland we would like to visit.
We checked out the concert venue, the Gallery Cafe, as we get into Gort. The manager there was intrigued by our story and tells us to come back early to bag a seat at the front. After checking into our hotel we wander back to the cafe and find that sitting there is one of the band members, Leo O’Kelly. He stands up, says ‘Are you the guys from the UK?’ Clearly the cafe manager had told him all about us.
We did bag a seat right at the front, and as they launched into the first song Leo said ‘This is for Rob and Jane over from the UK’. Leo and his partner Sonny Condell are still great musicians, songwriters and singers and we were treated to a wonderful night of music and banter. Most of the audience knew our story by the end of the night, including the fact that a few weeks after we had booked our trip the band announced a tour of the UK which includes a date playing in Stroud half an hour away from us! (The Old Crown, Paganhill on 1 November for those who are interested).
We could just have stayed at home and waited for these two folk legends to come to us. But what kind of myth would that be?