Ireland '97

The time seems ripe for our contribution to the magazine. Most Guzzi'ists seem to head due south when on the road. We tend to go west - to the British Isles. Dispite numerous trips and numerous vows to "try something new", we always seem to return. We have done England, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, North Ireland and Ireland more than once. This time, the goal was Ireland.

Our departure from Trondhjem was all blue skies, but by Dovreskogen the rain set in and stayed with us all the way to Wales. By South it was blowing full storm. The traffic-info sign was lit with the warning "Sea: rough" at our arrival at the ferryboat landing in Fishguard.

We bought tickets, even though all the earlier departures that day had been canceled. The next ferry was on its way in from Ireland, and we expected to be on it when it made the return trip. When at last the ferry came into view, the Irish sea was white. The waves had no trouble washing completely over the pier. The traffic-info sign flashed, "Sea so rough, ferry can't dock" and that was it. The ferry headed for a safe haven in Pembroke. We found a B&B and turned in hoping for a break in the weather.

The next day, with our hopes dashed, we followed the ferry to Pembroke. We had no trouble getting on board the first ferry. It was a big boat equipped with stabilizers, and we were soon in Rosslare on the south-east coast of Ireland.

The road standard was a surprise - a brand new motorway. The houses along the motorway were made to match; they were all new and they were all big. The same was true of the billboards proclaiming, "Financed by EEC". Through out our trip, we were to discover that both the building and the billboards were everywhere.

Towards the evening, we found a B&B - in a brand new house. Our host explained that it was boom-times in Ireland now. Everyone was selling their old houses and building bigger new ones. Nobody kept old cars, either. In Ireland, license plate numbers begin with the registration year. Much of what we saw on the roads began with a 97.

We still wanted to go west, so we headed out for Tipperary. It didn't take long before the road conditions were back to what we had been expecting. Terrible surfaces, twisting and uneven...just the was we like it. There are almost always hedges along the roads, completely impenetrable and usually hiding a stone wall. Open areas are almost invariably the haunts of vagabonds with a housetrailer complete with horses. Apparently, landowners must keep their barbwire-fences 8-10 meters from the roadside. This is the vagabond's free area.

After a short stop in a run-down Tipperary, we drove on to Limerick. The tourist information center recommended a camping place named Shannon Cottage. It was about 20 kilometers out of town to the camping place in O'Brian's Bridge. This was the sort of place where the true heart of Ireland can be found. O'Brian's Bridge is an island in the river Shannon. It has one road, one and a half stores and four pubs. We went to the store to buy some groceries and ask advice on which pub had the best food. "Karen's at the top is good", she said, "but there's a party in the pub next-door and everyone is invited." We had only been in the area an hour, and didn't feel comfortable 'crashing' the party, so we went to Karen's. There was only one guest in addition to us, and he sat at the bar and sang for all he was worth to music from the stereo. Not only was it Irish folkmusic, but it was my favorite group since 1967 - The Dubliners. The singer was well pissed and melancholy. When he asked where we were from and if we liked music I replied, "I like The Dubliners very much, and especially the late singer Luke Kelly". I had gained a friend for life. We sat and discussed Irish folkmusic and had a grand time. It was just the way an Irish pub should be... here they throw back their heads and sing when they've had one too many, and nobody does anything but pat them on the back. That wouldn't be tolerated in England, and never in Norway with it's many so-called Irish pubs. No cover-charges. No doormen giving you the eye.

Later, we wandered down to the next pub, ordered 3 Guinness and found a place to sit. The pub was obviously old, and was of course made of stone. It hadn't been 'done over' any time recently. We had hardly reached the bottom of the glass when the pubowner came over and asked, "Excuse me. Do you want to join a party?" It turned out to be the party the shopkeeper had mentioned. It was in honor of Patrick's 21st, and everyone was invited. We were quick to accept, and followed him out to a building behind the pub. There was live music, food and a forest of keg-taps. It was a phenomenal experience. But we had the same trouble as the other English and Dutch guests, we couldn't keep up with the Irishmen.

After two days on the banks of the Shannon we continued on our westward journey. We had found our next stop on the Internet - the little village of Kilfenora, home of the Kilfenora Céilí Band. This group has been playing trad. Irish dance music without vocals since 1910 and is the most winning of its kind. The homepage on the Internet showed that the owner of Linnane's Music Pub also had a guesthouse, so we reserved a room there through the tourist-info center in Limrick.

It's a long way to....

The route to Kilfenora can only just be considered a road, but we arrived at Linnane's Music Pub without mishap. When we went in and showed the owner how we had found the place, he was surprised to know that he was still on the Internet. We in turn were surprised to learn that the guesthouse he owned was in a different town! After a moment of confusion, our problem solved itself. The Pub owner offered to drive us to the Pub in the evening and take us back at closing time. He could also find us rooms near-by. We chose to stay in Kilfenora, and ended up in a B&B 200 meters away with a fantastic family.

The B&B was probably the nicest and most special we have ever stayed at on our many trips to the British Isles. The oldest daughters in the house, five and eight years old, played both classic and trad. violin. They were excellent players. They were joined by their three year old sister when they danced the reel and the jig for us in the dining room.

We stayed two days in Kilfenora. There was live music every evening, and the Kilfenora Céilí Band played on our last evening. While they were playing, a young girl suddenly rose from her place and danced a reel completely alone on the dance floor. She was well rewarded with applause. Many of the guests danced in a ring afterwards. The music was the best, the Pub owner a gem and the ale was just fine.

On the subject of drink - about 80% of the Irish drink stout. Guinness is of course the most well known, but there are others. Murphy's and Beamish are brewed in Cork, and are to my taste at least as good. But it must be admitted that the English Pubs offer greater variety. Real ale is virtually unavailable in Ireland, and handpumps are used in a very few places in Dublin.

We moved on after capturing the Pub and owner on film and taking our farewell. The parting pleasantry was paying our bill for the stay - 26 £ pr. day. Our son isn't a big eater in the morning, so we weren't allowed to pay anything for him.

We arrived at the west coast of Ireland to see where the land plunges into the Atlantic ocean. The Cliffs of Moher is a fantastic sight. It impressed me more than the North Cape in Norway. Unfortunately, it too is becoming a tourist machine. We continued on to Galway riding a total of nine kilometers that day. The road was extremely tiring to drive. There was the occasional patch of asphalt, but most of the road seemed to be compacted 'garden-path' gravel. Of course, the hedge and stone wall marked the boundaries. Galway is the largest city on the west coast, but that doesn't mean it made much impression in any way. We were due back in Wales soon after, but first we wanted to spend a few days in Dublin.

In Dublin, we found a brand-new campgrounds just outside the city. It had only been open two weeks when we arrived. It had everything a campground could have to offer, as long as you had enough tokens. We felt as if we needed tokens just to talk to our neighbors. A large brass plaque in the reception-office told that the campgrounds had been built with EEC funding - naturally. After two days we moved into the center of Dublin with its museums, parks and city traffic.

The Guinness Brewery, St. Patrick's Cathedral and the Irish Writers museum are all worth a visit. No city in the world has fostered so many great writers as Dublin - Joyce, Shaw, Wilde, Becket, Swift, Yeats... What would the history of literature be without Dublin. Our only problem with the Writers museum was the funding... you guessed it!

Our last day arrived and we caught the ferry to Holyhead and drove to Harwick. From Gothenburg in Sweden, we turned homeward towards Trondhjem. On arriving home and opening the garage-door, my first sight was the headlight on my trusty Norton 750. The front wheel was turned slightly and the lens was still a bit out-of-kilter, but it seemed to be saying, "Einn ae da, ska itj ae faa vaerra med paa tur?" (What about me - isn't it my turn?). Relax, I thought, you'll be going to Lofoten next week.

What memories do we have after three and one half weeks on the road in Ireland? The Irish countryside and the fantastic hospitality are the positive memories. On the negative side is how Dublin has changed. There was litter everywhere and the police, the Garda, were much more visible in the streets than on earlier visits. This probably has its reasons, and they always walked in pairs in their yellow reflector-vests.

All in all we drove 4180 kilometers and our bikes gave us nothing but pleasure. Kristian and Per rode a SP 1000, and Randi rode her V65C.

...but next time we are going to find a new tour destination.

By: Per, Randi and Kristian Elvedal

[Bicilindrica Digest]