Over the years, I’ve heard so much about Ireland, but have somehow always found reasons to make trips elsewhere, thereby putting off an Irish itinerary. It was by chance that the thought had crossed my mind once again earlier this year, and with a last-minute opportunity and a rushed itinerary, I packed the camera and backpack, and headed for an adventure.
The island, with a reputation of being green and rainy, is definitely, at the minimum, characterized by these traits. Nearly every day was viewed through sheets of rain, but at least it kept the landscape lush and quenched. On a closer look past the ever-changing rain clouds, the environment revealed a somewhat diverse ecology, distinctly split between east and west, and even more concretely diverse in the avian populations.
In an attempt to explore a significant portion of the island and immerse in the local culture, I limited myself to the southern half of Ireland. The resulting journey followed in a repeating pattern of alternating urban and rural landscapes.
The story begins in a city, the largest city on the island: Dublin. Like many other cities around the world, this one wasn’t particularly different: bustling inhabitants, limited green space, and of course, plenty of shopping and dining locations. I partook in a bit of the city experience before eagerly heading for something different.
Churches, parks, narrow cobblestone roads, a friendly cat and colorful doors pieced together a charming scene of a more rural town. This physical environment only paints half the picture, and with a bit of walking, I found myself in the presence of the locals, shop owners and pedestrians alike, who were keen to strike up a conversation and more than happy to welcome me to their town.
By now, the winter weather, known to be slightly more rainy than the summer weather, had already made quite an impression. Modestly prepared for the inclement weather with more clothing than necessary to persist in such conditions, I felt that the weather would only be a minor player in my experience: maybe at most, a bother if the wind continued blowing the cold rain my face. I reached the southernmost part by now, and had seen that the weather pattern in question was a force not to take lightly: the towns had flooded, streets were closed and grassy fields were submerged in impromptu lakes, and still the rain kept coming.
And then, an afternoon of sunshine and color emerged from the gloom. I grasped the opportunity and set out by foot to explore whatever open spaces I could find; it so happened I found myself outside of a half-flooded Killarney National Park. With a camera in hand, I briskly sought any birds I could find.
Now, the goal for the following day was settled. With the help of a ranger, I had planned to explore a ravine of sorts. My initial goal of hiking one of the taller mountains had been quickly discouraged by the ranger, who cited daily rescues of park visitors unprepared for the dangerous combination of high winds and strong rain at three thousands meters. With my preparations and modified itinerary, I set out before dawn to get a head start on a weather front that could develop into a fancy storm, just as I had been exposed to almost every day thus far.
The landscape was breathtaking, figuratively and quite literally. Green pastures dotted in fluffy (and very grimy) sheep juxtaposed against sharp mountains: rocky, mossy and covered in brownish tufts of vegetation. In addition to the light rain, the wind began to pick up, from around sixty miles per hour, gusting up to eighty. A slight obstacle, but nothing terribly, and I continued to take in the awesome sights.
With the heavy rains emerged waterfalls with volume. This one, in particular, was special, in that water never really flowed downward despite its past journey with gravity. Channeled alongside the cliff, the wind fiercely and unrelentingly pushed the water up and over, producing an appearance not so unlike a cotton-white cloud. It was then, that I realized, that the strong wind was only getting more unruly.
Now gusting past a hundred and twenty miles per hour, the wind simply challenged the ability to physically advance along the trail and similarly continue to breathe as second nature. I took refuge near an abandoned and rundown house, waiting to see how the weather might improve. With all my attention focused on the windy issues, I had not considered how much more rain had been falling; the rate of waterfall was so great that the waterproof gear had already let in some water, and my insulating layers were starting to soak through. And just as I had done before, in so many other excursions, I abandoned the notion to complete the hike, noting that the inclement weather had set my trip back by hours at this point. It surely was an experience, and I can only be glad that I had not attempted to hike the mountain. The rest of the day and night and following morning were spent drying clothing, which was yet another challenge with the high humidity and low temperatures.
Next, was the ocean. I finally made it to the west coast, and ahead of me was a day of birding and, well, as far as birding goes, when birding is possible, it is just about the only activity of interest while there is daylight. I will note that the birds in Ireland are, of course, a bit different from those in North America, but do fall in similar families and are thus, are quite identifiable. Our modern day technology also helps in accurately identifying temporarily tricky subjects. As for birders, I only saw four, in three locations over the entire trip; a seemingly low count considering the number of species wintering on the island.
From here, the remainder of the trip was primarily focused on two things: landscapes and food. With the west coast in full view, rugged scenes were bountiful, and it was only a matter of spending time and patiently waiting out the rain. And then there was the food, which kept getting better and better by the day. The real highlight was the home-style cooking, from meats to seafood, and the overall quality of ingredients. The trip, however, was winding down, and there was just one last thing to do.
Music! I could not possibly imagine leaving Ireland without experiencing the Irish music scene. The last night was spent in town, and I sat at the bar waiting anxiously to see what the live music would entail. The casual scene unfolded slowly but surely, with young musicians sauntering in to join the social gathering and the musical instrumentation. Once the group had fully assembled, I counted two flutes, two banjos, one guitar and one concertina. The content, mainly focused around local folk themes, were well known to each member, and no scores were presently used. Most importantly however, was the undeniable presence of happiness across the faces of the musicians and audience alike. It is so rare to witness social harmony in this way, and I am simply happy to have been present.
I have since returned from the wondrous experience of Ireland, and prepared a number of pertinent wildlife and landscape photographs in the gallery for you. I hope you enjoy the images, and maybe even take a trip to Ireland as well.