Sometimes life gets in the way of doing things you really enjoy, like writing this blog. I took a hiatus lately as I finished up two more courses for my MBA, but what actually kept me away from this blog the longest was a recent trip with my husband, Mick, to Ireland. This was our second time to visit Ireland, and we totally committed ourselves to being travelers, and not tourists, this time around. I think we succeeded…
Basically, it was just me, Mick, our rental car, a map of Ireland, and no reservations. We spent our time in the farmland and along the north coast of Northern Ireland, where Scotland is only 15 miles away, and on the rugged and isolated west coast of County Donegal. We specifically chose these areas knowing they would be well-off the beaten track, especially in October, but we were continually surprised at just how close we were to possibly some of the last vestiges of true Ireland. We would drive for miles through peat bogs with ditches dug, chunks of peat cut out and stored in large wood crates along the road. The peat still serves as a major source of fuel for many of the country’s residents, and when we would pass through villages, the pungent odor of it from the chimneys would always make me sneeze.
We cut across the Sperrin Mountains in central Northern Ireland and felt as though we passed through a time warp, but back in time. Distant farmhouses, fields of sheep bordered with hedge fences, and stone churches made it hard to determine the exact year. It could have easily been 1711 as 2011. Occasionally we would meet a farmer on his four-wheeler with a sheep dog sitting on the back, and we’d be brought back to the present.
In parts of County Donegal the Irish language is still the dominant spoken language, and all of the road signs are in Irish. Let’s just say it is not an easily interpreted language, and as the navigator in our little travel party, I often had doubts as to whether we were on the right road. Stopping at small stores, looking for confirmation, the locals would speak English to us, but with each other, only Irish. It looks strange in writing, but sounds very strange when spoken – it’s not refined, but rough and ancient sounding. It’s a language that perfectly fits this wild part of the country, and it seems fitting that it has survived along with those speaking it – resilient people who have chosen to sustain their original spoken word and a way of life not so different from their ancestors in this remote part of Ireland.
In the small coastal village of Bunbeg, we managed to find the Bunbeg House Guesthouse open down at the boat pier. Apparently the place is bustling and overrun with tourists and vacationers from Belfast and Dublin in the summer – there was an enormous number of empty “holiday” homes dotting the beaches – but on this October evening, we were the only guests to take one of their ten rooms. The next morning, the proprietor, Jean and her husband, Andy, fixed us the usual and huge Irish “fry” for breakfast. Andy then had to run the kids to school, but Jean chatted with us, obviously happy to have the hectic summer behind her. We asked if they try to get away to possibly Spain or Portugal during the winter as a respite from their busy season. Jean said no, that they actually relished the quiet winters in Ireland and having time to be a family together. She said that the older they get the more they enjoy the simple things in life.
Enjoying the simple things in life…that truly summed up our time in Ireland, not to mention why we’ve chosen to make the area of Hermann our home. On this trip we weren’t looking for a boisterous pub scene or trying to tour castles with hundreds of other visitors. We were trying to see Ireland as it’s really lived, now and in the past. Finding a lack of change, a certain sense of timelessness, just as Hermann portrays, can be very rewarding in your travels.