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Cahercommaun Cliff Fort

Cahercommaun was the most difficult ring fort for us to find, but well worth the effort. It is located in The Burren, a place of many ancient forts and tombs, in County Clair. (It’s a great place to get lost, but that’s a subject for another post!)

Cahercommaun, a triple walled stonefort, was built around 800AD on the edge of a cliff. It is most like Dun Aonghasa in style, though Cahercommaun is not in the great condition Dun Aonghasa is.

According to the plaque, 16,500 stones were used for the middle wall alone. It is about 5 feet thick and no mortar was used. It was excavated in 1934. The remains of houses and workshops were found, a few having underground passages, one believed to be an escape route.

This is a massive stonefort. We got lost trying to find it. It was almost sunset when we got to the entrance. We followed the directions on http://www.megalithicireland.com/Cahercommaun

That seemed easy enough – until you drive down narrow, winding, isolated Burren roads. We finally found the house where the entrance is located, north of Kilnaboy. The entrance was a little gate leading to a narrow path beside a farmer’s field. At first the path had a gentle upward slope and it looked like it might be fairly easy going. I have since learned that stoneforts were built in high, remote places for a reason, and are rarely easy to get to. This seeming gentle slope soon turned into a steep path that had us climbing over huge rocks (there was a hand rail) and into a rock strewn field full of cows (and manure).

If I had not been around cows, I might have been a bit frightened. These cows were curious, but not bothersome and easy to shoo out of the way. The path basically ended and you had to find your way through the field. This would have been easier if the sun wasn’t setting. And the field wasn’t full of large rocks, making walking difficult. It says it’s about 1/2 mile, but I personally think it was longer than that. Maybe it was all the uphill climbing.

The picture on the top right is the ‘gate’ to enter the fort. It is a steep step up and narrow, but then you can really see the fort and amazing view. We hiked all around and sat on the stone wall to watch the sun dipping to the west. I let my mind wander to the ancient past – the kings who had this built, the wars, and those people who spent their lives building the fort. It was beautiful and peaceful.

As breathtaking as watching the sun set on the wall of a stonefort was, we realized hiking back down would be difficult in the dark, so we made our way back through the rocks and cows and boulders. We had to use our phone’s flashlight to finish, and it was full dark by the time we got to the car.

If you’re wanting a taste of real ancient Ireland, I would suggest you try Cahercommaun and other treasures of The Burren. Many forts are remodeled, are small, or too far gone to see the grander that they held, but Cahercommaun is a great example of what a stonefort was.

Just make sure you where hiking shoes and allow yourself some time!

 

Inis Mor

One of the highlights in Ireland is Inis Mor, meaning big island. It is the biggest of the Aran Islands. It has cliffs that equal the Cliffs of Mohr as well as epic ancient sites, such as Dun Aonghasa. Because of Dun Aonghasa, Inis Mor is one of the most popular sight seeing places in Ireland. It does take extra planning to visit Inis Mor, it’s definitely not a last minute trip. You will want to plan for an entire day. Inis Mor is also one place where the population’s first language is Irish. It was fun to hear our Pony and Trap driver speaking to others in the native tongue.

Getting to Inis Mor: you have to take a ferry, which costs about 25 Euro. There are only two places of departure, Doolin (near the cliffs of Mohr) and Ros a Mhil. Both take some travel, so you will need to plan that trip as part of the day. You do not want to be late for the ferry! They only sail to Inis Mor at 10:30am, 1:00pm and 6:00pm. Ferrys depart the island several times during the day though they are quite a few hours apart. Times vary according to the date too. The ferry takes 40 minutes. Luckily you can go online to check out times and prices for the dates you want to travel.  (http://www.aranislandferries.com/times_mor.php)

Inis Mor has hotels and Bed & Breakfast places on the island, but again, not a last minute thing; you need to make reservations in advance. We didn’t stay the night there, but we spoke with someone who did. They said it was very quiet once the last ferry left, but fun to have the island to themselves.

There are several ways to get around the island. I wish we had understood this before we arrived! As soon as you get off the ferry, as in that very second, several people approach you – how do you want to travel? Bike rentals this way, mini tour buses that way – do you want to buy a ticket? How about a pony and trap? It’s the way people got around in Ireland and the best way to experience the real Inis Mor. See how comfortable it is? Meet my horse…there were so many people clamoring around, we weren’t sure what to do. Most of the younger and/or more fit tourist chose to rent bikes. It’s only about 10 Euro for the day. That gives you the freedom to go where you want when you want. A map of the island is included.

The bus tour seemed alluring because it was warm and out of the wind. The cost is around 10 Euro per person. (Plus a tip.) The bus stops at all the sites and a knowledgeable driver will fill you in on the area and its history. You can also check out different bus tours online as most owners have a site with pictures and other useful information. No need to book before you go, but you can.

We decided to try the pony and trap. Meet Mike and Molly, his horse. Mike’s father drove the trap before Mike and his son sometimes takes it out these days. Most pony and trap business are multi generational. The cost is about 10-15 Euro per person. Ours only held the two of us, others were larger. You do want to tip also. An advantage of the pony and trap is that it is a unique way to travel, one you probably won’t do much in your lifetime. Your driver will fill you in on all the history and sites. You can ask all the questions you want and have a personal experience. They will stop for you every time you want to take a picture. A disadvantage is that they don’t cover all of the sites available; maybe it’s due to the time? You don’t need to book online, but if you do, your driver will be looking for you and you can avoid all the momentary chaos at the dock. You can go online and take a look at several pony and trap business and if you want, you can book from there.

In an interesting side note – we saw the ruins of a church and asked Mike what it was. He harrumphed and said it was an old protestant church and after ‘we’ ran them off the island the church just sat there. “Not worth looking at.”

The island itself is barren, windswept and a bit chilly. There are locals who sell homemade knitted items, as well as a huge shop selling Aran knits of all sorts (The Aran Sweater Market). There are other little shops, a grocery store and pubs available as well. I bought some lovely gloves from a Faherty (clan name) while she was knitting a scarf. Everything in her shop was made by her. Ron found an informative book on Dun Aonghasa in a book store. There were several tempting items in the Aran knit store as well as information on Aran sweaters.

I would suggest you take the day to go to Inis Mor. The sites are breathtaking, the people friendly, and the experience is one you won’t have any place else.

Dun Aonghasa

Dun Aonghasa, pronounced Done Angus-sa, is a spectacular stone fort located on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands. It was built 1100-1000 BC on the edge of a cliff (which rival The Cliffs of Mohr). That is several hundred years before the wall of China! Dun Aonghasa is made of three stone rings before you enter the inner court and buildings. You have to hike up a very steep hill to get to the entrance, but if I can do it, you certainly can! (My husband, Ron, says it’s not that steep, so I guess it’s a matter of perspective.)

In the first picture I’m sitting as close as I dare to the edge. The wind was fierce, though that didn’t stop braver (or more foolish) people going to the very edge of the cliff. I discovered I have a fear of falling off of cliffs into water. Notice the terror on my face as I force a smile?

The second picture shows grooves in the limestone that surround the rings. Imagine trying to attack the fort and having to maneuver around those deep crevasses.

This next picture is an aerial view. (I didn’t take this one.) Notice how the fort hugs the edge of the cliff? And look at those rocks in the next picture! This is an excellent example of a chevaux de frise. (Not that the ancient Irish called them that.) Huge pillars are a jagged  protection between the rings. If you made it over the limestone, these pillars and sharp broken rocks would be the next barrier. Many weigh over half a ton.

This fort was used well into medieval time. Whoever the rulers were, they had a lot of influence and power to build such a massive edifice. If you travel Ireland you will see many stone forts, but none as spectacular as Dun Aonghasa.

Luckily, all you have to do is follow the steep path; it’s a rather long hike, about a mile, not too bad, but make sure you’re wearing good walking shoes. The wind picks up the higher you go too.

The fort is about fourteen acres and you are free to wander everywhere.

By the way, one of the big clan names on the island is Flaherty. That is one of my family names, but I don’t know if they were from Inis Mor or not. It is nice to imagine that some of my ancestors may have walked the same paths I did here though.

You never know.

If you’ve been there, let me know what you think.

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Poulnabrone Dolmen

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What is a Dolmen? It is a portal tomb where many people are laid to rest, along with some belongings. In ancient times it would have been covered with dirt, the entrance was below the capstone.

This Dolmen is in Co. Clare, in an area known as The Burren. There is a tangible sense of ancientness in The Burren, and with good reason – there are about 90 tombs and over 500 stoneforts or buildings. Interestingly, many of these are in farmer’s fields and you will need to climb fences and hike through rocks and cows to find them.

Poulnabrone, however, is right on the side of the road with a parking lot for convenience. (There is a stonefort down the road too, but it is one that has an entrance fee and an opening and closing time.)

The first time we visited, there was a local making and selling jewelry. He was a treasure trove of knowledge and more than willing to share his knowledge. It was October; he said in the summer he dressed up as a druid and told tales. I was looking forward to seeing him when we revisited in August, but, alas, he was not there.

There is not an entrance fee and you are welcome to wander around, though there is a rope around the Dolmen to protect it. The wandering is somewhat treacherous because of the huge, uneven limestone covering the ground.

According to the plaques located at the site, Poulnabrone Dolmen dates to about 3,000 BC. In doing repairs they discovered the remains of thirty three people; adults and children. It looks like (and this is for all of Dolmens in Ireland) that people died in other places and their remains were later to the portal.

Arrow heads, polished axes, stone beads, quartz crystal, and pottery were found with the remains.

Since a portal is a gateway, I imagine that the belief would be to bring your dead so that they can enter the next life. Maybe they had a sacred ceremony at certain times of the year, bringing their loved one’s remains to be buried on sacred ground. Perhaps a druid oversaw the ceremony. I can envision family members going to the portal to commune with those who passed on also, seeking advise or blessings. Though I’m not sure I’d like to carry a family members bones with me…did they bury them, then dig them up? Or have a special place where they bodies decomposed, then gather them? Was it an event where tribes from all over came or was it a single tribe or even family?

What are your thoughts? I’d love some more speculation!

 

 

Visiting Ireland

When is a good time to visit Ireland?

The weather is fairly consistent year round; rain, wind, mist, and cooler temperatures being the general rule. The average temperature is a mild 50 degrees, emphasis on the mild. July and August are the warmest months with temperatures in the mid 60s to 70s. Plus, it doesn’t get dark until about 11pm. Whenever you go, plan on some warmer weather outfits, an umbrella, hiking shoes, and a scarf.

I’ve only been to Ireland three times so far; once in June, then in October, and finally in August. One of my daughters went in March – so that gives a wide range of seasons. Since the weather is fairly consistent, I would suggest you NOT go during high season (summer). Here are some reasons why:

  • Prices: From B&Bs/hotels to car rentals, you will save a lot of money if you travel out of season. I think we spent three times the amount in August that we did in October.
  • Attractions: By mid March to min October, most everyplace you want to see is open and much less crowded. Avoid those tour buses, lines and crowded pubs by traveling off season.
  • Driving: Whether you’re driving a rental or taking a tour bus, the going will be easier without crowds. Most roads are much smaller than we are used to (how those big buses maneuver those twists and turns is a wonder) and getting around is just better off season. (Though you may miss a battle of the buses as several try to jockey for the turn in the road and the tiny space to pull off for a view.)
  • More personal: The Irish are some of the friendliest people in the world. Since the shops and attractions won’t be as crowded you will have more personal attention and will get to know the locals better.

However, if you can only travel in the summer – go for it! I thought it would be awful in August, but it was fine. Some of that will depend on where you go also. It’s much busier in the bigger cities and The Ring of Kerry, so plan accordingly and have fun.

In the summer the weather is usually warmer, all attractions are open, the landscape is greener with flowers in full bloom, and more B&Bs are open. Make sure you call ahead for lodging.

Was this helpful? What have been your experiences?