(Continuing our temporary respite from things cancer, I offer my reflections on our recent trip to Ireland)
We always think of Ireland as green. We found our explanation of that in the frequent rains that cover the land. And even though it is on the same latitude as Siberia and Labrador, Ireland’s own weather is moderated by the flow of the warming waters of the Gulf Stream. My friend is a university professor focusing on “service learning”. He was on sabbatical and so spends part of his time working with universities in Ireland. Consequently our itinerary was influenced by his speaking schedule.
We began our Irish journey south of the western city of Galway. While there are dual carriageways, similar to our interstate highways, most travel takes place on smaller two-lane roads. These roads are narrower than in the US and lack a service lane or berm but instead are bordered by high hedges or rock walls. Some roads are even narrower, requiring that one car pull to the very edge in order for another car or truck or bus to pass. Everything seems compressed. Roads are smaller. Cars are smaller. Houses and shops are stacked against each other, like many urban landscapes, especially in Europe. This is a continent with an ancient history. Over the centuries available land was taken up by earls and kings only later divided up for individual families. But a man might have three sons. His farm is then parceled into three parts, then six, then ten, and on. This is why the promise of new lands in the far west across the ocean drew scores of pilgrims and seekers. America was born of these seekers and pilgrims.
Everything seems ancient, compressed. History hangs over the landscape. Stone rather than wood is the preferred building material. Structures have an innate permanency. A village comes together a thousand years before Christ. Over centuries a town is built over the village. Cowpaths become wagon roads. The town evolves into a city but constructed over the same basic frame. Narrow winding streets that easily conducted wagons, horses and foot traffic now slow the pace of faster modes of transportation, motorized automobiles, buses, trams and lorries.
The most astonishing place we visited was the Cliffs of Moher, walls of sheer rock that rise 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. This is where we first experienced the power of wind in Ireland. In most places on the cliff the wind came in gusts that we estimated at 60-70 mph. It was impossible to stand still as the wind buffeted about us. We had dressed in layers, wearing caps and covering those with the tightly drawn hoods on our coats. In one section of the walk leading up to the watch tower the winds came over a narrow crevice in the rock wall. Walking that thirty feet required one to lean far forward, pushing your upper body with the power of your legs. We estimated these winds as gale-force, maybe 70-80 mph. This narrow crevice was a perfect spot to rainwater to flow over the cliff in a slender waterfall. But the wind was so fierce that the water arced in twenty foot streams back over the top of the cliff, drenching anyone who made the climb.
The sun made but a brief appearance. Over a few minutes we watched as a brilliant rainbow danced on the water, constantly changing color and shape before fading to nothingness. The first of a number of rainbows, including a double one that we were to witness of the coming week. No wonder everyone looks for that elusive pot of gold.