Oct 10, 2012

Kerry, Part II: the quaintest little town...and some more churches

On Saturday, a few lone seagulls joined me as I watched the buoys bobbing at sunset.
Back when I was looking at colleges, my mum took me on most of the campus visits.  (Ironically, I ended up at one of the three schools that I visited with my dad...and the first time my mother saw Union was the day I moved in.)  We had a joke, Mum and I, that grew out of the similarities between all of the Connecticut colleges.  (When I say "all"...I should explain that I applied to eighteen schools, and visited more like twenty-five.  I've since become a lot less insecure.)  One afternoon as we drove through central Connecticut, it occurred to us that our experiences were all beginning to blur together.  Each college town seemed to have cobblestone streets and vintage streetlights.  Each campus seemed to have identical sets of verdant lawns and an easygoing, peaceful vibe.  One, in fact, called its academic requirements "General Education Expectations", as if it would be just fine if a student didn't finish all of his coursework before graduating.

And then I ended up in a program choc-a-bloc with requirements and limitations and rules.  Figures.

But that's not the point.  What I'm getting at is that my mum and I had a joke - we started calling every one of these charming, carbon-copy college towns "quaint".  Quaint.  It became one of those tongue-in-cheek sorts of mother-daughter jokes.

So three years later, when I set foot in Dingle, I could just hear her affecting that mock hoity-toity voice that still makes me giggle: it's just the quaintest little town, isn't it, dahling?  I allowed myself a smile and made a mental note to tell her about it that night.
Seriously , though...

Yes, it is pronounced "crack", but I promise the similarities end there.  It's slang.  Those panels on either side of the entrance read, "The 'craic' is how the Irish celebrate life - with music, with laughter, with joy, with old friends and new...friends waiting to be made."  It's a shamrock shop-type definition, but it does the job for any tourist who hasn't tried to define "craic" for himself.  (Of course, I had to.)

Dingle is literally built into the countryside.
The clouds were like fire at night.
That's a glimpse of the town for you, then, and a picture of how I spent my Friday.  The next morning, everyone was up bright and early for a drive along the western coast of the Dingle peninsula.  (I began to describe this yesterday, if you recall.)  As we piled into the coach bus, we met a friendly local archaeologist who would prove to be an excellent tour guide throughout the day.  We spent the morning and better part of the afternoon stopping at points of interest while she taught us about the history behind everything we were seeing.  Indeed, there was much to see...and unusually brilliant weather, too.
Standing stones like this one can be found all over Ireland, especially in the south.  Back in the day, they were used as territorial markers.

We drove much closer to the edge of these cliffs than I would have liked...
...but the view was spectacular.  It felt to me like a prettier (although less elevated) version of the Inis Mór cliffs.
I'm pretty sure this is where the Bay empties into the Atlantic.

See that beach in the right half of the photo?
Here's a close-up...
I got a whole hour there.  The water nearly froze my toes off, but I have no regrets.
Those cliffs took my breath away.
Irish storyteller Peig Sayers wrote of this island, "Shuios sios ar phort na tra, mar a riabh radharc alainn i mo thimpeall.  Is marbh an croi nach dtogfadh aer bog cumhra na farraige an smuit agus an brond e."  For those of you who aren't fluent in Irish: "I sat down on the bank above the beach where I had a splendid view all around me.  Dead indeed is the heart from which the balmy air of the sea cannot banish sorrow and grief."
There were small villages like this scattered throughout the hillsides.  I wonder if they're happy, these people who live their lives in simple dependence on the land.
Our last stops in Kerry were a few early Christian sites.  The first was Riask, an excavated monastery whose history has been very difficult to unearth over the years.  You'll see that there's not much left of it; apparently, people back then were fond of stealing stones.  Archaeologists have had to exercise caution in trying to reinterpret and extrapolate from the ruins that have survived.           

This is a high cross, similar to (but less ornate than) the ones at Clonmacnoise.
This circular wall enclosed an interior halved by another curving wall (below).  The western half of the monastery was "secular", or residential, while the eastern half was more sacred in function.

Here's the eastern half, where an oratory (small church) once stood.  Like all of the other buildings here, it was made with dry-stone walls and a corbelled roof, which attests to the engineers' skill as they didn't use any mortar during construction.  Underneath this lies a 42-grave cemetery; in front of it lies a small sunken area of paving which may have been the base of a shrine for relics.  The area around it was used as a ceallúnach (a children’s burial ground) after the monastery was abandoned in medieval times.
The western half was peppered with these large circular clocháns (loosely translated, beehive-shaped buildings), which served as residence halls for the monks.
No one knows why, but the clocháns were arranged in pairs.
Next up: the Gallarus oratory.  This is the best-preserved unmortared early Christian church in Ireland; it'll give you a sense of what the Riask oratory must have looked like.
The stones were cut just so.  Check out the perfect symmetry of those sloped walls...
See how perfectly the stones fit together?  By the way, archaeologists know that this was in fact a church because of the building's orientation.  Churches back then were always built with the door at the west and window (yep, one window) opening to the east.
This is another cemetery, presumably of a VIP because of all of the quartz surrounding the cross/headstone.

Just as at Riask, a curving stone wall separated the site into two halves.
Last stop: Kilmalkedar Church.  It's traditionally associated with Dingle's patron saint, St. Brendan.  Built in the middle of the 12th century, it's a fine example of Irish Romanesque architecture.

See the arched doorway, and the intricate sculpting there?  This style was imported from England and the continent early in that century when the Irish church was trying to bring itself into line with the rest of Europe.

In the graveyard outside the church stood an early sundial. You'd put a stick into that hole at the top and tell the time based on the shadow it cast.
It amazes me that this wall has survived for such a long time.
Time to go home...
...to a B&B that far outshone the Dublin hostel.
I was so put off by my room in Dublin that I didn't even care to post a photo of it. But here? There was a kettle and coffee in the room itself.  Case closed.

No comments:

Post a Comment