Magical and Mystical: Touring Clare in a Land Rover
Have you ever tried to fit two adults--maybe rather larger than they would like--four kids, two sets of golf clubs, fishing tackle, wet weather gear, far too much luggage, various computer games, and a complete ensemble for Barbie, in the back of a normal rental car?
It's a terrible squeeze, isn't it. Lucky that Scruffy the dog stayed at home.
Or have you ever been tempted by an Irish turfcutters' road that leaves the tarmac and winds, tantalisingly elusive, off into the mist, far, far away from the routes that most travellers take? Have you ever tried to follow this alluring path only to spin and slide in a sedan car, and been forced to return to the tarmac, leaving the wide bog ocean unexplored? Or driven the laneways of Ireland unable to see over the hedges from the low position in your sedan car to the magneficient views you just know are there? Or wished you could rent a vehicle as comfortable, luxurious, and capable as the one you left at home?
There are times when a normal sedan car isn't enough. Then it's time for a Land Rover.
Liam Cleary, in Co. Clare can rent you one. Based in the thriving town of Ennis, a short distance from Shannon International Airport and surrounded by some of the most magneficent and mystical Irish scenery, Liam Cleary is the local Land Rover dealer. He offers a stable of late model Discoverys for rent, as well as the recent model Range Rover. There's always a good stock of new, and warrantied used vehicles for sale as well, should you be staying a while longer.
Margaret Coffey, the rentals manager at Liam Cleary's, is a one-stop shop. No surprises here, no dealing with several different people and having to explain your requirements to each one, Margaret does it all. She will take your booking--via email, phone or fax--and reserve the vehicle for you. She will pick you up at Shannon International Airport or your regional B&B and ensure that you are familiar with the vehicle before you head away on your Irish adventure. In the unlikely event of any difficulties, Margaret will come out and save you. Your Land Rover can be delivered to Dublin or Galway airports too, indeed, pretty much anywhere in Ireland with advance notice, and dropped off at a different point. Best of all, the price she quotes is the price you will pay. No hidden extras!
Many overseas visitors arrive in Ireland via Shannon airport. It's a more gradual welcome, one that allows you to be right in the heart of rural Ireland without having to negotiate the whirl and chaos of Dublin traffic, motorways, and toll bridges. Ten minutes from Shannon airport, and the new arrival will be breathing the moist air, fresh from the Atlantic, and delighting in the views and landscape found along the small lanes, and myriad of attractions that are right on the doorstep.
Liam Cleary's is only a hop, skip, and a jig from Shannon Airport. Ennis is one of the fastest growing towns in Ireland, but it's managing to retain its traditional small town feel. Walk down any of the town streets after ten o'clock at night in summer, when the long dusk is only just stealing in. You'll hear the beguiling strains of traditional music issuing from the open doors of the many pubs that are jammed tightly together in the narrow streets. It would be a challenge indeed to pass through the centre of town without passing one of these friendly hostelries, and one that I don't think is possible to meet. Toe-tapping strains waft out on the air, blending into the night air, so that to walk down the street is a long procession of different tunes and singers. Take a seat at the feet of Dan O'Connell's statue in the centre of town and decide which way to go. You won't be disappointed.
It's a fine place to eat too, with pubs and restaurants serving a variety of foods. The food is as cosmopolitan as the music is traditional; and you can eat from a variety of restaurants, including fresh seafood, caught around the Clare coastline.
So where to go from Ennis?
If you enjoyed the traditional music sessions in town, then you'll probably want more. Music sessions are informal things, and anyone who can hold a tune is normally welcome to join in. Many of the musicians are regulars, paid by the pub in money, or porter, and so they spring up in many pubs, large and small throughout Ireland, especially in the summer months. A highlight of the music season is Willie Clancy Week, in Miltown Malbay, a short distance from Ennis out on the coast. Here the Atlantic breakers roll in, and the traditional music world converges for the craic. The festival is built around a series of workshops for serious musicians, who come from all over the world to attend. But the fun and music spills over into the streets, with a street market, and music sessions that start when the pubs open, and roll on until closing time. Here, you'll see the world rubbing shoulders: farmers in tweed caps play alongside young people with dreadlocks and nose rings. The musicians might be eight years old or eighty, but if they want to play, they will be listened to. It's not all about drinking either. With such a long day, there are as many pints of water on the table as there are pints of porter. People pace themselves; after all, the day is just beginning, even if it's 2am! Out on the streets, vendors sell organic snacks, leather bags and belts, paintings, jewellery, and of course anything musical. Here's the place to buy bones or a bodhran, and the place for the portrait photographer, the sociologist, and the observer of life.
Want more than to eat, drink, and listen to music? Anglers from all over the world come to Ireland to cast a line into her quiet loughs, tranquil lakes, trout streams, canals, and salmon waterways. Near to Ennis is the picturesque Doon Lough, where you can wet a line trying your luck for pike, bream, tench, rudd, roach, and perch. Picnic tables, set among the trees on the lakeshore, make a peaceful place for a picnic, or simply to idle with a book. There's boat access too, so you can tow in a boat behind your Liam Cleary Land Rover. Remember that most fisheries in Ireland require a permit, but these are not hard to get. Ask around locally.
A popular spot for those interested in local history, or photographers looking for that moody black and white shot, is the ruined Quin Abbey. Set on the banks of the River Rine, the sprawling grey-stoned abbey has a comforting solidity to it. There's been a friary on this site since 1433, and it was active until the last friar of Quin, John Hogan, died here in 1820, at age 80. He's buried in a corner of the cloister, underneath one of the flat grave slabs that spread in a flat, gray patchwork throughout the cloisters and central quadrangle. On a wet day, the dripping rainwater funnelling down the stone guttering lends an eerie air to the place. Normally, the only sound is birdsong--swallows often nest in the towers--and the distant murmur of the river. You can spend many hours exploring the friary, wandering the maze of rooms, towers, and cells, and walking over the dead on the pavement of graveslabs.
Dúchas, the Irish heritage people, looks after Quin Abbey, and it is open daily from May to September. In the winter, the outside can be admired. When you're done viewing the Abbey, you can stroll across the field to the Abbey Tavern for a delicious lunch, warming bowl of soup, or wet your lips on a pint of Guinness.
If you want more local history, just a few miles down the road from Quin is Knappogue Castle. Enjoy the drive there, through the lanes and hedges of curling green growth and wildflowers. Isn't it just grand how the Land Rover is high enough that you can see over those riotous hedges, and enjoy the view of the fields and farms. There's standing stones in some of the fields too, a rare treat that you would have missed seeing from a low sedan.
The little cousin to the better known Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Knappogue Castle is smaller, more intimate, and less crowded. Sean MacCon, the son of Sioda MacNamara, built it in 1467. Properly speaking, it's a tower house--a heavily fortified house, built to defend the family and their own in wartime. In peacetime, it was used to entertain, and many a magnificent feast would have been held underneath its roof. East Clare boasts eighty-four of these historic buildings in various states of preservation or decay, and forty-two of them were built by the MacNamara clan. A MacNamara also built Bunratty Castle, but it passed to the O'Brien clan shortly before Knappogue Castle was built.
In 1649, Cromwellian forces from England invaded Ireland, and Knappogue Castle was seized and used as their base in the area. This probably saved it from being ransacked and destroyed by Cromwell's army, the fate of many other glorious and proud Irish buildings. For twelve years, the army made raids and sorties into the surrounding country, attacking the rebels and seizing their land. Later again, the castle was the site of much scheming and plotting. During the War of Independence (1919-1922), the castle was used secretly by the I.R.A. as a meeting place.
There's a lot to enjoy at Knappogue. Small rooms and stone-flagged corridors, spiral stairways lead up the tower, and the great high-roofed rooms echo with your footsteps. Its rooms are preserved and finished to give the feel of the castle in its heyday. They hold medieval banquets here too, joyous occasions of flowing mead (distilled from honey), music and song, comely serving wenches and of course the food, served on long wooden tables so you can carouse with friends, old and new. And if you find you enjoy it so much that you don't want to leave? Well, there is an apartment to rent (bookings essential). Your Land Rover looks regally at home here too, resting in state outside the door.
Down the road from Knappogue Castle is Finn Lough, an open wind-swept lake, surrounded by reedy banks. The road winds around the northern edge, and here the observant traveller will find the Finn Lough holy well. Dedicated to St Luctícern, who was the head of the religious community in Finn Lough in the 15th century, the well is set close to the road, in a graveyard.
Back in the days when St Luctícern was Abbott, he was working in the fields with three monks. A young woman approached them, moaning and wailing because she had cholera, and indeed she bore the characteristic swellings of the disease. St Luctícern took her into the field and knocked her head three times on a stone.
"Go," said the saint to the woman, "You are cured."
And indeed, her swellings had vanished as if they never were.
The saint turned to the three monks who were with him. "What do you think, lads?" he said. "Is this a miracle?"
The first monk replied, "I don't believe that it is."
The second monk replied, "I half believe that it is."
And the third monk replied, "I am sure that it is a miracle, and that God worked a miracle through you."
The stone on which St Luctícern hit the young woman's head is now incorporated into the wall of the graveyard, and is known locally as 'The Curing Stone'. Three other stones, also set in the outer wall represent the faces of the three monks who were with the saint that day. On the stone that represents the monk who believed, all the features are visible. On the stone that represents the monk who half believed, half the features are visible. And on the stone that represents the monk who didn't believe, none of the features are visible.
Nowadays, the well is revered for curing diseases of the skin. Believers come to the well and perform the traditional 'pattern'--a series of prayers, special wording, and repetitious movements that must be performed in the correct order to receive the cure at a holy well. At St Luctícern's well, the pattern spans nine days, and involves a sequence of prayer followed by visiting the face of the first monk. This sequence is repeated for the second and third monks, and finally the curing stone, and is performed every day for nine days. And then, so says tradition and the local people, your skin complaint will vanish, never to return.
Each saint has a Pattern Day, when the well is traditionally most visited. St Luctícern's pattern day is April 28th, although people visit at any time.
And where will you head next, in your Land Rover? Maybe a round of golf at the East Clare Golf Course, an 18 hole championship course, set in the wonderful scenery of the region. Angling on Lough Derg? A meander along the Lough Derg Way, one of Ireland's long distance walking paths? A pint and some toe-tapping music in a pub? Or maybe you'll head further afield: to the Burren, to Galway, the clatter of Dublin maybe? Or follow your nose along the boreens and byways, bogs and woodlands of this wonderful island.
When visiting Ireland, the mundane becomes magical. Especially in a Land Rover
To book a Land Rover, contact:
Margaret will handle your booking from start to finish, and can tailor the rental to suit your requirements. Prices are all inclusive--the only exception is a mileage allowance of 100 miles per day for 1-2 day rentals. Longer rentals have unlimited mileage. A Land Rover Discovery is guaranteed, and if you book one you won't be fobbed off with a lesser vehicle. They also have a range of sedan cars and commercial vehicles for rent. If you have your own comprehensive Irish insurance, it can be transferred to the Land Rover. A U.S. issued platinum Mastercard will normally cover the insurance requirements without the need to purchase further insurance, but terms and conditions can change, so check with your credit card provider before you travel. Note that some credit cards specifically exclude Ireland when they say they cover vehicle insurance in Europe.
© Bushducks 2004
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