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Bob Moen

Biking from Canterbury to Belfast
Bob Moen's Tour de U.K. 1999
Saturday, May 29, 1999 - Dispatch #4

You gotta love Ireland. I do.
The Irish live their lives on a different, more manageable scale than do Americans. Their concerns seem to be family, fellowship and having a well painted cottage. What me worry? Alfred E. Newman must be Irish. In contrast Americans work hard to earn more money to buy a larger house, to shop at the mall or to drive a fast car (OK OK That last one may only be me). Last night at 8PM I rolled into the West County Clare village of Miltown Malbay after a 62-mile day. It was raining hard so I sought out shelter under the hotel's awning. "I'm going inside where its warm," I said to myself. I walked into the hotel, exhausted and looking pretty much like a drowned rat. Immediately the people at the bar understood my plight and invited me over to share a pint. Soon I was engaged in conversation and eating bacon and cabbage and feeling much better about the state of me. "Our national food", offered one fellow. While another, who had biked around Europe, advised me to not obsess with mileage. "Take your time. Smell the roses."

After about an hour I braved quarter mile of rain to find the Station B&B where I had booked a room over the phone. Railroad buff Bob was in heaven. It was a former railway station! Two elderly twin sisters, Sheila and May greeted me, then before letting me retire to my room, invited me into their quarters for a cup of tea and biscuits (cookies. Learning of my interest in railways they showed me pictures of the station before it was converted to a B&B then lent me the history of a West Clare Railway book for my morning reading. I could see the pain in their faces, however, when I responded 8AM to their, "when did you want your breakfast." Since my room was only costing 15-pounds, I told them I was not a breakfast person anyway and that IÕd just forgo it altogether. I was back in their favor again.

First thing in the morning I trundled off into the village to get my Irish breakfast at a local pub. So much for my early start. It was 10:30 by the time I actually rode out of town, which, frankly, is typical for me. I may wake up at 6:30 but it takes me several hours, several cups of coffee and a breakfast before I get motivated enough to roll.

In spite of another headwind the rain had cleared overnight so todayÕs ride was quite enjoyable. I was in no hurry and there were no museums to throw off my schedule. I did manage to stop at every village to fuel up on soup, bread, bananas and slices of rhubarb and apple pie. I am hungry all the time. The high point of the day was my ride over the Burren of County Clare. The Burren is a bleak plateau of limestone and shale that covers over a hundred square miles. By my Nevada-raised standards it not that desolate, but here they make a big deal it. In the words of an early English surveyor, ÒIts a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor a tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury.Ó After 62-miles and 500-miles trip-to-date, I arrived here at Galway City at 6:30, found a hotel and had a tasty pasta dinner (I've figured out to ask them to add garlic to the sauce). Now IÕm at the Fun Center which isn't my fun. But in addition to extremely noisy video game machines, it offers Internet access. I must say that Galway could not impress me less. Last time I was here I appreciated the its vibrant, college atmosphere, but tonight IÕm only seeing the lack of charm and good taste that seem to define college towns. There must be twenty or thirty pubs here in the downtown area but I cannot find one with live music. I know in Irish circles this is heresy to say, but give me Limerick over Galway.

One of the problems with Galway is that it is all torn up by new construction. The boom times of the ÒCeltic tiger economyÓ are reaching all corners of Ireland. I read in the paper that over the next five years IrelandÕs economy will grow 32% compared to 13% for the rest of Europe. So much for being the poorest country in Europe. Even in the poorest counties within Ireland such as Clare many new houses are being built.

In Ireland all houses and shops, new and old, boast a colorful, well-maintained coat of paint. In England, buildings arenÕt painted because they are constructed of stone or brick, so entire villages all bear the same greyness. But here, the structures are covered with a coat of plaster/cement which readily accepts paint (similar to the stucco used in western U.S.). Further, doors and trim are always of a different color. Colors are chosen within the bounds of some traditional Irish scheme, for which I donÕt have a full grasp, so everything fits in harmoniously with each other and within the countryside. And it looks very Irish.

Let me go back a couple days: Wednesday I got a late start leaving Limerick City due to a number of small errands so was only able to cover 42-miles before I bedded down in Adare, Òthe most picturesque village in Ireland.Ó This brilliant marketing tag served to ensure that there just as many Germans, Americans and New Zealanders in the pubs and restaurants as there were Irish.

On the way to Adare I managed to explore wonders of Lough Gur and its surroundings which are liberally studded with a gallery graves--sleeps eight--and the faint remains of earthworks, ring forts and hut foundations dating from 3500 BC. The most substantial of the prehistoric remains is the stone circle which at 30-yards or so in diameter is the largest in Ireland. This mini-Stonehenge seemed to have been used to mark and celebrate the beginning of summer. Thursday was a museum day. I managed to get a tour of a 15th-century tower house by the teenaged boy whose family lives there. At one time there were 427 of these in Limerick and 2,700 throughout Ireland. They were mini-fortresses made of stone,usually of four or five floors, with the bottom floor being windowless. The one I saw was dark, dirty and cold. To my thinking, not a pleasant place to live.

At the Flying Boat Museum I learned that the seaport community of Foynes on the Shannon Estuary was the center of the transatlantic flying-boat service in the five years leading up to WWII. IÕve often wondered why they put Shannon airport in the middle of no-where and why it was even built, given its close proximity to the Dublin airport. Well, it turns out that Shannon Airport came first. The location of the Shannon Airport was chosen by Charles Lindbergh himself in years immediately following his transatlantic flight as the best and nearest landfall to North America. Tomorrow IÕll take the bus to Sligo so I can exploring Donegal, the Northwest Irish coast and Northern Ireland. I'm trying my best to get away from other tourists. For some reason, that's easy to do in Northern Ireland. My next report should be from Belfast within a week. Cheers.

Dispatch #5

1998 Tour-de-UK Dispatches
Dispatch #1: Day 2 - Truro, Cornwall, England
Dispatch #2: Day 4 - Exeter, Devon, England
Dispatch #3: Day 8 - Cardiff, Wales
Dispatch #4: Day 11 - Galway City, Ireland
Dispatch #5: Day 17 - Belfast, N. Ireland
Dispatch #6: Day 26 - Edinburgh, Scotland


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