Saturday, May 11, 2013

Omagh, Belleek, Ballina

As with every day of our trip, we had an ambitious schedule of visits. I must say that if we were not on a group tour we would likely not have seen quite so many attractions. We (I) would certainly have slept in later -- we were up by 7 a.m. each day -- and we would have passed by many landmarks and points of interest without knowing it.
Jill, giving us a briefing on the first day of the tour, while we were on our canal cruise.
Our tour director, Jill, had welcomed us on our first day with, "You are very welcome here," and explained in her precise lilt that "very welcome" was the customary Irish turn of phrase to express their very warm reception of guests. Jill provided an almost constant narrative of what we were seeing.

As always, our day started with a hot breakfast buffet. A typical Irish breakfast included scrambled eggs, "brown bread" (a quick bread made with molasses), blood sausage, regular sausage, bacon, cold toast, a steaming vat of hot oatmeal, yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit. And this.
Try some Bushmills Irish Whiskey with your porridge.
Steve tried it and said it was "not bad." I did not try it.

Our first stop this day was the Ulster* American Folk Park in Omagh, Co Tyrone. It is a reconstructed village that shows the lifestyle of people in Ireland around the time of the great emigration to the Americas. The first part of the park shows modest farm dwellings and a city in Northern Ireland. Then there is a model quay and ship through which one passes to the "new world."

*Ulster is a province in the north part of Ireland that includes counties in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Confused yet? Here's a picture from Wikipedia. The pink part is Northern Ireland; the green part is the Republic of Ireland. All of it is Ulster.
Donegal, by the way, is pronounced Donny-GAL
Likewise, Sligo is pronounced SLIGH-go
Back to our story. The theme park was beautiful.
One of the thatch-roofed cottages. The white smoke is from a turf fire.
Apparently, thatched roofs are more expensive than slate roofs and do not last as long,
so they are falling out of fashion.
A turf fire.
The fireplace was broad and open, and the room was quite smokey.

A window inside one of the "town" dwellings.
In both castles and modest homes, the stone walls would have been stuccoed and whitewashed.
These stone walls were everywhere in the Irish countryside, both north and south.
The fields are so full of rocks that they were simply stacked on the boundaries of the farmers' fields.
Below decks in steerage class on one of the migrant ships.
Note that the table has raised edges so that the food would not simply slide off it as the ship rolled.
This scenario only shows four people; in reality, hundreds of people would have shared this space.
The New World
What they found on arrival was not so very different from what they had left behind. And the homes they built, when they were able, were not unlike the ones they had left behind, though with cedar shingles rather than slate or thatch for roofs.
Windows were expensive.
I don't know why, but I really love this kind of village. It's kind of like snooping or visiting real-estate open houses when I have no intention of buying. I look at every implement they have on display, every sign, every quilt. And I love them all.
Someone cared for these things. 
But we did eventually have to move along. On our way, we met some wayward sheep!
Silly sheep!
Picture taken from the bus, so excuse the blur.
Next stop: Belleek. I had never heard of Belleek pottery, though I recognized it once I saw it.
Elaborate porcelain
Our guide on this visit was a classic Irish beauty with long, red hair and a delightful accent.

I was fascinated to observe that the china was really all hand-crafted. Each of those strands hand-laid over a form to create the work; each flower hand-formed and hand-painted.

I actually like them at this stage - without all the flowers and add-ons. Or maybe just past this stage, after they are glazed and kilned.

I managed to escape the obligatory gift shop without buying a single thing.

Our next stop was a "hidden treasure" - something not officially listed on the tour program: W.B. Yeats' grave. His grave was not particularly interesting. I did take a picture, but I'll spare you. Instead I'll share this:
A monk at the cemetery in Sligo, where W.B. Yeats is buried.
A beautiful old gravestone.
A lovely celtic cross.
These sculptural headstones are more recent than the old, simpler ones.
We saw a lot of trees wearing English Ivy as long underwear.
Not just in the graveyard, but everywhere.
When we reached it, Ballina (pronounced bah-lee-NAH) was like most other old Irish towns: narrow lanes with buildings crowding the sidewalk, painted bright colours.
It was a tight fit for our bus.
Like most towns, it also had a river running through it.
The River Moy
And with that, we reached the end of our day. I was tired and had started feeling motion sickness, though I didn't know that was the problem. I just felt slightly nauseated and exhausted. I skipped dinner.

Update: here is the map of this day's journey.

View Ireland Tour 2013 in a larger map

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