Friday, May 24, 2013

Watch out for the tinkers!

As our bus headed out one morning, our tour director, Jill, spoke solemnly into the microphone.

“Well, folks,” she enunciated, very slightly aspirating her Ts and Ds when they were at the end of the word, “you may have seen the police about the hotel earlier this morning. Nothing serious to worry about, but poor Bernard (pronounced BURR-nerd, not Ber-NARD) discovered that the diesel fuel from the bus had been siphoned off overnight.”

We all gasped on cue. Though I was speculative; Jill routinely poked fun at Bernard, which he bore in stride, claiming that the woman up ahead by the bridge was his girlfriend (a statue of a mermaid) or that he had stayed up all night baking the brown bread she handed out (I’m quite sure it was Jill’s doing, that bread.).

“Not to worry, he has a spare tank,” she assured us. “It just means he’ll have to work in an extra stop to fuel up.” Interestingly, this fact of life hadn’t really occurred to me. Of course our chauffeur performed routine maintenance and fueling – a challenge, given all the hours we were on the road.

“But we know who did it,” she confided. “It was the tinkers!”

She went on to explain that the tinkers were a nomadic community in Ireland, not related to the gypsies or Roma people of elsewhere in Europe, but with a similar culture of living unattached to any specific location. She explained that they were not well liked by the rest of Irish communities (one wonders if the Irish and the Catholic could unite in shared bullying of this minority group).

At one point, the government had, with good heart, decided to build homes for the tinkers, so that they wouldn’t squat on private property or along roadsides and farms. The tinkers obligingly moved to these communities, but did not actually live in the houses. They continued to live in their caravans (what we would call mobile homes or RVs), but kept their livestock in the houses. Or so goes the urban legend.

A tinker community we saw the following day.
But this day, we left Ballina (pronounced bah-lee-NAH) and headed for Connemara and Galway.

I have to confess here that I took many pictures for which I have no story, other than the day and order on which they were taken. So here are a few from that day, with as much context as I can recollect.
A light snack mid-morning snack in a hidden-away art gallery/bistro our tour director had told us about.
(My nausea was getting steadily worse.)
You may note Stephen’s new woolen cap lying on the table. Here is a picture of him wearing it.

Doesn't it just suit him to a T?
Mid-afternoon, we arrived at Connemara. I had never heard of the place, but apparently it is well known for its green marble. I think this is a domestic reputation.

Nevertheless, we stopped for a break and managed to find a very pretty Celtic brooch for Steve’s mom.

Back on the road again, we pass Lynch’s Castle on our way into Galway Town (as distinguished from County Galway).

This is another landmark that would have meant little or nothing to us, but Jill explained that the son of the original lord of the castle had committed a crime (murder, I believe) and was sentenced to death. The executioner, however, refused to do the deed (possibly because of a fondness for the young man or for fear of repercussions from Lord Lynch). Lord Lynch was honour-bound to kill his son himself, which he did, hanging him from an upstairs window. “And so that is where the word ‘lynching’ comes from.”

Galway Town also offered up more murals – these of a non-political nature, now that we were in the Republic of Ireland.

That evening, we ate (or Steve ate; I nibbled) at a real castle with entertainment from a troupe of actors and musicians – including a harpist – oh, how I enjoy the harp! It was beautiful and witty, and reinforced the notion that Irish people are really, really fun and know how to have a good time!
The most surprising thing about the castles is that they were so . . . SMALL.
The rooms were really quite compact.
After dinner, Steve caught a picture of me using a castle wall for support while enjoying the crisp air.
This may be my new favourite picture of me.
Those are water droplets on my lenses. It really did rain a little bit – or a lot – every day. As Ronin, our Irish-Chinese Buddhist guide, told us, “Here’s how you do an Irish weather forecast: Look out the window. Is it raining? Then it’s rainy. Is it not raining? Then it will soon.” And that prediction could change as quickly as a wink.

And with that Bernard brought us back to our hotel for sleep.

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