Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking festival takes place annually in September in the town of Lisdoonvarna. It goes back a long time and was a way for the local single farmers to come to town and find a wife. These days its as much an excuse for a party and a bit of a tourist attraction. Don't go on a Tuesday night though as its all older people waltzing! Supposedly its livelier on the weekends. Avoid sleazy drunk old men in zip up shirts!
When someone starts to sing a song in a pub, everyone gets quiet. The musical tradition is very strong in Ireland and song is perhaps respected above all. When there is a traditional Irish music session going on in a quiet pub, people will generally keep the conversation at a lower volume, as people do want to here the music, rather than try to talk over it. Don't be offended if if you get shushed :)
The Great Famine in Ireland lasted from 1845-1852 during which approximately 1 million people died and more than 1 million more emigrated to other countries. Although many factors contributed to the famine and to blame it all on the potato shortage is a bit simplistic, the underlying cause was the potato blight which ravaged one of the main food sources.
The famine walls which we saw as we drove through County Clare were built by the unemployed in order to earn their food. The walls don't actually serve any purpose, they don't separate one owners' land from another, the walls were built solely to provide work to peasants so that they could "earn" their food. Seems misguided, if not a bit sadistic, to require poor starving people to move rocks around for no purpose than to justify them getting a bowl of soup. They did something similar at the Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, having prisoners move rocks from a pile at one end to a pile at the other just to earn their daily rations. I'm not sure if my photo is actually of a famine wall, it was a little difficult taking photos from a moving bus and that's the only one that turned out.
The famine houses are the ruins of homes that remained after the tenants were evicted during the famine, I can't seem to find anything to support it online but I'm pretty sure our guide said that if you bought property with one of these structures on it that you could not demolish it as it's part of Ireland's heritage.
Should you happen to be single, visiting in September and looking to be hitched to an Irish lad or Irish lass, head for Lisdoonvarna's annual matchmaking festival. The festival is held in September becauase of tradition, by September the harvest was done and the bachelor farmers would be in search of a wife. Lisdoonvarna became a popular place to come because of the spa here and it was due to the popularity of the spa that matchmaking became quite common here.
The only official matchmaker left today would seem to be more suited for equine pairing as Willie Daly's full time occupation is operating the horse riding center in a nearby town, match making is just a hobby. But the annual festival is Europe's largest single's event, thousands of people come here during September, maybe to find a mate, maybe just to have a good time. It's one festival that I hope I'll never need!
As we were driving from Bunratty Castle towards Ennis along the N18 near Clarecastle our guide pointed out a rather unattractive thorn tree alongside the highway that the road curves around and said that the construction of the N18 had actually been altered to allow for this tree at a fairly high cost. What would possess them to spend extra money to spare this tree? Why fairies of course!
Local superstition associates this solitary tree with fairies and Irish folklore is full of stories telling of horrible things that happen to people who mess with the fairies and their trees, apparently the locals blame a series of accidents to the builders of nearby Shannon airport that were caused by damaging a fairy tree. So what's a few thousand or few tens of thousands of euros when faced with death and destruction?
On the wall in the Great Hall in Bunratty Castle, I noticed this rather hideous figure carved onto the wall, I thought it was a skeleton but then the guide/wench explained that it was Sheela Na Gig, a fertility symbol. Obviously, the carving at Bunratty isn't very clear since I thought it was a skeleton, it's actually a woman with enlarged genitals held open by her hands. Try explaining that one to the kiddies! Click here to see a reproduction (no pun intended) from one at a church in Kilpeck, England, a much clearer example than the one in Bunratty.
And just in case you have a craving for chocolate after seeing that, have a look here
If you wish, you can take one of the smaller side-roads off the main highway to descend down into the village of Doolin. We did this on our first afternoon there and came across this rather imposing looking building with a great view out over the Atlantic Ocean and the Aran Islands (pierced by its tower in this photo). We were never able to find out much about this structure other than it is reputed to have been bought by a wealthy elderly American tobacco magnate who re-furnished it as a summer home.
When I see these old deserted villages, ruined churches and houses I start thinking....and dreaming.....
Who were the people who left? Where did they go? Why did they leave? How did they end up? I guess most of the places became deserted during the Great Irish potato famine in the 19th century when a lot of people died or left for a new life in America (or died on the boat to get there). Well maybe not all of them, some people maybe built a new house or church and left the old one behind...
Read Enzo's 'An gorta Mór 1845-1849' Travelogue to find out more about the famine
Some of the people from my bus tour showing us how NOT to do an Irish jig, as penance for being late for the bus!
This is the fantatsic restaurant at the Ballinalacken Hotel, also dueled as our wedding reception...more
North of Tully, Renvyle, Connemara, Ireland
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Business
Bunratty Village, Bunratty, County Clare, Ireland
Good for: Business