I promised faithfully that I would post a picture or two of County Clare on the west coast of Ireland for Dez whose great grandmother came from there (and who was, incidentally, red hot on the traditional Irish crochet lace). So here's one especially for you, Dez, and anyone else who wants to enjoy our beautiful west coast.
These are the Cliffs of Moher, dizzyingly high above the sea. The wind blows over them and it is a stunningly beautiful, remote place, looking out toward the Aran Islands.
I thought you might like to see some ancient stones, so here's Poulnabrone dolmen on the Burren, not too far from the Cliffs of Moher.
The Burren is a vast area of limestone pavement, where instead of green fields you have what looks like endless crazy paving. To compensate for the lack of earth, the most incredible wild flowers burst into bloom here every spring - gentians, rockroses, orchids, the sort of plants found nowhere else in Ireland - and they all survive by tucking themselves into crannies where tiny pockets of soil have been blown. It's a strangely beautiful landscape, but not much good for making a living, which is why so many people left here in the hope of a better existence in the New World.
Rho asked what kind of deer it was with which I shared the woods in Killarney the other day. It was in fact a Sika, Rho, the smaller type. We do have red deer in the forests there, but they're a great deal more wary of human beings and you'd be lucky to see one as close as this was. I'm happy to say too that while we do have ticks (I leave it to DH to remove them from the dogs, since I get squeamish when I see one) fortunately they don't carry any diseases. No snakes here either - the Church would have us believe that St. Patrick banished them, but in fact they never made it to Ireland before we parted company with mainland Europe and made ourselves into an island - rather earlier than Christianity.
There was a dangerous moment of start-another-project-right-now-itis this morning. The sleeves of the Elann are progressing at a snail's pace, and for some reason - well any excuse to stop wrestling with those chunky dpns was enough - I wandered down to the stash store in the basement where this lovely tempting six-pack of Bergere de France Frimousse sashayed out and smiled in a knowing manner.
I'd bought this yarn in Clermont Ferrand on our last French trip in June, knowing that it would be perfect for a future project which I hadn't thought of yet. It's a boucle in charcoal and not very thick - perhaps DK. Vests were in my mind, I think (they usually are with any new yarn I haven't tried yet). Now the other day I was flipping through somebody else's copy of English Vogue and established two things pretty clearly. One is that cossack pants in velvet, bloused over boots, are going to be HUGE this winter (heck, I remember the last time, in the late Sixties, early Seventies), and the other is rich charcoal woollies in cashmere, merino or other sumptuously soft yarn. The ones I saw had cables and diamonds as well as the less raised guernsey patterns which are worked with purl stitches rather than twists. There was one adorable mini-dress made as a sweater but longer and flared out at the end so that it became a tiny frock for someone young with very good legs indeed. Now I want nothing more than to get started on a hug-me-tight, a cabled Aran cropped cardigan, something, anything with that Frimousse. But the Elann is still there, waiting, indicating the calendar which reminds me that entries for Bantry Show must be registered on Tuesday and the completed garment delivered by September 2...
So how is the Elann, you ask resignedly. Believe me, I'm about as interested in it as you are at this stage. Would one of you ever pop over to Ireland, slam open my front door and order me to cease working on it forthwith? It would make things so much simpler. On the other hand, it's progressed so far now that to return would be as tedious as to complete, to paraphrase Shakespeare.
Looking any better to you? How long do sleeves have to be? Are these cuff-sweeping designs a bit over-rated? Aren't elbow-length sleeves all the rage? (It may be that you see a jacket here that looks further on than it acually is. When I've completed the sleeves, there is still the body to work downwards, before making those challenging Horseshoe Point bind-offs.)
Anyway, when DH suggested I come out on his day's jobs with him, I acquiesced with startling speed. First off was the airport where two generations of a family were coming in to join the other two; all were then going up to the Midlands to do a joint parachute jump. Search me - I think it was a family dare or something. They've recently built a huge new terminal at Cork and for sure it's a lot more sophisticated and practical for the crowds we get, but I mourn the old, small, friendly one. Up to a few years ago, they even had a turf fire burning in the arrivals hall to welcome visitors! And you could always hail friends among the officials and staff as you came in. Still, I suppose we had to update sometime. One good thing - as far as I know, it is still possible to buy bacon and sausages in the duty free hall to take back with you.
Thence to Fountainstown, a small seaside resort, where children have been learning how to road bowl. Road bowling is a rare enough sport, confined to Ireland and even there to just Armagh and Cork. It consists basically of throwing an extremely heavy small ball (solid metal) along a country road, to see who can get it furthest. Large amounts of money change hands at a big bowling match, but on any Sunday you can find local men and youths out on their own boreen, keeping up the tradition. Since this seaside one was for children, there was definitely no betting; instead the lemonade and crisps were much in evidence, and no less a personage than the Bishop of Cork had come down to show them how.
Bishop John Buckley is a lovely gentle man who likes nothing better than to get rid of the robes and spend an hour's bowling to free him from bishoply cares. When he'd done his bit and reluctantly torn himself away to attend to episcopal duties, I went in to the tiny local shop which sits in a tin hut almost on the beach. Three sisters run it for the summer months, offering a much-needed service to local holidaymakers since it is a good few miles to any other commercial facility.
You should see the variety of things they sell in there! Sweets and groceries, fishing flies and newspapers, birthday cards, and candles, electric plugs and aspirin, hats and hula hoops, sunglasses and light bulbs, home-made blackcurrant tarts and even real ice-cream wafers, cut from the block in traditional style. They didn't have knitting needles or yarn - sadly, they said, nobody knits around there any more - but I challenged them to find a needle and thread and they didn't hesitate, diving underneath the counter and coming up with the goods.
I love local shops like these and hope they can continue as long as possible. Big supermarket chains tend to drive them out of business eventually, but these are tough ladies in Fountainstown and as long as holidaymakers come down to spend a week or a month by the sea, Angela, Kathleen and Marie will be there, weighing out the sweets, advising on the fishing flies, handing over the evening paper.
I have tended, on one or two occasions, to bewail the non-availability of standard yarns here in Ireland, and have frequently voiced my jealousy of the rest of you out there. It is being slowly borne in on me, however, that I am not exactly the only one who wishes she had more yarn stores, more choice, right on her doorstep. When I read your weblogs, I realise everyone wants something else. Some of you yearned for the cones I found at Muckross and Kerry Woollen Mills. OK, I won't grumble any more that I don't have Joann's and Michael's round the corner. Everybody has their own yarn sources. Although these ones in Ireland are few and far between and you really have to hunt to find them, maybe that's part of the fun. You appreciate it more when you do strike lucky. But boy, you should see me in an American or Canadian yarn shop when I'm on a trip! I tend to go into complete topspin and rush around hyperventilating and hurling everything I can see into a basket. Same in France (only there they expect you to do it with decorum). And when I make a trip to one of those old-fashioned English spinning mills (now alas far fewer than before), I need to be left alone for a WHOLE DAY to walk the entire place slowly, then again, then take a coffee break, then make a selection, then a second selection - and finally have to be dragged out forcibly at closing time, protesting vociferously.
But then I guess that's pretty standard behaviour for yarn fiends everywhere, isn't it?