Off to Sligo we go…

My husband’s old travel diary continues in Ireland…my comments in the brackets.

April 13, 1998 Monday Belfast.

Belfast was everything we expected. It was a bit scary and very eerie on some Easter Sunday morning, of course, with everything closed. (There were vacant lots all over town We had been told these were bomb site, but I can’t verify that information.)

The people in the hostels have been quite offhand. I suppose that is because they are cool. Too cool for us. (We are both pretty extroverted and enjoy meeting people but we were a couple of years older than your average backpacker and didn’t smoke, in case that fun fact had escaped you thus far. We didn’t fit in with the ‘cool’ hostel crowd. We were there to have a holiday and see the sights so sitting in a common room, smoking and drinking cans from the Tesco on the corner wasn’t really our idea of a good time. We could do that at home. Or not.)

Every hostel has great common rooms, but all smoking. Shame for us. Went to the bus station and got the bus to the airport to pick up our hire car. 9 pounds but it was a fair way. (The bus wound its way through many suburbs and we got a very unexpected tour of the city taking in the famous murals and other sights.)

We got frisked at the airport. That was fun. (I think by “fun” I was meaning it was a unique experience.) Michael was making crude remarks, of course. (This was a huge eye-opener for us. Of course we knew about the Troubles but we didn’t know truly how bad things were. It was our first experience with being frisked and they used a mirror surface on the road way and we had to drive over it to check for bombs, even though we had just picked the car up!)

We finally got our car and headed off into the ‘green’ horizon. Northern Ireland is quite ugly really – well, the bits that we saw from the road. (For some reason, that was in my writing. That seems really unfair to the wonderful country of Northern Ireland! I had been in the country for about a day and was prepared to make a sweeping statement like that… Ah the confidence of youth! It makes you realise the importance of travel for opening one’s tiny mind!

Then we go back to Michael’s handwriting.)

We made our way to Sligo. We were starving. It was lunch time, so we made our way off the highway and eventually found a pub and ate lunch. Went back to the highway and saw KFC about 1 kilometre from where we turned off. Bummer. (Michael was a huge fan of KFC in his youth. I’m a vego and he eats a lot less meat these days but he will still have a crack at some KFC every few months and usually regrets it! At one stage he could tell you where every KFC was located in any of the coastal towns in Queensland, right from the Gold Coast to Cairns. It’s a talent, he assures me.)

Sligo is a coastal town, but pretty ugly. (There we go throwing around the ‘u’ word again. We’ve recently seen County Sligo in the film Pixie and it looked bloody lovely. From memory there is a little river running through the centre of town? Actually in my memory, it’s quite lovely. The hostel was named for Irish poet WB Yeats, who I had never heard of but is now a favourite. It was not the very fancy Yeats hotel which is lovely but didn’t exist then. We both have a vague memory of a Columbian tourist drinking some of our juice because, ‘he had never tried orange juice before.’ We were a bit annoyed that someone thought that was a good enough excuse to raid our grocery bags.)

Surrounding mountains are great – great views. (There is a large rock formation near Sligo called Benbulben. Look at Gareth Wray’s stunning image. This view is etched on my mind. I wish I had a photo. We didn’t take photos of every damn thing, like we do now!)

Yeats hostel was nice and cheap. Only six pounds each for a clean double room. Everyone – about six others – seemed to all be weirdos. (Ha ha ha like we weren’t…) As usual, people smoked in the common room. The manager was fairly old. And was butler to JF Kennedy, Barbra Streisand. And Gerald and Betty Ford. (That manager was probably the same age as we are now!)

Our hostel is on the right… thank goodness!

Found this great website – Ireland Before You Die! This entry shows the stunning landscape around Sligo.

Benbulben – from the IB4UD (Ireland Before You Die) website.

April 14, 1998 Tuesday Sligo.

We cooked our own English breakfast huge. Went via the beach on the way to Galway, okay. (I’m assuming that he meant the beach was okay. It’s strange coming from a place famous for it’s beaches and going to a beach just about anywhere else in the world. Most aren’t going to measure up to the beauty of a sub-tropical beach, are they? I guess what happens is the more you travel, the less likely you are to compare with ‘home.’ That’s at least been the case for us.)

Went and saw ancient burial grounds. Quite sunny weather, but still cold. The burial grounds weren’t open, but we went into the field anyway. German tourists were there, walking over spots specifically marked keep off. (This was the ancient burial grounds at Newgrange. You can’t just wander around now. Thankfully all visitors must now check in at the Brú na Bóinne Visitor’s Centre. A lottery is held to allocate access for the winter solstice, when the sun aligns to illuminate the passage and chamber of the Newgrange mound. If you don’t get a ticket, you can still gather outside.)

We drove the coastal route and saw Carrowmore (An Cheathrú Mhór), more ancient burial sites with rocky surrounds and lakes everywhere, similar to Scotland.

It amazed us that we could just stop on the side of the road and see these ancient dolmen.

Arrived in Galway about 4:30 PM. Very nice little town. Like a little toy town. Dinky little shops and alleyways everywhere. (We were in the art/craft business at this point and were always on the look out for ideas for the business.) Very pedestrian friendly. Bought some groceries and cooked up a feast. Room was two double bunks, and we could hardly fit in anything else. Very small.

We met two English girls and went for a late-night stroll and had a beer with them at a local bar. Very young uni students everywhere as it’s a big uni town. We liked Galway very much. (Went to Ireland’s first smoke free bar. It was fantastic! Very surprised that didn’t make it into the diary.

I am not exactly sure why I was so obsessed with burial grounds back then. I actually didn’t realise how far back my interest in ancient Celtic history went. My work in progress, Circle of Ashes is set in Neolithic era Brittany and England, interwoven with a story set in modern-day England with gravesites and henges being central to the story.

Here’s a snippet of Circle of Ashes. This is fiction…the stone circle described is a figment of my imagination.

The New Henge was about half the size of its famous big sister just a few miles up the road. The standing stones, laid out in as perfect a circle as one could wish for, were mostly shorter than a foot high, but it was still a once in a lifetime discovery. Stonehenge might be more spectacular but early results from the first trench at New Henge were showing a much higher level of human activity.

Shelagh quietly slipped in behind the director and watched him work. Even he was smiling, a phenomenon few had ever witnessed on set. The make-up technician caught Shelagh’s eye and made a beeline for her with her Pancake and sponge held aloft like a trophy. Shelagh rolled her eyes but stood still while the makeup was applied. She hadn’t run after Gerry waving her sponge, Shelagh thought, but still she smiled and thanked the young woman as she quietly declared Shelagh’s face ‘flawless.’
Shelagh snorted softly at the thought.

The entire morning’s filming had been flawless and much of the calm on the set could be attributed to the absence of Eden Bentley. His call time was the same as all the on-camera cast, but no one had seen him. After weeks of planning, the shot-list had already been changed twice to accommodate his absence, but The Full Circle was a science show and Eden Bentley was definitely not a scientist. He was superfluous, window dressing, and he knew it. He was always difficult to work with, but to pull a no-show for the most important episode ever. Perhaps the rumours were true.