A Travellerspoint blog

March 2009

In the sticks in Co GALWAY

After David completed his shift at Dungarvan CareDOC at 1600 we set off for Galway, a good 3.5 hour drive away. The practice of Mary Murphy is in a tiny village called Laurencetown, with the nearest town Ballinasloe about 15 minutes away. She has neither a secretary nor a nurse, so David was on his own and in the deep end. The first day we arrived at 1100 for the walk-in surgery session to find the waiting room already full. David had hardly taken his coat off when the patients streamed in one by one. Sandi was in the car outside reading and could not believe how the patients kept pouring in for several hours! David had no time to find his bearings, while answering the phone, seeing patients, writing scripts, dispensing medicines, finding files and reports, and then having to refile all the folders at the end. Many of the accents were so thick that he often had to guess what the patients were trying to tell him. Certs were to be delivered to the nearby shop for collection. Phew! it was hair-raising for him. Fortunately the rest of the surgery sessions were far more manageable, and were usually over by 1400. Being a farming community many patients arrived smelling of the farm or on their tractors.

Our accommodation was in a little apartment in a neighbouring village, Eyrecourt. The garden was full of a variety of daffodils, which we picked at night.
We soon discovered to our dismay that we had no broadband reception! It was very distressing to be out of touch with the world, until the GP who worked below our apartment lent us his O2 broadband which did work. The beds were lumpy, the washing machine burnt our clothes, thumping noises in the roof [but Rentokill could not find any rats] which we eventually had to put down to crows of which there were thousands in the surrounding trees. The cacophony at sunset was unbelievable.
Trees full of crows' nests

Trees full of crows' nests

We tried to go for walks along the roads, but spent most of our energy avoiding passing cars by jumping into ditches. So much for quiet Irish country roads!

On our afternoon off we drove down through the Burren, which is a large expanse of wild, unremarkable Irish landscape. After several hours of narrow, twisting roads, David had spasm in his shoulders and Sandi had a crick in her neck. We were heading for the famous Cliffs of Moher, but about 30 minutes before we reached them the weather closed in and it poured down. In the face of a howling wind we parked the car, ran across to the view point, took some photos of the cliffs while getting soaked, then sought refuge in the Visitor's centre, where we could see shots of the cliffs in all their glory.
On the weekend we checked into the Ramara hotel in Orangemore from where we could explore Galway City. We had hoped to visit the Aran Islands and also drive around the Connemara, but with the poor weather and icy conditions, we decided that we were better off staying in the city. Being a University city there was a great vibe in the centre of town with all the students horsing around, fundraising for Cystic Fibrosis. We parked in a multistorey car park for the day and ended up paying the biggest parking bill ever €25!!
High St Galway City

High St Galway City

We had a pub lunch in the King's Head, with a history going back to the thirteenth century. Legend has it that the building was given to the executioner of King Charles 1 in 1649 as a reward.
Kings Head Pub

Kings Head Pub

Later in the evening we came back to another pub to listen to some great Irish Traditional music, wonderful toe-tapping reels and great Guinness of course!

The Claddagh is an old fishing village situated outside the old city wall over the River Corrib. They were an outcast community, forbidden to use spade or hoe, and it is here that the Claddagh ring is supposed to have its origin. It shows two hands [friendship] holding a heart [love] which wears a crown [loyalty], and has been used here for 400 years as a wedding ring.
Claddagh ring

Claddagh ring

If one wears the heart towards the fingernail you are looking for love; if you wear the crown pointing towards the nail then you are in love or married.

On the next afternoon off we visited Birr Castle and Demesne [Demesne is an area of land set aside by the nobleman for the pleasure and enjoyment of everyone on the estate]. The castle is still inhabited by the 7th Earl of Rosse of the Parsons family, who have been in residence for 400 years.
There is a remarkable display of significant scientific discoveries made by the family, including the turbine engine. In the grounds there is an enormous telescope which was the largest in the world for 70 years, constructed by the 3rd Earl in the 1840s.
The estate is glorious at the moment; waterfalls, rivers flowing into lakes, lined with an array of spectacular and rare Magnolia trees in full bloom, and thousands of trees from around the world.
At one point there is a meeting of 3 counties: Offaly, Galway and Clare where you can step into each one. We danced down a lane of pink cherry blossom trees in full flower.
The formal walled garden is arranged with immaculately clipped patterned hedges and bowers. Surely this must be a wonderful place to revisit with each changing season?

In the Co Galway there are vast expanses of peat bogs, where peat is harvested and compressed into logs for fuel.
Typical peat bog

Typical peat bog

The Grand Canal stretches from Dublin through to Galway, and is still used as a waterway. There are many locks to traverse, one of which we saw at Shannonbridge, where the Canal meets the mighty Shannon River.

Posted by davidsandi 12:04 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)


The Irish don't know how lucky they are; they are forever complaining! Even if it is beautiful clear day they will complain about the bad weather yesterday!
The public health system provides enormous benefits to those over 70, children and pregnant mothers; if you are unemployed or have a low income you are also entitled to carry a Medical Card. This entitles you to free consultations with GPs and specialists, free hospitalisation, free home visits and free medicines. And Oh Boy do people abuse it! It is common practice to come into the afterhours Caredoc centres with a cold that has been there for a week, or to request a housecall for minor complaints. Those not eligible for a Card pay €40-50 for a GP consultation, or €60 for an afterhours consultation or homevisit. There is no fee for pathology blood tests, one just pays the GP or a consultation, and everyone seems to have everything tested every time! And the government moans about the fiscal deficit!
Massive country-wide protests by over 70s about threatened withdrawal of their medical cards

Massive country-wide protests by over 70s about threatened withdrawal of their medical cards

The good thing is that everybody goes through the GP for everything; they are true "Gatekeepers". They know their patients well, as they remain registered with one GP, and they cannot see a consultant without a referral. The disadvantages of the system are that there are long waits to see consultants, and for operations and many stories in the newspapers about ill patients lying on trolleys in A & E for days waiting for beds.

GPs all seem to be busy and receive a capitation fee of about €300 per card-carrying patient per year. The government has just reduced this fee by 8% in their emergency budget, so the GPs are not happy [but still very comfortable!] If one has 3000-6000 patients on your list that is a very good guaranteed income! In addition you get paid for every vaccine given, every smear tested, and you can claim an extra fee for certain procedures, home visits and afterhours consultations. Added to that is the private income which is all cash. Many private patients have their own insurance which will reimburse about half the consultation fee.

The Irish are plagued with chest complaints and very demanding for antibiotics. There seems to be very little awareness of healthy diet and lifestyle effects on health. I have come across very few mothers who breastfeed even at 6 weeks. Everyone is smoking even with asthma and COAD. Haemachromatosis seems to be a common genetic problem due to inbreeding, and bloodletting is common practice in the GP surgery. I am not sure why it seems as if every second patient, young and old, is on Warfarin. Pathology and morbidity is generally high, and I am sure much of it could be prevented with more rigorous attention to lifestyle. Although many villages and towns boast an acupuncturist, there is very little awareness of complementary or alternative medicine. The magazines back home in SA promote far more lifestyle awareness than I have seen here.

Posted by davidsandi 12:03 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)



We spent the weekend in a smart B&B called Seaview atop a hill overlooking Dungarvan and the sea, but unfortunately the fog had caught up with us again [the Sunday was nice and clear].
View of the sea from Seaview

View of the sea from Seaview

As we had a couple of hours before 1200 when I was on duty, we drove to the little coastal village of Ardmore. There is a well preserved Roundtower [of which there are many scattered around Ireland], which the monks built to retreat into, when faced with an enemy onslaught. There is a doorway about 4m above the ground, by which they enter having climbed up a ladder. After pulling up the ladder they are safe, as there are no other openings except right at the top for a lookout.
IMG_7108.jpgRound tower with Ardmore in the background

Round tower with Ardmore in the background

We found ourselves right in the middle of a traditional Gaelic community where they still speak Irish and the signs are only in Irish. There is a lot of Irish/Gaelic being spoken and promoted on TV and radio, but we have yet to hear it spoken in the streets.


Posted by davidsandi 11:50 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)



On Thursday we felt like we were on holiday as we headed once more to Co Wicklow for 2 days. On the way we stopped at the picturesque village of Avoca, better known for being the location of the TV series Ballykissangel. We bought some fish and chips and lunched overlooking the river.
Sandi had found a B&B called Moneylands on a farm outside Arklow. There would have been a wonderful view over the Irish Sea if it were not for the thick fog. They even boasted a leisure centre with a swimming pool.
We headed up into the hills towards Aghavannagh, so that we could walk on part of the Wicklow Way. It is a 126km path from north to south over the Wicklow mountains. On the way we passed a garden full of heather.
We had an impromptu picnic next to a river, feasting on roast chicken and canned Guiness.
The terrain is far more natural and less cultivated than the rest of Ireland.
As we drove along a very narrow lane with tall hedgerows on either side, we were shocked to have a deer come sailing over the hedge, nearly landing on our bonnet! Before we could recover, her young mate came flying over as well. Terrified they leapt into the field and were gone [not sure who got the bigger fright!]

While enjoying nature we received a call requesting me to work in Waterford on the Friday evening, so we drove down to Waterford the next day. We stopped in at the Waterford Crystal factory, but all the workers were staging a sit-in, protesting the imminent closure of the factory. They took shifts keeping the furnace burning, because if it was allowed to go out, it would cost 6 million euros and take 3 months to start it up again. This would almost certainly put off any potential buyers, and it was in the workers' interest to attract a buyer so that they retain their jobs.

Posted by davidsandi 11:22 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)


17th March in DUBLIN


Paddy's Day brings a sense of great excitement and anticipation for days before. Chains of shiny Shamrocks get strung up in shops and Nursing Homes, and corsages of real shamrocks are sold for 3 euros. The villages string bunting across the High streets and many houses fly the national flag.

As we heard that the procession in Naas was likely to consist of a couple of farm tractors, we headed off to Dublin for the day. We parked the car at Red Cow Roundabout and took the Luas into town.
First stop was the Guinness Storehouse, which has a fascinating display of the history and brewing of Guinness [one of our favourite drinks!].
Did you know that 8 million litres of mountain water is piped in daily from the Wicklow mountains to make the daily brew?
They have cleverly combined video graphics with original equipment to give a good sense of how they operated. Up and up the seven stories until you reach the bar at the top with panoramic views of Dublin [not that there is much to see!] with a pint of the creamy black stuff in your hand.

Then out onto the streets again to join the throng of lemmings heading for the centre of town. The streets are closed to traffic and hawkers sell leprechaun hats with orange beards, jester hats and almost anything green to wear. Everyone enters the spirit of the holiday and most wore a hat or shamrock bunny ears or a green coat or green hair or painted faces.
It was a crisp but clear day and 60 000 people crammed the route of the parade. After a long wait the parade eventually arrived and lasted over an hour. Many, many bands, lots of fantastical costumes, some big floats, but NO leprechauns to our dismay!

Unfortunately David could not join in the spirit totally as he had to work at Caredoc that evening! Nevertheless, it was a great day and a wonderful vibe.

Posted by davidsandi 10:58 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

NAAS [pron Naice] and SCOTLAND

The weekend CareDOC shifts were in Clonmel, where we'll be going to for a week in a few weeks time. This week David worked in a very pleasant GP practice in Naas, Co Kildare, about 20 minutes away from Dublin.
Canal through Naas

Canal through Naas

Sandi flew off to Scotland for 3 days to visit her old friend Bernie Rowen for 45 euros [cheaper than staying here!]. Edinburgh is a city full of beautiful architecture and flowers, and the weather was crisp and clear.
Sandi in Edinburgh

Sandi in Edinburgh

Springtime crocusses and daffodils

Springtime crocusses and daffodils



Scott's monument

Scott's monument

Prince's Street buildings

Prince's Street buildings

Sandi really enjoyed the time with Bernie, who spent quite a bit of time working on our astrology charts.


On his afternoon off, with Sandi in Scotland, David walked around Donadea forest park to stretch his legs, as the weather was fairly pleasant, and there was not much else to do in the area.

The B&B called Avondale that we stayed in for the week was comfortable, but the really good feature was that there is a kitchenette in the TV lounge where you can warm up take aways etc; a real treat when one stays in B&Bs! Email Ronnie and John at [email protected] .

As David was not working on the Sunday, everyone recommended that we drive down to Co Wicklow and visit Glendalough. A very pleasant drive around Blessington Lake took us up through the Wicklow Gap. It is supposed to be a pass over the mountains, but they know nothing of mountains in Ireland! Glendalough turned out to be a walk around two lakes in a scenic valley with hundreds of tourists. Many people seemed to feel the need to wear sturdy hiking boots and walk with ski-poles, even though the paths were pretty flat!
The drive back took us to Roundwood [the highest village in Ireland] where we had a good pub lunch next to the fireplace, and then back over the Sally Gap. Both Gaps take one through rather barren and rocky scrubland, which seems to be a favourite area with the locals for a good walk.
Wicklow Gap

Wicklow Gap

Posted by davidsandi 14:37 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)


Heading South from Dublin we arrived after dark in a little village called Callan, Co Kilkenny, where David had one day's work. Then back up to Dublin for the Saturday to try to sort out the laptop and to see the BODIES exhibition. The exhibit was underwhelming and expensive.

On Sunday David worked in Carlow for the after hours service called CareDOC [doctors on call].
Sunset outside Carlow

Sunset outside Carlow

The next week we were in a town in Co Tipperary [remember the song "Its a long, long way to Tipperary"?] called Thurles [pron turr-les]. The GP allowed us to stay in his home for the week, which gave us a lot more freedom than we had in the B&B.
Catholic Church in Thurles main street

Catholic Church in Thurles main street

Fortified tower

Fortified tower

Several Gypsey groups in the area live in groups of scruffy caravans. Many ride at top speed down narrow country lanes on a horse-drawn buggies that look like bent poles.

Weekend CareDOC shifts were in the coastal town of Wexford 2 hours away. On the Sunday morning, which was icy but clear, we went for a crisp walk in the grounds of Johnstown Castle.
Feeling frozen!

Feeling frozen!


We found a Monkey Puzzle tree and some peacocks,
and many magnificent trees in the grounds.

David's shift in Wexford only ended at midnight and he had to be back in Callan by 0900 which was 2 hours away!

The week in Callan was in the busiest GP practice in the SE. Ena Heron our hostess is a delight and shared many insights about Irish life, and taught Sandi where to find all the best bargains. Sandi went to the market with her to collect more ducks and chickens for her farm, to join the sheep and donkeys. Sandi volunteered to amuse Ena's grandson with playdough.
Ena's grandson Jamie

Ena's grandson Jamie

One evening we set off for Delaney's Pub at Slate Quarry on a deserted country road, arriving at 2055. There was no sign of life and we thought that maybe the renowned Thursday music night was not on that night. At 2100 the door of this very old pub creaked open and the lights went on. People started arriving and by 2230 there was a merry crowd.
Ena, Sandi and Ena's friend Louis

Ena, Sandi and Ena's friend Louis

The old 80 something man squeezed the accordion with such gnarled fingers, yet the toe-tapping Irish jigs just flowed out. He was accompanied by another old geezer on the fiddle and the barman was brilliant on the piano, occasionally remembering to serve at the bar.

Then suddenly voice broke out from the small crowd, and we were entertained with a succession of soloists singing ballads from yesteryear!

We felt very priviledged to have been part of such a special night, and reluctantly left well after midnight.

After the mild weather for 2 weeks we were thrilled to see snow falling on 2 days during the week.
Snow on the back lawn

Snow on the back lawn

Posted by davidsandi 14:02 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)


We are loving being in Ireland and getting used to the idiosyncracies of the Irish people. One of the first things we noticed is that many, many women wear thick yellow-brown foundation on their faces [artificial tan?]. The spoken word gives us much amusement too: "th" at the beginning of a word is prononced "t" eg. three sounds like tree, thatched sounds like tatched, Thursday is Tursday. Some of the Irish pronounciations still puzzle me: Aoeife = girls name pronounced Eefa, another girl's name is Caoimhe [pron Kweeva], Niamh pron Neev, Dun Loghaire pronounced Dun Leary, Roisin sounds like Roshin. I came across a Dr Aisling Ni Shuilleabhain [Ashling Ni Sullivaan, Irish for O'Sullivan]. Some quaint village names: Kill, Two Mile Borris, Nine Mile House.
"Now" is used for everything such as OK, well then, come here, stop it, etc. We haven't yet heard Irish [or Gaelic] spoken in the streets but they push it quite a lot on TV and all the streets and towns have their Gaelic names above the English ones. The Prime Minister is always referred to by his Irish title Taoiseach pronounced Teesherk. The police are called the Garda [or sometimes the Guards]. An Irish breakfast consists of egg, bacon, pork sausages, tomato, potato fritter, black pudding and white pudding. No-one has yet been able to tell me the difference between black and white pudding, other than that they are both made from blood!

Posted by davidsandi 13:28 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)


16-19 February 2009

11 °C

To my surprise the FlyBE plane with only 2 propellers manged to get airborne! Flying from Exeter over SW England it was amazing to still see banks of snow tucked up against fences on the higher ground. The immaculate patchwork of greens, russet and faded purple colours is so neatly stitched together by all the hedgerows as far as the eye can see.

Checked into Kilronan House, a plush B&B, but more like a hotel in a grand old house. Coffee and chocs on arrival, and a wonderful Irish breakfast with anything your heart desires! Explored the surroundings on the first day; St Stephens Green, beautiful gardens and ponds laid out 150 years ago, Grafton street which is closed to traffic, but alive with people and buskers.

I found O'Neills Pub in Suffolk street, where I wolfed down a hearty Irish stew and a half of Guiness [3 Euros just for the half...I don't know how anyone can afford to get drunk!]

Jumped on the Luas, a super modern electric tram service, to get to Balally where I checked in with my employers for the next 2 months.

Spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday trying to get mobile broadband to work on my laptop. Frantic emails to HP Support and to Tom, our computer man, in CT. Still no joy yet, very frustrating. Have to get it working otherwise our connections with the world will dry up!
Statue of Molly Malone

Statue of Molly Malone

Sandi arrives today YIPPEE. I hope she is still in one piece after months of stresses, packing up at home, then a long flight in 3 legs.

Posted by davidsandi 03:17 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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