A Travellerspoint blog

April 2010

MONAGHAN TO DINGLE AND BACK AGAIN

After finishing the Caredoc shift at 6pm in Cashel we had a long 4 hour drive up to Monaghan Town, near to the Northern Ireland border, where we had a 2-week stint in a GP practice. We were accommodated in an apartment [with a kitchen - yippee] above the surgery in the centre of town, with a lake and a supermarket right next to us. Great to be able to put down some roots again for a while, as B&Bs are not our preferred accommodation.
Our apartment was in the blue block on the left, with the supermarket to the right

Our apartment was in the blue block on the left, with the supermarket to the right


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The early spring weather suddenly turned cold and we had howling winds and snow blizzards for several days!
Trying to capture the intensity of the snow-storm

Trying to capture the intensity of the snow-storm


It took another 10 days for the weather to warm up again. Over the Easter weekend David had 2 red-eye shifts at Newcastle West [NCW], which entailed a 4½ hour drive there, and back again, for the second time in a week. Long van journeys and Sandi's back are not compatible - so she feels like a crock after each trip! On the up-side, the daffodils are appearing, which is pure joy to behold.
Daffodils in NCW

Daffodils in NCW

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Good Friday is, surprisingly, not an official bank holiday in Ireland, although some businesses do close.
On Easter day, after a busy nightshift, during which neither of us got much shut-eye, we decided to explore the Dingle peninsula in Co Kerry. We drove through Tralee [The Rose of Tralee] and onto a narrow road leading to Conor Pass, where we saw warning signs saying vehicles over 2 tons could not traverse the pass. One of the GPs had recommended that we take the pass for its spectacular views over the peninsula. We didn’t want to get caught in a situation where we might not have been able to proceed or turn around, but eventually found a local farmer who assured us we would be able to get under the overhanging rock and through the narrow roads at the summit. In one section around a cliff the road was indeed only wide enough for one vehicle, and one could not see if there were oncoming cars around the corner. But we held our breath, put foot and got over.
There was still snow on the hills of the peninsula

There was still snow on the hills of the peninsula

Looking down the valley from halfway up Conor Pass

Looking down the valley from halfway up Conor Pass

Only one vehicle at a time could traverse this section of the pass

Only one vehicle at a time could traverse this section of the pass


The view from the pass overlooking Dingle and the sea towards the Ring of Kerry

The view from the pass overlooking Dingle and the sea towards the Ring of Kerry


We stopped in the pretty town of Dingle for a fine roast at Lord Baker’s restaurant, before proceeding further around the scenic peninsula.
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IMG_2195.jpgAncient stone walls and grazing sheep atop the cliffs

Ancient stone walls and grazing sheep atop the cliffs


Old "beehive hut" which was inhabited 4000 years ago. The stones were laid sloping outwards so the rain would run off

Old "beehive hut" which was inhabited 4000 years ago. The stones were laid sloping outwards so the rain would run off


Towards Blasket Island

Towards Blasket Island


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Then back to NCW for a few hours sleep before the next nightshift. Back in Monaghan, Sandi was making full use of the kitchen facilities, doing great Domestic Goddess impressions, producing fine meals from a frugal budget. Produce bargains can be found - it just takes time and culinary sleuthing to ferret them out!
Salmon, roasted peppers and asparagus salad.

Salmon, roasted peppers and asparagus salad.


We decided to celebrate Easter with bubbles rather than chocolates, as we had saved a very fine bottle of French champagne, which was given to us by a grateful lady in Cobh. When visiting the cathedral there, Sandi had found a handbag containing purse, cash, credit cards, diary ...... We managed to contacted the lady immediately, as she was local, and she arrived at the hotel where we were staying within minutes. She was so grateful to get her bag back, she sent a bottle of bubbly up to our room. It was utterly delicious!
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There’s little to see or do around Monaghan, so we visited St Macartan’s Cathedral above the town, which was actually quite beautiful, and also built in the last 150 years along Neo-Gothic lines.
IMG_2234.jpgModern tapestry behind the modern altar, contrasting with the old architecture

Modern tapestry behind the modern altar, contrasting with the old architecture

Ornate Victorian lighting

Ornate Victorian lighting


The weekend saw us traversing back down to NCW for one shift. The weather was lovely and sunny on the way down and we took a detour to view Lough Derg which is part of the Shannon River.
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We stopped in Ballina at the lower end of the Lough for a sundowner overlooking the Shannon river.
The bridge between the villages of Ballina and Killaloe

The bridge between the villages of Ballina and Killaloe

Houses across the river at Killaloe

Houses across the river at Killaloe

Posted by davidsandi 10:47 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

IRISH CURRENT AFFAIRS

Politics and the state of the economy are the favourite topics of conversation in Ireland [oh yes, and the weather]. Everyone is keen to give you their opinion of how the government, through its incompetence, and the banks, through their greed, have run the once prosperous country into the ground. David spends many hours with the Doctor-on-Call drivers, whizzing along country lanes to minister to patients “in distress”.
One of the well-equipped Doctor-on-Call cars

One of the well-equipped Doctor-on-Call cars


The drivers are a great source of information and local opinion. Many of them are farmers: Diarmud recently gave up farming sheep on his ancestral farm because the poor returns did not compensate for the hard work put in. Michael still farms “dry stock” [cattle for beef]. Philip invested €15000 in a new, potentially profitable energy crop called elephant grass, only to have half the crop die due to mismanagement [and ignorance] by the company hired to plant the rhizomes. Mike farms dairy cattle, but battles to make ends meet because the co-operatives are squeezing the farmers dry; previously they were paid 35c for a litre of milk, but now they receive only 23c, whereas the cost of production is about 28c per litre. Everyone agrees that during the good times, masses of money was squandered by authorities and individuals, and future planning was non-existent.
A typical farmyard near Newcastle West

A typical farmyard near Newcastle West

The recession is biting hard and the rate of unemployment has never been higher. Those who do still have jobs are having to adjust to cuts in salaries. The cost of living here is the highest we have encountered in Europe. In France we usually bought wines for about €2 a bottle; here one cannot find plonk for anything under €5 or €6 a bottle. Hospitals are downgrading many of their facilities to save money. Everyone seems to be struggling, which has not happened in the past 30 years.

Headshops are very much in the national news.
A Headshop in Wexford

A Headshop in Wexford


These are vendors of “legal highs”, which are open throughout the night, selling cheap chemical analogues of well-known drugs to kids of all ages. These products are readily available on school playgrounds too. They are difficult to ban as the chemical structure keeps changing, but can be really lethal. Several kids and adults have died using them recently. Several headshops have been burned down by local communities in Dublin, as the authorities are powerless to close them down. The drug "mephedrone" [Mcat or Meow], responsible for several deaths recently, has just been banned for free sale in the UK.

Protests are taking place in London today calling for the Pope to do the decent thing and resign. Everyone is disgusted by the enforced oaths of secrecy and cover-ups in the catholic Church, now coming to light. People who were sexually abused by priests 20-30 years ago, are now speaking out and demanding justice. Cardinal Sean Brady, head of the Church in Ireland and himself involved in enforcing oaths of secrecy in the 1970s, is refusing to resign. Apparently a secret Papal decree was issued in Latin in 1922 to all Cardinals, instructing them to keep all cases of sexual abuse contained within the Church.
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The Pope has apologised to victims in Ireland, but the apology only came after public pressure, and laid the blame at the door of the Irish bishops. Now even the Pope himself has been implicated in cover-ups. We are surprised to learn that Good Friday is not a public holiday in Ireland, since 5 years ago! What is the Catholic Church coming to? A big national football match is scheduled for Friday and now the pubs have won a court case to serve liquor during the screening of the game.

Posted by davidsandi 14:19 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

KELLS, COBH AND ST PATRICK’S DAY

After leaving Spanish Point for the last time we drove up north to the old town of Kells, famous for the Book of Kells, which is a beautifully illustrated manuscript of the Gospels. The original has been housed in Trinity College, Dublin, for hundreds of years, so we tried to view a copy while in Kells. It was advertised as being on display at the local Council offices, but when we asked where it was we were informed it was no longer there, but there was a copy in the church. So off we went again, but alas, the church was locked. No Book of Kells viewing for us this time!
A residential street in the centre of Kells

A residential street in the centre of Kells


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The GP let us stay in her house for the week, which was nice, as we could cook and eat some healthy food again. Although the TV didn’t work, and the bedroom was rather musty, we did see wonderful sunrises from the bedroom window.
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The surgery is right next to a mediaeval monastic church and commune, around which the town developed. There are remains of several old Celtic crosses and a round tower used for defence.
The best preserved South Cross next to the round tower

The best preserved South Cross next to the round tower


A second big cross in the graveyard

A second big cross in the graveyard


The Market Cross down in the town

The Market Cross down in the town


Detail of the Market Cross

Detail of the Market Cross

On the way down to Newcastle West, we overnighted in the Caredoc facility at Nenagh, as David had a red-eye shift. We stopped briefly in the quaint village of Adare on the road to Newcastle West. Sandi found a stick-on glittery green shamrock to decorate the van window, in honour of St Patrick's Day.
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Newcastle West is a small, unremarkable village south of Limerick. We stayed in the local hotel which was crummy. One of the home visits during the night was to a known rapist in the community, living in comfort on Social Security benefits in a Council house. Although he is now beyond much physical exertion, the driver regaled David en route with many tales of his unsavoury antics over many years in the community. Female doctors are not allowed to visit this chap without a male chaperone - even now! On Sunday the village held its Paddy’s Day parade, which consisted largely of tractors, lorries and local farm implements, as well as the ambulance and fire engine.
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Then it was down to Co Cork, where David had two red-eye shifts at Midleton. Sandi secured accommodation at the old Commodore Hotel on the seafront in nearby Cobh, which proved to be a real treat. Cobh [pronounced Cove] has a long maritime history, as it overlooks one of the finest natural harbours in the world.
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We arrived just after dark and decided to take an exploratory walk to enjoy the perfectly windless evening and lights twinkling on the bay. Quite enchanting!
When Queen Victoria visited, the name was changed from Cove to Queenstown, but with Irish independence it became Cobh. The architecture is in the style of English coastal towns, such as Brighton, with a bandstand and seafront promenade. Sandi immediately felt drawn to the town, and said she could live here, since the atmosphere and pretty curved terraces reminded her of Bath.
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This crescent was modelled on the famous one in Bath, UK

This crescent was modelled on the famous one in Bath, UK

This steep row of houses was built to house seamen, and is called the Pack of Cards

This steep row of houses was built to house seamen, and is called the Pack of Cards


The Commodore Hotel is 150 years old and still decorated in its gracious, original style.
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St Colman’s Cathedral commands a position above the town, and is quite the most magnificent we have yet seen. Completed in 1916, it took 45 years to build in Neo French Gothic style. It is built of Dalkey granite with dressings of Mallow limestone, which are carved most intricately, and cover every inch of wall and arch and roof. Its bell-tower boasts a carillon of 49 bells, which play melodies on special days.
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At the SouthDoc treatment centre David met Michael Norton, an ex-Zimbabwean and CT medical graduate, now living and working in Ireland. He invited us to supper at his home, where we enjoyed a wonderful evening with him, his lovely wife Caroline, their charming 2 sons, and another fellow guest, an Afrikaans doctor, Kasper, who spends several months a year working in Ireland.

On St Patrick’s Day we signed up for a Titanic walking tour of the town. Our witty guide, Pat, regaled us with many historical insights [and personal opinions], as the three of us walked around the town in the icy wind.
IMG_2096.jpgThe memorial to the locals who helped rescue the survivors of the Lusitania which was torpedoed in 1916

The memorial to the locals who helped rescue the survivors of the Lusitania which was torpedoed in 1916

IMG_2100.jpgThe jetty from where the passengers embarked onto the Titanic on its last voyage

The jetty from where the passengers embarked onto the Titanic on its last voyage


The tour ended in Jack Doyle’s bar [the famous boxer from Cobh] at the top of the town, where we stopped for a glass of Beamish stout with Pat. David had a couple of hours much needed sleep in the van in the hotel car-park, as the hotel refused to allow us to stay beyond check-out time, while Sandi sat working in the warm hotel lounge. Then it was time for the Paddy’s Day parade, which was marginally more glamorous than the one in Newcastle West 2 days earlier.
The Mayoral grandstand on an open trailer

The Mayoral grandstand on an open trailer

The parade gets going with a pipe band

The parade gets going with a pipe band


Sandi decided to stay put at her lounge window vantage point, out of the biting wind, where we both celebrated with an Irish coffee after the parade was over - along with scores of others who had by now packed the place out!
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The hotel had other festivities planned, but we could not stay too long. We did however manage to get upstairs to watch some Irish dancing, dominated by the cutest little sprite, Eva, who apparently won everything there was to win at a recent talent show.
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Groups of girls treated us to a display of Irish dance

Groups of girls treated us to a display of Irish dance


We then headed back to Newcastle West for the night shift. We stopped in at the local Chinese restaurant for a quick supper, which David promptly threw up at midnight. He was feeling pretty grim with fever, but fortunately managed to get a couple of hours sleep on duty, which together with some Disprin, helped control the pyrexial shakes sufficiently for him to do a couple of home visits and complete his shift. Some more Disprin and he felt ready to face the 4-hour drive to Wexford, where he collapsed in the hotel room and slept like a log. Not sure whether this was due to a virus or an accumulated lack of sleep, but he was very pelele-poo-poo for a few days and needed lots of TLC!

The next 3 days were spent working in Wexford. The hotel deal included a 3-course dinner, which was very good, and free use of the gym, sauna and pool. David insisted on giving Sandi a Paddy's Day treat and bought a special-offer voucher for a back, head and foot massage. The back massage was reasonable, but she felt that her students gave a better hand and foot massage after their first day at aroma school!

We visited the Irish National Heritage Park, which was supposed to be an award-winning display of life in Ireland from 9000 years ago up till the Middle Ages. It was boggy and wet and thoroughly underwhelming, and the camera battery died halfway through our walk around the park.
IMG_2133.jpgA Dolmen, or burial stones over a grave

A Dolmen, or burial stones over a grave

IMG_2147.jpgIMG_2148.jpgSchool children have added their contributions to the exhibit

School children have added their contributions to the exhibit

A message stone engraved in ancient Ogham script

A message stone engraved in ancient Ogham script


The following week David worked in a GP surgery in New Ross. The 4-storey town house was built towards the end of the 18th century, and has had several generations of doctors living and working there.
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The stable at the end of the garden housed 2 horses on which the GP used to make home visits, way back when. The kitchen, larder and pantry are in the basement, with a callbox of bells from the parlour and rooms “upstairs”. The wood-panelling, stairs and banisters are all as they were 200 years ago.
The town used to be an important river port, as it is on the wide Barrow river, and many emigrants departed from here during the Great Famine.
The Dunbrody, a replica of emigrant ships used during the great famine, anchored at New Ross

The Dunbrody, a replica of emigrant ships used during the great famine, anchored at New Ross


At last the weather starting warming up and we started to see crocuses appearing along with the first daffodils in gardens and along the roads. IMG_2046.jpgIMG_2158.jpg
Bushes full of bright yellow gorse blossoms are clumped together throughout the countryside.
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The weekend was spent working at the CareDoc in Cashel and we found ourselves back at Sister Fidelma’s B&B.
Ancient laws adorn the walls

Ancient laws adorn the walls

Posted by davidsandi 12:30 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

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