Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Inish Oirr

There is only one visit of the ferry, per day, it seems,
so I had to look the island over within the space of
three hours. I began with a romantic-looking cemetery
near an airfield.

You can see the northern leg of Cliffs of Moher
in the distance.

That's where I found St. Cavan's. It was a full-fledged
church for hundreds of years, but now the sand keeps
filling it in, over the winter...and every year the locals
clear it out for a summer festival.

Then I went walking down a twisting trail, just to see
where it lead me. I passed all these "small-holding"
farms and pastures, each marked off with fences built
of rocks laid atop each other and no mortar to seal them.

At the trail's end, I found another view of the Moher
Cliffs -- their southern leg. A tiny lighthouse seemed
to watch them with as much wonder as I did.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Burren

I rented a car intending to drive to a place near
Ennis that had a rebuilt "crannog," an artificial island
that served as a protected dwelling for the Celts. But
the opening had been postponed till after I was slated
to return to the US, so I drove around the Burren,
instead, and somehow found my way to this 5000
year old burial monument called Poulnabrone Dolem,
in the middle of nowhere.

It's off a narrow road with no signs to speak of
and no place to park except on the shoulder. I
actually drove past it and only stopped when I
noticed it in my rear-view mirror.

I then drove through The Burren...

...and back to Galway, where I spent the night.

The next morning, I caught a ferry to Inish Oirr,
the smallest of the Aran Islands.

The crossing was light and easy. This photo is
taken from the island. In the distance, you can
see the Cliffs of Moher.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I took the train from Derry to Dublin, which was delayed for an hour in Belfast due to a bomb threat, found a nice B&B near St. Stephen's Green and wandered in a city bright and alive.

The River Liffey near dusk.

The Ha'penny Bridge

A monastery near the most important stop in
the city --

-- The Guinness Brewery.

Which was gutted and made into an atrium-style
museum that chronicles not only the making of
the ale but also the history of Dublin.

More to come...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Grianan an Aileach

I took a bus from Derry to just across the border
with the Republic. The border is fairly open, now,
not controlled as tightly as in previous years. My
plan was simple -- to visit a circle fort called Grianan
an Aileach; my reason more complex -- to get out of
Derry for a little while and let the emotional turmoil
subside...along with my hangover.

By the bus stop was this church, designed by Liam
McCormack -- elegant and surprising in its simplicity.

From here I walked up a semi-winding road to the
fort. The woman who ran my B&B said it was only
about 2-300 feet up. She meant 2-300 meters.
Not helpful to my physical well-being, right then.

And this is Grianan an Aileach -- a circle fort some
2500-5000 years old, depending on whose estimate
you're using. It was the seat of the O'Neill clan till
about the 11th Century. And I was able to just walk
in and wander about...and savor the history of it.

From atop the walls, there's a breathtaking view
of the plain and Lough Foyle, the mouth of the
River Foyle, Lough Swilly and the Inishowen coast.

(I snatched this photo from
because I'd stupidly forgotten to bring more
film and had run out.)

I stood here for hours and wrote. Missed the last bus back to Derry, deliberately. So I returned by walking down a narrow side road that lead into the back of the Bogside.

It was during this 6 mile journey I found the path to a story I'd been circling around, and promptly moved away from it because of the demands it made upon me.

It was early April, and the fields were dancing with lambs so freshly alive, many still had their umbilical cords dangling from their bellies. Ewes hustled about to make certain I wasn't after their little ones -- tiny fluffy things that couldn't decide if they were scared of me or curious about this two-legged creature passing by. There was no traffic and the breeze was cool. It threatened to rain, for a moment, but then the sun joined me on the rest of my did the lead character of my story. My book. My novel, to be exact.

He told me of himself. Showed me I'd been aiming for bald simplicity instead of truth. Lead me to understand what the story was about. I already knew it was to be set in the years between 1996 and 1981, in Derry, in the Bogside, following him, a young Catholic boy, through the time...but he let me know it must also be told in the first person by him.

Not being Catholic or ever having even been to this part of the world until just then, the idea terrified me. Still does. And while I've worked in fits and starts on the story since, I'm still skittish of it. Nervous about taking the plunge.

Until now. Reasons for that to come.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

After The Cliffs of Moher

I took a bus to Derry (aka -- Londonderry) and it was overwhelming. I stayed two blocks from the Derry walls went to wander around them soon as I checked into my B&B.

Near the gun turrets overlooking this part of the city (called The Bog), I was approached by a paratrooper to ask why I was taking so many photographs. Soon as he heard me speak, he said, "Oh, a Yank. S'all right, then." And he left. And that's when the whole feeling of the place and its horrible history of death and hate crashed in on me...and I went and got drunk, and spent the next day six miles north -- in the Republic of Ireland.

Monday, September 1, 2008

After Galway...

I spent two days in Doolin, at the northern beginning of the Cliffs of Moher...and walked to the cliffs. Eight kilometers but totally worth the casual journey there and back (even though my legs disagreed).

From the point where those two people are lying straight down is 700 feet.