hill in rear of property
We drove to the old monastery at Clonmacnoise near Athlone in County Offaly on the River Shannon. It had been established by St. Ciaran in 544 AD as a center of teaching and learning. Along with St. Patrick and others, Irish monks brought civilization to what had been a collection of savage tribes in Ireland. As if that weren’t enough, they then preserved European civilization after Germanic barbarians overran the western Roman Empire by harboring other monks who brought precious manuscripts with them containing much of the accumulated knowledge of Rome. Monks from Clonmacnoise, Glendalough, and other Irish abbeys made multiple copies and redistributed them in western Europe after the barbarians had settled down.
After revisiting our ancestral McLaughlin homestead in Inishowen, my wife and I headed south to explore the Beara Peninsula which straddles Counties Cork and Kerry where the Sullivans and Harringtons, also on my father’s side, originated. We stayed at a B&B in Kenmare which is central to Beara, Dingle, and Macroom, Cork near whereother ancestors, the Mahoneys, lived.
The Dingle Peninsula on the southwest coast has the most stunning landscape in Ireland. I haven’t been everywhere, but I’ve seen quite a bit of the country and I have to agree with several others who consider Dingle the prettiest. My wife and I visited there ten years ago but it was snowing sideways and visibility was poor. Last week the sun was in and out and we spent most of a day driving all over it. All of Ireland is charming but Dingle with its steep mountains down to the sea is quite dramatic.
Returning to our B&B in Kenmare, the Garmin GPS unit directed us through the Gap of Dunloe, across The Black Valley, and on through Moll’s Gap. I would not have chosen that route if I knew what was involved. It’s a one-lane road for almost the entire eleven kilometers snaking up high and down low through switchbacks and around glacial boulders that have toppled into the two gaps and between which the car barely fit. I shifted into low gear and crawled around each sharp turn in case another vehicle was coming the other way. If there were, he or I would have to back up to a wider spot and drive past each other without breaking off our mirrors. My wife was almost in a panic several times, while I strove to resist the contagion of her anxiety as I steered.
For her it was like riding on the scariest of roller coasters as we traveled through several such gaps and passes all over the mountainous regions of Ireland. She would marvel at the stupendous views, often saying: “Look at that!” but I simply couldn’t. I had to concentrate on the road ahead lest we drive off a cliff into oblivion. There are very few trees in Ireland which allows for wonderful panoramas, but it also reveals hair-raising views of how far down our car would fall off a steep mountainside before ever hitting bottom.
Not a country renowned for culinary skills, it used to be said that an Irish seven-course meal was a six pack and a boiled potato. Trying to keep down expenses, we sometimes purchased our dinner at the deli counter of a local supermarket and went back to our room at the B&B to eat, but when we ate at a restaurant or a pub on this trip we were quite pleased.
Wherever we went there was talk of Brexit both in the North and in the Free Republic of Ireland. All are disappointed that negotiations are extended for another year. They want it over with but neither side wants a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic which may result. Ireland ships a lot of food to the UK and Irish people are unsure of how trade conditions would change. Some in the North think reunification of Ireland north and south might happen. If Scotland breaks with the UK, Northern Ireland may as well. We toured Derry’s Walls and got a first-hand account of the troubles there, now quiet after the Good Friday Agreement negotiated by former Maine Senator George Mitchell has held for twenty years now.
Many McLaughlins were caught up in that conflict over the centuries.