Wool & Whiskey – Ireland Edition, Scouting Days

No matter how many great places Heather has lined up for a tour, I always want to spend additional time in the countries we visit. Housesit if there’s time. Drive as much of the landscape as I can myself. Strike up conversations with folks. These are the ways that I really get to know a place. I love nothing so much as waking up with a whole day in front of me and no specific plan. Let the day be about discovery!

Heather and I enjoyed a brief respite at the home of a friend, where we did laundry and talked over our spring schedule. We also got to do a couple days of the “Hey! Let’s go here!” thing. Actually, with Heather, it’s “here and here and here and here”. She has far more energy than I do and has far greater ambition. First visit: the dye studio of Townhouse Yarns. Townhouse is the yarn featured at This is Knit in Dublin. Mom and two sisters run the retail shop, the dye studio AND put on the big wool festival in Dublin called Woolinn. I’m tired just thinking about all the work they do. That’s true love for craft.

We also set out to find a place mentioned to us by our driver, that had something to do with wool or making stuff or something similar, that he’d seen on a tv program. (Yes, his description was that vague.) With no more information than that, we are often able to track down something or someone wonderful. And so we did! We were able to find a name – Crafts of Ireland- and a sort of address and off we went.

What we found was the home and studio of a most incredible lady! Sandra Coote, proprietor of Crafts of Ireland, has a studio, farm and shop like nothing I’d seen yet in Ireland. Grrrrr… wish I had pictures for you. Honestly, I was so caught up in talking with her and looking around her studio, I clean forgot. The place was filled with spinning wheels, antique sewing machines, sock machines (Nine of them!!! I’ve only ever seen one in my life and this woman has nine!), felting and weaving tools and materials, needlework canvas and stitching supplies, and … goodness knows there was more but I can’t even remember everything that was there. She teaches how to do all these handcrafts. And, I think, never stops moving/making/crating. Check this out:

Such intricate work. Oh, something she just whipped up on a Sunday afternoon… Sandra also keeps a small flock of Roscommon sheep — one of a very few native Irish breeds that until recently was thought to be extinct. And, something I’ve never seen before: a double spinning wheel for working both hands while spinning flax.

Frankly, I think that’s multi-tasking beyond a reasonable level.

Heather and I left the place reluctantly. What a find!

We also ventured into County Cavan, visiting the history museum there.

We zipped over to Galway in a downpour. Had to go there to take Heather to a bus station. She had one night to be in Dublin before flying out to do some scouting in Norway. And I had to find the Enterprise in Galway to exchange my manual drive for an automatic.

Oh! I’d forgotten to mention that part! When Heather and I left Dublin, the Enterprise rental office had no cars with an automatic transmission to give me. None. And there were none to be had at any of the Dublin sites. So I had to drive a manual (shift) car for 24 hours until I could get out to Galway to switch the car.

Gulp.

Okay, I’m game for driving on the other side of the road. I’ve done it. It’s doable. But drive on the other side of the road and simultaneously shift with my left hand?

Inconceivable!

But… needs must.

So off we went in a manual car made by a manufacturer I never did get the name of. Luckily, Heather was still with me at that point and acted as the trusty navigator.

I didn’t stall the car. Not even once! I only had an eensy-teensy difficulty getting the car to go into 5th when it preferred to go into 3rd. Also, there were 6 gears and reverse was NOT in the usual place. Just as I was finally getting used to driving the darned thing, I made it to the Galway Enterprise office and turned it in. Now I found myself in a spiffy little Nissan.

No shifting! Tiny for parking in tiny Irish parking spots! So tiny that I was always sure I could fit by those giant coaches driving the other way, just inches from my side of the road! Whew!

And then a brilliant thing happened.

The rain stopped.

Not completely. That doesn’t seem to happen in Ireland. But the downpour stopped. A little blue sky came out from time to time.

I was in a tiny, AUTOMATIC car, the sun could be seen periodically and I was headed for the coast.

Bring it on, Ireland!!!!

A quick and important stop on my way to the coast though: Irish Fibre Crafters, in Ardrahan, just outside Galway. Stopping here made up for the real disappointment I felt at not seeing much of Galway. The rain had been relentless and the car exchange took a long time, so I never got to explore the town. In order to make the coast by nightfall, I headed out. But I did get to stop and have a wonderful chat with the owner of this working studio and gallery. Another Sandra, by the way! Full of wooly good stuff and lots of information about what’s happening with wool sources, processing and crafting in Ireland. More on that in a separate post.

We had a great conversation. I have to say, I could have sat there with her well into the evening, discussing wooly topics. But it was well past when the shop should have closed. And I was off for Doolin, a place I’d been looking forward to seeing. So I got back in my zippy little Nissan and headed for the Atlantic coast.

Here’s a tricky thing about driving in Ireland: you think the GPS must be taking you on all kinds of odd little roads as you meander your way toward a destination. Then you realize that there only ARE odd little roads in Ireland. There I was, driving from a well known, often visited city (Galway) to a major tourist destination (The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher) and I was on roads that occasionally became single track! I found the same phenomenon in County Kerry as I explored areas there – areas I know are inundated by tourists in the summer. How people can navigate those roads with that kind of tourist traffic in the summer is beyond me.

Inconceivable!

(Use of this word is a reference to the movie The Princess Bride. I was driving toward the Cliffs of Moher, filming scene for the Cliffs of Insanity…)

Over green hills and past farms and cows and more cows and then some fields with even more cows. Finally I arrived in lovely Doolin. A tourist town, to be sure, but a friendly and small one. I liked it right away. My lodgings were comfy, the town was walkable, and four fantastic pubs, famous for their music sessions, were just a ten minute walk from my hotel room. I braved the intermittent rain in order to go find three of them. Saturday night. Whoops! Completely packed with people! This was not going to be the mellow, sit-in-a-corner-with-one-drink-and-my-knitting night for which I’d hoped. It was more a go-out-with-a-large-and-rowdy-group-of-friends night.

No thanks.

I quietly exited each pub, one after the other, and went back to my hotel. And slept.

The next morning I was up for an unusually fine breakfast (thank you, Doolin Inn!) and then got to wander through town on my way down to the Doolin dock. All night, I’d heard the boom of the ocean. However, I couldn’t see it. So tantalizingly close! Doolin is set back from the coastline, just inland and nestled in amongst hills that protect it from the wild winds and surf. So it wasn’t until the next day that I actually saw the water.

Hey! There’s the Atlantic ocean!

I took a ferry over to the Aran Islands. There are three. I chose to go to the closest and smallest, Inisheer (Innis Oirr). The Aran Islands may be a familiar name to you, they may not. They are the reason we all picture Ireland swimming in chunky, white cabled sweaters. Now there is some disagreement as to whether those sweaters really are “traditional”, made by women of the islands for generations, with each cable, twist and geometric pattern representing something from community life OR whether the sweaters were an economic scheme started in the 1950s to give women on the islands a way to earn some income. I have heard both sets of history presented. So at this point, I’m hoping to do some research to find out more. Perhaps both are true. I’ll be on the hunt for some history.

So I walked from Doolin town down to the dock to catch my ferry. A few folks went with me on the boat…

Some folks had a return ticket for a couple hours later. I gave myself most of the day on the island. I left the area around the harbor pretty quickly and headed off to explore the neighborhoods. Really it was one neighborhood. The island, a mile and a half square, couldn’t be home to more than a few hundred people. Several came down to meet the boat in one of these:

I regret not having taken a cart, if only to hear what a local guide would have to say. But I opted for a walk. I ended up circumnavigating the entire island. And it was well worth it. Once I left “the downtown”, it was me, the sky, the surf, the stone walls, and a cow now and again. Oh, and blackberries. Miles of blackberries growing up next to the stone walls. I’ve never seen anything like Innis Oirr. Stone wall after stone wall after stone wall, stretching in every direction, the work of thousands of hours of labor – all in the attempt to find or protect or create a place for soil on this rock of an island.

I took many, many pictures. I kept rounding a bend or cresting a hill and thinking “Surely here I can capture this place in a photograph”. Try as I might, I just couldn’t capture the space, the layers of walls echoing out in every direction from me to the sea. And the work, the endless work, of so many hands.

I also took a nap on the beach. It would have been delightful but for the damp that seeped through my jeans and chilled my skin. As I walked over to get back on the ferry, I stopped in at a cafe for something warm to drink. I noticed a board over to one side of the seating area. It had knitted samples with cables and twists and textured patterns. I asked about it at the counter. Turned out the boards were samples. The cafe owner teaches Aran knitting.

Score!

With little more than ten minutes, we weren’t able to do much more than exchange email addresses and laugh together about the last-minute nature of our meeting each other. All day on one of the Aran Islands and I find an Aran knitter in the last ten minutes!!! It was fantastic luck. Especially because not many people on the Aran Islands are doing the knitting that is sold all over Ireland in tourist shops as “Aran”.

So, back back to the boat I went. We were headed back to Doolin, but not before the boat took us out alongside the Cliffs of Moher, where we got to see them from sea level.

Honestly, the cliffs were too spectacular to be captured in photos. And the light for taking pictures was dreadful. But the sea air and swells and scooting about on the boat was fantastic. I had a great day.

Okay, this post is getting pretty darned long. Guess I’ll have to pause here. I promise to continue writing tomorrow… at home! Yay! I’m on the last leg of my flights back to Santa Fe. And since I’m fairly useless for a good 24 to 48 hours after returning from a set of tours overseas, I’ll take time to rest, recover, and continue writing.

Cheers!

4 comments

  1. Those walls are incredible. They’re freakish. I can hardly imagine the labor it took to create them. Will be looking at these pics for a very long time . Happy to have you back just as we had our first freeze . Stay warm. Later gator. Jud

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  2. It was a delight to read your blog, thanks to Crafts of Ireland for sharing.
    I’m lucky enough to live in the next county & do some of Sandra’s workshops. They are a wonderful day away from the hustle & bustle. Last time I did Clones Lace & loved it. One sample we saw was a collar from near famine times so amazingly intricate & beautiful. They don’t make thread or hooks that small nowadays. I’m the very thankful owner of several pairs of socks from those WW2 sock machines & my feet live in comfy bliss. Sandra also taught me to spin wool in a day & I’m hooked.
    As for your photos… the stone walls on the Aran Islands were built especially with small gaps in them to allow the winds to blow thru so the walls won’t blow over in a gale. So many little things here you never realise have meaning.
    I hope you recovered from your jet lag & get to enjoy our lovely crafty country sooner rather then later. We’ve a saying here… if it’s meant for you it won’t pass you by! All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

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