Sometimes it is the places that impact us the most that require the fewest words in their account. Indeed, to speak of them too much would only take away from the enchantment. For what could one hope to say that would do them justice? Such was the case for me on Ireland’s west coast. There is just something about those wild, rocky shores with their wind-swept hills and soaring cliffs that stole my heart from the start. It is a rugged, untamed beauty which no words, no matter how cleverly contrived, can ever truly enhance.
How does one begin to describe the sights, sounds, and emotions that inhabit a place of such wonder? I begin to think it an impossible task. For all those sensations are only truly understood by the one who experiences them. Yet describe it I must, however feeble my attempt may prove to be. So I shall do my best.
If you missed my previous posts on my trip to Ireland, you can read them here: Part 1 (New York City), Part 2 (Wicklow and Cabra Castle), Part 3 (Newgrange), Part 4 (The Hill of Tara), Part 5 (Glencar).
Just west of Sligo, there sits a small town on the coast called Strandhill. My husband and I stopped there for lunch on our way south from Glencar, but we ended up staying afterward much longer than planned. We had fish and chips at the Shells Cafe right on the beach, separated from the ocean literally by a parking lot.
Now when I say “beach,” you mustn’t think of a smooth, white sand beach like in the Caribbean. These beaches are quite different. In fact, there’s very little sand at all. Instead, it’s made up primarily of rocks. That’s what sets the west coast of Ireland apart from many other beaches. As I said, it’s far more rugged and wild. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and I think I could stay there forever and still not take it all in.
We walked the rocky beach for a good long while, soaking up its beauty and tranquility. Then we decided to explore the grassy hills on the other side of the beach.
Perhaps it was the rolling hills, or the feeling of a land untouched by time, or the constant mournful call of the wind–or perhaps it was a combination of all of that–but I fell completely in love with it. There is nothing as exciting and moving to me as the lonely, wild places. Here my heart is most at home.
The land whispered of long-forgotten memories, and felt like something out of stories and songs. In fact, it reminded me a great deal of Rohan, one of my favorite places in Middle Earth. There was even this incredible solitary hill nearby, which I dubbed Edoras–the hill of the king of Rohan.
This was my writing heaven. Never have I felt so inspired as while I walked those rocky beaches and grassy hills. But we had to go on eventually, and as sad as I was to leave Strandhill behind, our next stop more than made up for it.
If you could only experience one place in all of Ireland, it should without question be the Cliffs of Moher. South of Galway in County Clare, along the coastal road–which is worth driving for the ocean views alone–the cliffs are hard to miss. There’s a visitor center where you can learn more about their geography and history, which is quite interesting; along with, naturally, a gift shop. But the best part of course is simply walking up to the edge and looking out upon Ireland’s most spectacular, awe-inspiring sight.
Don’t be surprised if it leaves you speechless. For, as beautiful as the pictures are, nothing compares to experiencing the cliffs in person. That is why, if you ever have the opportunity to go there, I would beg you to not miss it.
The thing that stuck with me the most, aside from the fantastic views, was the wind. The wind was unbelievable. I thought it had been windy at Tara, and even at Strandhill, but once you’re out on top of the cliffs, with nothing at all to impede the wind that comes soaring off the ocean, it feels as if it just might pick you up and carry you over the cliffs. I couldn’t help but wish I could fly with the birds and view the landscape from high above, then dive down and sail alongside the rocky walls while the salty spray of the waves hit my face.
Don’t worry, though–there are places with walls, so you can walk up to the edge even if you’re not keen on heights. 😉
The same lonely, isolated feeling that I experienced in Strandhill was present at the cliffs–only enhanced because there is no sign of civilization around, apart from the visitor’s center. And even that is built into a hillside, like a Hobbit hole, so it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
Incredible doesn’t begin to do the place justice. All around, sheer rocky cliffs tower over a heaving ocean with waves that leap high into the air, as if trying to climb the cliff’s face and touch the sky. And overhead, gulls and other birds soar on the wind, singing a mournful, longing song.
In the midst of this I stood with tears in my eyes and thanked God for the beauty of His creation, and that He allowed me to witness it in person.
There is little more that I can say. The beauty of western Ireland speaks for itself. And the mere memory of it still leaves me speechless and thrills every fiber of my being. At last, we had to leave–much sooner than I would have liked, but so it always is. We still had to drive back east to Dublin, where we visited Trinity College:
As well as the Guinness factory, where we learned how to properly pour a pint–we even have the certificates to prove it. 😉
And yet, the memories of the untamed beauty of Ireland’s west coast is what will stay with me for the rest of my days. Although I have returned home to Texas, and although I love my home very much, I think it safe to say that I left my heart behind upon those rugged, wild shores.
If I were a master painter, what colors and shapes could I achieve on a canvas to portray the natural beauty of that land? I could never capture the gleam of sunlight on the waves or the rustling grass on the hillsides or the depth of the mighty cliffs with enough skill to equal its majestic splendor.
If I were the most gifted of poets, what lines could I construct to properly describe the place’s character? All words, all rhythms, all cadences fall short of its captivating presence. How do I give life to that ancient and mysterious longing that possesses the traveler and allows only for awed silence?
If I had the voice of an angel, what melody could I sing to match the symphony of nature, played out in perfect harmony on its own native instruments? The driving percussion sounds from the waves as they beat against the rocks in time. The lilting winds sing out in the melancholy voices of the gulls, their tune both sad and sweet. The vibrant strings soar over all and blend all together, their refrain carried on the gusty wind.
Thus ends my account of my travels in the Emerald Isle, for all stories must come to an end. But I prefer to think of it as only the end of a chapter. Just as Frodo left blank pages at the end of Bilbo’s book for Sam to finish the story, so with God’s grace my adventures are not over for good. There’s always room for a little more.
Where beat the white foam-crusted waves against Strandhill’s rocky shores,
And the gulls their mournful voices raise, the heart may freely soar.
And at the cliffs, the spirit lifts
In longing, left adrift.
~from Erinspell, by Stephanie Florentino.