I have been AWOL from the garden. I went to Ireland for 9 days and returned just last night. There were some things about the Irish landscape that really surprised me. For example, I did not expect to see palm trees and pampas grass in Ireland. They were everywhere. What's with THAT? Another thing that surprised me was how deserted the landscape is in Kerry, Clare and Connemara. First is is pretty barren of plant life. And second it is pretty barren of people. The land is famous for its abundance of peat which is still harvested for fuel. In fact nearly every pub we entered in the small towns had a peat fire glowing in the fireplace.
I would have THOUGHT it would be rich soil, but apparently not. In Connemara I was surprised to learn that the potatoes had to be planted on the hillsides so the water would drain away. The imprints in the land of the old potato fields could still be seen in landscape as you passed by, though I suspect it has been many years since potatoes were planted there. Today the land is used for grazing sheep and they dot the landscape in profusion.
While November is not the BEST month to visit Ireland, we were blessed with rain free days for the most part. However, one advantage to visiting the west coast at this time is that the gorse (Ulex europaeus) is in full yellow bloom. It added a much needed color to the landscape, particularly in Connemara where the landscape is much browner than I expected.
What was also surprising about this landscape was the lack of people inhabiting it. While it is hardly hospitable for agriculture, it is a stunning setting and I expected that the roar of the Celtic Tiger would have been played out in more vacation homes along the coast. This lack of people is a theme that recurred frequently in our tour narratives. While I heard the story told several ways by several different tour guides, the message was clear: The greatest damage done to Ireland has been the loss of her people through emigration. At the time of the Potato Famine (1845-1850) Ireland went from 8 million to 5 million inhabitants in a decade and that out migration continued until by 1930 there were fewer than 3 million Irish living in Ireland. Only recently has that trend reversed.
And one last surprise in Ireland. I expected to feel the long arm of Holy Mother Church more present in Irish daily life than I did. And I was amazed at how many churches have been given over to secondary use. The tourist bureau in Dublin is a former church. And one funny story. My first day in Dublin I was walking past a church and I saw out of the corner of my eye a sign on the church lawn about being the "light of the world" or something to that effect. I thought at the time that was a little more evangelical than I remember the the Irish parishes of my own upbringing in New England ... but times change. A few days later when I walked by the church again, I realized that I had misread the sign entirely.