By Tim McGrath
“Cycling in the rain and wind is like standing in a cold shower tearing up $100 bills” - Bob Clouse after a particularly thorough soaking
Third time’s a charm, so it’s said; better late than never; let’s get the show on the road. It was a long anticipated trip to Ireland, the likes of which we had yet to see. There was to be a week cycling about the western regions of County Clare and County Galway on the Emerald Isle with a group of chums we’d met on other trips. Then a week of Cheryl and I renting a car and wandering about the country from Galway up to Killybegs and Slieve League cliffs in the north. We’d loop back south to experience the Dingle Peninsula, and The Ring of Kerry. There would be some stops along the way searching for evidence of the long ago ancestors who’d come from near Castlebar, then eventually wound their way to America. We’d enjoy meeting the Irish people along the way, experiencing the culture, gazing at the beautiful scenery, and of course, tipping a pint or two of the Guinness. Ah, the Guinness. Nowhere on Earth is the Guinness like it is in Ireland. Then 2020 hit and all the foostering around with Covid put a wee bit of a damper on the occasion. 2020 came and went, then 2021; no cycling, no wandering about, no Guinness. Our suffering mercifully came to an end early in 2022 when the tour company we were traveling with announced all trips to Ireland were a go. So off we went, ready for a grand time.
There’s a very good reason Ireland is called the Emerald Isle – everywhere one looks it’s some kind of green – 40 shades of it, it is said. Beautiful. Then there’s that other thing: all that green means all that rain. And by thunder, we found out about that rain. Days in a row while cycling around that exquisite land we found out what it means when they say “it was blowing a hoolie”.
The Irish, being the philosophical sort they are when it comes to weather, have what’s dubbed the Fliuch /floosh/ Scale – the wet scale. They use it to describe the various types of rainy conditions that seem to be a permanent condition there. I’ve taken the liberty of including a paraphrased version that comes from The Daily Edge - an Irish entertainment journal that was written by Michael Freeman in September, 2014. Thought it might help explain things.
Level 0: La greine /law gray-nyeh/: Irish for a fine sunny day. Could rain later.
Level 1: A grand soft day: grey, misty, might rain later.
Level 2: Spitting: definitely raining, but might clear up. Won’t keep you from going out.
Level 3: Wetting rain: deceptive. Looks like no more than a mist, but soaks right through your clothes.
Level 4: Rotten: all over greyness; possibly windy, as well. Unrelenting. The weather equivalent of a sulking teenager.
Level 5: Pissing: heavyish rain. Windshield wipers up to second setting on car.
Level 6: Raining stair rods: big, fat rain – really means it. Ruins good shoes.
Level 7: Bucketing: heavy rain with a surprise. Generally appears when you’ve planned an outdoor activity. Won’t quit.
Level 8: Hooring: windshield wipers on high. People scurrying about with newspapers covering their heads. A completely pointless exercise as the newspaper is a sodden mess in seconds.
Level 9: Pelting down: serious quantities of rain. Conversation starter when it’s compared with previously miserable days.
Level 10: Lashing out of the heavens: raining so hard it’s bouncing off the ground, and probably going sideways with the wind behind it, giving it its full measure.
Level 11: Hammering: even the Irish are taken aback by the force of it. The extreme version of Lashing. In other words, it’s “blowing a hoolie”.
Our adventure began as we arrived in Cork; in the far south of the country. We had the chance to spend a couple days exploring this lovely city with its charming pubs and traditional music. Wandered in and out of the colorfully painted shops lining small cobbled streets. Decided to hop on the Ho Ho bus to experience more sights of the city. We stopped for a visit at the city jail, now a museum, with its terrible history of jailing indigent women and children. Their only crime was to have been born poor. Mercifully it closed in 1923. We caught a train near the city center to visit the Titanic Museum in the nearby town of Cobh. Cobh was the final passenger pick up point for the doomed maiden voyage to New York City. It was an eerie feeling to be standing in the spot where a little over 100 hundred years earlier Irish eager to make it to America, and begin a new life waited anxiously, unaware of their fate just a short time later.
Our next stop pre-cycling took us to the town of Ennis. Like Cork, lots of small, colorfully colored shops and pubs to explore. Visited the Ennis Friary, established in the mid 13th century. Fascinating history. Feeling a bit tart after all this exertion, we were drawn in to the Diamond Bar on one of those tiny side streets for a pint. Met some local people who were interested in what we Yanks were up to anyway. Great conversation and lovely people. Delightful.
Fliuch score: Level 0 for the threeish days we were in and around Cork and Ennis. Warm, sunny, a bit grey at times. Ha-ha we thought, what’s all this talk of rain, rain, and more rain. Pish posh.
On past cycling trips we’d quickly realized there’s no better way to see and explore an area than on the seat of a bicycle. Swooping along hidden byways, through small villages and towns, grinding up hills, then sailing down the backside sometimes for kilometers. The little tickle of danger when your brain reminds you there’s about a half inch of rubber between you and the pavement racing away below you. All part of it, I suppose; just don’t think on it too much.
So off we went. We’d jumped on the bus from Ennis to the beginning of our ride in the tiny town of Lisdoonvarna, stopping off at the Cliffs of Moher on the way. What a magnificent vista it is. Got to Sheedy’s Country House hotel, then took a short warm up ride to dial our bikes in. Green hilly countryside sweeping out as far as the eye could see, bisected by endless hand made rock walls dividing the fields. Many of these have stood for hundreds of years. Sheep grazing peacefully in and around these fields. Idyllic.
Fliuch score: 0 -1. Did have a brief shower, but forget about it, nothing to see here. Hard to beat blue skies with just the occasional puffy cumulus cloud drifting overhead.
The next few days were filled with incredible beauty. Ruggedly hilly, breathtaking at times, wild, unyielding, untamed, and always windy. Places that seem to have been untouched by human hands, unfazed by the passing of a mere few hundred years. We got to ride there; along narrow two lane roads, and a handful of tiny single lane roads – paved two tracks, really. And the Irish drivers, in their unfailingly kind way, would always be courteous when coming on our group. Never saw any rude behavior toward us; no cursing at us for being in their way, no middle fingers flying. Cycling along the Wild Atlantic Way through places with names like The Burren, Kilfenora, and Carran. All of them rolling by like some magical landscape. We tackled The Hill – The Tchaikovsky, affectionately known as “The Nutcracker”. I’ve never experienced a hill of this magnitude – terrifying; looked to be almost straight up. Most had to dismount and walk their bikes up. A few of us rode as far as we could, and then walked. There was a point where I could not push the pedal, even in the lowest of the low gears, it was too steep. But all eventually made it to the top, breathless and heartily cursing that thing. Yet there was a certain pride in having made it to the top. Wanted to jump off the bike and proudly do the Rocky dance. And yes, it rained, but just sort of a meh, yup it’s raining.
Fliuch score: a solid 1, perhaps a bit 2ish, maybe a 3 for a time. It was wet, but nothing too ridiculous.
That’s when we found out about the rain. It began as we headed for the Aran islands, just west of Galway Bay. The ferry chugged and bounced its way over the chop from Rossaveel across to Kilronan. As we got off the ferry the wind was howling, and it was raining; big stinging rain, blowing sideways. This is what we’d see on and off for the next three days. While cycling to the Kilmurvey House from the boat docks it rained and blew so that the only way to keep going was head down, and pedal on. Our vision was limited to a two foot patch of the road in front of us as we slogged on. After what seemed like a decade, we dragged in to the Kilmurvey House, cold and wet. And then, like a beacon on a cold dark night, we found ourselves drawn to the little café situated next door. Scores of other wet, cold strangers filled the place. Delicious food, and again, the Irish charm that welcomed and made us feel like old pals. We had the chance to visit Dun Aengus, right next to Kilmurvey House. It’s a prehistoric fort built on a rocky cliffside some 330 feet above the sea below. Its history goes back to 1100 BC. As we toured it, the wind and rain blew unrelentingly. There were times it was hard to stand. The mystery of how the generations of people living in that fearsome place is remarkable. And the few steadfast souls that make the Aran Islands home today are a seriously hearty bunch. They just shrug off the wind, cold, and rain as just part of living there. Felt like a bit of a pansy even thinking of complaining about the weather. It truly is a wild place.
Fliuch score: varied between a level 4 and upwards of a 9. The residents living there would only chuckle at us American softies, probably giving it a 2 or 3.
The only thing I can say about the last two cycling days is that we made it. We cycled through the magnificently rugged Connemara and Renvyle Peninsula, eventually landing late each afternoon at Lough Inagh Lodge, where that delightful creation, Irish coffee, waited to warm our bones. What had started as a lark several days ago, was now a determined slog to the finish. Both afternoons saw our group doggedly determined to ride the 30 mile plus routes in what was a level 11 typhoon. As I rode those afternoons, the steady rain running down my face streamed in horizontal tendrils off the tip of my nose, joining up with their mates just past my right ear. Each time a car passed by, the looks on the drivers’ faces was one of astonishment and wonder. I don’t think so much for what a brave and daring group of Yanks we were, but why are you people such eejits?
Fliuch score: a solid 11 – It was indeed blowing a hoolie
Oh, lest I forget, most of us on the trip got Covid. Fortunately, no one was horribly ill, yet it was just another bit in the adventure. It added a certain c’est la vie to the whole thing.
As that week came to its end, it struck me how fortunate we were to be able to experience that wonderful land. We delighted in the people we rubbed elbows with: kind, charming, funny, gracious, and helpful. In spite of blowing hoolies and other levels of rainy, miserable weather, we witnessed first hand just how stunning the country is.
A land of 40 shades of green.
And much, much more.
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