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Articles on miscellaneous subjects written by Bill
Ireland - Print Email PDF 
Posted by wackywales 02/01/2008

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Mail on Sunday, March 14, 1993, Sunday

FORSAKING THE BIRDS TO JOIN A FLOCK OF TOURISTS;
COMIC FAVOURITE LEAVES HIS HOBBY BEHIND ON A RETURN TO IRELAND


BY: BILL ODDIE


IRELAND: Love the country . . . not so sure about the towns!

I've been going to southern Ireland for donkeys' years. I've always been with other blokes, as a birdwatcher - watching wild geese in Wexford, waders in Kerry, or sea birds in County Cork - always in autumn or winter.

And I've always loved it. However, I had never been with my wife, as a tourist, during summer. Until early last August . . .

Well, the flight was still wonderfully short. It's barely an hour by Aer Lingus from London to more or less anywhere in Ireland.

It's a lot quicker than driving to Manchester. And Ireland is very different from Man-chester.

Except for the rain. As we landed at Shannon Airport, it was pouring down. But only on one side of the aircraft. I directed Laura to look through the opposite window. On the other side, it was nice and sunny. 'That's the thing about Ireland,' I pontificated. 'It's a land of contrasts.'

As we toured around the Burren (the chunk of County Clare that lies between the River Shannon in the south and Galway Bay in the north), Laura pointed out more of them.

'Isn't the countryside lovely?' 'Yes, but aren't the towns a bit naff?'

'Don't the people drive incredibly slowly?' 'Yes, except the ones that drive terrifyingly fast!'

'Aren't the roads empty?' 'Yes, except where there are traffic jams.' Laura wasn't grumbling; she was being observant. And, gently, she suggested that birdwatching in October is likely to be a different experience from touring in August. She was right again.

TO prove it, we visited the Cliffs of Moher. They are huge, spectacular crags, where large numbers of sea birds nest, and the sort of place I'm used to sharing only with the fulmars and kittiwakes.

On the day we went there, we shared it with a couple of thousand (at least!) tourists. It looked like a cross between the car park at Disneyland and the clientele of the Glastonbury Festival.

There were stalls selling fast food, T-shirts with pictures of W.B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde on them, and all things Irish from shamrock to sheep.

There were also all manner of ethnic buskers playing tin whistles, guitars, harps, pipes, or even just cassettes of their latest 'Gaelic ballads' to an audience of Germans, French, Dutch, Italian, Japanese and, particularly, Americans.

The Irish - who generally prefer Country and Western - were conspicuously absent.

There were a few kitti-wakes and fulmars, but nobody was taking any notice of them. Not even me. And it was at this moment that I realised that, for at least four days, in my life, I had to stop being a birdwatcher and look at Ireland through other eyes. I decided to try Laura's.

FOR the rest of the week, we had a great time. We visited ancient castles, with excellent audio-visual presentations; took a guided tour through caves and subterranean tunnels; wallowed in a sulphur bath at a health spa; ate excellent seafood, and watched the sun go down on Galway Bay. We also rummaged around in the admirably untacky gift shops, all with shelves full of local literature, maps and guidebooks on where to stay, where to go, what to do - and there's lots, from pony trekking to surfing - and how to 'get away from it all'.

So, will I be going back to County Clare? I've just booked my next trip: a week with the lads, in a lighthouse, next October.

Oh, well, I told you I was a birdwatcher . . .




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