This, my friends, is a Galway Hooker. It’s a traditional fishing boat that you would have found in Galway Bay on the west of the Republic of Ireland. It has reddish sails and is black because it’s coated in pitch. These little boats are still being lovingly made or restored. Here in Nova Scotia, Halifax sees a Tall Ships festival every few years and while many of the ships are converted from steel hulled boats, some are antique and restored and somehow have far more elegance than the big monsters that everyone gawps at. There’s a little town on the south shore of Nova Scotia called Mahone Bay and they have a wooden boat festival every year as well.
Killarney in the south of Ireland is often the start or end point for the Ring of Kerry, a picturesque drive around the Kerry peninsula off the southwest coast of the island. Killarney is most definitely a tourist town, some might even say a tourist trap. It certainly wasn’t overly impressive to me. They also have a traditional form of transportation, however. It’s called a Jaunting car and it’s a kind of buggy or carraige with little seats along the sides, enough for about 6 people. Originally the seats were back to back with the passengers facing outwards, with little footrests over the wheels but this style in the photo here is much more conducive to tourists having a conversation. It’s pulled by a horse with a driver well versed in local lore for the tourists. They do tours through the lovely natural Killarney National Park on the edge of the city.
Another city in Ireland steeped in tradition is Waterford, home of Waterford Crystal. The crystal is still hand blown and etched by hand by masters who have to memorize hundreds of patterns. It was founded in 1783 by brothers George and William Penrose.
The craftsmen have a minimum 5 years apprenticeship and normally 3 more for the masters in the various fields of glass blowing or cutting and engravers do 3 years at a local cottage before training for 10 more. Most of the blowers and cutters seem to be men when I toured the factory 10 years ago, and the guide said it wasn’t a reflection on women, it’s just that women rarely seem to choose this field. There are women that work in other support roles in the factory, quality control etc.
Ireland is full of traditions and appreciation for those traditions is enjoying a resurgence. Not long ago, the Irish language, a form of Gaelic, was dying out. Now children learn it in school and the country is proudly and officially biligual. All the public signage is in both languages.
There’s one tradition that the Irish wish would just go away, however. That little sprite, the Leprechaun! The word “Leprechaun” means “little people”. The origins are hazy but one theory goes that when the tall, dark, warlike and aggressive Celts invaded, the natives were small, peaceful folk who lived in ring forts which probably became the fairy rings of legend.
These people seemed to disappear at will through perhaps they just fled the intimidating invaders. The cute little leprechauns we see today were invented for the English tourists and it just got out of hand. Now they are out of fashion and considered tacky. Ireland to me is not the cartoon pot of gold and frisky, naughty little men in green coats. It’s a place of history, and a people who are easy going, traditional, open and friendly.
And the beer ain’t bad either!