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Nomad Life

Connemara

Chapter 17
Jul 15th, 2022
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Location: Connemara, Ireland
Travel Dates: Mar 5th 2022-Apr 9th, 2022
Days Nomadic: 372 · Miles Traveled: 26288
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ur ferry from Holyhead, Wales docked in Dublin late afternoon. We were nervous about crossing the border into Ireland with Skutull for two reasons. First, Skutull had undergone foot surgery a week earlier and was still healing. Second, the language the Irish government used on their website was extreme with regards to importing animals. There were a host of requirements for entry, such as notifying their agricultural department, undergoing worming treatment 1-5 days before arrival, and having a fully updated vaccination record. It wasn’t the requirements, but the consequences of failing to meet all the requirements that worried us. Quoting their website, if you fail to meet all entry requirements “your pet may be euthanised.”

Like most of our travel worries, our fears did not become reality. We entered the country easily and smoothly. Skutull was not euthanized! Hooray!

We had to find vets both in Dublin and later in our Irish travels to treat Skutull’s healing foot. The vet that did the surgery in London originally told us Skutull would be back to normal in ~10 days, but that was not the case. Not even close. It took a full month before his wound fully closed and his bandage sores healed.

Skutull was in good spirits most of the time. The vet prescribed him a cone of shame, but he was a good boy and listened when we told him not to lick his foot or remove his bandage, so he never had to wear it. The hardest part for him was that he couldn’t play with his toys or run. I could tell that he was feeling bored and bottled-up during his recovery.

Dublin was an interesting scene. On the one hand, there were lots of fun restaurants and museums to explore. From oysters to scones to fried chicken, our palettes were not bored. Skutull’s back left foot was in a boot and he was not supposed to walk on it much or be left alone, so we were limited with how far we could venture out.

Ha’penny Bridge sat across the street from our hotel, which stretches across the River Liffey that separates Dublin into two parts. The bridge itself wasn’t remarkable, though it was interesting to think about how much we take modern architecture for granted. Ha’penny Bridge used to be the only path across the river and you’d have to pay ha’penny each direction. Before that, the only option to cross was by boat.

The other reason I thought Ha’penny Bridge was cool is because The Kingkiller Chronicle is one of my favorite book series, and in that story “ha’penny” is a unit of money. Now I know where Patrick Rothfuss might have found his inspiration!

The highlight of my time in Dublin was the Guinness brewery. I enjoyed learning about the history of the beer, but one of the facts I found most interesting was that the founder’s wife, Mrs. Guinness, birthed 21 children, 13 of which survived to adulthood. She spent a full 17 years of her life pregnant!

I stopped drinking alcohol regularly in March 2021, so I was also pleased to discover that Guinness 0 (alcohol-free Guinness) was on the menu both at the Guinness Gravity Bar ontop of the brewery, and at restaurants around the country. Shelby and I cheersed two frothy pints and enjoyed our creamy, nitrogenated beers while looking out over the city on a sunny Irish winter day.

We spent most of our time in Ireland living in a house on the western coast in Connemara, County Galway. I listened to “Galway Girl” by Ed Sheeran a few times just for kicks, though sometimes I’d sing the song to Skutull editing the lyrics to “Galway Dog.”

“He’s my pretty little… Gal-Way-Dog. Mah, mah, mah, mah, mah, mah, mah. Gal-Way-Dog.”

I took up daily meditation during our stay in Ireland. Most of the time I meditated sitting down inside, but there was also a beach near our house where Skutull, Shelby, and I would walk a few times per day and I’d occasionally do open-eyed meditation there, looking out at the sea. We were typically the only people at that beach and there was no car, airplane, or other noise pollution—just the sound of crashing waves and wind rushing across my ears. I miss that spot.

We were happy to be somewhere more rural and with ample opportunities to hike after living in the cities of London and Vienna for the past several months. Connemara National Park is one of the spots in Ireland that has mountains, so we explored the trails there often. Our favorite hike was up Diamond Hill, which overlooked the ocean to the west and barren hills to the east that reminded me of Scotland.

Diamond Hill was also special because by the last weekend of our stay, Skutull’s foot was finally healed and he climbed all the way to the top with us. Our plan after Ireland was to hop back across the Irish Sea to Scotland and walk the West Highland Way, so Shelby had purchased rain gear for Skutull from a Finnish company. He wore his red rain jacket all the way up, which did actually come in handy. It was incredible how quickly and drastically the weather changed on Diamond Hill. One moment, it’d be calm and sunny, then a small storm would roll in off the sea, causing the temperature to plummet and snow to fall. Strangers at the top of the mountain took pictures of Skutull looking especially cute in his new coat.

We explored two islands near our house, one of which we had to take a ferry to, while the other was only accessible twice per day when the tide moved out, revealing a sand flat that you could walk or drive across. Both islands were sparsely inhabited by sheep farms and rolling hills.

Speaking of sheep, we went to a herding demonstration at a local farm. It was cool to see the farmer’s border collie round up sheep. I think what blew me away most was how far away the dog could hear his commands. The farmer wasn’t even yelling, he was just talking loudly, and still the dog could hear him over wind and rain from quite a distance—if I had to guess, I’d say a quarter mile. After herding was complete, the farmer let us feed the newborn lambs with baby bottles, which appeared to border on a spiritual experience for Shelby.

Wool is one of my favorite materials. If I could wear only wool clothes, I would. I asked the farmer how much wool sold for, expecting a high price given that the wool clothing I do own is some of my most expensive garmets.

“The wool is almost worthless,” he said.

He went on to explain that each sheering he makes only $0.5-$1 per adult sheep. In a good year, he might get a few sheerings. At the end of the season when lambs are 9-10 months old, he sells them for ~$100 each to be butchered for meat.

“What we do is dying. It’s hard to make money raising sheep these days,” the farmer told us, “oil-based synthetics are too cheap and people don’t eat as much lamb as they did when I was a kid.”

Ireland was mostly what I expected it to be. Lots of sheep in pastures and lamb on restaurant menus. Many of the buildings were old and the population density was sparse outside of Dublin. We found a local store near Clifden, the unofficial “capitol” of the Connemara region, that carried handmade wool sweaters from the Island of Aran and purchased way too many of them.

There were a few aspects of Ireland that surprised me. First off, there were almost no trees! I mean, it was seriously barren apart from grass in sheep pastures. I looked up why this is the case and discovered that 80-90% of the island used to be forrested, but humans cut down all the trees many centuries ago when wood was the main source of fuel. Now only ~1% of the island is forested.

The roads in Ireland were narrow. Like, seriously tiny. Most of the lanes were barely larger than the width of a medium-sized car and there were spots around bends where they would compress to just a few feet wide. This usually wasn’t much of a problem because the island was so sparsely populated you could slow down and alternate passing through those points with oncoming traffic, but it definitely added another layer of challenge on top of steering from the other side of the car and driving on the other side of the road.

The rural road our house sat off of was barely the width of two cars. It had no center line and a speed limit of ~55 miles per hour. I did not enjoy driving down that windy road, passing people at high speeds with only a foot in between our mirrors. Occasionally a lorry would come barelling down the road toward us and I’d move our car to the left, as close to the rock wall fence bordering the road as possible, and squint as the truck blew by, mere inches from my face.

One thing that I found surprising, but maybe shouldn’t have, was how many abandoned buildings there were. All that remained of most of them were crumbling exterior stone walls. Many looked like graves that nobody had dared to touch in decades. The population of Ireland before the potato famine in the mid-1800s was 8.5 million, yet even today, the population stands at about 5 million. The scars of that tragedy can still be seen across the country.

We were also surprised at times by how unfamiliar Irish people were with British culture. We obviously know they are two different countries and cultures, but they have ties throughout history and are geographically close. The best example I can think of to demonstrate this observation is that Shelby took to the English tradition of afternoon tea during our time in London and wanted to continue in Ireland. We knew that Irish people also love black tea (they actually drink more per capita than the UK, but Shelby was surprised when she went to the grocery store and couldn’t find clotted cream to spread on her scones. She asked one of the employees if they knew of anywhere that sold clotted cream, and they answered, “cottage cheese?” We weren’t so much shocked that clotted cream wasn’t popular in Ireland (they use whipped cream on their scones here and in Scotland), but that nobody seemed to have even heard of clotted cream. The distance between London and Dublin is only 288 miles!

Some of our time in Ireland was also consumed by booking our journey back home. We didn’t want to fly again with Skutull, which left only one option to get across the Atlantic: a 7-day cruise between Southampton, England and New York City. This crossing is the only transatlantic passage with dog-friendly kennels onboard!

The issue we ran into is that because of Covid, demand for pet kennels on the cruise was astronomically higher in 2022 than it was back in 2019 when we initially planned our trip. Based on our earlier research planning our canceled, pre-Covid European adventure, we figured that if we wanted to come home in November, we’d be safe booking spots six months ahead of departure in March. The reality was that of the many crossings scheduled between March 2022 and the end of 2023, there were only two cruises with a vacant kennel large enough for Skutull—one in May 2022 and another in December 2023. Apparently there are many people trying to travel with their dogs now and disruptions to life caused by Covid have pushed both Americans living in the UK and Brits living in the US to move back home, oftentimes with their pets.

Nomadic life was fun, but we didn’t want to continue living that way for another year and a half. It’s a demanding and lonely lifestyle that doesn’t mix well with my ability to work effectively. So we booked spots on the transatlantic cruise in May 2022, just two months into the future.

Given that our original plan was to hop back over to Europe for the summer, then come back to the UK and spend a full three months in Scotland before returning home in November, we were bummed that we had to alter our plans so much. Scotland in particular was the place on our trip that we were looking forward to the most, so we cancelled our second month in Ireland and I took all of April off work so we could explore Scotland.

On our way to Scotland, we spent a night in Northern Ireland, where Shelby went on a tour of the Game of Thrones filming studio. I sadly had to wait at a strip mall with Skutull where the bus to the studio picked up because dogs were not allowed on the property.

We boarded a ferry to Scotland in Belfast, which was our first of 9 ferries we’d take over the next couple weeks as we explored the Scottish isles and embarked on the final leg of our nomadic travels.

But that’s a tale for the next chapter…

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Edited By: Shelby Thoutt
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