Friday, July 10, 2009

Welcome to Ireland

Forgive me father, and mother, and dedicated followers of good blogging worldwide, for I have slacked!! It's been over 12 months since my last blog, but fear not because I am back!

You may notice that in the picture to the left I am wearing a funny hat and drinking a Guinness which may alert you to the fact that I am now in the not so sunny 'Emerald Isle', or Ireland as the locals like to call it.

After being continually pissed off and stressed out with the working conditions in Oman I decided to follow a few of my ex-ex pat Omani controllers to the greener fields of Ireland and a more professional Air Traffic control organisation (although the local controllers may disagree with that assessment?).

After extricating ourselves from Oman, Sarah and I arrived here in early February and proceeded to get ourselves sorted out.

Thankfully Glenn, a kiwi controller and ex Omani escapee, put us up on arrival which made for a nice easy start to proceedings. He has been the local welcoming committee and halfway house for a lot of the new arrivals here which now number about 10-12 ex-pats from Australia, NZ and a couple from Canada.

We only spent a couple of weeks with Glenn as on our first day of househunting we found a great house to rent right on the edge Ennis, the 'Capital of County Clare'. Ennis is about 20 mins drive north of Shannon and Shannon airport, (Ireland and Europe's most Westerly airport and first ever to have duty free shopping in 1947), where I have taken up a permanent ATC contract.

Next time you see me, possibly or probably not at age 60, I will be saying things like "Your man said", or "I'm Grand", or "Tanks a million", or "Your man here said no bother so it'll be Grand, but tanks a million anyway". Or a not so Richie Benaud classic like "Tree for Tree Turty Tree"!

Our house has recently been rebuilt, albeit a home job, however it's still new inside and a lot different to the standard plans of the many new residential developments that are a real blight on the pretty Irish landscape. Although it wasn't quite ready we jumped at it and moved in as soon as the outside was painted and not yet dry. Although our shipment of 44 boxes and one Jade Pearl Kia Sportage hadn't arrived yet, and we were without TV or internet, we were happy to be in our new place and ready to get started.

I had started work the week before which was going smoothly, although the first week was the calm before the storm! Weeks 2-5 turned out to be ridiculously hard and challenging. At one stage I thought it would be adios Ireland after a few bad days in the simulator. The course they designed for experienced controllers is way over the top and coupled with the fact we were training with 2 Ukranian controllers and one Indian controller made it especially difficult. One of the Ukranians, Andriy, and Indu the Delhi controller were fired after week 3 which, although not nice for them, actually made it a lot better for the 4 of us remaining to complete the training.

To cut a long story short I finished the training college and was ready to start on the real stuff again, that is after I had taken 5 days rec leave and Sarah and I hit the many and varied counties of Ireland for a 5 day tour. (n.b the Kia, our furniture and clothes had now arrived but we were still waiting on a phone line to be installed for the pay TV and internet to be connected!)

Day 1 - Ennis to Clifden (County Galway) via some nice scenic drives.

I'll start by saying that the Irish roads aren't great! Some of them are good, most of them are small, but except for the duel carriageways, they are generally very scenic and well worth the effort.

*The Plaque reads - CONNEMARA
Built in 1999 by Joyces craft shop for no apparent reason. (who said the Irish had no sense of humor?)

We drove North to Galway then West into Galway county proper. You could spend a 'good wee while' in county Galway appreciating it's dramatic beauty. We would later find out that this could be said of most of the West counties. Most of our day was spent in the car driving along the green scenic routes marked on our pilfered budget rent-a-car Irish map.

Our not so pilfered, but borrowed, Irish Lonely Planet (LP) led us to the magnificent Quay House on the edge of Clifden bay. In the old boat masters house, and now 'quirky yet chic hotel', our host Paddy gave us the choice of either the nautical room or the 'Aviary'. We'd like to go back and see the other rooms but you can probably guess which one we chose?

*Stuffed not shaken!

After a Full Irish Breakfast (FIB) in the conservatory we hit the road for Day 2 - County Galway to County Mayo.

Once again, the very scenic roads out of West Galway took us towards Westport via Croagh Patrick, probably Ireland's most important mountain, if mountains can be important. I'll let those of you who are interested google it rather than go in to more detail, needless to say we didn't do a pilgrimage on our knees up to the top. The closest I came to God was when I found a safety pin in the glove box to pin up our broken drivers side sun visor that was drooping over the windscreen and upsetting my view of the countryside.

Another long, but enjoyable, day in the car brought us to Mullaghmore heads and the LP promise of seaweed baths. There was no seaweed baths in our hotel however, Sarah in her "I wanted a seaweed bath and how can you say that the spa pool is closed and being cleaned when we just went up there and saw that it's not and we only want half an hour, and we'd really like a spa (sad puppy dog face)" kind of way, managed to get us a spa bath. Add a quarter bottle of bourbon a great view, some car cooler hummus and celery snacks, and later a chinese dinner as the only customers in an off-season Mullaghmore, it doesn't get much better than that?

Day 3 - Counties Mayo, Sligo and the Wild West of County Donegal.

Dare I say it, another day in the car following the green scenic roads on the there no end to the beauty in this country? Our main choice today was which way to go and working out when we could come back here and see more of the place. I've recently heard that SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker) has a holiday house in Donegal. The popular opinion is that she can bring her kids here and escape from the world.

We didn't see much paparazzi on our travels, a welcome change from our usual daily life, however we did come across a castle or two or 3 or ....... (apparently our home county of Clare has, or had, over 250 castles, can you believe that?)

We struggled to find a hotel for the night in the off season. The Place we stopped at was a good choice as the pub downstairs served a decent dinner and a tasty pint. The best bit was the weekly Ceile (Traditional Irish dance session) in the hall out the back. Sarah didn't exactly drag me in, however she did have to drag me on to the floor for a couple of dances after a long day behind the wheel. We didn't, and still don't, speak Irish like the locals in this Donegal Gaeltacht region do, however we manged to give a good account of ourselves and have a few laughs along the way.

Day 4 - County Donegal (Republic of Ireland) to Derry (Northern Ireland) ....but let's not talk politics here!

Dare I say it, yeah why not, we jumped back in the jade Pearl Kia again and hit the Irish coastline for some more sightseeing. After the Slieve League Cliffs yesterday, the highest cliffs in Europe no less, we decided, or I persuaded Sarah that we should go to Malin Head, the Northermost point in this grand land. We took a couple of photos, and got the local constabulary to take a couple of happy snaps of us.

*If you look carefully you can see EIRE written in whites stones on the coastal point

Apparently the local Guarda (Coppers) do a check of the point as part of their local rounds, they're not just skiving off work like I suggested.

Day 5 - County Derry then home, sweet home, to Clare.

I didn't know that Sunday Bloody Sunday was sung about, and actually happened in Derry (Or Londonderry if you like). I mistakenly thought it occurred in Belfast. As before I won't get into politics here, especially as it's not my place and I don't know enough to have a proper informed opinion. Needless to say though that there's been 'troubles' in the North of Ireland for a good wee while.

We arrived into Derry late, and again Sarah dragged me out. I was dragging her out of the first pub to go home when she spotted the Skiddly Iddly band firing up for a session and thankfully convinced me to stay. For the next few hours I forgot my tired-and-grumpiness, drank a few pints, listened to some good music, had some great craic with Paddy a local artist and resident bar fly. After a good few laughs he invited us to see his latest mural painting in the 'Bogside' the next morning.

*This one is for the local football side. The players were being outlined below.
Paddy said that the bogside has produced the most amount of world class sportsmen per ca pita in the world. Not sure about that but might check it out if I remember.

Before we met Paddy we walked atop the famous walls of the city and learnt heaps about the varied and checkered history of Derry. It makes you wonder about the 150 year celebrations I had as a kid in Australia! I'll leave it for another blog to tell you about my curiosity, bordering on obsession if you ask some, of the many ancient stone wonders in Ireland and the UK!

We left Paddy and his murals and headed back down the heart of Ireland to Ennis. Unfortunately while Sarah was sleeping, and when she was awake for that matter, we didn't pass any stone circles or wedge tombs much to my disappointment.

We arrived back late , threw out the last carrot stick and celery stalk from the cooler, dumped the dirty clothes in the laundry and went to bed.

A good little trip around a great little country.........

I hope you didn't switch off too early and get bored because I may just blog again soon! (especially if the weather holds and we get 5 more days of Ashes test match cricket next week :)

Hope you're all well and happy