CIE TOURS - July 20, 2018
July 20, 2018
By Caroline Bartholomew
Welcome back! This week, I joined my second tour called “Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way” which features magnificent views of Ireland’s west coast. Throughout the past week, our group has made its way from Clare all the way up to Donegal, the northernmost county in Ireland, with the guidance and superior driving skills of our guide, Frank.
This journey has been an eye-opening experience because it’s allowed up to glimpse into the hardships people faced while living in the countryside. We had the luxury of traveling through steep, rocky mountains in the comfort of a coach bus, but many before us were not so lucky. Visits to the Deserted Village at Slievemore and the Museum of Country Life in particular gave us details of rural life in Ireland that would be hard to find elsewhere.
To this day, there is little known about the inhabitants of the hillside village overlooking Keem Bay. The Achill Field School has organized archaeological digs and has found that people have been living on the site since the 12th century. The ruins seen today, however, are from cottages built during the 1800s and were most likely abandoned during The Great Famine (1845-1849) or when the tenants were forcibly evicted soon afterward.
I think what shook our group the most was how small the cottages were and how large families would’ve had to live together in just one tiny room. We also wondered why the houses had been built all the way up on the steep hillside instead of the flat ground below, and Frank explained that these were tenants who most likely had no say on their living conditions. As we walked through the ruins, we tried to imagine ourselves in the former inhabitants’ shoes, but it was certainly a challenge.
The next day, we continued north for a visit to the Museum of Country Life, which gave a very realistic description of what life was like for everyday people in the countryside. The museum had exhibits on the roles of different tradesman in the community like tailors, carpenters and blacksmiths, as well as what went into producing crops each year and raising livestock.
The exhibits also highlighted how almost everything had to be made by hand, and people made do with what they had. Examples in the museum included chairs, baby cradles and cottage roofs because depending on where they lived, a family might have access to wood, or they might have to rely on reeds if they lived in a coastal area.
Besides the many hardships people endured, another main takeaway from the museum was the difference in the reality of rural life versus the romanticized version that people on the outside often received. One example was the idyllic village life depicted in the movie “The Quiet Man” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. The film tells a love story against the backdrop of a quaint rural town, but fails to address the poor conditions and hard work many people had to do at that time just to make ends meet.
Overall, travelling along the Wild Atlantic Way has been amazing not only because of the scenery, but also because of the history and culture we’ve experienced along the way.