7. The Auld Sheeban and Bettys Boxty.

Sitting at the kitchen table in our Ballina AirBnB two bed, two bathroom U Bewt temporary home, I have time to express the joy it gives me writing these ‘blogs’. But gee, its difficult at times on the ‘WordPress’ site as it relies on my being connected to that mysterious signal, ‘wi-fi’. All Hotels, B&B’s, Cafes, restaurants, small pubs blah blah advertise ‘free wi-fi’. The problem is I am finding, that most of the signals are only available, hence free, once you locate the source of the signal it usually hidden in a ceiling, cupboard or in the managers cubby house. With my ‘blogs’, there is a need to save ‘the written word’ by clicking on the ‘save’ button in the ‘tool bar’ which, when you begin writing for the first 10 or so hours of any one ‘Blog’, seems at times to happen automatically. Theres a little note at bottom left of my screen which tells me that what I have written was last saved. Like now it says ‘A Minute Ago’. So far so good, but after about ten hours and of an evening when all the kids in the vicinity are on their wi-fi playing kill the bad guy, my signal fades and I need to search for the source in a cupboard as its impossible to save my gems of writing. Occasionally, my gems disappear into the ether or jump into another bit of the text or God thinks they are derogatory to Him and pinches them for use by his priests from the pulpit. I do not know. Its a tad frustrating leading to frequent thirty second sulks from me, a tipple from the whiskey bottle and soothing words from my amazing bride Susan. Bugger it Des, get on with it as that’s the way it is.

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Ballina Street all quiet on a Sunday.

What we have seen of Ballina we like despite the population of 10,171 at the 2016 census. A crowded constrained town centre, narrow streets, hundred and fifty year plus old stone bridges over the River Moy, Lidl and Tesco supermarts just off the main historic street areas, lots of small shops and many pubs including the ‘Snug’ which I spotted on the drive in. When I told our AirBnB host Paul that I was going to visit there, he shook his head nah, dint got dere dats where da Tinkers drink. Yall git robbed or yar troat cut. That shuts that drinking hole out. Tinkers are Gypsies, apparently. I cannot leave the planet yet as Sue needs me to drive the six forward gear Nissan and operate the windscreen wiper turn indicators. We settle into our AirBnB in what for this trip, is lots of space and a bit of luxury so we spend whats left of Saturday 11 August unwinding, unpacking the Nissan and lolling about. Early evening, we go off for an explore and finish up in the tiny ‘An Bolg Bui’ or ‘The Yellow Belly’ Inn adjacent a bridge and the River Moy. Its reasonable crowded and everybody has their eyes glued to TV’s as its Galway v Dublin? a must win for each team of the Irish Round Footy game. Concentrations are broken as men and women go outside for a ciggy which is much in vogue here. Many women particularly, also smoke foul smelling cigarellos just like Clint Eastwood in his cowboy days. And he’s still alive the women would possibly say.

Theres a statue in town called the ‘Humbert Memorial’ but thats not Humbert up there on top of the plinth but ‘Mother Ireland’. The memorial commemorates the landing of French Forces about 1798 accompanied by wild Irishmen who wanted their country rid of the English. The force landed in Killala Bay and marched along what became known as the ‘French Road’ and in time as ‘The Old French Road’. Marching towards Ballina they fought the English, won a few battles but lost more battles than they won. In the wash up to all this, a Patrick Walsh was executed in Walsh Street Ballina and I had a look at the short street where Patrick was hung. The Street where our AirBnB is situated, Barrett Street, commemorates the execution of Dr Barrett for siding with the Irish rebels Jeese, no wonder the Irish dislike the English when you view the terrible atrocities inflicted on the country by English authorities, including the Attila the Hun of his day, Oliver Cromwell, the Famine, land rights blah blah. No wonder some 6/7 million of them emigrated. For a long time there were more Irish born people in America than Ireland.

The Old French Road became a road of history for hikers and those who loved Irish History. Then along came the USofA corpulent mega company Coca Cola and got planning consent to build their new factory across the Old French Road. Ta ta Old French Road.

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River Moy Ballina. The salmon fishing capital of Ireland!!!

Sunday 12 August we decided to have a full day off and sort out all our ‘stuff’ which has mated with itself, had babies, all unbeknown to us, and thus we have a 40 litre plastic container to contain all the babies. This includes food, maps, books I just had to have,  Sue’s Glenmorangie, extra thermal T shirts as its cold, a bottle of Red wine, hers also as she finds it cold too, souvenir’s, an assortment of gadgets to open cans, bottles and carry bags as shops here do not issue free bags to carry things. Bottles especially.

Our hosts reckon that the ‘The Auld Shebeen’ in the heart of Ballina, has the best ‘craic’ in the village and who are we to question two born Ballina people. Plus, on Mondays only, you can eat Bettys Boxty. We go Sunday evening and at 6pm its near chokas. The pub was established in 1901 and is nearly on the banks of the River Moy where all the salmon are. Its fair boisterous inside with footy, soccer and hurling games on TV and they had to make space for them as the walls and ceilings are packed with somebodies memorabilia. Theres a bicycle laying flat against the ceiling, a wagon wheel,  curls of rope in various patterns and on the walls, frying pans, clothes irons of the wood stove type, shovels, axes and so on. Its interesting and ads heaps of ambience as do the row of men lining the bar all in meaningful conversation only taking time to draw breath when they need to go outside for a ciggy.

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The Auld Shebeen Inn Ballina. They make and sell Bettys Boxty only on a Monday night. Great PUB.

Dins at home, Sue cooks, no grease, eggs nor Black Pud.

Monday we head off to do the ‘Ring of Ballina’. Out to Bangor then Belmullett where nearby, Marconi sent the very first transatlantic wireless telegraph message to the New World from the old in October 1907. Then its back to Ballina via Glenamoy, the 5000 year old Ceide Fields and Ballycastle. The drive out is guarded initially by lovely green pasture, trees and shrubs the usual Irish landscape then all too soon we pass vast plains of low windswept heath smothered by Purple Moor Grass, Bog Cotton Grasses and Sphagnum Moss. The Nephin Beg Range halts the plains march rather abruptly with most of the higher mountains crowned by ominous maudlin grey clouds. Somewhere in those mountains lies the Ballycroy National Park. The plains are mostly very damp ground where peat has been farmed for thousands of years and local farmers and contractors are still doing it today to keep the hearths in Irish homes alight. Hundreds of white bags of peat dot the plains with here and there a larger pile covered with white plastic to assist in drying the peat. The peat came about due to early Neolithic man, Normans, Vikings and everybody else who inhabited these plains once upon a time when it was forest, chopping ALL the trees down firstly with stone axes then iron axes all the trees necessary to fire their hearths, build their houses, boats, wharves, churches, pave roads, construct fences blah blah. The forests helped dissipate the rain thru transpiration, evaporation and in keeping them alive. Once they went, the ground became damp, waterlogged and bacteria broke down the leaf mould and soil into peat over thousands of years as it progresses towards becoming oil. Yay. Its not the most inspiring landscape to drive thru but shows ‘mans’ treatment of his environment has caused once useful land to become useless except for the cutting of peat. I may have some of that wrong as I’m tired. No excuse Des. Its now early morn and I’m in my cubby house ‘tip tapping’ and can tell you definitively that – ta dum – Peat forms when plant material does not fully decay in acidic and anaerobic conditions. It is composed of wetland vegetation principally bog plants including mosses, sedges and shrubs. And a lot of peat bogs were caused by mans removal of trees from the landscape. Large areas of Ireland are devoid of the original trees and undergrowth. If you have been to the Burren on the west coast, a large now rocky area, thats an example. But the strange thing is, that today peat bogs maintain different life forms, flora and fauna and if you want a fight with Bob Browne’s mob, do not remove any peat without a licence and do not try to develop on a peat bog unless you have deep pockets and have politicians in those pockets.

The small village of Bangor on the banks of the River Owenmore is passed quickly its 306 occupants currently swelled by hiking and fishing enthusiasts, is mostly asleep as thow they have all been attending a ‘craic’ into the wee hours dancing with Leprachaun’s, Goblins and Fairies.

Into Belmullet which has a population of around a 1,000 but in the surrounding area theres another 10,000 many of them in new subdivisions with two storey stand along houses with kerbed, bitumised roads, all services and its neat and tidy. Theres no trees in this location with the Atlantic Ocean within a rock or two’s throw, its bloody windy. Back in 1958, Belmullet became the site of a conflict between Mr Erskine Childers, Minister of Lands and local workmen who had reused to construct a fence thru an area thought to be occupied by Leprachauns. Yes Leprachauns. The Minister was unable to find other contractors to take on the job, so the fence was built by the originally employed men with a deep ‘bend’ around the Leprachaun site. The story is still told in the pubs and inns of Belmulett by proud Belmullettians. Should be more of that. Sticking it up the Minister that is.

We dropped into Talbots Seafood Bar and Restaurant for a cuppa as its far too early for anything else. Talbots is a really classy establishment worthy of a 5 star or 9/10 in Dublin. The rest of Belmullet rates 7/10. Sarah-Jane the wait person, tells us that all those new houses, she refers to as mortgages, are occupied by young couples whose husband works in England or Europe and a fair mix of retirees who enjoy fishing on the 10 days a year its not raining and/or blowing a force 10 gale. The other days of the year they spend their time at Talbots fine Bar and Restaurant.

Heading back towards Bangor, we divert on the other leg of the Ballina Ring the roadside similar to that already traversed except that the wild Atlantic is to our left with high rusty coloured rocks and cliffs until we prop at Ceide Fields a former Neolithic site from 5,500 years ago. Its all a fossilised landscape now dominated by a pyramid shaped architectural masterpiece, hmm, that is the information centre for the ‘remains’ of what was once a very large ‘early man and woman’ village. We pay our four euro seniors fee and have a squiz about. Lots of info inside about what was once here, and parts of the former settlement have been exposed under the peat bog now some 1.5 metres deep. Impressive inside but not so outside where one follows good pathways laid over the peat where one can see piles of rocks, sedge grasses, more rocks and so on. One needs a guide but even then, rocks and more rocks. The information centre had no English version pamphlets but lots in Gaelic. They had a movie showing explaining the site and its history but I could only understand every fourth word of the Irish speak so went off to have a sook.

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Architectural ‘masterpiece’ set amongst the Ceide Fields of Neolithic Man who lived here 5,000 years ago and chopped all the trees down. Now its a waterlogged peat bog.

Somewhere along this lonely road, Belacorick I think, theres zilch arable land about this area, its all harsh grasses no good for stock, we cross over ‘The Singing Bridge’ in a small, very small village of three houses. But by the time I had put the windscreen wipers on to indicate we were turning off to stop, with Mister Audi up my exhaust pipe, it was too far to go back and/or I could not turn around. Pick one.

Back in Ballina, we are off to ‘The Auld Shebeen’ Inn to see and hopefully taste Bettys Boxty as its only available to munch on Monday nights. Its Monday night and we are seated easily by six. Theres less crowd than last night, so we fuel up with a Jamies, Moi and a Cab Sav, her, and await the delivery of Bettys Boxty to somebody. Theres no action because nobody has ordered one. A Boxty also known as a Poundy consists of, it varies, finely grated raw potato and mashed potato with flour, baking soda, buttermilk and egg. Nothing harmful there. My dear mother Elsie, my Mother Splendid, made a version of these called ‘Mock Fish’ back when I was a tacker. I still have fond memories of them in amongst the not so fond memories of all the offal we ate. However, at ‘The Auld Shebeen’ theres no action on the Boxty front until 9pm when the crowd arrive and then its Boxtys everywhere. Irish people do not ‘go out’ until about nine and stay out until about 2 to 3 am. We are in bed at nine!!!! Ooroo from Desmondo.

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Coastal scene along ‘The Ring of Ballina’ opposite the ‘Ceide Fields’.