North to the South

Our mechanic needed the van overnight to do the service and repairs so we booked a night in a nearby cottage where we took long hot showers, did four loads of wash, and spent most of the day watching old movies on TV. It was a nice break from the van, and there was even a clothesline in the garden where I could dry the laundry in the sunshine.

John did a first rate job replacing the worn parts that were flagged in our MOT inspection, plus did a full service. He also gave us tons of tips on places to go in Donegal. He warned us with a wry smile that we’ll love it so much we won’t want to leave.

County Donegal is an interesting place. It’s part of the province of Ulster, most of which constitutes Northern Ireland, but since partition it’s also the northernmost county of the Republic of Ireland, or “the South,” as they say here. Partition cut the county off from Derry, its traditional economic and administrative hub, and geographically it’s also almost completely cut off from the rest of the Republic. It’s remote, wild and rugged. Their motto is “Up here, it’s different.”

The border between the North and the South, though it’s nearly invisible, reminds me a bit of the Iron Curtain that once divided Germany along idealogical lines. When I lived in Berlin it was inconceivable to me that Germany would ever be reunited yet less than five years after I left the Berlin Wall was torn down with sledge hammers and a groundswell of frustration. I know the two situations are completely different but I often wonder if there will ever be a united Ireland.

We’re eager to start exploring, and as usual, have no planned itinerary. We’re continuing our counterclockwise coastal approach, which seems to be working for us so far. Our daily decisions rest as much on the need for food or fuel and where we can stop overnight as what we want to see. And of course, we usually gravitate toward the water.

It’s funny that we never even heard of Martello towers until we visited our first one in Hoy last year and now we check out any that we see on the map. We just add them to the list of things that attract our attention along with megalithic sites, castles, old harbors, wood fired pizza, and any café with eggs Benedict on the menu.

We made our way slowly up the west coast of Lough Foyle then turned northwest to Culdaff Beach and one of the most scenic little libraries we’ve ever come across.

This memorial plaque was on a bench overlooking the sea. My Morse code is a bit rusty but eventually I made it out. “Don’t piss in the bidet Darling x”

Good advice.

We like to alternate a parkup at sea level with a higher elevation view, which also gives Jack the opportunity to pretend he’s driving a Porsche over the twisty mountain roads.

Then it’s back down to sea level and a peaceful night along Trawbreaga Bay.

Our good weather gave out along with our supplies and after stocking up at a local supermarket we took shelter in a cozy café for eggs Benny.

We spent the afternoon working off the calories hiking through a charming community park. We’ve both noticed how kid-oriented and family friendly Ireland is. There are playgrounds everywhere, public toy bins at the beaches, and this park even has little play houses at each picnic site complete with a table and chairs.

We ducked back to Derry for a day to retrieve an order from Amazon and while we were there we took care of something we both take very seriously — voter registration. Because we live outside the country we need to submit paperwork each year in order to receive our ballots. In a bit of a clumsy analog-digital mashup, we have to print the forms, fill them out and sign, then scan and email them back. Now that I’m a member at Libraries NI it was easy for us to duck in to the Derry branch and use a public computer to print the forms.

It was story hour behind me, and I did my work while listening to the same nursery songs my kindergarten teacher mother sang to us when we were little. Some things never change.

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