Plastic Bags and the Lake of Learning

I have climbed up the walls and sitting where the ceiling might have been on the ruins of the tiny little university that once thrived on Inishfallen, a little island in county Killarney in the middle of a lough that is called ‘the lake of learning’.

In the 7th century people made the trip across the lake to the monastic centre here to study.  Brian Boru, last high king of ireland apparently came and studied here.

We came over on a tiny little boat called ‘the otter’ which barely fitted us all.  Another fellow and a dog named charlie came with us partway and transferred to another little boat that was moored mid-lake.

The ruins consist of parts of the stone walls only.  They are very old.  There is an ancient yew tree here with cute red berries. The island is small and round, surrounded by silvery fresh water with white swans and lots of other birds.  Someone saw a deer as the boat slid in but it is hiding now.

I have plastic bags tied around my shoes to keep them dry. Everyone is amused by this and I have been subjected to lots of photographs as I sit up here typing away on my phone with my plastic bag shoes. Woke to pouring pouring pouring rain and was not sure whether it was morning as outside was so dark from cloud. We have no waterproof shoes and things take quite a while to dry out in these parts. The plastic bags around shoes was L’s idea, which I instantly adopted for practical reasons.  L has not put hers on yet. Shall be buying some gumboots at first chance.

Clouds have now cleared and it is sunny. (But ground is still soggy wet). Another couple of rainbows today and the sunshine and clouds and brilliant green hills with castle and abbey ruins makes it all look like a picture book. The island itself is bigger than it looks covered in stone ruins, trees and vegetation, with enticing little paths leading off in all sorts of directions.

I have been trying to visualise this place in the 7th century; medieval attire, the smell of bread baking and freshly caught fish.  Visitors must have come across the lake slowly in row boats.  I wonder what topics they studied. I wonder if women were allowed here then. Ireland had stronger matriarchal traditions than elsewhere in Europe so maybe they did. My visualization is not working as well as there a few boats turning up with other tourists who are all likewise wandering around, and giving sideways looks at my plastic bags.  Some make little comments as they walk past.  Some of them think I am clever, some of them think I am funny, and some of them think I am downright weird and they avoid making  eye contact.

As to why I have climbed up the walls and am now perched on the roof? Don’t really know. One reason is coz I can see better from here. The rest is just pure childish spontaneity of the sort that sees parents constantly pulling their children out of trees and off the garage roof. Its fun up here.  I am not coming down yet.  Everyone else is going off to do a meditation in the chapel but I feel like I shall stay up here like a kitten in a tree and listen to the wind.

The tour is all ladies.  There are 13 of us, a perfect Irish dozen.  I really like a few of the ladies already as they are kind hearted and have good senses of humour. Our bus driver is called “John the King of Derbyshire”.  This is because last night he was telling us (something) about the ‘kingdom’ of Derbyshire, but from the back of the bus it sounded like he was solemnly announcing to everyone that he was the King of Derbyshire – which set me off into a fit of giggles and the name has stuck in my brain.

John the King of Derbyshire likes buses.  As we drive about he points out to us different types of buses on the roads and tells us which types he has driven before and which types he hasn’t.  We are politely interested.  John is quite old.  I would say he has driven an impressive variety of buses over the years.

We are now browsing shops in Killarney.  I had a dangerous liaison with an antique jewelley shop and am now eating homemade icecream in a cheerful little store – two flavours – dingle sea salt, and peppermint.  Both delicious.

Tomorrow I take a day out from the tour and will be heading up to Dingle on a speculative mission.  I want to see if I can find Padraig the old man who plays every instrument and sings every song.
17 September 2011 – Ireland

postscript – some photos below (taken by a friend) 

this is the boat the Otter” that transported us across the lake – owned by a dog called Charlie, who is in the photo.  Charlie goes on every trip back and forth across the lake.


plastic bags over shoes …. who would be stupid enough to travel to Ireland with only suede boots  ? … the answer is “me”.   Now you can see why I got so many strange looks from other people – but at least my shoes were dry ….

I am also wearing the big coat that the Turkish taxi driver tried to confiscate in Kas … and typing out part of this email on my phone at the time of photograph


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