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3
Return to the Republic

We Put On Some Pounds

We left Portrush the next morning, and decided to stop briefly in Coleraine (the next town west) to mail a few things and change our money. Northern Ireland uses the British pound, the Republic of Ireland uses the Irish pound, and Italy uses the lira, which we can call the Italian pound just to be consistent. We were carrying all three kinds.

Which kind is best? As far as beauty, color, design, etc., Irish currency is the best. Italian comes in second, and British - well, I can't even remember what it looks like. The American pound, or dollar, is probably the most functional-looking of all monies, but it stands out because it is printed on cloth rather than paper. Probably the Swiss pound, or franc, is the all-around best, since it's attractive, functional, and stable, but if you had to choose a set of currency to hang on your wall and admire, I would suggest the Irish.

However, don't go to Coleraine to get it. In fact, if you are driving at all in that part of Ireland, don't go near Coleraine.

More Fancy Driving

You'd think it would be child's play to drive into a little town and find the post office and a bank. In Coleraine, only the driving in is easy. When we arrived in town, we stopped a woman and asked for the post office. She cast a wild eye across the landscape, then told us that it was down that street over there.

In retrospect, I can see that it may well have been down that street over there, but at the time it was hard to tell. "That street" was closed to traffic, and so we tried to go around the block.

Instead we ended up going around the city, and soon found ourselves back where we started.

We weren't quite sure how it happened, so we went back through, taking a turn that obviously headed into the center of town, but inexplicably made another grand loop around the city and set us back in the first loop, which landed us once again at the start.

So we entered the second loop a second time, and tried another turn that headed inward. This took us through a third loop, the second loop, the first loop, and back to the start.

All this in the midst of slow-moving traffic.

We decided to let it go, and get the hell out of Coleraine, and turned away from the center. This took us, in some mysterious manner, back through all three loops. I began to feel that we were going to spend the rest of our lives, or at least the rest of the day, trying to get out of Coleraine.

The traffic continued sluggishly, but not because there were so many cars, but because the streets are narrow and confusing. It seemed to me that the only thing left to try was to drive through the pedestrian area in the center of town. So I pulled a right, and drove up the big sidewalk.

Of course, the first thing that we saw, now that we'd given up, was the Post Office. So we parked and mailed our things. "Shall we look for a bank?" I asked.

"Let's just get out of here," Mywatt replied, "if we can."

And so, to escape, I tried - in the manner of Alice in the Looking Glass - to turn back into Coleraine, and soon we left Coleraine behind.

Entering County Donegal

The border crossing was exceptionally easy, since there was no one in any of the crossing stations. The moment we crossed the border, we began a distinctly different part of our trip. It was not as though we'd come from the city into nature - there was plenty of natural beauty in Northern Ireland. The difference was that now we had nature without political overtones.

The first living being I saw was a very Republican donkey. He stood near the road, absolutely immobile. "Look at that!" I said to Mywatt, "He's not moving! Do you think it's real? Maybe it's plastic. Or maybe he's dead."

She quietly replied, "I guess you haven't seen many donkeys."

Lough Swilly

We swung up to Rathmullen, a town on Lough Swilly. We had tried (unsuccessfully) to reserve a room in the Rathmullen House, which was recommended by friends. Although we'd been told that it was completely booked, we went to see if perhaps someone had cancelled, or if we could get a different answer on the spot.

And it was worth the trip, even though they still told us "no," because we went through their garden, and took a walk along the beach.

The Earth is a very strange place to live. On it you can find cities and countries in which a human can hardly remain alive. On the other hand, you can find locations that have some sort of inherent spiritual power, such as Assisi or Glendalough (of which I'll speak later). Or areas in which the natural beauty has a quality that compels your admiration - a beauty so potent you can hardly believe it exists, and yet there it is, before your eyes.

And then, at last, there are some places where you could go, when it seemed that all your life had come apart. In these places, you could find solitude without isolating yourself. You could walk or sit or stare into space in the midst of a natural beauty that was calm but did not compel your attention. In other words, you can relax; your own thoughts, memories, and desires can emerge, and seem to rise and fall before your eyes while you walk among jellyfish drying on the beach. The other shore is so far you do not ask if you could swim to the opposite beach that so quickly ends in a rock wall.

And so I told myself, I have to remember this place.

But it wasn't long before sunset, and we had to find a place to stay. We drove here and there, more or less lost, until, more or less by accident, we landed in Kerrykeel, on Mulroy Bay.

There were signs everywhere for a big Irish Dance that night, and we wanted to go, but the Sandman came to call instead.


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