Into The West

The month of June was a very exciting and busy one for us, apart from the Romería in El Rocio taking place after a two year break; we set off to visit Ireland and our families.

We worked hard to deserve a nice break.  

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Romeria El Rocio 2022

The very famous pilgrimage, the Romería , is about the veneration of the Virgin of El Rocio, La Paloma Blanca, and was as colourful as always. The flamboyant Flamenca dresses come in all sorts of colour combinations and sizes, everything goes here; it is an exuberant expression of life.

I am in awe of the solemn manifestation of religious fervour, be it genuine or not. From an early age the children are encouraged to be a part of this celebration and soak the atmosphere up into their very being, to then perform their essential part in the religious pageant.

While the Virgin was on her last day in Almonte and on the brink of being carried on manly shoulders through the town twice, we witnessed a group of adolescents carrying their miniature virgin, mimicking their fathers and uncles or older cousins.

We had over twelve bookings for the weekend of the Translado, the moving of the Virgin from Almonte to her home town of El Rocio and the following weekend of the Romeria.

The Spanish like to book spontaneously, sometimes in the middle of the night and a few hours later think better of it and cancel again. So in the end we realised only six overnight stays and had a room free, meaning a third was not booked.

I looked up the competition in El Rocio and surrounding areas and saw that they also were not fully booked.

So money is not freely available anymore, with prices for food and transport well up.

Back to the Emerald Isle

Lough Key, County Leitrim

After our hard work on the farm/finca, with guests, garden and goats we took off on a three week holiday to cherished Ireland.

We had Lada, our Czech regular guest, and a friend minding our house and creatures and gardens, while we took our time visiting good green Eire. There was a very important reason for that; my daughter got her Doctor title conferred and her Mummy was definitely not going to miss that.

Our car was already waiting for us in Knock Airport, north-west Ireland, as Nigel’s daughter Lydia had brought her dog in our car over to Ireland from Spain. As car hire prices have broken the stratosphere it meant only paying the diesel for our transport. We managed to cover nearly all of Ireland on this trip, from the very South to the very North coast and lots of counties in between.

From Knock we went to Kilkenny, where my daughter Elaine now lives. Nigel and I made the most of it and visited Kilkenny Castle and park and took the tourist train and Nigel sampled a few Guinness’s in various pubs, as suggested by the ‘Guinness Guru’ as seen on Youtube. This young guy travels around Ireland and other countries rated the standard of Guiness in a very Irish and charming way.

I then spent my first weekend with Elaine and Frank and Holly, his girlfriend, between Clonakilty and Kinsale, in Cork, the very South of the Republic of Ireland.

We had a lovely spacious Airbnb, right at the water and owned by a dairy farmer. Our weekend was short and action packed: Saturday morning surfing at Inchydoney Strand and in the afternoon a high-ropes parcours, then witnessed the cows being milked on Sunday morning at 8 am by our host Maurice.

In the meantime Nigel was helping his best friends Joan and Paddy in Clonmel moving out of their beautiful residence beside the Marlfield lake into town.

From Cork we drove to Portrush, Northern Ireland, the Antrim coast and still part of Britain but strangely not part of Brexit. I stayed with Nigel’s sister (also called) Elaine and was pampered and had a really lovely, relaxing time nursing my weary bones from the hard weekend before, whereas Nigel went off to his hometown of Ballymena to visit old friends.

Between looping back to Donegal and the Republic and visiting Nigels brother in Buncrana, we crossed the border many times unhindered.

Then it was time to go to the Midlands for me to stay with my friend Fiona in Longford and Nigel to do some business in Manorhamilton. Fiona is a fashionista and helped me get ready for my daughter’s big day.

It was her conferral ceremony to receive her doctor degree in Dairy Cow Nutrition at University College Dublin, UCD. Curiously she graduated with the Veterinarians instead of the Agricultural PhDs due to her supervisor being a veterinarian.

The title of her research is: “The Influence of nutritional management and genotype on milk production, metabolic status, energy balance and nitrogen excretion of high-yielding pasture-based cows.”

And yes, the research itself was as cumbersome, intense, and multi-faceted as the title suggests. It involved a herd of cows that were split into two groups under two different feeding regimes involving daily sample taking, so no weekends off for Elaine.

She was up against the weather, sabotage of her project, heart-break and exhaustion. I really feared for her mental well-being in those four years and tried to cheer her on from afar.

What kept her sane was that her best friend Sofie, a German girl she shared a room with while studying at UCD, also did her PhD, but at a different location in Ireland. The two of them graduated together, they are like sisters.

Naturally it was a very emotional day, us four together again as a family and bursting with pride over what our children had achieved. Both are now installed in their chosen career, Frank as a dairy herd manager, currently on a farm in Waterford with six hundred milking cows and Elaine in Glanbia as Ruminant Nutritionist and Gain Technical Advisor, frequently being seen on YouTube educational videos under the Glanbia Connect series.

A few days of our time were taken up with looking at our rented properties; mine a small cottage near Longford town and Nigel’s farmhouse in Leitrim. A few bad surprises awaited but overall they still stand, although nobody will take care of your house and garden as yourself.

Then on the way to the South and the ferry in Ringaskiddy we did the touristy thing and visited The Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary.  We passed it by so many times before, so finally we wandered around this fantastic medieval complex, which was built between the 11th and 16th century and has wonderful views of the surrounding countryside as it sits on top of a rock 110 metres above sea level. The very well preserved round tower stands another 28 metres high above that and had six floors inside.

The other remarkable feature that is still partly visible is the Archbishop’s secret passageway. Here is an amusing account of the life on the ‘Rock’ in medieval times:

https://www.enjoy-irish-culture.com/rock-of-cashel-medieval.htm

By the way, part of the movie Excalibur (1981) was filmed in this location.

What did I enjoy most being back in Ireland?

Lough Melvin, County Leitrim

Well, apart from seeing friends and family eye-to-eye, the fresh greenness, the hiddenness of the countryside features as during the summer months the hedgerows, trees and rushes take over the roads and bye-ways. The misty rain, so gentle and cooling, if only we could have a bit of that in the blistering heat of summer in Andalucia.

I also miss the food, would you believe it. Since I arrived first in 1991 in Ireland, the country has changed its food culture radically. From meaty salads drowned in mayonnaise and ‘Hangsandwiches’ (Ham that is) now you can get all the dressings, vegetables and vegetarian options in the supermarkets and restaurants from all over the world. Our last meal was a traditional Christmas dinner (ham, turkey, stuffing and gravy) for Nigel and I had a selection of salads.

Our boat, the Armorique, took us over to Roscoff in France in a calm16 hours voyage.

Romeria and Puppy Love

Puppy Love

Drops, our little terrier-mix, thanked us for taking care of her with a clutch of puppies. We kept two of them, Bonnie and Clyde. So we now have four dogs in total and that is enough.

As cute as their antics are, the animal instinct drives the mother to give them lessons in survival hunting and they turned suddenly on our two white hens. Ordinarily the hens forage around the dogs, happily clucking away and even eating out of the same bowls. One hen did not survive the attack, the other is rather ruffled looking, missing all feathers on her back, but is feeding away. So we are down to three eggs a day. With guests enjoying the odd fry-up, we need a bigger supply of fresh farm eggs and so are buying three more hens. The red breed seems to be more resilient as we still have the two original hens, Ruby and Rita.

Jack

Another addition to the family is Jack, our tiny kitten. He is only four weeks old and is the sole surviver of a batch. The others apparently got under the hooves of horses or were molested by dogs, so it was decided to farm him out. He now lives on the upper terrace until he is a bit bigger and able to stand his ground. I am however keen to give him some playmates….

Romeria 2019

As every year, The Romeria, the biggest religious pilgrimage in Andalucia, has taken place in El Rocio, only 15 kms from us [ http://www.andalucia.com/festival/pilgrimages.htm ]. The town itself is solely built on the sandy soils, with no paved roads, which is just as well as there are as many horses as people in this cowboy-feel like town, and every house has rails to tie your horse up at the front door and stables at the back. You can even drink your beer or eat on horseback with extra high planks to put your glass or plate down. [ http://www.andalucia.com/festival/rocio.htm ]

The Romeria is a colourful spectacle, with up to one million (1,000 000) poeple taking place and decending upon this small dusty town. The devotion to the ‘Virgin de El Rocio’ is amazing, but real religious fervour is rare and it#s all about the to-be-seen. Around nine months later apparently a lot of babies are born, not always conceived by husband and wife. The Spanish just like to celebrate and socialise, any reason is good enough. For us it means that Almonte closes down for nearly two weeks around pentecost, with no work or orders being taken three weeks in advance of the big festival. We just have to get used to that.

We originally thought to rent out the whole finca, but we have been adviced against it, as damage might occur and countless number of people would invade the house in an inebriated state. So we rented our rooms as usual, upping the price and …. ended up with only one full day booked and one room free. Who would have thought? Well, anybody that really has some business or involvement in the Romeria is of course in El Rocio, be it in one of the houses the various ‘Hermandades’ own, or other houses for rent, pensions, hotels, camping place or part of the gipsy bowtop caravans. Because from all towns of Andalucia families and groups diverge in several daylong pilgrimages towards El Rocio, on foot, on horse back, in carriages, carts or wagons, trailers and tractors. And all are decked out with flowers, pretty curtains, the ladies in flamenco dresses, flowers in hair or on top of their heads. The caballeros look very fetching in tight riding outfits, smart straw hats and bolero jackets.

We usually keep away from crowds and religious events, but this year I went with our German friends Claudia and Gerd to have a look on the Saturday evening. There was a lull in the celebrations and only when we left at nine in the evening, the streets started to fill up again. The real event, the blessing of the ox drawn carts with a flower-bedecked image of the Virgin in the main square, takes place around midday and is televised. So we watch from the cool of our sitting room on Canal Sur, the Andalucian regional TV station, how this religious cult unfolds.

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Yes, finally the last touches are being added and we are ready to open our house and finca for guests. Time to pop the cork!

The first bookings are coming in and soon we are also live on Airbnb.

And, since temperatures are soaring, we are installing a swimming pool. A big round over-ground thingy, 17.4 m3, 1 m deep which will give us some refreshment during the hottest months here when we won’t make it to the beach.

In the meantime another fiesta in Almonte is in preparation.

But first I want to tell you about our experience with the Romeria, which takes place each year at Pentecost.

El Rocio – The Romeria at Pentecost, see  https://rove.me/to/seville/el-rocio-pilgrimage  for footage and general information.

El Rocio is a town build on sand, therefore all its streets are pure sand and predestined to be used by horses, riders and carriages.

It also is a pilgrimage town, where throughout the year the brotherhoods, ‘hermandados’, meet to prepare for the biggest of the fiestas, the Romeria, at Pentecost. Last year we were just leaving for Portugal, when the throng of carriages, waggons and riders descended upon El Rocio. This year we watched the build-up in Almonte, where children and whole families were beautifully dressed in traditional costumes and flamenco dresses. Little girls complete with flowers in their hair, lipstick and dresses. Even little boys looked like their fathers in traditional leather riding boots, cummerbund, white shirts and hats, a lovely sight.

El Rocío Pilgrimage or Romería de El Rocío in Seville - Best Time

Some of the pilgrims passed-by our entrance.

We are people that shy away from crowds. This is our excuse, for this year anyway, not to join in the festivities in El Rocio. Instead we watched the religious fervour unfold on the television. There is a whole channel devoted to going-ons in Donana, the Nature Reserve and area here which includes Almonte, Matalascanas and El Rocio and the Donana National Park. This is a very catholic celebration of the Virgin of El Rocio, La Paloma Blanca, the white dove. Every hermandado has a float, richly decorated with flowers, drawn preferably by oxen or horses or mules. There are prayers, incantations and blessings. Not really our style. And to be wedged in between nearly a million dressed-up followers in the beating sun isn’t really our idea of fun.

However, we sneaked into town at sunset on the Sunday. Therefore my photos are very dark and some were too wobbly, as catching the carriages driving by or riders and lady’s on horseback proofed too much for my limited photographic talents. On this evening, an almighty downpour drenched the town and the revellers and big puddles need to be negotiated.  The floats are proudly displayed in a separate tent beside the place for the bow-top caravans for families that do not own a house in El Rocio. It is very much a family festivity and there does not seem to be much alcohol involved.

El Rocio, circa 15 kms from our house, at night: