The Lie of the Tiger

The good doctor looked through the smudged windscreen at the wind torn peak about to run down the sloping slab of reef. There was no one else around to witness this every day miracle of nature or indeed the countless repetitions that were to happen before the tide finally vanquished the peak and rearranged the swell further up the point to create a more slipshod version. Yorkie, uncharacteristically silent furrowed his brow and finally stated to no one in particular whilst looking through binoculars.

‘’ Crab’s fucked ’’.

I altered the direction of my gaze from Doolin point to Crab Island, out and to the left of the small harbour where we were parked up. The low slung outcrop of limestone defends the harbour from the full brunt of the North Atlantic swells that are funnelled into Doolin Bay and the nearby Cliffs of Moher, enhanced and strengthened by an offshore oceanic trench. Today the seaward side was surrounded by an unruly beard of foam. The peak rose up at the far corner of the Island and stood in mid-air whilst the chaotic side shore wind tugged and distorted the lip until it became engorged by more and more water. In a blink of an eye it threw itself on the rock shelf with maniacal rage. So far so good, ferocity is what you can expect from this unforgiving wave. The next part of the sequence though confirmed Yorkie’s diagnosis. The tapering wall of the wave collapsed onto dry reef in brutal close out after brutal close out. I concurred.

‘’Not for wimps like you anyway’’

I felt secure from any comeback. Crab was out of control. There would be no long paddle out to the ancient Island today.

Earlier in the morning Yorkie nosed his black estate up and out from Lahinch towards the Cliffs. After ten minutes I looked down towards Lahinch nestled into the corner of the simarly named bay. There was a smudge of white running along the point. The town and bay looked idyllic from this distance and elevation, bordered by emerald green fields and glistening sea. Just as the tourist brochures would have it. The doctor interrupted my line of thought.

‘Was Lahinch always a rage?’’

I reflected back to my first trip to county Clare, twenty years ago. On Sundays the main street was busy for a small Irish town even then. There were a steady stream of tractors and agricultural traffic into the town. Farmers dropped off their wives to Mass. Towns folk trudged to church and walked back an hour or so later with a noticeably lighter or perhaps enlightened gait. All dressed in their Sunday best. The lanes were full of bachelors with their merry greetings and animated conversations that belied their appearances. The bailing twine belt never looked so good. Where did they walk to? Even then Spannish Point and the edges of Lahinch had necklaces of pragmatically placed bungalows with enormous UPVC windows and painted rendered boundary walls capped with all manner of precast. Today there are many more new houses strewn throughout the towns, villages and country side of Clare. Many dwarf the 20 year old bungallows.

Last night we arrived from the more northerly and drab Easky area. We sped along the new motorway leaving behind the recession hit northern counties and the many half built shopping centres and villas. Lahinch high street in the Sunday morning sun looked every bit the well upholstered town catering for golfers, surfers from Dublin, Euro tourista’s, lost American’s, Yankee kids and their ‘Burberryed’ elders. Smart shops selling surfboards, Arran sweaters , tinned biscuits and Belgium chocolates jostled with, fast food outlets and convenience stores. The pubs of course are still here but there was an air of service and professionalism about them. The music and conversation is also still there for the taking. Yorkie spent the early evening aimlessly flirting with the Polish barmaid at “Kenny’s” until it got too busy and we settled into listening to the singer song writer performing to the rapt audience at the back. At just on fifty he’s lost nothing of the thrill of the chase but can be distracted a little bit like an aging dog from a scent by a doggy treat. After Kenny’s we are confronted by O Looney’s, a large disco bar. There is a band playing disco hits and a fancy dress party. Leggy Dubliners, rub shoulders with their counter parts that have come home for the weekend to party. The good doctor leaves immediately, swiftly followed by me. Yorkie stays to snuffle around for a while but gets distracted and shuffles back to our hostel. The Celtic tiger had to roar without us that night.

As we drove up and down the coast looking at some of the old and two new spots I reflect that I have not seen one bachelor walking the roads of Clare. Threadbare tweed and bailing string must be ‘’out’’ this year.

‘’No’’ I said to the doctor ‘’but the Guinness and conversation at the 19th Hole pub were the best in the County’’

The black estate, piled high with surfboards continued to climb. We passed the Cliifs of Moher visitor’s centre and the associated car parks. The doctor looked exasperated.

‘’Why do you need a visitor centre for cliffs? They are just there are n’t they? The parking is 6 Euro for chrissakes.’’

I ignored the question as no doubt the disembarking American’s from the coach just in front of us would have.

The car drew to a halt a few hundred meters further on. We all jumped out and enthusiastically made our way across three boggy fields, negotiated some Colditz style barbed wire fencing and then found ourselves at the cliff edge. The sheerness and severity of the rock face took my breath away. The cliffs plunged 700 feet straight down into the unrelenting swell at the bottom. Spires and arches shaped by the waves over the millennia dizzyingly fought for attention, as did the unrelenting swell, the swirling winds, the sun and that sheer drop. The doctor fell to his knees and very carefully looked over the edge.

‘’That ‘s Aileens down there’’. He pointed , Yorkie and I starred. ‘’I feel sick he added’’.We staggered back to the car reeling from the full sensory overload.

‘’Jez, surfing forty foot waves ,at the very foot of 700 feet high cliffs, I said contemplatively. ’Perhaps we can surf somewhere else today?’’

We continued to stare through the smudged windscreen. Yorkie with his bino’s pressed into his eye sockets. He swivelled his gaze passed Crab Island and briefly alighted upon the distant Arran Islands. The Islands have been inhabited for hundreds of years but the Tiger economy has reached their shores’ It has left it’s paw print in the form of wind farms on the low cliffs. The proposal to lengthen Doolin harbour to accommodate growing numbers of tourists that visit the Islands has not been universally greeted as progress. Surfers worry for its potential effect on the Crab and Doolin point waves. Yorkie’s binos continued their sweep across Doolin bay until they reached the base of the Cliffs on the other side.

‘’Aileens is showing. Not very big though as far I can tell.’’ A pause. ‘’ Bloody hell, there a ski out there’ He’s motoring back here. Surely there is no need for a ski on a day like this’’

We fell into a pointless conversation on the why’s and wherefores’ of tow in surfing. Two of us are purists but on the other hand neither of us is raring to surf ‘’small’’ Aileen’s.

‘’Com’on let’s get on it.’’

We tugged on our wetsuits. The cross shore wind nagged and strengthened more as we carefully made our way across the vermiculated limestone reef. I plunged into the surge and made my way out to the line up without too much drama. The others follow. The wave, despite the wind, is peaking up perfectly and there is a long wall that runs down the reef at perfect speed on most waves. I get a few early sizable sets and take them all the way into knee deep water where they close out. Spent. It’s the best session of the trip for me. Yorkie and the Doctor fair fairly well but are less satisfied. (Always pays to be first out I say). We headed in. There was still no one around. The wind blew harder and the bay turned into a patchwork of froth and aquamarine within the hour. I felt so glad to be back in Clare.

‘’Let’s go to the pub’’ I said.’’Bollocks to another session. We are not kids any more we do n’t have to drive endlessly to find some crapped out wave shared with Dublin’s finest and a surf school.”
Later we are in Doolin’s take on a traditional pub. Inside it is enormous. Food is on sale for the Euro, Yank and the hen night traffic that is inserted into the establishment by the coach load. We stick to the Guinness. Yorkie takes in the barroom and says.

‘’It’s changed, everything is more frenetic but the Guinness is still as good, you see they take time to pour it.’’

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