Language Lessons For An English Speaker

August 18 – Waterford to Little Island

When you look outside first thing in the morning and see a clear sky and a glint of sunshine, well ain’t that just a great looking day right there! We had that as our start and a great day did indeed continue.

We drove down to Kilmacthomas to another access point to the Waterford Greenway, so we could ride along a section that we didn’t get to yesterday. We were one of the first cars in the car park and we set off, almost with the path to ourselves, taking in the scenery and riding past some more pieces of history along the way. We still had a rip snorter of a headwind, but unloaded bikes make battling that wind so much easier. We rode past the old Kilmacthomas Station and then across the impressive Kilmacthomas Viaduct that dates from 1878. On we pedalled, along the path, with views of the paddocks, countryside and Comeragh Mountains in the distance.


Passing the old Kilmacthomas Station


Over the viaduct



We passed by the old Durrow Station and then over the Durrow Viaduct. On past farmland and then into the darkness as we rode through the 400 metre long Ballyvoyle Tunnel.

The old Durrow Station
The old signal box






Then, I could smell the distinctive scent of the sea. I pedalled along and the aroma of seaweed and seaside wafted along on that full force headwind and then the scent became a vision as we looked down on Dungarvon Bay.





Swapping bees for butterflies! This fella was sitting on the fence as I rode by and when I stopped, it turned around and opened its wings, just as if it was posing and asking for a photo. So I obliged! 

We did an about-turn and began pedalling back, with that blowing wind pushing us along from behind and making it a fun and fast turbo pedal along the path. With the sun still shining, we stopped at a table beside the path for elevenses beside the old Durrow Station.



When we got back to our starting point, we found the car park absolutely chokka block, with cars doing laps trying to find a space and families getting ready to cycle off and walkers heading up to the path. What an absolutely brilliant development the Greenway is. On the two days we’ve been on it, it has been full of people walking, running and cycling, every age, shape and sized person is out there, getting exercise as well as having a fabulous day out. Gee, I wish our lot would get their act together back home and create spaces like this. The best way to encourage people to be out and about, in the outdoors and moving, is by providing something that is enjoyable, scenic, safe and accessible for everyone. That’s just what this amazing Waterford Greenway path provides and so many people are out on it, it’s brilliant. Once again…so much we can learn from! 

Back on the road and hurtling along, we stopped in at the little town of Youghal, to have a look and a roam around. A small town it might be, but it has some amazing history and stories. 

Arriving in Youghal. The pose is back!

One of its claims to fame is, it’s the location for the filming of the 1954 film of Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck and directed by John Huston. Apparently about 20,000 people turned up to watch the filming and bearded extras had to be brought in from Cork because Youghal’s men were all too clean shaven. The local pub was used as a base by the film crew and John Huston would sit in there each day to plan the day’s shooting. The owners renamed the pub as a tribute to the film. 


We wandered along the streets and along the narrow lanes, walking under the Clock Gate Tower, dating from 1777 and it was also the town gaol until the middle of the 19th century. 



I popped into the Visitors’ Centre to pick up a town map to help us with our roaming and before I left, I asked the lady, “How do you pronounce the town’s name? Is it pronounced ‘Yool’?”

“It’s Youghal as in ‘shawl’”, she explained. 

“Thank you,” I said, “I’ll make sure I get it right.”

“You’re good,” she said, “it’s a Gaelic word, it’s hard for English speakers to say.”

I walked off and continued strolling along, but those words struck me as so interesting. She’d called me an ‘English speaker’, not a ‘non-Gaelic speaker’, but instead she’d thought of me as an ‘English speaker’. I started wondering if Gaelic was the first language and so anyone not speaking Gaelic was considered an ‘English speaker’, just like someone in France who doesn’t speak French, or in Germany who doesn’t speak German. Were people in this part of Ireland, who didn’t speak Gaelic, considered ‘English speakers’? It got me wondering.

We climbed the steps up the hill to look down over the town and the water. The steps followed the line of the old city walls and then at the top, the remains of the walls ran along the hill. The first record of the walls is from 1275, when a charter was granted by King Edward I for their repair and extension. 




From the top of the walls we could look down on St. Mary’s Collegiate Church, built in 1220. Oliver Cromwell arrived in Youghal in 1649, along with his army and quite literally left his mark. He stood on a trunk in this church, to give a funeral oration and his spurs gouged marks that can still be seen today. 


Down the hill we went and into the Raleigh Quarter. Sir Walter Raleigh lived in Youghal and Myrtle Grove was his home. 

Myrtle Grove

Back through the town, we saw Tynte’s Castle, the only surviving tower house in Youghal. It is thought to have been built by the Walsh family in the 15th century. 

Tynte’s Castle

Down a narrow alley and we passed under the Water Gate, also known as “Cromwell’s Arch”. This is one of five gates of the old town and this gate controlled the sea trade of Youghal. Built in the 13th century, it provided access from the town to the docks and it’s from this place that Oliver Cromwell left Ireland in 1650. 

The Water Gate

It was a great place to roam and so many stories in such a small place. With time getting on, it was time to leave and find some digs for the night. Before we left though, that conversation with the lady at the Visitors’ Centre had kept me wondering, so I decided to pop back in and have a chat. She greeted my return and I explained that I had found her reference to me as an “English speaker” really interesting and asked if Gaelic was the first language in this area. She said that Gaelic was having a revival and about twenty years ago, it had almost died out, but it’s now stronger and more widely spoken now, than it was twenty years ago. She told me of some towns where it is still the first language. 

“Everyone speaks English,” she said, “but true Irish is spoken more. I can speak Gaelic,” she explained, “not fluently, but I could have a conversation.”

I asked if it was taught in schools and she said it’s taught in all the schools in Ireland but there are also Gaelscoil, that are Gaelic schools.

“Which areas have those?” I asked.

Her face lit up. “Oh, everywhere, every town in the country has a Gaelscoil. In those schools, they only speak Gaelic. If you hear the teachers speaking to the students and the students speaking to the teachers, it’s all in Gaelic.”

I said I thought that was wonderful and it’s great that the language was so strong and given such importance and still taught. 

“It’s a beautiful language, Gaelic,“ she said, “are you interested in language?”

I said I was and she said there are Gaelic courses available that are popular with overseas visitors.   “A lot of Americans come over to do the courses,” she said, “just people who are interested in language.” We chatted a while longer, before I left her to help another visitor and I left thinking about our onward travels in Ireland. We will be heading towards counties where Gaelic is commonly spoken and, although Gaelic is everywhere here, on signs and pretty much anywhere English is printed, Gaelic is printed beside it, we may also visit towns where we hear it spoken over English. That will be brilliant. It’s such a lovely, lilting language that to hear it in common conversation would be quite special. 

We found a pit stop at Little Island, just east of Cork and called it a day. Another top day, when the Van Plan worked just as we’d hoped. We drove off to a spot to have another fantastic ride in a lovely place, with scenery and a great path to ride on, then found an interesting place for a roam and some learning. Then we didn’t have to panic that the day was getting late, because we had a means of finding a place to stay and could keep going until we found somewhere, rather than being stranded on the bikes. Van Plan success. So, on we shall go, continuing our Irish travels, into what we don’t know. We have no plan or timetable, just the open road and adventures to find. One thing’s for sure, you can bet there’ll be some wrong turns! But…imagine where they could take us!


Distance ridden: 33.5 km

Time in the saddle: 1 hour 52 minutes

Weather: fine, super windy again, a bit of rain later, 15C

Our route:

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