Limerick, Shannon, Galway, County Mayo – We’d never been to Ireland, so decided for the kids’ Toussaint break October 15 – October 30, to spend a week in the land of leprechauns. Andrew suggested the western central part of the island, known as Connemara, and definitely, he said, we must stay on Inishbofin island, at least 2 days. So, I got flights into Shannon and rooms on the island and mainland in a fishing village with the solid name of Roundstone and rented a car, with some hesitation, dreading navigating the brain switch to the ‘other side of the road.’
Like in a Larry David sitcom, where obvious things happen, our flight into Shannon, included a blond priest in a long black robe sitting behind me, and the seats being so closely knit, I overheard the bloke next to him launch into a full on ‘confession.’ And yes, indeed, my first foray into a traffic circle on our way to Galway, I headed right into an oncoming car. Driving on the left means entering traffic circles clock-wise, not counter. So I was reminded by the beeping car and the police that just happened to be sitting in a truck nearby; when I rolled down the window, exasperated, I already had my own confession, “I’m sorry, I’m an American! I don’t know how to drive here!” They were nice and said, “Go slow, just go slow.”
When the sun began to rise around 8am, and we had driven some miles northwest of Galway, the landscape changed – we were heading into the wild and remote regions of Connemara, with the red of the brush, the yellow of the gorse, and jagged coasts full of blue inlets and uninhabited islands, while in the distance, seemingly impenetrable mountain ranges rose and fell as far as the eye could see. Along with this, the roads narrowed and became ever more twisty and were, more often than not, bordered by thick hedges, so that driving became a dare. I held my breath and hugged the edge and came to a crawl when there was another car on the road. Luckily, this part of the world is now thinly populated and it was early on a Sunday morning.
Long ago, there were monasteries on many of the islands; monks drawn to the remote, the quiet, the dramatic landscape. Now, when you hike, you might see the crumbling remains of a 14th century monastery. We spent our evenings in the only pub on the island, The Beaches Pub, and listened to conversations between local folks. I had a long conversation on the ferry to the island with a man who had grown up there and was going over to visit his 96 year old mother, which he did every Sunday, driving in from Galway. I had mistaken him for a ferry man, but he ended up telling stories of childhood on the Irish coast. He also recommended a book, “The Valley of the Squinting Windows” (1918) about a fictional village called Garradrimna, “where everyone is interested in everyone else’s business and wishes them to fail.” I laughed.
We spent the week hiking every day. On Inishbofin, we even hiked the Cloonamore trail twice through the tiny hamlet called “Knock.” In the town of Clifden, we shopped for groceries, at Ballynahinch castle, we walked through the forest around the lake and met a dapple gray, and we had lunch by the fire, homemade soup and brown soda bread. At Kylemore Abbey, we visiting the abbey, but more interestingly, we walked the 20 minute trail to the restored walled garden, built on a hillside. We lunched in the very good cafe and Andrew found a wool vest which suited his tastes, in fact, he got two. At Gurteen’s Bay and Dog’s Bay, we walked the long white sand beaches with no one else around except the sheep munching on the wild grasses of the sand dunes. And at night, it was back to O’Dowd’s again. Wonderful fare for tired lads and lasses.
14th century monastery on Inishbofin.
The Cloonamore again.
Andrew, at the ferry prow.
Beach where we ran around with a local dog, named Milly.
Ruins of a castle on Inishbofin.
Climbing Diamond Hill.
Diamond Hill toward the top.