Castles and Rocks along the Way… Clifden, Co Galway to Athlone, Co Westmeath, Ireland
Gray skies, lush green lawns and another castle to explore: sounds like a typical day in Ireland.
There are no straight roads in Ireland. The country is dotted with lakes and bogs, and the carriageways meander around them, taking in sites and villages along the way. This makes for charming and unhurried driving – there is no point rushing or trying to get too far in any one day.
Of course, this can make route mapping challenging.
We had pre-planned a visit with a friend in Waterford towards the beginning of our month in the Emerald Isle last year, and we had pre-booked our ten day walk around the Dingle Peninsula. We needed to be in Dublin at the end of our time, but the rest we were working out as we went. I had in my possession, along with road maps and pamphlets, a Michelin Green Guide, and I was being influenced by their star ratings.
That was how we decided to include the wild Connemara region of West Galway and the ancient monastery Clonmacnoise – both “Highly Recommended” – in our travel plans. It was while trying to negotiate transport between these two sites that we decided to rent a car rather than rely on local buses.
So it was that on yet-another-rainy day in July, we were driving southeast from Clifden, Co Galway, back through Galway City to reach Athlone, in the middle of the country – stopping at sites along the way.
Our first stop was less than an hour from the start of our day, at Aughnanure Castle, a testament to the formidable O’Flaherty clan, who built the tower house around 1500.
Caisleán Achadh na Nlubhar ~ Castle in the Field of the Yews
Aughnanure Castle stands on a rocky “island” near Lough Corrib; the walls are flanked by waterways and trees – even if only one ancient yew (not pictured) remains on the site.
Outside Castle Walls
Aughnanure Castle can barely be seen through the trees, as a sow roots around by the creek.
Black and White Sow
The rains came and went as we approached the castle entrance.
A bábhún (bawn) is a defensive wall surrounding Irish tower houses. Aughnanure Castle is unusual in having two: the southeast corner turret is all that remains of the inner wall.
The walls around the castle are in differing states of repair.
A view through the thick castle walls to the outside, and from an upper balcony into the banquet hall. The castle boasts a “murder hole” and a secret chamber, so is rather fun to explore.
Inside the castle walls, the wet lawns are a rich source of bird food for this thrush.
“Pony, Meet Pig!”
Back outside the walls, the sow decides to investigate a pony… and we drive fifteen minutes further down the road to lunch and our next stop.
Wet streets and window wipers: the rains continue.
Richly Coloured Connemara Marble
Moycullen is home to the Connemara Marble Factory & Visitor Centre.
The big machines were quiet when we visited…
… but the workers were busy: carving and polishing the locally-quarried marble.
The Arch, Athenry
Thirty minutes later, we were driving through the Arch or Northgate of Athenry. The arch was originally built as one of the seven gateways into the town. The original town walls were built during Norman times, but there is some evidence that this, the only remaining gate, was built a little later.
Following a vague description in the Green Guide, we drove around in circles for a while, looking for a famous stone carved in the Iron Age. Rest assured, this is NOT it. We found out later that the Turoe Stone had been moved, and though we drove through Knockacullen several times hunting for it, we saw no signposting!
St Peter and Paul’s Church
The Roman Catholic church, completed in 1937, was an imposing sight as we came into Athlone.
“Be Still and Know that I am”
Not surprising, I suppose, that in a Catholic country like Ireland, it was as easy to find religious objects for sale as it was to find dinner.
We did, of course, find food – and wine and music – for Ireland isn’t only about history and scenery and devout faith.
‘Till next time: