Coasts, Crafts, and Castles; Ponies and Peat: Glimpses of Galway, Ireland
The ultimate anniversary gift: in 1867 Mitchell Henry, a wealthy London doctor, started building Kylemore Castle for his wife.
It seems like half the North Americans I have ever met have at least a drop or two Irish in them!
Not surprising, I suppose, in view of the continued growth of the Irish diaspora. Three million people outside Ireland (a country of less than 5 million internal residents) have legal claim to citizenship, and between 80 and 100 million more have Irish roots.
And those roots – even when well watered down – run deep! When was the last time you were in a city without an Irish pub? When was the last St Patrick’s Day you weren’t surrounded by “the wearing of the green”?
This connection goes both directions. In 1998, following the landmark Good Friday Agreement, which aimed to restore some peace to the island, the Republic of Ireland amended its Constitution. The amendments de-emphasised territory in favour of characterising the Irish nation as a community of individuals with a common identity, and included those beyond national borders “… the Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage (Article 2, Constitution of Ireland).”
My little bit of Irish ancestry hails (albeit several generations ago – back in the 1840s) from the the Mayo-Galway region. Perhaps that is why, in spite of foul, wet weather, I felt right at home in the rugged west coast of Ireland.
Of course, after ten days of walking in the rain, we were also revelling in having the freedom of movement and shelter from the elements that a rental car brings. But, whatever the reason, we loved our three days in Galway and the wild Connemara region within it.
Here is just a taste of the wild, wild west coast.
Loch Lurgan or Cuan na Gaillimhe
Looming skies stretched over the beach and water, as we lunched looking south towards Co. Clare, where we had stopped to eat only two days before.
Bicycle in the Rain
We had to time our runs between shops, as the weather alternated between “raining” and “pouring”.
“Swim between the Flags”
With the potential for rough seas, the lifeguard shelter is probably necessary. The only swimmers we saw were divers in full wetsuits. Galway Bay is cold!
The plots of land between the fences are so small, it is hard to imagine what they could be good for!
Heather and Broom
The plants look rugged; I guess they have to be to survive in the west winds.
Connemara Peat Pile
Peat farmers have a hard life – but fortunately are blessed with good hearts. My husband dropped his cell phone while I was photographing somewhere around here. What are the odds? A peat farmer found it – in the middle of a grassy nowhere! – and after we realised it was missing and phoned it, we were able to drive back and collect it.
Hills and Bogs
It’s a wild land, with a lot of open space.
Bóthar an Chladaigh
As we drove along the Beach Road, Clifden, to find our accommodation, the light was falling over the moored boats on the low tide.
Row boats take shelter at the boat launch.
The narrow Sky Road winds across rough country.
Gentle-looking bovines watch our passage.
A traditional Irish row boat sits alone on the rocky shore.
Rising out of the grasslands and bog cotton, Diamond Hill sits in Connemara National Park.
Diamond Hill Trails
Paving stones, dirt paths, and wooden walkways lead up Diamond Hill. Footing was rather treacherous in the rain.
Bridge over Tumbling Waters
By the time we got to the top of Diamond Hill it was raining heavily and blowing hard – but it was easy to see how magnificent the view would be on a nicer day.
The harsh landscape here has given rise to a breed of hardy but beautiful ponies. This little colt, who is only weeks old, stayed close to his dam.
Frog in the Grass
Back on the local roads, it is like driving through a different time.
Our next stop is the fairytale Abbey, which started life as a private castle in 1871. After changing hands several times, it was bought by the Irish Benedictine Nuns in 1920. Until June 2010, the nuns operated a boarding and day school, with alumni including Indian royalty and Anjelica Huston.
Chaffinch (fringilla coelebs)
Birds hang around the coffee shop, hoping for crumbs.
In the Drawing Room
Part of Kylemore Castle is restored and open to the public.
Margaret Henry, for whom Kylemore was originally built, died in 1874 after contracting dysentery in Egypt. She was 45 – and left behind nine children. Her grief-stricken widower, Mitchell Henry, built the gothic church, a cathedral-in-miniature, in her memory.
It is a pleasant walk around the grounds, surrounded by trees and flowers.
Some of the trails follow the lake. Others wander up into the surrounding hills.
The Connemara Giant
“Conn, Son of the Sea, Built in 1999 by Joyce’s Craft Shop, for No Apparent Reason” in a little town called Recess. (iPhone S4)
David Howley and Garry O’Meara
Where else would you finish up a few days of seeing the sights in Galway but in a pub? J. Conneely’s Bar in Clifden is known for its traditional music and these guys were terrific – in fact Garry is Ireland’s Junior Banjo Champion.
Wild, windswept coasts, quirky and original crafts, fairytale castles – beautiful, intelligent Connemara ponies; mountain ranges and piles of peat…
Love stories and stories of loss and hardship – warmhearted, hardworking people, always ready to share a tale, a pint, and a tune.
I’d be proud to call Galway home.
Sláinte – Good Health!