Ireland Day 11 Galway to Sligo
This last three days have been intense to say the least. It is a bit like visiting Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone in three consecutive days. Crazy, and yet on a two week trip to Ireland, when we might not ever return, I wouldn't have wanted to miss any one of these beautiful landscapes, so it is worth it.
This morning when we woke in Galway, the fog once again shrouded our hotel and Galway Bay. I didn't sleep much last night, who knows why. Something that seems to be a problem for me is getting all the "stuff" charged. The camera is a battery hog, so I do have to get those lithium batteries (I have 3 thank goodness) charged up, most important. Hmmm...I am talking like our tour guide, with her strong Italian accent always saying "Most Importanta!" It has become a bus joke. The other bus joke has to do with her fluency with the language. She is doing an excellent job, and speaks several languages, but sometimes when speaking to us, she will forget the exact word for something and now when she hesitates, the entire bus choruses the word to her in unison. Silly, but if you are on the bus for long periods small things become incredibly entertaining.
The original plan was for a leisurely drive along Galway Bay, but with the fog, the driver chose to take the more direct route directly to Connemara. Our destination was the Connemara Marble Factory, where the beautiful green Connemara Marble (actually it is very hard granite) is quarried nearby and then fashioned into beautiful jewelry. The finest is the deep green Ireland Jade, but several other green colors are also quite beautiful. I enjoyed the demonstration by the factory manager, with all the beautiful raw material washed down so we could see the colors and then views of the polished sides as well. Gorgeous stuff! Reminded me a lot of the "jade" that is found in the far northwestern part of California, where I picked up a gorgeous polished piece that still graces my garden.
We enjoyed the tour, and the prices for the beautiful jewelry in the showroom were better than any we saw any time later in Ireland. Definitely worth buying at the factory if you like the jewelry. I found a sweet small keepsake shamrock fashioned in the green jade that will be my Ireland memento, small enough to fit in the suitcase.
I mentioned to Mo that I had thought that Connemara was a large park, not simply a marble factory, as I watched the foggy landscape roll by. As we entered County Connemara, however, the fog began to lift ever so slightly and we got a glimpse of the beautiful mountains that surrounded us as we traveled through the Inagh Valley. Home of the movie "The Quiet Man" with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, we passed the Quiet Man Bridge featured in the movie and stopped for an obligatory stop at a replica of the cottage where the movie was filmed. Actually the movie was filmed at both the original cottage as well as the replica because the local people were tired of all the movie folks taking over their village so they built the replica in a more remote place. I guess that movie has been re-digitized, so I think it might be fun to rent it.
The skies magically cleared more and more as we continued north into the "peated land". Even on rolling hills there is up to 15 meters of organic peat soil that has been used as fuel in this part of Ireland. The peat is cut into bricks with a large knife, stacked to dry, and then stored for winter much as we store firewood in the west. In the midst of the peat land, there are turloughs.
A turlough, or turlach, is a type of disappearing lake found mostly in limestone areas of Ireland, west of the River Shannon. The name comes from the Irish word "tuar", meaning dry, with the suffix "lach", meaning a place (in an abstract sense). The "lach" suffix is often mistakenly spelled and/or thought to refer to the word "loch", the Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Scots word for lake. They are found in Irish karst (exposed limestone) areas. In the United States we have karst topography in the southeast part of the country and in Florida, where we often hear news of sinkholes that are common in karst areas.
The turlough features, however, are almost unique to Ireland, although there is one example in Great Britain in a place called Llandeilo. The turloughs are of great interest to many scientists: geomorphologists are interested in how turloughs were formed, hydrologists try to explain what makes turloughs flood, botanists study the unusual vegetation which covers the turlough floor and zoologists study the animals associated with the turloughs.
It was a fascinating landscape, made even more so as the wild glaciated granite Connemara Mountains became visible as the fog lifted completely and was replaced with brilliant sunshine. Another amazing sunshiny day in Ireland, something none of us expected, and incredibly rare. Even more rare, is the run of sunny days without rain that have graced every single day of this tour. Incredibly lucky for us!
We stopped at an overlook near Lough Inagh Lake for some photos of the fabulous reflections of the mountains on the silky smooth water. There must be gorgeous trails to explore throughout this park, and again, I would love to have the time to stay here for a week or more to explore, hike and bike. Then again, it probably would be raining, as is did all summer, with the poor Irish sad about daily rain and no summer at all this year. They seem to be as excited as we are about this Indian Summer reprieve that just happened to show up for our visit.
Our destination was the Kylemore Abbey and Castle, a jewel beside a lake backed up by the beautiful mountains. Kylemore was built quite recently, finished in 1871, a song of love from William Henry to his beloved wife. The view of the Abbey is probably another one of those iconic Ireland views that most people have seen at one time or another.
Later: I knew this would happen. I am lost. I left off last writing about our trip through Connemara and Kylemore Abbey. At the moment, it is 1AM in Belfast and neither of us can sleep. Mo is reading so I thought maybe I would try to catch up. My mind is a mushy blur! Worst part of this is that my usual method of recreating the memories in my mind is unavailable to me. Two 32 GIG cards for photos, and a couple of days ago I had to switch out cards. All the previous photos are tucked away safely. No photo reminders.
Kylemore Abbey has such a great story. I suppose I will simply link to it when I write the blog, because it is really worth reading, but probably not worth trying to recreate. Click on the link to read about it in more detail. First it was the site of a hunting lodge, where Mitchell Henry took his beloved wife Margaret. She loved it so much, he bought it for her, and then built this magnificent castle for them and their 9 children. Sadly, she only lived there for four years after its completion before she died from dysentery caught while they were traveling in Africa. Yeah. Dysentery. We take a lot for granted when we travel nowadays, such as antibiotics!
The house is quite impressive in that way of castles, and nicer than the Medieval castles we have seen so far, and probably a lot warmer. Even more magnificent than the castle, however, were the gardens. Long winding paths for a mile or so in each direction along the lake were planted with trees from all over the world. Walking under the shade of these gorgeous trees, with views of the mountains and lakes was so restful.
The house was sold to another couple, the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, much less romantic and wonderful than the first. The Manchester's were gamblers, and the wife was constantly changing the castle, removing much of Margaret's beautiful marble work and replacing it with the heavy woods that are still there today. They gambled the house away, and it fell into some other uses before finally becoming the Abbey that it is today, and now home of the Benedictine nuns.
At Kylemore, the nuns reopened their international boarding school and established a day school for local girls. They also ran a farm and guesthouse; the guesthouse was closed after a devastating fire in 1959. In 2010, the Girl’s Boarding School was closed and the nuns have since been developing new education and retreat activities in addition to crafting items for sale in the Kylemore gift shop.
Some especially interesting pieces in the Abbey were the tapestries, vestments, and paintings that were hidden by the Benedictine nuns while they were in exile in Belgium during the during the 16th century when Irish Catholics were under persecution by the protestants in control.
We also loved the little church that Mitchell built for his wife after her death to honor her. It was done in Gothic style, but all the decorations were lighthearted, with no gargoyles but only angels and flowers and vines. It was beautiful, with pillars made with four colors of marble from the four provinces of Ireland. Just down the path from the church is the small mausoleum that contains the remains of Mitchell and Margaret. Nearby is a triangular stone that is said to grant wishes if you can manage to toss a pebble backwards and get it over the stone. Mo succeeded!
At Kylemore, there is a magnificent Victorian walled garden, with a perennial border like those I used to study in my English gardening books back in the days when I could actually grow something. I do miss that Northern Idaho soil and climate. Spokane and the Inland Northwest is probably one of the best gardening sites I know of.
We had plenty of time at the Abbey to enjoy the peaceful environment, have a snack and a coffee, do plenty of walking and take photos. It was the perfect amount of time because when it was time to load up in the busses, I was completely ready to sit back and relax. I have been wearing the fitbit, and Mo and I have been averaging much more than our 10,000 steps per day!
Driving north we meandered along Killary Harbour, the only true fjord in Ireland, a place where the mountains meet the sea and there is no active river feeding the water. Of course, at the moment I can't remember the name of the fjord, or the name of the town that was at the head of the fjord that experienced something like a huge flash flood just a few years ago, that wiped out the hotel and much of the town. I have to look that one up as well, since Isabella referred often to the thought that no one really understood what actually happened or where the water came from. Remember...no rivers there. Just the shallow rocky slopes of the Connemara granite all around, reminding me a lot of the rocky parts of Southern Utah that generate huge flash floods when there is nowhere for the water to go and no infiltration.
Along the shoreline where we stopped for photos of the fjord were some Druid trees. Isabella seems to be quite receptive to sharing some of the Old Religion stuff, although she is fairly subtle about it She made sure that we knew these were Druid trees, and to many of the people on the bus, had to explain that yes, the Druids are still around, and highly active in Ireland. It is an earth religion, honoring the trees especially. Isabella talked often of how the early Catholic monks so easily converted the Celts to Christianity because they kept many of the Pagan traditions and incorporated them into their rituals.
As we continued north we came to one of the more delightful small towns along the way, the port village of Westport. With an entire half hour to explore this wonderful town, it was a bit frustrating to get back on the bus. There were shops that were full of really interesting crafts, weavings, art, and sidewalk cafes.
Ah yes...the tour thing. Still, at least we got to enjoy it a bit and decided if we ever came back to Ireland, it would be another place to hang out for more time.
As we descended in elevation from the Connemara mountains, approaching the city of Castlebar, the landscape again began to shift. The houses looked a lot bigger and the entire area felt quite affluent. It felt much like the Bay Area of California. Fewer little cottages, and a lot more quite large houses with solariums and gorgeous large estate like yards.
Although Mo and I have enjoyed the amazing clarity of the air for the last ten days, around Sligo that started to shift as well. It looked as though there was a forest fire, and I asked if that ever happened in Ireland. Oh no, Isabella reassured us, but the smoke that we saw and smelled was from the burning peat, the major source of fuel in this part of the country.
When we arrived at our hotel in Sligo, it was almost dark, and once settled in to the very strange very modern very brightly colored Glass House, we took to the streets to find something to eat. Although the hotel had a restaurant, it was time for something different and we at least wanted to see a bit of the town along the river. The pub was dark and much like all the others, so we passed it by, wandering down an area called the Italian Quarter. Perfect.
The whatever it was named restaurant...(by the time this gets to the blog I will have the photos and will get all the names right).... Bistro Bianconi was rated 4.5 stars by Tripadvisor and the smells emanating were enticing. We had a wonderful dinner, Mo had pizza and I had Spaghetti Napoletano, with Caesar salads to start and a great glass of Malbec. We dined next to a nice couple from the tour, and noticed many others found their way to this restaurant, a nice break from all the Irish fare. Even so, the Caesar salad was more Irish bacon and some other meat than lettuce. I am getting really hungry for a LOT of greens and fresh veggies.
The hotel, right along the river, seemed like a big cruise ship, but was comfortable enough once we settled in. Instead of 3 twin beds in a row, this time we had a huge king, and plenty of room to spread out with our "stuff". Although it was the only one night stop, so we really didn't need to spread out that much. I was afraid the bright colors might keep us awake, but after our great day, and a great meal, with such a comfortable bed we didn’t have any trouble at all.
It is always fun trying to figure out the plumbing in other countries, and Ireland is no exception. I couldn’t figure out how in the world anyone would get to the actual water tank portion of the toilet. They seem to be installed directly in the wall, and the top of the area over where the tank should be is completely closed in. Would have loved to talk to someone about this.
The incredibly deep tubs are wonderful for a soak, and are so long you could slide right down to your chin, but what a bear to get in and out, especially with just these wiggly glass doors to hold on to. Of course, the heated towel racks are a great luxury, but don’t do very well as handles.
For the rest of the photos for this amazing day, click here.
Next up: North from Sligo, visiting Yeat’s grave at Drumcliffe, and leaving the Republic of Ireland to enter Northern Ireland.