Sunday, August 28, 2016

Day 14: Aran Island of Inishmore

Thursday June 16

We had our best weather luck of the trip for this day, because we were due to go to the Aran Islands, which would be outdoors pretty much the whole time.   It was fantastic.
While the sun was welcome, the calm you see in this picture didn't last once we got out of the shelter of the harbor.  JT and I went up on the top deck, which was rather wet from the spray but had two advantages- the view of course.  And not being packed in the cabin with all the other passengers, some of whom were already white-knuckled and turning pale green.   The trip out was quite rough- I'm very glad I'm not prone to seasickness. 

Once we got closer in to Inishmore, our destination and the largest of the Aran Islands, the pitching slowed enough that I risked letting go of the rail to take a picture. 
This proved to be an error on my part, since a split second after I took this, the boat heaved and I fell on my posterior.  Lesson learned- I put the camera away and returned my hands to the rail for the rest of the trip.   On the boat we had a nice chat with one of the crew who told us he was a boat builder when he wasn't sailing, and that however rough it seemed to us, this was nothing.  The highest wave recorded on the Irish coast was over 20 meters.  That's 66 feet to us.  

Once we got to Inishmore, we hopped on minibuses for a winding trip to the other side of the island, and the prehistoric fort of Dun Aengus.  The landscape was eerie- a cracked karst pavement similar to what we would later see at the Burren.
The fort itself was immense, situated on a high point on the edge of the cliffs.  
They needed an extra large sign for all the cautions and warnings about the place.  The fort itself is open to the cliff edge and there are no safety rails anywhere. 
Here's the interior of the fort- you can see the outer wall behind the people.  The interior space was quite large.
After seeing the fort, we walked back down to the visitor center and cafe and had some lunch.  As many of the places we'd eaten, the cafe had a 'vegetable soup' on the menu- these were thick pureed soups, different in every place we visited but all delicious.  After all the fresh air and walking around, I was ready to eat a sheep, if one had been so unwary as to venture by!  I poked into several of the shops looking for sock yarn, as I was getting low, but what was mostly available was finished knitted items and a small amount of heavier weight yarns.  One of our guides, Alice, acquired a new hat.  The sweaters were beautiful, and if I weren't a knitter and had more room in my luggage I'd have been very tempted. 

Once our group was collected again, we went on to see the Seven Churches of Aran, a complex of churches and other buildings dedicated to the 5th century St. Brecan, once a pilgrimage site. 
From there we returned to the landing, and there was time to stroll around and have a cup of hot chocolate before the return ferry left:
The return trip had a noticeable swell, but nothing like as rough as the outbound voyage had been.  We had some lovely views of the Cliffs of Moher on the way back.  Aficionados may recognize them as the visuals for the Cliffs of Insanity from the movie The Princess Bride. 
We landed at Doolin in good order and headed back to Ennistimon for another night of dinner and music.  

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Day 13- Galway to Ennistimon

Wednesday June 15

The next day was gorgeous, and we headed off to Galway in brilliant sunshine.  There were a scenic stop or two along the way. 

In Galway we had a guide, who was very charming and entertaining, but we noticed several instances where his patter was more amusing than accurate.   He did show us a number of the sights- our first stop was to view a remnant of the old city wall- which is currently preserved in the middle of a shopping mall. 
We went by Lynch's Castle, a 16th century fortified house which had belonged to a prominent local family.  It is now a bank. 
We strolled down William St, a pedestrian shopping area, filled with touristy shops and restaurants.  That's okay, since we were, after all, tourists.  We later found a delightful little meat pie shop just off the main drag to give us lunch.  
We saw St. Nicholas' church- note the line of bricks in the end facing, showing the original roofline, which was subsequently enlarged.  St. Nicholas is the Anglican church.  We got a quick peek inside, just missing a chorus rehearsal. 
After that we were turned loose to find lunch and explore.    After lunching, we mostly walked around.  We took in the harbor:
By happenstance we found the Presbyterian and Methodist church- evidently they share quarters.  
And then we went on to complete the whole set and visited the Catholic cathedral. This is a very new cathedral- constructed starting in 1958 and dedicated in 1965.  The mix of traditional and modern worked surprisingly well. Have a look at some of the online photos- mine don't really do it justice.
From there, we strolled in a large loop back to our pickup point- by the salmon weir-
-by the river gardens- 
-past charming views-
-and finally back to the bus which took us to Ennistimon and our next hotel, the Falls Hotel.   There were in fact falls: 

No sooner had we gotten access to our room when we were back out and ready to explore.  We took a walk down the path by the Inagh River.  (No, I don't know how to pronounce that either.) 
And up a path into the woods.  The path eventually petered out and we had to turn back. Wild, isn't it?  I didn't edit that photo at all- those are the colors it was.
Since we still had some time before dinner, we took a turn through the town, which was charming.  
And we can disprove any rumors that the colors are due to leprechauns.  We caught real live Irish people in the act of painting the buildings cheery colors.
And then it was time to turn back to the hotel for dinner, music and our next day's adventures.  

Friday, August 26, 2016

Day 12: Kylemore Abbey to Diamond Hill

Tuesday June 14

The next day was mostly overcast with occasional showers, but that certainly didn't slow us down. We started with a morning at Kylemore Abbey.  The exterior of the Abbey was used for the exterior shots of Prince Humperdinck's castle in The Princess Bride.  Not hard to see why:
The Abbey was built as the residence of the Henry family, by the owner as a gift for his Irish wife.  She loved gardens and set out to create a showplace, and not incidentally provide large numbers of jobs for the local population.  

As it wasn't actually raining when we arrived, we started off by viewing the gardens.  These were amazing.  Originally there were 21 glasshouses for exotic fruits and plants of all sorts, as well as a variety of flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables.  The gardens are being gradually restored, but are amazing even now.  
The gardener's cottage was rustic but comfortable:
But the head gardener's house showed that he was a man of means who commanded considerable respect.  

He had at least a cook-housekeeper and a maid of two of his own.  

From the gardens, we walked up to see the gothic 'Cathedral'- a miniature church built in Gothic style.  It was built by her bereaved husband as a memorial for Margaret Henry, who died of a fever at age 45.  They had nine children.

Every detail of the church is lovely. 
After the stunningly romantic exterior, the sprawling gardens and the miniature perfection of the cathedral, the interior of the
house- though large and beautiful- was a bit of an anticlimax. 

Our lunch stop was in Clifden, which was tidy and attractive.  We had time for a nice stroll around.  Clifden is known for having been the site of an early Marconi station, and also for being the place where Alcock and Brown landed after the first nonstop transatlantic plane flight.  Alas, it was not perfectly successful, as they touched down on what appeared to be a lovely flat green field- but which was actually a bog.  Neither was hurt, but they weren't able to continue on to London as they had planned, either.  
From there we took a drive along the Sky Road, which featured stunning views. 
All day we were in and out of showers, and our guide Robbie worried about the last stop, which was the Connemara National Park.  Eventually the decision was that the park was close enough to the hotel that they could drop anyone who wanted to chance the weather at the park, return the remaining tourists to the hotel, and then come back to the park in a couple of hours for the few, the brave, the only three of us who opted to hike.   That was JT, myself and Barbara, another dedicated and hardy walk. 

And in fact, our optimism was richly rewarded- instead of getting rained on, the weather cleared slightly.  We took the 'medium' difficulty hike (not hard at all by our standards) up Diamond Hill.  We didn't ascend the whole way, because the summit was in cloud, but we did get high enough to enjoy fantastic views.  Here we're looking back down the trail:

And at the highest point we reached, we had an even better view of the coast. 

We got back to the visitor center in plenty of time to see the exhibits and acquire a cold drink before heading back to the parking lot to meet the bus.  

That evening, we had another group playing for us in the bar.  They were good, but the bar (being half-full of non-music-tour people) was a bit too noisy for really good listening.  Still I had an interesting conversation with an Irish couple and a Canadian couple on the tour.  We'd started out talking about Dublin, and had mentioned the Post Office exhibit on the 1916 Rising.   The Irish lady told us that for the centenary, there was a lot more candid discussion of the mixed reaction to the Rising than there had been at the 50th anniversary, which she remembered from her youth.  There were still a lot of people who'd been there that were alive for the 50 year anniversary, she said, and the attitude was more unmixed nationalistic fervor then any kind of balanced analysis.  

She then went on to say that the rising had always engendered mixed feelings in her own family, because her grandfather and several of his brothers and cousins had been policemen in Dublin at the time.    She didn't need to explain further- we'd learned in the exhibition in Dublin that there were many police killed in the rising- mostly young, Irish and unarmed.   It was a sobering post-script to the exhibitions we'd seen as history the week before.  

And then it was back to our rooms and pack and sleep, because we were moving on to a new hotel the next day. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Day 11: Achill Island

Monday June 13
The next day was largely taken up with a tour of Achill Island.   Our first stop was Grace O'Malley's castle.  She was the chieftain of a powerful seafaring family, and became famous as a sea captain and a pirate.  

By our standards it's a pretty small castle (though she did have many other properties)- the 'castle' is a 15th century tower house.  

We followed the Atlantic coast route with a number of scenic stops.  Here's Ashleam Bay.  

Our extremely skillful driver took the bus along the appropriately named and inappropriately terrifying Sky Road.  Apparently in Ireland, guardrails are for the weak and cowardly.  Like me.

The island is remote, but there has been in the last several decades a lot of building of seasonal properties, though there are still plenty of farms.  

We stopped at Keem Bay, once the home of Captain Charles Boycott.   Boycott was said to be a cruel landlord, so much so tenants refused to work for him.  And so his name has entered the English language.  The beach is lovely, however.  JT and I and several others of the tour members could not resist going wading.  It was cool, but not so chilly as to discourage hardy swimmers.  
Our lunch stop was the lovely little town of Westport, on the Carrowbeg river.  We were charmed to see signage for a local folk and bluegrass music festival.  

We visited Doolough Valley, and heard the sad tale of the Doolough Tragedy.  
"On Friday 30 March 1849 two officials of the Westport Poor Law Union arrived in Louisburgh to inspect those people in receipt of outdoor relief to verify that they should continue to receive it. For some reason the inspection did not take place and the officials went on to Delphi Lodge – a hunting lodge – 19 kilometres (12 miles) south of Louisburgh. The people who had gathered for the inspection were thus instructed to appear at Delphi Lodge at 07:00 the following morning if they wished to continue receiving relief. For much of the night and day that followed therefore seemingly hundreds of destitute and starving people had to undertake what for them, given their existing state of debilitation, was an extremely fatiguing journey, in very bad weather.

A letter-writer to The Mayo Constitution reported shortly afterwards that the bodies of seven people, including women and children, were subsequently discovered on the roadside between Delphi and Louisburgh overlooking the shores of Doolough lake and that nine more never reached their homes. Local folklore maintains the total number that perished because of the ordeals they had to endure was far higher."
We could only imagine what it would have been like to walk this remote path on uneven roads in bad weather, for people who were already weak from prolonged starvation.  

We stopped for more photos at Aasleagh Falls, on the river Errif. 

And I walked down to the river's edge below the falls for look at the downstream view. 

We stopped in Leenane, at the top of the Killary Fjord- very striking. 

And then we finally drove to the next hotel, the Renvyle House and Resort.  We had a little time before dinner, so naturally JT and I were out of the hotel and walking out toward the beach almost as soon as we arrived.  

We had a lovely walk along the shore, trekked out to a ruined tower we spotted out off in the distance and then opted to loop around by the road and come back to the resort up the main drive (which we hadn't seen coming in, as the bus was too large, and had had to go around to the back of the hotel), and took a quick peek at the gardens- at that point we'd been out longer than we had intended, and had to hustle in to make it to dinner and the after-dinner music.