Dispatches from Ireland: Days 5 through 9

Posted By Mike Padgett

Aug. 22, 2008

The war must be over. The ship is gone.

Love our driver’s humor. We passed the harbor in Galway, where one day earlier we saw an Irish naval ship docked. It’s gone now, so the war must be over.

We arrived in Galway on Monday, Aug. 18, after a drive across Ireland from east to west. We left Dublin in a light rain and heavy traffic. It was 8:45 a.m., rush hour. We saw the James Joyce Bridge, named after the literary giant, and we again saw part of the city’s original stone wall, dated 1240.

On the road headed to the west of Ireland, we left County Kildare and entered County Mead, called the royal county. It originally was home to the nation’s early royal families.

We stopped at Clonmacnoise about 10:45. This remote medieval monastary was founded by St. Ciaran in 545. “Known for its scholarship and piety, it thrived from the 7th to the 12th century. Many kings of Tara and of Connaught were buried here,” according to Ireland, a guide by Eyewitness Travel.

Clonmacnoise, Ireland

The guidebook says Clonmacnoise was plundered by the Vikings and the Anglo-Normans before it fell to the English in 1552. Walking among the gravestones and church ruins, the site’s religious importance is penetrating. Pope John Paul II visited Clonmacnoise in 1979. Pilgrims visit the site every Sept. 9, St. Ciaran’s Day. Down the hill a short distance is the River Shannon, which is running higher than normal because of heavy rains in recent weeks.

After a tour of the church site, and then a light lunch of sandwiches, we boarded our bus and resumed our trip to Galway. It was 1:15 p.m. We left the midlands for the west of Ireland.

Along the way, we soaked in the views of lush green pastures, some dotted with sheep and cattle. The farther west we traveled, the more stone walls we saw. This part of Ireland is very rocky, so clearing the land of rocks served two purposes – it made the land usable for pastures, and the rocks were used to create stone fences.

We passed commercial peat bogs, where the peat (called turf) is cut from the ground into bricks and dried for use in fireplaces. By 2:25 p.m., Galway Bay was on our left. We checked in at our hotel, unpacked for dinner and later studied our itinerary for the next day.

On Tuesday, with new energy and full water bottles, we again boarded our bus for a trip to the ferry that would take us to the Aran Islands. The islands in the mouth of Galway Bay have been inhabited since before recorded history. Of the islands’ many ruins, the most well-known is Dun Aengus, a stone fort that is about 2,000 years old. It sits at the edge of a 300-foot drop to the Atlantic Ocean, making it the perfect place to watch for attackers. As long as the day is clear, which it was today. Some visitors crept to the edge on their hands and knees, and then knees and elbows, for a look straight down.

Dun Aengus, Aran Islands

The next day, Wednesday, we were bound for the small community of Cong, in County Mayo. Cong was the setting for the 1950s movie, The Quiet Man, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Then we left to visit the Connemara Marble Factory. Along the way, our driver told us about Ireland’s reforestation efforts in which forests of pine and spruce were replanted to replace the oak forests cut down during the nation’s rule by England.

On Thursday, we packed for Killarney, our next stop. Along the way, we visited the Cliffs of Moher, a five-mile stretch of sandstone and shale cliffs that rise vertically 650 feet from the Atlantic. We were again lucky – the sun was shining. Often, the cliffs are shrouded in fog or rain.

After lunch at the visitors’ center, we resumed our trek to Killarney. It included a car ferry trip across the River Shannon. The crossing lasted 20 minutes. As we approached Killarney, we saw giant wind turbines on the hillsides, Ireland’s alternative source of electricity.

Today, after a group photo on our hotel steps, we rode by horse-drawn jaunting car (six of us to a car) to Muckross House, an elegant Elizabethan style mansion built in 1843. We’re told the mansion has 365 windows and dozens of fireplaces. Don’t touch the furniture, and no photographs are allowed, our gracious tour guide tells us. Outside, the flower garden dominates the landscaping. Red roses are front and center.

Throughout our trip in this wonderland, we occasionally see a motorist with white knuckles and a look of fear in his or her face. We’re told it’s probably a tourist unfamiliar with driving on the left side of the road.

Aug 22nd, 2008

Comments are closed.