Whenever we told people that we were going to spend three weeks in Galway, the response was always the same, “You’re going to love Galway!” It’s so pretty and the people are so friendly! And they were right!
Public transportation makes it really easy to get around the Ireland. We took a train from Dublin to Galway. It only took a little more than 2 hours and cost $55 for the two of us. Then we got a taxi from the train station to our new apartment. The owner met us there, which I especially like because she provides us with details about how things work and we also get a chance to ask questions. One of the best parts of the Galway apartment was that it had a piano! I hadn’t played one since we left Big Rapids in early January! Off we went in search of a music store to get a piano book. While there we found Irish whistles and I realized this was a must have for our oldest granddaughter!
Galway was founded in the early 1200’s by the Anglo Normans who built a wall around the city. This medieval wall still exists in some places. Part of it is built into the Eyre Square Shopping Center and the Spanish Arch still stands although this part was added later in the 16th century. The Claddagh, which means stony shore in Gaelic, is the area just outside the wall where the Corrib River meets Galway Bay. There are lovely places throughout the city to stroll along the river.
One of my favorite parts of Ireland is the music so when a friend said we had to go to the Western Hotel (http://westernhotelgalway.ie/) to listen to their traditional music, we went. In this small hotel bar, a few locals who played fiddles, Irish whistles, drums, concertinas, even a portable harp, began to gather and as the night went on more and more musicians joined the group.
The audience also seemed to be mostly locals. The place was packed…standing room only. At one point a young man, probably about eight or nine went to the front and began to step dance. Everyone loved it and Grandpa, who was standing in front of us, was especially proud! There were two older guys sitting next to us, one with an obvious American accent. Bob asked where he was from. “I’m from here,” was the response he got. The guy said when his kids were grown, he and his wife were trying to decide where they wanted to live and because his wife had an Irish passport, they decided to move to Galway. That was a decade ago.
When we booked our stay in Galway we didn’t realize that we were going to be there during the Galway Festival. The streets were mobbed (and we met more Americans than we have in total during our five months in Europe). I love the street performers! And everywhere we looked they appeared. My favorites were the violinist who played wonderfully and had made a puppet who played in sync. (A note on the puppet said that the violinist had made him!) And then further down the street we encountered another violinist. This time he was a tightrope walker…playing as he walked!
Because we don’t have a car we decided it was important to check out day trips so we could see some of the spectacular scenery that surrounds us. We have found that local tourist information centers give us a lot of insight into the area we’re visiting. A must do was the Cliffs of Mohr. We had never taken an organized tour but this one looked really interesting and it was reasonably priced. This tour was especially nice because they picked passengers up at various stops around the city. We were told they could pick us at at the Supervalu right near our apartment. The coach was comfortable and we had an entertaining driver who added little interesting tidbits throughout the day. He could field our questions and also knew how to keep 50 people on schedule. He said early on in the trip that he would announce how many minutes we had at each stop and if you were late you would get to sing! When a woman and her two children were late getting on after our first stop, he invited them to sing (and they subsequently sang Happy Birthday, VERY quietly). It is important to note, however, that the son, who was probably 13, was appalled at their singing so later on in the tour he invited the group to join him in a fabulous rendition of “We Will Rock You!” Most of us, however, lacked that talent so we all made sure we returned at the appointed hour!
We stopped for lunch at a pub in the little village of Doolin which looked like something out of an novel.This was a great call on the part of the driver/tour guide. It allowed us to avoid the mobs of people (as well as the prices) of the coffee shops at the Cliffs of Mohr and allowed us time to meander through some of the village shops. The Cliffs are located in the Burren National Park, a barren landscape where the hills are made of carboniferous limestone. While the focal point of the tour was the Cliffs we stopped at several places along the way including Dunguaire Castle, once home to a sixteenth century king. We also stopped at Gleninsheen Wedge Tomb, which dates back to 2500 BC and just further down the road, we came to Poulnabrone Bolmen which was built about 5800 years ago making it older than the Pyramids and far earlier than Stonehenge that had fascinated us just a few weeks earlier. We also stopped at Kilfenora Cathedral with its many Celtic Crosses. Kilfenora was a sixth century monastery .
And from our bus we saw mile after mile of stone fences. These fences were constructed from the stones that lay in farmers fields and are constructed without any adhesive. Our drive told us these are called “hay penny walls” because workers were paid a half penny a day for their toil.
They are omnipresent but we never tired of seeing them. The Cliffs themselves are over 700 feet high and stretch for more than 5 miles along the western Atlantic coast of Ireland. We were incredibly lucky to have a sunny day for our trip. We felt as though we could see forever! We returned to Galway via The Wild Way of the Atlantic with its narrow winding road along the sea.
At one point the driver told us he was going to quit talking so he could concentrate on the road. Great idea!
As we traveled throughout Ireland we saw sheep, sheep and more sheep. While some sheep were kept within the brick walls, most seemed to wander free range including often on the highway! The color markings indicate who the owner is. Now that we’re in early August we see that most sheep have recently been sheared. This is a really big deal in Ireland and Scotland where the sheep’s wool is a big product. I read online where a Donegal man set a record shearing 731 ewes in 9 hours. He averaged 96.33 lambs an hour or one lamb every 37.37 seconds. Wow! Who knew?
We’ve had a bit more rain here than we’ve experienced elsewhere. Bob says the percentages of rain in the forecast here don’t mean the chances of rain but instead refer to the percent of the day it’s going to rain! So now I carry our rain hats, two umbrellas and our slickers in my daypack just as a matter of habit no matter how sunny it is when we venture out! One of the tour guides told us that trees in Ireland grow three times as fast because of the rain and the mild temperatures. I was amazed by the number of mountain ash trees. They are so beautiful! And the fuchsias! They grow wild among the hedgerow. I always thought my fuchsias in their pots were lovely but in the UK and Ireland they’re bushes! So spectacular! Obviously the climate has its advantages.
We walked from our apartment out to Salt Hill, an area just south of our apartment, located right on the sea. The first time we did this is it was very foggy but still lovely. Later we went again and it was clear and warm with folks swimming in the North Atlantic. Two very different places. We had tickets for the Trad on the Prom. Trad refers to traditional music and the Prom is the promenade that extends from Galway out to Salt Hill. The music and dance were wonderful! It was an extremely warm day and one of the performers explained that this was the warmest day in 400 years. Obviously, sunny warm days are a rarity in Ireland.
Churches are all beginning to look the same to us. But we did tour the St. Nicholas Cathedral, the church where supposedly Christopher Columbus worshiped in the 1400’s. On the floor there are tombs with engravings indicating the person’s profession… i.e. goldsmith indicated by crowns and hammers; sheep shearer with a lead and shears. If you look very closely you can see them in the photographs below.
We decided to take another bus tour. This time to Connemara. This area is primarily farmland but still near to the sea and it is known for the peat harvest. People have sections that they own and they go out and cut the rectangles of peat, let it dry and then use it for fuel in the winter. We also saw many thatched roofed cottages and a man training his sheepdogs…had we been travelling independently by car I would have loved to stop there and learn more.
Kylemore Abbey was the primary destination on this tour and the rainy foggy weather made it even more beautiful in our estimation. There was a prestigious girls school here that closed in the 1960’s. It was run by the Benedictine nuns who came here during World War I after their school had been destroyed in Ypres, Belgium. Because we had visited Ypres a year ago and learned a lot of their history, we found this Abbey particularly interesting.
On our way back from the Abbey we stopped in the little village of Cong. This is where the movie, The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne was filmed. Several people had mentioned this to us in the past few weeks. It was fun to see the statue of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara as well as the pub that is also in the movie. One evening a few nights later we decided to watch the movie via our computer, Amazon Prime and Chromecast. The scenery was beautiful and we enjoyed seeing places we had just visited, but the movie itself? Oh my! Did all movies in the early 50’s lack a plot?
After three wonderful weeks in Galway we were ready to head to Northern Ireland. Unlike other places we’ve been, it’s not possible in Galway to purchase tickets from the tourist information office. We had to go directly to the bus station. We knew we wanted to go to Derry/Londonderry next…which name you use depends on whether one is Republican (Derry) or Loyalist (Londonderry). When we inquired at the ticket office the clerk said, “Derry and Londonderry are two different places.” Before I could figure out how to politely disagree, another man in the office corrected him.
On the morning of our departure we called a cab but inadvertently asked to go to the coach station. As soon as we got out of the taxi I realized we were in the wrong place. Luckily our bus station was a short walk away. I now realize that coach and bus are not synonymous! But it was no big deal. We had plenty of time, got on our bus and headed across another national border. This time to Northern Ireland! Another currency change…leaving the Euro behind and returning to the pound! How did travelers ever manage just a few decades ago when they changed in every country?
Our bus stopped in Sligo, Ireland, we thought for a driver change. We got out to get a snack and imagine our surprise when we returned, only to realize it was a different bus. Unlike in England, passengers are responsible for lugging their suitcases from one bus storage to the next. Bob managed to grab our coats and my backpack off the coach, as well as our suitcases, while I went ahead and got us seats! Just as I think I know what I’m doing we’re thrown another wrench! Next stop Derry!