First Trip to Ireland – Day 4

After a busy day at the cliffs, it was great to wake up to a delicious breakfast and a relaxing break in the gardens behind Roncallli House before we set off for the morning.

For our second day on the west coast, we drove northwest to the deservedly famous region of Connemara: a region well known for its bogs, mountains, lakes and beautiful forests. The drive was beautiful, but the absolute best decision we made on this trip was to leave the main motorway on a whim and drive through an area that we thought looked like it could be beautiful. We were right!

The road R344 is a regional road that cuts between Lough Inagh and the Maumturk Mountains, and the entire route was peaceful, quiet, and the most beautiful place I have ever travelled to. After driving along a road with sheep constantly crossing in front of us and traversing a path through lakes, trees and mountains, we finally decided we had to get out of the car and look around.

 

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What greeted us was an amazingly gorgeous pastorale scene unlike anything I have seen before. We parked right along a lake which sat at the base of rolling hills, across which we could see forests and mountains, and aside from the flocks of sheep roaming around us there was not another soul around.

Seeing and being in this area was my favorite point of  the entire trip, and it was pure happenstance that we decided to check it out at all. It was archetypal Ireland at its finest, and it’s a place I can guarantee I will go back to. I felt like I never wanted to leave, but we had more destinations planned for the day, including…

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Kylemore Abbey! After parking, we walked along a path toward the visitor center and were greeted with the above view. Visitors immediately get an idea of the beauty of the abbey, and we were anxious to explore and learn more about it.

Upon entering I immediately felt that I had walked into my favorite show, Downton Abbey.  It’s like stepping back in time to that era, and visitors are surrounded by elegance and Victorian charm.

In our tour of the abbey we were able to watch a brief video about its interesting history. It was built between 1867 and 1871 as the private home of Mitchell Henry, who had it built to show off what Connemara had to offer, and was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1909 after Henry returned to England. Unfortunately the Duke and Duchess had a bit of a gambling problem and were forced to sell it again after only a few years. During World War 1, a group of Benedictine monks had to flee their monastery in Ypres, Belgium and relocated to the abbey in 1920; they have remained there ever since. Between 1923 and 2010 it served as a school for girls from the surrounding area, but now it is simply a monastery for the nuns – and a great place for tourists to visit.

It’s not just the abbey that you get to see for the price of admission. Visitors can also visit a small Neo-Gothic church and a Victorian walled garden – although the surrounding woods, lakes and mountains and the beautiful walk to the garden ended up being our favorite parts. Even with scores of visitors all over the grounds, it was hard to not get the feeling of calm and serenity as we walked alongside a lake and watched the mists roll down over the mountains. At the end of our 20-minute walk, we came to the six acre walled gardens full of all kinds of vegetation we had never seen before. To see such a variety in one place was truly remarkable, and our pictures really don’t do it justice.

After taking  shuttle back to the abbey, we sat by the lake and watched swans and sheep going about their business a short distance away. It was amazingly peaceful.

Eventually the inevitable rain rolled in and we took that as our cue to leave. We started our drive back to Galway, but this time we went west instead of east and stopped in the capital of Connemara, a smallish seaside town called Clifden. We stopped there for lunch/dinner and walked through hilly streets with picturesque shops on all sides. Eventually we came to a pub whose name we recognized from travel guides online – Mannion’s. We wanted a traditional Irish meal, and we sure got it; the rest of the group had beef and Guinness stew, and I went with the old standby of fish and chips (my favorite of the entire trip). After lunch a couple of the guys got whiskey and a dessert called sticky toffee pudding – which was apparently good enough that they talked about it the rest of the trip. After we all tasted the pudding, a few more were ordered. I did have a bite, and can attest to the fact that it was absolutely delicious – even for somebody who isn’t the biggest fan of caramel.

After dinner we left for Galway, and because of rock slides we were forced to take a detour off the motorway through more winding country roads. None of us minded, because we got to see more beautiful Irish countryside (and more sheep). The roads were so narrow that we had to pull over every time we passed a vehicle going the opposite direction, and everybody worked together to make sure traffic went smoothly and always passed with a polite wave.

Finally we got back to Galway City and walked to Quay Street again for a night on the town.

The streets were lively and fun, and you never knew what you were going to see next. We came to a crowd and moved closer to see what was going on, expecting more performers of some kind. Instead we found a game I had never seen before; the sign above reads that if you pay a ten-Euro entry fee you can try to hang on the bar for 100 seconds to win 100 Euro. We watched a couple people try it, one of whom looked quite strong and almost made it. We were all rooting for him!

The rest of our night consisted of walking around the busy street, buying some trinkets for family back home, and enjoying some gelato and another pint. I was also pleased to discover one of my favorite beers (Kilkenny Irish Red), which I had only ever tried in Munich, in a liquor store on the way back to the B&B – I couldn’t pass it up.

Tomorrow marks the end of our time on the west coast – it’s time to go visit what will be our new city in a few months: Dublin!

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