We began the day with a breakfast at the B&B. I had a duck egg omelette and E had eggs with ham; we also crushed some coffee, a few scones, and some yogurt with granola and poached apples. Yes we ate a lot, but today is a long day.
Ireland is divided up into counties, many of which share the name of a a city within that county. To dis ambiguity, you may here someone say Galway (or whatever) town (or city of village depending). Galway City, County Galway is on the southern border of a jut of Ireland, bordered to the north by Clew Bay, that mostly houses Galway and Mayo counties. Our missions today was to drive a route (that can be found in Rick Steve’s Ireland book) though these counties.
The route began by taking us North out of Galway City along the N84. It started easy enough (and truthfully through this whole thing never got difficult) as a properly divided highway with a full shoulder, but as we merged into the R334 the shoulder disappeared, the lanes narrowed, and the high hedge that flanked the road on each side gave way to open views of rural Ireland. It will be hard to put into words the scenery, but I’ll try I guess.
First things first, you have to imagine lots of stone walls. Lots. Then, you have to imagine all of these stone walls intersecting, in a grid-like fashion, at more or less right angles. Now separately, imagine rolling hills…no more rolling than that…the crest of every hill you imagine must be set against the rise of a hill behind it. The angles can be different, one hill pronounces itself from side of another; two hills coverage to form the ramp up, or down, of a third. Now take your stone wall lattice and set it down on top of this landscape, letting the humps and mounds bend and shape the walls, lengthening and shrinking them where needs be. Now switch to your fill tool and create a custom palette of greens and green-yellows and fill each sectioned portion of hill with a different shade, not being so careful with your selections, so that that two adjacent partitions may in fact be colored the same. Now, add sheep and cows, more the former than the latter, inside each corral, but not so many as to make it approached bring crowded, and place a mixture of old classic cottages and new construction housing amongst the landscape. Drop in a windy two lane road with posted speed limits vastly out pacing sensible traffic and clog your road with farm tractor traffic once every few miles. Finally, dot the landscape with a few (but not many) trees and every 10 to 15 kilometers top a hill with the Ivy covered ruins of some long forgotten structure, ranging in size from a small from house to a proper castle. Sprinkle in some bright yellow wild flowers and at this point you may have some idea of what the landscape looks like, but I really do recommend seeing for yourself.
Our first stop in the journey was the town of Cong which is home to Ashford Castle and the accompanying grounds. There is also an old ruined Abbey where monks used to fish and the last High King of Ireland lived out his last days. We parked the car (almost in the abbey) and walked the grounds for a bit, snaking our way down to the castle. There was almost no one around so we took a bunch of pictures and let the little guy tear around on the same grass that Pierce Bronson paid (I’m assuming) many euros to have his wedding reception on. We took a walk down the garden path and marveled at the gardens before turning around and getting back in the road towards Westport.
Westport is a sleepy little town on Clew Bay that had a very touristy feel to it (on account of the buses) but we found it kind of nice in our own way. We walked the streets, read some monuments and had lunch in a little cafe called Gavin’s, which was surprisingly good.
After lunch we set back out on the road, now following the coast line of the bay on the R335 towards Murrisk where we pulled over to see a monument of the Irish potato famine. The sculpture was that of a three masted ship with skeletons floating around in the wind. This stop also happens to be the entrance to climb Croagh (Mountain) Patrick which is an important site in the Irish lore regarding St. Patrick as well as a loooong establish pagan site for the summer solstice. If we didn’t have the little guy, and even then if we wasn’t sleeping, we may have tried for the summit, but we did and he was so we didn’t.
We continued on towards Louisburgh, which I thought must have some French connection (and will not be convinced otherwise after seeing a pub called Lyon’s), driving the windy coastal road before turning inland, staying on the R335. At this point the landscape changed entirely. In place of teen and yellow-green cow dotted fields, we got stone and bramble covered plains which transitioned abruptly into mountains and jagged hills. Sheep replaced the cows, and the road became little more than a driveway. Negotiating with passing motorists would have been an issue had we actually seen any. We were truly out in it now.
This area was still extremely beautiful mind you, just in an ominous and unyielding sort of way. You know all those stories about being unable to drive your car because of a flock of animals blocking your way? This is not made up and happened to us twice, though, judging from a picked-clean carcass on the side of the road, the sheep seem to have learned quickly as they are keen to get out of the way. We rumbled down, turned a corner and a large valley opened up in front of us complete with a lake and beach and the return of green fields up on the mountains. There was even a waterfall which cemented the conversation that this was on par with the drives you can do in Maui.
A little later on as we rounded a small fiord at the town of Leenaun we continued southwest towards the town of Letterfrack. Just before it we pulled over at Kylemore Abbey just to see it. We spent a few minutes figuring out that our map was mislabeled before finding the R344, a road so small that even Google has trouble with it, and setting our sites back to Galway. The landscape flattened out, though the mountains remained visible to our left, and we pulled back into our place around 730.
The little guy had been in his car seat a lot of the day (but he not fussed at all…seriously) so we took him across the harbor to a little playground that we spotted from our room’s window. We took a it to walk along the bay on a path through a large pro that reminded me of Grant park in Chicago before having some passable fish n chips and a little place called McDonagh’s across from our dinner spot the night before.
Thoroughly beat, we went back and all passed out. Tomorrow it in on to Kinsale on the southern coast.