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Ireland part 4
Dorian
linda_lupos
Holy picspam Batman.

Monday July 13
A relatively late morning today – 8:30. The room was a mess thanks to my roommates: “I have to get used to living out of a suitcase.” You don’t say...
Breakfast of toast with Nutella (yum) and tea. I headed to the bus station at 9:30 since my tour would leave at 10 and I wanted to be well on time – no repeats of Newgrange! There was some hassle with the bus tickets (apparently my bus driver was new and didn’t know how the system worked yet) but that was easily fixed. Our bus was way too large for our group – we had about 20 people in a full-sized tour bus! On the other hand, that was quite cosy.

Our tour guide was named John, and he was “a real Connemara man”. You could tell from his accent, very Irish! He told us that he knew three languages: English, Irish and ‘bad language’. But he promised he’d only swear in Irish so we wouldn’t understand him. :p He mostly swore at the road, and I could see why: it was narrow and really bumpy. This was, according to John, because most of Connemara is peat, so the road just sinks with all the traffic going over it. He called today’s tour the “rollercoaster tour”!
The landscape outside Galway is wild and green. It’s even in the stones: John went on about something called “connumurumurble” which after some time I figured out was ‘Connemara marble’ with a heavy Connemara accent! It’s a typical Irish type of marble, and is, of course, green!






Connemara is also where the Suicide Sheep roam. Turns out Connemara is one large grazing field for sheep and ponies (the famous Connemara ponies). The sheep farmers just put a lick of paint on the backs of their sheep, to signify which is theirs, and then let the sheep roam free. Of course, the sheep graze where they like – including right next to the bumpy narrow roads, with cars and tour buses barrelling down at 80 kilometres an hour (don’t know why anyone would want to do that, but okay). Highly dangerous for the sheep of course, hence Suicide Sheep.
(It wasn’t entirely safe for the bus, either. After one particularly large bump there was a loud THUNK from the bus. John stopped, examined the front of the bus, proclaimed “nope, nothing’s fallen off!” and then just merrily went on his way again at the same speed. :p)




Our first stop was at a replica of an Irish cottage, which resembled the one used in the film The Quiet Man, with John Wayne (so it was a replica of a replica. Cottageception). Interesting to see, but I wouldn’t want to live there – small, dark and very damp! Next, we stopped at Leenane, a small village near Ireland’s largest fjord, Killary Fjord. Quite beautiful, and there was a very faint smell of salt water in the air.







Leenane also boasts the Sheep & Wool Heritage Centre, because of course that is a thing in Ireland! They had a small museum about sheep and wool production, but I didn’t have time to visit it. There was of course also a yarn shop. :p







Moving on, we did a short stop a little further on for a good view at some oyster farms in Killary Fjord. There was also another faerie tree and... some guy selling souvenirs from a van. Apparently this is a popular stop for tourists!






(Faerie tree on the right.)

Onwards again over the bumpy road, to Kylemore Abbey. This is a 18th century country house, which was in 1920 converted into a monastery and then in 1923 they opened a girls’ boarding school. The school was closed in 2010 due to lack of funding and decreasing student count. At least it saved me from becoming insanely jealous of the current students, because, well, just look at it!






We had two hours to explore the house and the grounds, which was really too short, because those grounds are extensive. Apart from the house, there is a Victorian walled garden, a chapel, a mausoleum, a tea house, and large park lands. There was actually a little bus ferrying tourists from one side to the other.
I visited the Victorian garden first. They were still beautifully kept the way they used to be. The tea house was near the gardens, so I had tea and homemade scones. After that, realising I had to made decisions as to what I wanted to see, I headed back to the house, figuring that that was the most important part (and I’m more into houses than gardens, lovely as those gardens may be).






Admittedly, 'having a lovely garden' in Connemara seems to be more a case of stepping back and letting nature do its job, because wow.

The house wasn’t as large as it appeared to be – or at least, the parts open to visitors. It was a fun mix between Downton Abbey and Hogwarts.






They had an exhibition about the history of Kylemore itself and of the boarding school. Apparently they had some famous students, among whom was Angelica Huston, and two Indian princesses (who were allowed to wear saris instead of the regular school uniform; they brought a different sari for each day of the year and a different nose stud for each month!). On the other hand, because of those famous – and well-paying – students, the school was also able to admit local girls for free. J Kylemore was considered a pretty prestigious school, but what with the diminishing popularity of boarding school and increasing regulation of education standards, the nuns at Kylemore decided in 2005 that they would stop admittance, and the last students graduated in 2010. Now the nuns have a hand in keeping Kylemore open for visitors, and I must say they do it pretty well – they have a large souvenir shop with handmade products (made by the nuns), a lovely tea house, you can stay at Kylemore for retreat weeks, and they are on pretty much every social media you can imagine. Savvy nuns! :p


Imagine waking up with this view - and you're at school
.
Having seen the house, I decided to skip the church and the mausoleum (a good 15 minute walk away from the house) and sauntered back towards the bus – with a short stop at the souvenir shop because the exit route basically forces you through it! Savvy nuns indeed.


Proof I was there. :p

John the bus driver took us back to Galway on the scenic route. Along the way we stopped at the Scríob waterfall, where the  water was dark brown because of all the peat – it looked like Guinness! Too bad it didn’t taste like it, John said.




It was a bit weird to walk around there; because of all the peat, the ground is quite squishy and you have to pay attention where you put your feet. The view, however, was more than worth it.







Near the waterfall was also a small leprechaun house (you can also spot it on the second photo of the waterfall) ánd a Suicide Sheep!




We drove on along Galway bay, with a nice view of the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands in the distance. We even stopped for a short while at a small beach at An Spidéal (pronounced “spiddel”) because the weather had turned so nice – well, for Ireland anyway! There were some kids in bathing suits playing in the water, but most of our group kept our coats on.






Seconds before I found out that my hiking boots are, in fact, waterproof.

Once back on the bus, the weather turned again and it started to rain as we drove the final stretch back to Galway. John meanwhile explained about Irish, how Connemara is part of the Gaeltacht, the region in Ireland where Irish is spoken as the main language. He told us that the Irish government is doing everything it can to keep Irish alive, after the British had tried to repress the language. For example, because John and his wife speak Irish at home to their three children, they get a yearly sum of money. They also host students from all over Ireland every summer, to teach them Gaelic, for which they are also paid by the government (Bean and tí).  Connemara also boats a small, Irish-spoken radio station, and most of the traffic signs are first in Irish and then in English. At one point, John got on the phone with some Irish speaker (his wife? His co-worker who wanted to know at what time he’d be back?) and seriously, that language is incomprehensible. :p
We were back in Galway at 17:30, right in the middle of evening traffic, causing some grumping from John, which is hilarious in an Irish accent (“Indicators, they’re just decorations, aren’t they?! Jeepers!”). But we arrived home safely.

After dinner at a nearby pub, I was sorely tempted to go back to the hostel and fall asleep, but I couldn’t – I had a concert to go to! So at 19:00 I headed back into Galway city, to St Nicholas Collegiate Church. The two guys at the hostel reception were curious as to where I was off to; when I explained, they said I should tell them how it was, so they could recommend it to others.
Even though it was evening, Shop Street was still crowded with tourists and buskers, but I reached St Nicholas easily enough. Entrance was a bit confusing, since I’d booked online and my ‘ticket’ was the email on my phone! But apparently my name had been put on a list, haha.
There was a small stage in the south transept of the church (which later turned out to be the entrance of a tomb!). Since the space was so small, it was quite cosy. There were about 30 people all in all. The program had two parts; first some guy on a concertina (he later turned out to be the one who’d organised all this in the first place), then after the intermission a man on Irish bagpipes and a woman on a concertina. The first guy, Cormac, was very good indeed – and very Irish with his red hair! He was also a bit shy; he’d sit there going “so um, yeah, the next song is called [name], and well... I’m going to play that for you.” Pretty adorable. He played some traditional reels for us, then after the first two numbers came the fun part of Tunes in the Church: the audience got to ask questions!

... guess who was the first one with her hand in the air?

I’d seen a concertina before, but I was curious how you played one. Cormac explained that it’s actually a reed instrument, much like an oboe or clarinet. You ‘blow’ in them by moving your hands and operating the bellows. The two concertinas he was playing were antiques, one dating back to the 1920s, which he had restored himself.




There wasn’t just music, but also dancing. A dancer who, Cormac explained, had danced for the president (“the Irish president, not the American. Slightly less prestigious but no less impressive”), showed us an older style of Irish dancing, older than the famous Riverdance. She told us the style was even simply called “old style” in Gaelic! It was very fun to watch, much more freestyle than Riverdance. She explained that with this style, the arms aren’t kept so rigidly close to the body but they are much more free. Instead, the feet are kept very ‘small’, so the opposite of Riverdance. Apparently the biggest compliment is if you are a ‘ha’penny dancer’, i.e. you can dance on a halfpenny coin! Another difference is that with this style, you tap along to the tunes, so the hardest part isn’t actually the dancing but learning all the tunes by heart so you know what to do when. She told us that the worst thing Cormac could do was tell her he was going to play one tune and then sneakily play another so she’d be caught off-guard. :p
During intermission there was a free guided tour of the church, by some guy who was VERY enthusiastic but not very good in tourguiding: it was all a bit scatterbrained and confusing. But it was quite a nice tour, dedicated to St Nicholas (Sinterklaas!), patron saint of sailors, which would of course be quite popular in a city like Galway. Supposedly Christopher Columbus also once attended mass in this church.
After intermission, we were treated to some Irish bagpipe and concertina music by a couple who had been playing for over 30 years – and you could tell. In between tunes, the man explained the difference between Irish and Scottish bagpipes (the Irish bagpipes have evolved to be an ‘at home’ (or the pub, really) instrument, with more octaves than the Scottish ‘war pipes’; the downside is that because it is a more extensive instrument, you have to keep it on your lap and can’t carry it around like the Scottish pipes). He also played some tunes on the tin whistle, which was quite shrill in the almost-empty church.



The concert ended at around ten. It was still rather busy outside, and some shops were also still open! Back at the hostel, one of the receptionists was still there. I told him enthusiastically about the concert, but I don’t think he was really jumping to go himself. :p
I spend the rest of the evening reading, then lights out at around eleven. Cliffs of Moher tomorrow.


Tuesday July 14
I woke up abruptly with a headache, bleh. Still that stupid cold. The room looked like it had exploded: my roommates were travelling on and they had to repack all their suitcases.
At 9:35 I headed towards the bus station again, for my trip to the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren. The bus was already there; this time it was quite packed. The bus driver for today was Gerald. He had such a dry sense of humour that at first I didn’t even catch on that he was making jokes! He told us, for example, that the most popular sport in Kilvarny (a village close to Galway) was ‘waiting for the bus to Galway’. It was so popular, they even had a yearly cup for the one who had been waiting the longest.
Me: “... wait a minute.”
At one point, he also announced: “if you look ahead, you will see a beautiful view of... a bus coming our way.”
And that last one was kind of a thing on the narrow hairpin roads, which were so narrow that they were barely wide enough for a touring bus. It took some creative steering from the driver, but Gerald had obviously done it often enough that he could do it in his sleep – even the bit where we had to go backwards down a turn because we had to let an oncoming bus pass!

Our first stop was at Aillwee Cave, an underground cave (big surprise there) which we could visit. I didn’t go in; I was still quite tired from my cold and I’ve visited caves before (she said snobbishly). So I bought some postcards at the souvenir shop and spend the rest of the time enjoying the sun and the view outside.








Steep hills.


This is why I don't do selfies. "Is this thing on?"

Back on the bus I was sitting next to a woman form Yorkshire, who’d been to Ireland many times before, had even lived here for a while, but she’d never been to the Cliffs of Moher! So this was her chance to remedy that.
After some more hair-raising sharp turns, we arrived at the Cliffs. Well, at the visitor centre – we couldn’t see the cliffs yet. I stopped by the visitor centre first (some explanation about the local flora and fauna), then sauntered leisurely up towards the cliffs.
And up. And up. Until... yeah, they were worth it. They are IMPRESSIVE.






(Look at the tiny, tiny people on the right!)

Fun fact: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was filmed here, the scene when Dumbledore and Harry go to the cave where the Locket horcrux is kept.:p






You could also do a boat tour from Galway, where you sail along the bottom of the cliffs. Man, you must feel so small on that boat.

There is a long path along the edge of the cliffs. Actually two: one behind a chest-high wall, and one more on the edge of the cliffs. At first I stayed safely behind the wall, but after a while I decided, what the hell, if so many other people are doing it, it can’t be that dangerous. So I got adventurous – well, somewhat. :p I didn’t get much closer than about a meter and a half. It's a 200 meter drop!







The view was magnificent, though. It helped that the weather was great, really sunny and bright. You could also see the Aran Islands really well from this vantage point – fun idea that I’d be there only two days from now!






The warmth did make it a bit of an exhausting climb, plus I had forgotten my walking stick and I’m not exactly a mountain goat. Still, I nearly reached the end of the path. I did spend some time sitting on a rock near the edge (some people were actually sitting ON the edge but I decided that was a little too much adventure for me), enjoying the view and eating some well-deserved chocolate.






After cramming my coat in my backpack (it was way too warm for it), I headed back. Along the way, I asked some French tourists to take my picture, so I even got to practice my French!


"Voulez-vous prendre une photo de moi, s'il-vous-plaît?"







Unfortunately, about halfway down the alarm on my phone rang: fifteen minutes left to catch the bus. Oops... Turns out a crowded cliffside when it’s very warm is not at all fun when you’re in a hurry!
I did manage to reach the bus in the nick of time; I wasn’t even the very last one. The moment the last of our group got on the bus, we went on towards Doolin, a small village, where we paused for tea at a pub. I merely used the bathroom, then ate my own packed lunch in the sun outside. Once everyone was watered and fed, we drove through loads of small villages with alpacas and Tinker horses, to a small bit of the Burren. This piece of rocky Ireland is famous for having 70% of Ireland’s fauna in it, despite being only about 250 square kilometres! There are so many rare plants here, some of which are only found on the Burren, that visitors are not allowed to take any with them.






My first impression, when I got off the bus, was: just a bunch of rocks. However, on closer examination, it kept surprising me with hidden plants. The Burren is made up of limestone with loads of holes or other openings in it, which are perfect spots for plants to grow protected from the strong sea wind. It was really a lot of fun to wander around and spot more and more plants.







The Aran islands are, geologically speaking, part of the Burren, and you could see them really well from here.






Looking back towards the Cliffs of Moher.

We drove on past Galway bay, with a photo stop at Dunguaire Castle, which dated back to 1520. On the way, we had a good view of Connemara – nice to see it from the other side!




Back in Galway we ended up in the evening traffic again, but it wasn’t too bad.
Dinner at a pub again, then back to the hostel. I had two new roommates, two girls from Switserland – odd language! At the reception, I arranged for my laundry to be done. The receptionist, the guy who hadn’t been there when I’d come back from the concert yesterday, asked me how I’d liked it. He reacted a little sceptical when I told him: “so it’s more educational than entertaining?”
No, it’s both. Hmpf.
After a refreshing shower (especially nice after the exertions of today), I spend the rest of the evening reading The Hobbit, which turned out much more fun than I’d remembered!


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