With the Sea Always On My Right: County Galway

County Galway

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey

Rejoining N59, we entered the even wilder landscape of Connemara. Coming to Kylemore Abbey, we stopped to look around. Again we didn’t go inside. Built in the 19th century, it is neo-gothic and not the real thing. But it was a pretty sight.

We arrived in Clifden, our destination point, early! This was the first time that happened. While it was situated in a splendid setting and the town was another colorful, quaint place, we preferred to search out another B&B like the night before. We’d take our chances. So we didn’t book a room in Clifden.

But we did have a memorable meal there. The Irish serve their lunch menu until six o’clock which is great for us. The restaurant was the delightful Derryclare Pub adjoining the marketplace area. Everyone was sitting outside there, sunbathing in the glorious weather.

I asked our waitress what was the significance of the sign for the place, which featured an early aircraft. She didn’t know but later I found the answer in a guidebook. The first trans-Atlantic flight had been made from St. Johns, Newfoundland, in 1919. The aircraft was piloted by John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown. They crashed near Clifden. Some important trivia! Also, Marconi operated the first radio from here in 1895. More trivia!

My first shepherd’s pie of the trip was my delectable meal while my TC (Travel Companion) had his first salmon, cooked in a tasty sauce. After exploring the town, we headed out to the Sky Road. We stopped to see Clifden Bay and the harbor area. Then off a side road, we found the most spectacular view of Clifden with its two, church spires, its buildings spread over the small hills, with the Twelve Bens in the background.

Thatch cottage

Thatch house on the Sky Line Drive

Driving around this rugged coastline, we encountered sheep and ducks walking in the road, like no cars ever came that way. Clifden Castle was beautiful in ruins. We came upon several thatch-roofed cottages. Finishing the Sky Road, we drove along the coast through Ballyconneely on Route 340 to Roundstone. We entered the most desolate, austere countryside yet. There was nothing but rocks and stones – in the houses, fences and landscape.

We decided to look for a room in the pretty, fishing village of Roundstone, Cloch na Ron, with one main street and seven or eight pubs. This was the type of town we preferred. As we rode along the shore of Bertraghboy Bay, B&B’s were scattered along the coastline past the town. I kept telling my TC to go a little further, when he was ready to stop for the night, but we found the perfect place again.

Heatherglen House (tel. 095-35837) is the name of this B&B, with the hostess Patricia Keane, who we really didn’t get to know like Maurin of the day before. But we did enjoy the spacious, glass-enclosed sitting room, which afforded us views of the bay and the Twelve Bens, the gray, quartzite peaks, which are best seen from this spot. The rooms were en suite and many, interesting paintings by a local artist were about the house. The grounds were, of course, immaculate with a colorful rock garden and calla lilies and rhododendron in bloom. A large thatched-roofed house across the way could also be rented. Lobster boats and several currach, the typical Irish rowing boats, were in the Bay.

We went looking for music tonight in one of the pubs but were told there was no music on Tuesdays, only on the weekends. We could have had music in Clifden but we still preferred Roundstone. At the Shamrock, we had a pint and tried our skill at pool. On the wall was a colorful poster advertising a festival in Kinvara from April 30-May 3. We had missed it but I was hoping to have the poster from the festival. I asked the bartender about it but she said she wanted to keep it. She said perhaps we could get one in the town. They may have some leftovers. I’ll have to see if we’re going that way.

Wednesday morning marked our one-week milestone! We were in County Galway, directly across from Dublin so we may be able to finish our trip going everywhere we have planned to go. At breakfast, I finally had fried eggs with runny yolks, the way I like them.

Before leaving Roundstone, we had to visit the IDA – Industrial Development Agency – a horrible name for a craft complex. Set in an old Franciscan Monastery with the gate and belltower still intact, it houses pottery, woolens and other crafts. But the star of the place is “The Bodhran”. Malachy Kearns makes the traditional, eighteen inch, one-sided, goatskin drum here.

“The Bodhran is Ireland’s oldest product” states the brochure. It goes on to say that the Irish word “Bodhar” means deaf or haunting. When the drum is used with the “tipper” or beater, it stirs the spirit. Tones can vary according to the way the tipper hits and how the hand presses the back of the skin. In the hands of a skillful player, it can be a subtle and exciting instrument.

Malachy is the only fulltime Bodhran maker in the world. His team of artists has many, varied designs to paint on the front, or you may provide your own. A Bodhran is a lifetime purchase – so, of course, I had to have one. I purchased one with a Celtic serpent painted in red, gold and green. It will be my Irish keepsake.

Driving around Bertraghboy Bay on Route 342 through Cashel, we encountered Route 340 for a short piece. Then we were back on N59, the direct highway from Galway to Clifden. It was a pretty inland drive with the peaks of the Bens still in view, small lakes, and streams with rushes running every whichway. We passed through Maam Cross with “The Thatch Bar.” Side trips can be made through Joyce Country and the Maumturk Mountains from Maam Cross to Leenane but we had chosen to go to Clifden and the coast roads instead.

At Oughterard, we turned off the N59 to go to Aughanure Castle, the 16th century O’Flaherty fortress. The O’Flaherty clan fought the Normans and controlled the region for hundreds of years. The Castle overlooks Lough Corrib, the largest lake in Ireland. But, alas, it was closed – only open on weekends during this time of year. I would have liked to have gone inside the gate to have a view of the lake. We hardly got a view of the castle, as the trees were so thick around it. I almost fell in the stream surrounding it, trying to take a photo. But my TC grabbed me and saved the day.

We crossed over the Salmon Weir Bridge, where the waters of the Corrib River rushes beneath. These are full of salmon in May and June when they come in from the sea to spawn in Lough Corrib. We were in Galway and it was beset with traffic!

Coming upon the grand Cathedral of St. Nicolas, we circled around it to appreciate its large, green, copper domes, which I hadn’t seen since Londonderry. We continued on, missing the heart of the city. Stopping at the University of Ireland in Galway, we had a quiet retreat when we went into the quadrangle. More glorious green, copper domes adorned the main building here.

Continuing on N59, we then turned on N67 and rode along the coast. We espied Dunguire Castle in the distance, situated on Galway Bay. Erected in 1520 by the O’Hynes it was purchased in the 20th century by Oliver St. John Gogarty. He was characterized as a poet, surgeon, and the wildest wit in Dublin! Friends with Synge, Yeats, Shaw and O’ Casey, they all took part in the Celtic revival in Irish literature. The castle celebrates this period with evenings of fine food and wine and entertainment of past myths and legends.

Set in Kinvara Harbor, the castle-tower has complete walls with arched gateways and a corner defensive structure. Stopping at the harbor, we decided to have lunch. The place we chose was called the Café on the Quay, with a large Galway Hooker on the sign for the restaurant. The town has a festival which celebrates these hookers, which are sailboats. Decorated gaily in tones of blue with natural wood, it sported crochet tablecloths and light covers. The front was a combination of two shades of orange with yellow woodwork. Many of the buildings in this town were of two-tone, colorful combinations, making it gay and picturesque.

Cruinniu na mBaid, the festival of the gatherings of the boats, takes place in August. But I was interested in the Fleadh nas Cuach, Festival of the Cuckoo, and the poster I saw in the Roundstone pub. Our waitress informed us that the posters were for sale at the pharmacy. After lunch, we drove into the town proper looking for the pharmacy. The poster is as colorful as the town, using the same colors of the buildings, aquas, roses, pinks, and warm yellow.

A stone arch appears in the middle of the poster, rising out of the water, with the buildings along the harbor and the castle in the background. On the yellow-colored grass above the arch is a nest full of eggs. An over-large cuckoo is on the left, atop a sheet of music entitled “The Cuckoo Fleadh”. Brightly colored instruments are all around the bottom – deep rose violin, blues accordions, yellow ukulele, a rose guitar – with a violinist standing in the water playing. The whole scene is framed by a vibrant turquoise. I regretted that we had just missed the festival. Kinvara has my vote as the most picturesque town in Ireland. I want to go back there and spend some time. The poster is my treasured artwork from this journey.