The Last Day

As the title of this post reveals, We finally reached the last day of our tour. I went to Ireland alone, and I was a little apprehensive about spending seven days with strangers. I’m a loner. I like doing things by myself and I can go for days without seeing or speaking to another human being and I’m just fine with that. That being said, the people on my tour were friendly and just plain good folks. They gave me the space I needed without questioning or worrying overly much (I think) about me. It was a good time and even though I was glad to come home again, I miss seeing them all. We had two tour guides on this trip. The first one, Carmel, was vibrant and enthusiastic, but she had a family wedding to attend so she left us on the third day. Our next guide Damian, was very well informed of Irish history and knew small details about everywhere we went. He was a little too wired for me as I’m very relaxed and laid back but he was a great guide. I would definitely recommend Vagabond/Driftwood tours to anyone wanting a tour vacation. (This is not a commercial)

Not too far from Clifden we stopped at a spot where a man still cuts Turf by hand. Turf, or Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter that over time gets compressed and becomes a fossil fuel. It only grows 1 mm a year so it could be used up if too much is cut. For centuries it has been the fuel with which Irish people have heated their homes. Today, it is cut by machine but this guy still cuts his by hand. An amazing amount of work, and it has a wonderful smell when burned.

Next we stopped at Kylemore Abbey. The castle was finished in 1868 by a wealthy Doctor and took 100 men 4 years to complete. Eventually it was sold to Irish Benedictine Nuns who ran a school for Catholic girls until 2010. It’s an amazing place.

These next photos are from Ireland’s only true fjord at Killory Harbor. The lines in the water are for fishing Mussels. The fjord goes 10 miles inland.

The 1952 Technicolor John Ford movie, “The Quiet Man” was filmed at Cong, County Mayo, Ireland. It starred, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. This is the bar that was filmed in the movie.

The rest of the trip back to Dublin was uneventful. I was dropped at my hotel about 5 pm and had the rest of the evening to relax and think about all I had seen. Seven days on the road produced a whirlwind of sights and history, some of which I know I forgot to include here. The main take away that I came home with is that the people and food of Ireland are great, and the country is beautiful. What little I saw of the island makes me want more. The mountains are spectacular and the wild Atlantic is mesmerizing. Unfortunately Ireland has had to cater to tourism but it has brought a lot of money to the economy. So just as they learned when they won their freedom from Great Britain, sacrifices have to be made. In order for the Republic of Ireland to gain independence they had to give up the six counties of Northern Ireland which stayed a part of Great Britain. It was a sore battle to lose but it was the only way to be free. Thanks for sticking with me on this journey and maybe you’ll get to go yourself.

Sunset over Dublin

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The West Coast of Ireland

Before I went to Scotland last year I purchased a European electric plug adapter. It looks like some kind of torture device with about ten different points sticking out of it. You have to study the thing to figure out which plug works wherever you are. And then you have to figure out where exactly you’re supposed to plug your U.S. plug into it. I’m lucky I didn’t burn down the hotels I stayed in. Cell phones have become so prominent throughout the world that a lot of hotels now have recharging plugs (USB) built in to their electric outlets. That’s handy.

Bathrooms are strange in Ireland. I found about six different shower variations in my hotels. They all had a fairly recognizable tub spigot but the way in which you used the shower could be quite different from place to place. One had a metal hose leading to a horizontal chrome tube. On one end of the tube you turned a round knob to let the water flow and on the other end another round knob increased the temperature. One had a sleeve built in to the tub faucet that you had to pull down on to activate the shower. Another had a large dial in the wall. The outside ring activated the water and the inside ring increased the temperature. It got to be kind of a game to see how the shower worked in each hotel I stayed in. Some toilets have the tank built into the wall, others have the tank exposed and still others had the tank above the toilet at eye level. Many of the sinks had separate hot and cold taps. Oh and most places call them toilets, not bathrooms.

They don’t use the words enter or exit. Signs say, “Way in” or “Way out.” Turn signals on cars are called “indicators,” and if a driver fails to use them they say, “He didn’t indicate.” A line in which people wait for something is called a queue and if you’re expected to line up for something you’ll be told to “Queue up here.” There are plenty of Semi trucks hauling goods all around the island and they’re called lorries. Many semi’s in the U.S. have sleeper cabs for long haul trucking but I didn’t see a single one in Ireland. Apparently, because of Ireland’s small size, there isn’t anywhere you can drive that you need sleep for. Most cars that I saw were manual transmission. The drivers seat is on the right hand side of the car and you would think that everything would be a mirror image in the car but it’s not. The pedals on the floor are in the same configuration as American cars. The gears are also the same except for reverse, which is to the left of the other gears instead of to the right like American cars. If you’re not paying attention it can all seem disorienting. Just going down the street in a taxi makes you feel like you’re going to crash. You keep wanting the driver to get in the other lane! You can risk your life just stepping off a curb in Ireland. We don’t realize how used to things we are. When crossing a street we expect cars to move from left to right. Uh, uh. They move from right to left in Ireland. It can be dangerous.

In the last post I left off at the town of Ballyvaughn. It is a pretty little town, very clean and quiet that sits on Galway bay. Just to the south is an area called, “The Burren.” The Burren is a large area that is quite rocky and has a complicated geography with gray surface stone that has many cracks and fissures filled with soil in which grows a variety of grasses and flowers. It is also pretty much treeless.

It’s definitely different from the “40 shades of green” that you see throughout the rest of Ireland. Moving on from Ballyvaughn, we rounded Galway Bay. When I say rounded, what I really mean is the road twisted and turned like a roller coaster. The scenery all around was beautiful with continued glimpses of the wild Atlantic. Taking this route, we made our way to Galway city. Our tour driver dropped us off in the city center and gave us two hours for lunch. Galway has a population of about 80,000 and I wish I could have seen more of it because I wasn’t impressed by the city center. Very touristy, apparently what the Irish think tourists want to see. And maybe they’re right because the place was absolutely crowded with tourists buying all kinds of tourist junk. Plastic green shamrocks with Ireland printed on the front and “Made in China” on the back. No thanks.

From Galway we drove to Clifden. Clifden is located in an area called The Connemara. The Connemara is a cultural region which is part of the Gaeltacht, The areas in which the Irish language is primarily spoken. It is a land of rugged, mountainous beauty dotted with lakes and streams and small villages.

On the way there I noticed a road sign that said, “Roundstone, 7 miles.” I asked our tour guide if we were going that way. He said no, we would be turning onto another road soon. I told him I always wanted to see the village because it was the setting for the movie, “The Matchmaker” and was a beautiful location and a quintessential Irish village. He said he hadn’t seen the movie and didn’t say any more. He also didn’t turn onto the other road. So he drove us through Roundstone. Everyone loved it and it looked exactly like it did in the movie. Damien, our guide, is a great guy!

Roundstone

When we reached Clifden we stayed at a hotel that used to be a castle.

Clifden, population 1597, is a fairly recent village, beginning life in the early 1800’s. Clifden gained prominence after 1905 when Guglielmo Marconi decided to build his first high power transatlantic long wave wireless telegraphy station four miles (6 km) south of the town. On 15 June 1919 the first non-stop transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown crashlanded in Derrygimlagh bog, close to Marconi’s transatlantic wireless station. When Captain Alcock spotted the green bog he thought it was a meadow where he could safely land his Vickers Vimy biplane. The plane’s landing gear sank into the soft bog and was destroyed. Alcock and Brown were later transported back to Clifden town by stage coach with only minor injuries. When they returned using the Marconi Railway, the locals had helped themselves to parts of the plane as souvenirs. (Wikipedia)

Clifden

After our visit to Clifden, it was time to head back to Dublin and the end of my stay in Ireland. In the next post I’ll fill you in on the our last day and some of the great places we saw.