Sadly, this was our last day to explore Irish country roads.
We headed west from Cong to the coastal town of Clifden, tucked in between the Twelve Bens mountain range and the bay. Before we enjoyed a late lunch in quaint Clifden, we stopped by the Connemara National Park to learn a bit more about bogs and did a drive-by of stately Kylemore Abbey, a Gothic Revival estate built in 1826.
The drive from Ashford Castle, along Lough Corrib, Ireland’s largest lake with its 365 islands, was very nice. This region had fewer shades of green, taller grasses and looked decidedly less rugged and more coastal. Tides ebb and flow to such a degree that low tide leaves boat leaning on their sides and allows car traffic to a nearby island.
We were also on a search for bogs. Bogs are not particularly visual; I guess that’s why they aren’t featured in too many photo-spreads. They are wet, swampy and generally soft, but since they maintain debris (and can serve as natural embalmers), they do offer a window into the past. Ireland is known for blanket bogs; peat bogs that are large and spread out.
Bogs notwithstanding, we saw some more beautiful scenery, lots more sheep, lakes, tiny villages and sweeping vistas.
The Cliffs of Moher were impressive, but I’d have to go with The Burren as the most fascinating place we visited today.
Cromwell’s surveyors described The Burren as “yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him in, nor soil enough to bury.”
It truly is an odd, unique landscape, and does seem to hold some sort of mystical power locked within.
Flat, smooth limestone rocks are pitted with holes. The holes are filled with water and the barren landscape is home to dozens of types of small, beautiful flowers and shrubs, many rare and unusual for this part of the world. So what at first glance is grey, barren rock, soon reveals itself with a multitude of yellows, purples, whites, and pinks.
In the midst of all this is Ireland’s best preserved Neolithic portal tomb (of more than 90), Poulnabrone, dating from about 4,000 years ago. A bit farther down the road is the best example of a ring fort, Caherconnell.
The Cliffs of Moher are dramatic, and are a very popular tourist destination. Those with more time may wish to hike the trail along the cliffs to escape the masses. There is a nice movie in the Visitor’s Centre showing all perspectives of the cliffs with great aerial and underwater photography. You can take a boat tour to see the cliffs from the water and in retrospect, I think that would’ve been a worthwhile idea.
We also spent time exploring the grounds of Dromoland, which is really a manor home as opposed to a castle. You feel very much like you are living in a Downton Abbey world. I half expected to see Mr. Barrow come around the corner, except this staff is much nicer. Servers in tailcoats at dinner, high tea, formally attired staff coming into the drawing-room to light a late afternoon fire, a chatty carriage-driver sporting a bowler and a vintage horse-drawn buggy, impressive gardens and, of course, impeccable service.
I have never been a beer drinker, but do like dark beer. In college, I was told that was very low-class . . . . but it’s working for me now, because I like Guinness.
We set off this morning on some more Irish country back roads, heading to Ballybunion to play golf on a traditional links course; in this case, the Old Course, dating from 1893.
It was a great experience and lots of fun to walk the 18 holes with a caddy. Let me tell you with some of the positions my balls landed, it was a pretty rugged walk. It was a bit chilly, but we were prepared; windy, but beautiful. Our caddy was the second person to tell us it has been a particularly bad summer here with just five decent days, this was number six.
The course was spectacularly beautiful and the views on the ocean holes amazing; we were along the water for quite a few. A bonus was the adjacent cemetery along the first hole with its array of Celtic crosses. Those who have played golf with Fred will not be surprised to hear that his first ball hit a tombstone and bounced back into the fairway for an eventual par.
Other bonuses were en route was stopping for cows to cross the road on the way to their milking. When we left Ballybunion for our drive to Newmarket on Fergus and Dromoland Castle, we found ourselves at a ferry landing, with a ferry actually arriving, so we unexpectedly took the ferry across the River Shannon and saved some time. We are really enjoying the country roads and are finding road conditions and signage much better than we expected.
More on life as royalty next post.
Tip: Great book for driving around Ireland is: Eyewitness Travel’s Back Roads Ireland. That book and a Michelin map are all you need. For any unanswered questions, everyone here is friendly and very happy to help.