We write from Belfast, having left you in Galway, and having spent the last few days taking in so much more of the dramatic Irish landscape, incredible history and delicious food!
We toured The Burren, an area south of Galway where there are a number of amazing castles, monuments and historic landmarks. We visited Dungaire Castle, a tower house that has been restored and maintained and now is a venue for medieval banquet nights – how I wish we could have gone to one of those! But we were able to climb right to the roof and gaze out over the harbour it fronts, trying to spot Hookers, the iconic Galway fishing boats.
Next up was a rock monument called the Poulnabrone dolmen. It is a portal tomb and dates back to between 4500 and 2900 BC. It’s set in a karst landscape, where the limestone ground has been eroded by way of chemical reaction with rainwater (Kelly says for those interested: CaCO3+H2CO3→Ca2++2 HCO3− ) to form channels and deep holes along the ground. Apparently, in 1985, it was discovered that there were bodies buried underneath it dating from the Bronze Age, around 1700 BC.
As fascinating as all of that was, I have to confess that I was much more excited by the adorable horses that came over from the neighbouring field for a scratch!
Next on the list was the iconic Cliffs of Moher, and they truly were fantastic! On this trip there has been no shortage of dramatic landscapes – but the cliffs, with their sheer drops hundreds of metres straight into the snarling waves was something else! Even the weather, grey and moody, seemed only to add to the effect. We were able to walk right up the edge and peer down (no handrails!) searching for the red beaked puffins from the puffin colony perched below.
Speaking of impressive, Friday took us to the Kylemore Abbey in the Connemara. Like something from a fairytale, the huge castle is set against a backdrop of a beautiful forest and overlooks a lake. It was bought and converted from a lodge into a family home (a castle!) for a very wealthy English family, though was later sold to Benedictine nuns who escaped the horrors of WWII and who remain there now, until recently running a prestigious boarding school. The grounds are extraordinary – 10,000 acres of land, and complete with a Neo-gothic chapel, mausoleum and huge walled garden that is being restored to its glory. We were allowed in some of the downstairs rooms of the castle, and while I was dying to see upstairs (apparently there are 33 bedrooms! Only four bathrooms though – that doesn’t seem enough?!) the authentically decorated dining room and drawing room were enough to fulfil my Downton Abbey dreams!
Knowing we had a big drive ahead, we stayed at an air BNB in a small village called Newport which was further along our path. We had taken a chance and booked a listing that had only just started and had no reviews, and it totally paid off! The hosts were so kind to us, the room was beautiful and in an incredible restored 1840s Georgian mansion set on the river, and we were even given a box of chocolates to celebrate us being their first guests!
Well rested and well fed from our luxurious stay (we were given Irish soda bread, coffee and croissants for our breakfast – a run is looking necessary, but food is definitely the key to this Air BNB guest/reviewers heart), we set off towards Nothern Ireland and that other iconic feature, the Giants Causeway. Being the weekend, it was understandable that it was packed, but packed it was, making taking a photo without getting another selfie-snapping tourist in it quite a feat!
But The Causeway was amazing – giant rectangular paving stones forming evenly laid paths, stacked in neat columns, or thrown haphazardly into the tide – conjuring visions of perfectionist mythical giants working tirelessly at their tasks.
We drove past the site of the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, another place we wanted to visit, but our wallets lighter after the Giants Causeway (expensive!) and spying the car park groaning with tour buses we decided against a wait in the rain and turned our car south towards the City of Belfast, and our home for the night.
Kelly’s pro travel tip: Always carry a few coins in your pocket, toilets are few and far between in Ireland so when you see one you best use it. Walking through the mall in Galway I see the sign and think yes, best take advantage of this little gem, so after ten long minutes of trying to find the damn thing I get to the door only to realise there is a turnstile and a 20 cent entry fee. What the hell is this then!? Let me tell you there is nothing more soul destroying then trudging back to find your girlfriend in the ladies clothing department (which is awkward enough for any guy – where are you supposed to look anyway?!? God help you if you make eye contact with someone, take it easy lady I’m not here to try anything on) and holding your hand out and asking if you can have 20 cents to use the toilet.