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Published: September 5th 2019
Early departure from Westport after breakfast. It's yet another drizzly day, and the traffic is noticeably worse as parents drop off their kids for the first day of school. We are headed south toward Galway and eventually to the cliffs of Moher. En route, a number of interesting topics come up.
One thing you can say about small Irish towns (and cities, too) is that they tend to be remarkably clean. The streets are mostly free of trash, cheery flower boxes abound, front yards and homes are well looked after, and graffiti is minimal. Part of it is cultural, in that the Irish have a tradition of taking pride in appearances. But Tony tells us there actually is a annual Tidy Town Competition, and it's taken very seriously.
The subject of the bright coloured markings on sheep comes up again. Earlier it was mentioned that the marks help to identify the sheep's owner and to keep track of the animal's status. We learn today that rams sent out in the fields to do their manly duties with ewes in heat are equipped with neck pouches of dye. So the farmer knows that ewes who sport coloured marks just forward
of their rumps have been serviced and should bear little lambs. And they better come through, because it's reproduce or become a chop.
Besides sheep, we often see cows and horses in the fields. Irish horses are famous as racers, and Connemara ponies in particular are highly prized. Reputedly the area's in limestone bedrock puts more calcium in the peat, then the grass, then in the horse, producing stronger bones. The Irish love horse racing, and we have seen more than one racetrack along the way. Steeplechase is the main event.
Property boundaries are usually marked by stone walls. They are constructed from the various stones found in the field during tilling, and they are assembled without mortar in a crazy Rube Goldberg fashion to construct the walls. The stones vary widely in size and shape, and are stuck together this way and that apparently haphazardly. Yet some of these walls have existed for hundreds of years. Tony says that the numerous chinks help them resist the wind better.
As we get further south and leave the Connemara region, the countryside gradually changes from bog to earth, and from mountains to hills. We stop in the small
village of Cong. Here a movie called The Quiet Man was filmed, and a statue of John Wayne carrying Maureen O'Hara commemorates this event. Nearby are the ruins of Cong Abbey, an early 13th-century structure. It is quite large, with many walls substantially intact, and I enjoy exploring it.
On to Galway, Ireland's 4th largest city. It is a walled city that was one of the last to fall to Cromwell as he marched across Ireland on his quest to root out the Catholics. The city's inhabitants are called Galwegians. We descend at the main square, which has officially been renamed Kennedy Square after JFK, whose family roots are here, but which is still called Ayre Square by locals. We make our way to Shop St., a pedestrian shopping area. Lined with myriad small shops, it is fun to explore. On the down side, it's raining fairly heavily again.
On Shop St. is Lynch Castle, actually a massive limestone fortified house. Dating from the 16th century, it was the home of the powerful Lynch family. Tony had earlier told the story that in 1493 James Lynch, the mayor of Galway, hung his own son for murder when the
local executioner demurred, thinking it was dangerous to kill a Lynch. The building is now a bank.
Galway is the home of so-called Claddagh rings, a design that incorporates folded hands (friendship), a crown (fidelity) and a heart (love). Violet is delighted to find such a ring that suits her in one of the shops.
We have lunch at delightful little pub named Taaffes that catches our fancy. Excellent soup. I like the music that's playing over the sound system. It is Irish but with a contemporary feel. I ask the server about it, and he tells me it is a group called Beoga. On the way back, I pop into a music shop and buy one of their CDs. Hope it's a good one.
We drive through a small town named Clarinbridge that is famous for its oysters and is the site of an annual Oyster Festival. Another town named Kinvarra is renown for its thatched roofs and vividly painted buildings.
We have now entered an area known as the Burren. This is a raw, scarred landscape that was formed when an ancient seabed of limestone was trust upward, then scoured by glaciers. The result
is a rocky, windswept lunar-like landscape. It is a protected area.
We drive along an extremely twisty road that David navigates with ease. We pass through pretty Ballyvaugn and on to Lisdoonvarna. The latter is the site of an annual matchmaker festival, of all things. (That's matchmaker as in finding your life partner.)
Finally we arrive at our main goal for today, the Cliffs of Moher. This is an iconic site that you have undoubtedly seen pictures of at some point. Sheer cliffs rise 214 ft. from the churning Atlantic below. Birds hover and swoop in the air currents and provide a constant aural backdrop with their cries. The magnificence of the cliffs is almost impossible to describe. Your first impression is that you’re looking at a painting. The cliffs are so massive and so beautiful that your brain rejects their reality. An interesting factoid is that the cliffs are due west of Newfoundland.
We first visit the visitors centre, offering audio-visual exhibits to explain the unique topology and wildlife of the cliffs. We then venture to the cliffs themselves. I climb up to O'Brien's Tower to the north that provides a panoramic view from that perspective.
Then I head south to the first of several headlands. It is very windy and cool on the heights. Could be worse, could be raining. Of course, rain rolls in with almost no warning from the ocean.
We leave Moher and continue our journey south. Stop near Ennistymon to visit the Great Hunger memorial, a sad monument that references the true story of a little orphan boy named Michael Rice, who at the age of four was admitted to a workhouse.
We drive through a sizeable town named Ennis. Tony announces that we are coming to the worse turn for a coach in Ireland, and it lives up to its billing, as cars in both directions have to back up and pull off the road to allow our coach to proceed.
We reach our home for the night in Bunratty: the Bunratty Castle Hotel. Sadly, we have to say goodbye to 14 of our group, who were on the 7-day northern Ireland tour. But happily we say hello to 17 newbies who are just starting the 7-day Southern Ireland tour. They are all Canadians as well.
Tonight, a special treat. We are attending a medieval feast
Cliffs of Moher
County Clara, Ireland
and show at Knappogue Castle, about 30 minutes away. The castle has been completely restored as an entertainment space. We are greeted by our hosts in medieval garb and addressed as "m'lord" and "m'lady". We wait in an anteroom with goblets of mead in hand as we are entertained by harp and violin. We enter the dining room and are treated to a medieval feast: soup, stew, root vegetables, potatoes. Lots of music, fun and merriment with audience participation fuelled by mead and wine. The musicians and dancers are top-notch. I am especially impressed with our lady harpist, who is playing a period-style wooden harp (no pedals).
Some time earlier on the trip, we were drinking with our friends in some pub, when someone remarked that since Tony is from Limerick, we should compose a limerick for him. We got as far as "There was a tour guide named Tony" before we petered out. Now, one of the interesting things about my brain is that ideas like that can go away into some dark corner and emerge later fully formed. I had subconsciously been working on such a limerick for several days. So on the way back to the
hotel, I commandeer the microphone and present my limerick for Tony and David.
There was a young tour guide named Tony
Who, along with David, his crony,
Said "From whazits to widgets
'Twas the Irish who did it
Why we even invented baloney!"
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