The second part of our journey in Ireland took us along the northwestern and northern coasts of the island. We started in Galway. There we saw a rock proclaiming Seattle the sister city of Galway along with a nearby monument stating that Christopher Columbus visited Galway in 1477 researching whether there was land on the other side of the Atlantic. Lastly we visited St Patrick’s Cathedral. It is the newest stone cathedral in Europe, built in the 1960’s and made of limestone. It has beautiful stained glass and mosaics including one where Jesus is serving tea to Joseph while Mary knits. It is a lovely church and since it is very modern it is easy to understand with no need to imagine what it would have looked like.
That afternoon we boarded the ferry and sailed to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are a group of three islands about five miles off the west coast. There are a total of 1400 people on the three islands and the one we visited has 900 inhabitants. Desolate is a good word to use when describing the Aran Islands. There are no trees or natural topsoil on the
Dun Aengus on Inishmore of the Aran Islands. This treeless moonscape is typical of the entire island.
island but people have scratched out a living for several thousand years. By moving the rocks to create stone walls and hauling sand and seaweed up from the sea they have managed to create topsoil capable of growing hardy crops like potatoes. They are also fishermen and they raise livestock like chickens and cows. They don’t raise sheep because sheep are too hard on the land.
We hired a guide named Noel to drive us around the island. The first stop was Dun Aengus, a fort built on top of a cliff high above the sea. Neolithic peoples built it 3000 years ago but different generations modified it again and again. It looks like a bull’s eye where half of the bull’s eye has fallen into the sea but I am pretty sure it was built that way. There is no barrier between the tourists and a frightful fall to certain death so we stayed low, usually looking over the side while lying on our bellies. But watching the surf crash against sheer cliffs whilst surrounded by dry stone walls still standing after 3000 years was pretty amazing. Dry stone walls are built simply by carefully stacking the rocks
Seven Romans died while they were studying in Ireland during the Dark Ages. These are their graves.
without mortar. It takes a special skill to lay the stones to last for three millennia.
Next we saw the Seven Churches grave yard, a former monastic settlement. There were seven Romans buried there who had come to study under the auspices of the monastic settlement in the 7th century. This shows how Ireland remained advanced when the rest of Europe fell into the dark ages after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Finally Noel dropped us where we could walk to the Black Fort. The Black Fort is similar to Dun Aengus but has not been developed as a tourist sight. We had a 45 minute walk over both reclaimed (cleared of rock and covered with created topsoil) and natural fields to reach the fort. We passed a nesting spot for herons and observed several nests with adults feeding their young.
Once we left the road and cut across the unreclaimed fields the walking got very challenging. Just like Dun Aengus, the Black Fort was built on the edge of a cliff that drops straight down to the water. We spent a lot of time watching the Atlantic waves crash against the cliffs below us.
The Cliffs of Inishmore
John loved to watch the waves crashing against the cliffs.
We really enjoyed Inishmore so it was with reluctance that we took the ferry back to the mainland. We drove to a region called the Connemara where we spent the night. Over breakfast the next morning we chatted with some folks from Dublin. One of the ladies talked about the Queen’s recent visit and then said, in all seriousness, that the Irish needed to forgive the British for the famine. It was a good example of how true it is that some people are still angry 150 years later.
Our most interesting stop in the Connemara was the National Famine Memorial and the visitor’s center for Croagh Patrick. The memorial is a 20 foot bronze coffin ship. It was beautiful art but also very poignant. Croagh Patrick is a 2500 foot mountain where St Patrick fasted the 40 days of Lent then drove the snakes out of Ireland. The climb to the top takes five hours round trip and it was raining so we did not attempt it. Maybe next time.
The next day we went north to the Donegal Peninsula. There we went to Glenveagh (pronounced glen-vay) National Park featuring Glenveagh Castle. The land was purchased in
Gary and Friend
There was a Bird of Prey exhibit at Glenveagh Castle and both Gary and I were allowed to hold birds and let them sit on our heads.
1857 by John George Adair who then kicked the 42 tenant farmer families off the land and built this castle. It was completed in 1873 and used as a hunting lodge for almost a century by three different owners. In 1981 it was donated to the state and turned into a national park. The park consists of three parts: the castle, the surrounding gardens and the natural countryside. The countryside is your typical moor and we did not have the time to explore it. The gardens are spectacular and were our favorite part of the castle. They covered several acres surrounding the castle and included a Tuscan Garden with statues, a walled garden with a large variety of plants and a pleasure garden with nice paths for walking and a variety of unusual plants and trees. Lastly we took a tour of the castle. Our guide spoke haltingly but imparted a lot of information as he showed us around the castle. It had been remodeled several times so although it was built of stone and looked like a castle it was really just a mansion.
That evening we drove on to Portrush in Northern Ireland. It is a seaside
John at Giant's Causeway
This example of the hexagon stones was particularly striking.
resort that has seen better times but still has charm. There are noticeable differences between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the UK). Besides the currency, everything seems to be a cross between British and Irish. From the accent to the food in the grocery store, everything is just a bit different.
The next morning we awoke to rain and wind I said “I don’t care if it’s windy as long as it doesn’t rain.” Mother Nature took me seriously much to my chagrin. On the itinerary for that day was the Giant’s Causeway. It is a group of 40,000 hexagonal columns of rock that were created when lava cooled very quickly. On the North Coast of Ireland, these rocks are a well-known attraction and the primary reason we came to Northern Ireland.
The wind was gusting when we arrived but it was not raining so we set out to walk the half mile to the hexagons. As we rounded the first corner the wind pushed us along enough to unbalance Vicky and me so we linked arms for stability and headed on. Soon we were pelted with pebbles thrown by the wind so we
hurried on around the corner to where the wind was not so strong.
The first formation is right at the seaside stepping down into the sea. It is the most accessible and John and I climbed on it to take a look. Once on top the wind was so strong we had to sit down to keep from getting blown over. We finally gave up the idea of exploring and returned to the ground the same way we came up. The four of us then headed for the Lower Coast Pathway and were buffeted about as we passed through a narrow gap in the hexagons. Both Vicky and I took to holding on to our respective husbands to keep from getting blown around. We followed the path passing an unusual rock called The Giant’s Shoe on to another group of Hexagons. These were 40 feet tall and on the cliff above us. It was capped by sever hundred meters of other lava flows and one could readily identify the layers. The sign near here said the trail was dangerous in high winds but we foolishly ventured on.
As we rounded the next headland again we had trouble with
the wind blowing us and pebbles pelting us. It is actually easier to walk into the wind than to walk with it because you move slower and are more stable. Here we saw a formation called The Giant’s Eye which was similar to a geode embedded in the lava. Then we rounded the corner into the Amphitheater. It is a large natural amphitheater shaped bowl. We could see the wind whip through the grass and birds struggle to fly in the gales.
We then headed back. John paused at the Giant’s Eye and dug out a small stone for Gary. The wind picked up as if the gods wanted retribution for the insult. We got pelted again with rocks and this time I was hit in the temple with a palm-sized rock. Gratefully I was wearing a knit cap so not hurt. When we got back to the first formation we realized how much the winds had picked up and we sat huddled together on the bench waiting for the shuttle bus.
At the top the winds were even stronger and we needed to stay attached in order to stay on our feet. Next we went to the
St Patrick's Cathedral, Galway
It was enjoyable to see a modern cathedral in it's glory.
Bushmills Whiskey Distillery. We scurried in pairs across the distillery parking lot into the comfort of the building only to discover the tours were cancelled. That is when we realized the magnitude of the wind. It was a major wind storm and even the locals were rattled. We were told that all the major sights were closed due to the wind and that they had also cancelled the distillery tours. To make it up to us, they were offering free tastes of five different whiskeys. John and Gary tasted all five and I tried four of them. Vicky was our designated driver because she would not even taste their best one.
We returned to our B&B took a walk to search for restaurant for dinner. We headed up the street and as we reached the top and tried to round the corner we realized how strong the winds were. They were at our backs and were blowing so hard that John and I sat down to avoid getting blown down. V&G made it around the building into the lee of the wind and watched as John and I lay laughing in the grass. John could stand but I knew
Portrush, Northern Ireland
as soon as I got up I would be blown over. I kept waiting for a lull in the winds but it never came. Finally Gary and John came to my rescue and helped me into the lee. We stood there for several minutes taking videos and pictures as flagpoles and streetlights bent and danced in the wind.
The street where the restaurant was located was closed because of the winds so we headed down another street only to have a fireman warn us to cross the street to be safer from flying debris like sharp pieces of slate blowing off nearby rooftops. We ended up abandoning the search and stopped at a small grocery store and bought fixings for a picnic dinner which we ate in our room.
The next day the winds had calmed down to their normal blustery level so we set out to see the sights we had missed the day before. Our first stop was Castle Dunluce. It was a striking castle in its day set out on a column of rock on the edge of the North Sea. Now it is in ruins but the archeologists have done a good job of
Keep at Trim Castle
The Keep is five stories tall.
preserving it and even making it come alive. I could almost feel the heat off the massive fireplace. In fact, I wish I could have because it was cold and very windy.
Then we went back to the Old Bushmills Distillery. They gave a good tour and at the end we again got a whiskey. Since it was so cold they were offering a hot toddy as one of the options so I tried that. It is a great way to drink whiskey.
That afternoon we drove back into the Republic of Ireland and stopped for the night in the town of Trim. The next morning we visited the Trim Castle which consists of a five-story keep or castle surrounded by a curtain wall enclosing several acres. It was built by the invading Normans to protect themselves from the angry natives. Our tour guide explained how the keep evolved over the centuries and gave interesting anecdotes about life in the castle. My favorite tidbit was how, in the middle ages, they would hang their clothes over the cesspit and the ammonia created by the waste would fumigate the clothing and kill any critters like fleas and lice.
Then we headed for the day’s highlight, Bru Na Boyne. It consists of two Stone Age tombs, Newgrange and Knowth. We only had time for one so we visited Newgrange. It is 5000 years old; that means it was already 1000 years old when the great pyramids were built in Egypt. At first glance it looks like a hill but then you realize it is a man-made hill 240 feet in diameter. The amount of effort required to build them was enormous. They moved 140 boulders weighing up to 2 tons each. They imported quartz from 80 kilometers away to decorate the face of the tomb. They moved cubic acres of earth and broken rock to make the mound. And they aligned the tomb so that on the winter solstice a beam of light from the sunrise enters the central chamber for only 17 minutes. Our guide was named Peter and he was passionate about Newgrange. He was very gruff with the group in general but when Gary asked if he had seen the equinox he melted like butter saying “Yes and it is fantastic. No two times are the same. But there are many more times when it is
This was already 1000 years old when the pyramids were under construction.
cloudy and we are disappointed.”
And then we returned to Dublin but that is another blog.
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