Rye Reflections

July 2005 Travel

Vacationing and Navigating in Ireland

From the Aran Islands to the Dingle Peninsula to Limerick and Connemara

Earl Rinker


This is the second in a three-part series               

Of course, we had to see the Cliffs of Mohr (above), a majestic series of mountains, five miles long, rising out of the sea at a height of 700 feet.  Fortunately for us, the clouds dissipated just at the time we arrived, and I must say the view is breathtaking.  O’Brien’s Tower sits at the top of the cliffs’ highest point where one can see the Aran Islands and the mountains of Connemara to the north and the mountains of Kerry to the south.  Earlier that day we visited a small perfume factory smack in the middle of the Burren where all fragrances are made from flowers indigenous to the mostly barren Burren.  Naturally, we had to purchase some perfume for Jean and some cologne for me as the fragrances were simply delightful.

One day we traveled to the small coastal town of Doolin and took a ferry to one of the Aran Islands, the smallest of the three, Inisheer. We felt as though we had stepped back into the 19th century.  

After dickering over price with a rather disheveled, unkempt man, we hopped on a fairly small, beat-up pony-cart, driven it turned out, by the man’s 14 year old son.  And that’s how we toured the island. The boy was well versed on the things of interest and he answered all our questions forthrightly.  Surprisingly, he did a great job.  

The farmers’ properties were separated by stone walls as they are throughout Ireland, but on this little island each property was so small most of the island looked almost like a checkerboard.

The Aran Islands are famous for their sweaters and they are really something to see.  We were surprised to find them heavy and odiferous from the oiled wool which makes them fairly waterproof.  
Concerned about traveling with oiled sweaters, however, we did most of our sweater buying at a large retail store where we received a break in price.  It was just outside Galway and recommended by the Considines.

A stone cottage on Inisheer is now being used as a barn; typically, stone walls weave their way in front of cottages

We took the straightest route on our way to Doolin. The roads weren’t too bad, and we stopped at old cemeteries and did a little shopping in some of the small shops along the way.  Coming home we took a more circuitous route along the ocean.  It was a challenge to drive along such narrow roads with no guard rails while still attempting to enjoy the awesome views.  Sometimes we were at heights that seemed like hundreds of feet above the sea.

We wanted to see an area southwest of us known as the Dingle.  It was too far away to make in one day so we made reservations at a Bed and Breakfast.  Bed and Breakfasts are all over Ireland and most are very nice.  For what, at the time was about 65 Euros (78 dollars), we could sleep in nice queen sized beds in lovely rooms and get a full, delicious Irish breakfast in the morning.  That means great tasting Irish oatmeal, bacon and eggs, brown bread toast, orange juice, (black pudding, that has blood in it - if one wished – we didn’t) and coffee.

Dingle is a handsome town with many brightly colored painted houses (see photo at right). Heading toward Dingle, we traveled on the Connor Pass, a twisting, winding very narrow road, again with no guard rails, up one side of a mountain and down the other side.  While the views were spectacular, the drive was extremely scary, even more so than the ocean drive back from Doolin.  The well known film, Ryan’s Daughter, was filmed nearby in 1969.  

After getting situated in our room at the B & B, we got the name of a good restaurant and headed out for dinner.  By the way, let me say that every meal we had in Ireland was excellent. We thought of Ireland as a meat and potatoes kind of place and didn’t think the country was noted for its cuisine.  Guess again.  The meals were fabulous.  Of course Ireland is dotted with pubs which always seemed to be busy (the later in the evening the busier), and the food was as good there as it was in the restaurants.

The next day we circled the Dingle Peninsula seeing what is described as a giant lying down in the ocean (a combination of small mounds stuck out in the ocean that really look like a giant lying down), a set of statues featuring Christ on the Cross and spectacular mountain and ocean views.

We had another great meal on the way back to Ballyvaughan and arrived at the cottage around eight that evening.  As an aside, it didn’t get dark in the evenings until sometime after 11 o’clock and was light in the mornings well before five.  We were there during the time when the daylight hours are the longest, but we were quite surprised to find that we were that much further north, making the daylight several hours longer than what we experience here in New Hampshire.

Since both Jean and I had read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, a visit to Limerick was in order.  The shabby housing has long since been removed, but the Vincent DePaul store is still there as is the grammar school.  It was a rainy day (wouldn’t you know it as this was a walking tour), and we were the only two taking the tour; thus we had the tour guide to ourselves. The guide was an old army man, native to Limerick, doing this in his retirement.  He claimed he was a friend of Frank McCourt’s brother, Malachy, and he regaled us with interesting stories about the entire family.

On one of our day trips we visited the town of Adare, considered the prettiest town in Ireland. There are stone-built cottages with thatched roofs enhanced with colorful gardens in front.

There is a beautiful stone church in the center of town and tourists were allowed to go inside, where we discovered a lovely wedding taking place.  We hung around outside the church and watched the newly married couple mount a horses-drawn carriage to be whisked away to their reception.

On another day we traveled northwest through the Connemara National Park around beautiful lakes at the foot of a number of majestic mountains.  

Carriage draws near church just before end of service to pick up newlyweds.

Along the way we stopped at Joyce’s Craft Shop which is in Recess on the road to Clifden in Connemara County.  Across from the gift shop was an odd looking statue with this inscription on it:  “CONNEMARA, Conn Son of the Sea, Built in 1999 by Joyce’s Craft Shop, For No Apparent Reason.”  A bit of Irish whimsy?

Our main destination was the Kylemore Abbey, a boarding-school for girls run by Benedictine nuns.  The Abbey was built by a merchant for his son in the late 19th century and is one of Ireland’s most photographed buildings.  There is an open hall, a Gothic chapel and several reception rooms open to visitors.  It’s nestled at the base of a mountain sitting at the edge of a neat little pond, surrounded by colorful, beautiful gardens.  

Unfortunately, it rained that day, so the views were not as good as they might otherwise have been, and yet there was a beauty throughout this entire day trip that could not be denied despite the rain and fog.

NEXT:  We strike out for Dublin making stops in Cashel and Kilkenny along the way

July 7, 2005



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