Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The West of Ireland

The West of Ireland is comprised of Counties Clare, Galway, Mayo, and Sligo. Some of the highlights of the region are Galway city, the Cliffs of Moher, the mountains and coastline of Connemara, and the countryside of Mayo. Having to pick & choose what to see and what to skip due to our limited time, Greg & I chose to spend our four nights in this region in Galway, Inishmore and Westport.

Our drive from Dingle to Galway involved dodging a few sheep in the road, as usual. After crossing the scenic Conor Pass, the highest mountain pass in Ireland, we stuck to the main road to keep our drive as short as possible. Skirting Limerick, we decided to skip the Cliffs of Moher and thus the better part of County Clare as Greg had briefly visited this area in 2007 and, after all of the beautiful scenery we had already seen, we couldn't justify the 6EUR per person expense to see the cliffs (not covered by the Heritage Pass).
view towards Dingle from Conor Pass
We arrived in Galway around 3pm and, after checking into our B&B located next to the greyhound stadium, walked about 15 minutes into the city center. After a quick look around, we stopped in at Inkfingers where I had prearranged a consultation for a new tattoo. I had already come up with the idea before we ever left the U.S. -- to get a claddagh tattoo as a souvenir of our honeymoon in Ireland. I chose the claddagh (and to get it in Galway) specifically because this is where the ring originated and it is symbolic of our marriage.
prelude to a tattoo
With the unique design sorted out, we found a budget place to eat some Irish lamb stew for dinner then stopped at on off-license shop on our way back to the B&B where we relaxed for the remainder of the evening.

I had a 9:30AM tattoo appointment so after a full Irish breakfast I headed into town alone (Greg prefers not to observe the process). I loved the skylit room where Sean Ricketts creates his masterpieces and was thankful that this was a relatively painless one (on my upper left arm). Greg was waiting for me when I finished at 11:45.
my Irish souvenir
We walked through town and across the river to Galway Cathedral, dedicated in 1965. It features beautiful stained glass windows, Connemara marble floors, and a vaulted wood ceiling. From there we walked to Monroe's Tavern for a refreshing beverage; I had a Beamish (my favorite Irish stout) and Greg had the locally-brewed Galway Hooker IPA. Now you might think the name of Greg's beer refers to a particular occupation, but it is actually a traditional fishing boat built to withstand the rough seas in the area. We actually saw a reconstructed one in the free City Museum which was our next stop.
beautiful interior of Galway Cathedral
History lesson complete, we returned to Galway's West End where we were quite content to spend an hour or two at The Salt House Pub. Besides the opportunity to try many local and international craft beers, we got to chat with the Four Corners distributor rep who paid a visit while we were there. In addition to a generous free shot of Bushmills 21 year malt, an extremely rare whiskey costing at least 125EUR per bottle, the bartender gave us pint glasses, lapel pins, a bar mat and a knit cap, all to congratulate us on our marriage (and for our love of beer)!
the king of cool at Salt House Pub
Departing Galway the next day, we drove for about an hour along the coast to reach Rossaveal, where we parked the car and caught a ferry to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. According to Wikipedia, "the island is famous for its strong Irish culture, loyalty to the Irish language, and a wealth of Pre-Christian and Christian ancient sites including Dún Aengus, described as 'the most magnificent barbaric monument in Europe.'" This is just what we set out to experience after checking into our B&B and renting bikes. While the day was overcast, we were lucky it didn't rain and thus were able to better enjoy our 14km round trip bike ride to Dun Aengus and back. As a reward for our efforts, we had a pint at Ti Joe Waddy and then a filling meal at the American Bar, where we were entertained by the local fishermen and their incessant use of "fook" and "shite."
riding bikes on Inishmore
Satisfied with our island experience, we took the ferry back to Rossaveal the following day and drove through on again/off again rain to Westport. The heart of Connemara was quite beautiful with lakes, hills and waterfalls but we only stopped a few times to take pictures. Having read about the peat bogs near Leenane, we went out of our way to see them but had to endure nasty weather when we got out of the car for a quick look around.
Killary Harbor in Leenane, a brief moment when it wasn't raining
Arriving in Westport in the late afternoon, we relaxed before dinner at our cozy guesthouse, Augusta Lodge, where the owner was nice enough to do our laundry for free when we inquired about facilities. Donning full rain gear, we walked into town around 7pm and had dinner at Cosy Joe's before heading over to Matt Molloy's Bar, whose owner and namesake is the flute player for The Chieftains. Hoping to hear some great music we stayed late (until almost midnight), despite the bar being umcomfortably packed, but our efforts went unrewarded. There were some youngsters playing a few rooms back but we couldn't even hear them from the front room where we were at. Still, we agreed it was our most authentic Irish pub experience to date!
Matt Molloy's pub on a Friday night
After breakfast the following morning, we watched Ireland beat Australia in the Rugby World Cup then set off towards Donegal. We stopped at a few more worthy sites in "The West of Ireland" before we crossed the regional border to the north: the interesting National Museum of Ireland - Country Life (free), Sligo Abbey (covered by our Heritage Pass), and W..B. Yeats' grave at Drumcliffe, where we also had a pint in his honor at the local tavern bearing the poet's name.
Museum of Country Life
Links to all of my photos from this region:

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