Monday, April 3, 2017

Ireland Part Three

A year or two Back Paul and I watched a TV series called Monty Halls Great Irish Escape. Monty Hall travelled to Connemara in 2010 to stay for 6 months and enjoy the delights that Connemara had to offer ( this obviously shows how far behind our TV is in New Zealand). Any way Paul and I enjoyed watching it as it showcased Connemara, so when we decided to do this trip, Connemara had to be on our itinerary. After leaving Kinvarra near Galway, our trip to Westport included a side trip to Roundstone and part of the Connemara coast, via the Wild Atlantic Way. You may ask what is this Wild Atlantic Way? It is a road route that follows the coast of Western Ireland, from Cork in the South to Donegal in the north. We had already followed some of its routes around the coast, so today we set off for more.
Our first stop was Oughterard and Lough Corrib, a rather impressive island studded lake to the north and west of Galway. We nervously headed down Pier Road, nervous because it got narrower and narrower the further we went. It ended in a carpark, so we parked up and wandered out onto the pier for a look at this glorious lake, if only we had a little yacht it would have been a real pleasure to sail on.

The Pier on Lough Corrib.

Back to the car and onwards towards Connemara. Another side trip was a short drive up the Maumturk Valley, beautiful scenery a bit like Scotland, bracken, peat bogs, and impressive rocky massifs on either side veiled in low misty cloud. 

The Maumturk Valley. 

The Wild Atlantic Way veered off on a loop from the main road near here, this loop took us to Roundstone, Ballyconnelly and Clifden. The road was narrow and the landscape boggy and freckled with rocks. As we got closer to Roundstone the coast appeared indented with estuaries, with tentacle like arms of land poking out into Galway Bay and the Atlantic. Everywhere you looked little cottages rose up out of the rocky landscape, most surrounded by rock enclosures providing some protection from the elements. We stopped in Roundstone for a walk around, being winter there was not a lot happening, most shops were shut. We investigated the Harbour and walked down to the school and old Fransican Monastry, stumbling on the Roundstone Bodhran makers premises. I have a Bodhran, and I attempt to play it on occasion so this place interested me. I should probably explain what a Bodhran (pronounced Bowran) is, it is a hand drum with a round wooden frame and goatskin or other stretched over it, it is played either with the hand or with a tipper (stick). Inside the shop was a huge selection of Bodhran and the usual Irish tourist kitsch, so we had a scout around the shop. As we were about to leave we were greeted by Gifty Lawson Kearns the wife of the Bodhran make Malachy Kearns. Gifty gave us a brief tour of the factory, which was closed for the winter, and then we had a very interesting discussion about Refugees in Ireland. Gifty was from Ghana, and had come to Ireland as a immigrant herself, an interesting and lovely lady to talk to. 

Roundstone Harbour.

Killary Harbour, and yes the weather was closing in.

We left Roundstone expecting to now enter the Ireland of wind swept rocky coastline covered with bogs and sparsely scattered with random white stone cottages. We were a bit disappointed to find that as we drove around the coast to Ballyconnely the cottages were not sparse. By this time we needed a pee stop, and we did think we might just be able to stop at some secluded spot for a quick pee in the bushes, but unfortunately there was no secluded spot. The cottages were everywhere along the coast, mostly holiday batches probably, but not being sure we just crossed our legs and held on. Arriving in the next village we searched for a public loo, but they are few are far between. Eventually in desperation we went into a restaurant and asked if we could use the toilet, the Lady was very nice, and I think because we were foreign took pity on us. By this time it was starting to get on a bit and we still had a ways to go to get to Westport, so we continued driving onto Clifden were we stopped for a late picnic lunch down by the fish port. Continuing on around the Wild Atlantic Way we passed Letterfrack and Fjord like Killary Harbour. All along the road and in the surrounding countryside were huge Gunnera plants, they looked so out of place, we later found out that they were a terrible weed that is causing big problems for the native plants.

Along the Coastal route around Connemara.

At last we arrived in Westport, a town situated on Clew Bay in County Mayo. We were greeted at our BnB "The Clog Factory" by Evleen, our very warm and friendly host. We settled into our room, and had a cup of coffee with Evleen before setting out for a local restaurant for dinner. A lovely nights sleep was had then up for coffee and toast and a chat with Evleen again, she showed us her garden, which unfortunately was not at its best in winter and the extensions she was having done on her home, we found this quite fascinating as the homes here are very well insulated compared to ours in New Zealand. We then set out for Crough Patrick, one of the most spiritual Mountains in Ireland. Every year pilgrims traverse a well worn but rugged track to Crough  Patrick's peak to show their respect to Saint Patrick and visit the small chapel at the summit. Paul and I ventured only about 300 metres up the slope to take in the amazing views of Clew Bay, and ponder the devotion of these pilgrims. Back at the carpark, there is a lovely chapel with amazing views up to the peak for worshippers to visit and spend spiritual time.

The Crough Patrick Chapel at the foot of the pilgrimage.

That's me on the Pilgrimage trail to Crough Patrick.

Views over Clew Bay.

We headed back to "The Clog Factory" and parked up the car, then walked into Westport along the Greenway (the old train line). It took us right into the town and we had a good old wander around the shops and along the river. We ended up in the Porterhouse Pub, as you do, having a Guinness and talking to a local radio host named Norman Whylie, he is one of the hosts for a volunteer radio station in the area. Brexit was one of the topics of conversation along with the All Blacks and our cricket team. A slow stroll back to our home base as the evening set in, then it was an easy dinner in house and a few wines with our host. Evleen told us about what life was like in "The Troubles", at that time she lived in Donegal (Ireland ) but to get work they needed to cross into Northern Ireland on a daily basis. The procedure for crossing the border sounded pretty daunting, searches of their car, interrogations, being held for long hours, even with children in the car. Intimidation was the main driver in these encounters. 

The lovely town of Westport.

We from New Zealand find it hard to comprehend how anyone could live like that. The freedoms we have and the relative harmony that we enjoy are far different to the political and social unrest, conflict and domination endured by the inhabitants of other countries. But we at home do not see how good we have it, we try to spoil our idyllic country with petty squabbles, and carrying old grudges from one generation to the next. Ireland and Northern Ireland are attempting to move on from "The Troubles", to get over any sort of troubled past you need to forgive, forget and look forward to a brighter future.

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