We hopped on another tour bus early this morning. This bus - dublintourcompany.com - was completely full and consisted of mostly students. We headed out of Dublin and went west across the entire country - a 2 1/2-hour trip. This is truly a wee nation.
We left at 7 a.m., so I missed seeing most of the middle of Ireland because the sun didn't come up until around 8 a.m. or so. When the light finally appeared, I saw flat pastureland, cows, horses and many, many, many sheep. I thought I saw a few bogs as well. The land was covered with the same orangish plants, heather and dry, wine-colored ferns, which I assume might be green in the spring, that we had seen the day before in County Wicklow.
Our first stop, at around 8:30 a.m., was at a Green Apple petrol station/convenience store in Athlone. I got a coffee and toffee muffin, and Jenn got the same kind of muffin and a little jug of milk. The toffee muffin was incredible! We spent £5.85.
We reboarded and continued westward. The closer we got to the coast, the more ruins we spied from the roadway. I also started seeing the little cottages that I believe once had thatched roofs. Then we did begin to see some cottages and larger homes with thatched roofs. Many of those roofs and the metal roofs had green moss growing on them as well. Some were so thick with moss it made the roofs a brilliant green.
We pulled into the Galway bus station around 10 a.m. and met our tour guide, Eamon. He told us he was from a town near Galway, and we noticed that his accent was a bit different from what we were hearing in the Dublin area. He rolled his r's a bit.
So, we boarded another bus, and with Eamon driving and telling us the history of the area in his wonderful accent, we traveled south from Galway into the countryside and its extremely narrow roads (seriously, I can't imagine driving here!). We saw lots of farmland and Eamon pointed out a couple of fairy forts. These forts were actually small circles of hawthorne trees. Eamon told us that farmers in that area are afraid of the fairy forts and stay away from them. The Irish in other parts of the country visit the fairy forts for healing and good luck.
Our trip took us through Clarinbridge, Kilcolgan and Kinvara. We saw Dunguaire Castle, which was built in the 16th century in County Galway, near Kinvara. Jenn and I took lots of photos. She is standing in front of the castle in the photo above.
We went by the O'Brian clan home - Lemaneagh Castle, between Inchiquin and Kilfenora.
The legend goes that the lady of the house - Máire ní Mahon, or Red Mary due to the color of her hair - married around 20-some times so that she could maintain hold of her home and land. After the O'Brian - her husband - was killed by the Cromwell's forces, an army commander told her she would have to marry one of their officers if she wanted to stay in her home. She did, and a while later she took him up to the tower to see the sights, and according to Eamon, for a little smoochie-smoochie. Well, she did more than that. She pushed him to his death, and then cried that he had fallen (Eamon's version of the story is hysterical). So after that, in order to keep her home and lands in the family name, she had to remarry once a year. She did that over and over once a year!
One very interesting place we visited before we started up into The Burren is the cathedral at Kilfenora. It was built in 1058 on top of a sixth century monastery.
We were able to enter the cathedral and photograph the Celtic crosses within.
We went through Ballyvaughan, a small village on Galway Bay in County Clare, and on up into into the hills to The Burren.
This is a very eerie place - flat limestone rocks separated by cracks called grikes covered the hills. That's where we saw the earthen ring fort and the Poulnabrone Dolmen - a tomb dating back to between 4200 BC to 2900 BC. Eamon stopped the bus so that we could get a closer look at this important archaeological find. We had to jump from one block of limestone to the next to get close to it; luckily we did not twist or break an ankle in one of the grikes.
From there we went through Lisdoonvarna, the site of Ireland's annual matchmaking festival, and we we had lunch at Gus O'Connell's Pub in Doolin. It was a cute little village, but all the stores were closed for the winter. This country is in a recession, and Eamon said the shopkeepers must have felt it was easier to close and save their money during the off-season.
This time for lunch I had the Guiness beef stew and Jenn had bangers and mash, shown above. We spent £24. We both opted for hot tea rather than Ireland's national drink - Guiness beer (though my beef stew was made with Guiness.) We will be going to a pub on Saturday night to try Guiness and hopefully listen to some traditional Irish music (update - we never tried Guiness).
After that hearty lunch, we boarded the bus once again to visit the main attraction - the Cliffs of Moher. The site of these cliffs is absolutely breathtaking...I mean literally breathtaking!
There are two ways to view the cliffs - from the right side, where there is also an 1800-era lookout tower, and the left side, where you actually walk across the top of the cliffs - with no barriers! We opted for the right side, and got spectacular photos of the cliffs after a breath-taking climb of some seriously steep steps. We spent about an hour and a half taking photos and then touring the information center. FYI: if you go to the Cliffs of Mohrer on a December day, be sure to dress warmly - the wind is brutal!
As we were leaving to return to Galway, the fog rolled in and the sun started to set - and it was only 4 p.m.! Our tour was a shortened version of the one offered later in the year due to the late rising and early setting of the sun - especially on this day, the day of the winter solstice.
This day also was supposed to be the end of the world, according to some who believed that the end of the Mayan calendar signaled disaster. While on the bus back to Galway, Eamon announced that the world had not ended. That made us all feel better, and I think just about everybody but Eamon fell asleep as we made our way up the narrow road around Galway Bay. (He did warn us that if he had a little Irish whiskey along the way that it would help him drive the crooked roads much straighter!)