The last full day in Ireland began early for myself and the two students I joined at a tourism office a couple of days beforehand. We had to be at the Molly Malone statue, where it was moved to temporarily in front Saint Andrew’s Church, before 7 a.m. to catch a bus. When I got there, the driver was standing outside with his clipboard and waiting on a few more passengers. They arrived moments later and soon, we were bound for Connemara and Galway.
As we rode alongside the River Liffey, I happened to catch a glimpse of the Clarence Hotel. Unfortunately, no photos of the hotel owned by U2’s Bono and The Edge. The bus was moving steadily and I just looked out the windows across from me in time to briefly see the hotel’s name.
Leaving Dublin behind, the bus traveled M6 and the sound of traditional Irish music played on the radio. I’ve always wanted to learn some Gaelic, so I noted a few of the signs that guided traffic in Gaelic and English.
- Maigh Nuad – Maynooth
- Gab sa lana (accent over 1st ‘a’ in lana) – Get in lane
- Dola Phlas (accent over ‘a’ in Phlas) – Toll booth / toll pay
Not yet at the halfway point of our journey, I caught a glimpse of a castle ruin not too far away to the south of the motorway. The lone structure stood a short distance from a moon phases sculpture displayed closer to traffic lanes. As an old tower partially covered in overgrowth, it looked mysterious and I hoped that I’d be able to find out the castle’s name and maybe even some of its history.
Every now and then, our driver talked about the history of Ireland. On either side of the motorway, we could see many old stone walls cutting across the land. These structures, our driver told us, were also known as penny walls after the builders’ daily pay amount.
The narrowing roads we followed amazed me and there were some particularly tight squeezes within Connemara National Park. It was slow-glowing as anything from small cars and other tour buses came from the opposite direction. At one point, we even encountered a line of construction vehicles while going down a hilly stretch of road. Our bus driver cautiously passed them, inching by on the right. A number of sheep with red or blue marks were grazing in the fields and also on the edge of the grass, although we didn’t encounter a full herd of them anywhere.
Long before I got word of this trip to Ireland, I looked into various options for seeing the country someday. Some tour companies offered self-driving tours as one of several ways to do so. For now, I couldn’t imagine myself behind the wheel on these narrow roads. I’d have to get much more accustomed to international travel, which I hope to do because there is a great deal of Europe on my must-see list.
The weather played an on / off game with us throughout the day and although I hoped it would clear up, the gloomy sky had an upside. It added to the dramatic landscape of rugged mountains, the dark and stormy clouds looming over them.
We stopped and got out to walk around at one scenic area on the water’s edge, finding the ground very soft. It felt as though I were sinking about an inch into the boggy grass with each step. Although it was a little awkward walking, we sure had some amazing views around us!
As our bus approached the grounds of Kylemore Abbey, the rain did let up and it was perfect timing for a photo stop! I’ve seen so many photos of the enchanting structure with its beautiful setting, which made it one of my must-see places in Ireland. Although we didn’t go into the abbey, I loved just getting to view it from a little bridge on the property. Just off of the bus parking lot, I spotted what looked like a small cottage or shed partially hidden by brush. I could only take a photo from one side, but with its rugged old stone exterior, it added to the overall fairy tale look of the surroundings.
Rain began to fall just as our bus was filling up again with passengers, lasting all the way until our next stop. It continued as we exited the bus and made our way over to the Connemara Lady for a cruise of Killary Harbour. The crew wiped seats dry up on the open deck and soon, the boat set sail.
The rain passed again and I couldn’t resist staying up at the front to take in the views of stunning rugged scenery. Sometimes it reminded me of scenes from the “Lord of the Rings,” even though the popular trilogy was filmed in New Zealand. I loved the shadows of clouds as they moved over the mountains and rocky hillsides.
Several cottages overlooked the harbour and penny walls climbed far up a steep path toward the peaks. I wondered what it was like to live in Connemara during the winter months. Tough, yet with beautiful scenery. Near the shoreline, there were mussel farms floating on the water’s surface and a boat of fishermen at work sailed by.
A woman joined those of us standing along the bow and I heard her say, “Ooohh, Titanic,” taking in the views ahead. Despite the roar of the wind blowing, I could also make out the captain saying over the speaker something about possibly encountering dolphins. No dolphins, but a few small jellyfish were spotted close to the surface.
The Connemara Lady sailed on until two structures could be seen up on hills in the distance ahead of us. Navigation towers, the captain informed everyone as the boat started to turn.
Having a quick lunch as we headed in, the two students I was with opted for mussels and I chose a caprese sandwich and cappuccino.
There are some things I thought I’d never try to eat because of their appearance, mussels included. But I ended up doing so, somewhat reluctantly. It didn’t taste bad at all. Even though I was sure I wouldn’t start eating mussels more often, just having one was part of what I loved about this trip to Ireland. It brought about so many new experiences along the way.
Back on land and heading to the bus, I snapped a few parting shots of the Connemara Lady.
As our driver cautiously followed the narrow roads through the park once more, we passed old ruins of cottages and other small structures. Crumbling stone partially covered in overgrowth, they looked as mysterious as the castle ruins I spotted earlier.
Our final leg of the excursion included visiting Galway, although we stopped momentarily in a small town. I think a woman asked the driver if she could get out and take a photo of a horse grazing along the water. She ran over to a stone wall for a better view. From the bus, I was able to capture a photo of the horse as it looked out to the harbour. A short while later, some horses trotting in a field caught my attention.
We had 45 minutes to explore the center of town in Galway, where many people were gathered outside for a festival. Colorful flowers bloomed around the based of trees in large planters along a sidewalk. Near banners decorated with family crests, a piece of old architecture stood preserved from a building; it was called The Browne Doorway.
The batteries in both my phone and my DSLR camera were just about completely drained. But before they died out, I noticed some Celtic knotwork detail on a wall near where our bus was parked.
Soon, everyone was meeting back on the bus and as we passed several empty buildings, our driver shared some local economic history. A hotel was left unfinished after the global economy problems since 2008 and across the street from it stood a number of estates. “Ghost estates,” our driver called them. Nobody could afford to buy the properties.
On the way back to Dublin, I caught a better glimpse of the castle with sunlight falling on it. Traditional Irish music played on the radio again until we were just outside of the city. At that point, pop music filled the bus and one song was “The Unforgettable Fire,” by U2, after which the DJ said it was The Edge’s birthday.
As we got off the bus and thanked our driver, my two global studies classmates and I were ready for dinner. O’Neill’s was just a few steps away, so we topped off the amazing day with the pub’s delicious food choices. Whenever I go back to Ireland, I am definitely stopping at O’Neill’s again for the Shepherd’s Pie I ordered; it was easily the best one I’d ever had. What a way to bring the trip to Ireland to a close!