Ireland Trip Report

Jun 22nd, 2012, 01:02 PM
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Ireland Trip Report

I started posting under a Galway thread but I realized this has turned into more than Galway..We have been in Galway for several weeks, taking some side trips.....I will post all the text here but please visit my blog for photos/links/etc:

Aran Islands:

When I noticed at the end of last week that the weather forecast for the weekend was surprisingly quite nice, I thought we should seize the day and go out to the Aran islands on Sunday. So I booked us the ferry trip (and bus from Galway to get to the port) with Aran Island Ferries. Some people say that one should stay overnight, but we decided to just do a day trip, and to go to Inis Mor - the biggest of the three islands.

The Aran islands are a throwback to an earlier time. Because they were isolated from the mainland until recently, they maintained traditional Irish language and culture. There is also very interesting history on the islands from when they were an important military outpost - and there are several old forts to see - along with interesting rocky topography (quite like the Burren). While Inis Mor has sprouted a small tourist industry, the islands still seem very remote and quaint. Perhaps this is because the ferrys don't bring cars over, and most tourists choose to bike or use horse and cart to get around the island.

The islands can be reached by ferry from both Rosh a Mhil, the port 40 minutes from Glaway, or from Doolin, but the ferries from Doolin are often on quite rough seas, so going from Galway might be a better bet if you can swing it. The ferry company provides a bus service from their office in Galway to the port, which leaves an hour before the scheduled ferry departure. The ferry then takes about an hour. (The whole thing costs 39E per person.) So it's a relatively long journey overall, but well worth it, with one caveat - go on a nice day! I really can't imagine it being much fun in bad weather.

When we got off the ferry there were lots of people trying to get you to join their mini-van tours, which we ignored. We thought about the horse and cart because we wanted to be outside, but by the time we visited the tourist office and got a snack, they were all snatched up. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we rented bikes, and I'm really glad we did. We rented from Aran bike hire, which I recommend - the bikes worked well and the seats were comfortable.

Our first stop was the Dun Aengus fort, about a 30-40 minute bike ride if you don't stop much. There are some hills, but you can always get off and walk your bike, and you are rewarded with some exhilarating downhills for the last 10-15 minutes. Along the way we saw large brown cows, some skinny goats with beards, and some regal horses - but I didn't stop my bike every time to take pictures, unfortunately. I did take some of the landscape though....

We went by a lovely sandy beach, with some brave souls wading in the water, before turning left to go to the fort.

At the fort we left our bikes, had a snack at the cafe, paid 3E, walked through the tiny museum, and then climbed for 15 minutes to get to the fort. The climb's not too tough but it is a bit rocky/steep for those who are not physically fit.

The fort is amazing. It's always a wonder to see something like this built so long ago and to think how difficult it must have been to build it without any modern conveniences. It wasn't too windy so we were able to get up pretty close to the edge, which kind of looks like the Cliffs of Mohr, but without a guardrail or many tourists. Its just you and the cliffs and the water out here.

After the fort, we got back on our bikes and headed the other way at the beach this time, to take the coastal road back to town. We stopped at a seal colony on the way. It was just getting to be low tide so we were able to see some of them, sunbathing on rocks, but I imagine it would be even more spectacular when it's really low tide. The coastal road was also not too difficult of a bike ride, although I was sweating by the end.

And then, just when we really wanted food and drink, what appeared in front of us? Ti Joe Watty's pub! (The only pub on the island, I think.) Apparently they have live music in the evening, but we were too early for that, so we settled instead for fish n'chips, which we had outside on a picnic table, in the company of a loud rooster. For once I didn't feel guilty eating the food, as I felt we'd earned it with the bike ride and hike!

Then it was back into town to return the bikes, and take the ferry/coach home. We had that satisfied feeling that only comes with hard work, beautiful weather, amazing scenery, and full stomaches.
sharbear84 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2012, 01:04 PM
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Connemara Day Trip:

With my dad and brother in town, we decided to rent a car and take a day trip out to Connemara.

Our first stop was the area where the Quiet Man (John Wayne movie) was filmed, where you can see the bridge from the movie. It also happens to be a magnificent spot. You can find it about 5 miles past Oughterard - there is a sign for a turn off to the left, but if you blink you'll miss it.

Then we kept driving on N59 to Maam Cross, where we turned north onto R336 towards Leenane. Along the way we saw lots of cows, sheep, and lambs!

We stopped for lunch at Blackberry Cafe in Leenane, a restaurant Sam and I had topped at when we were in Ireland three years ago - and we remembered how good it was! Especially the fish cakes....and it lived up to all the hype in our memories.

Then we kept driving to Klyemore Abbey. We didn't go inside, but we admired it from the outside.

We didn't have time to do a bigger loop out towards Clifden, so after Kylemore we took a right turn and followed R344 south until it met up with N59 again. And finally we got a chance to see some sheep up-close, and they modeled for us... (see the blog:
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Jun 22nd, 2012, 01:06 PM
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Cliffs of Mohr/Burren:

Even though we'd seen the Cliffs of Moher before, we couldn't let my dad and brother come here without seeing it themselves, so we headed out of Galway and down the coast. It's only about an hour and 45 minute drive from Galway to the cliffs, and it's pretty scenery along the way.

There's a big parking lot near the Cliffs, and that's where you pay your entrance fee - 6E per person, not bad at all. Then you just follow all the people over to the cliffs. We stopped first for sandwiches which we took with us for a picnic of sorts.

I think I'll just let the cliffs speak for themselves here...(

And cows too...much of the land there is actually private land owned by farmers.
We didn't have much time there, but if I get back a third time, I want to walk the path they have almost finished building all along the top edges of the cliff.

The reason we were short on time was we were trying to make a walking tour ("Heart of the Burren") in the Burren at 2:30 pm. We ended up arriving at the tour's meeting point - the Burren Center in Kilfenora - with plenty of time to spare.

We met our guide Tony, and then drove out in a caravan to Burren National Park, where we had our walk. On our last trip, we'd driven through the Burren, but I felt we hadn't really appreciated it, which is why I looked around for a tour, and I ended up really glad we did this - as I felt we all got something out of it. Tony is a true Renaissance Man - part geologist, environmentalist, botanist, historian, writer, etc. A little something for everyone.

The landscape of the Burren has an ascetic beauty to it. At times we felt like we were on the moon. And it was very cool to be some of the only people out there.

Tony pointed out all the flora and fauna that are living here, even though at first it just looks like a barren rock landscape. I could explain to you all the reasons it's like that, but instead, either book a trip to Ireland and take this tour, or buy Tony's book on the Burren and Aran islands. He didn't just explain to us how the landscape came to look as it does, but he also told us stories about the great famine, and his work trying to make sure that cattle are still able to graze on this land. I'm not really doing it justice.

After the wonderful walk, it was getting late, so we went to our hotel for the night - the Ballinalacken Castle Hotel. It's lovely, with a view of the ocean all the way to the Cliffs of Mohr. The hotel is built right next to a castle, not in it, and as we drove up we had this fairytale view of castle and white horse:

We had a lovely stay at the hotel, and I would definitely recommend it. We also ate dinner there as a treat for my dad for Father's day and it was delicious.
sharbear84 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2012, 02:22 PM
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Your pictures are lovely, as usual. Love the cows and sheep.
MaineGG is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2012, 02:40 PM
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Thanks!! I wish I could have taken more pics of the animals..but can't ask the driver to stop in the middle of the road all the time, right??
sharbear84 is offline  
Jun 22nd, 2012, 05:03 PM
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I am enjoying your pictures and story. thanks for sharing!
irishface is offline  
Jun 26th, 2012, 12:31 PM
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Here are restaurant reviews of everywhere we ate in Galway:
sharbear84 is offline  
Jun 27th, 2012, 08:43 AM
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and more photos of Galway:
sharbear84 is offline  
Jun 29th, 2012, 09:54 AM
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What a great trip! Thank you for sharing!
MarilynT1435 is offline  
Jul 4th, 2012, 12:00 AM
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I'm gone from Ireland now, but I posted one last post about the music scene:

The best thing about Galway, by far, is the amazing music scene. Every night of the week you can hear music in the pubs, and not just traditional Irish music. Below is a guide to some of our favorites:

Note: Traditional music sessions refers to musicians that come and play various instruments, without microphones, and usually without singing. These musicians don't always know each other, and they are not primarily playing to entertain the crowd, but rather for their own enjoyment. It's like a jam session, basically.

Crane Bar:
This might have been my favorite bar. It's off the beaten path - not on the main street in town with all the other bars. It's got a very homey atmosphere to it, with an always friendly and not too drunk crowd.

There is fabulous music here, both traditional and not quite so traditional. And the best part is, there is an upstairs and a downstairs, often with different music. Sometimes there is a concert upstairs with cover. This bar is good anytime, but Saturday night has had the best trad sessions - sometimes with up to 12 musicians playing?

Tig Coili

On the main drag, always a reliable spot for trad music (no mics here), friendly bartenders, and out of town visitors looking to strike up a conversation. This is one of the few spots that has a late afternoon session at 6 pm, in addition to an evening one around 9:30.


This bar, basically across from Tig Coili, has kind of a split personality. By day, around 5:30, it is the home of traditional music, but by night it has a small band playing Irish drinking songs and a raucous drunk crowd singing along. Lots of fun, but beware of the tight quarters, and don't bring your elderly relatives.

King's Head

Good food, and some 3 pm sessions, but the real time to come here is Wednesday nights. Around 9:30/10 a great band plays both traditional Irish music and dancing, and also some songs. Get there early for dinner to secure a good spot.

Other bars to check out:
O'Connors - If you're in Salthill, this is a nice warm cozy pub with a fireplace and the best set of old pub decor I've ever seen (old sewing machines, hanging underwear by the fireplace - you have to check it out). The music is often cheesy American songs, but Sam says they pour the best Guinness he had in Ireland.
Monroe's - a good bar to watch sports, eat dinner, or check out the dancing bands on some evenings. Also concerts upstairs with cover.
Roisin Dubh - concerts with cover
Spanish Arch - on Wed. nights (head over after King's Head), there is a good band that plays a mix of Irish and bluegrass.
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