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Ireland 2018 - Connemara and County Clare

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Connemara and County Clare

On one of the few wet days of our holiday, we drove along the south coast of Clew Bay stopping at the foot of Croagh Patrick (765m), said to be the holiest mountain in Ireland and a place of pilgrimage for thousands of years, attracting a million visitors annually, especially in July. Unfortunately it was shrouded in low cloud but we were able to park on the roadside (note: height barriers on the main visitor centre car park) and walk the short distance to the stark National Famine Monument at Murrisk. This evocative modern sculpture by John Behan was unveiled in 1997 and depicts a coffin ship draped in skeletons. Returning to the van we continued along the coast road to Louisburgh and turned south across bleak moorland and peat bogs passing a famine memorial stone at Doo Lough in a steep valley. In 1849 about 400 people perished after being refused food at a poorhouse in Louisburgh and told to walk to Delphi Lodge (now an upmarket holiday centre), fifteen miles south in atrocious weather, where they were again refused any food and told to return north. We reached the fjord like inlet of Killary Harbour and the nearby Aasleagh Falls with the narrow roads ablaze with wild rhododendrons. After a lunch stop overlooking the harbour we drove across bleak moors with much evidence of peat cutting, passing Kylmore Abbey, a large stately home and walled garden, to reach the harbour of Clifden where we stayed for a couple of nights at the nearby campsite. Walking into the town we noted large Gunnera plants, wild fuschias and Japanese Knotweed.

Merrick - National Famine Monument
National Famine Monument
  wild Gunnera plants
wild Gunnera plants
Doolough Valley
     Doo Lough Valley

We were struck by the verbosity of the road signs around here with SLOW and SLOWER painted on the roads and a sign on the road out of Clifden telling foreign drivers to "Links Fahren" (we had already met a hire car coming straight towards us earlier).

Clifden road sign
a non EU standard road sign

Leaving Clifden after a lazy day we followed the winding coast road across rough rock strewn countryside with more and more bungalows, some very tidy and others abandoned half built. A short diversion down a very narrow lane took us to Dogs Bay with empty beaches of silver sand on each side of a narrow grassy isthmus. After the small village of Roundstone, the road passed many small lakes scattered across the flat countryside with the Twelve Pins mountain range in the distance. Once through Ros an Mhil, the main road was mostly built up as we approached An Spidéal and another small campsite with mostly static holiday caravans. The next morning was brighter so we drove across typical Connemara countryside towards Lough Corrib to visit Brigit's Garden, with four themed gardens celebrating the Celtic festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine and Lughnasafour, and pleasant woodland trails and meadows. We then drove a short distance to Oughterard but discovered that boat trips across the lough didn't start until July, so returned to the campsite taking a good road across the Connemara moors where cut peat was stacked to dry and passing many wind turbines.

Another damp day followed as we headed  through Galway city and along the southern side of Galway Bay to Kinvara, a small harbour with colourful shops and bars, and on to Ballyvaughan for a lunch stop on the quayside.

Kinvara harbour Galway Bay

Kunvara colourful bar

Now in County Clare we drove across the  impressive limestone countryside of the Burren, stopping at a parking area for a short walk across the rocks with wild flowers in every crevice. Continuing south we reached the eery ruin of Leamanagh Castle, not open to the public despite its colourful history, and pulled in to the large carpark behind Vaughan's Bar in the village of Kilfenora, where the Father Ted TV series was filmed, and fans are still attracted by an annual "Tedfest". As the evening progressed more and more people arrived at the bar and we discovered that a popular set dance was held every Sunday, so enjoyed watching the expert dancers performing their intricate steps to the lively sound of a Ceílí band. We had planned to visit Doolin that weekend but as it was their folk festival and the campsites were probably full, our diversion to Kilfenora proved to be a wise decision.

The village has an important historical past. The cathedral was built in the eleventh century and there are five ancient crosses, some preserved under a glass roof in the cathedral ruins. Also the village is home to its famous Ceílí band founded over one hundred years ago, and a popular music and dance festival is held every April.

Aasleagh Falls
Aasleagh Falls

Clifden - colourful shops

Brigits Garden    Brigits Garden

Brigits Garden     Brigits Garden
     Brigit's Garden

   Connemara stacked peat blocks
Drying peat blocks

The Burren limestone rocks

The Burren
The Burren, County Clare

Leamanagh Castle ruin near Kilfenora
Leamanagh Castle

Kilfenora abbey
Kilfenora Celtic cross
Vaughans bar Kilfenora
Kilfenora cathedral
stone cross
Vaughan's bar Kilfenora

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