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Ireland with Go-Ahead Travel

Author: svitak5
Date of Trip: October 2005

We arrived at the Imperial Hotel in the heart of Galway City. Carmen and I freshened up a bit, then we went exploring. We walked all the way down to the Corrib River which flows through Galway and into Galway Bay. We treated ourselves to an expensive but wonderful dinner at a place called Martine's Quay Street Restaurant. We were seated by the window looking out onto Quay Street. At the top of the window was a transom that opened out. Standing right outside the window was a young man smoking one cigarette after another. Our kindly waitress closed the transom so that we could enjoy a smoke-free environment. When we finished dinner we took a short walk along the river and then returned to our hotel. We had no sooner arrived in our room when the rain let go but good. It poured rain right outside our bedroom window. It rained hard most of the night. ***

Monday, October 24, 2005 Galway, IE - Overcast & some drizzle

Today we took an excursion to the Cliffs of Moher and to the Burren, both in County Clare. Last night's rain has stopped but it has caused all sorts of pools - called turloughs - If you drive through part of eastern Galway or Mayo in the winter, you will see a large number of lakes and you may be puzzled that they do not appear on the half-inch to a mile Ordnance Survey maps. If you look a bit closer, you may wonder why some of the lakes have walls leading down into them, or telegraph poles in the middle of them. Then, if you return to the area in the summer, you will find no sign of these lakes, but instead a landscape with green fields and grazing cattle. Only a few clues, such as the black moss covering the stone walls, indicate that these are no ordinary fields. In fact, they are turloughs. Turlough, or Turlach, is the word used to describe these strange disappearing lakes, which are found in limestone areas of Ireland, mostly west of the Shannon. The name is thought to come from the Irish tur loch, meaning dry lake. The features are unique to Ireland and they are an important part of Irish heritage." (National Parks and Wildlife Service)

The limestone formations of the Burren are porous and fill with the water and allow it to surface in different areas. So what appears to be a field today may be a lake tomorrow. I don't know how the Irish determine where it is safe to build and where to avoid. The Burren appears barren. It is rock, but it also has a unique ecology that allows plants to grow there that grow nowhere else. We saw a Dolman, a grave built about 4,000 years ago. The Cliffs of Moher tower between 400 and 700 feet above the Atlantic. It was particularly misty while we were there. Just made the cliffs that much more intimidating. As elsewhere in Ireland, there is construction going on here. They are building a new visitors' center. If you are brave, you can climb the path to the top of the cliffs and walk along. The hike is more strenuous than I am willing to take. And the paths are clearly marked as being dangerous. I love the Irish. They warn you if something is dangerous, but unlike America, they don't force you to avoid danger. They still believe that an adult can make his/her own decisions. Of course, if you cause damage to their heritage they will make certain you pay for it. ***

Tuesday, October 25, 2005 Galway, IE - Overcast & drizzle & sunny

Today we had a real adventure. It was rainy and windy when we left Galway to drive to Rossvael, County Galway, to board the ferry to the Aran Islands, specifically Inishmore. This excursion was too strenuous for many of our tour group so less than half of us elected to go. The crossing is about 45 minutes and when you get outside the protection of Galway Bay it is bumpy. On the way over we were being pitched on 7 and 8 foot swells. When the ferryboat crashed to the bottom of a swell it felt like a roller coaster ride. Pitch down and then up and over the next swell. When we got to Inishmore the rain stopped and we were met by a little bus which took the 15 of us to Dun Aengus.

"A stone fort on the very western edge of Europe; mute about its history when questioned by scholars; subject of romantic speculation on one of the most romantic spots in Ireland - the Aran Islands - Dun Aengus was created out of the stone and mystery of Ireland. Dun Aengus (also Dun Angus and Dun Aonghusa) is located on Inish-more, the largest of the three Aran Islands. A visitor is not impressed by Dun Aengus when he views it from the low point of a long, rock strewn slope. Nor does the dun (fort) emerge slowly into view, for the visitor must concentrate on every step of the treacherous walk up the slope, every step a risk of ankle turned on a stone. But atop the slope, the visitor sees a semicircular stone wall of obvious antiquity enclosing a space that ends dramatically at a 300 foot cliff that falls off into the Atlantic Ocean. The fort consists of three irregular semicircles, each a line of defense. Aside from the walls, one mode of defense is a band of stones set in the ground. Called a chevaux-de-frise, the stones are closely packed, set at an angle and intended to thwart an attack up the slope. Fortunately for the peaceful visitor to Dun Aengus, an intact chevaux-de-frise does not surround the fort, but the debris of such a defensive use of stone makes the walking trip to the fort slow and hazardous. The inner wall is awesome, thirteen feet thick and eighteen feet high in places, immortared with stone laid by hand upon stone. The enclosed space is 150 feet north and south and 140 feet east and west. The cliff at the western edge of the fort is as sheer as the Cliffs of Mohr, but at 300 feet not as steep." (Irish Cultural Society)

The view from atop the parapet is stunning. To the west is the expanse of the ocean to the horizon and 3000 miles beyond to North America. To the east is a moonscape, the rock strewn slope the walker must traverse and beyond, the openness of Inishmore and the stones of Aran everywhere. Sean told us the fort was built 2,500 years ago. He says it is the oldest known fort in Western Europe. The only way to get to Dun Aengus it to hike up a steep and treacherous path. Since the Aran Islands were once attached to the mainland at the Burren, the island's terrain is the same. The island is limestone. There is no peat, so they import fuel for heat from the Irish mainland. To create top soil the residents gather the sea weed that washes up on the beaches and the spread it over the terrain and allow it to dry and decompose. That is how all the top soil on Inishmore has come to be.

The climb to Dun Aengus is over gravel and limestone. And the wind is fierce. As I attempted to enter the first ring of the fort through a small arched entryway (obviously designed to slow down invaders) the wind funneled through at 60 or 70 mph and blew me off my feet. I wasn't seriously hurt fortunately, but my pride was damaged and I skinned my knee and sprained my finger. The wind was so strong I couldn't walk across the outer bailey, so I walked along the ring wall using it for protection until I could get inside the second ring. The fort sits literally at the edge of the cliff about 500 feet above the Atlantic. Chicken that I am, I would not venture too close to the edge.

We spent time in the town of Kilronan. We ate lunch in a restaurant that opened especially for our little tour group. In October, most of the tourist accommodations are closed. The major industry of the island is fishing. And since the men make their living at sea, there is a monument dedicated to all those who have lost their lives at sea. The story about Aran Island sweaters is that each wife knitted her own special pattern. Then if her son or husband was lost at sea and the body decomposed or otherwise unrecognizable, the particular pattern of the sweater would serve to identify the victim. I don't know the truth of the story, but I do know that Aran Island sweaters are some of the finest in the world. They are knit of Merino wool from the sheep who struggle to survive the harsh environment of the islands.

We began the crossing back to the Irish mainland about 5:00 p. m. On the return crossing we were in rolling seas. The ferryboat is very stable but that doesn't stop one from wondering if the boat is going to recover when it rolls so far to one side. Sean told us that people who live on Inishmore and work in Galway take this round trip ferry ride every day. It seems that the ferries run except in the most extreme weather and seas. You must be of hearty stock if you live on Inishmore.

This is our last night in Ireland. Tomorrow morning the bus will take us to Shannon Airport where we will board our flight back to the U.S. It has been a wonderful trip, but eleven days is a long time. I must admit I am glad that the tour is no longer. I would like to return, especially to the west of Ireland. I would like to take a cottage and make day trips from one stationery location. If I was traveling far enough, I might stay the night in a B&B, but traveling from city to city is tiring and I didn't even have to drive.

Observations: With the exception of the highways, the roads are very narrow and, of course, they drive on the wrong side. In addition, learning to negotiate the roundabouts is a real challenge.

The reason that Ireland is so green - and it truly is - is because it can and does rain somewhere on the island every day of the year. So be prepared for rain. Always!

Showers and bathtubs in Irish hotels are very narrow.

Don't try to convert a U.S. $100 bill to Euros in Ireland. Irish banks will not take U.S. $100 because of the problem of counterfeiting.

As for leftover Euros in change and Irish stamps, I gave both away as tips at the end of my trip. If you plan on traveling again in the European Union then hang onto your Euros because you can use them in any EU county.

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