Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ireland Day Five -- Connemara and Eddie's Birthday

Have I mentioned that wonderful Full Irish Breakfast? Perhaps not. I love it! What a way to start the day!

Today, we said good-bye to Donegal, good-bye to the donkeys, and good-bye to the Bayside B&B. We had a long bit of driving ahead of us, so we hit the road south to Galway.

Soon, we arrived in Knock, a city famous for an apparition of the Blessed Holy Family. Apparently, the Blessed Holy Family have authorized direct merchandising, because along with redemption of your soul in the enormous chapel, you can also buy a variety of religious idols. (What was that commandment about idolatry? Nevermind.) You can also purchase cheap plastic bottles in which to store your holy water, conveniently plumbed up from God's Holy Wells and provided free of charge to the public.

Apparently, Knock is so unbelievably popular, that this tiny village of a few thousand has a large-scale international airport, just for the tens of thousands of pilgrims that arrive each year.

A long drive after Knock, we finally reached Galway, but struck due west to enter the great empty land of Connemara.

Connemara is the entire remote area west of Galway. There are two mountain ranges, the Maam Turks and the Twelve Bens, which provide scenic interest in the land. Below the mountains are and thousands of loughs, bays, bogs and streams. The sodden land is perfectly remote, and a host to a great variety of birds and wildlife. It's also one of the biggest Gaelic-speaking areas in Ireland.

Our first stop in the area was Oughterard and the Aughnarnure Castle, the one time home to the evil O'Flahertys, who were the vicious controllers of the Conemmara peasants in centuries past. Today, the castle sits in ruins, which is perfect for kids who've been in the car too long and wish to run, play and climb along its many walls and secret coves. It's also great for a bit of rest for the weary drivers.

Leaving Aughnanuare, we headed still further west and down the tiny R341 to Roundstone, a quaint fishing village tucked along the coast, and nearly as far west as you can go in Ireland. Passing through town, about three kilometers down the road, we found the beautiful sandy beaches of Gurteen Bay and Dog's Bay. I captured some glorious photos on the beach, and I swear to you, these photos have not been photoshopped. (Not even curves!) The sky and the water really were THAT gorgeous!

The kids again enjoyed some fresh air and salt water, and they managed to get themselves totally soaked and full of sand. They played in the icy water for quite a while, until discovering the tidal pools full of snails, shrimp and other invertebrates.

Finally, our day was winding to a close, so we changed all the kids' clothes in the car park. (Luke was NOT happy with this arrangement!) We then headed for dinner back in Roundstone town.

Supper was at Ryan's Bar. Dinner was just bar food--mostly fish and chips and hot dogs for the kids. All the kids, that is, except Eddie, who ordered baked mussels. (Yeah, he's a chip off the ol' block!) And since it was Eddie's birthday, I asked the barmaid if she would be so kind as to bring him a slice of cake for his dessert--but keep it a surprise. She happily agreed, and said she would see what she could do. She wasn't sure she had any candles, but would check in the apartment upstairs.

Well, what a surprise indeed when she arrived. Not only did she bring him out a cake with candles, but a big mylar balloon as well. Honestly, the people here are so friendly and thoughtful! We all sang to Eddie, and he really enjoyed his special attention for the day.

As the day was drawing to a close, we still had to drive the 75 km back to Galway, so we departed Roundstone, heading back through the Connemara to the east. Dodging the many sheep and cattle in the roads, we got more amazing scenery in that perfect light of late evening.

Arriving back in Galway, we are in Ashton House tonight, ready to set out for Doolin tomorrow. So far, the best thing about Ashton House is they have complimentary Wi-Fi! Hooray!

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