After our many weekend trips in August, we had just a bit of time at home to pack and get ready for our move in September. Yes, I know, it’s just past Christmas and I’m writing about September, but that’s how life has been. Better now than never, I say 🙂 The first weekend of September, we had company. Weekend 2, T was away and I was packing. We moved on September 15th, and then on the 16th at 6 am, we left our new flat and went straight to the airport!
We landed in Shannon, Ireland after a smooth flight. After taking only a few minutes to pick up keys for our rental car, we were out to the parking lot with a deal that if I didn’t say “Left stay left, right all the way over,” T could say it without me getting offended 🙂 These little bits of communication make travel abroad (and driving on the wrong side of the road) feel a little less intimidating.
From the airport, we went to Bunratty Castle. It is celebrated by Shannon Heritage as the “most complete and authentic medieval castle in Ireland.” Preceding the O’Brien Castle that stands today were the wooden fortress built in 1251, then two stone castles: De Clare’s in 1277, and De Rokeby’s in 1353.
Built in 1425, O’Brien’s Castle had a long and vibrant history before it sat dormant for years. With no roof or furnishings, it was an empty shell when it was purchased for just £1000 in 1954, and meticulously restored over the next 8 years at a cost of 5 million pounds. According to a UK inflation calculator, that is the modern-day equivalent of £128,767,467.
It was then opened to the public in its revived splendour, and features some pretty great pieces, including: a 1537 throne; armour from the 15th century Spanish Armada; 4 sets of antlers (one set from a 21-foot-tall animal with an 11-foot span) carbon dated from 10 to 12000 years old; and a stunning Dower Chest, which was a wedding day gift from father to daughter, comes apart in 21 pieces, and is fitted with dowels. Just look at the detail in that central panel! The bride would have been about 12 or 13 years old, and because women typically died very young in childbirth, it was rare at the time for a woman to make it to 25 (hence being considered an old spinster by 20).
Bunratty has a dungeon, with 13 stone steps leading down before a 15-foot fall into a pit, where one could be sent for an offence as minor as being overly drunk, and would then be left to die. The upside of this heavy-handed form of punishment was a very low crime rate. The stunning wooden door you see below is the original, and the period tapestries and metalwork clocks they have found are stunning. The masterfully re-created room in the upper part of one of the towers is quite a walk up, but worthwhile, as is the view from the tower roof!
A few fun facts we learned on the tour: veg was considered peasant food, spiral staircases are strategic (with most men being right-handed, coming down the stairs their right arm would be free to wield a sword, while coming up that arm would be needed for balance), and the back of the throne was quite high to literally prevent the castles master from being stabbed in the back (yes, this is where the saying originates from).
Bunratty also includes a massive folk park, where you can find a very complete village. Many buildings are original and have been moved stone by stone from other locations. The village shows a range of living standards from the poorest with unfinished ceilings and dirt floors, to the wealthiest with covered beds, beautiful and ornate furniture and dishes, and finished walls with wooden floors. We were able to see a cream separating machine in somewhat-working order (it wasn’t wanting to separate that day). Oh! And a lovely shop where I was able to buy locally made wool. Yay!
The Blacksmiths Forge, the plain but sturdy stone building seen here, is an exact replica of the forge that stood near Athea in County Limerick. The two windows are for exhibition purposes, as forges were typically very dark places because the blacksmith would ascertain the temperature of the metal from its colour.
It was drizzling a bit, and we wanted to get to the Cliffs of Moher before it was dark, so we left before getting to explore the entire folk village. Sadly, we missed the schoolhouse! Oh look, already an excuse to go back! 😉
It was time for lunch- so we went to Glen Tavern in Limerick for a traditional non-thickened Irish stew. It was… well, not worth talking about. But the server was great and it’s always good to try something new. Troy with his first Irish beer, and me with the stew.
We stopped a few times along the way to take in the landscape around us.
We arrived at the Cliffs of Moher under cover of heavy clouds rolling in. A light mist turned to proper rain as we walked along the cliffs. To say it was stunning would be an understatement. The wall of cliffs tower over the ocean; jagged edges meeting powerful waves at the base.
Soaked, we turned back just in time for the fog to have lifted, the rain to have stopped, and to see the sun shining, illuminating the grasses in several shades of green. These are the places you have to see, because nothing I tell you and no picture I share can truly convey what it was like to experience.
Also, we simply loved the look of this concrete fencing, and the way the grass folds look like the wrinkly skin of a pug. They made us smile.
Just as we were getting to the car, the rain started again. We took the scenic route to Galway through the Burren lowlands as the blanket of night descended upon us. We pulled over to take in Corkscrew Hill and the beautiful view of Creagán, (in English: Gregan), “the rocky place”. In the view below lies a natural amphitheatre, moulded by giant sheets of ice many years ago. In the distance are the Aillwee and Moneen Mountains to the east, the Cappanawalla Mountain to the west, and to the North, the gap behind Troy and I is part of Galway Bay (like in the Pogues Christmas song!).
The rain was hovering between mist and showers. So quintessentially Irish.
We arrived in Galway tired, hungry, and for me- a bit tense from driving in the dark, in the rain, on the left side of the road on very narrow, windy Irish country roads! Once we had checked into our dated b&b, we walked a few blocks to The Galleon– where we shared a seafood platter and a mouth-watering seafood chowder, alongside a cup of tea, before we called it a night.