Of all the trips we have taken and the great experiences T and I have had- this was the BEST day of our travels! Hands down. It started simply enough, with brunch in Galway. Sunday mornings are a quiet time in this community, so when we found the one open restaurant, we were definitely willing to wait. Dela is a bit pricey but definitely makes up for it with great food and massive portions. (No pictures- too busy eating!)
With the sun shining, we decided it would be a good day for a roadtrip! We started to head in the direction of Connemara.
It was the best drive of my life. Every time we saw something pretty or saw a sign that was interesting to us, we pulled off the road or took the turn and let the day roll. Our first stop took us down a mossy, vibrant, tree-covered lane. We had followed a sign to a castle but ended up at the end of a dead-end road instead, gazing out at blue skies over Lough Corrib. We paused to enjoy the serenity of it before turning around, and getting back on the sun-dappled single lane road.
Minutes later, we had found Aughnanure Castle in Connacht. Built along the Drimneen River in 1500 by the O’Flaherty family, it had easy access to trade with boats coming from Lough Corrib. It was donated to the Office of Public works in 1952, and declared a National Monument in 1963 after restoration work was completed.
We enjoyed the buildings from the outside, and learned a valuable lesson: many of the small country places aren’t equipped for card payment, so carrying cash is really important if you want to be spontaneous.
We stopped in the next village to take out some cash and carried on. We stopped again when Troy spotted a sign for what claimed to be one of the best craft shops in the west. We enjoyed perusing the store and seeing some of the beautiful wool products and then stopped in for a pint at Joyce’s Bar while we watched the basketball/soccer/football/volleyball hybrid that is Gaelic football.
Then we continued to stop every time we saw the sunlight fall perfectly on a mountain, or a cloud hovering so near the mountain that it looked like they were trying to hold hands, or a lake with water glistening, or anything that caught our eye.
We stopped at the south end of Lough Inagh, enjoying the appearance of fall colours on the tips of some trees, and what appeared to be the glowing gold of a building down at the end of the lake and what we later found out to be a quaint yellow B&B, and this is where I decided to take off my socks and shoes and stand in the lake. The water was nowhere near as cold as I expected! I was able to stand there for a few moments and take some deep mindful breaths to take in exactly where I was.
We took our time, and were so present. Sometimes you look back on a moment and realize it was really special- but we knew it right then. When we got back in the car, we laughed about how we’d been stopping at every beautiful sight, and joked that with these surroundings, we’d be lucky to make it 5 minutes! Well, we shouldn’t have been surprised that we barely made it that long. As we neared the end of the Lough, the sun shone on the mountains and a small boat was coming to shore. We had to pull over! The majesty of that scene and that moment are beyond words.
We carried on like this until we reached Kylemore Abbey. Set on picturesque Pollacapall Lough and built by the Mitchell Henry, it’s had quite a variety of purposes! It began as what Henry saw as the nesting place for his growing family. His wife, Margaret Vaughan Henry, laid the foundation stone on September 4th 1867.
Tragically, while on holiday in Egypt in 1874, Henry’s wife contracted dysentery and passed away at the age of 45 leaving nine children and a grieving husband behind. Not wanting his wife to live beneath the cold ground, he built her a lovingly decorated mausoleum to inter her body, and he had a memorial church constructed in the Gothic style. Although he was relatively young and lived for another 36 years after her death, Mitchell never remarried. The Henry’s sold Kylemore just after the turn of the century.
New owners, the Duke and Duchess of Manchester (William Angus Drogo Montague and Helena Zimmerman), quickly undertook massive renovations. They cast out the Henry’s Italian styling – horrifying locals when they removed the German stained glass window and masses of Italian and Connemara marble. Unfortunately, their time at Kylemore was not to be akin to the long legacy of the Henry family: they left in 1914 after Helena’s father died though rumours still claim that the Duke lost Kylemore in a bet. The Duke and Duchess divorced, and before long, Benedictine nuns moved in.
Though the story of the nuns goes back hundreds of years, their life at Kylemore Abbey began in 1920. The ran both a day school for local girls, and an international boarding school, as well as a guesthouse that closed down in 1959 after a serious fire. The boarding school was closed in 2010, and the nuns now offer education and retreat events in addition to general tourism.
Our time there was much too short, as we had arrived quite near closing time, but we were there long enough to tour the home, get a peek of the church, visit the mausoleum and walk some of the grounds. The calm of the lake makes clear why Mitchell Henry decided to make this place home for his family, and why Kylemore still retains such charm and allure.
Leaving the Abbey, we finally reached Connemara park. Funnily enough, although this was initially the aim of our day trip, it ended up being just a quick stop for us. It turns out that it’s purpose was to get us on the road to take in every beautiful aspect of the Irish countryside, and to lead us to Clifden.
In Clifden, we inhaled, err… enjoyed, mouth-watering Irish stew & seafood chowder at Guys Bar & Snug – along with a really personable server, great atmosphere and a new friend! Amy’s from Clifden and told us the night spots to hit up after dinner.
First: next door for a drink at EJ Kings, complete with live Irish music (played by handsome young Irishmen, be still my heart). Then onto Lowry’s – a tiny, crowded place full of locals where we reconnected with Amy. Two brothers and their dad played traditional Irish music- the real thing. The place was absolutely packed, almost everyone was wasted, and it was exactly what we hoped a pub in Ireland would be.
The drive back to Galway was just as much fun. It was a dark clear night, so it wasn’t very nerve-wracking driving the roads. And then we stopped to look at the stars. And if you minutes later we stopped again, and took a few minutes to lean on the car and stare at the night sky and marvel and it’s glory and the fact that we are in Ireland and that we had a perfect clear night in the middle of September. Life is good.