Connemara Galway – Into The West
When one thinks of the wild west I’m sure barren deserts, pokey saloon bars, cowboys and Indians, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, among other things, spring to mind. And I’m pretty sure Connemara is the furthest thing from people’s minds when the wild west is mentioned. In terms of landscape however it’s up there with the wild west with it’s rugged barren landscape, awe inspiring mountains and quaint cottages dotted around the hillsides you would be forgiven for thinking you had gone back to 1930’s Ireland.
The journey out west began bright and early outside St Andrew’s Church and from there it was onto the bus. Well when I say bus I mean an 8 seater Ford because there was only 5 people on the tour it made sense. From St Andrew’s we made our way through the city and onto the M4 towards Galway. As it was an early start our driver let us have a bit of a sleep as we made our way towards the west. While I got some sleep at times I just took in the surrounding landscape as it slowly turned more rugged and rocky as we got closer to Ireland’s wild west.
Our first port of call was Quiet Man Bridge just outside Oughterard. This humble stone bridge was used in the opening scene of Th Quiet Man when John Wayne’s character Sean Thornton dreams of his youth in the opening scene of the film. It is quite off the beaten track but a hidden gem in the crown that is Connemara. It is amazing how such a simple structure can attract so much attention.
From Quiet Man Bridge we headed towards Killary Fjord, which is the only Fjord in Ireland. We traveled through the village of Leenáun, another site with a Hollywood background. It was here where they filmed a lot of the 1990 film “The Field” starring Richard Harris, John Hurt, Sean Bean and Tom Berengeur. Along the road towards Killary we spotted the mussel farms in the fjord and took in the surroundings, which looked like we had taken a wrong turn and ended up in Norway instead of Connemara! The landscape at times seemed to mirror Mordor from the Lord of the Rings or the dark side of the moon. As the singer Ryan Bingham would say, this ain’t no place for the weary kind!
When we pulled into Killary Farm for our next stop where we were treated to a sheepdog demonstration. The 5 year old sheepdog, who’s name evades me, was leaping gates like a racing horse and flying around like a greyhound. With simple two worded commands and hand gestures Tom the farmer sent his dog down the hillside to round up the herd of sheep, bring them back up the hill and into the pen. The dog was that eager he kept jumping at the sheep to box them further in but Tom was quick to remind the dog that he was the boss and commanded him to leave the pen. The cold and windy weather soon had us back on board and on towards Kylemore Abbey.
Kylemore was certainly something to behold, an oasis in the desert type of scenario. Buried deep in this lost wilderness this abbey was a sight to behold. This was merely a photo stop and a time to grab a bite to eat. Despite being tempted with the lovely hot food it was a simple scone for me as I had wisely packed my own sandwiches (not the stereotypical tayto crisps sandwich but close enough). Once again the cold weather kept us from really venturing too far from the coffee shop.
It was back to modern civilisation after our adventures in Connemara as we made our way towards Galway city. A few years back Steve Earle wrote the song “Galway Girl” which was popularised further by Mundy and Sharon Shannon. It was probably wise our driver didn’t blare it out the windows as we made our way through the streets as the Galwegians or Tribesmen are probably sick to death of it at this stage! It is a city waiting to be explored though and it’s such a shame we didn’t have more then an hour to take it in. As a history buff I just had 60 minutes to take in as much history as I could from this city. First stop for me was the Spanish Arch, a section of city wall that survives from the late 16th century. While making my way along the banks of the river Corrib I spotted a simple monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus! Columbus stopped in Galway on the way home returning from a voyage to the Faroe Islands. Apparently while in Galway he found two bodies washed ashore that didn’t look European! And the seed was planted that maybe there lay another land across the vast Atlantic Ocean (he mustn’t have heard about Leif Erikson and the Vikings so)!
I made my way up one of the cobbled streets towards Eyre Square and came across a pub dating from 1649! And another pub dating from 1651! Apparently the former pub was founded by the axeman who beheaded King Charles I of England and had bought the pub with his wages for the deed! When I stumbled across a simple AIB bank I spotted a plaque saying that it is the only house in Galway that dated from the late 16th century! With less than half an hour left of my stay in the capital of the west I eventually found the Hall of the Red Earl, the home of the De Burghs. These where a powerful Anglo Norman family who had conquered the original Dún Gaillimhe from the Ua Conchobhár family during the Anglo Norman invasion of Ireland. It is a perfect example of how archaeological sites can be preserved and yet still allow tourists to appreciate and visit it. From there it was back to the bus for me and homeward bound!
The journey home was simply a time to catch some shut eye and within no time we were back in Dublin fresh as daisies, tired but having enjoyed our day out in Ireland’s wild west!