Planning my posts on Ireland has proven to be the most difficult of the posts that I have done so far. Which experiences do I include? Out of the hundreds (maybe thousand?) of photos I have taken, which do I choose? Over the years this place has become more like a second home than a vacation spot, so a little background might be helpful before sharing my Ireland with you.
I first went to Ireland with my family at the age of 9, fell in love with it, and returned for a visit when I turned 18. When the time to choose a study abroad location came, there was no doubt in my mind that Galway would be it, and so I was off to live in this amazing city for 7 months. Leaving at the end of that time period proved to be one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I spent the next couple of years just wanting to go back.
Fast forward to college graduation and then my first job which I will spare you the details of, but it is enough to say that I was miserable. And then one day in walked my husband. Having spent time in Ireland and living close to many recent Irish arrivals in Boston, I knew before he even started speaking where he was from. Needless to say, we hit it off, and less than 6 months later I was on a plane to meet his family.
We have taken a dozen trips there since, some just for vacations and some for weddings, christenings, and other celebrations, and each trip has been unique, special, and ended too quickly.
My Ireland post will be broken up into a few parts. Right now I am not even sure how many posts I will do, but there will be at least 3, today’s on the countryside of Ireland’s Mayo coast, Thursday the highlights of Connemara, County Galway, and Saturday, the food and nightlife of Galway city.
Exploring the West of Ireland can be done from a variety of places, and my favorites are Galway and Westport. If you stay in either of these towns you will be within an hour or so drive of the countryside and can come back and enjoy the “city” life in the evening. You can of course stay in the many inns and bed and breakfasts out in the country as well, and I would suggest starting here: http://www.discoverireland.ie/ to look for lodging. You are also welcome to contact me!
IIn Westport, I would highly recommend the Clew Bay Hotel as your lodging base. It is in the center of everything, very comfortable, and they offer a lovely breakfast room service, which I enjoy taking full advantage of. Is there anything better than breakfast in bed? Starting out from Westport, I have two places that are must visits: Achill Island and Clare Island. You can access Achill easily by car, but as anywhere in Ireland, be super careful to watch for sheep and cows in the road, and when going around tight bends be sure to honk the horn repeatedly so that fast moving vehicles coming from the other side are aware that someone is coming. Once on Achill, the island is yours for exploring. You can see Europe’s highest cliffs, an old British defense fort, and endless space for walking, running, cycling, and picknicking. On Achill, like most places in the Irish countryside, you can pretty much walk anywhere, unless posted, as long as you respect the land, keep your dog on leash, don’t litter, etc.
My absolute favorite place in Mayo is a little island in the middle of Clew Bay, Clare Island. There is a somewhat famous song by the Galway band, The Sawdoctors that is about Clare Island, and because of this I couldn’t wait to get out there. In order to get to Clare Island, you will have to drive a short distance from Wesport to Roonagh and take the very short ferry ride to the island. The first thing you will see is the castle of the infamous pirate queen, Granuaile (Grace O’Malley). All that remains of the castle are ruins, but you can go inside, look out, and imagine what it might have been like to defend your island back in the 16th century.
Clare Island offers several walking trails as well as hilly, winding roads for biking. There aren’t many cars on the island with a population of about 165 people, so even a novice cyclist would probably feel safe. We enjoy spending hours walking around the island, sitting on the beaches, and searching for seals along its rocky cliffs. Clare Island is also an archaeology buff’s dream, with Neolithic tombs, an Abbey dating back to the 13th century, and a walking trail marked with important historical markers. Without a doubt, you will get a great workout here if you want one. Which brings me to food. . .
The island is small, but there are a couple of quality places to eat: the community center, which offers delicious seafood chowder, sandwiches, tea, and other lunch/snack items in a cafeteria-style environment, and The Bay View Hotel, which completely surprised me with its delicious chicken tikka sandwich on a plate loaded with a veggie-packed salad. The views from the Bay View are, well of the bay and they are stunning. I have not yet stayed overnight on the island, but when we do, we will likely stay here. Below are a few photos and useful links. Enjoy and stay tuned for more!