Of the nine days we recently spent in Ireland, it rained for about eight-and-a-half. I’m not talking a sprinkle or a drizzle or gray skies, I am talking full-blown sideways downpours, skies that make it look like night time all day long, and winds that can (and did!) literally knock me over. As a result, we spent much of our recent holiday sitting by the fire at home or in a pub or ten. Spend a few days in truly miserable Irish weather, and you will learn to appreciate the relaxation and fun a good pub brings, not to mention the warmth a drink or two impart.
Initially we planned on this trip being big on hiking in Connemara, including a visit to my father-in-law’s childhood home, which is accessible only on foot. Day-after-day was too cloudy, windy, and rainy to do so. The mountains literally disappear into the clouds, and no one would ever find us out there. And the rain turns fields into lakes, trails into rivers.
On the one lucky day that was fully enveloped in cozy Irish sun, it was warm enough to wear just a fleece, and we headed to The Burren, an area not far from Galway, to walk up Abbey Hill.
Burren means great rock in Irish. I have also heard that it means “rocky place”. Either is accurate, as it is a place covered with limestone and has the unusual characteristic of supporting plants from the arctic, Mediterranean, and alpine all at once. Formed by the existence and passing of glaciers, the limestone, once at the bottom of the sea, is formed in layers and rich in fossils. The Burren is home to many rare species of plants, and because of its mild climate has one of the longest growing seasons in Ireland. Encompassing 250 square kilometers, The Burren is also home to some great traditional Irish music, particularly in the town of Doolin.
The hill we climbed didn’t look bad from the base. I snapped a bunch of shots overlooking Galway Bay, we surveyed the paths going up, and we were off.
While the incline and distance don’t pose a problem to a somewhat fit person, the rocky landscape makes it an adventure. Sitting here for thousands of years, many of the rocks can’t be moved, while others only need the front of the foot to break or wobble, sending the hiker flying. My father-in-law is as sure-footed as the sheep he grew up raising in similarly rocky mountains, and he scrambled up the hill far ahead of us, somehow knowing, though most everything looked the same to me, where the safest and surest path was.
There was no rest for my father-in-law, who easily beat us almost to the top. Talk about feeling out of shape!
Being the kind gentleman he is, he actually stopped about 20 feet short of the rocky summit to let me get there first.
The reward for our troubles was spectacular. The trip down was terrifying. Those wobbly rocks that don’t seem too bad when you are leaning up the mountain are another story when gravity is pulling you down. Luckily, we arrived at the bottom unscathed and happy from all of that perfect, fresh air.
All of that hiking built up quite the appetite and thirst, so we headed to the tiny seaside village of Kinvara for a bit of lunch at the PierHead. Kinvara is one of my favorite places to visit on a sunny day. The blues and greens are astonishingly beautiful, and it’s fun to look at all of the boats.
A sunny day in Ireland, though rare, really is like no other.
Since the West of Ireland is known for its seafood, I went with the prawn salad for lunch. There’s one thing you need know about salads in many Irish restaurants. If the menu says salad, there’s a very good chance it will be coated in a heavy, mayonnaise-based sauce or dressing. When I studied abroad, I ordered the salad plate for my first dinner out, and I received a green salad, tossed in mayo, a potato salad, tossed in mayo, and you guessed it, cole slaw, tossed in mayo!
My salad at the PierHead was a traditional Marie Rose style shrimp cocktail, which I love. It was heavy on the Marie Rose sauce (which is similar to Thousand Island dressing), but it was also atop a crunchy bed of bell peppers, onions, carrots, and lettuce. The best way to eat it? Slather a slice of brown bread with the sauce and top with prawns. Eat the salad separately.
And of course quench that thirst and wash down lunch with yet another pint of Guinness!
One of my favorite parts of visiting Ireland is (when weather allows) spending a ton of time outside walking, hiking, or running, then kicking back by a fire with a nice drink, sleepy and happy. On this particular day, we ended the night at one of Galway’s best pubs for traditional music, The Crane. It was the perfect day in Ireland.
What’s your idea of a perfect vacation day?