Connemara Region via Oughterard

May 26, 2009


Waterfall Lodge groundsWe awoke to sunny skies this morning and of course, the sound of the rushing water outside our window.  After a little while spent journaling and waking up, we made our way down to the dining area for breakfast.  The Waterfall Lodge does not cease to impress.  The dining area is lovely, with period furniture, a fire place, and windows on one side that keep it well light and cheerful.  I enjoyed a breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.  It did take me a little while to wrap my head around the idea but it really was delicious.  Dolly makes her own brown soda bread and that was excellent as well. waterfall at Waterfall B&B

            After breakfast we planned to have another adventure but first we wanted to take the public walk to the waterfall.  The walk itself adjoins the property of this B&B but is rimmed by large stone walls on either side.  There are places where trees have been allowed to continue to exist right in the middle of the narrow “passageway”.  I kept thinking what a great place this would be to play if I were only about 40 years younger!  The waterfall is not much more than exaggerated rapids.  Our view was actually from a little foot bridge over them so we walked back to the B&B and took their little trail down to the water as well.  This was truly a lovelier view and place.  We lingered just a short while before deciding to embark.

            Today we would be traveling throughout the Connemara region of Ireland.  There are people in this region whose primary language is Irish, not English.  In fact, we stopped for gas and while waiting for my card to clear I enjoyed listening to a young man and an older man conversing in a very unfamiliar tongue.  Once again I thought, “This is why we came here.”  I’d wanted Bill to have that same experience as well.  He would before the day was done.

          N59 edit  We made our way out of Oughterard along the road to Clifden (N59).  A short distance down that road is the bridge used for the movie “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.  We passed it before we actually realized what was on the signpost and I probably would have kept on going but Bill suggested we return.  It’s a lovely little spot really and the Maumturk Mountains are just becoming visible in the background.The Quiet Man Bridge

            I was dazzled by the proliferation of rhododendrons in full bloom along the roadway.  I have always wanted to visit the Smokey Mountains in spring to see the rhododendrons but have never managed it.  I really can’t imagine them being any more plentiful or beautiful than the profusion of color we saw today.Road to Maam Cross

            At Maam Cross we turned up R336 for the drive to Leenane.  This was a spectacular drive and one I would highly recommend.  Periodically through the day we encountered rain squalls and this was one of those stretches.  What made it so wonderful is that we could actually watch the rain clouds roll through the Maumturks and see the bright blue sky on the other side.  Bill and I have decided that one of the reasons Ireland is so lovely is the fact that it gets plentiful rain so we’ve decided to view the rain as refreshment to the beauty of the land.  Today was such a perfect example.  Also along this road we were required to do our first “sheep dodging”.  There are fences to keep the sheep out of the road but apparently, the grass is much greener there.  We encountered multiple ewes and lambs grazing by the along side.

           Killarey Harbor edit One of the most beautiful sites of our day was outside of Leenane a few kilometers to a public pull off.  The view of Killarey Harbor was stunning.  The clouds, the rhododendrons, the sparkling of the earth from a fresh rain all combined for a magnificent moment.  These roads are worth traveling and I would encourage anyone to become the master of pulling off or over.  There’s too much to take in if you don’t pause every once in a while.

            Again with variations of rain and sun we made our way to Kylemore Abbey.  What a difference a few years makes!  There is a large parking lot and shop there now but not intrusive to the view of the abbey.  When last I visited the abbey was operating as a school for girls (it still is) and not open to the public.  One could only visit the little gothic church in back.  Now there are rooms restored and opened but on a very limited basis.  The fee for admittance was 12 Euro so we sat and watched the “informative video” instead.  This is a lovely site despite the huge encroachment of tourism.Kylemore Abbey

            We left Kylemore and noticed huge plants growing along the side of the road.  We’d been driving through hedgerows of beautiful fuchsias and rhododendrons but these monsters were now everywhere.  During our stop at the Connemara National Park visitor’s center we learned that they were a variety of ornamental rhubarb gone bad and now considered an invasive plant.  They have large unusual flowering seed heads that create a proliferation of seeds.  In fact, even an inch of root (if you were to try to cut them out) can grow a new plant.  This is worrisome for many folks in the area; yet, as the day progressed we could see these occasionally as intentional plantings in the landscape of some homes.

           Clifden via Sky Road We had not planned on hiking in the national park and after arriving I regretted that decision.  There’s a peak named Diamond that is about a 2.5 hour trek.  From there the hiker is rewarded with some great vistas of mountain tops named The Twelve Pins.  We simply did not have time in our schedule for that without having to leave out some other adventures already planned.Clifden Castle2

            We drove the twisting and winding road to Clifden where we immediately set off on the Sky Road.  The Sky Road is a loop that heads directly west out of Clifden.  It was not well marked when coming from the north so we did have to turn around to reach it.  The views of the rocky Connemara region and the Clifden Bay are breathtaking.  At one point we stopped at a small pull-off and did not realize until we got out of the car, that the Clifden Castle was right below us.  What a place to play!  The road is narrow and there were a few moments of “religiousity” along the way but it was all well worth it.  I shudder to think of the transmission on our rental car though…Here's looking at you

            From Clifden we wound through Ballinaboy and Ballyconneely, and made our way around a huge boggy area toward the coastal town of Roundstone.  At one point a small sandy beach caught our eyes and we would later learn that is was the beach at Dog’s Bay.  Bill and I both wondered how anyone could ever find sustenance in this environment.  There are so many rocks and it seems like everything is comprised of them; fences galore and houses.  There were cattle and sheep scattered about but no apparent way to make a living.  I wondered where the children went to school.  We have yet to see a school bus but perhaps the school year is over?Dog's Bay near Roundstone

            We arrived in Roundstone mid-afternoon and walked around a short time.  While I am tempted to go into shops, I haven’t the money to buy much so I do try to avoid it.  I’d wasted about 45 minutes in the gift shop at Kylemore Abbey; carefully picking out a hat for Keenan and wandering about; before I put the hat back and told myself I’d find one cheaper somewhere else!  Anyway, I stepped into a small grocery store and inquired of some older gentlemen where we might find a pub with a pint.  They said the only “real” pub left was Mary King’s and that all the other ones sold dinners now.  Mary King’s it is then!

            King's Pub in Roundstone (Mary and Sean)King’s Pub is a very unremarkable little spot in the block.  No fancy signs.  Narrow little front space and old, well-used furnishings.  The gem of King’s however; is Mary herself.  Mary King has operated the place for many years.  Her only patron during our visit was Sean who lived out near Dog’s Bay.  We soon engaged in conversation over a half-pint of Guinness (my first Guinness of the trip).  Mary has a picture on the wall of her now-deceased Jack Russell terrier relieving himself on the kegs being delivered at the Shamrock Pub up the road.  She explained that the photo was sent to her by an Amercian patron who visits about every other year.  We had good conversation about the economy, how young people often leave the area for work, the best Irish whiskey (Jamesons) etc.  Mary told us that in days past people planted their gardens, grew their potatoes, milked their own cows; but that now everything was brought in and no one wanted to continue with the old ways. It was dying out.

           Connemara Ponies We were winding our way home now.  We considered driving more along the coast but I was getting weary.  We passed what appeared to be a kayaking school near Cashel and took an unmarked road to Derryrush.  Bill decided that this would be a great place for him to get his first driving experience as the road was not well traveled.  We traveled past men cutting the peat by hand with long narrow shovel and piles upon piles of stacked peat along the road.  Peat (turf) is compressed organic matter that is dug and dried to use as a heat source.  It burns long and slow; with a smell that I once mistook for joint being passed around while at Bunratty Folk Park.  When we arrived Derryrush Bill happily resumed as passenger.Turf drying near Derryrush

            Before too long we were back in Oughterard and decided on one more adventure to end the day.  We took the Glann Road up to a scenic point as far as the road went.  Along the way we encountered lambs and sheep napping in the middle of the road.  The black pavement must have still held warmth from the day.  When we arrived the clouds were again thick with tunnels of the setting sun’s light boring through here and there.  It made for a powerful picture and a great place to reflect on the day.  The crying of a lamb on the hill in back of us just added to the mystique.  From there we found the overlook of Lough Corrib but we enjoyed the first spot even more.Scenic outlook at Glann Forest

            Back in Oughterard we wandered into Faherty’s Pub for a little horse racing and a pint (half for me).  We thought we’d check out their food as well but they were already out of the “soup of the day” and offered only “toasted” (sandwiches).  The horses were on and it was an unusual kind of race.  It was a fun out run with occasional moderate jumps every now and then.  The bookmakers office is located across the street from the pub and it was obvious that the old gentleman behind us had money on the race in Tipperary.  At one point Bill stood up and I thought the guy’s neck would break from all the craning – and the race hadn’t even begun.  I think he was watching the odds to decide how to bet.  The whole bar was set up for watching horse races.  The taller bar in the back, then lower tables and then the table where we sat that looked as though it was meant for hobbits.  We decided to head back to Breathnach’s for dinner again.

            Lesson number 23: when in Ireland it is best to order the Irish stew (me) and not the pizza (Bill).  For starters, the portions were huge and we’ve vowed to share a meal the next time.  The pizza was about 14 inches of bland flavor; lacking in garlic or spice.  Bill tried the stew declared it delicious and the lesson was learned.  Enough said.        




Scenic outlook at Glann Forest
Waterfall Lodge grounds
The Quiet Man Bridge
N59 toward Maam Cross
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