The Burren

Much as we would like to have stayed in Galway a few more days, our time in Ireland was limited and there was so much more to see. Driving southward, we were once again surrounded by enchanting scenery. Scattered farmhouses wrapped in green, stone-framed pastures overlooked peaceful waters.

1.burren road2.burren road

Just outside Ballyvaughan we encountered Irish gridlock and spent some time chatting to the farmer. We will never forget his name, it was Michael Cannon.

The landscape changed the further we drove into the region known as The Burren.

6.ruins, the burren

The great expanse of limestone karst covers around 160 square kilometres in County Clare, the rock has been dated back to the Carboniferous period, around 350 million years ago.

7.the burren

The water soluble limestone has eroded over the years and formed the channels, known as ‘grikes’ and blocks, known as ‘clints’. It’s hard to believe that when people first inhabited this area 5,000 years ago it was a lush forest. Clearing the land for farming, along with time, grazing and erosion all contributed to the appearance of The Burren.

8.limestone karst, doolin9.limestone karst, doolin

We were too late to see the array of wildflowers that bloom among the rocks in spring but there was evidence of life in unexpected places.

10.fern in limestone karst

We strolled around the quaint coastal village of Doolin with breathtaking views from the harbour.

11.doolin harbour12.doolin

Once part of the mainland, Crab Island is a renowned surfing location, though not today. The building is the remains of an 1830s constabulary outpost.

13.crab island

Further across the water, the Aran Islands are just visible. The group of three islands sit at the mouth of Galway Bay and can be reached by ferry from Doolin.

14.aran islands

There is a path along the cliffs from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher, about an 8km walk with green fields on one side and the Atlantic ocean on the other.

15.doolin cliff walk

Not to mention spectacular scenery along the way.

16.cliffs, doolin

The Cliffs of Moher, on the southwestern edge of The Burren, are 14km of vertical cliffs rising to a height of 214 metres at the highest point. O’Briens Tower stands on that headland, built in 1835 by landowner Cornelius O’Brien as a viewing point for tourists. From Doolin, we could see beyond the tower, all the way to the rock formation known as  Hag’s Head at the southern end of the cliffs.

17.cliffs of moher, o'briens tower & hag's head

We left Doolin to have a closer look at the cliffs, passing a contented local on the way

18.doolin local

and a rather impressive edifice on a nearby hill. The 16th century Doonagore Castle has been in the same family since the 1970s and is their private holiday home. The views would be astounding.

19.doonagore castle

We finally made it to the Cliffs of Moher in all their majesty but time was ticking on and we still had no idea where we would be spending the night.

 

22.cliffs of moher

 

Galway

We arrived in Galway late afternoon and found accommodation at the rather salubrious Park House Hotel. One of the advantages of travelling out of season is that these fabulous hotels are within budget.

We ambled our way into town in the hope of experiencing some live Irish folk music. Taaffes fit the bill perfectly, a traditional pub in a gorgeous building dating back over 400 years. We settled in with a pint or two, Michael got some tips on playing the Irish bagpipes.

Next morning we set off early to explore this beautiful harbour city. Galway started off as a small fishing village located where the River Corrib meets the Atlantic Ocean and became a walled town following the Anglo Norman conquest in 1232. European traders frequented the docks and in the 16th century a fortress was added to the town walls to protect the merchant ships from looting. The only remainder of this bastion is The Spanish Arch, built in 1584 and presumably so named because of the trade with Spain and Spanish galleons.

10.Spanish Arch

The Skeffington Arms Hotel, built at the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, overlooks Eyre Square, the city’s hub and popular meeting spot.

11.Skeffington Arms Hotel

Galway was dominated by fourteen merchant families, known as the Tribes of Galway, between the mid 13th and late 19th centuries. One of these was the Browne family, the doorway to their townhouse has been moved from Abbeygate Street and now stands at the north end of Eyre Square. Dating from 1627, the door was moved in the early 1900s when the original building became a ruin and is now supported and encased in plexiglass to help preserve it.

12.Browne Doorway

We were surprised to find remnants of the medieval town walls within Eyre Square Shopping Centre.

13.Norman Wall Eyre Square

The River Corrib flows from Lough Corrib to Galway Bay and, at only six kilometres in length, is among the shortest in Europe.

14.River Corrib

The main channel leaving Lough Corrib is known as Friar’s Cut and was the first canal to be built in Ireland in 1178. The friars of Claregalway Abbey created the artificial cut to avoid the long trip to the west to enter the river. The cut became the main course of the river and has been widened since.

15.River Corrib,Friar's Cut

Despite its Renaissance appearance, the construction of Galway Cathedral didn’t start until 1958 on the site of the old city prison. This last great stone cathedral to be built in Europe was completed in 1965. There has been much controversy over the years, mostly aimed at the appearance of the building. It was recently referred to as a “squatting Frankenstein’s monster”. I think it is quite spectacular and sits comfortably in its beautiful surroundings.

Opposite the cathedral, a figure emerges from a stone wall. Equality Emerging represents the struggle for equality and the suffering because of its absence.

19.Equality Emerging

Our walk took us past Eglington Canal

20.Eglinton Canal

and the National University of Ireland

21.Galway University

before we returned along the river toward the city centre.

The William O’Brien Bridge was the first of the four bridges spanning the River Corrib. Originally a wooden structure, the current bridge was rebuilt in 1851.

25.River Corrib,William O'Brien bridge

After a wander around the quirky shops in the town

26.Galway

there was only one thing for us to do…….return to Taaffes for another evening of music and Guinness.

27.Taaffes

Connemara

Leaving Bundoran early on a crisp, autumn morning, we continued our drive through County Donegal heading southwest through County Mayo toward Galway. The journey was broken by the necessity to stop and take photographs of the beautiful scenery. Solitary stone ruins scattered the countryside

1.ruins

and gentle waterfalls tumbled a tune.

2.waterfall

Rivers skilfully traversed rocks before disappearing beneath ancient stone bridges.

3.river4.stone bridge

Shafts of sunlight shone briefly on the mountains before retreating once again behind the clouds.

5.mountains6.mountains7.mountains

As the landscape changed, gentle streams meandered through farmland

8.stream

and  flowed calmly under stone arches.

9.stone bridge

Despite our distractions, we reached Connemara in good time, this old caravan by the side of the road presented a subliminal suggestion.

10.old caravan

We arrived in Leenane in time for lunch, a peaceful village at the head of Killary Harbour. Extending 16km toward the sea, Killary Harbour is the most westerly fjord in Europe, majestic mountains rising on either side make for a spectacular panorama.

11.Killary Fjord12.Killary Fjord

The cemetery has prime position.

13.Leenane cemetery & Killary Harbour

Further along the shore we had a different perspective of the fjord

14.Killary Fjord

and a breathtaking view of Mweelrea, the highest mountain in Connacht and County Mayo.

15.Mweelrea, Killary Fjord

We were looking forward to exploring Connemara, a region in west Galway known for its National Park, stunning coastline and fishing villages. Our intention was to drive to Clifden on the far west side of Connemara and continue the loop back to Galway. Unfortunately, we hadn’t gone far before a police roadblock informed us the road was closed due to an accident. Taking a detour, we came across a pub in the middle of nowhere and sought to assuage our disappointment with a tasty beverage. Entering the establishment, we were greeted with indifference by the three men at the bar who had seemingly already partaken of the amber liquid. The barman disappeared, presumably to prepare for customers. We waited at the bar, then took a seat at a table while the three aforementioned persons spoke to each other in Gaelic and furnished us with less than friendly stares. We were a bit slow on the uptake but, when the barman failed to return, we beat a hasty retreat and, without looking back, made a beeline for Galway. For those of you who have read of our disgruntlement with Holly, our satnav, here is evidence. She is unable to comprehend that we are already on a road!

16.Holly

County Donegal

After a very comfortable night and hearty breakfast at the Ramada Hotel in Portrush, we took an early morning stroll to admire the scenery before continuing on our circuitous journey of Ireland. The small seaside resort town was quiet this time of year, the snow-capped mountains confirming the advent of winter.

1.Portrush2.Portrush

A panoramic ten minute drive

3.drive

delivered us to Portstewart. Founded in 1792, this fishing village became a popular holiday destination for middle-class Victorian families. The two miles of golden sandy beach are still popular

4.Portstewart

and waterside homes have a stunning backdrop.

5.Portstewart

The spectacular Derryveagh Mountains accompanied us on our route through County Donegal,

6.Derryveagh Mountains7.Derryveagh Mountains

until we met the coast again at Ardara. The beautiful beaches, perfect for swimming, were serenely deserted.

8.Ardara9.Ardara10.Ardara

To the east, the Blue Stack Mountains loomed out of the mist.

11.Blue Stack Mountains

We stayed the night at the Holyrood Hotel in Bundoran, the tourist season was obviously, well and truly over.

Dunluce Castle

The light was beginning to fade as we left the Giant’s Causeway and we had yet to find accommodation for the night. Heading to Portrush to do just that, we diverted to investigate Dunluce Castle. The ruins of the medieval castle perch precariously on the edge of a cliff and are reached by a bridge connecting it to safer ground.

1.Dunluce Castle

The first castle at Dunluce was built in the 13th century by the 2nd Earl of Ulster. In the 16th century, Sorley Boy McDonnell arrived from Scotland and based himself at Dunluce Castle, consolidating his territories in both Ireland and Scotland.

2.Dunluce Castle3.Dunluce Castle

He certainly couldn’t complain about the view.

4.Dunluce Castle

There is a pathway leading down to the cove, looking back at the castle gives a rather startling perspective.

6.Dunluce Castle7.Dunluce Castle

There is a story that the castle was abandoned in the 17th century after the kitchen , along with the kitchen staff, fell into the sea when the cliff face collapsed. It’s easy to believe but apparently a myth, as paintings from the 18th and early 19th centuries show that end of the castle intact.

8.Dunluce Castle

There are caves under the castle, although we didn’t venture that far.

9.Dunluce Castle10.Dunluce Castle

The north wall of the residence building collapsed into the sea sometime in the 18th century, I wonder how long before this one follows?

11.Dunluce Castle