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

 

City Park

A stroll through Launceston City Park on a perfect spring morning is a lovely way to start the day.

1.City Park2.City Park

Established in the 1820s by the Launceston Horticultural Society, the park was handed over to Launceston City Council in 1863. Entering the western gate, the 19th century former caretakers cottage, now the studios of City Park Radio, has one of Australia’s oldest wisteria vines, planted in 1837.

3.City Park Radio

The John Hart Conservatory was erected from the John Hart bequest in 1932 and refurbished in 2010. John Hart was a mariner, merchant and parliamentarian who spent most of his career in the 1800s in South Australia. He died in 1873 at his home, Glanville Hall, at Port Adelaide. He must have felt some connection to Launceston having arrived there on the ship, Isabella, from London in 1837, even though his stay was brief. The same plans were used to build a conservatory at Parramatta Creek in the 1970s. You can see that post here, The Conservatory

4.John Hart Conservatory5.John Hart Conservatory

The garden beds at the front of the building were blooming with a stunning display of violas.

Myriad plantings edged the spacious interior, the tranquil ambience invited us to linger.

8.John Hart Conservatory

9.John Hart Conservatory

Majestic orchids thrived amidst lush greenery.

Outside, colourful poppies bounced in the breeze and the bees were already busy collecting their nectar.

There are many magnificent mature trees in the park. Apparently, the English Elms are all clones of a single tree brought to England by the Romans. Their descendants arrived in Australia on ships hundreds of years later to be planted in parks like this one. The tallest trees, the Sequoias, presumably arrived in the same manner.

The band rotunda was built in 1908 and is dedicated to Chester Edwards who joined the Launceston City Band at the age of 10 and conducted from 1906 until 1958. A plaque reads, “Erected in appreciation of the sterling services rendered by Chester Edwards in the musical activities of the City of Launceston.”

29.rotunda

The ornate drinking fountain was intended to be a gift from the children of Launceston to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887.

30.Jubilee Fountain

Things didn’t go quite according to plan. The fountain was ordered from Saracen Foundry in Scotland, however, the funds were not raised in time and the installation was postponed until the Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The moulded shields above the arches depict both dates as well as a bust of Queen Victoria.

The fountain was initially positioned outside the main gates and was moved inside the park in 1908. The design incorporates symbolism popular in Victorian times; griffins are guardians of priceless possessions, lions symbolise guardianship, cranes for vigilance and eagles represent immortality.

34.Jubilee Fountain

A bronze statue of Ronald Campbell Gunn stands proudly in the shade. Arriving in Tasmania in 1830, he became Superintendent of Convicts and Police Magistrate. His career path soon led to politics but he is best known as a botanist. He collected, recorded and sent many specimens back to England (as well as a living Tasmanian tiger in 1858).

35.Ronald Campbell Gunn

The ‘Senses Garden’ was created in 1978, raised beds are filled with plants selected for their aroma or texture

36.Senses Garden

and the terracotta dolphin fountain has centre stage. The fountain was initially erected in a different area of the park in 1861 and is the second oldest fountain in Australia (the oldest being the Val d’Osne Fountain in Princes Square, less than a kilometre away).

37.Senses Garden

Reluctantly, we tore ourselves away from the garden, there were more adventures awaiting.

40.Senses Garden

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

beautiful firetail

Venturing out for another bout of gardening, I saw movement from the corner of my eye. Expecting to see the resident fairy wrens bobbing around, I was excited to see two little birds I haven’t seen before.

1.beautiful firetail

I wasted no time grabbing my camera and returned to find they were still in the orchard. They certainly weren’t disturbed by my presence.

2.beautiful firetail

I consulted our Guide to Australian Birds book and found out they are beautiful firetail finches. The only finch endemic to Tasmania, (the European goldfinch and greenfinch are introduced) appear to have an olive green head but it actually has the same fine dark barring as the white body.

3.beautiful firetail

The bright red rump and beak, highlighted against black tail and mask, co-ordinate perfectly.

4.beautiful firetail

Males have a black centre of abdomen and undertail, their plumage darkens and eye ring becomes bluer during breeding season.

5.beautiful firetail

Usually seen in pairs, the beautiful firetail eats mainly grass as well as casuarina and tea tree seeds. I don’t know what they were finding so tasty on this occasion, either the grass or some small insects to complement the herbivore diet?

6.beautiful firetail

These birds share an equal partnership, both construct the nest, incubate the eggs and care for the young. Fortunately, their conservation status is secure, hopefully they will visit again.

7.beautiful firetail

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.