My husband, Phillip, and I had just spent a few days in Southeast Ireland, where our Irish adventures included kissing the Blarney Stone and meandering through the tiny port city of Cobh. Now it was time to explore more of Ireland! As we headed North out of County Kerry toward Galway, we couldn’t possibly imagine that anything else we might see along the way could measure up. How wrong we were, yet again….
After driving around the city of Limerick, we veered west for the scenic route and the famous Cliffs of Moher, arguably one of the most-visited sites in all of Ireland. Because the cliffs are such a tourist attraction, I was very suspicious of just how grand they could be. However, as we arrived and schlepped our way from the open fields where the car parking was allowed, the cliffs seemed to loom above me just before falling away with breathtaking steepness and grandeur. There is a paved and fenced area for tourists to take in the view, but of course Phillip and I inched around a farmer’s fencepost and joined all the other rule-breakers on the dirt path that snaked dangerously close to the cliff edge. Between the gale-force winds, uneven path, and my own fear of heights, it was an exhilarating experience. But hey, we have great pictures to show for it!
Leaving the cliffs, we drove through the town of Doolin and into the area known as the Burren, a hilly, windswept landscape covered with so many rocks, boulders and cliffs that it looks like the surface of the moon. Only the hardiest of people subsist here, along with a few woolly sheep dotting the rocky slopes. The scenic seaside towns along the way offered many small shops selling local handcrafts, seafood, and sweets, and are very likely the primary source of income for the few residents.
We pressed on to Galway, our base for the next two days. From Galway we spent our time day-tripping through the quaint, charming towns of County Mayo and the wilds of Connemara. I must admit that I had been waiting for this day for quite some time, as I would finally be able to let my John Wayne obsession shine brightly and without shame. This area is where the classic movie The Quiet Man was filmed, and it is one of my all-time favorites. Between lake vistas and rolling hills, we found time to visit the small villages of Cong and Maam Cross, where many of the scenes from the movie were filmed. And yes, I even made a stop to have my photo made with the statue of John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. I just couldn’t help myself….
Leaving the green and domestic area of Cong and its surrounding lakes – Lough Corrib and Lough Mask – we headed further into Connemara, and the scenery changed dramatically. Gone were the green fields and thick evergreens, replaced with high, windswept peaks and rocky hillsides. Though the land is somewhat barren, it has a beauty and charm all its own and is a safe haven for the numerous flocks of sheep that reside here. Nowhere else in Ireland are you more likely to come around a sharp curve and find an ewe chewing her cud calmly in the roadway, so take it nice and slow!
One of the most stunning features in Connemara is Kylemore Abbey, a beautiful manor house on the northern side of the peninsula. This estate was built by an Englishman who spent his honeymoon in the area. During his travels, he fell in love with the place so deeply that he built a stunning home for his new bride on the perfect piece of land, snuggled just between a mountainside and the edge of a large lake. The estate is now home to nuns who run a private school for children, but many tourists visit merely for the beauty of the site itself.
Like County Kerry, this peninsula is full of beauty and charm, and yet it feels much more untamed and wild. Though the land isn’t quite as familiar and domesticated, those who live here love it, and those who visit are irresistibly charmed by it. In the words of John Wayne (in the role of Sean Thornton, in The Quiet Man), “Some things a man doesn’t get over so easy.” Coming from an American, even one playing a role, I’d say it fits the way we felt as we drove away, bound for Dublin.
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