Ireland: Connemara & Sligo

Monday, Nov 25, 2002

We left Galway early and headed up to Connemara, the wild western area of Co. Galway. In the early winter, Connemara sported a yellow-orange color scheme that made everything seem stark and lonely. Actually, Connemara was pretty lonely; we hardly saw any cars or people as we drove around. The peat bogs are amazing, and as you drive around you can see the peat “quarries” and the piles of peat logs or bricks left to dry.

The Connemara landscape is beautiful in its starkness.
Nov. 25, 2002

We wanted to see two things in Connemara. The first one was the village of Roundstone. We are both fans of the movie “The Matchmaker” (rent it if you haven’t seen it), and it was filmed in Roundstone, so we wanted to see this town. It took us a while to find it, mainly because it is all the way in the southwestern tip of Connemara. Roundstone is a one-street town, literally, right on the water. We walked around for about a half-hour, identifying all the locations from the movie, and drawing glances from the locals who for sure don’t see tourists in their little town in the middle of November (in the summer Roundstone hosts a big folk art festival).

Main (and only) street of the village of Roundstone.
Nov. 25, 2002

We bid goodbye to Roundstone and headed back into the main road to see Kylemore Abbey.

Kylemore Abbey, star of so many Ireland calendars.
Nov. 25, 2002

Built in the mid-1800’s as a neo-Gothic country mansion, it was taken over by refugee Belgian nuns during World War I, and today it serves as an exclusive girl’s boarding school. Every single book we had read told us that it was a waste of time to take the tour, not to mention it was pricey, so we decided to heed the overwhelming advice and skip it. Besides, the true beauty of Kylemore is the incredible setting. The house was built on the idyllic site of a fairy tale, a lush spot in front of a clear lake, surrounded by the wilderness of Connemara; there’s a reason why Kylemore Abbey is included in pretty much every Ireland calendar ever printed.

Yvette & Danny at Kylemore Abbey. Perhaps this photo
could one day read “Welcome to our new home!” (We wish!)
Nov. 25, 2002

About noon we hit the road north again, passing by Croagh Patrick, the fabled mountain from which St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland (there have never been snakes in Ireland, by the way) and which the faithful climb every July, and the haunting Coffin Ship, a memorial to the victims of the great famine who died by the hundreds in coffin ships–so called because they were rickety and because so many died in them–on their way to the promise of a better life in America.

It was the early afternoon when we pulled into the town of Westport to rest, eat and find accommodations in Sligo. What better place to do all this than at Matt Molloy’s Pub, owned by the flutist for the world-renowned Irish music band, The Chieftains. Westport was cute, a large town almost pretending to be a small city. At the pub we just people-watched; the Irish are great subjects for this good-traveler sport. Everything they do, they do with gusto, with passion. There was a group of three old men at the bar, all having a pint of Guinness, agitatedly discussing something. By the time we figured out what it was, we laughed: they were arguing about the proper way to drink a pint, and that one of them had seen someone else actually remove all the foam from his Guinness before drinking, at which point they all groaned out loud their incredulity. We will always remember this scene.

Our bladders empty, our stomachs full, and our reservation in Sligo made, we set out for Yeats’ Country.

We arrived in Sligo after dark, and it took us a moment to finally find our B&B, the Mountain View B&B, a charming farm house in a secluded corner with views of Ben Bulben. Of course, when we arrived it was dark and we couldn’t find the mountain. Once settled, we decided to go down for a pint at the nearby pub. We knew we were in Yeats’ Country–the poet grew up in this area, and some of his most evocative early poetry has Sligo for a theme and protagonist–so we expected the area of be Yeats-centric. The pub was a surprise. The walls were full of Yeats memorabilia: old photos, newspaper and magazine clippings, artwork based on his poetry and even some manuscripts in his own handwriting (it is unmistakable once you get to know it). Yeats permeated the room like a vapor, infusing even the beer in your hand with literary greatness.