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Ireland

29 August 2012 15,162 views 2 Comments

Some places are just like the guide books and all the stories you hear aren’t they. Others aren’t. India is meant to be inspiring and spiritual. Singapore is meant to be multi-cultural and modern. Shoreditch is meant to be painfully cool. Maybe I should read different books…
In the case of West coast Ireland, it was spot on. Emerald Isle – tick. Good craic – tick. Dodgy weather – tick.

b*witched

On arriving in Shannon it totally reminded me of Hobart, Tasmania – an out of town small airport, quick car rental situation, drizzly dusk, promise of a good beer… The driving in Ireland is easy because there isn’t much traffic so we got to Barna in theaa.com predicted time. Barna, on the coast of County Galway, is very little but there are still three watering holes to choose from. One of which was our hotel restaurant/ bar: Oirish band playing in the corner, big bar for sitting at, it was a warm welcome. We were staying at The Twelve, a hotel I cannot recommend enough for combining boutique style, outstanding service and local cheer. We had two excellent dinners here. First time was Atlantic cod with gnocchi for me, sea food and chorizo for Nad. Second time was salmon with smoked salmon polenta for me, lamb with baby leeks (so cute) for Nad. Detecting a theme… yeah, The Twelve is right by the water. You can see the ocean from the bedroom windows, a stroll down the road opposite and you’re on a jetty, lots of boats tied up, a small beach a bit further off, clouds bouncing overhead. It’s delightful.

talk on corners

Nature aside, what about those other two bars… Donnelly’s is on the corner, it’s a decent bar (I think their Guinness scored a 4/5), O’Grady’s On The Pier, it turns out, is really well known in the region, and for good reasons. From the outside it looks like another tiny, on-the-corner pub but once inside you go upstairs to this beautifully open dining room, with clear views over the harbour. On the evening we had dinner there it was a long, drawn out sun set with lots of high level, translucent cloud, everything was shiny and gorgeous. And the food was superb: local oysters to start, monkfish for me, cod for Nad, cheese to finish. It all melted in the mouth.

coast to coast

The next village up the coast of County Galway is Ballynahown. We rode bikes through here a few times; the coast road was a really nice, and very pretty, ride. Ballynahown is dinky but it has a cracking pub, An Cheibh I think, right on the beach. This was the most bargainous Guinness we found, sub three Euros, zing. And I went swimming, well, floating, in the water here, which was amazing.
Next up was Spiddal. I love that name, Spiddal. Again, we rode bikes through here a few times and we also got horizontal on the beach for a while because it was too sunny and nice not to. Spiddal town is bigger than Barna but that doesn’t make it big. Add a church and three more pubs…
Actually, it was on this bike ride, really getting some miles in Barna to Rossaveel that Nad drew our attention to the wind. And y’know what, he wasn’t wrong, the wind was bonkers. Somehow always against us.
About 10 k West of Spiddal the topography really changes. There are lots of little islands breaking off, and the mainland becomes very dry and brown. The little islands are connected by really little bridges; narrow stone wall, i-give-nothing bridges that the locals drive with confidence and I drove with my eyes closed! This is getting into the proper Connemara, which is a more coastal and rustic version of the lake district. It’s rugged landscape, rocky terrain, rough hills, all broken up with lakes, big wild rivers and then cliffy, raw coast line.

sweetest thing

The main town in the Connemara is Clifden which we reached after almost two hours of detours (lots of lakes and fields!). We were heading for the Skye Road which has a reputation for it’s great views. And it didn’t disappoint. We were bike riding – nice to be out of the car at last – and while it was just a little 10ker there were a couple of climbs and of course we were in to the wind. From the Skye Road summit there’s a beautiful view across the archipelago of islands including across to the Aran Islands (more of which later). The flora around here was gorgeous. I kept saying “I’ve never seen hedge rows like it” (!) which was true, these piles and piles of cerise fuschia, burnt orange willow-type plants, shiny yellow forsythia, and lovely mauve heather; meadow marvellous. While we were bike riding the drizzle turned to more proper rain and the wind turned into more proper wind, but we’d ticked the box and earned the excuse to hit up SuperMacs.

c’est la vie

The Aran Islands are in the mouth of Galway Bay. You can reach them from the north or the south of the Bay, we took the ferry from Rossaveel. It’s a forty minute crossing and although we’d been warned about the potential choppiness it seemed like a smooth crossing to me, certainly smooth enough for a cup of tea – again, earned from a decent bike ride. The Islands are keen for tourism so they promote the ‘many attractions of the islands’: a fort, walking & pony trap tours, coastal views and sweater making places. The sweater making is possibly what has made the islands famous. Here’s the gist.. so, these are bleak islands yeah, and the main source of income used to be (prior to cheap fuel and wifi) fishing, so there were lots of fishermen, and they needed to keep warm, so the missuses at home knitted super strength warm sweaters, they designed unique patterns, and then they got a reputation for being able to recognise sadly drowned fishermen by their sweater patterns. So, a gothic twist but with accessories thrown in. And now you can come and buy Aran Island sweaters for about, ooo, four thousand times the price they used to be and choose a pattern that you want to be associated with. That’s the Aran Island attractions, but we kept it simple with some quick shopping (Nad went for ‘god’ and something else ha ha ha), a coastal stroll to a pub with boys playing Irish folk music, and settling in for chowder & booze as the rain started. The ferry back was so smooth that I think I slept for 39 of the 40 minutes.

chasing cars

And now, East of Barna… didn’t see Salthill but I heard that it’s nice. It’s near where we hired the bikes from, shout out to Alan at West Side Cycles, their kit, advice and service were awesome.
Galway is the biggest town in the area, it has a reputation for being a party town. Imagine that.. an Irish town, plus a high student and tourist population, equals party town. Amazing. Maybe we shoulda come for a night out instead because by day it was a-ok but didn’t really cut it compared to the attractions of the countryside. We (Nad) got some more souvenirs, checked out the harbour, struggled around the town car park and then got out of dodge for more country loveliness.

Horse-shoe-ing around the Bay the next town that caught our attention was Oranmore. We lost count of the number of pubs. And the number of solicitors shops (!) Pearla na Mara did a decent lunch, they were very sweet about working around my veggie etc awkwardnesses. We were keen for a peek of the TripAdvisor fabled screaming chef but he wasn’t performing today.

river dance

Kinvara is a lovely looking town. We got a few perspectives.. one was from the water while paddling with Outdoors Ireland. We did a couple of hours ‘sunset kayak’ (apparently I need to stop saying ‘paddling’, sorry aussies) around the bay. It was delightful – good sport, in to the wind of course, really up close to some of that rugged coastline, lots of birdlife, the anticipation of more wildlife (no results though), and a cup of tea while we bobbed in the reeds. Charming, totally charming.
We also had dinner at the end of Kinvara pier which was brilliant because it was a dark, stormy, thoroughly soaking night. By now we’d got used to cosy Irish restaurants with excellent food and friendly service, and Pier Head didn’t disappoint. Amusing & impressively Nad had mussels for both courses, respect. I got soup and sea bass with red pesto flavours. The bread was home made and badly good, the vegos were garlic heaven, the vin rouge was a winner. From what I saw of Kinvara I’d go and stay there, it was dead nice.

beautiful day

From Kinvara the road twists round and round getting in to County Clare: little villages, sea salt fed landscape, lots of sea views, somehow we didn’t get lost. This is a great bit of coast driving. Ok, it don’t got the weather, but I’d put it up close with Big Sur, the Great Ocean Road and what I saw of the Garden Route. From afar the hills look pale purple, it’s quite ethereal, up close the boulders are all pale, shiny grey but there’s heather inbetween and I suppose that’s what gives the sheen. Ethereal, yes, and constantly making you think of Lord of the Rings scenes.
We stopped variously for photos, fresh air, drinks (it’s Ireland!), proper sight seeing etc. At Cliffs of Moher we got properly stuck into the tourist thang (sorry but this really reminded me of the Twelve Apostles). It was dramatic landscape, we had a dramatic downpour, there were some dramatic Americans around, all in it’s no surprise I needed a little sleep in the movie room at the visitor centre.

linger

The last place we saw in County Clare was Ennistimon. That’s a lie; the last place we saw in County Clare was the Ennis Gourmet Store. And you should stick a pin in the map, this is a marvellous bistro – walls piled with high quality products, a deli counter chock with melting moments, good wine everywhere. I thought about moving in.

So, a mini-lie in fact because Ireland delivered beyond what I’d been reading or day dreaming about. Yay that. And go, just go.
x blarneyluce

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2 Comments »

  • karen said:

    Hey Lucy

    My country, well almost, next best thing to Scotland

  • Gallway bars | Trd4runner said:

    […] lucyjjames » Blog Archive » Ireland […]

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