9/25 – Connemara
More pics here.
At our hostess’s urging, we took a day trip through Connemara, an enormous region and national park. The photos do not do this justice, and I’d written it off as a bunch of brown hills during my research (those Irish must not have much to get excited about, I thought…) It was as beautiful as the Cliffs of Moher, and somehow more stunning. The scale of it can’t be captured. It is wild, free, majestic. There were iconic sheep on the roads, and stunning views. I want to be buried/scattered here when I die. The roads were twisty and I was pretty sick, but it was worth it. We had a lackluster meal in a crowded port town at the far end of the loop, but it was worth it. There was something so different there – I can’t put it into words, but it was magical. And it wasn’t even green, not really.
We learned all about peat uses and bog formation, the ecosystem there (as unique as the Burren, but more threatened), and how much a part of Irish life peat has been in a small but helpful information center. Then we hiked Mt Diamond ,which felt epic (okay, the Irish call it Diamond Hill. And they call hiking “walking.” I refuse to participate – we hiked up a mountain). It was blustery and tall, but had a well maintained and graded trail. We shouldn’t really get the points we gave ourselves. But the scenery was epic and the weather was ominous so we felt accomplished. And then four college girls from France came trooping up behind us in tiny shorts! We may not have been as tough as we thought. They did seem really shivery though. The hike back down was also stunning – wrapping around the backside of the peak (hills don’t have peaks!) with fewer expansive views but acres and acres of blooming heather growing on the peat. It was a unique hike in a special place – words are failing me.
We got back to Cong at dusk. Cong is a ridiculously darling town next to our B&B, which is built on an island in the river (contributing to a good chunk of its darling factor) and most famous for being a major film site for The Quiet Man in the 1950’s. It is a very Irish thing that if someone comes from your town (good or bad), or something well known happens in your town (good or bad), it will become the center of your town’s identity for the rest of eternity, regardless of how old or interesting your town actually is. [Thus, the statue of rockstar Rory Gallagher is the number one attraction in Ballyshannon]. Everywhere we went, when we reviewed our stops, people would say “Oh Cong, where they filmed The Quiet Man.” Cong is a tiny town with a giant castle, world-class fishing, and adorable scenery, but everyone knows it for the movie. Also, if you tell an Irish man you’ve been to Cong, he will say, “Oh, where they filmed The Quiet Man. John Wayne you know”…and then a heavy pause and a breathy “and Maureen O’Hara…” and another long pause. Even young men! I believe she is the token Irish Beauty for all eternity. [We watched The Quiet Man once we got back. It helps to have an online guide to all the cultural references lost on us Americans, but it’s a sweet yet shockingly politically incorrect tale that is probably only worth watching if you’ve just been to Cong. And yes, Maureen O’Hara was stunning.]
We meandered through the ruins of the abbey there, super spooky in the evening light. Our hostess told us how to walk through the public trails to the Guinness family’s Ashford Castle (actually a former hunting lodge turned into a hotel, but still stunning to see), across the river from town and usually a 10euro entrance fee to even see. We were racing darkness but enjoying the thrill of wandering through dark (but totally safe) woods and over bridges above the coursing river. We saw swans and fish leaping in the fading light, and then wandered through the little quiet town before driving back to our lodge.
On the country road between the two little towns, we came upon an enormous bonfire, which turned out to be in someone’s backyard. It drew the attention of folks driving by (all 2 of them) so we stopped to try to figure out what was going on. It was at least 3 stories tall, in the small clearing for the house between the trees. How it didn’t set anything else on fire, and what its purpose was, was a mystery. Our hostess said such a thing happens for holidays but not usually on a weeknight! She guessed it was a birthday celebration. We didn’t see any partying going on, just a few people watching from the side. Our phone photos and video also show some mysterious floating shapes moving around in the bonfire….mysterious!