Monday, April 23 – A Calmer Connemara

From Connemara National Park we went to a small town called Tully Cross. This is where my cousin, Kevin, comes to vacation every Fall for at least a month. He told me about the Maol Reidh Hotel, where we stayed on Sunday night, April 15. It was a welcome site after our exhausting experience on Diamond Hill. After we checked in, we went to the bar and relaxed,  reflecting on our adventure. Paul had Jameson’s. I had Baileys Irish Cream. We sipped it slowly, luxuriating in the warmth, and dryness, and safety of the little hotel bar. Kevin had contacted them and told them we had a reservation. Tony, who runs the bar and the kitchen and his wife, who is the receptionist, treated us like we were family. The dining room was a haven, with flowers and a candle at each table and a fire glowing in the fireplace. I’m not ordinarily a big fan of lamb, but I felt like I just had to have roasted Connemara lamb before I left the area, and it was so tender and delicious.

Maol Reidh Hotel, Tully Cross
Thatched roofs across from the Maol Reidh Hotel, Tully Cross

I had hoped to walk to the beach to watch the sunset. But I couldn’t find the path that had been described to us. It was so overcast that there probably wasn’t a pretty sunset anyway. Paul and I did walk to the beach on Monday morning, and it was beautiful in a rugged way, with the stone ruins and large rocks and pasture coming right up to the seaside. We saw horses and sheep along the way, and a charming pink house with thatched roof. I think this was the best walk we took, even though it started to rain on the way back. 

 

 

The landscape in this western area of the island is made up mostly of bogs. In fact, I read that 1/6 of Ireland’s land area is bogs. I assumed the bogs would get green in the summer, but I was told they remained mostly brown and tan. I had always associated beauty in nature with either the color green or with mountains. So this was quite different, the various muted shades of earthy tones and the yellow shrubs that show up frequently. I first saw the shrubs on the highway from Galway to Clifden. I learned that they are called Furze, and they also have several other names. They flower for an extended period, and add a touch of color to the bogs. https://www.irishamericanmom.com/2015/06/07/furze-the-yellow-flower-of-the-irish-landscape/

 

Trees found in the bogs can date back to 7,000 BC. We saw two logs of bog-wood that were 4,500 years old. One was yew and the other was oak, and they had been carbon dated. I had to touch them, to put my hand on them and feel their energy. And energy is what I felt in Connemara. Kevin had told me that when he first saw this part of Ireland he knew it felt like home, and it was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. It almost felt like the landscape was calling to me. That the bogs, especially, filled with their ancient plant materials, have a certain magnetic pull. That is funny in a way, because they are so wet that one could sink in them if not careful, but when I was there I had a feeling of being connected to the earth, grounded. Mary Oliver has a line in one of her poems, about “standing still and learning to be astonished.” That is exactly what I wanted to do in Connemara –  soak in the countryside, and be astonished. I found myself reaching for a way to describe the landscape, and I never did find just the right word.

Organic.   Rugged.   Peaceful.   Undeveloped.   Primal.   Expansive.  Remote.            Raw beauty.   Ancient.  Amazing.

I love this quote from John Feehan, an Irish environmentalist: “Bogs are places of enchantment. This is due in large measure to the immense natural diversity of the peatland landscape, but also to its unique atmosphere. The bogs are great, open expanses with distant horizons. You feel drawn to them as though they awakened an echo deep within us of the open savannah landscapes in which our humankind had its origins several million years ago.”

Connemara National Park Visitor Center
Connemara National Park Visitor Center
Bog wood, Connemara Visitor Center
4,500 year-old Bog Yew and Bog Oak
Kylemore Abbey, restroom warning
Restroom warning, Kylemore Abbey

When we were wandering back from the beach in Tully Cross it started to rain pretty hard. Before we left, though, we walked over to the small Tully Cross Church. Kevin had asked me to light a candle there for his mother, my Aunt June, who passed away last November. I like the idea of remembering someone, and paying tribute to them, with a candle. And, since I felt my brother, Doug’s, presence so much during these three months in Rome, I wanted to light a candle for him, and for Paul’s son, Gabriel. And so, we lit three candles, and sat with them for a little while, and then left them burning. But I felt certain that Doug and Gabe left with us.

 

The forecast was for rain all afternoon on Monday. We had decided to visit Kylemore Abbey. This has been an active Benedictine Abbey since 1920, but before it was an abbey it was a castle, built in 1867.  Although the Abbey itself and the Gothic Church near it were, of course, indoors, the real charm of Kylemore is the Victorian Walled Garden. The rain was coming down in sheets, and we were soaked even though we were using umbrellas. It made no sense to walk around the gardens. There was a bus that took visitors the mile from the abbey to the gardens. By riding on the bus we did get a look at the beauty of the trees we were passing, and we stopped in the Tea Room before re-boarding the bus back to our car. The scenery there is really beautiful, and we’ll just have to go back at some future time when it is not raining. Not this trip, though. It was time to drive to Leenane and the Portfinn Lodge.

 

We asked for a room with a water view. It was still raining, but the view was lovely. Leenane is on the Killary Harbour. This is a long, narrow harbor that goes about 10 miles inland. It is called the Killary Fjord, although there is some question about whether it is, scientifically speaking, really one.  If the weather was nicer, we would have taken a boat tour of the fjord. Instead, we went to the Leenane Sheep and Wool Centre, and then had dinner in the Leenane Hotel. This hotel was beautiful, old (1790”s) and charming. They had three wood fires burning, and we sat next to one of them while we waited for the dining room to open. If we come back to Ireland, I hope we will stay there.  The Portfinn Lodge was disappointing, the least appealing of the places we stayed in, except for the view of the water.

View from the Portfinn Lodge
View from our window in Leenane

We had to have the car back in Galway by 11 am on Tuesday, so we left fairly early in the morning. It had stopped raining by then, and the 1 1/2 hour ride was through more beautiful, charming landscape. We had lunch in Galway, and then took the train back to Dublin. This train ride was much more peaceful, and as we rode east I gazed out the window, aware that I was saying goodbye to beautiful Ireland.

In Dublin we needed to stay very near the airport, because we had an early flight to Rome on Wednesday morning. The Glenmore House fit the bill. Or, so we thought. The first sign of trouble was that there was no elevator, and there was no staff person to help us up the stairs with our bags. I’ll skip all the other things that were substandard, and just say that when we were leaving the hotel at around 4 AM to go to the airport, the fire alarm went off. We watched as one by one the sleepy people staggered out of their rooms. Since there was no employee on the premises, and no indication of what to do when the alarm sounded, it just rang and rang. What a way for the hotel guests to get to know each other, in their pajamas! In a way I was sorry to leave just as the drama was unfolding.

But we had just the opposite experience when we were back in Rome. Again, we wanted to stay near the airport so that we could leave early on Thursday. And we didn’t want to do anything touristy. We were in a “be calm and hang out” mode. The Intorno al Fico was perfect. The rooms all opened onto a courtyard which was grassy and had a fig tree in the middle of it. We bought a bottle of chianti for 12 euros, and sat at the courtyard playing cards and sipping wine. They served homemade pizzas for dinner – our last Roman pizzas. In the morning they drove us to the airport, we picked up the large bags we had stored there, and went through the check-in process. It all went smoothly, and our worries that our bags might be too heavy were for naught.  We had time to sit and have a glass of Prosecco, toasting a final farewell to Rome. Thursday, April 19, and American Airlines took us home. Arrivederci Roma.

Intorno al Fico, Rome
Playing rummy at Intorno al Fico. Last day in Rome.

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