The “going home day”. I’ll admit I’ve been thinking about home for several days now, wanting to be in familiar surroundings, but at the same time not wanting vacation to end. I woke up this morning to sun in Ireland, and felt a little sad to be leaving. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for two weeks. Things I did on my first couple of days feel like a distant memory already. But I’m also very ready to be home. I repacked my suitcase last night, which was no small feat. Zipping it closed this morning was a small miracle!
I knew I had an extra hour or so built into my drive, so I made the detour off the motorway to Athenry. If you’re familiar with the song, “The Fields of Athenry“, it was one of the things that drew me to the town. My first stop was at the Athenry Castle. It has been restored much more than many others I had visited, and it only took a few minutes to see the whole thing. I indulged the nice woman at the desk by watching the 20 minute video, much of which was actually photos of other castles. I walked around the town for a few minutes (including through one of the original medieval arches) and then got back on the motorway to Dublin Airport. I have to say, after two weeks of driving in Ireland, I’ve gotten pretty used to it.
When I checked in for my flight, I asked if there were any seats available closer to the front. Row 41 doesn’t sound very appealing! She said the flight was actually oversold. That’s all it took for my ears to perk up… I love playing the travel game! “Any chance you’ll be looking for volunteers to give up their seats?” I asked. She quickly made a phone call, I was directed to another desk to leave my suitcase, and then I was given a voucher for a snack and a request to return 1.5 hours later to see if they needed me. €600, a free night in a hotel (with my luggage!), and a voucher for dinner was all it took to convince me to fly tomorrow morning instead! I was in luck and was soon on my way to the Carlton hotel. A quick minute to freshen up, and I hopped on a bus into the city!
Not being a lover of cities, I was primarily interested in a drink and some music. I headed straight to Temple Bar and Oliver St. John Gogartys Pub. Yes, it is touristy, but the music was awesome and the people were a lively bunch. Two older gentlemen we’re playing a mix of Irish and contemporary “sing along” songs and the crowd was into it. (Think “Brown-eyed Girl” type songs.) Coincidentally, they also played “The Fields of Athenry” while I was there!
I walked around the city for a little while before coming back to the hotel. Imagine my surprise when I asked what my dinner voucher entitled me to in the hotel restaurant and was told I would be enjoying a 3-course meal. An enjoyable second last night in Ireland!
Well, the weather miraculously cleared up for one last day in Ireland. My plan today was to visit Connemara, an area west of Galway known for it’s more rugged beauty. Connemara is also one of the areas of Ireland which retains the Irish language; all road signs are in Irish only. I set off relatively early from Galway along the coastal route and stopped first at the Spiddal Craft Village. The village is several individual vendors set up in little shops around a small common area. I didn’t end up buying anything, but it was fun to browse the jewelry, artwork, and other local handcrafts.
Continuing from Spiddal, my route followed closely along the water as the scenery turned to more rugged rocky outcroppings dotting the coastline. Small cottages and homes are perched on the rocks, some beautifully situated right near the water’s edge. It reminded me a bit of the southern coast of Nova Scotia. I stopped in Roundstone, with its quaint harbor sheltering a few boats and the mountains of the Twelve Bens providing a perfect backdrop. I had what will likely be my last scone in Ireland at a small cafe along the main road here.
My route continued along the coast to the Sky Drive, which begins in Clifden. The road travels high above the cliffs and overlooks Clifden Bay. It wasn’t nearly as harrowing as some of the other routes I traveled last week, but it was every bit as beautiful. My last stop in Connemara was at Kylemore Abbey, just outside of Letterfrack. I had seen pictures of the castle before I left home, and knew it was a “must see” on my trip. It definitely delivered. The castle, gardens, and chapel themselves (which are open for touring) pale in comparison to the photogenic castle nestled in the hills of western Ireland. Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London, built the castle in 1871. He and his wife lived there for only 4 years before she died during a trip to Egypt. They are both interred in a small mausoleum on the grounds. A group of Benedictine nuns from Belgium eventually purchased the castle in 1920 and turned it into an abbey.
After leaving Kylemore, I made my way back to Galway for dinner and a show – “Trad on the Prom” – at my hotel. The music and dancing was a great way to spend my last night in Ireland!
Here are the things I miss about home today: sleeping in my own bed, knowing where everything is when I need it, buying, cooking, and eating my own food, and driving my own car on the right-hand side of the road. And here are the things I love about Ireland: the people, the history, the incredibly picturesque landscapes, and the music. I’m heading home in two days, and part of me wants to leave now and part of me wants to stay here (or at least take Ireland home with me!). There are some vacations where I want to soak everything in because I don’t know that I’ll ever be back (the Cotswolds is a recent example of that). There are other places I’ve traveled to where I absolutely know I will be back (I had that feeling on my first visit to Turks and Caicos and returned a year later). Ireland definitely falls into the latter category: I will definitely be back.
Today I made the drive from Doolin to Galway. I spent some time working on my TripAdvisor reviews this morning and poking around the shops in Doolin before I got on the road. It was foggy and drizzly (again), so I didn’t stop much. I wanted to see Poulnabrone dolmen in the Burren and enjoy the coastal route. The Poulnabrone dolmen dates to the Neolithic period and more than 20 adults and children have been determined to be buried there. After that I stayed on the main road until a roadsign Lillanlla’s homemade ice cream shop attracted my attention. It was noontime and what’s better for lunch than ice cream? I followed the narrow road 5 km and enjoyed yet another creamy and delicious Irish ice cream cone.
Once I made it to Galway, it was obvious I wasn’t in the countryside anymore. Galway is the fourth largest city in Ireland. After checking into my hotel (thankfully on the outskirts of town), I took the local bus into the city center. Have I mentioned I hate cities? I wandered around the jam-packed pedestrian area, past leprechaun -filled souvenir shops for about an hour. Then I sought out Taaffes Bar, where I knew they had early trad music sessions. I enjoyed a half pint of Bulmer’s while listening to a group of musicians playing fiddles, accordions, guitars, and more. By then I was ready for dinner but I was surrounded by touristy-looking pubs. I wandered for a while before I stumbled upon Trattoria Magnetti. I’m glad I did! I had a delicious beef and pork ravioli with a marsala and mascarpone sauce. Yum! I made it back to my hotel in time to “watch the sun go down by Galway Bay”.