Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Emerald Isle

The latter half of May 2012, my crack traveling companion Kit and I decided to do our own tour of the Republic of Ireland, with me driving and her navigating. I'd gotten a week's practice driving on the wrong side of the road last fall in South Africa, so all I had to get used to in Ireland was roads about the width of a king-size bed with two-way traffic...

Just a reminder here that you can click any photograph to see it larger, and at the bottom of the page, click "Older Posts" to keep going through the trip in order.

We arrived in Shannon at the break of dawn, loaded up our wee rental car, and headed up through the Burren toward Galway. The Burren is a wild and rocky place, almost nothing that passes for soil and a wind that won't quit.

Despite the rocky barreness of the place, some tough vegetation manages to keep a toehold there:

The Burren

Since we had plenty of time to get to Galway, we wandered about just taking it all in. One of the first human structures to throw itself in our path was the ruined Castle Dunguaire, built in 1520, near the town of Kinvarra and said to be the most photographed castle in I did:
As you can see, the weather was about what you'd expect for Ireland, but Dunguaire is in a pretty area.

Nearby is the town of Lisdoonvarna (now doesn't that just sound Irish?), with a lovely statue group of a pair of dancers and a few musicians.
One of the most striking things in the Burren is the Poulnabrune dolmen, a portal tomb dating to Neolithic times, probably built sometime 4200 and 2900 BC. It's very dramatic from a distance, standing above the rock.

Just enough soil surrounds it to support some tough and pretty little flowers:

County Clare and Galway

Toward the end of the day, we rounded Galway Bay and headed toward Galway city. The terrain is a bit greener, with gorse in full yellow bloom and some of the characteristic drystone walls bounding fields:

In Galway, we got our first taste of one of the more vexing things about Irish travel: streets and roads are not marked worth a damn. Makes it hard to find one's BandB, just to name one thing. Nevertheless, it's a charming place and a good bit of it is pedestrian-only, which makes walking around nice, as those of us who are accustomed to drive on the right side of the road never seem to look the correct way when crossing the road in left-hand drive countries...

This is the Spanish Arch, built around 1584 as part of the city's protective walls, partially destroyed by a tsunami resulting from the 1755 Lisbon earthquake:

Even the manhole covers in Galway have their charms:

Inis Mór - Dun Aengus

We used one of our days at Galway to travel out to Inis Mór (Inishmore), one of the Aran Isles. It's a beautiful wild place with ancient forts, ruined churches, and nothing whatever to stop the fierce winds coming straight off the Atlantic. The next parish over, as they say, is New York. One of our stops was Dún Aonghasa, or Dun Aengus, a prehistoric fort dating from the 2nd century B.C., built with four concentric rings on a coastal promontory.

Inis Mór - The Seven Churches

The 8th century Seven Churches (actually only two) and its graveyard, dating to 9th century Roman times were also on our agenda:

The graveyard contains a number of graves of scholars from Imperial Rome, come to study at the monastery:

Inis Mór

It's a tough life on the island, but the wild beauty may well be worth it.

The coast is especially beautiful with its old coracle boats and lobster traps waiting for use:


Took the ferry across the Shannon River to the Dingle Peninsula. We stayed the night in charming Dingle.


On one of our walks, we found the most astonishing plant growing in a culvert, probably some kind of Gunnera.