Follow The Discreet Traveler by e-mail!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Galway Bay: Ulster to Connaught

So John built a museum to country life on the site of the thatched cottage he was born in. Afterwards, we chatted to him about the coming of electricity in the 1950s and current British and Irish politics. Then he said, "And that Tr*mp's not doing anyone any favors, is he?"
That's what I love about meeting people in other countries. They're appalled every day by what is going on, but they're too polite to make an American feel unwelcome.



Connemara, in the northwest corner of Co. Galway, is said to be the last place God made. I can understand why: It is relentlessly beautiful. There are gorgeous mountains, beaches, flowers, etc. around every treacherous curve, and if we stopped to take pictures of every one of them, we would be here for the rest of our lives. The frequent rain—“the price we pay for the green,” as one of our hosts said—means a bright rainbow standing between mountain and sea, like a cliched postcard of Ireland.

And it is the coldest I’ve ever been in my life.

I don’t say this lightly; I’m Canadian, after all. I’ve been in Chicago when the wind chill was -70 F and have been out for hours on a snowy Ontario winter day. I have never felt colder than in an Irish bedroom in June. Blew the shopping budget on replacing my Aran sweater, and I’m not sorry.

Back in Donegal, with country music on the radio and a rooster crowing, and the view, I could almost have been in East Tennessee. Except for the sheep. (See Aran sweater.) And the obituaries read out loud on the radio. And the two-fingered wave from every passing driver (it's a myth, apparently, that the hand you use says something about your religion). What does say something about your religion is if you cross yourself when passing consecrated stones. There was a time when churches were burned and Mass banned; the only consecrated ground then were these places in the open air.


Cáife na Sráide in Carrigart is my favorite place to eat in Ireland so far. Cheap, cheerful, reliable for breakfast and lunch. That is, if you don't need to eat until 10:00. Irish kitchens open late and close early. You'd better get your supper finished by 9:00, as that's when the live music starts kicking off.

On the way down through Co. Sligo (Yeats country), we saw guys in flat caps, one of them walking a pony down the sidewalk. There are a lot of things in Ireland you can't make up, that you'd think were cliches on a postcard. Like the rainbow. I didn't get a picture of it, but if I showed you everything, you'd have no reason to come here yourself.

And you really should. If there's a prettier drive than the main road to Connemara, I don't know what it is. Thatched huts, Virgin Marys, crucifixes, plus a Buddha on the side of the road just to cover all bases. More rhododendrons in the Kylemore Valley than Roan Mountain in the spring. 

To get there, you need to go through Co. Mayo (Maigh Eo in Irish). If you're from America, Canada, or anywhere else in the Irish diaspora, the one thing you know about Irish history is the potato famine(s). The famine years from 1845-52 were so disastrous that they've overshadowed the rest of the nineteenth century, though there were other waves of emigration at other times. The dependence on the potato crop, and thus the loss of life from its failure, were exacerbated by economic policies of the time, and the consequences for Irish nationalism here and abroad have been felt ever since.

Today there is a national monument to the Great Famine in Co. Mayo. It honors not only those who suffered from hunger and disease in Ireland, but victims of famine in other parts of the world.

I can tell you the Irish have made up for that shortage of potatoes with a vengeance. Ordering lamb stew? It's full of potatoes, but here's a side of mashed potatoes too! Fill up on those and you won't have room for the rosemary-seasoned lamb (and it is delicious!)

Westport is one of many towns to brag of its Tidy Town status--clearly an important one in this country. According to the Irish Times,  it is also "the best place to live in Ireland." And why wouldn't it be, with a backdrop like this:

That's Croagh Patrick, a 764-m mountain and, this being Ireland, pilgrimage site after the saint of the same name. Curiously, Trish did not express a wish to climb Croagh Patrick, though the path to the summit was clearly visible from the other side of the mountain.

She did agree, the following day, that we should hike the upper trail to the top of Diamond Hill, which is 512 m. Because we were on a mountain and not hiking through woods, we had amazing scenery the entire way, culminating in 360-degree views from the top.

Apart from five minutes of rain, which we could see rolling in like a grey curtain from the Atlantic, we even had dry (though windy) weather. I was grateful for my quick-drying trousers, and even more grateful that T. had sewn on a button that had come loose, as otherwise they'd have blown off me. I was the one, after all, who said "Why pack a sewing kit? When will we ever need that?" And we didn't. If an Irish hostess can't lend you a needle and thread, you're in dire shape indeed.

I was so impressed by the day that when I saw a fellow hiker trudging up ahead of us, phone in hand and jabbering away, I expressed disgust. How could someone come out into this incredible place and make all this effort, when his attention was on something he could have done anywhere?

T., being who she is, immediately began to suggest reasons such as he has to work, and why am I judging a stranger anyway? In honor of this, I bring to you the final verse of a real song, “The Speculator,” by Lou and Peter Berryman. 
When you're nearly hit by a yuppie little twit
With his godforsaken noggin on the phone.
Swervin' in your lane, goin' 90 in the rain
In a cloud of amaretto and cologne,
You feel the anger in you start to work 
Maybe now's the time to go berserk
Before you pop a vessel let the speculator wrestle
With another way of looking at the jerk:
Maybe he's a shrink with a patient on the brink
And he's rushing there while trying to talk him down
Maybe he's aware there's a toxin in the air
And he's off to warn the people of the town
Someone in his family could be sick
His daughter hit his mother with a brick
His dog has got the rabies  or his wife is having babies
Though the odds are in your favor he's a pr*ck. 



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another beautiful journey, accentuated by Cathy and Marcy's witty music at the end! Groove & Pop