(back to day one)
When having a holiday/vacation/whatever in Ireland, and having come from a timezone 5 or more hours due west, the second day is usually when things really begin. For one, you're more awake than you've been in several days; for another, you get your first taste of a real Irish Breakfast . In any event, we took to playing tourist with a vengeance.
From the little village of Burren, we headed west for the Burren itself. First thing we saw on the way was an old ruined castle off to the right (between the road and Galway Bay). As this was Bryan's first close-up encounter with a ruined castle, we stopped for a bit. There was a housing development going up next to it, but hopefully that won't have an adverse effect on the castle.
Once reaching Ballyvaughan, we headed south where we finally got to the burren itself. It's really an amazing place - slabs of limestone rock with six-inch or larger weather-rounded cracks throughout, and lots of colourful plants growing. Mary Comber's Burren Page has a very nice set of photos and descriptions of what you're likely to find there. We managed to see the Poulnabrone Dolmen in between two sets of tour-bus tourists. Which reminds me...
One thing that really unnerved me on this visit was encountering the tour busses. I know and understand that it's a better way of touring for some people, and it uses less fuel than if everyone were in their own car, and it also no doubt reduces the amount of traffic, but... picture yourself getting (re-)adjusted to driving on the left, in a strange car, driving along a bumpy, windy narrow road when around the next corner you encounter a GIGANTIC MONSTER TOUR BUS BARRELING TOWARDS YOU TAKING UP 93.5% OF THE ROAD! Well, maybe not quite that bad, but you get the idea. You learn rather quickly how close your car can get to the edge of the road! And after the first two or three encounters, it's not that big of a deal.
After driving in a big circle around Northwest Clare, we headed towards Galway, stopping there for a very quick bite to eat (I had forgotten how pervasive Chicken Curry was in Irish restaurants... yum!) Then on towards Connemara. Galway City has certainly grown quite a bit in the past 20 years. When we were well beyond Barna, and things had become a little more rural, what did I see but an Internet Service Provider on the left, out (almost) in the middle of nowhere. I can't remember the name, but surely someone from there will let me know who they are. We went past Ballynahown (Baile na hAbhainn, town of the river[s]) where I spent one Gaeltacht summer, and I noticed that the one big souvenir shop on the west side of the town that specialised in Connemara Marble had closed, apparently a long time ago.
We got to Carraroe, found another B&B, and then went down to see Coral Beach again. I spent many memorable summer days on that beach while growing up. It's not really coral, but the beach is not sand either; it's made up of small (typically 3mm or 1/8 inch across) particles that are the exoskeleton of some marine creature, resulting in a coarse sand-like beach. There are lots of small reddish-brown Sea Anemones, and in climbing over the rocks, we encountered crabs, shrimp and other small animals in the tidal ponds. And lots of seaweed too!
The following Morning, at the local post office, we were mailing off some postcards. I was sure the clerk took me for another yank tourist (yank, from Virginia? Hoo boy that might make some Virginians mad!) so after she gave me the change, I thanked her. In Irish (Go raibh maith agat). With the correct regional accent. Yes, she was surprised! But she recovered with a quick "Tá fáilte romhat" (you're welcome).
Driving North from Carraroe, we didn't get to go by the other town where I spent the summer of 1969 (Kilkieran; if you were there, esp. John or Ciarán, drop me a note!), but proceeded instead up towards the mountains known as the twelve bens (or pins). Heading west again towards Clifden (need to get to another Bureau de Change), we encountered what looked like the start of a mini "CeltWorld" near the village of Recess, but it wasn't quite finished. The gift shop was open, so we nosed around a little. Kim found a tea towel there with a very interesting set of rules. Unfortunately we didn't get half of the things we wanted there; thinking that we'd find them all and more when we did our shopping in Dublin. Wrong!!!
So we drove to Clifden (wow, was it crowded!), got our transfusion of currency, and drove on, stopping briefly for a hike at Connemara National Park. There's a very nice display in the visitor centre there describing the formation of boglands. I hadn't realised that the West was once covered in pine trees, and that the formation of the bogs was largely a result of the large fires set by early man and the resulting non-porous charcoal layer. I wonder what it would look like reforested...
We were set back a little by road works around Killary Harbour (the only true Fjord in Ireland), but stopped for a bite to eat in Leenane and then onwards into County Mayo. We went up by Doo Lough towards Louisburgh, a road I will never tire of travelling. I still have (black and white) pictures of a very young looking me (age 9!) in wellington boots, looking as a donkey poked his head in the door of the car at the bridge beside Doo Lough (I wasn't in the car). By this stage, Kim had picked out our next potential roost for the night, which we weren't sure how to get to. However, when we got to the outskirts of Louisburgh, there was a nice clear sign pointing towards The Three Arches Bed & Breakfast. Ah, out in the direction of Roonagh Quay (pronounced "key"). I was a little skeptical about the distances on the signs, but it must have been given in Irish miles :-) We found it (on the right) after keeping pretty much straight on that narrow road for about 2-3 miles.
Day four and beyond, without pictures as yet (working on them).