Thursday, June 05, 2008

Day Five- Inishowen, Grianan of Aileach, Donegal, Sligo, Connemara, and Clifden

Dan is an excellent navigator because he knows me so well. He took over the task, which I freely admit is frustrating, and he did so very unselfishly. There were a lot of places he would have found interesting but he declined to push us to visit in the interest of covering more ground. Plus, he knows there is always a next time!:)
We decided to do a part of the Inishowen peninsula because I had always heard it was really beautiful, but we didn't want to do the whole thing and use up too much of the day. We needed to get far enough southwest to attempt an overnight on the Aran Islands, our next big goal. So, we took a coastal road that wound down along the loch, but we ended up on a dead-end by a garbage dump! We called it a wash and headed back, then Dan led us onto a road that would way down through some beautiful mountain scenery toward Slieve Snacht. Back onto a main road, just past Buncrana, we came very suddenly on a sign for the Grianan of Aileach, and I promptly turned in (been there with Kate...). The Grianan (grian means sun, so it's a building filled with sun, or open) is a stone ring-fort type building, high on a hill in Donegal that overlooks Loch Swilly, the Fanad, Inishowen and Derry. Aileach was a king of the area, and the exact age of this cashel fort is unknown, but it was recorded to exist in the time of Ptolemy. Legend attributes its building to the Dagda, a supernatural. The clan O'Neill held this territory for many years. We walked around and took photos; Bren tried to crawl into the wall but didn't get far. A pity it wasn't a sunny day, but despite the overcast slies, we still could see far away from the top of the structure.
After leaving the Grianan, we headed on the main road down to Donegal, skirted the city and drove down the coast into Sligo. Just as we were thinking of stretching the legs, I saw a round tower in a rotary and knew immediately where I was; Drumcliffe, under the mountain called Ben Bulben, the burial place of poet WB Yeats. I pulled right in, to the astonishment of the boys, but they quickly were charmed by the place. Since I have been there last, a sculpture monument to Yeats has been erected, parking improved, and a gift shop placed strategically near the ruins of the ancient monastery founded by St Columcille that was once located there. The tower is the last bit of the monastery, and since the road cut right through the grounds, they made the tower into a roundabout! The monastic cemetery is still there with an excellent High Cross. St Columba's Church, with its magnificent doors emblazoned by huge brass swans, was built in 1809; Yeat's grandfather was rector there, and Yeats spent much of his childhood there.
From Sligo, we headed down the coast into the part of Galway county known as Connemara. I had never been, and immediately fell in love with the wild and lonely landscape. Connemara is famous for its twelve "Bens', the mountains that tower always in the background. BenBulben is the supposed site of the death of Diarmuid, lover of the fair Grainne of ancient legend. We wanted to head south to Letterfrack and maybe spend the night there; I had read it was a quaint and lovely town. Maybe it was, but it was host to a carnival at the time, and the town was mobbed; the outskirts of town was dotted with camps of Travellers. So on we drove. I was getting cranky and in need of stopping, but we wound through one desolate and wild stretch after another. I announced that next hotel we saw, I would stop, but the next hotel had a Four Star rating on its sign (Ka-CHING!) and to much amusement from the boys, I went cursing by. We backtracked a bit and changed direction. We were trying to get close to Rossaveagh, where there is a daily ferry to the Aran Islands. We came around the side of a beautiful lake and saw a magnificent grey building that made Dan want to stop and explore; turns out it's an abbey. Then we passed the entrance to Connemara National Park, and we all wanted to go there. We finally reached Clifden, a fairly large town. We drove through once and very quickly saw a large B&B; they had a large room for us and were two blocks from town. We unloaded our gear thankfully, since it was 9 pm; we washed up and we headed to town for dinner. Brendan gallantly assisted a "fair local maiden" with a light for her butt; she was so intoxicated he had to light it for her.
We chose to eat at a large pub with an upstairs dining room that was full of locals (always a good thing). Dan had a bowl of fish chowder before his meal, and his stew was so chock full of mussels and all manner of fish, he could barely eat his dinner. We had such a grand feed, we closed the joint. Bren had seen some signs for traditional music at night (he scoffs when I say "trad"), so we headed down to a local pub. He treated for drinks and we stayed easily an hour or so listening to the music and enjoying our surroundings. I still felt that it was a bit more touristy based music, but I enjoyed it all the same, and the boys seemed to have fun because there was no whining. They don't seem to enjoy it when I play it at home...:)
It was easily midnight or after when we got back; the B&B was large enough that I didn't feel we were creeping back into someone's home and waking them. We showered and downloaded all our pictures- I was so glad I took my computer, tho it was a bit of a pain at times. We all were enamored of Connemara; I could easily use Clifden as a base for further exploration.

"Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand." WB Yeats

or maybe not...

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