Thursday, June 05, 2008

Day Six- Clifden, Connemara, Kylemore Abbey, Rossaveal, Kilronan, Inis Mor

After our usual Irish breakfast, I used the phone in the B&B to call the ferry in Rossaveal. Unlike the ferry we had used in 2001, this one takes only 25 minutes and had a number of trips to Inish Mor throughout the day. We decided to book passage on the 6:30 pm ferry, which gave us the whole day to explore Connemara, much to Dan's delight. We went into Clifden and did a little shopping (not every shop was open on Sunday, but many were). I picked up some art (watercolor prints) and the boys scored an American newspaper to check the Celtics scores.
We headed out to Connemara National Park. The visitor center had a great exhibit about bogs and their importance. We decided on a 1.5 kilometer hike; we'd have loved to climb the mountain but it was 4 km more and we still wanted to see the abbey. The trail led through some spectacular views of the mountains and lakes around the area. It was bright at first, but clouds blew in from the southwest. It sprinkled a few times before we finished our walk, but it felt nice.
The area is so desolate and beautiful it made my heart sing. We were fascinated by the bog flora, and we all took lots of photos (as usual). If we had not set our agenda, we definitely would have spent a whole day in the area. On our return, they had a man demonstrating the making of wicker withy baskets in the centre- his hands moved so quickly and deftly. They also had a trio playing trad in the courtyard, and some people dancing.
We headed down the road a short distance to Kylemore Abbey. Built as a Victorian era castle by an affluent family, it gave employment to many in an era of few jobs in an environment where living was not easy. The house is a sumptuous castle facing Loch Fee and the mountains in front and sheltered by a tall mountain behind, a stunning location. It afforded fishing, hiking, hunting and genteel partying for the affluent friends of the affluent owners. They had 19 greenhouses providing flowers and rare plants for decoration, a huge kitchen garden to feed the family and the many servants it took to run such a posh house, and a gorgeous Victorian garden to stroll and picnic in. It was sold to British titled folk in the mid-1900s, but they went bankrupt and it languished on the market for years. It was subsequently bought by Benedictine nuns who were displaced by World War One, and they acquired it and opened an international girls' school. They also opened a pottery works and visitors' center, and that income coupled with donations has enabled them to begin restoring the mansion to its former glory.
It began to rain just as we reached the Abbey, so we were glad to go in and see the public parts of the mansion. They have memorabilia of the order, and portraits of the abbesses of the past on display. The foyer is beautifully pannelled, and the windows are leaded glass. The fireplaces were ornately carved and much of the original furniture is there- way too flouncy and Victorian for my taste. I'd love to see the school part, but that's not possible.
They bus you a mile up the road through a spectacular forest to the gardens. There is a shrine up on the mountainside, and we could see sheep grazing way up on the peak. We wandered through the ornate and orderly garden. They will be setting out the annuals soon, so I imagine it will be unbelievably beautiful once everything is in summer bloom. Some of the plants were so unusual. Dan took pictures of everything, I think he documented every plant to show Sue; he kept saying Sue should be with us because she would have loved the garden so. When she saw all his pictures this weekend, she immediately told Ted she wants to go there...
It started to rain a bit harder, so we headed back to the bus and the car. Dan brought us back through a rural road that went through the mountains along Lake Inagh to Recess, to pick up the N59 to Maam Cross, where we picked up a rural mountain road that took us straight down the peninsula to Rossaveal. We were making good time, but when we came to a crucial turning, there was a big tour bus in the way that blocked the sign. We drove along the coast for a few miles and there were Traveller camps all along the shore. We got to one coastal town that had a lot of cottages and rentals and we realized we had gone too far. We made a U-Turn and beelined back and sure enough, there was the sign we had been looking for. We found the ferry office, parked, got our tickets, headed down to the pier and boarded. The ferry was sleek and new, with cushy seats like a plane. After a bit, Bren and I went up to the deck and took some photos. The rain had blown off and the sun was out, though it was still misty on the Connemara coast we left behind.

We got to Inis Mor and docked at Kilronan pier about 7 pm. It was a hike up the hill to our B&B. We checked in and then headed all the way back down to town. I forgot about the chickens. One of the buildings we pass was a country music bar; there were always chickens and roosters clucking and cock-a-doodle-dooing as you pass by.

We ended up walking out halfway to the next village to have dinner. The restaurant was geared to tourists, flying the US and Canadian flags, but many locals were enjoying their dinners. We overlooked the strand while we ate our dinners. Afterward, three musicians came with fiddle, guitar and accordian and did a number of songs. We stayed quite a while and enjoyed the music. We walked back in the starlight up the long hill with the sound of the wind in our ears.

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