Going to Galway & Mystical Newgrange
Galway, a fair-sized harbor city on the west coast of Ireland, boasts the usual castle, cathedral, and old town square, but my favorite spot was in the winding lanes of the Latin Quarter, amidst portions of medieval walls, where a vibrant Irish music scene lives in the pubs as well as out on the streets. Galway is also home of the original makers of the famous Claddagh Ring, two hands holding a heart with a crown, symbolizing friendship, love, and loyalty.
My first full day was spent visiting the nearby Aran Islands (Islands of Saints and Scholars), where you’ll hear locals speak Irish as well as English. It was rainy and gray on the ferry, so instead of renting a bike or a horse-drawn carriage, I opted for the warmer, albeit less romantic, mini-van tour.
A hole appeared in the clouds, and blue sky and sun appeared, but I was still glad I caught the van as the ride was long and hilly, on narrow winding roads. The driver dropped us off at the site of Dun Aonghasa for a twenty minute climb up to an ancient Celtic fort – 3000 years old. We had plenty of time to explore the ruins…
…check out the quaint shops nearby selling Aran wool sweaters and Celtic jewelry, and eat lunch in the cosy cafe. When the rain made a reappearance, I was really glad I didn’t have to hop on a bike to get back.
Waiting for the ferry, I decided to try a shot of Irish whiskey, an attempt to warm up a bit, at a bar appropriately called “The Bar.” An old Irish man with a hearing aid started talking to me, mostly America-bashing, how we’re responsible for many of the ills in the world, getting into wars when it’s none of our business, messing up the world economy for our own gain. He seemed a bit surprised when I kept agreeing with him.
Pastoral countryside is woven with stone fences, and wind whips across the surrounding blue sea. Rain and sun trade places faster than you can count the cows in the pasture.
Another day, it was off to Connemara, a beautiful drive despite gloomy skies, and very different from other parts of the Wild Atlantic Way – without cliffs, less dramatic, but replaced by scenic beaches…
…and fields of colorful wildflowers.
There is plenty to do if you have more time to linger.
A little further on, I discovered Kylemore Abbey and Gardens. The Abbey used to be a castle, built by a wealthy man for his beloved wife. Tragically, she died in Egypt from dysentery only four years after the house was built, leaving behind a grieving husband and nine children. It was sold to a Duke and Duchess, but the Duke is said to have gambled it away. Eventually it was purchased by Benedictine nuns and an International Girls School was opened. The school has since closed, but the nuns are still there, lending a note of serenity.
Flowers in the large walled garden brightened the day, and added their perfume to scents of damp earth and wet grass.
Back in Galway that night, I wondered how dancers could move their feet so fast at Trad on the Prom, and listened to fiddles and flutes and bagpipes. (No pics allowed inside, you’ll have to go see for yourself!)
My last day in Ireland, I went looking for mystical Knowth and Newgrange, Neolithic passage graves and ancient monuments that are older than Stonehenge, older than the pyramids of Egypt. We were allowed to climb on top of Knowth, the largest mound (dated between 2500 and 2000 BC), which is surrounded by seventeen smaller satellite tombs. More than a third of all examples of megalithic art in Western Europe, over 200 decorated stones, are contained at Knowth (60% if you count the art at all of Bru na Boinne, the entire UNESCO World Heritage Site).
While Knowth was gray and cold, the sun came out and the sky turned blue at Newgrange, accenting the ancient carved spirals of this tomb dated at 3000 to 2500 BC. It was classified originally as a passage tomb, but is now also considered an Ancient Temple, a place of spiritual, religious and astrological importance. We were allowed to go inside of the chamber, where on December 21st, winter solstice, the sun perfectly aligns with the “roof-box” to send a beam of light back to the end of the tomb, illuminating the whole room. So high is the demand to be one of the few allowed in on the solstice, that a free lottery is held every year. It’s pretty amazing engineering for 5000 years ago, and impossible to describe the goose-bumpy feeling you get at this Stone Age monument.
Lest you grow hungry on your wanderings, there are plenty of small towns and villages to slake your thirst and fill your belly with hearty pub fare, such as Carringford, a little medieval coastal town anchored with a ruined castle, built in the 1200’s. Just outside of town, I slipped into Fitzpatrick’s for a tasty fish pie, surrounded by walls of antiques.
The Wild Atlantic Way continues much farther, up into Northern Ireland, but alas, it’s time to leave the Emerald Isle. Stay tuned for a visit soon to scenic Scotland…