Ireland - Galway - Rainclouds over Connemara
Jul 13, 2004
|Spending another long day on the bus, I travelled southwest from Enniskillen to Galway. I was back in the Republic of Ireland again, and would stay there now for the rest of my time in Ireland.
Galway is a bustling little city known for its good restaurants, pubs and weekend nightlife. Its streets are narrow and filled with lots of interesting shops and historic buildings. People come from far and wide to attend the Galway Arts Festival, which happened to be on while I was in town.
The rain that had started up north in Glencolmkille apparently followed me down to Galway, and it was absolutely pouring down the whole time I was there. Didn't give me the best first impression of Galway, and so much for sightseeing or attending any outdoor festival events which were mainly outdoors.
Despite the weather, I decided to venture out to do a little sightseeing of the Connemara area, a wild and barren region in the northwest corner of County Galway. The day actually started out promising, overcast but dry ... unfortunately that only lasted until mid morning at which time a light mist rolled in and then another full-fledged rainshower followed.
Connemara isn't much more than an area of bogland. Bog, or peat as it's also called, is soil formed from partially decomposed vegetation piled up in waterlogged areas over thousands of years. The soil contains no minerals, so crops and plants don't grow. It does, however, have a fantastic form of preservation and archaeologists have found many well preserved animal and human remains and artifacts that long ago disappeared in one of the many deep sink holes. For some reason peat also stores energy and the Irish have used it as a fuel/heating source for centuries. Whiskey drinkers in the crowd would also know that peat fires are used to dry the barley for the whiskey making process, giving whiskey that smokey taste.
At first one wonders why anyone would want to live in the Connemara area. The land is rugged and rocky, very desolate and barren. Only minimal color - purple heather and white bog cotton - breaks up the bleak grey landscape which is dotted with lots of sheep, lots of rocks and not much else. But there's also a raw beauty to the land, sort of like nature and its elements at its best and worst.
Wild ponies have lived in Connemara for 2,000 years, but they must have been staying warm and dry in their little pony houses because they certainly didn't come out to say hello or smile for the camera.
Gypsies and Romanies, original descendents from Irish royalty, have also lived here for centuries, moving from place to place like vagabonds in their caravans. They now have their own ethnic minority status in Ireland, which has made them more accepted although not more trusted. We were warned to stay away or at least "beware of their thievin' ways"!
Because of its isolation, Connemara is a "Gaeltacht" area, where Irish or Gaelic remains the first language of communication. Street signs are either written in both English/Irish or just Irish which can be a bit confusing. We passed numerous groups of children dragging their little feet and wearing long faces as they made their way to summer school where they would spend 2-3 weeks learning Irish. These schools are very strict, run by nuns and priests, and children must speak only Irish all day. They're punished or sent home in shame if caught speaking any English.
Now, our tour guide was wonderful, very humorous and informative, and we had tons of fun. But the mist and rain caused zero visibility so the sightseeing was a total bust. We passed many scenic bays ... couldn't see any of them. We drove to the top of mountains that usually host breathtaking views of nearby islands ... couldn't see past our noses. We drove beside Ireland's only Fjord ... couldn't see a damn thing. We should have seen old fishing villages, spectacular valleys, picturesque mountains, green marble factories, waterfalls and wonderful coastlines ... but the rain kept falling!
The rain did let up briefly and allowed us to grab a quick tour around Kylemore Abbey, a 19th century neo-gothic abbey in a beautiful valley setting. But that was one of the few times we ventured out of the warm, dry vehicle.
I would've loved to see more of the views on the tour. But you just can't do anything about the weather. I also would've loved to snoop around Galway and take in some festival events. But again nature didn't cooperate. Oh well, there's always next time.