I had the greater part of Monday to explore Galway and its surrounding county, Connemare. I was very lucky to have good weather and relatively clear skies. I decided to keep things as simple as possible by signing up for a tour rather than try to do things myself.
The main things that I wanted to see in County Connemare and County Clare were the Kylemore Abbey and Cliffs of Moher (pronounced "more"), respectively. Each site, in turn, was spectacular in its own way.
The Abbey is actively run today by nuns and serves as both a boarding school for girls and the headquarters of the Benedictine nuns of Ireland. When it was first built, it served as the manor home of a British family of great wealth. It later passed to the Duke of Manchester, but his gambling and unwillingness to invest in upkeep caused the beautiful castle to fall into disrepair. In 1914, the Benedictine nuns were forced out of their home in the Netherlands by German shelling and were given refuge here at the Abbey.
Not only is the home beautiful, but the grounds are astounding. The Abbey is faced by a
beautiful lake. And behind the Abbey are forests, striking mountains, and a fastidiously maintained Victorian Garden.
The county where Galway and Kylemore Abbey reside is known as Connemare (cohn-a-mar). It's beautiful and lush, with rather rocky soil. The local farmers have built up "drywalls" for generations to mark the borders of their land and to get the rocks out of the soil so they could till it. The green of the landscape and the gently rolling hills had me pining for Tennessee is short time. I can see now why the early Scotch/Irish inhabitants of TN liked it so much. It surely must've reminded them of home. Even our very common field walls are nearly identical to what you'd find in Ireland.
Another striking site south of Connemare County are the famous Cliffs of Moher, which are unlike anything else I've ever seen. They rise up about 700 ft in some places and face the western sea - the Atlantic. You can almost feel the wind on your face just looking at the picture. :^)
Another feature you would see in the country side were dramatic, roofless stone cottages. These are all vestiges of the old Irish Potato Famine of 1840.
Evidently, the English and Scottish landlords would give the tenants a few chances to make their rent and if they failed to make their rent, the bailiffs would as a final measure pull of the sod or thatch roofs of the cottages so that the homes would become unliveable. In the decade of the Potato Famine, Ireland's population declined from 9 million to about 2 million. It is only in the last decade or two that population has grown to anything near the levels prior to the famine.
More to come in the next entry!