Exploring Western Ireland in 3 days

On our long weekend in Ireland, people kept telling us we were blessed. “You’re here for the best weather of the year.” We were indeed lucky; our trip was only three days and we had three full days of warm sunshine and deep blue skies. A woman who’d brought her kids to play hide and seek in the ruins of an old stone friary told us that this could be their summer weather – it might not get better than this. Maybe they’d have another spell, but you never knew. People were sitting out along the river in Galway, walking through villages with ice-creams. We even saw a guy jumping into the 10 degrees sea one evening.

We’d arrived in Ireland at Shannon airport with a guidebook full of places we wanted to see, but only three full days to spare, so we asked our hosts along the way what they suggested and their great recommendations ensured we had a wonderful trip. Here’s what we got up to.

Day 1: Driving the Wild Atlantic Way in County Clare

We asked our lovely B&B hostess in Shannon what she suggested for the day, bearing in mind that we should arrive at Galway in the evening, and she gave us a map and marked out the coastal route in County Clare, which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way. Since we were only 2km from Bunratty, she suggested stopping there first to see the castle and then heading via Ennis in the direction of Kilkee and onward to Loophead, where there is a lighthouse.

So first stop, Bunratty, where we wandered over to look at the castle. There’s a folk museum there that sounds great, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to fit it into our schedule, because there’s a lot to see there. It’s a pity we didn’t pop over the night before, as apparently there was a trad (traditional music) party in Bunratty. Next time we’ll be sure to place it high on our itinerary.

Blackbirds were busily flying around making nests

Time for nest-making

We then headed north. Our hostess also suggested stopping for a look at Dromoland castle and we tried but got confused with all the roundabouts and kept missing it. We did however do an accidental drive through a lovely section of countryside, along a road in between stone walls. This was actually one of my favourite parts of the trip because it was so unexpected.

For sale…

Driving through the countryside

Sunny Ireland

We continued to the coast, stopping first at Loophead lighthouse. The lighthouse was closed but we took a walk along the top of the cliffs. The billowing sea-breeze, the long green grass, the cries of seagulls, the ocean breaking below and the majestic cliffs made for an enjoyable walk.

Seems Irish dancing comes naturally when you’re in Ireland

It was to be a day of cliff walks and fresh sea air. We made our way around the coast, stopping every now and then for photos or a wander. One of the recommended stopping points was the bridges of Ross, where there used to be three stone arches, but now there is apparently only one (although somehow I did not see it, maybe I was at the wrong angle).

We stopped in the village of Doonbeg for a late sandwich lunch, where we met a friendly Irish couple and had a chat next to the ruins of the Doonbeg castle, which gives the village its name as “Dun Beag” means “the small fort”. What remains is just the north-west corner of the fort.

Not far out of Doonbeg, we came across an impressive building which turned out to be the Trump golf estate and hotel, go figure. Apparently he has run into opposition with the locals for, er… trying to build a wall around it on the beach side. We stopped for a walk on the nearby beach.

It was getting late, and time to head to the Cliffs of Moher before sunset. These iconic cliffs are definitely worth seeing for their height  and grandeur and the lovely pathways you can walk along as you gaze down into the blue Atlantic. The sun began to go down as we were there and we entered the golden hour – it would have been great to stay and watch the sunset, but we had to reach Galway by 8pm.

Eventually we made it to Galway by 8:20pm, after a scenic drive that took us through the limestone hills of the Burren at sunset and twilight. Our very friendly hostess told us that if we were tired we could have a meal at the hotel restaurant across the road, and to hurry as most places would stop serving food soon. Luckily we got there in time, and had fish and chips. After all the sea air we were too tired to go in to Galway, especially as we had to be up early the next morning to catch a ferry to the Aran islands, the place I was most excited to see.

Day 2: The Aran islands

We got up and had a delicious breakfast at the guesthouse: my husband had the Irish breakfast which is similar to English breakfast but with the addition of black and white pudding, and I had pancakes with blueberries, syrup and bacon as well as some homemade bread and butter. After telling us we’d picked the best day of the year (weatherwise) to go to the Aran islands, our hostess told us the best route to drive to the ferry port, which would take us through part of scenic Connemara, which contains Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht region. Gaeltacht is the Irish word for any Irish (Gaeilge) speaking region, which includes the Aran islands. The drive was breathtakingly beautiful and totally unlike the emerald green Ireland you see in pictures, with vast open areas of windswept grass and mountains in the background. As we drew closer to the coast, many stone walls started to appear, built stone upon stone and marking off areas where people had their cows, sheep or Connemara ponies.

When we got to the port, the girl in front of us in the queue to fetch ferry tickets spoke Irish to the ticket lady,  which gave us all the more a feeling of suddenly being in another land. We’d heard and read that the ferry ride could be quite rough, but as our B&B hostess had assured us, in such fine weather it was not a problem at all. Even in such weather there swells though, so I can imagine in bad weather it might be quite a rollercoaster.

Upon arriving on Inis Mór, the biggest of the Aran islands, we went to the bike rental place right next to the port. There were hundreds of bikes, so we needn’t have worried about hurrying there. After choosing our bikes, we set off for a ride around the island with the map that the bicycle rental company had given us when boarding the ferry.

It seemed like we had the whole day ahead of us and plenty of time to see everything, but in the end we were enjoyed meandering around so much and talking to all the cows, sheep and ponies that we missed some of the sights on the map. We started off riding to the nearer side of the island and taking a walk up to the ruins of a St Benan’s church. When we started up the grassy path we began pushing our bicycles, but then a neighbour told us we could just leave them there, no problem, and sure enough they did not disappear (in Berlin if you leave your bike unlocked you’re likely never to see it again, although I did hide mine in a bush for a few hours once when the lock was broken).

Afterwards, we rode our bikes to the black fort (or to be more accurate, rode up until the path got very rocky and then pushed the bikes). Standing on top of the cliffs with the long drop down to the Atlantic was amazing. We then headed back down to the central area near the port and as we were hungry after biking and walking, we stopped for lunch, tucking into some very good lamb stew.

After lunch we realized time was really getting on, and headed off to the bigger part of the island in the direction of Dun Aonghasa, which is considered the most important site on the island. The ride itself was great, all along the coast and past stone walls and fields. I even finally met a real life My Little Pony (in reality a Connemara pony) who stood eagerly at the wall to say hello.

Dun Aonghasa is an ancient fort, with a network of defensive stones surrounding three walls around around a platform right on the edge of a high cliff, upon which there used to be houses. Artifacts from the Late Bronze age were found on the site, showing that the island has been inhabited since ancient times.We had to hurry at Dun Aonghasa to make sure that we got back to the ferry at 5, but it was an awesome moment standing on the rock platform at the edge of the high cliffs.

In the end we made it back to the ferry on time and it was a relaxing ride back to the ferry port. We then decided to drive to Galway for dinner. We walked around the town a bit, which was very lively because everyone was outside sitting by the river due to the good weather. Later we went to eat at a seafood restaurant opposite a beach, then headed to the restaurant/bar across the road from our B&B to try some local whiskey before bed.

 

 

Day 3: Connemara

Lured by the beauty of the scenery we’d see the day before when driving to the port, we decided to go back to Connemara, and followed our B&B hostess’s suggestion of driving a ring route. She gave us a pamphlet of a map, recommending we visit Kylemore Abbey, and so we set off for the last day’s adventures. The ring route was absolutely beautiful Irish scenery, through countryside and little lanes with a viewpoint of some islands on the lake, then moving into Connemara park with mountains, lakes and sheep. We saw lots of lambs bouncing around, as it was spring. We did a lot of oohing and aahing over the lakes and mountains before reaching Kylemore Abbey.

Kylemore Abbey itself was very interesting. It had a somewhat tragic history as a man had built it intending to spend the rest of his life there with his wife and family, but she died young after contracting dysentery on a trip to Egypt. Later the Abbey was bought by nuns, and then finally became a school. The school closed only recently in 2010, and it was interesting to read the stories of the schoolgirls. We also visited the Victorian garden and the Gothic church.

On our map, one point on the map was marked “Killer Sheep”. We didn’t find the exact spot (which might have been Killary sheep farm), but we did see lots of sheep that looked like they’d been paintballed (a splash of paint is probably a good way to tell your sheep apart from your neighbour’s).

The view of the lakes were great. At some point we left the mountainous area and found ourselves back in more populated countryside, with green fields and country lanes.

We stopped in a place called Cong for lunch and I was thrilled to find that they had a salad on the menu with Cashel blue cheese in it, since that was something from the guidebook I’d been wanting to try. It seemed like a nice town and there were also some impressive buildings to see, but we had to be on our way as we were heading to Dublin that evening.

After doing a bit of a U-turn to look for a stone circle near the road that we’d missed, we continued our journey onto Ross Errilly Friary. This huge, medieval Franciscan friary without a roof is an incredible building to come across in the middle of the countryside. The friary was attacked multiple times by the English, but every time the persevering monks kept coming back.

After this it was time to say goodbye to western Ireland and head off to Dublin, where we would stay for the night before flying back to Berlin the next day.

…and off to Dublin

Thank you Ireland, for a lovely visit!

 

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