Jineen and I just returned from a great
vacation in Ireland. Here
is an account of the trip we took and the fun we had!
We left Washington Dulles in the afternoon, and changing
planes in Boston, we flew overnight on Aer Lingus.
When we were on the plane, and the flight attendants were
coming by with the Duty Free Shopping cart, we decided that was
just what we were for the week.
Duty Free! No
duties, no worries, just planning to have a great time.
We arrived in Dublin at 5:45 in the morning.
After renting a car and fighting Dublin traffic, we drove
south over some very small but beautiful roads (with names like
The Devil's Elbow) to arrive in Enniskerry.
Here we met Anne Kavanagh, the breeder of my horse
Enniskerry Imp. It
was absolutely terrific to finally meet her, as we had
corresponded by e-mail, and she is a super lady.
She showed us around her beautiful farm, Enniskerry is a
really lovely area near the Wicklow Mountains.
We saw Imp's mother, Anne's grand old mare Ballyorney
Diamond. I now know
where Imp gets his thick winter coat!
We enjoyed seeing some of Imp's younger relatives as well,
and Anne gave us a fabulous home cooked Irish breakfast.
We enjoyed our visit with Anne and her family immensely.
Imp's dam, Ballyorney
Next we drove through the Wicklow Mountains across to
Carlow, where we went to see Master Imp, who is the sire of both
Enniskerry Imp and the young horse I bought in Ireland this past
summer, Given Wings (a.k.a. Flier).
Master Imp is absolutely beautiful.
When they turned him out in the paddock, he was one of the
most incredible movers I had ever seen.
In all, there are six stallions at stud there, and we also
fell in love with King's Master, a magnificent stallion who is a
son of Master Imp. Much
thanks to Barbara Hatton for showing us her lovely horses.
We then drove to Cashel, trying to keep up a constant
stream of conversation to stay awake, after almost 36 hours
without sleep by this point.
No matter how many times I see it, the sight of the Rock of
Cashel, the huge twelfth century castle that sits on a hilltop
overlooking the town, is an awesome sight.
Arriving in the dark, it is lit up like something out of a
fairy tale. We stayed
the first several nights at the Dualla House, a beautiful
200-year-old house that is run as a B&B.
Originally, Jineen and I had planned this trip as a
vacation, rather than a horse buying trip. Then several of our Irish horses were sold shortly before the
trip, so we decided to spend two days looking at horses, and to
tour around Ireland the rest of the time.
Besides, we couldn't have a vacation in Ireland without
looking at some horses! So
the next morning, we went to see horses at Shane Breen's.
Shane is a very talented jumper rider, and holds the world
record for Indoor Bareback High Jump.
Several years ago, he jumped a 7 foot 3 inch wall without a
saddle! Shane showed
us a number of horses, but the one I liked best was a big bay
gelding that has quite a lot of experience in Jumper shows, in
fact he has won quite a good class at the Dublin Horse Show! Shane jumped him over some big fences, nearly five feet.
I felt the horse is exceptional, and I bought him.
His name is 'Hello Money'!
I am not quite sure about that name, but oh well; I guess
it's better than 'Goodbye Money'!
friend Clare took us around to see horses at quite a number of
stables over the two days, she had arranged a very nice selection
for us to see. One of
the highlights was visiting Chris and Sue Ryan. They have a lovely old house and stable yard, and always a
nice selection of horses. Chris
hunts the hounds for the famous Scarteen Black and Tans foxhunt.
Ryan's had a horse I really liked a lot, a very classy
four-year-old bay gelding, green but talented.
I decided he better come home with me as well.
So I ended up purchasing two horses over the two days, and
I think they are a couple of the nicest ones I have ever found!
Chris and Sue Ryan's
One of the things Jineen and I really enjoy about Ireland
is the pubs.
In general, the food is good, the atmosphere is classic,
and the people are friendly.
Every tiny town has at least two.
We had a great dinner in Hannigans one night, a popular pub
in Cashel, and partied well in to the night, somewhat to our
regret the next morning.
The next day, Friday, we stopped by Cahir to check on the
prepurchase vet exam on the horses, and then headed up to Galway,
in route to Connemara. We
took a scenic route through the countryside, in a deliberate
attempt to avoid the town of Limerick.
We ALWAYS get lost in Limerick.
Normally, when we travel to Ireland, we go through Limerick
on our way to the airport, and we have never yet succeeded in
doing it without getting lost. We try to follow those little airplane signs that point you
towards the airport. It
always starts off all right, but then when we get into the middle
of the city somewhere, and it is a pretty good size city, we come
to an intersection that has two sets of those little
airplane/airport signs, pointing in opposite directions.
We have followed both sets of directions on various
occasions, and both take you around in circles, loops, zigzags and
convoluted routes until you are totally disoriented, then they
leave you at some major busy intersection with no signs at all for
either the airport or the road you wish to take, leaving you to
muddle our way out of the city.
There is apparently a direct and sensible route through
Limerick that the locals use, but even though people have given us
explicit directions, we have so far been unable to find it.
A Gypsy pony we saw
along the roadside
As we got near Galway, we started seeing the amazing
stonewalls that are everywhere in that area.
The ground is fairly rocky, so all of the fences are made
of stone, including the paddocks. It is beautiful. You
will see this huge green field, with half a dozen walls running
across it, you just want to gallop across it and jump those
stonewalls on a good hunter.
In fact, I have done just that, several years ago when I
foxhunted with the Galway hounds. One of the many things I find so beautiful about Ireland is
how green it is, all year round.
Even in winter, the fields are lush and green.
That is why they call it the Emerald Isle.
The stonewalls of
For several years, Jineen and I have wanted to visit
when we come, we are quite busy looking at horses, which is of
course a lot of fun in itself, but we donít have much time to
just travel around. So
we decided that this time, we would take a few days to explore
Connemara, without having an agenda or timetable, just go where
our noses take us and find lodging wherever we end up.
You know, Duty Free! It
was a blast!
We reached Connemara in the afternoon.
I had heard it described as bleak, and that is indeed an
accurate description, but I do not mean that at all in a negative
way. It IS bleak, and
wild, and windswept, and in many parts barren, but it has a unique
and wild beauty to it, and the land itself seems to have a soul
and a spirit all its own. We
loved the area; it was remote, diverse, and always lovely.
The terrain and scenery would be quite different from one
area to the next.
We started out by driving alongside a huge body of water
called Lough Corrib, and up to Oughterard.
We then took a narrow winding lane through the hills and
mountains to the south coast.
We passed through a large area that was totally
uninhabited, with fields of stone, rocky cliffs, and huge
boulder-strewn peat bogs, where they harvest the peat to burn in
the fires that heat their homes. Hardly any trees grew here, I guess the ground was too rocky
and at times the weather and wind would be severe.
There were no houses or people, but we did see sheep, they
live out in this wild country.
We would see them along the side of the road grazing, and
often right in the road itself!
The drive across this remote area was breathtaking, I think
of it as the real essence of Connemara.
At the same time, I think in this area, it would be very
difficult for a farmer to make a living off of the land.
That is why so many of the people have immigrated away to
As we got nearer the coast, we started seeing occasional
houses and cottages again. We
also saw quite a few Connemara ponies. They would be in stone paddocks along side the road, in
peoples back yards, or tethered by their cottages.
They are very sturdy ponies, small of size, with enormously
warm thick coats in the winter.
You read in the books on horse breeds that the Connemara
ponies were developed to withstand the rugged terrain of the
mountains of Connemara, but you donít really appreciate what
that means until you have been there.
They are turned out for the winter to fend for themselves
on rough rocky barren mountainsides where my horses, if they ever
set foot there, would immediately both starve to death and break
all of their legs off.
By the time we reached the coast it was dark, as the days
are very short this time of year. Because Ireland is so far north, it does not get fully light
until nearly nine oíclock in the morning, and starts getting
dark again well before four in the afternoon.
The sun moves across the sky instead of up, and never gets
very high in the winter, but the twilight at dawn and sunset lasts
for hours, the sun rises and goes down very slowly.
We spend the night in the coastal town of Spiddle, on the
Galway Bay, where we had a good seafood dinner and enjoyed live
traditional Irish music at a pub.
In the morning, we drove along the coast from Spiddle, past
Carraroe, up to Screeb, and across to Derryrush.
We passed through a number of small fishing villages.
There were stonewalls everywhere, and rugged fields of
almost solid rock, even right in the villages.
We saw many small cottage type houses, often with ponies
and sheep right beside them.
We saw the Aran Islands in the bay from a distance,
apparently they are quite a famous tourist destination, but none
of the locals we asked could tell us what there was to do out
there on them! We
found that many of the people in this area still speak Irish, a
form of Gaelic, as their first language.
From Derryrush, we went across inland to Cashel (no
relation to the Cashel in Tipperary). There were great saltwater inlets, tidal, and connected to
the Bay, that reached up into the mountains.
We saw beautiful wild swans on these waterways.
As we got more into the mountains, we saw many lakes and
streams, there always seemed to be a body of water nearby.
We saw very steep and rugged rocky cliff faces, and we were
surprised to see sheep grazing high up on the slopes.
They were on areas that were so steep you would not expect
them to even be able to stand up, and seemingly unaffected by the
heights, they would run and frolic along these precipices.
We watched a man with a sheepdog herding them down from the
heights at one point. We
also saw many sheepdogs, probably border collies. They
use them to work the sheep, but we also saw many in towns as pets.
We came into an area of the mountains that was extremely
beautiful. It was a
little less rocky and bleak here, with many trees growing, and
some huge evergreen forests.
We went up and saw Ballynahinch Castle, which is a huge and
lovely old castle that has been turned into a four-star hotel.
This castle dates back to the days of the OíFlaherty
clan. Below it is a
salmon stream that runs from the castle lake.
We then drove down past Toombeola, and around the coast
road to Roundstone. This
is a really lovely little town right on the shore.
There are some nice shops, and lots of fishing boats.
We ate lunch in a pub that boasts having the best seafood
chowder in Ireland. Unfortunately,
I could not try any, because it is made with mussels, which seem
to be quite prevalent in that area, and I am extremely allergic to
them. But Jineen said
it was delicious!
Outside Roundstone, we saw a beautiful old castle by the
water. We talked to a
man who runs pony trekking on the beach; we wanted to see his
ponies, but of course they were turned out for the winter.
He told us that they go behind this grand castle for
shelter when the weather turns severe.
A castle like that here in American would be a major
tourist attraction, there they have so many of them that they use
them for shelter for the ponies!
We followed the coastline around to Clifden. We passed an
area where the Atlantic comes right to the shore, unimpeded by
islands, and we watched the waves crashing against the rocks.
From Clifden, we drove north as the sun was getting low in
the sky. We were just
getting on the Sky Road, so called because of its beautiful views
of the bay, when we had the most amazing adventure.
We looked back, and saw from a distance this fabulous
castle, sitting on a hillside in a green pasture, overlooking the
water. There was a roadway winding up the hill from it, and two
children were galloping their ponies up the road away from the
We turned the car around and went back to look for that
roadway, in hopes that we could drive down closer to it, and
perhaps be able to go up near it.
We did indeed find the road, though upon closer inspection,
it turned out to be more of a track, with stone in the tire ruts,
and mud in between. We
drove down it, winding down the fairly steep hillside, as the
track got narrower and narrower, and the surface wetter and
wetter. We were
worried about getting stuck, but our intrepid little rental car
seemed to be handling it valiantly.
After going over a half a mile down this little lane, we
came around the corner, and the castle was there in front of us!
Unfortunately, there was also a huge lake of a puddle there
in front of us, which proved to be too deep for the rental car to
cross, and absolutely no place to turn around!
We decided to leave that little problem for later, so we
put on our rubber boots, and set out to explore the castle.
The castle was just incredible.
It was fairly large, in quite good shape, and absolutely
beautiful. I just
love the castles of Ireland, and this was one of the finest I have
ever been in. It was
really the highlight of my trip.
Part of what made it so special was that we just sort of
found it, out in the middle of a pasture!
It was made of stone, and had many rooms, which you could
go down in, as could the cows and sheep that lived in the pasture.
It had no roof, but most of the internal walls were still
intact. We later
learned that it is called Clifden Castle, and is relatively new as
castles go, only about 250 years old.
The feeling I got being there I cannot describe.
I wanted to BE those children on those ponies.
I wanted to be a kid again, and live there, and ride my
pony and play in that castle.
And I wanted to travel back in time and see that castle
when it was first built and people lived in it, and see what life
was like back then.
Down below the castle, there was an old stable yard, with a
large courtyard. Many
of the stalls were still intact, and the cows had made paths right
through the courtyard. Ornamental
trees still clung to the stone walls, and you could envision a
super game of hide and seek there!
As it was rapidly growing darker, we reluctantly left the
castle, and set about the challenge of extracting our brave little
car from the middy lane. Although
some of the water had drained out of the puddle, after wading
around in it, parts of it still reached mid-calf, and we deemed it
to dangerous to try to drive through it.
We might make it, but if we didnít, we would be really
screwed! So that left
us no choice but to back up!
With me driving and Jineen hanging out the window
directing, we backed over a half a mile, up the hill, through the
mud, around the bends, and through that narrow little stonewall
lined lane. It went
fairly smoothly for the first half, I went slow and steady, with
Jineen calling out directions like, ďover towards you more, now
straighten it out, now over towards me a bit, now turn a bit more,
no, not that much, now straight back, but avoid that rock,Ē etc.
But we started to notice a strange smell, which grew
stronger and stronger. It
prompted me to ask Jineen if she thought we were on fire, about
then smoke started rolling out from under the hood.
We had burned out the clutch on our poor little rental car!
After letting it cool for a while, we set out again, but
now I had to avoid using the clutch. Unfortunately, riding the clutch was the only way I could
keep our speed slow enough to be accurate, so when I would let it
out, we would lurch backwards as a much faster speed, trying madly
to make the steering adjustments before hitting the walls!
Eventually, we did manage to back all of the way out to the
road where we could turn around, by then it was fairly dark. We felt quite pleased with ourselves, and declared it quite
an Excellent Adventure!
We followed the high Sky Road again, watching the last of
the sunset. It was a
beautiful view of a bay far below, we enjoyed the pastel colors of
dusk. We drove on to
Letterfrack, a little concerned that we were missing lovely
scenery in the dark. When
we got there, we could not find a decent place to stay, as most of
the B&Bs were closed for the winter, so we ended up driving
back to Clifden, where we found an excellent guesthouse, and had a
very good dinner.
In the morning, we got and early start, and were glad we
were repeating the road we had passed over in the dark, because it
really was beautiful. And
we had another clear lovely sunny day!
The landscape in that area is dominated by a row of
mountain peaks known as The Twelve Pins.
It is a range of a dozen individual peaks, quite pointed in
most cases. Very
spectacular! I drove
a bit carefully, trying to avoid using the clutch except when
strictly necessary, because after yesterdays adventure it still
smelled quite bad, especially if I had to shift gears often!
We stopped by to see the Kylemore Abbey, a huge old abbey
that now is a private girls school run by the Benedictine nuns.
It sits by a huge lake called Lough Fee, and the wind coming across
the water made waves in the surface, it was almost strong enough to
knock you over!
We then drove past Killary Harbour, which is on a huge long
finger of water that reaches from the sea.
It is really beautiful in this area; we were now in the
Maumturk Mountains. It
is less bleak here, with lots of fir trees, and steep rugged
mountainsides with sheep. We
went past Aasleagh, and turned north towards Louisburgh, on the
northern border of Connemara. As we were driving along enjoying
the clear sunny morning, we noticed on our right huge dense clouds
of something that looked like smoke billowing out of one of the
narrow valleys that reached up into the mountains.
We noticed a small side road heading toward it (side roads
are not all that common in many of these areas!), so we decided to
go investigate. We
thought perhaps there was some kind of factory emitting smoke, as
unlikely as that seemed in this area, or perhaps a large fire.
We drove up this little lane, which continued to get
narrower. This made
me a bit nervous after the escapades of the day before, I didnít
think our valiant little rental carís clutch could take a lot
more backing up! After
several miles, we came to a house and farm at the end of the lane,
but as we reached it, we were completely enveloped by this huge
dense cloud of what turned out to be the thickest mist I have ever
seen. It was really
eerie, because on a clear day with no other mist or fog in sight,
this dense cloud was just radiating from this little farm. You could hardly see ten feet, and you could smell the mist,
and feel the cool dampness of it all around you.
When we drove out of it again, it was once again warm and
sunny, with no sign of fog, but you could still see this dense
cloud billowing from where this little farm was.
It seemed magical. I
think fairies must live there.
At Louisburgh, we turned east towards Westport, along the
edge of the Clew Bay, and then south again, to complete a large
loop back past the Partry Mountains, to Aasleagh and Leenane.
We followed a really scenic road south along the side of a
huge long lake called Lough Inagh, with the Maumturk Mountains on
our left and the Twelve Pins on our right.
When we got to Recess, we headed east again, and back to
Galway, bidding farewell to Connemara.
We had been quite lucky with the weather, but just as we
were driving towards Galway, a heavy dense fog rolled in, making
it impossible to see the scenery at all.
This made us realize just how lucky we had been!
And our luck continued, because as we passed out of
Connemara and drove around to the south side of the Galway Bay, we
came out into brilliant sunshine again! We really enjoyed our travels through the Connemara area; it
certainly lived up to our expectations.
It is very beautiful and very diverse, and we felt like we
explored every corner of it!
Once we were past Galway, the countryside was back to what
we are used to in Ireland. There
were still plenty of small mountains in this area, but with bigger
towns and more roads and people, and it was very lush and green.
We drove through Kinvarra, where we stopped to admire the
Dunguaire Castle, a small useful type of castle right on the
water, with swans around it.
We followed the coastal road along the Galway Bay, just as
the sun was going down. We
saw sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, sheep (of course), and lots of
small castles dotting the countryside.
We finished our sightseeing journey at the Cliffs of Moher,
just as the sunset (remember, it takes a long time for the sun to
set here). They were
spectacular! We stood
on a high cliff, over 300 feet above the ocean.
There was an old castle high up on the top of the cliff to
the right, to our left were fabulous views of the cliffs, sheer
and vertical, and the open ocean was in front of us.
The surf crashed against the bottom of the cliffs, and the
wind whipped over the top of the cliffs where we were standing
like a gale force. We stood there until it was almost fully dark, a great way to
end our holiday. We
drove to Ennis to spend the night.
The Cliffs of Moher
We had arranged with the vet who did the exam on the horses
that we would call him Sunday night, to find out where we could
pick up the x-rays. We
didnít want to drive all the way back to Cashel, so he said he
would courier them to somewhere near the airport, and we could
then pick them up. We
called to find out where they were, and of course, you guessed it,
he had sent them to Limerick!
Remember, Limerick is where we always get lost.
So much for our plans to avoid it on this trip!
(Actually, it turned out that he had sent them to a hotel
on the airport side of Limerick, so in the end we were able to get
them without difficulty.)
We then went to Shannon Airport to fly home.
The end of our Duty Free!
But what a great trip!