OUR IRELAND ADVENTURES
December, 2001
 



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Ireland, December 2001

      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.


Anne Kavanagh


Imp's dam, Ballyorney Diamond

     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.


King's Master

     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'!
     Our 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. 
     The 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 house

     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 Galway

      For several years, Jineen and I have wanted to visit Connemara.  Usually 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 easier climates.


Connemara

     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.


Connemara ponies

     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.      


Ballynahinch Castle

     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 castle.  

     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.   


Clifden Castle

     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!   


Kylemore Abby


Lough Fee

     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.  


Dunguaire Castle

     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!


    



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