The last time I was in Galway for a hot second, we didn’t get to see much of the surrounding area so I was excited to see more of the famous rugged landscape of the western coast of Ireland.
Before coming to Ireland, my sister and I booked a two-day tour pass with Lally Tours that included one day in Connemara and another day on the Aran Islands, one of my favorite places in the world. So on our second morning in our chic Salthill condo, we woke up and had breakfast before driving into Galway at the bus pick-up location. We boarded the bus with a random assortment of strangers and hit the road for an all-day tour of Connemara.
Our guide told us that the landscape is mostly comprised of rocks and peat bog from which the locals get their fuel. They literally cut out chunks of peat from the ground, let it dry outside for several weeks and then burn it.
Our first stop of the day was Leenane Village and it looked oddly familiar. Had I been here before?
Well actually yes, yes I had!
Last year my Shamrocker bus tour stopped here the day we left Galway and headed north to Northern Ireland. I was dreadfully hung-over after a long night out so it’s no surprise I did not remember much of this place. This is what I said about my previous stop at Leenane Village:
“Our first stop of the day was a picturesque cafe nestled in a stunning fjord for the best Irish coffees in all of Ireland, or so we were told. In the early morning, the fjord was shrouded in mist like straight out of a Viking myth. Carina and I ordered regular coffees in the dark wooden pub, not quite ready for whiskey before 10am. Bleh.”
The village and Killary Fjord looked much the same a year later, still green but maybe a bit less misty. Gaynor’s pub also looked exactly the same, full of sleepy locals and lost travelers ordering hot coffee at the bar. What a surprise blast from the past! Back on the bus we headed west instead of heading north like we did a year ago. This time we were headed to an extraordinary abbey built in the distant mountains. Sounds like the Sound of Music right? I wish.
We drove along the fjord for several miles before reaching a large lake. After driving through some quite bumpy terrain and several herds of lost sheep, we rounded a corner and were all struck speechless. At the other end of a smooth mountain lake was a beautiful stone abbey reflecting in perfect symmetry against a majestic green backdrop. WOW.
This moment of wonder passed quickly as 5o people simultaneously leapt from their seats and crowded the windows, raising their iphones, ipads and chunky cameras to snap the exact same photo. Another beautiful moment ruined thanks to technology. But who am I, a fellow tourist with a camera on a tour bus, to complain?
Look at this ceiling! Gorgeous.
Kylemore Abbey is a diamond in the rough, a 19th century abbey originally built by Mitchell Henry as a gift to his wife, Margaret. We walked through the epic home turned abbey, marveling at this ode to a man’s love for his wife who died too young. But the most amazing part of Kylemore is not the abbey, but the grounds.
We walked along a paved path draped in lush trees and greenery along the lake, a pleasant stroll that brought us to the base of a miniature Gothic Church in the forest. Now I love churches and love to sit inside them and pray to the gorgeous architecture and say hello to my grandparents. Plus it’s a miniature church, how cute is that?
I could walk around Ireland all day, everyday and just drown in greenery. It is my favorite thing about this country and it continues to amaze me with each trip I take here. This is why Ireland is definitely in my top three places in the world.
On the way back to Galway, we enjoyed a few beers in an Spidéal, a coastal town just beyond the rocky boulders that dominate Connemara, and took the time to walk over the spongy bogland and the beautiful wildflowers dispersed among the peat. We also drove through several traditional Irish speaking villages. Gaelic is still spoken in Connemara and families are actually given an allowance if their children learn the language. It is a tradition that has held the culture intact and made Connemara one of the last remaining places in Ireland where you can still hear Gaelic spoken as effortlessly as English.
I was pleasantly surprised by our tour of Connemara and sincerely enjoyed exploring this area that I had passed by the year before. The rocky landscape full of giant boulders is truly a sight to behold. But the best was yet to come as we prepared to return to my favorite place in Ireland… the Aran Islands.
Just catching up? Don’t miss anything…
Ireland Day 1: Back in Ireland… Hurling and History in Galway