What I remember most from my first trip to Ireland years ago is the color green—many shades of it, everywhere I looked. After being doused more than once by rain that always seems ready to fall, it didn’t surprise me that there would be so much lush vegetation. What did surprise me, which I learned on our recent trip, is that the Gulf Stream travels all the way up to Ireland, bringing with it year-round mild temperatures as well as lots of rainfall. And that combination results in green grasses and plants everywhere you look.
Connemara, the area we explored during most of our time in western Ireland, is very rugged, isolated, and mountainous. In some places, we drove for miles without seeing anything but green fields that went up the mountainsides and sheep grazing everywhere, at the highest point and even down beside the road. One baby sheep decided to take a little rest in the middle of the road, but as we approached, his mother nudged him up and they trotted out of the way.
On our first touring day, we went to an area known as Leenane (Leenaun), where we saw Ireland’s only fjord. The Atlantic Ocean comes right up to the town, but the tide was out when we were there. We went on to Killary Harbor, which was part of the fjord and stopped at Aasleagh waterfall. We drove underneath St. Patrick’s Mountain and contented ourselves with photos rather than the steep climb that pilgrims undertake every day.
We stopped for lunch in Westport, a town built on Clew Bay and the site of one of the homes of the Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley, of Queen Elizabeth I’s time. (More on the Pirate Queen in a later post). Westport was a charming little town with brightly-painted stores and doors.
After lunch, we started back toward our hotel when our guide pulled off the main highway into a long driveway that led to Delphi Lodge, a stunning little hotel that’s known for its fisheries.
Our guide, Aidan (AJ to his friends), had just met one of the owners of Delphi in a pub a few days before, but his new friend wasn’t there, so the manager—a very friendly, gracious woman—welcomed us. She gave us a quick tour of the hotel and served us tea and coffee with yummy little cookies. By the way, I am not a regular hot tea drinker—I like my tea iced—but the tea I had in Ireland might have converted me. And the quick cup at Delphi Lodge was especially good, I think because it was a surprise.
Delphi Lodge itself is gorgeous, beautifully decorated with stunning views outside. We decided we'd go back and stay there someday, except that none of us likes to fish. Oh well! It was quite an enjoyable little impromptu thing, and we were so glad that AJ took us.
Afterward, we continued toward our hotel but stopped off at Connemara Marble, a factory, museum, and shop that sells items from marble mined in Connemara. AJ knew these owners too, the Joyces, the children of the man who started it. The museum was closed and the factory and store were in the process of closing, but because of AJ, they graciously agreed to stay open for us.
One of the brothers, Ambrose, gave us a short tour of the factory. Their mine is known for dark green marble, but he showed us all the different types of marble in Ireland.
A few minutes into Ambrose’s talk, a bus full of other tourists came in too. Afterward, when we all crowded into the shop, our little group was pleased to see that the Joyces made a good bit of extra money that they wouldn’t have made if we hadn’t shown up. And we bought a few pieces of Ireland that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
Do you like to plan your vacations to the letter, or do you leave room for spontaneity? Have you ever gone "off road" and found beauty there? I'd love to know.
If you'd like to read more about the beauty in Ireland and our trip there, click here.