Part 6:  Ireland… County Clare, Galway and Kylemore Abbey!

So on sunday morning we took our last tube journey back to Heathrow.  A rather intense 1 hour flight felt twice as long, with Jac being unable to take the calming drugs as she was driving the rental car.  Rescue Remedy, as we learned, does not cut it when you are 30,000 feet up where you don’t want to be.  That one hour without drugs really did bring it home to me the level of strength Jac had to agree to this holiday.  How she found the guts to get on the first plane in Wellington, knowing she had all those flights in front of her.  Talk about feel the fear and do it anyway!  And yeahy for the inventor of sedatives… I do not think either of us would not have made it past sydney without those little white pills!

It was with great relief that we landed at Dublin Airport.  We queued up and were soon through immigration, then queued up and waited for our bags.  Once we’d loaded our trolly and made it through the exit it was only slightly amusing to discover we’d been on the ground longer than we’d been in the air!!

We had no trouble finding the budget rental car desk, where we were awarded with our car keys and our new best friend Garmen, our GPS.  We were told it was pretty easy to use, which of course meant an hour later, a trip back into the terminal to get the exact address of our hostel, and another trip back to the terminal to work out the even moe exact address for the hostel, and finally Garmen had laid out the way to Lisdoonvarna!  We were off!

Errrm.  No we weren’t.  First we had to work out how to turn the damn car on!!
We were looking for buttons or secret hidden switches.  Perhaps there was a password “open seseme”.. “ I love westlife” … “Ireland should have been in the world cup”… but none of them worked.  So instead we waved down a friendly passing budget rental car employee who kindly advised us that we needed to push down on the clutch at the same time we turn the key! and whaaa-laaa… the gentle brrrm brrrming of our VW polo serendaded our ears!

This time we were off!  All roads leading to County Clare.
Jac, Chelle and Garmen… off on an Irish adventure… the radio tuned to rte2, Garmen’s gentle voice directing us to turn left. in. 4. hundred. metres. and to enter roundabout, take 3rd exit.

The roads across Ireland from Dublin to Galway were fantastic.  Wide lanes, easy driving, well sign posted, and even though at some point we and Garmen ended up on different roads, and Garmen was often trying to join us up to bridges that we were driving underneath, we were always heading in the same direction.

Eventually Garmen got with the party, and met up with us outside Galway, as we skirted around the city and headed out into the County Claire… wide highways giving way to idyllic country lanes.  Stone walls and rolling grass hills, farm houses dotted about, sheep and cows having a mid afternoon lie down.  We zipped around a corner and stumbled upon our first castle, Dunguaire Castle, so we stopped and took photo’s (proper tourists we were now – photo’s of castles!!),  then travelled on into The Burren, winding our way up through picturesque villages, oblivious to the drizzle as the beauty of the countryside lay a silver lining on any grey sky.

Garmen did us proud, and we were soon parked up outside Sleepzone The Burren, which in a past life must have been the Carrigann Hotel (so the sign at the front said). It was a slightly surreal feeling having left the hustle and bustle and noise of London city, and a few hours later to be standing in the hushed reception area of a building that is a strange mix of hotel and backpackers.  We happily soaked in our surroundings as our host attempted to get his eftpos terminal to work, rolls of white paper making loops around his feet like white party streemers.  In the end we settled on a hand written receipt and were escorted down to our room.  Bunks, a tv AND OUR OWN BATHROOM!  It was a little chilly but we got hardy and decamped to the dining room, which in another life must have been the hotels restaurant.  We made ourselves cups of tea and partook of the free wifi to finish and send off Jac’s reading assignment.  Thats right – Running Records all the way from Lisdoonvarna!!  Nothing like meeting a deadline from the otherside of the world!

In celebration we took ourselves out into the chilly night for a spot of dinner at the Irish Arms.  There appeared to be one man doing the job of 4, serving the locals at the bar, as well as the mix of dinner eaters at the tables.  We had a lovely comfortable corner booth where we ate our dinner and happily watched the TV up on the wall that told us all about the Gaelic Football scores (at least I think that what it was).  We watched the peoplecome and go, tourist accents mingling with locals… one chap looking remarkabley like Santa Claus in his red wet weather gears and his white bushy beard.  In fact I’m pretty sure I saw him again the next day at the Cliffs of Maher.

We snuggled down in our jarmies (and trackies and hoodies and 2 pairs of socks!!).  It might have been a bit nippy but the peace and quiet of the country must have been just what we needed – we slept the best we had in a wee!
We dined on toast and banana’s washed down with cups of tea and coffee.  After a quick skype call home, we did a bit of hair washing in the sink – after discovering the aforementioned shower was more of a steady dribble, that would probably have see us with hypothermia before we’d reached for the soap!

We were soon off – zipping through country lanes and out to the coast where we parted with our 8 euros to park our car (yep – 16 NZ Dollars to park!), and were soon snapping pic’s and enjoying the scenery, even if it was a little blustery!
The drive back to Galway along the coast was fantastic.  We stopped to clamber out over the limestone rock and take pictures by stone walls.  We met some rather large cows along the way who weren’t in the least bit bothered by the cars on their road!

We stopped for lunch at The Tea Junction for tea and toasted sandwiches, before driving on to Galway for the next 2 nights.
In Galway we stayed the the Travelodge, which was a 10 minute walk from the centre Eyre Square.  We welcomed a fully functional bathroom, and set about filling up the bath and washing our socks and undies and necessary items!!  We enjoyed pottering around the cobblestone square, poking on and out of shops.  Of course we will forever be grateful to Galway, for it was here Jac worked into the wee hours of the morning on her maths assignment, which we later learned had given her an A-!!!  While Jac worked, I made use of the facilities, discovering a penchant of the fizzy drink ‘lilt’ – pineapple and grapefruit… which is apparently only sold in the UK & Ireland (damn it), and found I still had a fondness for Ant and Dec as they worked through the finalists on Britians Got Talent. Then of course there’s Simon.  That little wink he gives just turns me to jelly.

The next day, after finally managing to get the Maths assignment sent off, we celebrated the fact that all assignments were now complete with a trip out to Conemarra and a visit to the beautiful Kylemore Abbey.
Once again Garmen lead the way, and it turned out she had her own idea of the best route to the Abbey… which happened to be the scenic one!  We turned right as Garmen directed, and soon ended up in the middle of no where.  A small country lane with sheep meandering on either side, the road (i use that term loosely, more like a sort of stony lane) meandering up and down, winding towards – well we actually had no idea!  Eventually the country side gave way to a few farmhouses, and just around the corner, then another corner, a hill or 2 and another corner or 2, we joined back up with the main road and the sign posts confirmed we were at Kylemore Abbey!!  Since then Jac has read her Lonely Planet Guide, the one we might have left on the bookcase at home rather than packed in our bags (yep that’s right we remembered the GHD’s but we forgot the Lonely Planet… go figure!!) that apparently the road we were on is one of the most traditional scenic drives in Ireland!  And the big feck off Mountains that we couldn’t figure out are actually called the 12 Bens!  So we may have been in the wrong place, but we were actually in the right place all along!

Kylemore Abbey was beautiful.  We lunched in the tearooms before wondering through the lower rooms of the building (there are only 3 or 4 spaces open to the public), soaking up the history and incredible lives that the building and its occupants had lived.  Kylemore Abbey started as a country estate, a castle that was also a family home and it was incredibly easy to imagine the children playing by the shores of the lough, the excitement of watching a horse and cart wind its way towards the family home. I wondered if the vastness of their home filled it’s owners and occupiers with the same level of wonder and awe it did its visitors now.  I tried to imagine the adventures and stories and secrets that the walls of the Castle will hold forever.

In 1920 Kylemore Castle was purchased by Benedictine Nuns and became an Abbey, and it is hard not to feel the love and care and peace that their presence brings to the beauty of the Castle and its surrounds.

It is a place I am determined to return to, especially since we didn’t have time to walk down to thegardens (their usual shuttle transport was broken and we had to press on back towards Dublin).
To travel half way around the world, to fight the hustle and bustle of cities and to navigate roads unknown to places unheard of is daunting.  But to end up in a place of such enchanting beauty and history is magical, and makes it all worthwhile.

From Kylemore we bravely ignored Garmens advice and stuck to the main road, winding our way out of Connemara, back to Galway and once Garmen got with the program we pressed onwards across the island to our accommodation for the night in Navan, about an hour out of Dublin.

Our hotel which claimed to be 3 star, turned out to be rather swish after our hosteling experiences.  It was far superior to any 3 star experience I’ve had before.  Ornate furniture and plush bedspreads, hushed marble lobby’s with squishy sofa’s welcomed us.  We arrived late and around 10pm had what I think would be referred to as ‘supper’ in the hotel restaurant, complete with regal high backed chairs, large linen napkins, and lots of shiney silverware.  The chicken cesar salad was large and delicious and the service excellent and we were soon tucked up in bed, Dublin city only a few hours away.

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