Posted by: mdmusingsie | July 12, 2010

Connemara

Like I mentioned, Mother Nature has her own schedule and won’t be pigeon-holed by a meteorologist, website, or computer generated forecast, so when I woke up Sunday morning and the sun was shining in a mostly blue sky, I decided I needed an adventure.  I awoke too late to get the 10:30 ferry to the Aran’s and didn’t think I’d have enough time to spend there if I took the 1 pm, so I chose the Connemara and Cong tour.

Oddly enough, I lived only about 6 km from Cong for a month, yet had no idea there was an ancient cairn (Ballynagibbon Cairn) and a stone circle (Glebe Stone Circle) just minutes from my dwelling – I had to take a tour to find out.  How many people live their entire lives in a place, yet never really know what’s around them?  Countless times I’ve been on holiday and will tell a local where I’m going or where I’ve been and they inform me that they’ve never been to visit this or that particular attraction.  Therefore, my advice is no matter how long you’ve lived somewhere, take a tour of the area once in a while – you just might discover some amazing sites you didn’t know existed.

As with all things, in my life anyway, there’s always a “gotcha” and on this particular one, the downside to the two aforementioned sites was that we only stopped the bus briefly to stare at them through not-quite-as-clean-as-they-should-be, windows.  No chance to get out and explore.  Too bad I didn’t know they were there two months ago when I had plenty of time to visit, photograph, and revel in the history and magic.

It’s interesting which stops we did make for photo ops, and I wonder if it varies from driver to driver – it might be interesting to find out some day.  We couldn’t stop and explore the two sites above which I would have been most interested in, yet we stopped for a 15 minute photo op of Lough Corrib and another of a Connemara pony and her foal, neither of which were on the itinerary.  There were other, more picturesque stops we could have made as well including the Inagh valley and The Quiet Man Bridge, yet merely drove by. 

Now that’s not to say the tour was poor, because we did stop for some breathtaking views overlooking Lough Nafooey.  Michael O’Malley, the driver, did mention that one of the back roads we were on was busier than normal as there had been a fatal car accident in Leenane and traffic was being diverted onto this lesser used route as a result, which may have slowed us down.

The main stop on the tour was Kylemore Castle.  Most of you will know this as Kylemore Abbey, but it was a Castle and a residence long before it was an Abbey, so, as is my prerogative and preference, I will stick to the former name. Besides, the history of the Castle is much more romantic as it was built by Mitchell Henry for his wife Margaret and their children, and when she died after contracting a fever in Egypt, he couldn’t bear to bury her underground and built a Mausoleum instead.  Although he lived nearly 40 years longer than his wife, he never re-married.  I guess I’m just a sucker for stories of faithful love (especially if they involve castles).

The last time I was on a tour bus we only had a photo op of Kylemore as it was a girl’s boarding school and they didn’t allow tours.  As it turns out, 2010 was the last school year as the number of nuns had dwindled and they have now decided a tourist attraction is likely more profitable (and at €12 entrance fee, only €7 because we were with Galway Tours, they are likely to make significantly more). 

I didn’t make it up to the gardens as the tours seldom leave you time for everything, but did get to wander as much of the castle as they had open (only half a dozen rooms on the main floor), and some of the grounds.  I must say I’m a bit surprised the nuns didn’t cover up some of the wood carvings and fireplace mantles, but they must be a slightly more progressive order that isn’t offended by partially nude sculptures.  It appeared some renovations were happening in what was likely the dorm area, so hopefully more of the castle will be available to explore in the future.

There is a lovely walking trail that winds along Kylemore Lake down to the Neo-Gothic Church Mitchell Henry built after his wife’s death, on to her Mausoleum, and beyond.  There are several little waterfalls along the tree covered lane, making it an ideal place for relaxation and meditation.

Of course, I can’t leave this without throwing in my little observation that, for people who are supposedly sworn to lives of poverty, the nuns of Kylemore as well as all the monks in the friaries scattered around Ireland, certainly seemed to live (or lived) much more comfortably than the native inhabitants.  My blog = my opinion 😉

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