On the 13:25 #51 bus from Ennis bound for Galway, I enjoyed the 80 minutes as we passed from County Clare into County Galway. With only a slight incline and active commercial streets, it was about 4-5 blocks to walk to The Western Hotel. I was able to check in and move my gear to room 324.
A Whiskey Walking Tour was on my agenda for 4:30, so I asked for directions, and wound up following them heading in the wrong direction about a half mile. The problem was the emails I’d received had an old mailing address, while I needed to be down in the heart of the tourist/business district, and the text messages didn’t say where – just a Maps link to the wrong place. After a phone call (leaving voice mail), I received a text with a street address. Getting there 20 minutes early, I spotted another gentleman who appeared to be waiting, and we confirmed we’d be on the tour together. Chatting up while waiting on Anais, I learned that Joe was originally from New Orleans, but now lived with his physician wife in Columbia, her native country.
Anais took us into McCambridge’s, the food market we’d waited in front of and upstairs to observe street traffic while we sampled three beverages: Slane Irish Whiskey, triple casked; Micil Irish Poitín; and Longueville House Irish Apple Brandy. The first was true whiskey, while the second could be called moonshine. The third was obviously a distillate, brandy.
Onward to O’Connells, a woman-owned-and-run pub that had expanded into neighboring spaces and was a truly happening place. We got settled into a snug and were offered tastes of Roe & Co’s Killahora blended Irish whiskey and Micil’s Inverin small batch Irish whiskey; the first from Dublin, the other being local to Galway.
Back onto the streets, we moved closer to the water (Galway has the River Corrib running through it, which joins the manmade harbor and Lough Atalia where they spill into the Atlantic.) The destination: Galway City Distillery, which is a new bar/meeting space as well as a gin distillery.
We were offered a pair of gin cocktails and a brief tour of the blending classroom (a la my experience in Belfast.) Leaving, we were met with a brief shower (yes, it is Ireland, after all) as we headed to M.R. Walsh, a public house and my favorite of the four venues. Three whiskeys here, we started with the Lambay, which had a cognac barrel finish; Tullamore D.E.W., a triple blend. Finally Powers Swallow, which was my favorite of the tour.
Between our host and Joe, I was talked into trying from one of the bar’s special collection of Irish whiskeys – a Redbreast 27 year old (at 65€). Needless to point out, I walked out smiling.
When I got back to the room, I discovered I’d lost the AC power converter I’d had for at least half the trip. Fortunately, the front desk had one I could use. The card key was required for the lights and outlets to work, so I wasn’t able to charge the camera battery or phone when I headed out to dinner. Having viewed the options in the tourist district, I found Restaurant Venice off on a side street and was able to get a table at a busy time.
Warm goat cheese salad was my starter, accompanied by a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – Il Giaggio NV and a carafe of water. I finished the wine after my main, Tagliatelle alla Calabrese. The cheese in the salad had been breaded and grilled, albeit not much arugula on the plate; the walnuts were tasty. It took two passes for me to get enough grated parmesan cheese on my pasta – hey, it’s a Cook family thing, you have pasta with your cheese! And for dessert a chocolate fondant, which was tasty, but not hot as I’d expected. All in all, a decent meal
Under the weather from over indulging the booze, after a rough night “sleeping” I was up early and headed back towards the train station where I’d arrived by bus. That bus depot was not the coach station where I should board the bus to Loughrea. Except the direct bus left at 9:45 (and it was just after 8am), so I jumped on the #706 bus eastward to Ballinasloe (on the River Suck, near the border to County Roscommon.) Getting off across from the Portinuncula Hospital, I had a wait before the #763 backtracked southwest to Loughrea. I had arrived in time to attend Mass at St Brendan’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.
With a single bell tower spire on the southeast side providing one of two entrances, the sun shone as cars arrived filling the front parking area. The high wooden vault curved over the nave and crossing, continuing to the curved wooden half-bowl in the apse. Behind the altar, the walls of the sanctuary were paneled with several colors of marble, with tall paired lights depicting New Testament scenes (Annunciation, Gethsemane, Resurrection.) The stained-glass windows in the nave depicted saints, labeled in Irish, in stunningly beautiful colors. This continued in the two large windows in the transepts. Turning toward the entry, a wall of rich red-hued wood framed a screen of glass below the organ loft and its pipes. The capitals over the red marble columns have been carved to depict stories, similar to what I’ve seen in cloisters of many monasteries and abbeys.
Once I’d finished inside, I walked the grounds, getting the profile shot (above) in brilliant sunlight. Across from the gate was a glimpse of Lough Rea, the lake giving the town its name. Heading to the bus stop, the return bus to Galway was 15 minutes late. As I had a tight connection for my next leg, I was anxious, and further confounded to find that I had to head to the “other” bus station to head to Tuam. The #52 bus dropped me in town on Bishop Street, and I headed first towards the Roman Catholic cathedral.
Two blocks off the central axis of Tuam, the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary sits on flat ground, its tall square tower providing a central entrance. As it was 2pm, I expected the building to be locked, but was pleased to be able to enter. Gray ribbed columns support the ribbed white plaster of the vault, including nice bosses. The gray is carried to the organ loft over the entry screen. The windows of the side aisles held mainly “Swedish glass” – colourless – with exceptions nearer the crossing. The altar table is placed up raised steps at the crossing, closer to the worshipers than if it had been in the quire or apse. The tabernacle is behind the altar, backed by freestanding panels in front of (and partially blocking) a large stained-glass window.
As I was taking pictures, members of the parish began filtering in. Speaking with a priest, I learned that they were gathering to welcome the new archbishop (prior to his elevation). I had another cathedral in Tuam to visit, so I headed outside and walked around the building. Described as the “sister cathedral”, I walked the quarter mile to the Cathedral Church of St Mary, the Church of Ireland seat. Coming into the churchyard from High Street, through a break in the high stone walls and established trees, I found St Mary’s to be large and built with dark wet stone surrounded by gravel parking.
The building was locked, but a note on the front door promised an Autumn Festival to begin at 4pm. My itinerary had me returning to Galway after 5pm, so I found a spot to sit under tree cover and waited. Eventually, several women arrived to finish the preparations, and were pleased to allow me inside. Third cathedral on the site, this being built in the mid-late nineteenth century, it incorporates elements of the first, with the second becoming the Synod Hall. The Tuam High Cross has been moved inside, to the transept. Neo-Gothic in the nave, the Hiberno-Romanesque is preserved in the sanctuary. I guess I’m a sucker for these old magnificent (now under-used) houses of prayer, but this building was just so calming and spiritual, particularly in the quire and up to the altar.
With the service preparations underway, I saw a pile of peat alongside baskets of vegetables. This was probably the first time I’d seen this fuel, and here it was during my last days in Ireland. Heading back into town, I stopped for a blondie and a vitamin-enriched smoothie. The bus came along on time and I was back in Galway in less than an hour. As it was Sunday, I took my chances and headed over to the RC Cathedral of St Nicholas and Our Lady Assumed into Heaven (Ard-Eaglais Mhaighdean na Deastógála agus Naomh Nioclás).
Situated along the River Corrib, its footprint is the traditional cruciform, but on a north-south axis. Its oxidized copper roofing, including a large dome over a lantern, overlooks the Salmon Weir Bridge and downtown.
With the dome and lantern at the crossing, the altar table sits below it on a raised platform behind a carved stone altar rail, with seating in the four arms. Built from 1958 and completed in 1965 (on the site of the old city prison), it is relatively very modern in appearance. A degree of opulence shines through the slightly abstract stained-glass and mosaics. The walls are finished cut stone, which I found beautiful albeit a contrast to some of the rougher interior walls I’d seen on this trip. This was my last active cathedral in Ireland, so I lingered until ushers began moving visitors to the doors for closing.
Following the river south to O’Briens Bridge, I saw the Anglican Saint Nicholas’ Collegiate Church. As Galway had only been a small fishing village at the time of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the church in Britain (of which Ireland was then a part), Galway was not a city, and therefore didn’t merit a cathedral. But St Nicholas’ dated to the fourteenth century, had been visited by Christopher Columbus and Oliver Cromwell, and deserved a visit. Unfortunately, an event had been scheduled, and admittance was barred.
Wandering the streets, I took a few shots of folks out enjoying the evening, the riverfront and canal, and some statues and buildings. Returning to the hotel, I decided to have dinner there. With a Smithwick red, I started with a chicken Caesar, followed by a braised lamb shank, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted carrots and a port and rosemary gravy. The salad was a salad, but it was roughage and green. The lamb was tasty, but too much food. I collected a glass with ice and tonic and headed to the room where I updated my notes, backed up the camera, and started charging batteries.
Anticipating a 9am pickup, I was up and received a call at 8:30 from Elva, my ToursByLocals guide. She advised she would be by in 25 minutes, and, due to lack of parking options near the hotel, suggested I be out front. Easy to do, I was out the door, ready for her arrival. Heading south on the N67, we stopped briefly to observe the Dunguaire Castle, sitting on a spit of land in Galway Bay. A historic destination, tours and fine dining are offered in season at this restored sixteenth century castle.
We continued on through Kilvarra town, where Elva lives, and continued south on the L4508 across the Burren to the site of Kilmacduagh Monastery and the ruins of St Colman’s Cathedral.
For about half an hour under cloudy skies I climbed through doorways and over graves as I explored the remains of several buildings including the cathedral. The footprint indicated it was of good size, and the arches were solid. The round tower looked intact, but climbers were not allowed.
Getting back underway, Elva drove for about an hour to north of Galway and the town of Annaghdown, which is on the Lough Corrib. Down a very rustic road along the waterfront, we found two sets of ruins. I was looking for the cathedral that had been part of the abbey. Guessing, we started with the buildings down the turnoff from “main road”. Besides an abbey, there had been a priory/nunnery, and we eventually surmised that the first set we had visited was the nunnery.
Heading back to the corner, climbing through several ruined buildings, I finally discovered a sign indicating we’d found the ruins of the cathedral. (In fact, alongside, the footprint of a round tower was similarly marked.)
Dedicated to St Brendan, the Annaghdown Cathedral appeared to be shorter and narrower than St Colman’s which we’d seen earlier. As both sites had been sacred grounds, there were newer (nineteenth and twentieth century) grave markers. And both appear to not have had the care and attention of the former monastery site to the south. Carefully stacked piles of stones, however, are evidence of an effort to preserve pending interest and funds.
Having spent about 40 minutes hunting for and finding the cathedral ruins, Elva proposed to continue north into County Mayo to the site of the Cong Abbey. Passing through town, we saw a statue of John Wayne with Maureen O’Hara in his arms from The Quiet Man, John Ford’s 1951 movie filmed in Cong. Alongside, a monument to world peace included a pair of hands holding the globe, surrounded by pairs of handprints.
The Cong Abbey grounds are well maintained, an obvious stopping point along The Wild Atlantic Way.
We spent about a quarter hour there, then drove a half hour to the Ross Errilly Friary. Built much later, this Franciscan site is in impressive condition, with its square tower guarding over the grounds. I obviously enjoyed myself there, as a fifth of the pictures I took that day were taken during the half hour we were there.
On our way back to Galway Elva was kind enough to stop to allow me to get another thumb drive. The “hard drive backup” for my nightly photo sessions, I’d max’d out the storage on my Chromebook, and needed to offload earlier photos. Once that purchased, we headed to the Kettle Café where Elva produced a tourist map of the entire Ireland, and we checked to see if I’d managed to visit all 32 counties.
I had, but only one, County Laois, had I not seen a cathedral or stayed overnight. (I’d changed trains in Portlaoise. In Carlow, I’d been just across River Barrow, the border.) [While Elva gave me the map, it was pilfered from the package I mailed in Philadelphia, along with other items.] My lunch consisted of a tuna melt and a smoothie.
After being dropped at the hotel, I backed up the day’s photos once I’d moved three weeks of photos (Iceland, Scotland, Northern Ireland) to the new backup thumb drive. Using a newly acquired AC converter, I started charging batteries. Wanting to time my walk down the hill to the coach station for my morning’s ride, I walked it and, on my circuit, found A. Púcán, and Irish pub just around the corner from my lodgings. Starting with a small order of Jamaican Black Barrel BBQ chicken wings and a Galway Hooker ruby ale (brewed there), I checked out the whiskey offerings and enjoyed the trio plunking two guitars and a banjo and singing away. For my main, “The Sheriff”, an 8oz beef burger: toasted brioche bun, Cashel blue cheese, mayonnaise, spicy chorizo, mixed leaves and sweet potato fries. Yes, I risked trying another burger, which followed the Irish habit of being well done. Plus I think that there’s less fat in the burgers there, and there’s the fear of BSE in “undercooked” meat contributing to this pattern. And, because it was my last night in Ireland, I had one final Guinness. And I was happy to tip the musicians as I left.
Up ahead of the alarm and checked out in 25 minutes, I was able to board the 8am nonstop bus to Dublin Airport. With 12-15 passengers, there was plenty of space, and the driver was excellent in providing a smooth ride lasting less than 3 hours. Overcast and wet outside, for once I didn’t spend the whole ride gazing out the window. With the phone plugged into a USB port, it stayed charged and I was able to begin plowing through the backlog of author emails that had accumulated.
At the airport, I was able to get a boarding pass easily, but my luggage kicked me out of the self-automated kiosk process and I had to see an agent. At 27kg, I was overweight, but it was waived once I swapped the toiletry kit for dirty laundry in the large roller and moved the reader and Chromebook to my carry on. Security was tedious – I had to remove all the electronics which had to be screened separately, and I had to take the blasted web belt off. Once cleared, it was into Duty Free, which the merchants have cleverly set up as a maze or obstacle course, passing too much that I don’t need. I checked at the VAT counter to learn that I hadn’t spent enough on goods I was carrying out of country. At the currency exchange, I traded in the $40 worth of Icelandic krónur, first for euros and then, with my Euro coins, for pounds sterling.
With a flight to Douglas (Isle of Man) leaving at three thirty, and being cleared and began waiting at noon, I decided that lunch was in order. The Fallow Restaurant at the airport wasn’t too crowded, and I was seated at a table. With a Guinness (one more while in Ireland, please) and Hugh Maguire sausages and colcannon, I relaxed and journaled. Just after three Aer Lingus moved us through the gate and down onto two buses. (36 passengers plus 4 tardy, one with limited mobility) Out onto the tarmac, loading that wheelchair took extra time, but we were moving to the runway only 10 minutes behind schedule and in the air in another 10. An ATR75, the seating was pairs on both sides for 18 rows with 2 crew (Amy and David) and 2 pilots. Flying time was announced (only in English) as 30 minutes at 11K, and the weather was broken clouds.