The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher

My last night in Galway. Also, the end of my second week of vacation.

Today I was on a tour through the Burren and to the Cliffs of Moher, with the Galway Tour Company. I cannot say enough good things about the tour company. Yesterday, Mike took me into Connemara, and today Gary took me into the Burren. Both drivers acted as guides, and were fun, funny, knowledgable, and friendly. Both days, we stopped at little, out-of-the-way spots that seemed almost like local secrets, as well as hitting the big tourist areas. These drivers went above and beyond to make sure we all had a good time, and they seem to be indicative of the type of people working for Galway Tour Company.

In short, if you want a tour in this area, these are the people you need to talk to. They’re awesome. So, thanks, Gary and Mike!

The Burren is a rocky, mountainous expanse. Now, I said the same thing about Connemara and the Ring of Kerry, but burren means rocky place in Irish, and it’s something of an understatement.

This is the kind of terrain you get in the Burren. Worn, eroded limestone with small patches of soil and greenery threaded through it.
The road twists through the area. This bit is between a small cliff on one side, and fields leading down to larger cliffs above Galway Bay.
The rock pushes through the soil all over the place here. It makes the coastline a little treacherous, but very scenic.
And, of course, the dry stone fences are everywhere – even here.
One of our stops heading into the Burren was Castle Dunguaire. There are castles and tower houses all over the area – they are so frequent that most tours only stop at one, otherwise you’d never get anywhere.
There are also a lot of swans around. These were in the water by Dunguaire Castle.
We also stopped at an earthen ring fort. The walls were about four feet high, and used to be about two feet higher. The interior was maybe a hundred feet across.
In the middle of the ring fort is a whitethorn tree – another Fairy Tree, complete with the offering cloths tied to the branches.
Ring forts were always built on hills, giving a commanding view of the surrounding area. The trees have grown up over the years, but you can still see a goodly distance over the walls.
This is the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a prehistoric burial site. It’s also one of the most photographed sites in the Burren, so I figured I’d add my efforts to the mix. Also, it’s very cool.
Here’s another view of the dolmen. Up until just a few years ago, visitors were allowed to walk right up to the dolmen, but an act of vandalism resulted in the site being roped off, and a guard posted 24/7. Still, you can get pretty close.
There’s an old, half-collapsed cathedral in Kilfenora. They’ve restored part of it, and put a glass roof over another part, where they’ve placed some old celtic crosses and markers.
We stopped for lunch in the little village of Doolin, a centre for traditional music in Ireland.
And the centre for traditional music in Doolin is Gus O’Connor’s Pub, where we had lunch. There was no live session at the time, but there were some very good recordings playing.
Cliffs of Moher was next. The visitor centre is dug right into the hillside, which I thought was kind of cool.
The trail leads about 8 km from O’Brien’s Tower to Hag’s Head. We started closer to O’Brien’s Tower, so that’s the way I went.
Here’s a shot looking south towards Hag’s Head. It’s hard to appreciate the scale of the cliffs in the pictures – keep in mind that these were used as the model for the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride.
Here’s a shot looking north from O’Brien’s Tower.
This is a shot of the length of the cliffs from the top of O’Brien’s Tower
Here’s a shot of O’Brien’s Tower, since I’ve been talking about. It was completely restored in the 1970s.
And, just because some of my friends have asked for this, and Garry was amenable, here’s a picture of me standing on the edge of Galway Bay. See? I really AM in Ireland.

So, that was today. Tomorrow, I get on the bus for about six hours, heading to Derry/Londonderry. I’ve got about one week left in Ireland, and I mean to make the most of it.

Connemara Tour

This morning was my bus tour of Connemara. It was raining pretty hard when we started, and the first couple of places we stopped I was very happy for my Tilley hat and good hiking shoes.

Connemara is, like the Ring of Kerry, very striking scenery on the west coast of Ireland – mountainous, cut with hundreds of tiny streams and several large loughs. The roads are narrow and winding, and there are a lot1 sheep wandering up and down the mountains.

Our first stop was Ross Errilly Friary, which I am told is the best-preserved building of its age and type in Europe. It was still raining, so the pictures aren’t great.

The roof and the floors were timber, and so are gone – the friars abandoned the site just about three hundred years ago, after living here for four hundred years previously. Only the stone remains.
Since it was abandoned, the site has been used as a burial site. The ruins are full of crypts like these, and the floor is tiled with grave markers.
The tower still stands, but you can’t climb up the stairs in it for safety reasons. The bells and bell-pulls are long gone.
The cloister in the middle of the friary, where the monks would read and meditate. It’s surrounded by a walking path, where the monks would walk laps for exercise.

After the Friary, it was on to the village of Cong, where the 1951 John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara movie The Quiet Man was shot. It was still raining, so I didn’t get to see as much as I might have liked, but I did see a little.

Here is the hotel and bar that feature in the movie. The hotel apparently didn’t exist when the film was made, but was added later, and the bar was not a bar at the time of filming. It was turned into a bar afterwards, though.
The narrow, hilly, rainy street of Cong.

We moved on into Connemara itself, then, up through the mountain passes.

Little farms cling to the sides of mountains, above the loughs.
Lough Nafooey (yes, that’s its real name) apparently has a lake monster in it. I didn’t see one.
More farms on the mountainside.
The fields of the farms are divided by dry stone fences. These don’t use any mortar or cement; it’s just rocks fitted together.
This is a Fairy Tree above Killary Fjord. It’s a whitethorn tree that people tie little bits of cloth to in order to attract the good fairies when a child is sick.
When the song talks about “running like the devil from the excise man in the hills of Connemara,” these are the hills they mean.

Our stop for lunch was Kylemore Abbey, where we stayed for two hours. There was a lot to see, and the rain had stopped by this point.

Kylemore Abbey was build at the foot of a mountain, on the edge of a lough, as a stately home for Mitchell Henry and his wife in the mid-1800s.
Here’s a better look just at the building.
Here’s what you see standing on the court in front of the main door into the abbey.

Three rooms have been opened to the public by the Benedictine Nuns who ran the abbey as a school until a couple of years ago. These have been restored to the way they would have looked in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

This is the great hall.
Here’s the front parlour.
And this is the dining room.

Past the abbey is a nice walk through the woods to the gothic church2 and the mausoleum3. The woods are similar to the ones around where I live, but much wetter.

Thick moss coats everything because of the damp. I started getting moss growing on my shoes just in the time it took to take the picture.
Many little streams run down the mountainside to the lough. This one is big enough to have a bridge over it.
The church was built as a cathedral in miniature, inspired by St. Stephen’s at Westminster.
The interior of the church is also beautiful.
Margaret Henry’s mausoleum.

Up the other direction from the abbey is one of the largest walled Victorian gardens in the world. Much of it was still in bloom, even at the end of September.

This is the formal garden area.
The nearer part of the garden is vegetables, while the gardens in the background are a continuation of the formal gardens.

On the way back to Galway, we made one more stop.

This cottage was built as a replica of John Wayne’s cottage in The Quiet Man. It’s not really anywhere near Cong, as far as I can tell.

It was a nice trip, with a lot of stunning scenery. The guide, Mike, was both knowledgable and friendly, and really added to the day by taking us to see some little-known scenic spots4.

Tomorrow, I’m back with the same tour company5 to tour the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. I’m looking forward to it.

  1. No, really a lot! []
  2. Gothic in style, not in age. It was built around 1877. []
  3. Where Margaret Henry, wife of Mitchell Henry, is interred. She died in 1874, and both the church and the mausoleum were erected in her memory. []
  4. Also to meet Joseph, the Connemara pony, and some sheep dogs he knows. []
  5. Galway Tour Company. They’re good. []


I’m a little over half-way through my trip, and made it to Galway today. I’ve spent a lot of the last several days on buses, and when I got to Galway, I just didn’t have the energy to go out and take a bus tour of the city. I’ve got two bus tours in the next two days, so I decided that I would take some time to relax this afternoon1, and just take a walk around the area by my hotel to see what I could see.

I picked the Jury’s Inn in Galway because of its location, and that turned out to be a great choice. It’s right on the edge of the medieval section of the city, and perfect for taking a stroll around with a camera.

This is outside the front door of my hotel. The mix of buildings – dark stone with bright colours – is typical of Galway. At least, this area of it.
Turn right out my door, and you can look at the far side, where Claddagh and Salthill start.
Turn a little farther right, and the Fisheries Tower sits just across the bridge over the channel.
The arch on the left is Spanish Arch, running through the remains of the old city wall. The one on the right is Blind Arch; it doesn’t actually penetrate the wall.
Here’s the far side of Spanish Arch, looking along the length of the remaining city wall.
Just past Spanish Arch is a row of medieval buildings, some of which are still in use.
The buildings tend to be Georgian and Victorian, but the twisting street layout and stones are medieval. It’s a neat place to wander.
More of the twisty, turny streets. These are closed to vehicular traffic, so I wouldn’t have got to see them on the bus tour.
And just down one alleyway, you find St. Nicholas Church jumping out at you.
Thomas Dillon and Sons jewellers. They are apparently the original makers of Claddagh rings.
According to legend, the pub here was granted to the man who executed James II. According to the web site for the pub, it’s a little more complicated than that.
Eyre Square, the park in the middle of the city. Very full of people during rush hour.
Eyre Square is ringed by buildings like these.
This is the doorway of the Browne family house, moved here in 1905 from Abbeygate Road. I have no idea what the significance of any of that is, but it’s a neat little monument.

So, after taking a couple of hours to walk around and see stuff, I came back to the hotel for dinner, and to give them a bag of dirty laundry to the front desk – I am out of clean shirts, but that will be fixed by tomorrow evening.

Now, I think I’m going to kick back, do some reading, and get an early night in. Tomorrow, I’m off to Connemara.

  1. I’m getting a little worn, to tell the truth. I need to make sure I’m getting enough rest and eating right so that I don’t wind up sick for the last half of my trip. []