I’ve been kept busy this week with tracking and preparing for what is now Hurricane Dorian. Next week I will continue posting about my Ireland adventure with an essay on our visit to the Hill of Tara next week.
To all those in the ever-changing path of the storm, stay safe.
I could have spent longer exploring the shops of Galway but we were scheduled to meet up with another of Tricia’s friends from Facebook for dinner. We returned to the B&B and shared some our adventures with our hostess Pauline. The laundry we had left drying that morning was mostly dry by this time and Pauline had even been kind enough to fold them. She truly went above and beyond to help us out of this mess. We left a handful of stubbornly damp items by the fire and went to freshen up before heading to Donnelly’s pub.
Donnelly’s was one of the places recommended to us by the couple we’d met during our delay in Iceland and Pauline had highly recommended it as well. Turns out that Tricia’s friend Clare and her husband George also often stop in here when they are visiting Galway.
We arrived shortly after 7:00 pm with Clare and George only a few minutes behind. An observer would have thought Tricia had known this couple for decades the conversation flowed so quickly upon their arrival. With a very few exceptions, everyone we met in Ireland was warm and friendly. George and Clare were generous, funny, and just lovely to chat with.
We stayed out way too late and by the time we returned to the cottage the wind was howling. I lay in bed listening to it rage against the walls and felt like I was back in Florida during a hurricane. The morning came and despite the vicious wind, there didn’t appear to be any damage around the cottage. We packed up, something that was becoming a more arduous task as we accumulated souvenirs that hadn’t yet found a home within our suitcases. Pauline was already at work, so after checking several times to make sure we had collected everything we locked up and dropped the keys through the mail slot. (I love that there was a mail slot! I’ve never seen one in real life before.)
In our original plan, this would have been our last day in Ireland so we were headed back toward Dublin. Since we had been able to extend the trip a day to make up for our delay arriving, (if you missed that misadventure click here) we were able to take a more leisurely drive from Galway to Dublin. We decided to stop at Birr Castle, about 90 minutes from the cottage.
The sun was shining, with the ubiquitous clouds so we debated wearing our raincoats, but decided to risk it. At the ticket counter, we learned the castle itself wasn’t open yet for the season, but the grounds were and I really wanted to walk around. I’d seen some of the grounds on Netflix, Tales of Irish Castles, and was looking forward to exploring.
Just past the welcome center/gift shop, is a large play area for children with a gigantic tree fort. I imagine this place is mobbed with kids in the summers. Since we were the only people around, Tricia and I had to detour through the fort to check it out.
A fine mist began once we left the play area, but quickly turned to a steadier drizzle. We jogged across an open expanse to a small pavilion and caught our first glimpse of the castle; truly an impressive sight. The Parsons family has lived here for more than 400 years! One of the Earls in the 1800s was fascinated with astronomy and had a giant telescope constructed. It remained the largest in the world until 1917.
When the rain reduced to a light mist again, we ventured from the cover of the pavilion and within an hour the sun was shining again. There are more than 120 acres of gardens to explore, so it could take a person days for a full examination. There are so many picturesque spots that I imagine many of the residents have at least dabbled in painting trying to capture the beauty. A river with rushing rapids nearly kisses the base of the castle wall then makes a stately path through the property.
Despite the chilly weather, there were a number of flowers blooming. I’m enamored with fresh blooms and trying to capture their beauty in photographs so I took more than a few artsy photos here. One area had a walkway of cherry trees which were in bloom. I felt like I was walking into a cotton candy tunnel. I don’t know if a picture could possibly do justice to this area.
At some point my mom texted to tell us to be careful driving as Winter Storm Gareth had moved onshore overnight and was said to be causing flooding. This information helped explain the crazy wind the previous night. The flooding wasn’t surprising either. I believe I mentioned earlier that there had been rain for weeks prior to our arrival as well as pretty much every day of our trip. Most of the rivers, streams and lakes we had passed were exceptionally high, just waiting for one more storm to push them over the banks.
Tricia finally pulled me away from the gardens and we tried to get lunch at The Thatch, a pub a mile or so from the castle. She’d found it on Yelp and was set on having lunch there. When we arrived there wasn’t a single car and I deduced it wasn’t open yet but she insisted we try the door, which of course was locked. We headed for the motorway again, hoping to find another place to eat along the way.
We weren’t too far down the road when we came to a Lidl grocery store. I’d been wanting to visit one since landing in Dublin. I had seen one on a map near our first hotel, but with all of the chaos of our arrival hadn’t even thought to look for it while we were there.
I managed to convince Tricia to stop here and we wandered through. I frequent Aldi in my hometown so was interested to see how the two stores compared. I have to say, the bakery gives Lidl a bit of a boost. We purchased several baked treats for lunch and set off for the Hill of Tara.
We woke Tuesday morning and found our excellent hostess, Pauline, had left out a bag of clothespins as well as her “clothes horse” drying rack. Tricia had sent Pauline a message during the laundry fiasco to see if it would be okay for us to use the clothesline. Pauline hadn’t received the message until that morning and left us a sweet note. Before we even had breakfast, we transferred all the clothes to either the line or the clothes horse, tried to stoke the fire to get the room warmer in hopes of the clothes drying faster, and went about getting ready for the day’s outing.
The sun was shining and the wind was whipping so I was hopeful the clothes would dry quickly. We pulled out of the driveway and were maybe ten yards from the cottage when it started hailing. Well, hail isn’t as bad as rain, I thought, and it’s not coming down very hard. By the time we reached the end of the street, it had become a downpour, so we turned around and hurried to pull the clothes in off the line.
Back on the road, our first stop was a place we’d discovered the previous day on the way to the Cliffs of Moher. Hazel Mountain Chocolate is a small, family-run operation. You can view their facility and sample the chocolates, visit the gift shop or grab a bite in the cafe. They start with raw beans that they roast and mill themselves. Luke was manning the shop and provided us with an overview of the factory process. The resulting liquid is poured into molds and aged for three weeks before being turned into its final form. What they do is really an art. We bought truffles and chocolate bars to take home and Luke told us about a nearby Abbey he thought we might enjoy visiting.
Next we headed to The Burren Perfumery. I stumbled across this place on Instagram and it sounded so interesting I was glad we were able to fit it into our schedule. The road into it was maybe the smallest we had been on with high grass and bushes pressing in on either side. I was sure we’d made a wrong turn but then, in the middle of nowhere a sign indicated a turn and within a few seconds we were in the parking lot.
What a charming place! I felt like I was walking into something out of a fairy tale. A friendly lady greeted us as soon as we entered and took the time to explain each of the perfumes made on the premises and gave us a quick tour of the other products available. There is also a short film visitors can watch about the Burren. It’s a landscape of strange beauty that is both harsh and home to great beauty. We learned that perfumes change once they have been on your skin for a time and interact with your body chemistry. The associate recommended we try our favorite scent and allow it to transition for several minutes before making a choice. I liked all of the choices, but Winter Woods was unlike any perfume I’ve known before. It’s earthy and evoked within me a picture of a thatched cottage on a crisp night, a crackling fire in the hearth and a good book waiting to be read.
This is also a family-run company and in addition to the perfumes they make balms, soaps, and skin care item. There is an herb garden right behind the tea room that even in the days before spring truly arrived was still a place of rugged beauty. I could have spent a small fortune here, but I only came home with one bottle of Winter Woods perfume. However, they ship for free to anywhere in the world if you spend 60 euros on their website.
Upon leaving the perfumery, we started looking for the abbey Luke had mentioned. We knew it couldn’t be far, he’d said something about it being across from the Chocolate Factory. How we missed the sign for it on the way to the perfumery I don’t know, but we caught it the second time and turned down a gravel road that ended at Corcomore Abbey.
This abbey was found around 1195 by Cistercian monks and holds the tomb of Conor O’Brien, king of the territory once known as Thomond. Aside from the missing roof, the ruins are in remarkable condition. We were the only visitors for close to thirty minutes. We were surprised by the number of graves that had fresh flowers on them and there was even a crypt with a burial from as recent as the early 2000s.
When another family arrived, we decided to move on. This was a slower paced day and we hoped to explore the shops in Galway a bit before meeting another friend of Tricia’s for dinner. Pauline had given us tips on places to shop and we found a parking garage with ease. Parking was another matter. I was sure the top of the car was going to scrape the ceiling of the garage and the spots were tiny. Thank goodness Tricia was driving.
It turned out the garage we had stumbled on was in an ideal location with the Aran Sweater Market steps away. I still hadn’t purchased a sweater yet and time was running out so I went inside while Tricia visited the jewelry shop across the street. I tried on a dozen sweaters, with three or four becoming quick favorites. There was another lady trying a bunch of things on also and we struck up a conversation. She and her husband were from Alaska, so it made sense she was planning on taking at least a couple of sweaters home.
I wasn’t ready to make a commitment by the time Tricia arrived and decided to see if there were any other shops that might have a sweater like the one I’d seen in Bunratty. The street was closed to cars, paved with bricks, and lined with shops, cafes, or restaurants. With street performers and banners stretched across the street there was quite a festive air.
We visited a number of shops, but no other sweaters caught my fancy so we returned to the Aran Market and I chose two to have shipped home. I also found a knit hat for my dad, whose head is always cold in the winter, and a small sheep to always remember our close encounters.
The drive from Kylemore to the town of Barna, just outside Galway City, took about an hour and we arrived at Furrymelia Cottage around 6:00 pm. Pauline, the B&B hostess, was waiting to greet us and hurried to put the kettle on. When she heard we hadn’t eaten dinner she even fixed us some sandwiches and pulled out some cookies to go with our tea.
The kitchen had a cozy seating area with a wood-burning stove for heat. We sat in here getting to know Pauline and found out she had been down in Killarney the previous day and had raced home that morning to make sure she was there for our arrival. Her husband had remained in Killarney for a work project so it ended up being just the three of us in the house for the whole stay.
When we decided to retire for the night, Pauline fixed us hot water bottles. What a wonderful touch! I drifted off with the warmth of that bottle easing the tightness in my lower back from so much walking.
Monday morning we arose and found a continental breakfast laid out for us. Pauline gets up early to go swimming before work but made sure we had a nice selection of options to start the day. There was fruit, yogurt, a couple different jams, bread, cereal, and of course a selection of teas. There was also a small plate with what looked like cubes of cheese.
I had started the keto diet a couple of months before leaving on this trip and tried to keep close to it during the travels so I was excited to see the cheese. I put several cubes on my plate. When I ate the first one it didn’t taste like any cheese I’d had before and slowly it dawned on me that it was butter! Knowing we were going to have a long day I shrugged and ate the rest of my cubes thinking about the wonderful fat content they were providing. Plus, it was some of the best butter I’ve ever tasted.
The skies were cloudy again and I kept hoping it would clear up as we were headed to the Cliffs of Moher. We took the more scenic Wild Atlantic Way rather than the motorway. It provided some excellent views but boy was the road rough. I would like to drive the whole Wild Atlantic Way, though. It meanders through small villages and along beautiful coastline that could take an entire month to explore.
We arrived at the Cliffs of Moher and while the sun was shining, there was still a gray haze in the air that made getting good pictures difficult. I’ve seen such vibrant pictures that I felt let down not being able to experience that vibrancy myself. There are pathways along the cliffs outside the official boundaries of the park, but they don’t have any safety features and people get blown off them by the whipping winds every year. We did venture out a few feet and Tricia wanted a picture near the edge, but I wasn’t about to risk going over the side. There was another pair of women out there. I offered to take their picture together but there was one sensible like me who didn’t want to risk it either.
From the Cliffs we headed back south to Bunratty Castle. We arrived in time for lunch and stopped in a pub called the Creamery Bar. This was one of the disappointments for me. The service was terrible and the food was just meh. Later we found out we could have gone across the street to Durty Nelly‘s, one of the oldest pubs in Ireland.
Bunratty has been around since the 15th century and is starkly medieval. I don’t know how mothers navigated the narrow stairways carrying children. They are quite treacherous, especially when going down. It was interesting to see how spartan and rustic some rooms were, but one, the private family dining room was almost elegant.
There is also a “village” set up around the castle, with more than 30 buildings representing village life. We didn’t have enough time to fully explore this area or partake in the medieval banquet that was being served that night, but I would recommend it if you are planning to visit the area.
After exploring Bunratty we visited the shops across the street. I finally found a sweater that I really loved, but this shop wanted me to spend 250 euros to get the free shipping and I couldn’t find enough other stuff to make that work so I put the sweater back and only purchased some linen items.
On the way back to the cottage we stopped at a Revolution Laundry. We’ve been traveling for a week now and were getting low on clothes. Like the stores, laundry mats all seem to close early in Ireland too. Revolution Laundries, though, are located in the parking lots of gas stations and consist of two washers and two dryers.
It was raining once again when we dragged our clothes out of the car and dumped them into the washer. Fortunately there is a small overhang that protects the machines from the weather. It took about 45 minutes for the clothes to wash, but when I went to put them in the dryer I noticed they were really wet, like the washer hadn’t run a spin cycle. My fingers were nearly frozen when I finished getting them all moved.
We waited 30 minutes on the dryer only to find the clothes were still soaking wet, as in we could wring water out of them. Tricia came out of the car to help me wring them out and again fingers were like ice when we started the machine for another 45 minutes.
I should mention we hadn’t eaten since lunch, probably six or seven hours earlier. Well, we had some candy from the convenience store but nerves were raw and this wasn’t the best experience. After that second run through the dryer the clothes were still very wet. They weren’t even warm so I don’t know what that dryer was doing. We were frustrated and tired so I suggested we just put them back in the laundry bag and figure something out at the cottage. I knew there was a clothesline out back so I figured we could just hang them out the next day.
While we were putting them in the bag, they were so heavy with water that the bag started to rip in half! We managed to get them all in and get the bag into the car without it completely tearing. We must have looked like we were moving a body when we returned to the cottage well after dark. Pauline was already in bed so we quietly went about hanging the clothes around the bathroom to air dry as much as possible overnight. The heated towel rack proved an excellent place for socks and underwear to dry. Once we had covered every surface that could possibly allow the clothes to dry we fell into bed cold and exhausted. I really missed the hot water bottle that night.
I don’t know what it is about doing laundry while traveling, but I had a hard time with it years ago when another friend and I were in Paris. We’d been traveling for about a week then, too, and since we were staying at Disneyland Paris we figured that would be a good place to wash clothes. I had no idea a washing machine could be so very different overseas and all the instructions were in French. This was another late night and we were laughing so hard from pure exhaustion and the comedy of how something so simple could become so hard. We worried for a minute that we might disturb anyone who had a room nearby, but since no one came out to complain we just kept laughing. Sometimes that is the only way to deal with difficult situations.
Come back next week to find out if the clothes ever dried out. If you’ve ever had a laundry fiasco while on the road please share it in the comments, otherwise I might have to believe I’m the only one with this challenge.
I wish we could have spent more time exploring County Kerry, but we had other adventures planned. We got an early start, making a brief stop in downtown Killarney. The blanket Tricia had purchased the previous night had a pull in it and she wanted to see about exchanging it. The lovely shopkeeper was able to fix the pull in the blink of an eye and we headed north to Connemara.
We passed so many places we wanted to stop but Kylemore Abbey was our planned destination and with last admission at 4pm we had limited time to make it there and do some touring. Not being Catholic, I wasn’t really sure what the difference was between an Abbey and a Monastery. Honestly, I’m still not sure I understand it, but the story of Kylemore is rather interesting. It began as a home for a wealthy businessman in the late 1800s. During World War I, it became the home of Benedictine Nuns fleeing Belgium and is still run by the Benedictines today.
The sun was valiantly trying to shine when we left Killarney, but the clouds continued to build and rain showers intermittently fell followed by a couple of snow flurries. The moment we put the car in park at Kylemore it began to hail quite violently. I was worried about the car being damaged and the rental agency charging me for it.
When the hail let up a bit we made a dash for the visitor’s center. The ground was completely white with hailstones the size of large marbles! We get hail in Florida, but I’ve never seen it come down like this.
At the ticket counter we learned the main house was closed for renovations but we could purchase a discounted ticket to tour the grounds and visit the chapel. Tricia thought I was crazy to want to tour the gardens in this weather, but the sun had come back out and we were already there so we bought the ticket and waited for the tram to the walled garden. (It was a reasonable distance away and I wasn’t completely crazy. There was still a little rain and a lot of cold wind).
Even without much blooming the walled garden was a sight to see. The brick wall helped to cut the wind, the rain had now stopped and the sun was shining brightly. I don’t remember seeing anyone else out here so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We spent around an hour admiring the design of the garden and visiting the head gardner’s house, a rather cozy and well appointed home.
We took the tram back to the visitor center and then walked past the Abbey to the chapel. There was a bit of hail along the way, but it was much smaller and only a brief shower. I’m glad we carried on. The chapel was amazing.
To think this was built for the man’s wife and obviously no expense was spared is mind boggling. I can’t imagine how much it cost to maintain much less build. We studied many of the intricate details, but could have spent hours more marveling at all of the carvings.
I sat in one of the pews to soak in the atmosphere and say a silent prayer. While I sat there, the clouds that had formed during our walk parted and a shaft of sunlight fell through one of the tall windows right onto where I was seated. It was a special moment that gave me goosebumps and I hope I will always remember.
After a peaceful and restorative time in the chapel we ambled back to the welcome center as the sun was starting to dip down to meet the mountains. We had just enough time to pick up a couple of souvenirs. I found these hot pads with the cutest sheep comics on them. My mom used to collect hot pads with photos of waterfalls or other nature scenes from our trips to North Carolina when I was a kid but now they are hard to come by. I struggled to chose just one for her and a smaller one for myself.
Fortunately, our drive from Kylemore wasn’t too far, and we managed to arrive at our new bed and breakfast just before dark. We found this place on AirBnB and weren’t quite sure if we were getting the whole cottage or if the host/hostess would be on site. I am thrilled the hostess was on site because she was an absolute gem and a true highlight of our entire trip. I’ll tell you all about Pauline and Furrymelia Cottage when we meet again next week.