St. Patrick’s day makes me think of Ireland, one of the places that has captured my heart. It isn’t home and never has been and yet, it’s the place on earth I feel homesick for and long to be. It’s not a place I could ever live, too bloody damp. My body craves the dry high desert climate I call home these days. But I dream…
A few Irish memories on this St. Patrick’s Day:
The first time I went to Ireland, I went solo (meaning without Steve). I was actually traveling with a friend. We were based in her rented house in Oughterard, a small village in the north of County Galway at the edge of Connemara. It was where I spent my best birthday ever.
On the big day, five of us went out on Lough Corrib, the largest in the Republic, in a friend’s motorized dingy. Our destination: the verdant Inchogoill Island once owned by the Guinness brewing family. We arrived at a secluded area and beached the boat. It was a wonderful place to explore. Finding the Guinness Tower, 19th century stone structure and then the ruins of the 5th century Teampall Phaidrig where St. Patrick’s nephew and navigator, Lugna, (or Lugnaed) is buried made for a special day. Heading back to our camp, a friend and I somehow got lost in woods so ancient if felt like a Druid might pop out from behind a tree. Thankfully we found the shore figuring that if we followed it, eventually we’d come to the spot on the 100+ acre island where our boat. It took a while, but our strategy worked. It was with great relief that we found the spot and the rest of our group.
There was cake (with candles), wine and presents. A plush leprechaun, named O’Flaherty, who still sits on my desk, was from the impish Carmel and there was a Sheela na Gig (a pagan fertility goddess) made by my friend, Joe. As we motored back to the mainland, I thought, “What a perfect day.” And it was.
Sadly, it was before my picture-taking days, but I found this video of the island. It’s a bit touristy, we had the island to ourselves, but it will give you a bit of a feel for it.
On Saturday night, a bunch of local folks took us dancing at a pub up in Connemara. Musicians played traditional music; almost everyone was on their feet performing couple dances that had been passed down for generations. It was good craic as they say. I tried to return to the pub on my next visit, but like Brigadoon, it was nowhere to be found.
The next year, Steve and I went back together. Our base was a cozy apartment in a converted stone barn way off the beaten path. Every day brought a new adventure. Here are some of them.
We chose our direction one day because I wanted some Connemara socks at a bargain price. We set out for Cornamona, on the north end of Lough Corrib where the Connemara Sock factory was. With a half dozen pairs of their wonderful woolen socks in hand we continued onto Cong, on the east side of the big lake. The quaint Irish village, just over the Galway border in County Mayo, is home to both Ashford Castle (once owned by the Guinness family; now a luxury hotel) and Cong Abby. We drove in to see the castle and then went on to the Abby. We strolled the grounds on a pleasant afternoon discovering our favorite part, the Monk’s Fishing House on the bank of the River Cong. This 12th century stone structure, built atop a stone arch over the river, has a trap door. The monks were able to fish while keeping warm by the fireplace.
We headed north on a couple of our long days. One day we drove all the way to Westport, home of the Crough Patrick, a holy mountain, and even a bit beyond. It was a magical day, but alas no photos survive. Another day we went to Clifden and then down along the ocean to Roundstone. We were on a mission. Steve wanted a bodhran, an Irish hand-held drum. Malachy Kearns, one of the most famous bodhran makers in Ireland presides over Roundstone Music. Steve picked out a beauty that has a doodle in it meaning, they told us, that Malachy had played it at some point. We paid for it and with fingers crossed, had it shipped home. It arrived intact and sits with some Taos drums and a djembe in our living room. Sometimes, we even play it. Our business concluded, we went exploring and found Dogs Bay, an incredible beach and peninsula. To get to the tip, we had to go through a style onto someone’s farm, passing grazing cattle on our way. After a brief storm, we were greeted by a splendid rainbow. I still have an old film can filled with water collected from an eroded bowl on an ancient stone at the edge of the bay.
We left our cottage for two nights in The Burren, an amazing area on the northeast of County Clare. Highlights are here in this post.
It’s a beautiful country that changed a lot after it beoming part of the EU. In many ways, we long for the old Ireland, where the Punt was the currency, cars were small and everywhere you turned you were greeted with an Irish lilt. But, it remains a magical place that will always have my heart.