The Burren, Kylemore Abbey, Seaweed and Galway

Trip Start Mar 24, 2004
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Trip End Apr 05, 2004


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Sunday, March 28, 2004

 If we had time, the walk from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher would have been perfect, but we have this schedule to keep (which I am now sure that no one should have any schedule when they are in Ireland) so we drive the curvy road past a hillside walled castle overlooking the Aran Islands to the Cliffs and pay €4 to park.

The winds are howling and blowing us across the parking lot. We bypass the visitor center and head up the hill to the Castle, a 5 minute walk.  Even overcast, the views are wonderful. The wind has died down a little and a photo from the other side of the no trespassing sign on the wall is just begging to be taken. Another Kodak achievement, and a scowl from Gary for disregarding the "sign". 

We head back to the visitors center, which sells typical touristy trinkets and books.

Back in the car and heading north, we estimate we should be in the Burren in ten minutes. As the navigator, I have failed. We're driving between stone fences, and stone fences and stone fences. Gary is not appreciating the design engineering of this type of stone fence that is laid vertically vs. the traditional horizontal method. We keep going north (or is it east or west or south?) on these back roads. Everyone must be at the morning mass.

The Burren County Clare I'm determined to see that darn Poulnabrone dolman and the wedge tomb (if we can only find them). We end up north at the top of the Burren and decide the best way would have been to start at Ballyvaughan and go south, which we are now doing.

The Burren area is stark, the world's largest expanse of limestone surface. It's unbelievable that anyone can make a living here, or plants can survive without soil. Stone after stone from the flat landscape to piles, almost as if an army of futuristic artists swarmed over the area collecting rocks and stones, then stacked them as sculptures.  We finally find the pull off for the dolman and walk back to view it. I'm getting one of those "we drove the whole way here to look at that" looks.  I guess he just cant see the beauty in a 4000 year old entrance to a tomb? Back on the road we (or I ) am looking for the wedge tomb. Since we are now passing the stone fort, we've obviously missed the chance to view it. 
Location/Kilfenora                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Attraction/Rating The Burren Center/not rated but should be a 4*  The information center (we stopped only to get a brochure) offers an multi sound/visual exhibit " A Journey Through Time" which starts 320 million years ago when the Burren lay at the bottom of a warm tropical sea, thru a forested land roaming with bear, to today's lunar landscape. An interactive 3D map allows guides to customize a tour for clients highlighting their areas of interest, such as dolmans, stone fort, wedge tombs and the cathedral. Also offered is a film tracing the history of the Burren and explains why Alpine, Artic and Mediterranean plants co-exist side by side on this rock.   Tea room and gift shop on site. This should be the first stop on any tour to the Burren.
Rates/Times Admission Rates: Adults €5.50; Children under 16 €3.50; Children under 6 free; Family (2 adults & 2 children); Senior Citizen/Student €4.50. March 15th to end May 10am to 5pm June to end August 9:30am to 6pm
September to end October 10am to 5pm  Contact: phone: 065 7088030 fax: 065  7088102  email: infor@theburrencentre.ie 

A quick stop in Kinvara at Murphy's store for a container of seaweed bath powder for the office ends up being a grocery bag filled with seaweed soap, bath gel, shampoo, moisturizer, and bags of processed seeweed for baths.  We head north, slowing down for a glimpse of scenic Dunguaire Castle.  

Location/Kinarva
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Attraction/Rating: Dunguaire Banquet/not inspected but would rate it 4* -5* depending on type of group
One of the three castle banquet properties owned by the Shannon Heritage Group.  Picturesque 17th Century castle located one-half mile north of Kinarva, sits on a small hillside on Galway Bay.  Similar to the larger Buntratty Castle, the Butler greets you at the castle door with Mead and explains the history of the Castle while a harpest and fiddler entertain. Then  up the spiral staircase to the Banquet Hall.

Again, someone is chosen from the audience to preside over the banquet. Dinner consists of Irish Smoked Salmon and Soda Bread, Leek and Potato Soup, Chicken, Vegetables and Apple Pie for desert.  The "festivities" during dinner includes music and the presentation of a Claddagh ring to one of the Ladies attending. Following dinner, the Castle Entertainers celebrate the richness of Ireland's literary and musical past during a 35 minute program, song, poems, and prose reading with some humourous scenes from Irish literature. Inspiration of this entertaining presentation is draw from the great Irish writers who had an association with Galway and Oliver St. Gogarty; Yeats, Shaw and O'Casey.
Rates/Times Admission Rates Banquet:
Open May-Oct  5:30pm and 8:45pm  Adult: €47  ages 10 - 12 €36  ages 6 to 9 €25 Capacity 55    Castle tour included with banquet.  Rates/Times Admission Rates Castle tour:
Open Mid April- Mid Oct  daily.  9:30am to 5:00pm  Adult: €4.20  ages 10 - 12 €2.80  ages 6 to 9 €2.40
Contact: Phone: 353 61 360788 or 353 51 351511   Fax 353 61 361020 email:shinfo@shannondev.ie website: shannonheritage.com

Continuing  past Galway, we are now driving across the Connemara Peninsula on N59 to Kylemoore Abby.  Connemara is the biggest Gaeltacht area in Irleand.
Location/Moycullen                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Attraction/rating Connemara Marble Factory in Moycullen/2 (unless this is a shopping stop, then 3 for the variety and lower marble prices) Group tours are by appointment only. Self-tours consist of a plexi-glass area that looks into the factory. Since there were no workers when we were there, there was nothing to see.

There is a display of the different marble pieces that have been quarried from Connemara, in colors of black, greens and red. The show room which sells marble products from the area, has the largest display of Connemara Marble jewelry in Irleand. Clocks, Marble eggs, chess boards and other items are also for sale.   The green Connemara marble is known to be one of the hardest in the world, and can only be found in County Galway's mountains.   
Rates/times: No charge. Weekdays and Saturday 9:00am to 4:00pm.  Sunday 10:aam to 1:00pm
Tours can also be arranged at the The Connemara Marble Quarry is located at Streamstown, Clifden in County Galway

What starts out as a drive thru pleasant scenery suddenly has my eyes popping. From Rossaveal towards Maam Cross is an amazing drive dotted with small lakes, bubbling streams and wave after wave of spring grass. The landscape constantly changes, soon we are driving past spectacular wide-open golden moorlands, turquoise blue lakes, and purple (yes the color is actually purple) mountains that suddenly dominate the views in all directions, along with the uncountable shades of green.

The Twelve Bens become more dominate as we approach Recess village, the gateway to the Connemara National Park. A quick stop in Recess at a large Connemara Marble monument with the inscription " On this site in 1897, nothing happened" has me grinning.   Turning north on R334, the scenery is still breathtaking.  To our left the placid waters of Lough Inagh capture the reflection of the peaks and valleys of the Bens. To our right the island's famous black faced sheep graze in the open fields and along the road. It's easy to imagine Joyce drawing inspiration from this wild wonderland for his writings.
Attraction/Rating: Kylemore Abbey/5*                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Combine perfect neo-gothic architecture with a lakeside setting, add a brilliant green mountain backdrop and you have the most photographed property in Ireland.  Kylemore Abbey was built in 1868 as a private home and is one of Ireland's great neo-gothic castles. Three reception rooms, the Inner Hall, Drawing Room and Dining room and the main hall are open to visitors, as is the recently restored Victorian walled garden, the country's finest in its day.

Also on the grounds is a Gothic church, a cathedral in miniature, complete with a crypt, a variety of Irish marble columns and intricate carved angelic gargoyles. A beautiful stained-glass window depicts the five graces, Fortitude, Faith, Charity, Hope and Chastity. Now, the Monastic home of the Benedictine Nuns who run the all-girl school, I was thrilled to be touring the Abbey rooms while a music lesson was taking place. The accomplished harpist's serene notes seemed to float thru the dining room and Inner Hall. I had to be drug from the Abbey. Allow at least half hour to forty-five minutes for the house and church.

The garden is surrounded by a half mile long wall.  Kylemore Walled Garden was one of the most impressive in Ireland of the era, and is again today.  The formal flower garden is now restored, two glasshouses have been reinstated, the third is in process and the kitchen garden is once again productive if not entirely weed free. A free shuttle van takes passengers from the house to the garden every ten to fifteen minutes. The walk is estimated at fifteen minutes between the properties. Even the soft rain that fell as we strolled the gardens and green house could not dim our pleasure at this beautiful property. 
The Visitor Center offers a twelve minute video on the history of Kylemore Abbey & Garden in four languages.        
Rates/times Adults:  €10.00 Seniors/Students: €6.50 Children under 12: FREE . One ticket covers Abbey, church and garden.       
Mar 1 - Oct 31 9:30 a.m - 5:30 p.m. Nov1 - Feb 28 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Closed Christmas Week & Good Friday. Garden opens Easter Sunday thru September 10:30am - 4:30pm daily
Contact: Aidan Grimes, General Manager  phone: 095-41146  email: mary@kylemoreabbey.ie

Returning south on R 344 thru the mountain pass, I'm trying to store the beauty of Connemara in my brain. It's too overwhelming. We stop at a new cutting of peat for a photo, then continue on to Maam Cross where the famous Peacockes Galway Hotel and Complex is located. This is an extremely busy bus stop. A large craft store is on site, along with The Tower, which offers wonderful views over the lakes and moorlands, from the top of it's sixty six foot high observation tower. Behind the hotel is a replica of the stone and thatched cottage used by John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara the Quiet Man movie. Inside is a mini-museum that gives great insight into 18th century Connemara life. A restaurant is also on site.  
Location/Ougherard                                                                                             
 Attrac 
: Aughnanure Castle/Not inspected - but sounds darn interesting
Built in the 15th Century by the power clan O'Flarehtys, this six-story tower castle, complete with a moat is located on an island formed by the Drimmen River. The most prominent feature of this site is the tower keep.

The entire property has some unusual features that you won't find in many Irish castles. One of which is the secret room, which is located in the floor between the lord's chamber on the top floor and the great hall below. Visiting the lord's chamber you will notice an enclosure on the side of the room that looks like a garderobe, medieval toilet. On closer inspection you will note that there is a large hole in the floor where prisoners would have been "deposited". It's quite possible that this room was used as a garderobe and prisoners below would have been the recipient of...well...last night's dinner! The exact use of the secret room is unknown, especially in that it's in the lord's chamber, but this is one possibility.

Visitors to the castle are shown an interesting device constructed by the O'Flahertys to deal with unwelcome visitors. In the main hall, one of the flagstones was hinged downward so that any offending characters could be tipped into the stream below.

Another unusual feature of this property are the rare double bawn walls. Between the walls is the remains of a boat slip that was used during the castle's occupation. Trade on Lough Corrib was common in those days. Ships would pass through Galway Harbor and into the lake and eventually to the castle. A spiral stairway allows access to all floors in this splendid castle
Inside the ground floor of the keep is an artist's representation of what this site looked like during the peak of activity.                                         
email: aughnanurecastle@duchas.ie  web: www. Heritageireland.ie                                       
Rates/times
Adults:  €2.75 Students: €1.25 Group & Seniors  €2.00   Family €7         May - mid Sept Daily: 9:30am -6:00pm  Saturday & Sunday Mid Sept - Oct: 9:30am - 6:00pm    Also opened on Easter Weekend.  Other days by request throughout the year.  Group tours max 20 px.  Allow Minimum  hour (?) 

Oughterard, a quaint village boasts some of he finest food in the region. Stop into the Old Thatch Pub for a real traditional pub experience or Flaherty's Restaurant.
Given directions to The Quiet Man Bridge, we continue south from Oughterard, about 5 miles. The stone bridge is on the right and darn if I don't remember passing it early and wondering what a "Quiet Man Bridge" was!

It's a short twenty-minute drive to Galway and check-in at the Radisson SAS (although Gary has to go to the car rental to drop off the car a couple blocks away). Little did we know that Eyre Square area is torn up and the roads are partially closed, so the quick drop-off now takes almost an hour.
Thinking we have a half hour to relax, shower and change before meeting our fellow tour operators group, Fiona calls to say that dinner has been changed and everyone is in the dining room. Thinking as disheveled as we look no one will sit with us, I forgot that everyone has just arrived on an early morning flight into Shannon and they look worse than we do. 
The advantage they had is they have spent the day together on the bus visiting some tourist spots and have a passenger list. Being so bad with names, I only remember one during the dinner. Jim, who will probably be the highlight of the tour. Introductions, procedures and dinner is running longer than estimated.  Having already modified this tour by coming in earlier and not meeting the group at the Shannon airport, I know I am not off to a good start. Now, we have to leave dinner and miss desert for our pre-booked Thermal Suite at the Spa. Two strikes against me already. Oh well, the Spa calls.  

Attraction/Rating: Spirit One Spa at the Radisson SAS/5*     We sign in and are taken to a changing room where we don our swim suites, robes and slippers, then on to a mini-tour of the Thermal Suite.   We're instructed to start first with the heated thermal lounges, then rotate clockwise alternating each with a themed shower (fog, mist, invigorating, mint)- similar to the Samas Spa - located near each room, Ice Drenchers, crushed ice are located on the walls also for a quick cool down. 

After a brief stint on the heated lounges (l am so anxious to get to the rooms) we head to the Sabia Med room with our towels, and press the 'start" button outside the room. 
We lay our towels down on the sand covered floor as ocean sounds and sights fill the room. The sand is warm and the sun is just dawning over the palm trees. The beach scene gets brighter, the sun hotter, and the humidity increases. Too soon the reverse happens, as the sun sets. It's a 360 degree virtual reality trip from sunrise to sunset as the sand sifts through my fingers and toes. 

We leave the beach for a quick 20 second mist shower before the blue tiled Hammam suite, with it's aromatic steam room, then to the "power shower" with overhead and side shower heads. 

The Aroma Grotto has passed the "beach" as my favorite room. The tile loungers are divine and the aromatherapy steam has me melting, although it is not an overly hot room. I want to stay here all night. "I think I am in York Peppermint Patty Heaven as I stand in the "mint" shower. I keep hitting the button to turn it back on.

Grudgingly, I move on to the Lanconium. Am I in Sedona? The soft orange/red colored seating area, dry heat, combined with overhead soft mini lights and a central glowing light tube definitely have me thinking "vortex."

After a tropical rain shower, we head to the hottest room, the Rock Sauna. Yep, the walls are rock, and the two level seating area is rock. I definitely will hit the cold fog shower after this one. It's an experience, but I want to go back to my favorites. Gary just wants to hit the heated loungers.  

We paid about $35 US each for the one hour experience. A full day would have been $62 US   .     Email: Spiritone.galway@Radissonsas.com

After a relaxing hour "To pub or not to pub is the question." Ok, a quick walk thru town before turning in. Pub: Tigh Neachtain You can't miss the pub's first floor bright blue paint job on the corner of Quay and Cross Street with a corner oriel window on the second floor.  Pub is on the first floor of a medieval building dating back to the 1600's. Lots of history in this small, intimate pub. 19th Century fireplaces, medieval windows. Cozy snugs.  It sounds unbelievable, but it's so easy to get lost in this tiny pub, everything is in an angle or corner. Traditional Irish music scheduled many nights. Seisions are frequent. People are friendly and the music is good. A steak and seafood restaurant is upstairs.   .
Town: Galway                                                                                                                                                      Accommodation/rating:Raddisson SAS/4*                                                                                                                                         217 Rooms, most are King Size Beds. Penthouse and "Level 5 Suites" are also available. I was not able to get room breakdowns from the staff.  Hotel is close to train station, and a four to five minute walk into Eyre Square and town.  Elemis bath products in spa and rooms. Trouser press, coffee maker.                                                                                                                                                                                      Food services: Marinas Restaurant.  seats 220, mostly 4 and 2 top tables.  Contemporay décor. International and Irish traditional cuisine. (menu in file)
Atrium Bar and Lounge:  Located in hotel's glass atrium and heated terrace overlooking Lough Atalia. Seats 130. Daily Traditional afternoon tea. Evening piano and fireplace. Cocktails, Irish stouts and whiskeys
 Phone: 353 91 538300 fax: 353 91 538380 email: Sales.Galway@RadissonSAS.com
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