Margaret and I wanted a good, long hike through the woods on our last full day in Ireland’s County Galway. We drove to Connemara National Park figuring that’s what we’d get.
We were wrong. The park’s trail system runs right up the side of a mountain. We started to hike it, but we soon overheated in the direct sunshine of that unusually warm day. We had dressed warmly, for cool, clammy, shaded woods. Margaret told me that if we kept hiking, she’d end up nauseated from being too hot, and she didn’t want that. So, reluctantly, we left.
But what to do with the rest of our day? We remembered passing through a charming little town on our way to the park. We decided to go back there, have lunch, and figure out plan B.
Clifden is Connemara’s largest town, and a popular tourist destination. As Irish towns go, it’s pretty young, as it was founded in the 1810s. It did very well until the potato famine in 1845. As across all of Ireland, Clifden and its people stuggled hard.
Recovery was slow. The opening of a railway to Galway helped bring tourists. Then in 1905, Marconi built his first transatlantic telegraphy station south of town, employing as many as 200 to operate it.
With those steps forward came steps back. Violence during the Irish War of Independence in 1920-21 saw several of Clifden’s buildings burned; the Civil War of 1922 saw railway bridges destroyed.
Since then Clifden has been peaceful and prosperous. Tourism is the town’s chief industry. Everything was cheerful and welcoming on the day we stopped, as you’d expect in a tourist town, but the streets weren’t crowded as the season had passed. We stopped for lunch in this tavern.
It was a relaxing lunch, and we lingered. Over Irish whiskey (Powers Signature Pot Still, which was delicious), we decided we’d just spend the rest of our day in leisurely exploration of this little town.
You’ve probably heard at least the first line of this old Irish blessing:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
I can’t emphasize enough how happy we were to have rented a car. It gave us full control over our itinerary — and more than once let the road to rise up to meet us. This was probably the most notable time. It turned a disappointment into a distinct joy.
We strolled Clifden’s streets, admiring the architecture. We looked in shop windows, we walked into shops for a browse. We looked at jewelry, we looked at tweed. We stopped for coffee. Margaret saw how much I admired a particular tweed jacket, so she encouraged me to go back and try it on. They didn’t have one in my size, but another shop had an even nicer jacket that fit me beautifully. Margaret encouraged me to buy it. It broke our budget, but I’ll enjoy the jacket for years to come.
I wished aloud that we had booked a room here for our four days in County Galway. The B&B we chose was lovely, so no regrets. But if we ever return to Ireland, I want to be sure to return here and stay awhile.
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