Photography, Road Trips

On vacation, make it possible for the road to rise up to meet you

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

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Clifden. Imagery © 2016 Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO, Landsat / Copernicus. Map data © 2016 Google.

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.

Clifden

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.

Clifden

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.

Clifden

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.

Clifden

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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As we drove back to our B&B from Kylemore Abbey, we found ourselves on a minor highway in remote Connemara, County Galway, Ireland. Highway R344, to be exact. And the scenery was lovely. We pulled over to take it in.

Irish road

Along an Irish highway

Along an Irish highway

Along an Irish highway

Along an Irish highway

Along an Irish highway

Photography, Road Trips

Stopping along a Connemara highway

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At Connemara National Park

The view at Connemara National Park
Canon PowerShot S95
2016

The colors in Connemara were unlike anything we saw elsewhere in Ireland. And that’s saying something, because Ireland is an astonishingly colorful country.

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At Connemara National Park

At Connemara National Park
Canon PowerShot S95
2016

We visited this lovely park briefly. We looked forward to a long hike, but we both assumed it would be through a chilly woods, not up a mountain in direct sunshine on an unusually warm day. As we were dressed for the former, we soon overheated and even started feeling queasy. So we came up with a quick Plan B: visit a charming little town through which we’d passed on our way here. More on that town, Clifden, in a later post.

Photography
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Photography, Road Trips

The walled Victorian garden at Kylemore Abbey

When you’re a wealthy family living in remote Irish country in the late 1800s, your estate has to be entirely self-sufficient, providing for all of the family’s needs. Mitchell and Margaret Henry, who built and lived at Kylemore Castle in the lush hills of Connemara, County Galway, created just that on their sprawling estate. They piped water down to the castle from a lake higher up on the mountain, and used running water to generate electricity. They also grew flowers, and most of their own food, within a six-acre garden surrounded by a brick wall.

Victorian Walled Garden at Kylemore Abbey

A long walk along a lovely tree-lined lane brings you to this entrance, where inside you’ll find a vast, precisely designed flower garden.

Victorian Walled Garden at Kylemore Abbey

This being a working garden, we found people tending it. It hasn’t always been so, however. It was in full production during the Henry family’s years. By the 1940s the flower garden was disused and the vegetable garden was in declining use as it was less expensive to buy vegetables. By the 1970s the entire six acres were badly overgrown and all structures were derelict. It was restored in 2000, driven I’m sure by tourism.

Victorian Walled Garden at Kylemore Abbey

In the Henry family’s day, people who worked the garden lived in this charming little home.

Victorian Walled Garden at Kylemore Abbey

A stream divides the garden. West of the stream is the “kitchen garden” where vegetables grow.

Victorian Walled Garden at Kylemore Abbey

As you can see, a great deal of attention has been paid to the garden’s aesthetics. It’s a charming place to stroll.

Victorian Walled Garden at Kylemore Abbey

It’s also a charming place to sit and contemplate.

Victorian Walled Garden at Kylemore Abbey

Because the view from here is just lovely. And as we were here near the end of the site’s tour hours, it was quiet.

Victorian Walled Garden at Kylemore Abbey

Canon PowerShot S95

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Photography, Road Trips

The chapel at Kylemore Abbey

Margaret Henry’s unexpected death in 1875 threw her husband, Mitchell, into despair. He found it difficult to spend time at their sprawling Irish estate at Kylemore. Indeed, he seldom returned, spending most of his time in England. Nevertheless, he built this chapel on the grounds as her final resting place.

Chapel at Kylemore Abbey

Built in the style of a 14th-century gothic English cathedral, this chapel looks more imposing than it really is. It’s a cathedral in 1:4 scale

Chapel at Kylemore Abbey

Its scale is most apparent inside, where one short column of pews faces the altar.

Chapel at Kylemore Abbey

The Henrys were Anglicans, but when the Benedictine nuns bought the estate they rededicated it, including this chapel, to Catholic worship and missions.

Chapel at Kylemore Abbey

By all accounts, Mitchell Henry never really recovered from losing his wife. His fortunes took a turn for the worse in the years that followed. He died nearly penniless. Yet upon his death, he was returned to Kylemore and took his eternal rest alongside his Margaret.

Canon PowerShot S95

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