Yesterday was another bitter, rainy day (I second the bipolar Mother nature comment I made before) so I hopped a day tour to the Connemara, an area north of Galway. It didn’t stop raining the entire time (10-6) but the scenery was still beautiful in a foggy, mysterious way, and we were sheltered on the bus for most of the trip anyway.

My tour guide taught me how to pronounce two Irish words I see every where. Failte means ‘welcome’, and is pronounced ‘fall-cha’. Slainte means ‘cheers’ and is the common Irish drinking toast, pronounced ‘slancha’. ON another random note, I completely forgot to mention the redneck trailer park in the Macgillycuddy Reeks mountain range (back in Kerry). I just remembered it the other day and made a note to mention it. It came complete with motors and furniture in the yards, and mismatched lawn chairs. I felt like I was in Shively!

It irritates me to see all these beautiful border collies and golden retrievers who aren’t allowed inside, even when it’s raining buckets and freezing cold. I know they have fur coats and it doesn’t really matter all that much to them, but I’d never leave my Tiff outside like that. I’m a firm believer that my pets are my family and they deserve just as much love and affection. If I had a fire going in my fireplace on a rainy, cold, windy day all my dogs and cats would be curled up before it with me.

Speaking of cats (I just keep getting more and more off subject) there is no shortage of tom cats in this country. I see them every where, missing eyes and tails, fur matted and dirty. They sit on the side of the road and glare at you while you pass by, surely plotting the untimely fall of mankind. They lick their paws and pretend to groom themselves, when you know actually they’re contemplating the doomsday device their coven of misfit brothers created just the night before while the hapless humans slept. I love cats, they’re so full of character, and these guys? They’re the godfathers of all cats. My fat pampered babies wouldn’t last five minutes in a fight with these Irish toms. Shera could maybe hold her own, as she was a barn cat in her past life, but Bart and Loki? They’d be toast.

Back to the tour. The Connemara, while beautifully situated on the coast and in the shadow of two mountain ranges (the Maam Turks and the Twelve Bens), is a barren place. As the world has gone more and more industrial, farming has lost out to better paying work like construction and computers. The land that should pass to a farmer’s eldest son is left to become infertile since the children leave to pursue other interests. The future of Connemara farming is unstable. The government has imposed a national law, that if a farmer wants to retire and his children won’t take over, the land must be rented to someone who will farm it. IN this way, the Irish government is trying to preserve the farm land.

The Connemara is also famous for it’s bog lands. Many homes in Ireland are still heated by turf fires. Turf digging for commercial purposes has been banned but by a single Irish company contracted to do so, as bog lands take hundreds of years to form and only days to destroy. In rural areas, though, the local farmers are allowed to go out and dig for turf for their own homes, and I’m here during what you could term ‘turf season’. The farmers use a shovel like contraption to dig out log shaped sections of the turf (which is like soft earth). These are laid out for about a week or two to dry before the farmer returns to transport it all back to their farm. There are turf piles and turf trenches all over the Connemara. I’ve yet to see the farmers out doing it, but it’s fun to imagine. Irish men are so jolly and good natured, expecially in the rural areas, that groups of them probably stand out there smoking cigars, cracking each other up, and singing loud, raucous Irish folk songs while they dig. Then they all go get drunk down at the pub.

Driving past some wet areas of bog, I imagine you can’t just step off the road anywhere. You’d probably sink knee deep into the muck and mire. The roads through the bog have to be repaved every five years due to vehicle traffic disturbing the land beneath and causing ruts and bumps.

For the first time since I’ve been in Ireland, we had to stop for sheep in the road. Until you get into the backwoods of Ireland, the animals roam behind cute little fences that keep them on the farmer’s land. Once you hit the deep country, they’re wandering the wilds free as birds. The bus had to come to a complete stop as a few rams decided they wanted to try the fare on the other side of the road. The grass is always greener, and all that.

Our driver played Irish music during the times he wasn’t giving us history. I haven’t mentioned it much, but I’m loving traditional Irish music. My favorite songs so far are ‘Whiskey in the Jar’, ‘The Irish Rover’ or ‘Wild Rover’ (I’m not sure which is actually the name), and ‘Galway Girl’. I might end up coming home with a CD if I can find one that has all three of those songs on it.

The highlight of the trip was a two hour stay at Kylemore Abbey, deep in the mountains. Kylemore is the epitomal castle right out of a Jane Austen novel, weathered and gothic, imposing in it’s setting on the edge of a lake and against a mountain (Monica, you have to google for a picture, you would love it!) It was built by a wealthy Englishman in the late 1800s for his beloved Irish wife. Their family lived there for forty or fifty years, though sadly the wife died of a fever on vacation in Egypt less than ten years after moving in. It changed hands once or twice more before being purchased in the 1920s by a group of Benedictine Nuns for a small price of 45000 pounds, a meager amount compared to the 1.5 million pounds that built it. The Nuns converted the castle into an abbey and turned it into a girl’s boarding school, as it remains to this day.

As much as I’d have hated a boarding school, I couldn’t help but compare Kylemore to Male, my high school. It’s remote mountain location, flanked on all sides by pine trees, away from the hustle of city noise and lights, makes Kylemore seem secure, serene, and the very picture of contentment. I can imagine doing my studies while gazing out across the lake to the mountains, or taking walks along the paths of the grounds. Good ole Louisville Male High School, on a main road within spitting distance of an interstate and parallel to the Louisville Airport, where stepping outside was to be enveloped in a cloud of smog and harrassed by sounds of civilization. How would I have been different, spending weeks at a time in school at Kylemore?

We finished off the tour with a couple of passengers singing for us all, really badly. Then I had to listen to idiots complain about missing their bus and train connections. You’re on a day tour with no set ending time, that must get back into the city center of Galway, one of the largest cities in Ireland, in the middle of rush hour. You shouldn’t have scheduled such early departures, or taken a tour if you didn’t have the time. What has happened to common sense?

Now I’ve finally caught back up to current time. Today was my second day in Galway, and I spent it wandering around the city and spending money. Today is also Good Friday (which by the way, I don’t know what it means, someone want to enlighten me?) therefore all pubs are closed. THe funny thing is since they must be closed, they’re taking the time to paint and clean the buildings up and down. Walking down Shop Street earlier smelled like walking through a paint factory. All the stores and restaurants are open, which has proved devastating for my wallet.

I spent the entire day wandering the city, including the shopping mall. There’s a store called Penney’s here that has stolen my heart. It was CHEAP, even after converting the prices to dollars, it was cheap even for American standards. I made it to the bay, where I walked along th water in the Claddagh village. Claddagh is mainly a residential area now, quite stunning in it’s peaceful quaintness. I found a little Claddagh jeweler where I purchased what is probably the fifth Claddagh ring I’ve owned in my lifetime, only this time it’s a real, authentic Claddagh, made right here in Galway, where it originated over four hundred years ago. If you don’t know what the Claddagh is, you can google it.

Galway Cathedral was massive, and the inside was definitely the most original of the cathedrals I’ve seen. The floors are Connemara green marble, the paintings/mosaics on the walls like nothing I’d ever seen in a cathedral before. There were at least forty stained glass windows. It was gorgeous. What was special about my visit, was that it did take place on such a holy day in the Christian world, so the cathedral was alive with people praying and walking the pews, and candles lit up every corner of the cross shaped cathedral. I was impressed and touched.

Now, it’s seven o clock, the hostel is getting crowded with everyone coming in for the day, and I’m going to go to bed.