Monday, August 8, 2022
Some of the best scenery in Ireland is along the southwest coast, known as The Wild Atlantic Way. Renting a car and driving from Dublin proved to be very expensive, so we looked around for a good tour. Viator.com is a site that I have used many times, usually with good results. This time was no exception.
We found a three-day tour that would take us to Connemara, Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, the Dingle Peninsula, the Ring of Kerry and Killarney. The tour was run by Paddywagon Tours.
We headed to the meeting site early this morning, and found lots of people waiting. Several buses were picking up folks here, we just had to wait for ours to show up. It wasn’t long before Cash arrived. He loaded up our bags, and let us know what his expectations were for our group. If we didn’t get back to the bus on time, we would be left behind. Tell him if it was too hot or too cold, and he would adjust the temp accordingly. Let him know if there were any other issues to be dealt with. In other words, don’t wait until the tour is over to complain. I appreciated his forthrightness. I’ve been on tours where people didn’t respect others’ schedules, causing us to be short-changed on other stops. Thank you, Cash! Although his bark was worse than his bite, he actually did start pulling away from one stop when one couple was late. They were careful to be on time from then on!
Cash was an engaged driver, full of useful information and entertaining stories, some of which were even true. Cash is a farmer at heart, but he supplements his income with driving for Paddywagon. He also helped tend bar at one of the pubs we patronized. He told us that he had been an extra in the History TV Series “Vikings,” an action series loosely based on on real events, with lots of fighting, sex and blood. I enjoyed it. The show was filmed mostly in Ireland, and many residents were used for extras. Cash played a Viking horseman. He certainly looks like he’s descended from Vikings, with his fair complexion and sandy colored hair.
After a couple of hours, we stopped in Cong, County Mayo, a town best known as a setting for the much loved 1952 John Wayne movie, “The Quiet Man.” It’s a small town, with a few shops, ruins of the Cong Abbey, which was open from the 7th – 13th centuries, and a Quiet Man Museum, a replica of the cottage in the movie.
We drove through beautiful country on our way to Galway, viewing lakes and farms as we sped past. We saw several buildings with thatch roofs. Thatch is a natural reed and grass which, when properly cut, dried, and installed, forms a waterproof roof that can last as long as 60 years. It is considered an art form, and each artist uses a distinct finishing pattern at the top.
After riding about 200 miles, we arrived in Galway in the late afternoon. Our very comfortable Bed & Breakfast. St. Jude’s Lodge, was located just a few blocks from the downtown area. Nearby Eyre Square (also known as John F Kennedy Memorial Park) was filled withe folks enjoying the beautiful weather. Kennedy had made a speech here during his 1963 trip as US President. The park is named for John Eyre who arrived here with Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1651. He and his brother acquired quite a lot of property that had been seized from Irish Catholics. He was appointed Mayor of Galway in 1661, where he helped to keep them from reclaiming their land.
Across the street from the square is a sculpture of writers Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde. That is not a typo; Vilde was a writer from Estonia, and the bench was a gift from Estonia to the city of Galway when Estonia joined the EU in 2004. Why? There was never any connection or communication between the two men, but it is a nice looking, even welcoming piece.
While I headed to the center of town, Sean paid a visit to the Connacht Rugby headquarters, hoping for a tour of their stadium. They play at the Galway Sportsgrounds, a multi-purpose stadium a short walk from the B&B. Sadly, no tours, but he was able to pick up a shirt, so success of a sort.
Downtown Galway is full of shops and pubs, all designed to attract tourists and their money. I was no exception. Sean and I met at Taaffes Bar, recommended by Cash, where I tried some Irish cider. It’s not like the “hard” cider we have in the US. This cider is less sweet, more refreshing. Taaffes was very busy, we were lucky to get a table outside. People were gathering for the live music on tap for later. It didn’t look like we’d get an inside table for food, so we moved on. We had an excellent meal at the King’s Head Bistro. Since we are so close to the ocean, seafood was a must. While I enjoyed the scallops, Sean had mussels, a lot of mussels, at least 60! He almost ate them all.
After dinner, I walked down to the Spanish Arch, along the waterfront. The Arch was built in 1584, by Wylliam Martin, the 34th mayor of Galway, as an extension of the 12th century town wall. It housed soldiers who kept watch and manned cannons on the roof. It was first known as Ceann an Bhalla (the head of the wall) but later became known as the Spanish Arch, perhaps a reference to the former merchant trade with Spain and Spanish galleons, which often docked here.
Sean stopped at a pub near Eyre Square, where he met an Irish couple who now live in Australia and two Brazilians. They drank cider and pints together and had an absolute blast. By finding the non-tourist pubs, Sean has been able to experience the craic (pronounced crack), the sharing of news, gossip, fun, entertainment and conversation on a night out.