Kinvarra — location, location, location!

A friend of a friend who had grown up in Ireland, but now was a New Yorker had told us we would love Kinvarra, a small village outside Galway. He was right. Sitting right on the quay, the town’s history goes back to ancient times with a 16th century tower house, Dunguaire Castle, (a common residence for the medieval rich) which you can tour for €8 and a medieval banquet at additional cost— both of which we skipped, although we did walk around the castle. A few sailboats and small fishing boats were anchored in the bay or tied up to the quay. Picturesque to say the least.

The town itself consisted of just a few streets. But unlike some cute villages, there was nothing artificial about Kinvarra. The pandemic apparently had taken a toll given the number of shuttered businesses—a sign of very real world problems. Nonetheless, on the weekend the place bustled. Outside of the old town were some very nice, modern homes and a few early twentieth century estates. Ireland lost many of it humble nineteenth homes during the famine and period of widespread emigration. It lost many of the manor estates during the civil war and struggle for independence.

From Kinvarra, we drove an hour or so to the Cliffs of Moher, to the Burren, Galway and Connamera. It was our home base for several days and worked nicely. There was enough to do in the village itself — a couple restaurants, a modern hotel done up to look old with a thatched roof, three or four coffee shops and several pubs filled with locals on weekend nights.

Again, on the advice of our friend of a friend, we drove to Connemara, an other worldly landscape of mountains, waterfalls, saltwater inlets, marshes, rock walls and peat bogs.

It wasn’t long before we were saying we had saved the most scenic for last and regretted we didn’t have more time to give to the area.

As we drove along, I could see some fields had sections which were lowered as though someone had dug it our for a foundation for a house. Then I noticed the color of the soil and saw a pile of carefully cut pieces stacked. Peat. Cut and drying for fuel. In the 21st century. I wondered if it was just nostalgia or if people still used the peat for heating their homes. It was clear that a lot of this land had been dug up and fairly recently. One of the frustrations of independent travel can be not getting answers to question like this.

Our friend of a friend had also said he didn’t care for Galway. We tended to share his impression, but we were there on a windy, wet Sunday afternoon. Our impression might have been different if we had been there in the evening for some of the traditional music. We did enjoy walking along the River Corrib, along the docks and the open air market.

We ended up the day at the Glenlo Abbey for dinner in a railroad car from the Orient Express Train. A bit kitschy, but fun. Allegedly the cars from the real train, plus one that had been used in the 1974 movie and one that had been used to carry Winston Churchill’s body back to Marlborough House. And the food was quite good and the service was superior!

Kinvarra was also recommended to us because of its music scene. And the main location for that music was right next to our temporary home. Unfortunately that building was undergoing a major remodel. And we never did find any other site that had traditional music.

BTW, the mussels at the Keough Restaurant were absolutely fabulous both nights we ate there. Tiny, tender and perfectly cooked, although with a different sauce each night. There’s also a very well stocked Spar grocery store for those like us who want to cook in. Prices for meat were comparable to home, but produce was top notch and much cheaper. Of course, we were there in time for the Irish spring lamb. I did feel a twinge of guilt after our meal whenever a saw a sheep pasture without any lambs.

From Cliffs to Burren

Like almost all places we visit that are super touristy, we got there early. There were only a dozen or so cars in the parking lot and a handful of tourist buses. Even so, we simply followed the stream of people heading into the 30mph wind and towards the Cliffs of Moher.

I’ve been told that a decade or so ago parts of these cliffs could only be seen from your hands and knees while you crawled along the edge. I don’t know if that is true, but I know I would not have been there had that been the case today.

When we bought our tickets at the gate, the attendant told us to turn right, or north for the better views. Of course, that’s what everyone had been told and it was pretty crowded. At the far end there is a gravel path but the sign saying “closed” caused us to turn around.

Instead we walked south, along a good gravel path, with some curious cows watching our progress. We probably walked, going both as far north as we did and then further south 2 or 3 miles, and we could have walked further, but we had more to see on this windy day.

We had approached the Cliff of Moher from the town of Doolin and missed the traffic and stream of tour buses. As we left the Cliffs and headed to Ennistymon we met bus load after bus load of latecomers who were about to join the ant hill march around the Cliffs. Get to the major tourist sights early!

A quick lunch in Ennistymon and we were off to our second destination for the day, the Burren Centre in Kilfenora. We asked for advice on a 3-4 mile walk in the area and we’re directed to Carran where we could park our car at a local pub, Cassidy’s, and walk a loop that is part of the Burren Way. In contrast to the Cliffs Of Moher, we had the walk to ourselves except for a couple of older women out for a stroll.

The ice age and receding glaciers did a number on Ireland, In the Burren it appears the glaciers simply rubbed the top soil away and exposed whole, round mountains down to the bare limestone. Erosion and water did the rest of the work to create an other-worldly landscape. I read where an enormous percentage of the native plants to Ireland survive in the cracks and crevices of the Burren.

There is also what is reported to be the remains of an ancient circle, in the style of Avesbury or Stonehenge, but smaller.

After the walk we enjoyed a half pint in the pub.

A day in contrasts, but the constant was the wind.