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devil duck

Galway and Mayo

Rick Steves's guide book suggests a 200-mile driving circuit of Connemara and Mayo, with Galway as a home base. That seemed like rather a lot to us, since much shorter driving circuits of the Dingle and Iveragh Peninsulas had each taken us most of a day, and since many of the attractions on his loop don't particularly interest us. So we decided to drive up to Cong, see the medieval Cong Abbey, then head west into Connemara and turn back towards Galway whenever time and weather suggested it. On the way to Cong, we passed a variety of little brown road signs telling us about such-and-such church or such-and-such castle down such-and-such country road, and since we didn't have any particular destinations or deadlines for the day, we took pretty much every such opportunity.

The first such was Cargin Church and Castle. The church was originally built in the 12th century on the site of an older cemetery, and was already in ruins by the 16th century. The interior of the church has been completely overtaken with weeds and flowers, so it looks rather like The Secret Garden; it feels magical. The castle a few hundred yards away was built in the 13th century, abandoned in the 1940's, and renovated to modern livability standards in the 1970's; it is now used as a summer cottage and available for group rentals.

A mile farther on was another country road leading to the Ross Errily Friary, an extensive and well-preserved complex dating from the 13th-15th centuries (with some 17th-18th-century fireplaces and the like), surrounded by cow pastures. At the far side of the elaborate residential wing was a kitchen with a circular tank for storing live fish, and a walk-in medieval cooking fireplace. A hole in the wall at the back of the fireplace leads to the baking oven in the room next door. And of course a lot of people have been buried inside the building since it was abandoned in the 18th century. Fascinating stuff.

After all that, Cong Abbey was rather disappointing. It's your generic 13th-century church building with adjacent cloister, now filled with tombstones -- not particularly old, not particularly large, not particularly well-preserved. The most interesting feature is the fishing hut that the monks built on a platform over the river: apparently they hung nets through a hole in the floor, tied to a bell so the cook up in the abbey would know when his ingredients were ready. Anyway, we walked around the adjacent park, and into the grounds of the adjacent Ashford Castle, which after being built in the 13th century was extensively expanded in the 17th century and again in the 19th century; it's now a luxury hotel.

shalmestere remembered seeing another castle along the way which we hadn't turned aside to investigate, so we got back in the car and retraced our path for some miles without success. Although we did see a little brown sign leading down a country road to Ballymagibbon Cairn, a large (30 meters across?) mound of stones with a cylindrical stone platform on top, so we clambered up that and looked around. By this time it was mid-afternoon, we were tired, and we were halfway back to Galway, so we cancelled the wander-west-into-Connemara plan and returned to Galway to rest before dinner.

Along the way we did find the castle she was thinking of, just on the outskirts of Galway and only about six feet off the road. It turns out to have been extensively renovated in the past fifty years, and is currently occupied and not open to the public. (Now I don't remember its name -- I'll add that later.)

We walked a few hundred meters from our B&B into downtown Galway and had some tasty Thai-inspired food while watching a bunch of the local University juggling club practice on the riverbank. The pedestrian-only High Street was hopping, colorful, and crowded with (largely) twenty-somethings. We walked around the outside of the 13th-century church (considerably expanded and renovated; nothing particularly notable) but didn't go in because there was a concert with a mandatory 15-euro ticket price and we were sleepy. I don't think there's anything else medieval in downtown Galway, but there are a number of 16th-17th-century buildings that now house banks, restaurants, and the like. Back to the B&B, reserved tickets for the ferry to Innishmore tomorrow, and went to bed.

Today... Innishmore.


Yes, parts of it definitely feel like college town. The University itself is just across the river to the west of the High Street area, and is surrounded by the things you would expect adjacent to a University: cheap vegetarian restaurants, burger joints, CD stores, etc.

We stayed a few hundred meters south of there, in residential neighborhood facing the Bay. I took three photographs of the Bay out our B&B window -- one foggy, one cloudy, and one bright sunshine, all about twenty minutes apart. Pictures to come.
I may have to go someday -- that's one of the strong contenders for where the mysterious great-great came from.