We had breakfast with a lovely couple from Alabama. The bus left a little late, all day it seemed. There was always someone that kept us waiting and invariably one of the group of women traveling together from NYC. They work together in a hospital and they were astonishing shoppers! That's usually why they were late!
We drove west towards the Atlantic coast under sunny skies. Really lucky because the view of the 600' high Cliffs of Moher on Liscannon Bay would have been disappointing under cloudy foggy skies. We were the first bus there, even before the visitor center was open so it wasn't crowded at all. The cliffs are a spectacular sight, with the rock formations carved by millennia of weather and water, thousands of sea birds drifting and perching on the ridges and caves and the cool, fresh breeze briskly whipping our hair as we wandered around the viewing platform or climbed the stairs to O'Brien's Tower. You could see the Aran Islands off the coast.
From there we drove Northwest into the Burren, (pronounced Barren), a rocky limestone plateau with huge hills of exposed rock overlooking Galway Bay. Farming is nearly impossible here though there are cattle dotting the lower hills. There are herds of feral goats and we saw a few running down the side of a hill. There are stone fences crisscrossing the landscape, these made only by piling the stones with no kind of cement, water or sand to secure them. We stopped at the top of Corkscrew Hill, aptly named, for a photo shoot. What a view! The road downhill turned around upon itself so sharply you thought you would see your own taillights coming round the bends. I don't know how, but Alex maneuvered that bus down it as easily,as if he was driving a straight motorway.
The Burren, in County Clare, is a protected environmental and conservation area. In summer there are a lot of wild flowers including wild orchids. We drove through some wild and remote areas dotted with occasional villages including one, Lisdoonvarna, that is famous for matchmaking! Irish farmers are notorious bachelors and many of the local women leave the area for education and jobs, so the farmers living at home only have their mothers to tend to them and they rely on matchmakers quite often to find a wife! Lisdoonvarna has a matchmaking festival every September for potential mates to meet up!
We drove down around Galway Bay where there were more tower ruins and old antique boats moored on the low tidal muddy banks. The boats are small fishing boats with red sails called Galway Hookers! There's excellent salmon fishing in this region and in fact it was a village known for salmon fishing called Claddagh where the famous Irish symbol was created. That's the heart held by two hands and topped with a crown symbolizing love and loyalty. It's very commonly used as a wedding band in Ireland.
Galway city was first settled by 14 French-Norman families, later referred to as the 14 Tribes of Galway. Some of the family names that you still see on businesses, streets and monuments are Joyce, Lynch and Burke. We drove around Galway, and after a coffee break, headed up into the Connemara region, famous for it's marble. We drove on a narrow road across some wild peat bogs. Peat is still cut and dried for fuel in stoves but more and more often it's done on commercial farms.
The marble factory we visited is in a village called Moycullen. There is a display of all the deep colours of marble that has been quarried in the region over the years, black, shades of green and red. It's some of the hardest marble in the world and was used for construction mainly. The quarries are nearly depleted and only the green is still obtainable in small quantities but the upsurge of using marble in giftware and jewelry has given the quarries that remain new life. They also mind amethyst here.
Back to Galway for our lunch break. Oysters are famed here but we decided to walk down the pedestrian shopping street in search of, first, a toilet, and second, a takeaway sandwich. We went into the Brown Thomas department store but there was no public washrooms. The woman in the accounts office took pity on us and let us use the staff toilet! We found a cafe a little further on and bought sandwiches and a drink and walked back to the spot where we were to meet the bus later, by a park, to eat in the sunshine. The park was full of young people enjoying the warm weather. There's a university in Galway and a lovely cathedral. I didn't see that much of the city but I got a very pleasing impression and it's a place I'd like to spend a day or two exploring further.
Our afternoon stop was in the farmlands of the county at Rathbaun Farm which does agri-tourism as a way to boost their income. Many of the farms here in County Galway are livestock because the ground doesn't really support crops. This farm contains a 150 year old thatched roof farmhouse with a tea room where they will serve you tea, coffee and scones after a little tour. Finton Connolly was our host and talked to us about modern sheep farming. This farm makes its money from the sale of lamb mainly to France though they've also got cattle as well. Older ewes and rams are slaughtered for mutton after 5 or 6 years. We saw several breeds of sheep in a small barn, several of which had young lambs. The sheepdog, a border collie named Buff, was let loose in a paddock to worry 5 or 6 sheep around in clusters.
Contrary to the sheepdog we saw in Scotland, this dog was not trained with whistles. He brings the sheep to wherever his master is standing. The whistle trained dogs are for selling so it doesn't matter what language you use, they will always understand the whistle signals. It's amazing to watch the dog duck her head down and give the sheep steady eye contact that seems to unnerve them to the point of huddling and clattering together en masse away from the dog in the direction she wants them to go. Finton later sheared a struggling sheep, who was concerned for her lamb which was skipping around the barn being herded by the dog who was still out of her pen. The sheep was a shaggy one and by the time he was even half way done, it looked like he was handling a bag of rags, with only four skinny black legs waving about to give any hint that there was a living thing underneath it all.
We were encouraged to look through the older part of the house where there was a cozy peat fire burning in the hearth and we took lots of photos by the lovely old whitewashed cottage and in the garden outside. The thatch in most of Ireland is made of river reed.
We got back to Ennis about 5. Carole wanted a rest so I shopped for postcards in the tourist information shop and walked down the High Street to the River Fergus where I had spied a few good spots from the bus to take pictures. There are ruins of an old friary there and a cathedral. I took some really pretty pictures although one of them ended up with a sun flare spot in it. I also found a store that had lots of china and gifts and they took the tax off there and shipped it for you. They were open until 7 so I went back to give Carole the heads up and brought her back. She found lots of things she wanted and although I wasn't planning to get anything, I found a Waterford Crystal thatch cottage that's about 4 or 5 inches long and 2 or 3 high. It's exquisite and I had to have it. Since I bought that, I figured I might as well get that Royal Tara china cup I had spied and a Stephen Pearce bowl.
We had it all shipped together but that meant it had to be paid for together. They suggested a restaurant when we asked but when we found it, it was closed, Tuesday being one of it's days to shut early. Oh well. We ended up back at the bar in the hotel where I really enjoyed a huge bowl of mussels and seafood chowder stuffed with tender bits of salmon and shellfish.