Talk to any tourist anticipating a vacation in Ireland and you're sure to hear about their hopes to see sites of history and folklore. Throughout the country, regardless of where you go there is a good chance you will stumble upon unnamed ruins mostly of old stone houses or perhaps a castle or church. We had seen several during our first week of driving, but many who travel to Ireland do not rent a car and leave the driving to a tour company such as Galway Tour Company (GTC).
Worked into their "Cliffs of Moher and The Burren" day tour, GTC includes some sights that visitors might not otherwise see. Counties Galway and Clare are rich with historic sights and incorporating them into this trip works out very well, providing passengers with a brief leg stretching opportunity.
The first stop after leaving Galway CIty was the Dunguaire Castle, a 16th century "tower house" and is considered to be one of the finest restorations in Ireland. Today a medieval dining experience is offered to visitors featuring Irish music and poetry reading. A quick search on the internet produces a website with more info, including pricing (a whopping €51 for adults). For us, the stop provided essentially a photo op as we didn't have time to enter the castle Visitors who are traveling independently and have the time and inclination to stop for a more involved visit, be advised there is an admission fee of €6.00 for adults (discounts apply for seniors and children). NOTE: This site is not managed by OPW and therefore is not included in the Heritage Card.
Next we paid a visit to the abandoned ruins of the Corcomroe Abbey which are located within the first miles of the Burren. Built around 1205, this Cistercian Abbey is in remarkable condition given that it stands in the relative middle of nowhere and is not part of any formal historical or preservation group. During our stop here, we were left somewhat to our own devices in looking around here. Now that I'm home and researching a bit more of some of these ruins, this is one I wish I had a bit more time to explore and photograph. That said, we had about 10 minutes and off we were to the next stop.
Fairy forts were next on the itinerary as we stopped at the Ballyalban Fairy Fort. We learned about the beliefs regarding the "little people with orange beards and green hats" who live beneath the earth's surface in a tunnel system. The best way to describe the "fort" itself is that is is a circular area of raised ground (perhaps as much as two feet) that creates a "bowl" like center. On the outside of the ring of raised dirt is an outer ring of trees, thought to have been planted by the inhabitants to create seclusion and protection from outsiders. There is an actual entrance down into the inside of the subterranean surface, but today most of these have been filled to keep people (especially children) from entering and having the ground above them collapse.
The actual purpose of the thousands of ringed structures that exist throughout Ireland are not actually known. They have been dated back to pre-Celtic. Rich in mystery and folklore, today many Irish still believe in the fairies and the superstitions surrounding them. During our time spent at such a circular ring fort, we learned how the arrival of Christianity clashed with these beliefs regarding the fairies. Still today, it is against the law to damage a fairy fort as they are protected under the "National Monuments Act" and this particular location had a prominent sign declaring as much.
As an aside, Leprechauns are thought to be a unique type of fairy known for their shoe cobbling abilities and according to folklore, the keeper of the mythical pot of gold.
Kilfenora was our last stop prior to lunch and the Cliffs of Moher to see the high crosses at the Lady Chapel at the Cathedral. They were under the shelter of a greenhouse like glass roof so as to protect the limestone from erosion due to rain. The most well known and now restored is the Doorty Cross which depicts "a bishop in high relief carrying a volute crozier representing the Roman Church. Beneath this are two more bishops thrusting their croziers into a winged creature below. One is tau shaped representing the Coptic Church and the other signifies the Celtic Church." (Cited reference: http://www.megalithicireland.com/High%20Cross%20Kilfenora.htm .) There are also a couple of other high crosses located here that are protected under the glass roof.
Kilfenora is another place that I wished I had more time to explore and learn about. Having returned home and done further research, I learned that there is another high cross that had fallen and was imbedded in the yard.
All of that said, I'm glad that we had what time we did to learn visit each of these four areas with Galway Tour Company as otherwise, they were far enough off our scheduled path that we would have missed them altogether.