Best day trip from Galway…
Every guidebook waxes eloquent about the raw appeal of ‘Wild Connemara’. Luring you with vivid landscape photography that makes you go weak in the knees. Enticing you with fantasies that seductively whisper ‘pick me, pick me’ for your ears only. Leaping out of your screen tantalisingly as a ‘dare-you-to-not-ignore’ mandate for your semi-frozen Ireland itinerary. Cakewalk, declares the visual pasted on your desktop. Because you’re sold, too soon. Dreamy-eyed every second till you reach the destination that’s been haunting you non-stop. And head-over-heels, even after.
Dragging yourself away from the captivating charms of Ireland’s second city, Galway proves to be a challenge, especially if you haven’t set aside a couple of days to soak in its culture-rich, bohemian vibe. But the European Capital of Culture for 2020 is set right in the heart of the spectacular 2,600 km Wild Atlantic Way and Connemara is calling. So, jumpy-happy with anticipation, shielding against the windy drizzle, you’re all set for an early start. The grey pallor of the skies retreats into powerlessness as you embark into the ride of a lifetime.
Soon the city is left behind and you’re surrounded by a patchwork of fields knitted by rough-cut stone fencing. How history merges magically with contemporary here! You can feel the unmistakable aura of an ancient land awash with ancient tales. The legacy of the Conmacne Mara tribe, which gave the land its name, seems to own the entire space, even the floating mist outside. You’re secretly wishing for an aerial view of the coastal region that you’re traversing…that spectacle of coastal peninsulas, inlets, moors and grasslands. Instead, it is a delicious, languorous journey through the vastness, where revelations are waiting to happen, one at a time. Eyes glued to the remote landscape and euphoria levels on the highest octave, you’re thinking how futile the camera-clicking exercise is. Because you want to capture every inch, 360 degrees. No matter how many shots you take, its never enough. Don’t even bother thinking of which Connemara characteristic entices you the most…because there’s no first among equals.
Driving past kilometres and kilometres of gigantic mounds on both sides of an infinite, deserted road, you have an inimitable sense of being dwarfed, which is curiously rewarding. Mellow sunshine and grey clouds alternate to create ever-changing light effects and with every curve in the road, the eternal mountains reveal new facets of their persona. You are visualising 2,957 hectares of the Connemara National Park sprawling over North West Connemara, picturing the entire range of its lofty mountains including the famous quartzite Twelve Bens, the Maumturks and Killary Fjord, Ireland’s only fjord standing as a natural border between Galway and Mayo counties. Intermittent rain is playing spoilsport, dark skies are affecting the clarity of the view and the vast emptiness is all-pervading. Yet you’re in the highest of high spirits.
Golden brown was never as appealing. Miles and miles of peaty bogland stretch out as far as the eye can see, broken only by a never-ending strip of road. Suddenly, the edges have hazed out and the pixels have thickened. In slow motion, the scene has morphed into a masterpiece, and you’re a speck inside a gigantic oil painting set in a large gilded frame. Melting into the ruggedness of the landscape, feeling the softness of the blooming heather, touching the roughness of the unkempt grass, and caressing the vibrant yellow flower bushes that splatter the land. You could be here forever, lost to the world, in these surreal surrounds. The stark beauty of this wet ecosystem is giving you goosebumps, yet you can’t stop smiling.
Innumerable dots of white specking the velvety green carpet laid out below were a visual delight, even from the tiny window of your aircraft as it hovered over the Emerald Isle. But out here, in Connemara, they multiply the magic of the moors manifold. You can never tire of those fluffy sheep and fat baby lambs filling the lush fields, crossing the road, munching away ceaselessly, getting soaked in the rain. All scenes to soothe the soul! But also keep your eyes peeled for the Connemara Pony… a native breed, originally of Scandinavian descent, brought to Ireland by the Vikings and inter-bred with Andalusian horses from the Spanish Armada. Short, stout, muscular and so apt for this untamed terrain. These little fellows, though a rare sight, are found grazing on the grasslands in solitude, taking children on hesitant, maiden treks or gracing local equestrian shows. Happiness has a permanent home in Connemara.
Blues to die for
Dark skies have been heightening the drama and you have been in a ‘please-don’t-wake-me-ever’ trance. Then it gets even better. The clouds disperse and when the sun makes a dramatic breakthrough, washing the landscape with its brightness. It feels like someone just replaced the movie set before you could blink. Or applied a clever light filter to adjust the colour balance. And the rainbows! So many rainbows! Unbridled grey streams racing past the roadside and lavishly proportioned lochs in vast valleys now acquire a new life, dazzling you their sharp, almost unreal blues. The rippling waves glint and glisten like a million sapphires. You stare and stare, following every microscopic move of the waters till you can crane your neck no more. Is this for real? Or did you just die and go to heaven?
Unspoilt local scenes
No monumental structures to gloat over, no queues for tickets, no brochures, no audio guides and certainly no thronging squares. In these untouched quarters, it is the mundane that steals the show. A quaint stone bridge over a gentle stream against the backdrop of the Irish countryside, begging to be photographed. An abandoned farmhouse with a wheelbarrow parked outside a broken window. A solitary bench against a wooden fence that borders expansively luxurious grassy plains. A traditional thatched roof home with a red door. And the ever-so-gorgeous Atlantic Sea flaunting a rocky coastline and secluded beaches. Are you thinking of giving up that boring job and moving into paradise? Whoever defined the word ‘ecstasy’ must have driven up here. Unquestionably.
Stuff of storybooks
You take a deep breath as you spot it from a vantage point far away. Elegantly draped in all-white, lovingly encased in the cradle of rich green forestry and mighty mountains, it stands extravagantly on the shores of a lake, silently proclaiming a romantic story. The 19th-century Kylemore Abbey, gifted by Mitchell Henry to his wife, Margaret, is now owned and run by Benedictine nuns, lives up to its reputation as one of the prettiest castles in all of Ireland. The small Gothic Church and Victorian walled gardens in the complex make lovely pitstops. But it is the stroll through the thickly wooded complex with its ivy-draped gnarled trees that will burn into your memory for posterity. Poet, painter or musician…you’ve already converted into one. Because your heart is singing the sweetest of songs.
We went on this incredibly scenic and inspiring trip from ‘Galway to Connemara & Kylemore Abbey’ with Lally Tours. The tour was flawless in every way and our guide made the tour extra special. All opinions are my own.
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