On our Best of Ireland Trafalgar Tour, we traveled through Connemara to Kylemore Abbey. The romantic history of this fairy-tale castle can be read here. It is, in a way, the Taj Mahal of Ireland.
Galway, which in Gaelic is Gaillimh, had fourteen tribes. Now it is known for medicine, software, and shipping. Fifty-percent of the lamb raised in Ireland is consumed here. The rest is exported all over the world. The sheep roam freely and are branded with vegetable-based dye. Like the cows, they rested on their legs and on their sides. Apparently, they have no natural predators to worry about, like wolves or bear.
Our guide, Ann, told us about a national competition called Tidy Town. Towns compete for the cleanest and most groomed appearance. Flowerboxes in windows and brightly-painted buildings gave many towns a quaint and welcoming vibe. In a bit of history, the Spanish Armada was defeated in part by the Gulf Stream, which blew the ships off course from their intended invasion of England. Many floundered and were wrecked off the coast of Ireland. The Irish rescued and hid the Spanish sailors. Descendents of the Spanish sailors and Irish are known as the Black Irish. More Black Irish were born through marriages with Spanish traders.
The Irish claim that Flamenco dance and American tap dance originated from Irish folk dance. Think Michael Flatley and Riverdance. The shoes allow the dancer to tap as well as to go on point like a ballerina does. In addition to tapping, Irish folk dance involves straight leg kicks high in the front, back kicks (like kicking one’s own rear), and crossing feet and ankles. Arms are kept down at the side. Originally, the arms were raised, but the British demanded changes.
At Westport House, we enjoyed high tea, hosted by one of the daughters of the current owners of the house. We were greeted by the lady and a tour guide. We drank Pims while hearing the story of the house and its restoration. Pims is an alcoholic drink made from Pims #1, lemonade, and ginger ale. It was popular with nobles. Here, we learned the history of Grace O’Malley. Her father was in the shipping business and she later became a famous Chieftan and pirate. Her grandson, John Brown, built the house. Grace O’Malley’s oldest son was killed by the British Governor Richard Billingham and he also kidnapped her youngest son. Incensed, Grace met with Queen Elizabeth, who removed Billingham from office. The Queen then asked Grace to help fend off the Spanish ships, if called upon. What a formidable woman!
At dinner, the Orban Gaelic Choir from Scotland shared our dining room. They practiced songs for their upcoming competition during dinner. After most of our group faded off to their rooms, Handsome asked the choir if they knew Bohemian Rhapsody. Some of them laughed. Moments later, they launched into it with gusto. We were floored. Here’s a link to a sampling of it. An impromptu performance of Bohemian Rhapsody by the Orban Gaelic Choir.
They were to compete in Sligo the next day. I hope they won. They won our admiration!