Ireland: Pirate Queen, Kylemore Abbey, and High Tea

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.

Kylemore Abbey.

The view from the entrance to Kylemore Abbey.

Church on the grounds of Kylemore Abbey.

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.

Ancient stone walls mark property lines.

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.

Killary Fjord.

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.

A half arc rainbow, so we didn’t stop to nab a leprechaun.

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!

Westport House.

Westport House

Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen.

High Tea at Westport House.

That is a flame, not a horn on the angel. It is considered a blessing to shake the angel’s hand.

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!

Ireland: Cliffs of Moher, Galway, and Dunguire Castle

On our Best of Ireland Trafalgar Tour, we saw the spectacular Cliffs of Moher.

It’s windy at the Cliffs of Moher.

The tower is a viewing spot.

Tokens tied to the fence. Are they to mark one’s visit honor the visitors who fell from the cliffs?

A memorial to the fallen.

Cliffs of Moher

We also stopped at a sacred well where St. Brigid baptized people. The Celtic church allowed women clergy. It is believed that the well became holy because of the baptisms performed there. Some credit the well with healing. Brigid’s cross is a square cross crafted from reeds. Believers tie ribbons and bits of cloth to trees over the well in the hope that their ailment will be cured when the token falls from the tree. I touched the water. It was cold.

St. Brigid’s well.

St. Brigid’s well.

In Ireland, golfers are not permitted to use buggies unless they have a doctor’s note. The golf courses are lumpy, wind-blown challenges. Rocky, barren hills known as the Burren are protected from farming and development. These fossil-rich hills have caves and stone-age burial sites. Our guide, Ann, said that the traditional way to eat oysters is to have a dozen of them with Guinness. She mentioned that oysters are an aphrodisiac. “One raises expectations; the other lowers them.”

We stayed in Galway and visited Galway Cathedral and the historic (shopping and restaurants) area.

Galway Cathedral.

Galway Cathedral.

Mark 2:1-12

Galway Cathedral windows.

Galway

Oscar Wilde.

Dinner at Dunguaire Castle was a joy. We drank pureed veggie soup from a bowl, ate bread and butter, and a small salad. The main course was chicken with a white mushroom sauce, served with cooked carrots and Italian green beans with fingerling potatos. We were given unlimited mead (wine made with honey), white wine, red wine, and water. Dessert was apple pie with whipped cream. A harpist played and a couple sang ballads. Given the unlimited alcohol, I was shocked and pleased that all made it down the narrow stone spiral staircase without incident.

We dined at Dunguaire Castle.

At last, we collapse into bed at the Connacht Hotel in Galway.