Galway to Connemara

The morning offered the promise of bright sunshine as we left the hotel and headed for Briget's Garden, which claims to be "a magical journey through the sacred spiral of the seasons into the heart of Celtic heritage and mythology, making it one of the truly outstanding environmental and cultural heritage centres in Ireland." It is certainly a very special place with unique properties, but it was much more human and canny than the website's overblown hype and graphics suggests. Looking at it a second time, perhaps the website is aimed at American tourists looking for the shamrock-and-leprechauns-experience.

What made the garden feel particularly authentic was this roundhouse reconstruction, which had been a project of Martin's. This was the first time he had seen it in a completed state.

Although the roundhouse is very recent, already it is being colonised by nesting birds...
The entire site was a feast for the imagination, since it brought together myth and religion, history and culture, horticulture and crafts. The level and provision of information and interpretation was pitched just right. Enough to set the context, but not so overbearing as to stifle independent creative thought.
Here are the images of our party taking the bog-oakwood throne in the garden:

From Brigit's Garden, we headed further north and west. The scent of seaweed grew stronger and fuchsia, honeysuckle and elderflower lined the winding roads. The strong light and sparkling schist reminded me of Brittany.

At a small headland was a craft and gift shop. I was interested to see how local craft products were branded and promoted. There was a large selection of woolen goods so I took photographs of some of the labels. Here and at other woolen outlets we were to visit, it was clear that the locally-made or Irish-made goods were promoted at a premium and badged accordingly, but little or no evidence of that the wool had come from local sheep. Even this label is carefully worded:

We were now tracing a route along the serrated Atlantic coast. We stopped at a stone jetty and went beachcombing. In my excitement of being once more on a tidal shore I found an old canoe helmet and put it on. Immediately I was almost overcome with a nauseating smell of rotting excrement. A brown semi-liquid slime oozed from the helmet, into my hair and on to my shirt. I quickly plunged my head in the sea and washed my hair, removed my shirt and washed that, too, until all traces of the evil ooze had gone. Resuming the beachcombing, I found pieces of calcified seaweed, and along with Gille, a host of shells and pebbles. These were items to contemplate. Two flashbacks occurred. One from an old Donovan song (and this area was somewhere he knew well), and the other, more coherent, from William Blake.
"little pebble upon the sand,
now you're lying here in my hand,
how many years have you been here?"

"to see the world in a grain of sand
and a heaven in a wild flower,
hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour"

Before we left, I was able to sit on stone steps and watch the tide in flood. The quiet suck and swell of the limpid water reminded me of seeing the sun glinting on a painted clinker boat moored to a similar jetty in Kinsale harbour. The spooky thing about this was that I would only have been about seven years'-old.
A little further along the coast we stopped again to look at the peeling, rotting and rusting remains of a once substantial boat amidst the daisies and the buttercups. It was like a message in a bottle, brought in on the flood-tide of several decades, and almost impossible to decipher accurately. There was a painted love-message on the port prow. Later, it inspired Martin to write a poem of an imagined tryst on the shore.
Continuing to follow the coast, much to Gille's delight we came to a beach of shell-sand. To my delight, we also saw the Atlantic horizon for the first time. I really wanted to get in the sea. As soon as I was splashing along the shore, a dog appeared from nowhere and wanted to play. So we did, until it was time to go, and the dog just as mysteriously disappeared. So had my glasses.
We went around to the next peninsular amid some ancient field systems, the remnants of which were marked out by large boulders and lines of smaller stones. We stopped and walked around an area that included a small street, barely discernible between tumbledown walls. We could see the ridges and furrows of potato fields. Abandoned and crumbling buildings littered the landscape. Some were being refurbished. We talked about how the landscape had changed, and of different attitudes to those changes. Electricity poles and cables, embankments reinforced with concrete, large picture windows, heating oil storage tanks - all these have made life easier and more pleasant than before, but their utilitarian appearance was at odds with our romantic notions of landscape. Yet we could barely imagine the relentless struggle for survival and the eventual loss of life at the time of the famine and the years preceding it, which was the landscape we had come here to see.

Our next stop was not much further on in the fishing village of Roundstone. I was enchanted by the lines of a traditional boat in the harbour. After a conversation with a fisherman filleting his catch on the deck of a small modern trawler, I discovered it was a Connemara hooker. He had his own smaller version alongside, so invited me aboard for a closer look. He explained that the Galway and Connemara Hookers are regularly raced in regattas along the coast. His boat was at least a 100 years' old, but just about every timber had been replaced.

Our stop for the night was a guesthouse in the town of Clifden. I sneaked out quickly to find a bar, live music and a TV showing the World Cup England/ US match. We only managed a draw after our goalie's mistake, but I enjoyed some good-natured banter with visitors from San Francisco. It was remarkable to find so many people of different nationalities in this place. Later, Martin and I went to see and hear a live band in another bar. This was grungy blues crossed with Van Morrison. It was impossible not to dance to it. By their last number, they were playing from the bar-top. I suppose the soaking I received on my walk back to the guesthouse in the pouring rain was a good way to cool-off and draw a stimulating day to a close.