Beaches, Bridges and Boats
I’m Caitlin and I’m just starting my summer as an Extreme Ireland intern here in Dublin. One of the best parts of my job is getting to go undercover on day tours. Not only will this let me explore Ireland, but I’ll also get to fulfill my lifelong dream of being a spy! My first assignment is to one of the most beautiful spots in all of Ireland – Connemara!
We meet at the Molly Malone statue at 6:40am, and when I arrive I’m greeted by an excited crowd of sightseers ready to head out on their own adventures. Climbing aboard the bus, I meet our guide Darren and my 14 fellow passengers for the Connemara tour. Darren explains our schedule as we head out of the city and our day is underway!
Taking a half hour nap may not have been the most spy-like start to the day, but by 8am everyone is awake and ready for a quick breakfast stop! Our Connemara tour has such a welcoming atmosphere that before long everyone is talking and laughing together. A young writer from Boston, two German sisters on holiday, and a pair of school teachers starting a religious pilgrimage are just a few of the great people I befriend before we’re back on the road!
Light rain and mist doesn’t do anything to dampen our spirits, and if anything the weather just adds to the lush beauty of the countryside. As we take in the gorgeous scenery, Darren teaches us about Ireland’s storied past. Weaving together tales of the Vikings, St. Patrick, and Brian Boru, he paints a fascinating picture of Ireland as a melting pot of people and ideas.
On our way to Connemara we pass the famous bridge from John Wayne classic, “The Quiet Man.” This is a big deal for me because while John Wayne is known for being a Hollywood star, he was born in my home state of Iowa!
Our journey continues and we see the famous Irish penny walls, traditional thatch houses, and one of the biggest lakes in Ireland. We make an unscheduled stop when we come upon two sheep fighting in the middle of the road (they have the right-of-way here!), but before long we reach the famous Twelve Bens of the Connemara National Park.
We pull up to Kylemore Abbey a little after 11am to shocked gasps. Our guide sums up the magnificence of the estate best when he simply says, “Downton Abbey hasn’t got a patch on this place.”
Darren shares the tragic love story behind Kylemore Abbey’s origins before giving us a half hour to appreciate it up close. If you look far enough up the mountain behind the abbey, you can see the Sacred Heart statue that was built by the nuns who took over the residence after fleeing Belgium at the start of WWI. Our guide says the statue is like Ireland’s own miniature version of Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue!
At 12:30pm we take a scenic boat ride across Killary Harbour, Ireland’s only fjord. From the deck we look for dolphins and enjoy views of Mweelrea, one of Ireland’s highest mountains. On board, we have plenty of time to take pictures and to enjoy my favourite part of any trip – lunch! At the recommendation of our guide I order the chowder and am not disappointed. It certainly doesn’t hurt that it was made with seafood caught fresh in the harbour!
Back on the bus, we have another chance to enjoy majestic views of Connemara and learn more Irish history. Despite the immense amount of information he has to share, Darren does a great job of balancing story time with music breaks. A blend of traditional and modern Irish artists, the playlist is the perfect backdrop for our Irish road trip.
After another hour on the road we arrive in Galway and park near the Galway Cathedral, which is gorgeous inside and out. Darren offers directions to Eyre Square, a public park located in the heart of the city. We’re only there for an hour, but there’s time to stroll down the charming streets lined with performers and brightly painted shops.
Not far from Eyre Square is the Spanish Arch, which was built all the way back in 1584! The Arch is located on the edge of the River Corrib, and legend has it that Christopher Columbus passed this spot in 1477. Locals and tourists relax in the grass along the water and I know I’ll be revisiting this lovely city.
Laden with postcards and souvenirs, everyone climbs back on board the bus at 5:30pm and we’re on our way back to Dublin. When we arrive in the city just after 7pm, we’re all shocked to learn that this was Darren’s first time leading a bus tour! Confident and knowledgeable, I never would have guessed that it was his first day too. My Connemara tour has been absolutely wonderful, and I can’t wait for my next tour!
Until next time!