August 21, 2013. Galway, Ireland — Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did.
I had a hunch that Connemara would be a special place when I looked at my road map of Ireland. Scenic roads are highlighted in green; most of our route along the Wild Atlantic Way was lined in green. But Connemara is broader than the other peninsulas along which we have been driving, and on the map its road system is a network of green rather than just single lines or loops. The map of Connemara beckoned me with its jigsaw puzzle of green.
Its coastline is even rougher and more indented than the rest of the west coast of Ireland. At almost every turn of the road you can see vast ocean views, hidden beaches, seaside villages, and islands just a few miles off shore. Inland, Connemara is marked by empty bogs and moors broken up by ponds and lakes, framed by distant mountain tops rounded by the winds of time. It is an eerie and moody place that inspires tales of ghosts and mysterious disappearances from the locals. It sounded like my kind of place.
It had been a long drive from Doolin to Clifden, the largest town in Connemara, and I was cranky and tired by the time we arrived. That we had trouble finding a room for the night didn’t help. I wanted to find a peaceful place with a view where I could settle in for a few days. All we could find was a tiny room with a view of a wall in a guesthouse on a busy street. And it was only available for one night since Clifden was booked almost solid for the weekend for the annual pony show and market.
It was reasonably priced and the owners were friendly and helpful so we grabbed it. The guesthouse was only a short walk from where the steeple jumping competition was being held so Katherine, a lover of all things equine, was very happy. While she watched sleek, powerful horses ridden by wispy adolescent girls leap over barriers, I looked for a snack. The gourmet food truck revolution, which has taken over the upscale restaurant, shopping and art gallery street in our neighborhood back home, has yet to reach Ireland. Chips, chips, and more chips (or as we know them, fries, fries, and more fries) were pretty much it. I had mine with cheese and garlic. Not bad, but not exactly a bulgogi burrito.
The riding and jumping competition was actually pretty interesting, not the kind of thing that happened often (ever) where I grew up. After the competition, we went to Guy’s, a local pub and restaurant, for a good, inexpensive dinner, and I went back to our teeny room to write my latest blog post. Katherine hung around the nearby pubs on the street to hear some music.
I didn’t sleep well in our tiny, airless room, so the first order of business in the morning, after checking out the pony auction, was to find a place to stay that night.
The Lonely Planet Guide recommended the Dolphin Beach Country House, about three miles outside of town. We called, they had rooms available, and we booked one for two nights. I was hopeful as we drove down the narrow road to the Dolphin Beach, though I was a bit apprehensive about driving to and from town on the road at night.
The view opened up as the road grew narrower. I alternated between snatching looks at the widening mouth of the bay and the open ocean before us, and looking apprehensively up the road, praying that no one was driving down the road in our direction.
As I pulled into the lodge I breathed a sigh of relief, not just because we had made it, though that was not inconsequential, but because the house was attractive and the setting was gorgeous. Wrap around windows looked over gardens and a sheep pasture on the headland jutting into the sea. Our room was bright, spacious, uncluttered and had a great view. It was the retreat I had been dreaming about since we left the Ard na Sidhe in Killorglin a few days before.
Before we unpacked we took a walk through the garden to the cove and beach below the lodge, then along the cliffs of the headland. The sheep eyed us warily and bbbaaahhhed as we picked our way around the distinctive piles they had deposited in our path.
We dealt with the drive into town by having dinner that night in the lodge – an excellent piece of salmon that tasted as if it had swum by just a few hours before. Katherine, in her continued quest for traditional Irish music, took a taxi into town with another guest. I passed in favor of snuggling in bed with the latest Ian McEwan novel and listening to the sounds of the surf in the distance.