The first road trip report is for those wanting to both experience the outdoors and the history and culture of Western Ireland.
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We started our trip on a Friday night after work and drove to Leenane (Leenaun in Irish) and found great accommodations at the Leenane Hotel. From Galway we took N59 North to Maam Crossing and then North on R336 to Leenane. Leenane is pronounced “Len Anne”. The trip took a little bit over an hour. The drive was very pretty and not too intense since the traffic was light.
The Hotel had a nice pub and the food was pretty good. The mussels and the fish chowder with lots of salmon were both very good as would be expected as less than 20 yards from the hotel is Killary Harbour that has commercial farming of mussels and salmon. Our meal that night including beer and wine was about 60€. The view from the front of the hotel is very beautiful and dominated by the Ben Gorm Mountains and Killary Harbour. The room was clean and roomy with a modern bathroom (at least in the new wing where we stayed). The breakfast was a standard Irish breakfast supplemented with cereal and fruit. The B&B price was 70€ for both of us. Leenane is rural ….no RURAL!!!! Our O2 cell phones did not work and some of the other guests only had coverage when they went to the front porch of the hotel. The hotel did have Wifi in the lounge that was very roomy and comfortable. We didn’t find out about the Wifi until late Saturday. In retrospect it was very nice to be “unplugged” for 24 hours.
When we arrived Friday night, we were one of 4 or 5 parties at the hotel. The weather was about as perfect as could be expected. For the whole weekend (no rain…don’t count on this) On Saturday the hotel was closer to capacity with other tourists, scuba divers, cyclist, and runners. By chance we visited on the weekend of the Connemara Marathon (more to follow). The area has several companies that can arrange for bikes, kayaks, and other equipment for enjoying the outdoors. Needless to say the pub was much livelier on Saturday night.
We ate Saturday night at the Blackberry Café in the town of Leenane. The food was very good, but I wish I had ordered the mussels there. Another table had 4 orders of mussels that came in steaming pots and looked very tempting. I had the Irish stew and it was very good. The fish cake appetizer was definitely worth a return trip. We both ate from the 3 course fixed price menu with a glass of wine for about 60€.
On Saturday we visited Kylemore Abbey, the adjacent Victorian Gardens and the mini Gothic Cathedral. The Abbey is one of the most beautiful spots in Ireland and has a rich history. Besides the beautiful grounds, the tour gives an insight into the Irish History of Western Ireland. Mitchell Henry built the house/castle for his new wife in 1867. The Victorian Gardens have recently been partially restored and are open for touring. I’m sure Mitchell Henry was the hit of high society when he served fresh bananas from his green houses to his guests in the middle of rural Ireland. In 1920 after WWI, Benedictine Nuns from Belgium converted the house to a school and Abbey. The school was just recently closed, but the grounds are still used by the nuns. For the full story see Kylemore Abbey History.
The tour of the grounds can be done in an hour; Carol and I took closer to 5 or 6. The “coffee shop” appears nice. Carol and I stuck to drinks and pastries and we were pleased. Some of the dining room offers a scenic view overlooking the lake and castle.
The Connemara National Park is just a few miles down the road. Although we did not visit the park, we have heard that it is worth a stop.
On Sunday we slept in. Our original goal was to visit the Sheep and Wool Centre followed by a boat tour of Killary Harbour, but the Connemara Marathon pleasantly diverted our attention. As we walked towards town we encounter several hundred runners. Leenane was the halfway point for the Marathoners and the start for the half-marathoners. The runners were rewarded with a beautiful sunny day with a high of about 50F. I would guess this is perfect for marathons.
There is a walking festival that is held on the weekend of the May “bank holiday”(May 3,4, and 5 this year). This is something that is on our list of things to do here in Ireland.
We wrapped up our Sunday with a boat tour of Killary Harbour, about 2 hours (21€ each). This is a breath-taking boat ride down the only fjord in Ireland to the Atlantic Ocean and well worth the trip. Besides the scenery there were additional glimpses of Irish history and an up close look at the mussels and salmon farms.
This is an area that was greatly affected by the famine of the 1840’s. A popular walk is the “famine road” that was built by local people in return for food. There is a Famine Walk in mid-summer that takes the famine road but the road can be walked at any time. It is hard to believe that this area still has a significantly reduced population compared to the 1840’s. Over 2 million people from the area either immigrated or died of hunger, about 1 million each during the famine.
The trip home was similar but we took a detour through Connemara since the direct route back to home was closed Sunday for the Marathon. Took a little longer and was just as beautiful as the drive up.
Sheep We Encountered at Kylemore Abbey
A Real Sheep We Encountered...
I’ve rated this road-trip, “Worth A Detour+”. For those whose tastes lean toward natural scenery and a laid-back atmosphere, I would rate this a “Worth the Trip”, thus the “+” rating. This is not a road trip for those looking for the excitement of a big city like nightclubs, rock bands, and a room service breakfast. This is for those who like the outdoors (either to see or experience with a walk, drive or boat ride) and are happy to hang in a pub, drink a few pints and enjoy the craic.
See You in the Pub!
Jet Lag Jack