After visiting the Blarney Castle, we drove to the old Jameson distillery in Midleton. We had a tour where we learned about the process of making Irish whiskey and how it is different from other types of whiskey. At the end of the tour, we got to sample some of the whiskey.
On Wednesday morning, we departed Galway for the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare. This was one of the sights that I was really looking forward to seeing in person. The Cliffs of Moher stretch for about 5 miles and climb as high as 702 feet over the Atlantic Ocean. They are the Cliffs of Insanity in the movie “The Princess Bride.” They are also known as a spot for puffin viewing, but we didn’t see any puffins while we were there. These are the highest cliffs in Europe and, unlike the cliffs of Dun Aenghus, these cliffs have a safety barrier and watchful rangers to make sure you don’t get too close to the edge. It can still be a little frightening when a particularly strong gust of wind hits you while you are near the edge, even though there is a safety barrier. It was extremely windy while we were there, so I only briefly ventured into the “extreme danger” area. The wind was so strong, I had a difficult time hanging onto my camera! The view from up on the cliffs was absolutely amazing. My pictures don’t do it justice.
We took a shuttle bus from Galway to catch a ferry to the Aran Islands, specifically to the island of Inishmore. It was about an hour ride to the ferry and then other 45 minutes for the ferry crossing. I was worried about the weather because we were going to spend the majority of the day here outdoors, and there had been on-and-off showers for the past few days. We got lucky though, as there was not a single drop of rain. It was still cold and windy, but that was to be expected. Some of our group rented bicycles to get around, but I joined some other people in having a driver take us around the island in a van. He was a local and would tell us about various points of interest as he drove. Inishmore is the largest of the three Aran Islands, but has a population of only 760 people. It is a charmingly rustic place. Some of the houses even have thatched roofs and matching Leprechaun houses!
Our driver dropped us off at the base of Dun Aenghus, a prehistoric Celtic ring fort, which is about 2,000 years old. It is located high on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. This is the main attraction on the island and where we spent the majority of our time. It takes about 20 minutes to hike to the top, where the view is absolutely stunning. The crazy thing is that there aren’t any safety fences by the cliff, especially since there can be extremely strong gusts of wind! We very carefully took some photos near the cliff. I slid up to the edge of the cliff on my stomach so I could see what a 200 foot drop looks like.
We walked back down from Dun Aenghus and found our driver whose was having lunch with the island’s three policemen. He drove us around a bit more, then dropped us off near the ferry terminal. I had a late lunch with another one of the travelers and then looked in some of the shops before getting on the one and only departing ferry at 5 PM. I was worried about missing the ferry, as that would mean being stranded on the island overnight and missing our group’s departure from Galway the next morning. My worries were unnecessary, as we made it to the ferry with plenty of time to spare.
This was our order at the bar in Monroe’s, a pub in Galway where we had dinner. Galway is known for its hookers, a type of fishing boat which has multiple hooks on a single fishing line. There is also a beer, the Galway Hooker Pale Ale, whose color is said to resemble the rusty color of the Hooker Sculpture in Eyre Square. Our tour guide encouraged us to get our lips around a hooker while we were in Galway, and I sure wasn’t going to miss out! I am not much of a beer drinker, but I am glad I tried it.
An Irish language TV show happened to be filming a program featuring Irish musicians on the second floor. One of the producers came downstairs and invited people to be part of the audience. I thought it sounded like a cool experience, so I went upstairs after dinner with some of the others in our group. An older man with the production approached us immediately, and before I knew it, they filmed me explaining to him how to take a selfie with his iPhone! I wonder if that will make it into the final footage, as that part was in English and this was for an Irish language TV station. I didn’t understand any of the introductions or some of the songs that had lyrics, but it was still great hearing authentic Irish musicians perform live. We left before the taping was finished as it was getting late and we were tired of standing by the high intensity lights which were very hot. Often times we would have to do three or more takes of each set, so it got to be tiring after a while.
After our tour of Londonderry, we drove back to the Republic of Ireland to Galway, which is on the west coast. We were dropped off in town and had a few hours to explore on our own. First I headed across the river to the Galway Cathedral, then I walked along the river, down to the Spanish Arch and the Columbus monument. Next I visited the Church of Saint Nicholas, which dates back to medieval times. I then did a bit of shopping in some of the cute, little stores in town before heading back to Eyre Square, our meeting point to go to the hotel. Galway is part of the Gaeltacht, regions of Ireland where Irish is spoken. It was great overhearing some of the locals speaking Irish. Another interesting observation was to see how much the people in this area loved JFK. The park, which contains a JFK monument, in Eyre Square is named after him as well as a nearby pub. There is even a mosaic of him in the cathedral right next to a mosaic of Christ’s resurrection!
This is what our local Londonderry tour guide, Ronan, kept reminding us. We had arrived in Londonderry the night before, after leaving the Giant’s Causeway. Our first order of business on Monday was to meet Ronan for a walking tour of Londonderry, also known as Derry depending on which side of the city wall you live. Ronan himself was pretty interesting. He is the product of a Buddhist, Asian mother and a Protestant, Caucasian father and speaks fluent Gaelic and English with the most wonderful Irish accent. He grew up in Londonderry and, as such, told us that he has a bias regarding the divide between the Unionists and Loyalists. However, he is also a history teacher and was able to present Londonderry’s storied past rather neutrally.
He took us up on the city walls for a walk during which he told us the history of points of interest along the way. It was fascinating to get the perspective of someone who has lived there from the time of the Troubles up to today. We then walked around the Catholic Bogside neighborhood to look at the famous political murals and “Free Derry” sign. The sign is currently undergoing maintenance. It was a sobering experience to know we were walking in the very area where Bloody Sunday occurred, but also uplifting at the same time since, although gritty, it is perfectly safe to walk down the street.
Just like in Belfast, you can tell who lives on which side of the wall just by looking at the flags and artwork. However, as both tour guides pointed out, the two sides have more in common than differences as they are both economically depressed. Ronan told us that his kids mention seeing tourists walking around town, but when he was their age, he would see soldiers and IRA members violently clashing with each other. In this way, he said that us tourists are part of the city’s healing process.