Wednesday, April 19

Getting up at 5:30 AM to catch the seven o’clock train was rough.  This might be a good time for me to do a little venting about European bathroom facilities.  Ours in particular.  Every inch of real estate must be precious in Ireland, because there’s absolutely no wasted space in the bathrooms.  Not really any place to put your toiletries, either.  I like to be able to turn around in the shower without banging my elbows, but in our tiny stall there was no way.  Just remember to "mind your head" when getting in and out of the shower, if you’re on the tall side.  Well, at least I didn’t break anything.  Thankfully, though, the bathroom was in our room and not a community facility down the hall.

Our cab arrived in front of the house at 6:30.  Nancy, Allie, and I piled in.  There was very little traffic that time of the morning.  I made the mistake of asking the driver how the rise in gasoline prices was effecting his business.  He told me all about it in no uncertain terms.  After a little confusion at the train station, we hooked up with Susann, our guide for the day.

Heuston Station was clean, well-lighted, and surprisingly free of the smell of diesel.  Since we left home without the benefit of our usual Irish breakfast, Nancy and I ordered the dining car’s version of it.  It was better than your average meal on wheels.  Once out of Dublin, the brilliant green fields and wide open spaces just rolled right on by.  Susann gave us the low down on what we would be seeing during the day.  She even provided us with some details of her personal life like the fact that she’s a lecturer in linguistics at Trinity College, she’s an American who moved here with an Irish husband fifteen years ago, and now she’s divorced.  We got pretty well acquainted with Susann over the course of the day.  She turned out to be not only very helpful, but also a fun tour guide.

It took about 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to Galway.  As soon as we got off the train, we were hustled outside to the waiting Lally tour bus.  It was filled with tourists of all nationalities.  Sadly we got only a very cursory glimpse of Galway as we sped out of town.

Our bus carved a long, slow, figure-eight through the scenic Connemara region.  The first part of our journey took us past misty mountains with gorse-covered hillsides, clear lakes, a lone fjord, and the surprisingly drab bogs.  There was nary an Irishman to be seen in the countryside, just sheep almost everywhere you looked, often grazing the slopes at impossible angles.  Susann said much of the land in this region was unsuitable for agriculture, hence the very sparse human population.  Ireland doesn’t depend on peat bogs as an energy source as much now as in the past, but we still saw evidence of the current extraction process along the way.  Our driver, Martin, did a good job of describing what we saw out our windows.  He engaged in playful banter accompanied by his own spirited singing.  During occasional lulls in the action he piped in traditional Irish music over the loud speaker, all the while skillfully navigating the narrow, curvy, rain-slickened backroads.

We stopped at Kylemore Abbey for lunch.  Susann warned us that we really needed to make a choice between eating a hot meal and seeing everything there was to see at the Abbey.  We chose exploring over eating.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate at all.  In short, it rained like hell.  Nancy, Allie, and I walked the few hundred yards from the parking lot to the Abbey in a driving rain that turned our puny umbrellas inside out.  Somehow my head stayed more or less dry, but my pants were soaked.  Allie was just as wet.  For a brief moment we envied the other tourists, most of whom had opted for the sheltered comfort of the cafeteria.

Kylemore is a Benedictine abbey nestled between a picturesque lake and some sharply rising mountains.  We wondered whether Mom and Sister Jane Frances had visited the Abbey on their trip to Ireland in the early 90s.  After all, Sister Jane has been in the Order of St. Benedict for over 50 years.  Later we learned that they hadn’t been able to make it there.  However, I did find out that my boss, Barbara Brown, took the same tour as we did a year or so earlier.

We were allowed to visit four or five fully furnished rooms in the Abbey.  The rest of the former castle is reserved for students in residence.  We ventured back out into the rain a couple more times to see the recently renovated Chapel and later to watch a video in another building.  Just before we got back on the bus, the rain stopped long enough for me to take several quick pictures of the Abbey from the bridge.  In reality, though, no photograph by an amateur like me will ever do this breathtaking setting justice.

One of the most incredible sights on our trip came during the afternoon ride back to Galway.  The three of us learned the true meaning of Stonewall Country (sorry about the Lexington inside joke!).  As we drove over toward the coast, the ground got steadily rockier until finally the bus stopped for the ultimate photo shoot. Running through a small cluster of houses (including one with a thatched roof) was a network of stone walls as far as the eye could behold.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  It puts anything we saw in the English countryside several years ago to shame.


Once back in Galway, we had little time for anything except to go down into the city shopping mall and pick up sandwiches and drinks to eat on the train.  We had a couple of unexpected delays on the ride back, so there were times when the train seemed to be flying to make up the lost time.  A friendly cabby dropped us off near Colette’s around 9:30 PM.  It was a long day to be sure.  We may not have kissed the Blarney Stone (that happens on the southern rail tour), but we did get an unforgettable sampling of the beautiful Irish countryside.

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Created by Nancy and Dave Badertscher
May 7, 2000