What’s this? There’s water falling from the sky…..
After experiencing Ireland in a heatwave, we’ve had slightly more typical Irish summer weather for our journey up from Connemara through County Mayo and into County Sligo.
Overview: 3 days, 229 miles
We’d planned a more wiggly route through Connemara than the one you see on the map to take in as much of the scenery as possible; unfortunately one of the minor roads we wanted to use had roadworks on it and was only allowing “local traffic”. There’s nothing “local” about SOK so we decided we’d better reroute. What we saw of Connemara was certainly stunning; at the risk of unintentionally offending anyone Irish, it’s very much like the Lake District but a lot less busy.
Not far from Clifden, we came to Kylemore Abbey. Judging from the number of coaches in the car park and the fact that we heard French, German and Spanish spoken within a couple of minutes of leaving SOK, Kylemore Abbey is clearly an important stop for coach tours of Ireland.
We didn’t actually pay to go into the abbey, feeling that we’d seen enough properties of that vintage in the past. We could see why it might be a big draw for other nationalities, though.
Basically, Kylemore is a Victorian mansion built between 1867 and 1871 for Mitchell Henry, the son of a wealthy cotton merchant. Henry was a medical doctor in his youth, then inherited the family business, and later became an MP. It has all the rooms any self-respecting Victorian mansion should have, plus a neo-gothic church and a walled garden in the grounds. We figured that the best things about it were probably its external appearance and setting, which we could see for free from the car park:
Kylemore was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1903, who in turn had to leave in 1914 when the money ran out (it can happen to the best of us….). It was bought in 1920 by an order of Benedictine nuns who’d been bombed out of Ypres during WW1, hence becoming Kylemore Abbey. The nuns ran a girls’ boarding and day school from the 1920’s right through until 2010 when the school was forced to close due to a “decline in vocations”. The nuns who taught at the school were hitting retirement age, and you just can’t get young nuns nowadays……
We saw more of the fabulous Connemara scenery en route to Cong. Cong itself is a pretty little place that’s full of tourists; we heard mainly American voices here (I guess it’s just luck as to which coaches have pulled in at a place just before us).
Parking was a pain; every single car park in Cong has a height barrier. Coaches were lined up along the road into town and motorhomes had to be abandoned wherever their owners could find space. We’d been warned about the height barriers in Ireland but Cong is honestly the first place where we’ve had problems (admittedly, we don’t tend to even attempt to drive into larger towns).
Having parked SOK on a quiet lane outside town, we walked in to have a look round.
Cong very much sells itself on being the place where the 1951 John Wayne film “The Quiet Man” was filmed. The red and white house in the photo below apparently featured in the film….
… and here are the stars, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara (who we came across at Foynes in our last post):
I don’t know how well-known the film is but I for one had never heard of “The Quiet Man”, and I have to say that I was amazed that Cong doesn’t make more of Cong Abbey.
The abbey is managed by OPW but unmanned, with just one sign at the entrance giving the basic chronology of the site. It’s right in the centre of the town, so all of the visitors were having a look at it, many with no idea at all of what it is / was.
An Augustinian Abbey was founded here in 1137 on the site of a 7th century monastery (though most of the current ruins “only” date back to the early 13th century). This was an important place – the last High King of Ireland died at Cong in 1198, for example. Incredibly, there was no mention at all of the Cross of Cong. It’s one of the Treasures of Ireland ffs…. Luckily we have a photo from our visit to the National Museum in Dublin:
The cross was made in 1123 as a processional cross to enclose a fragment of the True Cross (now missing; it would have been behind the big rock crystal in the middle of the cross). It was kept in the care of the Augustinians at Cong for centuries, hence the name “Cross of Cong”, and was among the possessions of the last Abbot of Cong when he died in 1829. Each to their own, but personally I find the Cross of Cong much more interesting than John Wayne’s whereabouts for a short period in 1951……
We found a great spot for Friday night at the Rosmoney Sailing Club just outside Westport (GPS 53.825520, -9.620350):
Absolutely fantastic, though it probably wouldn’t be polite to bring larger vans down here.
On Saturday, we continued further North. Céide Fields in Northern Mayo was really interesting. It’s a 5,000 year old farming landscape protected by a 1.5m deep layer of blanket bog.
The first farmers moved to this area over 5,000 years ago bringing cattle and sheep with them. The thick native forest was cut down and stone walls built to create a landscape of large fields in which to keep the livestock.
At some point, the ground became waterlogged, creating conditions in which plant debris builds up over time to create peat. This could have occurred as a direct result of the cutting down of the trees (which would previously have prevented around 70% of the rainfall from reaching the ground) and/or the climate might have changed and become a lot wetter.
The blanket bog that built up over the site had an important consequence in that subsequent farming hasn’t changed the 5,000 year-old farming landscape at all; it’s all still there under the peat.
Only small parts have been excavated to show the stone field walls beneath; most of it remains hidden under the bog. It has been mapped by poking rods through the peat every few centimetres; apparently Céide Fields is by far the largest Stone Age monument in the World. The scale of the site, together with the amount of work involved in constructing the stone walls, indicates a sizeable, organised community, and the way that dwellings are scattered individually across the fields tells archaeologists that life in the area must have been pretty peaceful.
The visitor centre, housed in the pyramid-shaped structure you can see in the photo above, gave us a lot of good information, after which we could follow a boardwalk around one of the fields. It does have to be said, though, that once you’ve seen one 5,000 year old stone wall, you’ve seen them all….
We were right by the sea here; just across the road from the visitor centre is a viewpoint with stunning views of the nearby cliffs (they even have some very decorative cows sprinkled on top!).
Saturday night’s stop was at a nice little slipway on Lough Conn, just outside the town of Crossmolina:
There’s a toilet block here with a fresh water tap and loo disposal (a round black manhole on one corner of the building) – and it’s all free! We actually parked up overnight on a gravelled area down by the water, but here’s SOK this morning in the dedicated camper van area, getting his fill from the water tap:
Today’s journey took us further East to Sligo and the Carrowmore megalithic cemetery which contains over 30 visible tombs (and the same number again that you can’t see but which archaeologists assure us are there) from the Neolithic period.
Here’s the largest tomb; the stone cairn has had to be reconstructed using nearby cairns as an example as much of the original stone was “recycled” to build roads in the early 1700s……
The other tombs are much smaller – the cemetery is impressive more for the collection of tombs than for any of the tombs individually.
You may be able to make out another flat-topped cairn on the top of the hill in the photo above. It’s unexcavated but is most likely another passage tomb. It’s said to be the grave of the legendary Queen Maeve of Connaught (very roughly, the North-West quarter of Ireland). Your typical warrior queen, Maeve is apparently buried upright in full battle armour, facing her enemies in Ulster. It’s probably complete nonsense, but until the cairn is excavated, who are we to say?
We’ve had a busy couple of days keeping track of our Spendings and Savings. Mark announced this afternoon that he has now completed a full page of Irish OPW “Savings”, totalling 186 Euros:
The numbers on the Spending front are somewhat larger, as our South Africa bookings have been hitting the credit card. The flights are economy, of course (we’ve hopefully got a lot of retirement ahead of us, so we’re by no means ready to start splashing out on business class yet). The vehicle we’ve gone for is a slightly higher spec. than the one we rented in Namibia in early 2014 (that trip was pre-blog, so we’ve got a lot of fantastic photos but unfortunately no “diary” to go with them).
Now that that’s sorted, we can get back to focusing exclusively on Ireland. From here we’ve got two days to tootle back down to Ennis in County Clare for SOK’s date with the Ford Garage first thing on Wednesday morning. We’ve identified a few things to look at along the way that we wouldn’t have made it to if we hadn’t hit “Plan B” territory with SOK’s fuel injector issue. Once SOK’s fixed it’ll be a quick dash back up to the Sligo area and a continuation of our initial planned route.
Please do keep your fingers crossed on Wednesday morning!