Friday, October 7, 2011

Excursion to Roundstone

For the first time since last Thursday when I arrived here in County Clare I woke yesterday morning to a blue sky and bright sunshine.  Predictably it did not endure; within half an hour a deluge of exceptionally heavy rain was drumming on the roof of the cottage.  A keener photographer than I would have been outside taking photographs of the incredible patterns of light and shade cast by puddles of sun and heavy rain on the tweedy coloured hills opposite but I settled for the dry comfort of the cottage and my morning ‘kick-start’  -coffee and a chocolate chip-cookie.

Within another half hour the sky had cleared, the sun was shining and cotton-wool clouds were being scudded across the sky before a brisk north-westerly wind.  It would be a good day, I reasoned, for a drive to Roundstone, a fishing village on the Galway Bay coast of Connemara that I had put onto my provisional itinerary for several reasons.  One of which was that a friend who knows Ireland well had told me not to miss going there, ‘its a gem of a place’ she had said.  Another was that I knew Roundstone to be the home of author Tim Robinson whose ‘Stones of Aran’ books may, when I first read them back in the early 90s, have planted an early seed of interest in visiting Ireland in my mind; had his Connemara trilogy, the last book of which has only recently been published, been available at that time I may well have made a point of coming here years ago.  But the greatest incentive I had to drive to Roundstone was the prospect of something fishy for lunch at O’Dowd’s.

The weather continued to see-saw rapidly between periods of low visibility, heavy rain and wintry gloom under dark clouds, to bright sunshine and vistas of sparkling mountain and bog under blue skies festooned with all manner of wind-blown scudding clouds. 

That a society of folk blessed with a facility for noticing, admiring and enjoying the beauty of a natural landscape are capable of doing so much to spoil it seems, to me, to be something of a paradox.   Much  of the north shore of Galway Bay, in particular the first stretch of the road leading west from Galway city, has been all but scenically ruined by the imposition of far too many inappropriate buildings; architecturally tedious, extension and conservatory carbunkled boxes in which folk can sit behind huge windows to enjoy the view, not of the beautiful landscape they perhaps hoped to enjoy, but of dwellings at least as architecturally tedious as their own!  What I thought particularly sad was that a few old thatched cottages have survived in more or less good repair.  These buildings, small, low-density, ‘organic’ cottages, built to take advantage of sheltering hollows rather than ‘the view’, illustrate how buildings can, and not so long ago did, enhance, rather than ruin, a landscape. 

At Balllynahown the road turned inland, away from the bungalow-blanketed rocky shore of Galway Bay and into the earthly paradise of mountain, lake, stream and bog that is  recognizably Connemara.  The road narrowed to a twisting undulating single track across the bog and other traffic all but disappeared.

Near Rosmuc Village I stopped to visit the cottage which writer, poet and Irish patriot Patrick Pearse built as a summer retreat.  Here he entertained several of those involved in the 1916 Easter uprising.  He chose a beautiful spot for his summer getaways.  For me, it is difficult to imagine how an armed revolution, careless of bloodshed,  could possibly be considered in such a beautiful, peaceful place.  But Pearse was, along with all irishmen of his day, an oppressed man and, I imagine, to be oppressed is to be desperate for freedom at any price.

Roundstone was the delight I had been promised.  Above a small harbour sheltering several colourful boats, village shops, hostelries and houses are strung along a low cliff overlooking Inishee island.  Prominent among these buildings is O’Dowd’s bar and restaurant.  O’Dowd’s was far less formal than I had expected it to be.  The ‘Seafood Platter’ I ordered there for my lunch, a medley of several kinds of fish and seafood, including generous samplings of noticeably fresh salmon, crab, prawn and mussels, on a crisp mixed green salad, more than confirmed the establishment’s reputation for excellent food.

The accompanying Guiness was . . . .
Well, Guiness, about which, here in Ireland, there is nothing more that needs to be said!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Yesterday, a more or less overcast day, I drove to Connemara.  I have read a good deal about the scenic beauty of Connemara, its mountains, lakes and sea inlets  I have seen many beautiful paintings and excellent photographs depicting its landscapes but the landscapes I witnessed around me yesterday as I pootled along generally empty roads, exceeded in scenic beauty every preconceived idea I had ever held of the place.  Not only did every turn of the road bring forth a stunning new landscape, views were also subject to continual and infinite  changes of light that filtered through varying thicknesses of wind-driven cloud and squally showers of rain. Connemara is a stunningly beautiful place to be; exhilaratingly so.
I could but reflect, however, as I drove through this earthly paradise in the comfort of my well appointed four-wheeled shelter, on how those wretchedly poor souls driven here in the seventeenth century, almost certainly to perish, might have viewed it. Today, Connemara’s raw, natural beauty owes much to its being devoid of signs of the hand of man; some sheep, some evidence of peat cutting but little else.  In the sea estuaries fish-farming is evidently a prospering business but even the fruits of the sea were denied to seventeenth century refugees who were forbidden to go within three miles of the shore.  How those who survived the journey West managed to build shelter and grow food, beggars belief.  Most, of course, did not; they simply disappeared, further advancing the Lord Protector’s exalted place in his God’s heaven.  With God’s like that waiting for me I would prefer to take my chances without one; compared to a paradise with men like the Lord Protector in, albeit secondary, authority an eternity of haunting the bogs, hills and lakes of Connemara may not, it seems to me, be such an awful prospect.  


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

There be nothing there - only sea . . .

"Is this the road for Tawin?"  I asked the fellow as I passed by him.   My "Tay-win" seemed at first not to register with him but he was obviously a smart enough fellow to be able to make allowance for my extraordinary pronunciation.  "Tawn" he said, "is it Tawn you be looking for?  I told him that I probably was and he confirmed that if I carried on in the direction in which I had been travelling I would eventually reach "Tawn".  "But there be nothing there; only sea",  he told me.  "Sea will be fine",  I assured him.   And so it was.  West Tawin - a rather fine single arch stone bridge connects it to mainland East Tawin - is the the island tip of a low peninsular covered with fields divided by stone walls which stretches out into Galway Bay towards the Atlantic.   For a while I paddled around there on the amazingly soft lush turf contentedly lost in the huge land, sea and skyscapes all around and above me.  The hitherto persistent cloud was breaking up and clearing from the north.  I could see that Galway town, across the bay from me, was in bright sunshine; things were boding well for a fine evening.

And so yet again it was when, later, I stopped at Kinvara, a seaside town with a pretty harbour, across the water from which is a fine sixteenth century castle; yet another 'tourist attraction'. Adjacent to the castle is a rather more than adequate tarmacked and white-lined car and coach park.  I understand that tourist revenue is the only source of income with which to maintain venerable buildings and that the vast majority of twenty-first century tourists, myself included, tour in cars or coaches needing to be parked, but huge areas of tarmac, littered with ugly multicolored pressed steel and plastic vehicles do little to enhance the atmosphere and sense of history of a place.  Having achieved its raison d'être the 'attraction' becomes a victim of its attractiveness and enough of its integrity to become, for sensitive folk at least, something rather less than attractive.

For a long while I leaned on a harbour wall, bird watching and essaying to take acceptable photographs of the birds that were pecking about among the rock pools and seaweeds below; various gulls, curlew and plover.  My camera, I am sure, is well up to the task, the man behind the camera has yet much to learn about telephoto photography!

Just as I was about to climb into my car, which I had parked at the end of the harbour, and leave Kinvara a wedge of swans flew low and slow over the water passing within a few yards of my hiding place by the wall - a would-be photographer's version of the angler's 'one that got away' story!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A grey day

Today the cloud base remained at, or close to, ground level throughout the day.  A lot of people were out and about; Sunday excursionists.  Were they not indifferent to the weather, the Irish would, I suppose, never leave their home, or local pub, firesides.  I too had ventured out, with plans to visit nearby Neolithic sites, of which there are many hereabouts, and to drive along the coast to enjoy spectacular views of what are billed as the imposing Cliffs of Moher.  Frustrated by low visibility and a wet atmosphere my plans did not come to much but I did look in at the remarkably intact remains of the 1,000 year old Caherconnell Stone Fort and a recently excavated Neolithic structure adjacent to it.
Perhaps the inclement weather added something to the atmosphere of the strange, seemingly infinite limestone pavement of the Burren but it did little for my enthusiasm to explore it.  The cliffs of Moher are described in the Rough Guide as 'awesome'.  As maybe, but they were invisibly so and cliff top hotels and boarding houses with names promising views of Galway Bay, the Aran Islands and the Atlantic Ocean  today looked out onto  nothing more than a blanket of grey mist.
I may not have had too much enthusiasm for becoming lost in the mist but my sprits have remained high.

Enigmatic Neolithic structure adjacent to Caherconnel