The Connemara

We had our first Irish breakfast buffet: fried eggs, back bacon, succulent sausages (can you tell I loved them?), broiled half tomatoes, scones around 8 am. I sat with a family of three – a mother and father and their graduate student daughter. They were nice, if a bit quiet. After breakfast, I went out to the next door park in honor of organ donors. It was a restful place, with the twitter of chaffinches and the call of the European robin – how I’d missed them since my previous stay in Europe.

ellis-island

By 9am, we all boarded the coach. Since Dave had driven seven days straight, Tony had to drive for him while Dave talked from the jump seat. We drove a short way to the Connemara Marble Factory and had to be careful disembarking as there was a lot of traffic on the road. We went into a rather small building with a long front room full of merchandise. As soon as we were all in, we were lead into a back room, where Angus turned on a switch that activated his microphone and started telling us about the different colors of marble and where they have been used in the US as well as in Ireland. He was a fluid speaker and never stopped or hesitated with an um or uh. I was impressed. We were invited back to the front room to choose from jewelry or statuettes. I found a square piece with an indent the size of a thumb – it was as worry stone. And the price was right, so I bought it. We crossed the street carefully and went into an antique filled house with peat smoking in the hearth. There was a long table in the room beyond that and people were getting scones and tea. Lisa grabbed a cup before realizing the refreshments were meant for another group.

hearth

Indeed, we were called to the bus and continued on just a bit further down the road and around the corner and down a lane past Connemara Ponies to the Celtic Crystal Factory. Inside out of the rainy, chilly day, the showroom was bright and cheery. The owner came out and showed us some of the common patterns they used and explained how long cutters had to train and how it was all hand-carved from memory! We were then lead into a side room where Sean, a cutter, took a vase and started cutting designs on a wheel with water dripping down over it. He would pause and show us each pattern, allowing us to handle the piece. It took him no longer than fifteen minutes to cut all the patterns in the sides and bottom of the vase.

vase.jpg

We then moved to the gift shop, which had very few crystal objects and more other materials. I bought a magnet and a kitchen towel with an Irish blessing on it. I was one of the last on the bus before we pulled away and headed out into the countryside. We stopped for a photo op on Lough Inagh. It was rainy and at first I wasn’t going to get out, but then I had to go walk over the peat bog and down to the shore.

Lough Inagh.jpg

We stopped at Kylemore Abbey for lunch. It had been one of those manor houses that a man had built for the love of a woman but ended up being abandoned. It was then turned over to the Benedictine nuns who now run it. We only had an hour: I lined up for some tomato soup and wholesome brown bread in the cafe and was then seduced by a piece of carrot cake as well. I sat next to Tony and Dave joined us. Dave suggested I go and see if I could get into Kylemore for free as I worked for a tour company. But I wanted to peruse the gift shop first. It was quite extensive and I had to cut my shopping short way before I wanted to. I was one of the last back on the bus. Whoops! Seeing a trend here!

We stopped a couple of other places for photo ops – the Killarey Harbor Fjord and Maam Cross before we got a pit stop in Spidell at Standun, another gift shop, where I bought some rich purple cashmere socks and a coaster with two sheep, one smoking a pipe with a puffin on his back and underneath was written “No Puffin.” I had to get it for my HR Manager, as she appreciates the birds as much, if not more, than I do. I started to wonder, though, if the drivers got some kind of kick back from all the stores we went to, since we stopped at so many this day!

tree.jpgScots Pine Tree at Kylemore

killarey

Killarey Harbor Fjord

Back to the hotel again. It was still rainy and windy but Michelle, Michael and I decided to walk down the promenade along the bay into Galway to a place called McDonaghs, a fish and chips place. It rained a bit on our way there – just as some guy asked where some accommodations were and he didn’t wait long for my shrug of a response. We thought at one point we had gotten lost, as we were no longer following the promenade, but we started passing landmarks I recognized. Once we hit the pedestrian zone, we dropped into shops briefly before being drawn into a pub with a session of traditional players in full tilt. We were no sooner up against the bar, when a girl with an English accent asked me what kind of pipes the one guy was playing. I told her I didn’t know how to say pronounce it, but it started with a “U.” (uillean pipes). Michelle and I had half pints while Michael got a pint. There was a girl standing with a violin strapped to her shoulder until a middle aged woman gestured to her to join in. We met her friend, a fellow American, who had just moved to Dublin and was looking for an international education position. A man came in and rushed up to a local sitting at the bar, eager to shake hands. Michael and I were turned toward the music when we heard Michelle laughing heartily. We looked at her and she told us the man had told her she reminded him of his ex-wife. She asked if this was good or bad and he said, he’d have to kiss her first! Cheeky!

We stepped back into the street to look at eateries and though we found a lovely, candle lit cozy restaurant, we decided to go back to the fish and chips place that had been recommended to us. Up to the counter we went – I first asked for the baked cod until I realized it was not the normal fish and chips so I switched my order. I didn’t realize until I paid that tartar sauce was extra. The counter girl had not even asked me! I had sat down on a bench next to some young folks whom I soon realized had been in the pub and asked about the pipes! Across from us was a girl sitting alone and I asked her where she was from. She came from a town in Belgium on the German border and now lived in Cologne, Germany. I spoke a few sentences with her in German before switching back to English, so Michelle and Mike could follow along. The chips were chunky french fries and the fish was fresh, tasty and melted practically in my mouth. When we finished, we realized it had been raining and we decided to hail a cab so as not to be caught in the dark wet. The cabbie was not traditional Irish – perhaps he was African, he didn’t say much. We paid about 8€ each at our hotel and got out.

I made my way to the fabulous bar and met up with Lisa and Ellen and her husband Matt. It was Ellen’s 50th birthday. I had a hot whiskey with them. They had eaten there. Liam, the server, was quite chatty and friendly. When he found out Ellen was a birthday girl, he produced a small cheesecake from behind his back as well as a free half pint. He told us about his ex-girlfriend and his house in Turkey. When we left for the night, he filled up a bucket of ice for Ellen per her request and gave us all hugs! Now that’s what I call service!

Off to bed then, as the morning would come before I knew it.

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