Where We Be
|Kylemore Abbey & Connemara, Ireland
This was one of our favorite days in Ireland as
we took in two terrific sights on the same day --
with perfect weather no less. First up was
Kylemore Abbey (€13), where we got to see this
lovely Irish castle on the lake, first in light fog
then in full sun. Built as a private home by
Mitchell Henry in 1867, it's now a Benedictine
monastery. We toured the restored interior
then took a short shuttle ride to the 6-acre
Victorian Walled Garden. The “cathedral in
miniature” on premises was also a favorite.
Pushing on, we visited nearby Connemara
National Park (free!) where there is really only
one thing to do: hike up Diamond Hill with its
fantastic 360 degree views of the surrounding
bays (as well as Kylemore Abbey far below on
the lake). Diamond Hill is really three hikes in
one since there’s an easy, medium, and hard
route. We chose the hard route which goes all
the way to the top -- and boy was it worth the
effort. It's steep but only took us about an hour
(a bonus of having recently hiked the Camino).
The views along the way and from the top were
|Located just an hour northwest of Galway, Kylemore Abbey is the most visited
attraction in the west of Ireland. Thousands of people come every year to see it.
|Still a long way to go to the top
|But for inspiration all you have to do is turn around and
look at the views of the surrounding bays and mountains
|Pausing for a breather is a good idea now and again
|We didn't realize until later on in our trip (during our month-long stay
at an Airbnb rental) how rare it was to get a nice, sunny day like this
|It looks like we're near the top but there's still a ways to go --
and it gets steeper the higher you climb. But what a view!
|You can see we weren't the only ones
climbing to the top on such a pretty day
|There's the peak, just up ahead
|From the top you can also look down and see
Kylemore Abbey and the lake it's situated on
|Zooming in on Kylemore Abbey. To the right, hidden in trees, is the small cathedral, and to
the left (offscreen) is the Victorian Walled Garden. Parking and a cafe are in the foreground.
|View from the summit -- wow!
|This was our road for the journey to the abbey. It's not a particularly narrow road by Ireland standards : in fact it's a pretty
normal two-lane road. It can take some getting used to as an American driver accustomed to wider roads and breakdown
lanes -- especially when a big truck comes barreling down at you! Then you'll find your car brushing the hedges on the left.
|But the pleasure of exploring the scenic Irish countryside on your own makes the
occasional driving challenge worthwhile -- and it gets easier after the first day or two
|The grounds at Kylemore are enormous, with gardens, walks, and woodlands covering some
13,000 acres. It's a 20-minute walk from the main house to the Walled Victorian Garden,
or you can take a free shuttle bus -- which for once we chose, being a little short on time.
|We arrived at Kylemore Abbey around 10 am, just before the crowds descended.
It was misty when we first arrived but that didn't diminish the magnificent castle view.
|Standing on the front lawn, we spotted this lone rowboat on the lake,
with the mist-enshrouded mountains of Connemara as a backdrop
|The "remote wilds of Connemara" starts to feel about right
when you look up at the rugged hillside behind the castle
|Henry's beloved Margaret died suddenly at 45 after contracting a fever in Egypt. As a lasting testament
to their love he built this elegant "Cathedral in Miniature," about a five-minute walk from the main house.
|The neo-Gothic cathedral is charmingly small inside and out.
Henry and Margaret are buried in a small mausoleum nearby.
|We toured the restored interior, which boasts over 70 rooms! But only a handful
of these are open to the public, the rest being reserved for the nuns at the abbey.
|Henry and Margaret honeymooned in
Connemara and fell under its spell
|The woodland path on the way to the garden offers a taste of natural beauty,
but the Walled Victorian Garden is all about man-made order and symmetry
|On our way out, we got to see the splendid
fairy-tale castle again, this time in full sunlight
|The estate is all the more elegant when you remember that it sits in the heart of the
"remote wilds of Connemara," as this region was considered back in the 19th century
|Just outside the cathedral, the woods
looked amazingly green and lush
|We soaked up the amazing views for at least half an hour
|But eventually it was time to start heading down
|This feral goat says, don't even think of trying to domesticate me!
|The views on the way down were splendid -- and this time
we were facing the right direciton to appreciate them
|Even the clouds cooperated and put on a great show
|We continued on towards Clifden, following the Sky Road, a scenic drive along a one-lane road with cars
going both ways nonetheless -- and a significant dropoff in places. The road above isn't it: this is much
wider and just outside the park. Robin would've killed me if I'd pulled out my camera on that other road!
|We finally finished the white-knuckle Sky Road and descended to Clifden,
where we took a quick look around at the imposing gateway to Clifden Castle
|Clifden itself is a small Irish town on the coast of County Galway
|Connemara National Park is only a ten-minute drive away from Kylemore Abbey.
Our goal for the afternoon was to get to the top of this peak, known as Diamond Hill.
|Clifden's population is only around 2,000 but this still makes it Connemara's
biggest town -- so it's often referred to as the Capital of Connemara!
|This is really three hikes in one -- but if you have the energy, it's
definitely worth pushing all the way to the top for the best views
|We enjoyed a traditional Irish lamb stew at a pub in Clifden before
making the final push to our Airbnb lodging near Oughterard
|From the visitor center, the trail starts off relatively easy with a gentle incline
|The house was far out in the countryside so it was nice and quiet, and
the glassed-in porch made a lovely place to sip some wine near sunset
|It doesn't take long for the views to get better