Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Visiting Ireland: The West

Soon after Derry, we crossed back into Ireland from Northern Ireland and traveled to County Donegal, famed for its production of woollen goods and the most amazing tweeds in the world. We stayed at Holly Crest Lodge in Killybegs, a major fishing port for Irish, Swedish and Icelandic ships. We drove up into the mountain, giving me my first peek at the coolest thing about Ireland's west coast: mountain cliffs dropping into beaches with water as clear blue as water in the Caribbean.

We drove up, up, up the mountains to the village of Kilcar to visit Studio Donegal, where tweed and sweaters are made on site and the whole process can be watched. The downstairs was a store selling some of the prettiest knits I've ever seen...I wanted every blanket in the damn store. We ended up buying enough to merit shipping it home.

Upstairs, old men with THICK accents showed us how they create the handmade goods on 80-year-old looms.

This guy was making a rug. It was incredible.

After Studio Donegal, we set out on a breathtaking drive southward to Galway, passing Ben Bulbin, a dramatic mountain in Sligo that was one of the biggest inspirations for poet William Butler Yeats. He wanted to be buried in its shadow, and though it took years, his body was eventually laid to rest in a neighboring cemetery.

We stopped for lunch in nearby Rosses Point, a cute little seaside town. The western counties have some of the best examples of homes that were abandoned during the potato famine and subsequent struggles. We saw this one perched above the harbor.

A guy at a bar told me earlier this year that Galway changed his life. I didn't know much about the city, so I didn't know what to expect, but what I found was a chic, sophisticated seaside resort almost reminded me of the chic California ocean towns like Laguna.

In the Latin Quarter, we had a fancy dinner, then went to see the music at the Spanish Arch bar. It was emotional for me because the "traditional" musicians had adopted the banjo, a traditional instrument where I'm from, and they ended up singing Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel," which name drops a town very close to where I grew up. So surreal to hear it come out of a thick Galway accent!

We stopped by Thomas Dillon Jewelers, the original makers of the famous Claddagh ring.

The store has a tiny museum in the back with examples, including this 1750s Claddagh ring. All in all, I found Galway to be charming and chic, with a lot of contemporary flair.

The next day, we continued south, making a stop at the famed Cliffs of Moher. They were breathtaking and dramatic. At the very end of the little peninsula there is Napoleonic-era lookout towers. It's a thrill to go somewhere that makes you feel so small.
I kinda can't wait to try to paint them, but I think they'd be best in acrylic or oil.

I was reluctant to leave (I could have climbed all over all day!), but we had one last destination: the Dingle Peninsula, where my mother-in-law's parents were born and her cousins still live. More on that tomorrow.

1 comment:

Laura Rennie said...

ah, loved galway and the cliffs! you absolutely should paint them.