Galway

Connemara: Ireland’s Fairy Country

Erin Gaura is a student at Northern Michigan University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Galway, Ireland

My first trip outside Galway, an ISA excursion, took me to Connemara, a district of wild land on Europe’s westernmost edge.  From the shore it’s a straight shot to North America, and if you imagine very hard, you can almost see Canada.  Connemara is exactly the type of place I had expected the Irish countryside to look like: snaking roads cutting paths through misty mountains, lush green woodlands, and medieval ruins, all including rampant sheep of course (our bus driver assured us they were indeed man-eating, killing monsters).  I imagine it’s where Ireland hides its fairies and leprechauns.

The first stop on the tour was the ruined Ross Errilly Friary, a medieval Franciscan friary dating back to the 14th century.  It sits in a sea of fields of varying shades of emerald and jade and separated by stone walls.  The building itself looks rather plain from the outside but upon entering you can see how impressive it remains to this day.

A view of the hills from the friary.

A view of the hills from the friary.

From the friary we passed through Cong village (famous for being the filming location for the 1952 John Wayne film The Quiet Man) and up the mountains via winding back roads with extraordinary views of the Inagh Valley.  It was hard not to find a photo op with every curve of the road, as they consistently exposed new scenery.

The Fairy Tree overlooking the fjord in the Inagh Valley.

The Fairy Tree overlooking the fjord in the Inagh Valley.

The highlight of the excursion, however, was arguably Kylemore Abbey, a picturesque fairytale estate that breathes fantasy, tragedy, and romance into the edge of a mountain.

The estate castle in all her glory.

The estate castle in all her glory.

In the late 1800s, Mitchell Henry constructed the castle for his beloved wife, Margaret after she fell in love with the property during their honeymoon.  Sadly, she fell ill within a few years of Kylemore’s completion and died of dysentery.  Mitchell never loved again and built the castle’s magnificent neo-Gothic church and mausoleum in her memory.  Today it is a fully functioning estate complete with a massive Victorian garden and cared for by an order of Benedictine nuns.  The property is gorgeously serene and the plant life is so abundantly dense I nearly mistook it for a tropical rainforest.

On the long drive back to Galway, the bus driver played some traditional Irish folk music, completing the Irishness of the day and setting the tone for the second drive through the slowly darkening mountains.

The most spectacular view from atop one of the many mountains.

The most spectacular view from atop one of the many mountains.

The world awaits…discover it.

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