The sun shone brightly on the second day of my Clare-Connemara-Galway tour.
We got an early start and headed to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, and it turned out to be a treasure trove of history of the best kind—the way people really lived in both the 15th century and the 19th century! And it stirred up a lot of ideas—particularly for my Medieval/Fantasy series, which I’ve begun actively plotting.
We visited such diverse rooms as the Main Guard, a vaulted hall with a Minstrels’ Gallery, the Captain’s Quarters, with its decorated ceiling, and the Great Hall, where judgment was rendered and grand banquets held.
It was at this point, as so often happens when I visit such a historically rich place, that my imagination took flight. I pictured the grand betrothal feast King Dermot will hold for one of his adored daughters, the joyous wedding banquet for another. Huge platters of food sat on the tables, bejeweled goblets filled with mead, while minstrels and pipers played a merry jig or a poignant air. On the other hand, the king’s black brows would crash together as he pointed an aristocratic finger at a wrong-doer and sentenced him to his punishment.
However . . .
I must confess that, had I lived in this castle, I’d have preferred an elevator to get to the top floor! Not that I mind climbing steps, but these narrow, winding stairs were quite terrifying. As I descended to the main floor of the castle, my active (some would say overly-active) imagination picture my warrior plunging to his death. Or maybe it was me. I can’t be sure, as I was busy clinging to the seemingly-insubstantial railing and muttering under my breath, “You’re okay; you’re not going to fall; everything’s fine.”
(Anyone who knows me knows I’m terrified of heights!)
Our tour guide, Derek, has a theory about those stone stairs, a well-kept secret known only to Wild Westies.
Having survived the staircase to emerge from the castle unscathed, I proceeded to the next phase of the morning’s adventure: the Folk Park, a living reconstruction of the homes and environment of the Ireland of a century ago. From rural farmhouses to a busy village street, the park offered real insights into what life was like for the inhabitants. Another treasure trove!
The folk park was filled with those tiny historical details that I love so much. For instance, Loop Head House, the home of a fishing and farming family from West Clare, had a roped-down thatch to keep it from blowing away in an Atlantic gale. And in the Byre Dwelling, an example of a poor family’s dwelling in County Mayo, the family shared their home with their milk cows.
After I entered the Byre Dwelling, I realized it made a lot of sense. In the Ireland of the 19th Century, putting up a shelter for livestock might bring about an increase in a tenant’s rent, which most could never afford.
One thing I noticed in the park was the red post-box. I learned yesterday during my tour of Ennis that all the red (British) post-boxes had been painted green after Ireland achieved her independence. But of course, the Folk Village is set to look like a 19th century village, when the post office—and most everything else—was under British rule!
Just another small detail picked up in the Wild West of Ireland.
After a quick lunch in the village pub, it was off to Kilmacduagh, where I was finally able to realize my dream of seeing a round tower! And not just any tower. At 112 feet high, it’s Ireland’s highest round tower. And like the famed tower in Italy, this one also has a lean of ½ meter from vertical. I felt its ancientness as I walked up to it, and when I touched the weathered gray stone, I thought my fingers must tingle from its magic.
The ruined Kilmacduagh Abbey, whose name means “the church of Duagh’s son,” was founded early in the 7th century by Saint Colman, son of Duagh, who remained the abbot until his death. He is buried on the grounds of the abbey.
There are legends and traditions about this fantastic place of grass and stone. One says that the soil around Saint Colman’s grave has miraculous healing properties. There are others, too, but again, I’ll let you discover those for yourself—on a Wild West of Ireland tour, of course!
Walking through this aged holy site was like walking into another time.
After this lovely tour, when the sunshine played a game of tag with the clouds and the breeze blew gently over the burial grounds of the Abbey, we set off for our B&B in Galway. Although a lot of the drive was on the motorways, a good bit of it was in more rural areas. Sheep, cows, and the occasional horse dotted the landscape along narrow roads where it seemed impossible to pass two cars.
One thing stood out against the lush, emerald landscape, caught my eye and made my throat tighten with emotion: The drystone walls that separated one field from another. I’d seen pictures of them, of course, but their true beauty has to be seen to be believed.
Tarnished silver links in an ancient queen’s chain.
Until the next adventure . . .
From the Wild West of Ireland,
Wild Westie Cynthia Owens
DISPATCHES FROM THE WILD WEST: