A lovely day for a cruise…and that’s exactly what we did!
We left our B&B early and drove through gently-rolling, sheep-dotted hills, while the clouds chased the sun and the sun chased back in a wind-blown game of “Catch me if you can.” There is no sky quite like an Irish sky!
And as we drove through the Maamturk Mountains, I couldn’t help but picture a rebel hero, fleeing a band of British soldiers, escaping just before capture. I don’t yet know exactly who he is, or what he did to cause the soldiers to pursue him so avidly, but in time, I’ll learn his name and eventually, he’ll tell me his story to share with my readers.
We had a little time before the boat came for us, so we indulged in a little walk about lovely, serene Lough Corrib before the Isle of Innisfree glided to the quay and we hopped aboard. A brisk wind sent shivers through us, but for me, it brought back memories of my summer holidays in the Gaspé, and the boat rides I took in that small fishing village in Eastern Quebec.
At 68-square meters, Lough Corrib is the biggest lake in Ireland. Legend has it that there are 365 islands in it, but the truth of that seems a little unclear. But all of them were absolutely lovely. Ten of them are still sparsely populated, some having only one or two homes. The most famous of the islands in Inchagoill, and it’s also the most-visited.
There a great, funny story about Inchagoill Island involving a football game, a wireless (radio) and a man named Tommy Nevin. But I’ll let you discover that story for yourselves—don’t’ want to spoil the punch line you can hear on you Wild West Clare-Connemara-Galway Tour!
As we glided over the gray-blue waters, the brisk wind sent chills through me, but the combination of incredible views and the history-filled live commentary from the boat’s captain warmed me.
But nothing prepared me for the sight of Ashford Castle!
I’d heard of the great castle, of course. It’s now a private hotel, and I’d read of the famous people who’d stayed there. And I’d seen pictures. So maybe I should have expected what I saw.
But I didn’t. Its sweeping grandeur, tall turrets, and weathered stone stole my breath. I had to blink a few times to make sure I was really seeing this 13thCentury magnificence. I felt a little dart of envy for all the celebrities who’d made this castle/hotel a temporary home, among them the cast and crew of The Quiet Man, Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Brad Pitt, and Pierce Brosnan.
Ashford Castle is a medieval and Victorian castle that has been expanded over the centuries and turned into a five-star luxury hotel near Cong on the Mayo-Galway border, on the shore of Lough Corrib in Ireland.
After so many glamorous thoughts, it seemed only right that our tour took a turn to Old Hollywood. Part I: the quiet village of Cong, where "The Quiet Man" was filmed. We took a tour of the village, where we learned all sorts of fascinating facts about the stars, the movie, and Cong itself. I never knew that John Wayne frequented the pubs and drank with the locals. Or that Maureen O’Hara was just 18 years old when she left Ireland for America to play Esmerelda in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Our guide really knew her stuff, not only showing us the various movie settings, but also explaining when they featured in the movie, and synopsizing those scenes for us.
Old Hollywood, Part II: The village of Leenaun, where much of the action in the movie, "The Field," took place. I’ve been a fan of John B. Keane for quite a while now (my favorite of his plays is "Sive"), so naturally I was excited to learn that Leenaun was on the itinerary. Our guide, Derek, was kind enough to stop by Gaynor’s Pub so I could snap a few photos. But when he offered to take a photo of me by the pub, I got photo-bombed! Perhaps this man was the ghost of The Bull McCabe? This was the first time I’d ever been photobombed, and I must admit it felt a little strange! Just this side of intimidating.
We took the scenic route home to Oughterard, which included spectacular views of rock-like mountains and glistening lakes. The bright, late-afternoon sun shone over the mountains, making lovely shadows and picking out the glittering stone. Some of the lakes were so blue I was tempted to hop from the van and scoop up a sip to see if it tasted as refreshing as it looked!
And all along the roads were meandering sheep, come down from the mountain to graze. It amazed me to see them only inches from the roadside, and I wondered how they survived their day of grazing. Derek assured me that the local drivers know they might be out and about, and to be cautious of them, but I couldn’t help wondering about nervous tourists driving on the “wrong” side of the road.
Just another reason to take a Wild West Irish tour. All of their drivers are excellent, and their knowledge of the local areas and their history is top-notch.
Until tomorrow’s journey . . .
From the Wild West of Ireland,
Wild Westie Cynthia Owens
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