Ireland Recap Day 2: Aran Islands & County Galway

We woke a little early on Thursday (both out of choice and our brains still not processing local time correctly) to get a good start on the road to Rossaveel where we could catch a ferry to Inis Mor. Our travel package included breakfast at every location we were staying, so we headed to the main restaurant in the Old Ground hotel to load up on good food. The traditional Irish breakfast, which you can get at almost any hotel and B&B, usually consists of enough meat to provide you with a lot of energy for the day and clog your arteries at the same time. You will usually get bacon (rasher style, which resembles ham, only with a bit of spice/zest), sausage, mushrooms, eggs, and black & white pudding (not to be confused with chocolate and vanilla) which is a cooked sausage with other things like barley. Very tasty all around, and they also will usually have a very nice continental selection if meat is not your thing.

Feeling much better and more alert then Wednesday, we loaded up the van and headed on our way to Rossaveel to make the 10:30 AM ferry to Inis Mor. Rossaveel is about two hours from Ennis, which will vary if you get stuck behind a tour bus or tractor. Most Ireland roads are rural and very difficult to pass other vehicles on. This is a combination of the narrow width, multiple blind corners and turns, and unrealistic speed limits. The first delay of the day came when I mis-navigated a roundabout and headed on N18 the wrong way. Since it was under construction, a turn around could not be found for 15 kilometers which we lost about 20 minutes. Not a big deal, if we missed the 10:30 AM ferry, we could always catch the 1:00 PM. I blame this in part to still trying to convince my sub-conscious that it was, in fact, alright to drive on the left side of the road while still trying to decipher road signs.

Finally being pointed in the correct direction, we headed towards Galway where we would try to connect from N18 to the R336 which would take us to Rossaveel. This is where delay number two happened. If you will recall from my previous post, Ireland is not rich with road signs. The end result is that we found ourselves lost in a planned housing subdivision in Galway trying to find some road we could identify on our woefully inadequate street map. of the city. By chance again, we found a street sign pointing to the correct direction for R336 and we were once again back on the road. That little distraction would however prevent us from making the 10:30 AM ferry in Rossaveel. Resigned to the fact we had some time to kill, we decided to take a more leisurely drive down R336, stopping at some small towns along the way.

An Spidéal was a quaint little Irish town which had a fresh produce stand where we loaded up on lunch items and snacks for our trip to Inis Mor. We took an opportunity to stroll around the grounds of the Cill Éinde Church and out to the harbor of Galway Bay.

We pressed on and eventually came to Rossaveel. Being a bit early for the 1:00 PM sailing, we purchased our tickets and decided to drive around the peninsula through little towns like Costelloe and Carroroe. The ferry departed promptly for a forty minute trek across Galway Bay the North Sound to Inis Mor and the town of Kilronan. The weather for ride over was spectacular. We had planned for rain but were very pleased to be given sunny skies and mild temperatures. I had a conversation with a service station attendant earlier that day who said it had rained all winter but the past few weeks were just like that day. I took advantage of the crossing to go below and write out some postcards and enjoy being on the water again.

Once we arrived at Inis Mor, we opted to rent bikes to trek around the island. For those not feeling up to a bike ride, there are no shortages of buses, taxis and horse drawn carriages to cart you around the island on impromptu tours to the major attractions. Just about anything on the island on wheels functions as a taxi. We stopped at the Aran Sweater Market first, I had my eye on purchasing a genuine Aran Islands sweater. The selection was overwhelming and the prices very reasonable for hand knit items. I settled on a charcoal gray cardigan which will come in very handy next autumn and winter. After shopping we stopped at the local grocery store for some additional lunch/picnic foods and continued our bike ride.

As a brief aside, I've been working out every morning since January on a recumbent exercise bike trying to lose weight and get in shape for all of the walking and activities we would be doing in Ireland. I should have prepared a bit more. The roads on Inis Mor are ridiculously steep and the island seems to just keep going up hill. Our goal was to cycle to Dun Aonghasa, a stone fort on a cliff wall on the south side of the island. After getting about half way there, we figured there was no way we could get to the fort, have a picnic and make the 5:00 PM sailing which is the final sailing for the day. We were all opposed to being trapped on Inis Mor for the night, so we turned about and headed back to Kilronan to find a pub and have a pint (always a good idea on Ireland).

On the way we did see some stunning views and ruins of churchs and homes. We also passed a pony who seemed to be waiting for someone to come by and pet him. We obliged and took a bit of a breather before continuing on. On the return trip we stopped at Joe Watty's for a pint of Smithwicks and some snacks. We also met the pub's local dog who was suitably named "Guinness". We also found the post office so we could send out postcards from the Aran Islands. Having a bit more energy from our uphill bike ride, we returned to the port a few minutes before the ferry started boarding. Anne and Roger, who are both on better shape then all of the rest of us combined, did make it to Dun Aonghasa and got some very nice pictures of the fort and cliff wall. They did admit they pushed themselves very hard to get there ad back in time, so I don't feel to bad about not getting there.

The return trip to Ennis saw us lost briefly in Galway once again, but not nearly as bad as the morning drive out. We stopped in Gort (Klaatu barada nikto! If you have seen The Day The Earth Stood Still then ignore that reference) hoping to find a pub or restaurant only to see they roll the town up at 5:30 PM, so it was back to Ennis. Once safely back in the hotel, we found a Sicilian Restaurant in Ennis and ate some gourmet Italian style food with an Irish twist. Everyone was pretty dead tired at this point and turned in for the evening. Dave and I wanted to hear a little of the music being played in the hotels pub that night, so we opted to have a seat and a pint for a while and take in the ambiance of a traditional Irish pub. Seating in the pub was somewhat limited due to the large crowd, so we sat with an older couple, John and Margaret, from Ireland and chatted the evening away. They were also on holiday, staying one night in Ennis before heading up to Connemara. The Irish love to chat, and if you are a foreigner, they want to know what you plan to see and will offer suggestions and insights into their country. This very moment in time was the Ireland I was looking for, the music was perfect, the company was very warm and friendly, it was the perfect end to the day.

Pictures of the days adventures can be found here

Day 3 Preview: The Burren & The Cliffs of Insanity.