Phew! The last of the insanely long driving stretches, and the midpoint of the Ireland part of the journey. The weather was nuts today - rain, sun, wind, hail, flying sheep, possibly some sleet. We left our cozy B&B in Derry this morning, took a quick drive around town so that I could get a good look at the walls - I didn't get to walk the Peace Bridge, but there's only so much time in a trip. Next stop was Enniskillen, which has a fairly intact castle that has been turned into a military museum, possibly due to the fact that it was under attack by one person or another for the last few centuries. It's been destroyed and repaired seven times or thereabouts. The city of Kells further south was burned to the ground nine times over the course of a few hundred years and still managed to turn out a written masterpiece, so maybe all that destruction just builds resilience. Enniskillen was interesting - the oldest part is the central keep and the front turrets. Inside the keep was a pretty extensive military history museum, focusing on the area, but getting into some of the Irish participation in larger conflicts over the last couple of centuries. Very interesting exhibit, although I was only allowed to take pictures of the entrance exhibits and the exterior courtyard. Got a few shots of the church on the way out, which had some pretty impressive height.
Next we headed for Sligo, and the weather took a turn for the ridiculous. Sligo is the second largest city in Northern Ireland, and apparently the cultural center as well. We noticed a bunch of artsy shops and galleries, and stopped in a nice little pub for lunch. Poor Jason is doing all the driving, and I think we're wearing him out, so we have to make sure to stop at regular intervals to refuel. Had a great seafood chowder - note that the West of Ireland is known for its seafood - and some Bulmers, which I'm going to miss enormously and will have to dig up at home.
The hail was coming down in golf balls by the time we left, so the guys took cover in a doorway while I wrapped my camera in the detached hood from my jacket and hopped across the street to get some shots of Sligo Abbey, which is in ruins, but beautiful. Unfortunately, the visitor's center was closed, so I couldn't go in, but with the weather, I'm not sure it would have made a difference. I think a few decent photos - we'll see when I clean them up. Back in the car, we headed west.
Part of my plan for this trip was to get some script research in, and while Dublin and Kilmainham Jail gave me some good ideas, I had always planned to head out to the Connemara region and see the lands of the pirate queen Granuaille - nothing like some hands on experience to get the sense of the era and the landscape. So we drove and drove and drove - millions of sheep, back into the Republic, through Yeats' lake country, past Ben Bulben Mountain down to Westport. We stopped for a short break at the base of Croagh Patrick, the triangle-shaped mountain with a three-hour hiking trail to the summit (which we skipped). There's a white stone statue of St. Patrick holding a crook and a shamrock, and even if the statue looking down from the mountain doesn't impress you, his view should - Clew Bay, which feeds into the Atlantic and is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Once I'd taken fifty pictures or so, I dragged the guys out even further, to the coast. Granuaille lived mainly on Clare Island, but the ferry doesn't run terribly often, and the visitor's center in nearby Louisburgh is only open from May to September. I had to content myself with pictures of the island and shots from the coast and the rocks where she probably pillaged and plundered her way through the 16th century. Astounding. Winds strong enough to push you back, water whipping around, and the clouds moving at huge speeds - just madness. Very easy to picture the pirate queen merrily making her way from the island to the shore.
Once we were all windswept and windburned, we hopped back in the car and headed down to Galway. The port city feels like the college town that it is - Eyre Square is awash in townies, students, and tourists, and there's a long pedestrians-only street that splits into two sections of pubs. We went for some dinner at a seafood place, where I had a few famous oysters from Galway Bay - on my foodie bucket list - which were fantastic. I haven't had a bad meal on this trip, which is a wonderful surprise. Then a few more pictures - of the Spanish Arch, the docks, the fish market at night, and the fast moving water, and back to our hotel. It's COLD, and I don't blame the guys for not wanting to stick it out too long in the freezing night air so I can take pictures.
Tomorrow, Cliffs and Castles!