Posts Tagged With: Connemara

A Viral Adventure in Connemara

After days of virally-enforced isolation I looked out my window one Friday morning in March, to a cloudless sky over Quilty.  For the five weeks I had been back such a day had only happened a couple of times.  I wasted no time, grabbed my camera and pointed the car northwards.  Don’t get me wrong; not to get away from Quilty but here was my opportunity to visit Connemara again.  OK, so it was a three-hour drive but I have experienced this place in all its moods and it is unbeatable in the sunshine.  My destination ths time was Roundstone, a little corner of Connemara that I hadn’t properly explored.  To get there you go through Oughterard and Maam and head out on the road to Clifden.

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The view from Pine Island lookout

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Twelve Pines Island

And that is not too shabby a drive.  There’s one spot on this route that I cannot drive past without taking a photo.  Just past Recess is the Pine Island Lookout at the western end of Derryclare Lough.  Not surprisingly it looks out over a pine covered island, named Twelve Pines Island framed in the distance by the mountains of Connemara National Park. Not sure why it is called Twelve Pines, because there are more that 12 but ‘Twelve Pines’, ‘Twelve Pins’, maybe someone is having a little joke.  It certainly is the spot for a that classic Connemara postcard shot.

I met Hugh Sweeney there; a filmmaker from Galway, who was obtaining some drone footage. It was fascinating to watch the process and then to see the result, which he posted the following day.  I have added a link to the finished product. You can even see yours truly at the end of the first shot if you look closely.

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Tracked by a drone at Pine Island Lookout

We chatted, from a distance of course, and he told me about a little hut on the Owenmore River on the way to Roundstone.  which he thought would be a good location for a photo opportunity.

It was on my way; but of course I got distracted.  The road was winding along the shoreline of Ballynahinch Lake and on the left near a bridge just before Ballinafad was a little church and a graveyard behind it.  A simple building painted white and blue and nestled on a little river with those 12 Pins as a backdrop on one side and craggy hills with gravestones poking randomly out of the tussocky grass on the other.

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St Bridget’s Church and Graveyard with the Twelve Pins in the background.

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The graveyard extends for hundreds of metres along the lake shore.

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St Bridget’s Church viewed from the New Cemetery across the Lough.

It is hard to imagine a more peaceful, wild and naturally unkempt cemetery.  I think it’s marvelous that it has been left that way with no new burials.  The graves seem to continue for a considerable distance along the lake shore and beyond that is the New Cemetery visible on the other side of Lough Nacoogarrow.

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The New Cemetery at Ballinafad viewed from the Old cemetery.

I found what I thought was the fishing hut Hugh had told me about on the banks of the Owenmore River. A priceless view and I took some pics.  I had to pinch myself to remind me that I was still in Ireland and not the Canadian Rockies.

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Fishing hut on the Owenmore River

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Fishing hut on the Owenmore River

Driving on a few hundred metres donw the  river was another hut and there I caught up with Hugh again.  So a few more pics of course.

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Hugh Sweeney and Jenny  on the Owenmore River

Heading on to the sparklingly pretty village of Roundstone perched on the shore of Roundstone Bay across which the Twelve Bens can be seen in the distance.  A fishing village still, but well known now for its arts and crafts as well as its incredible natural beauty.  And with all the cafes restaurants and bars shut during the Corronavirus lockdown why were there so many people around I asked myself.

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The village of Roundstone

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View across Roundstone Bay I

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View across Roundstone Bay II

The answer lies a few kilometres further down the road at Gurteen Bay.  Here are two beaches that regularly appear on the lists of Ireland’s Best Beaches.  The two beaches,  Poll na Madrai (Dog’s Bay) and Pol na Feadóige (Plover Bay, although Feadóige also means tin whistle – I think I prefer the alternative name Tin Whistle Beach) are on either side of a spit of sand and grassland with a granite island at the end.  This type of isthmus is known as a Tombola.

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The Tombola near Roundstone. Plover Bay on the left and Don’s Bay on the right.

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Dog’s Bay looking south.

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Another view of Dog’s Bay looking north towards Errisbeg.

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Tin Whistle Beach

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Mad Dogs and Irishmen

White sandy beaches line each of the Bays bays and they are simply stunning 

The white sand is unique.  It is not quartz or coral as I have encountered regularly elsewhere but a mix of foraminifera and shell fragments.  What are foraminifera (forams for short)?  They are single-celled tiny marine organisms, related to amoeba, but with a hard shell  They are abundant, both today and in the fossil record going back to the Cambrian (540 million years).  The shells are made of crystalline CaCO3 and occasionally as at Dog’s Bay and Gurteen accumulate as beach sand.

The fine sand has crept over the granite hills nearby creating what I would like to call pseudo dunes.  But there are ‘real’ dunes however, particularly behind Dog’s Bay and continuing erosion has created moonscape of remnant pinnacles which are remarkable in their own right.

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Sand dunes sculpted into pinnacles at Dog’s Bay

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Remnants of sand dunes at Dog’s Bay.  Looking towards Errisbeg.

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Social distancing at Dog’s Bay

Despite it being a Friday in March and the coronavirus lockdown it was very difficult to find a car park at Dog’s Bay.  The beach is completely undeveloped with no facilities and that adds enormously to its appeal.  I can just imagine what it would be like in summer.

As the clouds rolled in about 4 pm the normal Irish winter-dull greyness reappeared.  But what a wonderful day of discovery I had, and a perfect cure for cottage fever and enforced distancing from society.  I can totally recommend it.  There is nowhere in Connemara you won’t be rewarded with a magic experience.  It never fails to deliver.

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Connemara. Beautiful.

I visited Connemara at the beginning of February 2019 after an extensive snowall and having mentioned this to a friend, and how beautiful it was, I was surprised at her response.  “What did I mean by beautiful? Was it just the snow?”

I hadn’t really thought about it; it just was.  I could have just quoted the Oxford definition – ‘pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically’ but that would have been too glib. For millenia philosophers and poets have struggled with the notion of beauty so who am I to think I can explain it, but I felt obliged to respond and to try to put my thoughts into words.

So what did I mean by beautiful?

I just love snow so of course that was part of it but it was a lot, lot more.  I’ve been to Connemara many times and each time it has presented a different face.  And each time I have loved it, but it is notorious for its bleak, drab weather; rain and fog has been the norm in my experience.  Never, for me, have the Gods conspired to produce such sheer perfection as this paraticular weekend.  A world that defies description and conditions attuned to capture every nuance of the landscape.  The mountains of Connemara, the Twelve Bens, have a sublime beauty at any time, but when covered in snow they are dizzyingly so.  And this was no ordinary snow.  Locals I talked to said it’s like this perhaps every ten years.  The purest white.  But what was so special was that the weather, the light and the landscape were in perfect harmony.  That’s what I mean by beautiful.

Let me explain a bit more.

On the Friday I travelled from Oughterard through Maam Cross to Letterfrack.  Taking in Lough Inagh and Kylemore Abbey. A continually moving image of the bluest of lakes, snow-covered rocky mountains, treeless bogs with tussocky grass, or rubble-strewn fields of boulder granite and cascading streams.  All illuminated by the low winter sun, with not a trace of haze, giving an extraordinary light, and enabling capture in my photos of every detail against an endless, azure, cloudless sky.  It was cold; the temperature hardly getting above 0°C, but around every corner I had to stop the car, rug up and get just a bit closer.

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Levallinee, Connemara, Co Galway.

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Lough Inagh, Connemara

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A morning stroll

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Lough Inagh

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Monarch of the Glen

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Happy sheep

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May the road rise to meet you.

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Is this really Ireland?

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The bridge between ice and water.

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Sometimes the view is better when you turn around.

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A Connemara winterscape.

And then there was the beautiful Lough Kylemore and Kylemore Abbey.

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Later that day I headed back east on a little travelled road that takes you across the middle of Connemara from Garroman to Inver.  The locals call it ‘The Bog Road’.  A tundra-like land of grassy plains, granite tors, lakes and bulrushes, turf cutting and the mighty Twelve Bens Range ever-present to the north.  A different beautiful.

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Lough Avally iced over. A reflective scene

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Lough Nacoogarrow near Garroman

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The legacy of the turf cutter

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Cottage on the Owengowla River.

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Lougharnillam and the Owengowla River

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One Twelfth of the Bens

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Bog, lake, river and mountain. One of the prettiest views in Ireland?

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Another view of Lougharnillam and the Twelve Bens

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Lough Avally near Derryrush. Walking on thin ice.

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Winter colour.

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Where the plain meets the mountain

As the end of this extraordinary day approached and I took a little time to reflect at Inver on the southern shore of Connemara and watch the sun light up the clouds and the sea. Beautiful.

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Never far from the music I stayed with some friends at nearby Camus.  There is nothing on this planet sweeter than the sound of two fiddles.  More beautiful. Thanks Bridge.

That should have been enough but I was ready for another course of Connemara’s extraordinary visual degustation. Predicted showers saw me resist a return visit to the mountains and, following Bridge’s advice, I headed to the coast for a taste of what she calls the ‘real’ Connemara.  With unfamiliar names like Annaghvaan, Lettermore, Gorumna, Lettermullen, Furnace and Crappagh I travelled this string of rugged, unforgiving rocky islands, linked by causeways; so wild it was left out of the Wild Atlantic Way. I just loved it. Met Éireann was spot on though. Storms rolled in from the north bringing snow, sleet and hail and then just as quickly disappeared over Galway Bay.  The stunning landscape with its sculpted coastline and quiet inlets, ice covered mirror-blue loughs, stone walls, thick bogs, neat cottages and rocky fields creates a frowzled, disorderly wildness. Framed always by the serenity of the snowy mountains to the north. The interplay of black clouds, dappled sunshine and an extraordinary pallete of rich colours made for vistas that would have defied the painter. Truly beautiful.

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The Ring near Camus

View north from Camus Hill.  Storm rollin in

View north from Camus Hill. A storm rolling in

The Twelve Bens completely blacked out.

A Connemara scene. The Twelve Bens completely shrouded in black cloud.

One minute before the snow and rain hit.. South of Camus

One minute before the snow and rain hit.. South of Camus

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A Connemara cottage under a light dusting of snow

Swans fishing through the ice.  Carrowmore West

Swans fishing through the ice. Carrowmore West

The storm has passed

The storm has passed.

Snow on ice. lake at Carrowroe West.

Snow settles on the ice over this lake at Carrowroe West.

Near Carrowroe West

Home sweet home. Near Carrowmore West.

Looking from Lettermore to Annaghvaan

Looking across the estuary from Lettermore to Annaghvaan

The estuary at Lettermore

The estuary at Lettermore

A cottage near The Hooker Bar on Annaghvaan Island

A cottage near The Hooker Bar on Annaghvaan Island

Cottage on teh island of Furnace.

Cottage, walls and a boreen on the island of Furnace.

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A small iced lake at Derrynea, near Carraroe. Completely frozen over at 3:30 pm still.

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Lough Awilla on the island of Gorumna. [sounds like a kingdom in Game of Thrones] The ice is thawing. Twelve Bens in the distance.

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Lough Awalia, Gorumna Island. Bulrushes poke throught the ice.

Reflections on the ice. Loch Awalia,.  Handful of stones.

Reflections on the ice. Loch Awalia,. The handful of stones I threw rest on top of the ice.

Breaking the ice.

Breaking the ice.

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A Connemara granite wall incorporates existing granite boulders.

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The island of Lettermullen. Glowing in the afternoon sun

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Lettermullen from Crappagh as the rain sweeps by

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White cottages occupy the hills between the bogs. Lettermullen.

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A study in dark and light. Lettermullen.

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Connemara walls take everything in their stride.

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A thundercloud develops over the hills of Connemara

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…..and letterboxes.

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The prettiest golf course in Ireland? Connemara Isles Golf Club on Annaghvaan Island.

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The view from the Third Tee at Connemara Isles Golf Club

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As I sorted through my images from those two days, I felt so grateful that I was able to be there, and to experience this release from the endless drabness of the Irish winter.  I got more images in those two days than a photographer should reasonably expect in a year.

That’s what I meant by beautiful.

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Connemara Colours. Winter in the Maumturks.

Sometimes you get lucky.

On a Saturday late in November I made a quick trip to Galway to attend a concert in a friend’s house in the heart of Connemara. Now as readers of this blog will know I love the many moods of Connemara and relished the opportunity to spend a little time there. The weather is not always kind however.  You can expect mist on six out of ten days. But if you spend enough time in this surprising country occasionally you are well rewarded.

I had heard reports of snow but had no real expectations. I was not prepared for what awaited me though as I drove a circuitous route in and out of Galway and Mayo between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask.

Near the village of Cong (famous for its association with the Quiet Man, but I will be quiet on that for the moment),  I saw snow on the ranges to the west.  So of course I headed in that direction along the shore of Lough Mask until I reached the village of Finny.   The white shrouded backdrop above the little yellow church were now within reach.  These are part of the Sléibhte Mhám Toirc (or the Maumturks).  Not so well known as the Twelve Bens, which lie on the other side of the Inagh Valley, they are less rugged but with their brilliant white caps reflecting the sizzling sunlight they were no less spectacular.

As the sun and clouds and rain and mist fought for dominance an amazing winter palette was in full display.  Everything contributed.  The sky, the hills, the snow, lakes and rivers, stone walls, pastures and paddocks.   The snow caps would change from grey to dazzling white and then glow golden orange with the descending sun.  The sky was at once black then blue as the storm passed, the hills were orange, brown, red and green.  The country sparkled.

I was lucky and happy.  To be in such a stunningly beautiful place where a world class vista was around each corner.  And so grateful that I could capture some of those fleeting moments with my Canon.

Words are irrelevant.

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A taste of Connemara

In early July I was at a traditional music festival at Spiddal in Co Galway.  I’ve been to this Festival every year and each time I was able to get into the hills and explore bits of Connemara.  Well this time the music kept me pretty busy and the weather was very changeable so no road trips.  But in a way I tasted a lot more of what makes Connemara unique.

The organisers of the festival found me some accommodation in a traditional Connemara cottage on the outskirts of Spiddal, which, due to the owners being away, I had to myself.   It was a time capsule. Made from large blocks of granite, covered in a thick coating of white and with a thatched roof.  It was like a picture postcard.  There was a second thatched cottage linked to the first with a glass walled room creating a rambling, many levelled, mix of old and new.

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The cottage near Spiddal where I stayed

 

In original condition the main cottage had the characteristic low doors, constantly collided with the top of my head. Something I struggled to adjust to.  There was no internet, but somehow this seemed appropriate.  I was told that the traditional design of the cottage was to have the front door aligned with the back so the wind would ventilate the house and blow away the chaff making life easier for the residents and the cohabiting animals.  Both doors were there with the front door though now converted to a window and the back door having wooden half doors and being the current main entrance to the cottage.  It was easy to imagine a house full of people and livestock seeking shelter from the bleak winter.  Life would have been tough.

 

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Original front door, now converted to a window

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Original back door, looking through to front.  

 

The cottage is part of an unplanned scatter of houses, old and new, lining a winding lane twisting through the granite outcrops towards the bare plains above. Very different landscape to what I am familiar with in Clare.  On these slopes there is thick vegetation attempting to reclaim the land. Giant granite boulders probably dropped by glaciers.  Hedges, some well trimmed others not.  Lovely gardens and as usual carefully maintained cottages next to carefully preserved but ignored ruins. My every move was watched by the happiest cows in the world.

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Then I find myself on a narrow boreen,  running through an open treeless bog land covered in bog cotton, piles of carefully stacked turf, granite boulders, the inevitable encroaching windmills and a misty view back over Galway Bay.  The lane draws me on and I pass a man and his dog, a figure that could have walked out of the 1800s.  The rain returns however and I cut my trip short.

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Just a taste this time but I will return soon for the full degustation meal.

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