Weekend in Galway – Joe Malenchini

27 Sep

Last weekend I travelled west with my fellow NU.in students on a journey into what many people call “real Ireland,” referring of course to the vast majority of the Irish country that lies beyond the city streets of Dublin. On the road to Galway I finally had the chance to see what the countryside of Ireland looked like on a clear and sunny day. We drove past endless fields dotted with grazing sheep and cattle, small rural towns, and numerous ruins of castles that ranged from whole keeps to simply the remains of crumbled walls. When we arrived in Galway, I immediately went out to explore the small city and to hear the local music that its establishments are famed for.

The following day I visited the Aran Islands by ferry. Riding on the top deck of the ferry, smelling the sea, and breathing in fresh air reminded me of fishing with my family back home. But when we arrived on the island, it was clear that this was far from the landscape I was used to. The coastline was jagged and the land was divided as far as the eye could see by short stone walls. I was amazed when I learned that the only fertile land on the islands was created by farmers in the distant past that used seaweed and soil from the mainland to turn the karst topography into arable fields. The rocks that were removed to clear these fields were used to create the countless walls that dominate the island’s appearance.

We visited two sites of historical significance on this day – the Seven Temples Monastery and Dun Aonghasa. The Seven Temples was a site dating back to the Irish golden age when Ireland was a safe haven from the fighting and chaos in Europe during the so-called dark ages. This site embodies the blend of Celtic heritage and Christian beliefs in the mixed construction styles of the buildings and in the widespread use of the Celtic cross in several forms throughout the complex. But as fascinating as this site was, it could not compare in terms of grandeur and history to Dun Aonghasa.

Perched atop vertical stone cliffs along the Atlantic Ocean, Dun Aonghasa offered spectacular – and sometimes frightening – views from across the site. The original fort dates back to the Fir Bolg people, who were the dominant ethnic group in Ireland before the Tuatha Dé Danann, who preceded the Celts. The semi-circular fort consists of several rings of thick walls, although archaeologists have concluded that the fort used to be a complete circle before erosion of the cliffs brought down part of the fort. Being able to see such a magnificent historical place on a beautiful and sunny day was truly an experience to remember.

The following day, we drove through the Burren in the north part of County Clare – where my mother’s great-grandparents came from. In this rocky and mountainous landscape, we visited a cave that held the remains of bears from thousands of years in the past. We also were able to see a portal tomb called a dolmen as well as the untouched remains of a Tuatha Dé Danann fort. The weather was foggy and the visibility was very low. We hoped that the weather would clear before we reached the Cliffs of Moher, but it did not. When we arrived at the cliffs, I was initially very disappointed. I couldn’t see more than a few hundred feet ahead of me and I only knew that we were by the ocean from the smell and sounds.

But alas we walked onward along the cliffs, walking in a small group into the misty unknown. As we increased our distance from the other visitors at the cliffs, we began to really enjoy it. It was our own little adventure – since we could never really see what was going to come up next along our path. We stumbled upon several good locations for photos and as we reached the edge of a rock overhang we finally saw the ocean far below us. In the end, it was a very fun day once we made the best of the foggy conditions.

The following day we drove back home to Dublin singing some Irish songs that we had learned during the weekend. It was a great weekend in the fresh air and away from the loud city life in Dublin. As much as I am enjoying my new home, I am already looking forward to my next weekend trip to see the “real Ireland” once more.

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