Doolin and Westport

I’ll start with Doolin, because I don’t want to jump around too much.  I actually was able to visit Doolin twice, once when my friends Mel and Marc were visiting and once with Kevin.  Doolin is in county Clare, and this ended up being one of my favorite spots in all of Ireland.  Driving the hills around Doolin really felt like real Ireland to me, and I thought it was incredible.  

Doolin was the sight of my first B&B mixup.  I am actually shocked it didn’t happen more, considering how many B&B’s I stayed at.  The first time I went to Doolin my friends Melissa and Marc dropped me off at my B&B, went off to theirs (since we couldn’t find two rooms together anywhere that night) to get ready for dinner, and when I walked into my B&B the woman who ran it told me she had accidentally double-booked the room and would have to find me another place to stay.  I panicked at first, but she was true to her word and called a great place for me, and her husband drove me over.  It ended up being a truly great mix-up, because my new B&B was in a prime spot right next to Gus O’ Connor’s, the sweater market, and Wilde Irish Chocolates (SCORE).  It was also right up the hill from the ferry to the Aran Islands (Doolin is the only other spot besides Galway that you can reach the islands from).  When Kevin and I returned to Doolin a week or two later, we stayed there again, and it was honestly the perfect location.  Not to mention really clean, well decorated, and the breakfast was delicious.

 

The big pull to Doolin, and why it was on my list of “must-visit” places, is that it is considered the unofficial capital of traditional Irish music in Ireland.  There are several pubs in town, but the two I visited and the two most-talked about and most recommended to me were Gus O’Connor’s and McGann’s.  With Melissa and Marc, we started at Gus O’Connor’s for a drink and some starters and to take in the atmosphere.  We didn’t stay late enough for the music, instead choosing to walk down to McGann’s and listen to their trad music.  The funny thing about Doolin is that it’s sort of spread out… you almost feel like there are two “downtown” areas…. Gus O’Connor’s, the sweater market, and the little tourist shops are on one end towards the ferry, and to get to McGann’s is a slight walk back into the center of town, which is basically one long road with a bunch of side streets off of it.  We wouldn’t have minded the walk… if it hadn’t been raining… as always :)

 

We got to McGann’s and it was packed.  The host asked us if we were just eating or staying for the music as well, and when we told him the music, he asked if we minded sitting at a table with some other people.  We said of course not, and we were sat with a middle-aged father and his two twenty-something sons.  Now, I hate to judge a book by its cover, but I could tell right away that these people were not my people.  I don’t know what it was, I honestly don’t, but it was just a weird feeling that I would never normally be eating dinner with people like this.  But we were in this situation and so of course I tried to be as polite as possible, with Mel and Marc and I asking them what brought them to Ireland and how long they were staying for.  It turns out they were on a golfing holiday and were over for 5 days, and much to my complete disbelief, the sons actually COMPLAINED the entire time while talking about this golfing holiday.  I honestly was shocked at how few good things they had to say about a golfing trip to Ireland.  You almost felt bad for the father, because clearly he was paying for the whole vacation, but then you really couldn’t, because you wanted to hit him for raising such entitled children.  I mean, I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut.  At one point after finding out that I was in Ireland for 3 months, one of the sons looked at me like I was insane and said “Don’t you miss the states???”  I smiled and said “No, actually… I miss my family and friends but I love it here.”  I finally got up at one point to use the bathroom (and get away from these people) and I could hear one of the sons say to Melissa “I cannot believe your friend is here for 3 months.  Isn’t she miserable?  I have no idea how I would survive that.”  As if we were surviving a natural disaster in a 3rd world country or a concentration camp.  It actually took all of my effort not to turn around and say something to that comment, but I decided people like that just aren’t worth it and I kept walking towards the bathroom.

 

I’m not sure why I’m telling that story.  It’s not a happy one and it’s not a favorite memory of Ireland…. But it seemed important.  Because at that moment, I wanted to take back every sarcastic thing I have ever said as a joke.  I wanted to take back every time I’ve been self-deprecating, every time I’ve made myself out to be miserable, every time my own parents probably wanted to hit me for complaining.  Mom and Dad, I am SORRY!  I promise if you take ne on a golfing holiday to Ireland, I will not complain.  I also won't golf, but I promise, I will NOT COMPLAIN :)

 

The music at McGann's was great and we stayed for the whole set.  As the bar was clearing out, I asked the bartender to call me a taxi, and once again I ended up with a lift home from the bar manager.  I think it made Mel a little bit nervous, as she asked me to Facebook her as soon as I got back to my B&B to let her know I was safe lol, but at this point I was old hat at this routine and I happily chatted with him on the way back to my B&B.  It is truly amazing to me that when taxis are "off season", the managers will give you lifts home.  I sort of laughed when I got in the car, as he had two child seats in the back and there were Cheetos (or the Irish version of them) all over the car.

 

Here are some photos from Doolin!

 

 

These were taken down by the Doolin ferry landing...

 

Hehe...

My first day at the Cliffs of Moher was windy, rainy and foggy... the Irish weather trifecta!

 

I mean, really... another day where I had to literally hold my hair down for any photos...

These were taken on my second Cliffs of Moher visit, with Mel and Marc in early May...

 

 

 

 

 

I took these pictures of a harp player in front of the Cliffs about 2 seconds before I wiped out right in front of her.  Seriously... thousands of people around, beautiful, dry day.... and I went flying on my butt.  It was sort of comical.  And by sort of I mean completely.

The Burren!  My 4th national park visit...

 

 

This was on a beach overlook in Lehinch, a place I ended up coming back to with Kevin a few nights later to see a band we had heard about...

My second trip into the Burren, with Kevin...

Who then dragged me to the Father Ted house :)  Father Ted is HUGE in Ireland and Kevin had always wanted to check out the real Father Ted house, so we stopped there for a couple photos.

 

The same day we visited the Cliffs of Moher, Kevin and I headed to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.  I may have mentioned this before, but I had a few stops I wanted to make that were sort of retracing the route my stepmom and dad went on their honeymoon 20 years ago.  Bunratty was one of their stops, and it is definitely worth a visit.  We took the castle tour, but I honestly had more fun out around the folk park.  It's really well done and well maintained and really feels like a time travel trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok, so Moneygall is in county Offaly and not County Clare, but one day while in county Clare, Kevin and I didn't really have a plan.  He asked what I wanted to do, if there was anything I wanted to see that we hadn't already visited, and somehow Moneygall came to mind.  Such a good sport, that Kevin, because we jumped in the car and he drove me the two hours to Moneygall so that I could see where Barack Obama had done his state visit in 2011.

 

Ollie himself is in the middle of this collage, and he had some great stories to tell about the state visit, teaching Michelle Obama how to pull a pint, and about him and his family's subsequent trip to the White House for dinner.  I bought some souvenirs for my father, and he even threw in a couple of freebies for me.  I could have talked to him all day!

Just a few doors down from Ollie's bar...

We also passed through Lisdoonvarna, which is a place I've wanted to go for years.  But I was a few months early :)  The big pull to Lisdoonvarna is their yearly matchmaking festival, which has been happening in this small village every September for years and years.  There's only one real matchmaker left, but the festival is famous because it goes the entire month of September and features events and dances every day starting at noon.  Kevin had been and told me "it was a bit of craic"... I think it would be so fun!  If I'm still single at 35, I'm quitting my job and heading there for the entire month of September.  Mark my words :)

I honestly wish I could remember the name of the town these pictures are from.  It was on our way to Lehinch and we were sort of deciding as we went where we would stay for the night.  We had passed through this town the day before and I thought it was sort of cute, so I thought maybe we would stay here.  As we passed through it again, we realized there was some sort of horse and donkey auction put on by travelers.  I didn't really understand, but Kevin explained to me that travelers will sell horses and donkeys without the proper papers at things like this.  We decided not to stay here and drove on to Lehinch... but it was interesting to pass through :)

I think Lehinch was a much better choice, don't you? :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this is the band we had come to see.  They were from California and they were going across Ireland for a couple weeks.  Loved them, and we got to hang out with a few friends we had met in another town who told us about these guys.  Great night!

 

After spending Memorial Day weekend back on the Aran Islands, we headed up to Westport, which is north of Galway on the west coast.  Let me just say this: I LOVED WESTPORT.  I thought it was absolutely adorable, and just like Killarney, I could see why people called it touristy.  But here’s the thing about being a touristy spot: it means you’re doing something right.  Obviously, if Killarney and Westport were dirty, unsafe towns, tourists would spread the word and no one would visit there.  But when you’ve got an adorable and clean town, with good restaurants, good pubs, fun people, and GREAT music… well, the secret’s going to get out, and people are going to flock there.  I really enjoyed my time there… the craic was mighty, as they say :)

 

We spent two nights in Westport and by this time in my trip, the weather was getting much better (THANK GOD).  It was nice to wear light shirts and cardigans instead of my heavy rain jacket the whole time.  I actually let the great weather cloud my judgment when it was suggested that we hike Croagh Patrick, a HUGE mountain in Westport that I would normally be too lazy to DRIVE up, let alone hike.  But nooooooo, he hit me at a weak moment when we were outside enjoying the sunshine, and it suddenly sounded like a great idea.  “Hike Croagh Patrick?  Sounds awesome Kevin, let’s go!”  Oh how foolish I can be sometimes….

 

A few hours later, I was halfway up a mountain, begging for mercy.  Seriously, if a giant hawk had swooped down and carried me off in its talons, I would have been COMPLETELY fine with it.  Croagh Patrick is not a mountain… it is the devil disguised as a mountain.  It is INSANE.  It is the steepest hike I have ever done in my life.  And I’m pretty positive Kevin seriously regretted suggesting it, and perhaps even had thoughts of shoving me off the side as I was complaining.  I wouldn’t have blamed him.  I was literally on my hands and knees at the end, crawling towards the top… but here’s the thing…

 

The summit?  Yup…. It makes it all worthwhile.  I forgot how many islands Kevin said we could see from the top, but it was incredible.  Just ocean and islands and mountains for as far as you could see.  And there was a chapel at the top as well.  I would have preferred a McDonald’s, but hey, what can ya do?  The chapel was much prettier anyways :) We rested at the top and just spent some time taking in the view, and I have to admit that despite all my complaining, I was so glad I had done it.

 

We stayed in a great B&B called the The Woodside Lodge, and though I would recommend it for great accommodations and great breakfast, it was a bit far out and so we took cabs back every night.  Regardless, we really got to enjoy the nightlife in Westport.  We actually made it a point to head to Matt Molloy’s the first night, as I had heard it was a great bar with good trad music, and pretty any postcard you buy in Ireland that shows the fronts of pubs has Matt Molloy’s on it.  Not to mention that it’s owned by a member of The Chieftains.  I figured it would be a great spot.

 

Now, I seriously hate to knock anything in Ireland, because I loved it so much, but really, I did NOT get the big deal about Matt Molloy’s.  At all.  The main problem, I found, was that the bar is divided into 3 rooms… the actual bar is in the front room, so we sat at the bar and ordered a drink while we waited for the music to start.  We sat talking for awhile and then I thought I heard music playing VERY faintly.  At first, we thought it was the radio.  I finally got up to investigate and found the musicians playing trad in the PACKED third room of the bar… literally, you couldn’t even walk in there or stand in the doorway…. And they weren’t playing loudly enough for even the next room over to hear, so being at a spot at the actual bar was totally fruitless.  We finally gave up and decided to go next door to the Portherhouse, and we LOVED THIS BAR.  It’s one cozy room, with the musicians playing right up front, and we were able to get a seat in good view of the music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westport House...

Gahhhhh!!!!! Croagh Patrick, you evil temptress you...

Downtown Westport...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up:  Sligo and Donegal!