Sunday, July 11, 2010

Connemara and County Mayo

By Claire
This morning we managed to extricate ourselves from our camping spot with the help of a man in front of us who kindly moved his car so we could escape. It felt good to be on the road and away from the crowds. We decided to drive the loop road around the wild, western Irish fringe known as Connemara, straying into County Mayo.

Bumping along the twisty roads with nary a car in sight, we finally saw some traditional, thatch roofed houses.

Our first stop was in Cong (from Conga meaning the Narrow Neck of Land between two lakes). This happens to be the place where John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara made the famous John Ford film, The Quiet Man, in 1951. Who could resist? It was fun looking at some of the props from the movie and being inside the room where a lot of the action took place.

Quiet Man Cottage

Inside the Cottage


I think Chuck would be great in the sequel

This is the bar where the fight began and ended

This reminds me of us

We visited the Cong Abbey—ruins mostly—then wandered down a beautiful path into the woods to find the Monk’s Fishing House.

Monk's Fishing House

Fish was a staple in the diet of a medieval monastery, and this small building, probably built in the 15th or 16th century, is believed to have been used by the monks of Cong to make the task of catching fish a little easier.

They built it just over the footbridge, right on the bank so that the river flowed underneath. They lowered a net through the floor and attached a bell to the rope with a line connected to the kitchen. Whenever a fish was netted, the bell would ring, letting the cook know when there was fresh fish available.

We walked across the street to the Hungry Monk Cafe, a recommendation from Rick Steves. The place was full, so they put a couple of tables outside. Yes, today we’ve been blessed with mostly sunshine.

We drove through Neale where 120 years ago, a retired army captain named Boycott was hired to manage the nearby estate of Lord Erne. Boycott treated his tenants harshly so they united to ostracize him by deserting their jobs and isolating his estate. Over time, the agitation worked, and eventually “boycotting” became a popular tactic in labor conflicts.

Our next stop on this tour was the town of Westport. We parked alongside the canal just as the heavens opened up and the rain came pouring down. No problem, we just waited a couple of minutes until it stopped and the sun came back out.


Westport Canal

We even found a supermarket in town to do our shopping, something that can be a challenge on the road. I love the flowers everywhere.

This bronze sculpture is a powerful memorial to the starving famine victims. It is a “coffin ship,” like those of the 1840s that carried the sick and starving famine survivors across the ocean with hope of a new life. Unfortunately, many of the ships contracted to take the desperate immigrants were barely seaworthy. The poor were weak from starvation and vulnerable to “famine fever,” which spread to others in the cramped, airless quarters of these terrible ships. Many who lived through the six- to eight-week journey died shortly after reaching their new country.


It’s sad to know that the rich world still ignores similar suffering today.

Just across the street from the memorial, people were sitting outside enjoying their lunch as it began to rain. Most of them didn’t move. But, on our way back, it was really starting to come down. Many were now lined up against the wall waiting it out, while one foursome just popped open their umbrella.

Along the road, just past the town of Louisburgh, is another memorial—this one a simple gray stone cross. This is the site of one of the saddist Famine stories.

In the early 1800s, County Mayo’s rural folk were almost exclusively dependent on the potato for food and were the hardest hit when the Potato Famine came in 1845. In the winter of 1849, about 600 starving Irish walked 12 miles from Louisburgh to Delphi Lodge, hoping to get food from their landlord, but they were turned away. On the walk back, almost 200 of them died along the side of this road.

The road inspires an annual walk that commemorates the tragedy. Archbishop Desmond Tutu made the walk in 1988, shortly before South Africa ended its apartheid system.

May the saddest day of your future be no worse than the happiest day of your past. ~ Irish blessing


Anonymous said...

Dear Chuck & Claire, Jack & I were thrilled to see your photos of Westport, where his mother lives! In fact, if you are still there & would like a night (or longer) in a non-rolling house, let us know & we can arrange for you to stay at the currently empty home near the Quay, just up from the Helm resturant/hotel. Be sure to climb the Reek if you have the time. It's the sacred peak St Patrick climbed. And Jack says be sure to schedule a stop at the Galway races! happy travels to you

Elle said...

I was surprised you made no reference to the Connemara horse (also a pony variety) which has a wide & wonderful reputation as a versatile sport horse.

The colors, slice of pub life & history make me feel like I've been there, but how about those famous Irish horses? - also the Irish thoroughbred, a bigger fella than our American slim jim. No signs reading "horse show today" in ur travels?
Happy trails,

Chuck and Claire said...

Jack and Jo,
Thanks for your generous offer. We're sorry to be gone from the area. It was beautiful.

Chuck and Claire said...

Never saw any horses or any horse show signs.

davenoone said...

dear Chuck and Claire.
I love the blog that you have kept but I am leaving you this comment to let you know that the photograph of the first thatched cottage (with the red door and the "to let" sign in the window) that you have is the house that my grandfather grew up in. In the house was my grandfather and his eight brothers and sisters, his mother and father and his grandmother, so in that small two room house there was twelve people living in it.
also I hope hope that you enjoyed Westport as it is the town that I am from.

Chuck and Claire said...

Dear Dave Noone,
Thanks for the fascinating history of that little house! I can't begin to imagine 12 people living in it. We loved that area of Ireland. Wish we could have met you.
Claire and Chuck