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O’Brien Wine Club Tour of Ireland; Day 3

Streets of Galway, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Streets of Galway, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Our days generally started at 8:00 and 8:30, with breakfast in the motel, and meeting our driver and the bus at around 9:00 or 9:30, to begin our bus ride. I indulged myself on this morning with the “traditional Irish breakfast,” replete with “bacon” (in Europe, bacon is really more like what we think of as ham — they referred to what we think of as “bacon” here in the U.S. as “streaky bacon”), eggs, sausage and blood pudding. I approached the “blood pudding” with a bit of concern, since the very sound of it is a bit intimidating. It was really more like a dry, patty sausage. The light was good, and the dark, though a bit dry, not really horrible. While I did not do this every morning, I thought the adage, “when in Ireland, do as the Irish do,” (o.k., I made that up 🙂 ), was worth at least a try. The reality is that it is just too much food for non-breakfast eater – but really not bad.

Streets of Galway, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Streets of Galway, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

I am an early riser, and with the time change, was again, wide awake long before the 8:30 breakfast call, so I went out and walked around Galway every morning before breakfast. Galway is a college town, with a restaurant and pub district that is made to order for the party crowd. The “downtown” section had a several block area that was very “touristy,” but also very susceptible to photography, and I enjoyed walking around before the place “woke up.”

Streets of Galway, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Streets of Galway, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

This day, we started our tour with a visit to the Connemara district’s Celtic Crystal Factory, where our group had the opportunity to observe the “carving” of authentic Irish Crystal glass. We watched this gentleman hand carve the crystal bowl pictured. The do some amazing things here, including colored crystal glass. I have had a Tipperary Crystal biscuit barrel in my office for some years and it was an eye-opener to realize that these artisans do this cutting free-hand.

Connemara Celtic Crystal Factory; Moycullen, Ireland Copyright  2014  Andy Richards

Connemara Celtic Crystal Factory; Moycullen, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

The highlight of this day (and in my mind, perhaps the entire trip) was a visit to Kylemore Abbey. This “castle” was built by a wealthy citizen who had fallen in love with the Connemara district and built this incredible “home” many years back. During World War one, nuns from Scandinavia “escaped” here and made the abbey their home, with one of the more famous schools for girls, which ran until very recently. The photographic view here is one of a kind and I had been looking forward to visiting this site. Unfortunately, we arrived at mid-day and the lighting conditions were, at best, challenging.

Kylemore Abbey; Connemara, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Kylemore Abbey; Connemara, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Kylemore Abbey was actually build by wealthy Irishman, Mitchell Henry, as a “fairy tale” castle for his beloved wife, Margaret — in the late 1800’s.  Mitchell purchased 15,000 acres and built the castle, which took several years.  Years later, when their abbey in Belgium was destroyed during WWI, a Benedictine Order of nuns acquired and restored the Abbey, which housed an exclusive school for girls for many years.  Today, in addition to the Castle, there is a small, but beautiful, Gothic Church, and a large walled garden.  There is also, the obligatory, commercial visitor center, with a large cafeteria (one of 2 on the premises).  Kylemore continues to be owned and managed by the Benedictine nuns, who manage the Kylemore Trust.  The Abbey receives 1000’s of visitors annually.

Kylemore Abbey; Connemara, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Kylemore Abbey; Connemara, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

We finished the day with a visit to the Dan O’Hara Heritage center, which was a working Irish farm, complete with an old Irish village, and a peat bog, where we had the chance to observe a peat (torf) cutting demonstration. When the Vikings first came to Ireland, the island was fairly well forested with “black oak” trees, which were very useful for ship building. Thus, the Vikings commandeered the timber for ship building, and the island was lumbered off for ship building. There is very little forestation in the country today, and most of it is planted and harvested for paper. Most of the Irish countrymen thus, burned peat for their primary heat and cooking source. The smell of burning peat is reminiscent of a nice cigar. Until recent years in which there were electric power plants build, peat was the primary source for fuel. It is still common today.

Torf (peat) Cutting; Dan O'Hara Heritage Center; Connemara, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Torf (peat) Cutting;
Dan O’Hara Heritage Center; Connemara, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

We had an opportunity to sample some locally distilled whiskey, which was clear, strong, and reminiscent of “moonshine.” We left the Dan O’Hara center with a bit of a buz, and headed back for the Park House. That evening we were on our own for dinner and we had a great time, walking the crowded, tourist and college student packed streets of Galway, dining in a local pub, where I had my first taste of my favorite Irish beer – Smithwicks – and fish and chips. We “closed” the evening at Garvey’s, and retired, to rest up for the next day’s tour.

Torf (peat) Cutting; Dan O'Hara Heritage Center; Connemara, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Irish Village;
Dan O’Hara Heritage Center; Connemara, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

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