Day one in Galway!
Good morning good morning! Today is, as is most of our travel days, a bittersweet day. Sadly, we are leaving the beautiful Killarney, with its lovely old cobbled streets and winding riverfront–but we are heading to Galway!!! Yay!!! Galway will be our last home of this wonderful trip. Everyone packed their bags and lunches, hopped on the bus, then headed for Bunratty Castle and Folk Park! (Bye, Killarney!)
We had a short but interesting tour of Bunratty Castle before everyone was set loose to explore the Folk Park–where there was a wide variety of traditional farmhouses with peat fires, animals, and even a recreated shop street.
After eating our yummy packed lunches (most people have been making sandwiches–along with crisps, chocolate, fruit, and/or granola bars), we headed to Rathbaun Farm! Here, everyone was excited to look around at the various types of sheep, including a rare breed native only to Galway. Everyone was especially enthralled to see a little sheepdog demonstration, and–to finish it off–feeding baby lambs!!! Aspen said that she had been waiting to do that the whole trip, though her smile said it all. Strider also got to feed a lamb!
We were then treated to a lovely little snack of tea and scones with delicious cream and homeade rhubarb jam. It was so good! We even got the recipe for the scones, so we can make them for our families when we get home!
We then went to our apartments! How exciting!! Everyone agrees that they are very nice. We were then set loose with a stipend to go grocery shopping for the week, and for free time in Galway. Everyone is getting nicely settled in, and we are ready for the final amazing days in this beautiful place!
Day Two in Galway!
Yay yay yay! Today is a very fun, much-awaited day by many. The Burren! The Burren is an absolutely jaw-dropping landscape in County Clare that consists of wild rolling hills dotted with slabs of weathered limestone, grazing sheep, elegant little brooks, and swaying wildflowers. Even though everyone usually likes to take naps on the bus, it was nearly impossible to when surrounded by such beauty.
Our first stop was the Ailwee Caves, where we walked several miles under the Burren in a naturally formed cave from the Ice Age. This was also the location where scientists found remmanants of bear bones, which are extinct in Ireland now!
We then emerged into the sunlight and drove to the Birds of Prey Center, where we had a fascinating display of two birds–Batty the Batuorlette Eagle, who was very snarky and funny, and Jess, the adorable little barn owl. Isaac even got to hold a bird! Afterwards, everyone had a chance to shop in the little Farmstore, where they make homeade cheese (including an intriguing nettle variety), and fudge.
We then hit the road once more and drove to The Polnabroune Dolmen–one of the best-preserved tombs in Ireland. Here, the wildflowers and ferns grow in abundance, and accompanied with the warm sunshine and gentle breeze, it was a very calming place.
Everyone then had their packed lunches on the drive to a much-awaited place–The Cliffs of Moher!!! Although the drizzling had picked up a bit, it didn’t spoil anyone’s mood as we trekked along the clifftop pathways, glanicing nervously over the edge at the churning and swelling ocean 700 feet below. (Don’t worry, parents–there’s a barricade).
After an hour and a half of exploring the cliffs and gazing out at the gorgeous view, we had one more special spot on this busy but wonderful day–St. Brigid’s Well. Here, those who wished could leave momentos or letters or say a few words to loved ones who had passed. It was a quick stop, but a very meaningful and special one nonetheless.
The drive home was full of Taryn and Clare’s wonderful DJ-ing, and all too soon, we were pulling into Gort na Coribe for another wonderful night of dinner and free time! Goodnight!
Galway, Day Three!
The morning dawned in a rush of warm sunlight and a gentle sprinkling of rain here and there. Everyone is very very excited for today–we are going to the incredible Conemmara region! This is a landscape full of untamed beauty–a wildness that only Mother Earth can create herself.
Our first stop is an ILE classic–Dan O’ Hara’s Cottage, a realistic famine farm. We watched a short film out the Conemmara region before loading up into a shuttle pulled by a tractor. Although the Montana kids felt right at home, some of the other kids seemed to be in a state of perpetual confusion. Robert, our hilarious tour guide, showed us how to cut turf with a tradition tool called a “sléan,” and Strider and Lydia both got to try cutting some!
We then got a tour of the house and small property, where you can look out at the surrounding valley sprawled below you like a massive quilt, complete with squares of bogland and rushes and grazing sheep.
After the reasonably amusing tour, we drove to the gorgeous and quaint little town of Clifden, where everyone had an hour for free time. Some people chose to eat their own packed lunches here, but most chose to eat in one of the many yummy cafés and bakeries.
Next, we drove to a fan favorite–Kylemore Abbey! Once a school, it is now kept open by the Kylemore nuns as a tourist attraction. The Abbey is perched at the edge of a huge lake, standing sentinel amongst the hardwood trees and ferns and the many creatures that call this wooded area home, like the famous Conemmara ponies. Everyone strolled around both the Abbey and the gorgeous church, or across the grounds to the Victorian Walled Garden. It was amazing! And, naturally, after a group picture, we all headed home to Gort Na Coirbe. Here, we had free time in Galway, then free time at campus after 8, where the apartments hung out together, watched movies, and ate their home-cooked meals. Goodnight from Galway! We are ready for two more incredible days of adventure!
Galway, Day Four!
Okay, I know I’ve started the blog with so many “Today is a much-awaited, beautiful day!” But it really is! That’s the beauty of the ILE and Ireland…every day is more special and amazing than the last. And today is no exception–after a drizzly hour-long bus ride, we arrived at the Ferry Harbor, where we are heading to…Inis Mór!!!!! “Inis Mór” is one of the three Aran Islands (Including Inis Meain and Inis Óirr), literally translating to “big island, “medium island,” and “small island.” Really creative names! The 45-minute ferry ride over was fantastic, and most deigned to sit up top, watching the mainland shrink away and the tiny island grow closer, wild sea spray splashing their faces.
We all got off at Kilronan Harbor, then got our bike rentals, buddied up, and were set loose for the day!
Inis Mór is a goregous, unreal landscape. It’s the perfect description of untamed, rural, magical beauty–what with its rolling hills dotted with old stone fences, grazing draft horses and sheep and sweet cocoa cows, with its little rocky paths and crumbling ruins and storm-tossed cliffs–everyone fell in love.
Some people immediatley set off on their bikes to explore the many chilly beaches, The Worm Hole, or Dun Aengus–one of the old ruins, and some set off to find shelter in a warm restraunt for lunch before braving the rain once more. But, despite the drizzliness unabating, everyone returned to the ferry hours later with–albeit cold–smiles and excited conversation. Some people even boasted new Aran knit sweaters and gifts for their friends and families!
After the beautiful (and slighlty storm-tossed) ferry ride home, we hopped onto the steamy bus and headed home. Yay for the Aran Islands!!!!
Galway, final day…
And so comes, like every trip, the end. Today is our final, beautiful, perfect day in Galway. Everyone enjoyed a wonderful free day in Galway City today! Aspen and Adi went in search for Claddagh Rings, and Jerry (our amazing bus driver and improptu tour guide), took Isaac, AJ, Strider, Taegen, and Paul Coffey for a small tour around Galway, where he showed them the Galway University Campus, The river, and the City Square (known as ‘Shop Street.’). Others spent their day purusing the various streets and buskars and shops, getting in some last-minute gift shopping, and in general just enjoying each others company.
And then, at 7, we all made the final trip to Maldron Hotel, where we are having our final banquet together. It was a wonderful dinner, consisting of our choice of a hamburger, a chicken burger, or tortellini, with a mixed dessert plate. And before we knew it, we were heading into one of the private rooms for a final trip overview. Here, many many tears were shed and laughs were shared as Taryn showed everyone an incredible mix of videos and photos (including a fabulously embarassing album of everyone falling asleep on the bus), handed out awards, and she and the other counselors said several incredibly meaningful words to everyone. Then, we sang a few songs (‘Wagon Wheel’ and ‘Good Riddance–‘ some ILE favorites) before walking back to our apartments. Everyone spent our final, glorious night hanging out together, savoring our last few moments as an ILE family, and packing up for the plane ride tomorrow.
It’s not goodbye yet! Goodnight from our final, wonderful, perfectly bittersweet night in one of the world’s most incrdeible places.