Being descended from an Irish family on my father’s side of the family, I had always been keen to go to Ireland to see where they came from. I was then very lucky to win a competition with Hillarys Blinds where the prize was a trip to Ireland! I visited County Mayo and County Galway on my trip, spending two nights in each county in two beautiful hotels.
We began our trip arriving at Shannon airport, picking up the hire car and heading for our first stop at the small market town of Ennis in County Clare. On the way there, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of ancient ruins of abbeys and churches by the roadside. Upon arrival in Ennis, we stopped for lunch and had a look around the colourful shops before heading to the 15th century abbey where we went inside and walked around the graveyard.
The guides inside were so knowledgeable and they pointed out features we would never have noticed!
Next stop was our hotel in the village of Leenane in County Mayo where my great-grandparents came from. County Mayo is one of the most remote counties in Ireland with stunning scenery. Our hotel was the Hotel Leenane situated on the edge of the only fjord in Ireland, Killary. Our prize included a four course dinner on one of the evenings which was fabulous. On the Saturday night, we were entertained by a traditional Irish band playing some authentic Irish music in the bar.
We spent the following two days travelling around Connemara including visiting the Doolough Valley with its spectacular scenery and the National Famine Monument. Near the famine monument at Croagh Patrick, there is a popular pilgrimage walk up the Holy Mountain which has been a tradition since pagan times over 5,000 years ago.
We also went to the village of Cong where the 1950s film ‘The Quiet Man’ was made. This was my grandmother’s favourite film and it was a coincidence it was made in the same part of Ireland her family came from! We visited the Quiet Man Museum and we read some interesting newspaper articles about what the village was like when the Hollywood film crew arrived in the 1950s. The village also has ruins of an abbey and church to visit.
The next day we drove to our second hotel in Galway. On the way we stopped at the pretty village of Spiddal where all the shop and pub signs were in Irish. This was where my Scottish Gaelic came in handy – I was surprised to see how similar the two languages were. Upon arrival in Galway, I met up with my friend Lindsay, a speaker of Irish, and it was fun to compare Irish and Scottish Gaelic phrases with her.
We spent a day in the medieval town of Athenry, just a short drive from Galway. The town is full of history with a castle and medieval abbey to visit as well as an interesting museum. We finished our trip in the lively city of Galway where we had dinner in the Latin Quarter and enjoyed a drink in a traditional Irish bar before heading home.
UPDATE: – We returned to County Mayo this year and this time, we went to the small island of Inis Oirr in the Aran Isles. We had a 50 minute journey by boat and it wasn’t possible to take a car as there are very few roads on the island that are big enough for cars so most locals either walk or use a horse and cart. The most exciting part of the trip for me was meeting native Irish speakers. These islands managed to maintain their Irish language and you will hear it spoken in shops, the pub and among the locals at the tiny port.
We took a ride by horse and cart to the other side of the island with a native Irish speaker. I decided to try and speak in Scottish Gaelic to him. He was able to understand me very well, better than I could understand him in Irish but then my Gaelic is not yet native speaker level. Some words like “duine” are written the same but pronounced differently. However, they said our pronunciation is like the Ulster Irish and so they can still understand us. It won’t work with all words but if you both speak quite slowly you can manage a conversation using both languages. It was a lot of fun!