So just got back yesterday on a trip with my daughter and her best friend that covered much of the coastal parts of Counties Mayo, Galway, and Clare. I'm horrible at writing trip reports. I get halfway through them and realize I'm boring myself to death and so probably will bore others too but what I will do is post the pictures here and mention a few of the highlights.
So here is a link to the photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/48836920@N02/sets/72157644540939662/
Trip highlights (in not particular order):
1. Better than expected weather. We were there for 10 days and 6 of them were mostly sunny. The other 4 mostly cloudy and drizzly. I'll take it especially considering the that the 6 days of sunshine came during the days that we did the most scenic driving.
2. Achill Island, the Atlantic Drive, and the Deserted Village - I had been too Achill twice before but on cloudy/foggy/drizzly days. This time we a mostly sunny day with just a few high clouds and I saw Achill Island in all it's glory for the first time. The views were spectacular and exceeded anything I have seen in Ireland before. We took the longer Atlantic drive along the coast and the dizzying heights that these roads achieve are enough to make you not want almost not want to look out the side window. Luckily their are plenty of lookout points that you can stop at to take photos. We went all the way out to the beach near the very end of the island. It's the most pristine beach I think I've ever seen and was so clear and sunny that we could see Croagh Patrick all the way from there. On the way back we stopped for a snack and a pint of Guinness at Geilty's pub near Keel and the owner gave us a tip to visit the deserted village on way out. Man we are glad we did. Well worth the detour. A completely deserted village of stone construction on a hillside with sweeping views a few miles away down to the sea. Really strange and beautiful spot. Overall I'd say that this day was the most scenic drive I've ever taken in Ireland and that is saying a lot. You can see from my photos that I'm not exaggerating.
3. West Mayo Brewery - Did not visit the brewery itself which is on a small farm between Westport and Castlebar but I was pleased to find their beers on tap in the town of Westport at the Cobbler's Bar (Wyatt Hotel), McGing's, and Matt Molloy's. Really nice locally brewed ales that taste miles better than anything else on tap in the town of Westport. They brew a pale ale, red ale, and stout. Pale ale was on at Molloy's and Cobbler's and the red (my favorite) and stout were on tap at McGing's. Also enjoyed a nice jazz session at McGing's while there. Also got some inside info that a new nano brewery is opening up in Westport just outside town down towards the Quay. I did not manage to investigate but you will start seeing it in Westport pubs soon.
4. Saturday night session at Bould Biddy's in Westport. Normally I would park myself at Hoban's on a Saturday night but we had a late dinner at La Bella Vita in Westport that night (I highly recommend btw) and we got to Hoban's late. However being the pub connoisseur that I am I make it a point to try and visit places, at least for a pint, that I haven't seen before including places that might look a bit sketchy on the surface. Such it was that I stopped for a quiet pint earlier that day at a local dive bar called Bould Biddy's (near clock tower) and noticed a paper sign behind the bar that there was trad music that night. So since Hoban's was too packed I decided to investigate further and was pleasantly surprised to find a really good trad session going on inside (including an Uillean piper - always a treat) and not at all crowded as it was really just a couple of dozen locals in the place. It would turn out I would see some of those same musicians at the really good Sunday night session at Cobbler's and also met the piper at the Cuckoo Fleadh in Kinvara later in the trip.
5. Connemara Pony Trek - Not for me though! My daughter and her friend had the idea that while in Clifden they would do a pony trek. I thought it a great idea so she made the arrangements and a drove them over to Cleggan the next morning for a 10am start. They really enjoyed it. It took about 2-2.5 hours and it was another gorgeous day so while they rode I took a nice long and peaceful walk down the Cleggan peninsula and enjoyed the countryside scenery along the way and found a lovely beach on Cleggan bay. I had a local dog follow me along the way. Encountered horses, sheep, a donkey, and the occasional local also walking and taking advantage of the fine weather. I thought to myself that it would be nice on some trip back here to stay in a small village like Cleggan as it felt as if I was long way away from the stresses of the world.
6. Lowry's pub in Clifden - We stayed two nights in Clifden at the Abbeyglen Castle hotel. I'd recommend this place to anyone willing to splurge a little bit. It was the best meal we had on the whole trip and we had lots of good meals. It's also walking distance from downtown Clifden for those willing to stretch their legs a bit. We decided to catch the regular Tuesday night trad session at Lowry's pub. Firstly it's a really nice pub. They've got a huge whiskey selection and the place has loads of character. A very cozy pub. They also have a regular Tuesday night trad session that was excellent and being that we were there before tourist season gets into full swing so it wasn't crowded.
7. Bog Road - We drove the bog road on an almost completely sunny day and the views of the Twelve bens were spectacular. Again the pictures, while not able to do it complete justice, will give an idea. We stopped at about the halfway point where there was a small hill that we could climb upon to get a full view in all 4 directions.
8. Ballyvaughn - I'd been meaning to stay overnight in Ballyvaughn for quite some time but never made the time. It was worth it. It's such a lovely little village and so relaxing. We spent the day walking around taking photos, having a pint or two, eating lunch at Hylands where we stayed (we also at dinner there. Lunch and dinner were very good breakfast not so much). The girls were exhausted from a very active trip so far so they went to bed not long after dinner. I went to check out O'Lochlain's whiskey bar. Please do not miss out on this place if you happen to stay there. What a fantastic, cozy little pub with a phenomenal whiskey selection and the owner Margaret was charming and hospitable. This place is officially on my top 10 pubs of Ireland list - a very tough list to get onto. Furthermore I can also heap as much praise onto Greene's pub in Ballyvaughn as well. I decided to stop in there for a nightcap and found it tough to leave as it was myself and 5 locals and listening to the locals banter back and forth was highly entertaining.
9. Sheedy's Country House Hotel in Lisdoonvarna - One of the best hotels I've ever stayed in in Ireland and the best of this trip. The service and the food were both top shelf.
10. Roadside Tavern/Burren Brewery - Down the street from Sheedy's. I'd been here before so the pub and the good beers on tap were not a surprise to me but what was a surprise was the amount of musicians from first Switzerland and then from the Ukraine that came into the pub to play. Firstly there was a chorus of students from Switzerland singing some of their folk songs then they were followed up by about a dozen or so Ukranians that were playing what I guess you would say is Ukranian Trad music. Even the owner of the pub was surprised to see so many musicians show up. It was an interesting evening to say the least. Met the brewer of the Burren Brewery that night. He's quite proud of his beers. He proclaimed their stout the "best stout in the world" - well not really but who am I to argue and I'll grant that it's the best one served in County Clare.
11. Cuckoo Fleadh in Kinvara - I don't even know where to start with this. Grand finale to the trip is a perfect description. It is a trad music festival done of the May bank holiday weekend in Kinvara and we booked to stay at the Merriman Hotel from Friday to Monday and take it all in. It's kind of unusual in that if you were to just walk down the main street of Kinvara during the day you might not even realize there is a festival going on other than you'd see some musicians walking to the next pub starting in late afternoon. It's really about 99% in the pubs. It also at times was fairly crowded in these pubs but if you planned ahead and got into place about a 1/2 hour early before the next session began you would be in a good spot and would experience a real treat. It would take me an hour to run down all the different sessions we experienced but I'll just summarize and say that we sat in on about 7-9 sessions during the weekend and got to experience what to me was the greatest collection of traditional Irish musicians gathered in one place that I've ever seen. A slew of musicians that clearly are masters of their craft. As I sat in Conole's pub at midnight near the close of the last session I listened too I felt truly grateful to have been there to experience this event.
Welcome Back! Sounds like a GREAT time and really EXCELLENT weather!
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