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Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com

My husband, Landon, and I have found that some of our best times traveling occur when we've got nothing planned. When we went to Scotland a few years ago, we scrapped our entire itinerary one day on the suggestions of one of the hotel staff; we wandered around the Trossachs for a day and that remains one of our favorite travel days ever.

On our trip to Ireland in late January, I made sure that we had some open time for wandering, too, in the hopes that the unplanned time would work out as well as it had the past.

About halfway through our trip, we had a day near Galway, and I had some vague ideas that I wanted to get out and see more of the northwestern area of Ireland. After reading through our guidebook (and a few that I'd found along the way at our different AirBnB locations) and talking with several locals, Landon and I decided that we were going to head up to the Connemara region for the day.

What would we find? We weren't really sure. I wanted to see Kylemore Abbey, which is this gorgeous old Abbey and former girls' private school, but other than that, we let the road take us where it would. We headed out of Galway on a chilly but sunny morning, and less than half an hour later, our little rental car went around a bend in the road and we were in the midst of this gorgeous rolling scenery.

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com

We headed through some rural areas along the roads sandwiched between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib.

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com

For much of the day, we were the only car for miles, which made for some spectacular pictures! I imagine it's busier during the high season, so there's one more reason to pile on the coats and go during the winter.

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com

One of the neatest things that we saw on our trip was the wide peat fields. If you're not familiar with peat, it's one of the main sources of fuel for the country and is cut from the ground in blocks. The peat is made up of layers and layers of compressed sphagnum moss that has been deprived of oxygen as it is crushed under subsequent layers.  When the peat is cut and dried, the result is a lightweight, flammable brick that burns slowly.

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com

Before visiting Ireland, I knew that peat had been a fuel source many years ago, but I assumed that the practice of digging, cutting, and drying peat had gone the way of the typewriter now that natural gas and electricity was so widely available. When we'd go into a building or a pub and smell the sweet smell of peat burning, I felt as if we were getting a glimpse into what the Irish experience was several hundred years ago, since the process of digging and burning has remained nearly unchanged.

I knew about peat mostly from the Irish literature that I've read, so when we were driving around these fields, I kept hearing the last part of the Seamus Heaney poem, "Digging" in my head:

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap 
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head. 
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.

(It's one of my favorite poems, so if you haven't read it yet, do so immediately.)

Another fun fact about the peat bogs is that mummified remains of Iron Age people have been dug up in them. The bodies are so well preserved that you can see their fingernails and the whorls on the pads of their fingers. Several times, when farmers have discovered the bodies, they thought that they were finding modern murder victims! (If you want to learn more about the bog people of Ireland and Northern Europe, The Bog People: Iron Age Man Preserved by P.V. Glob is fantastic.)

We made it to Kylemore Abbey around 3:45, which should've been plenty of time to look around the property since it didn't close until 4:30 (or so the sign on the gates announced). However, the front gates were firmly padlocked when we got there for reasons I don't know. Alas.

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com

So, what does one do when one cannot enter through the front gates? You park on the side of the road, trek through some boggy peat, and take pictures across the lake, of course!

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com

I was a little bummed that we weren't able to view the interior of the Abbey, but, from what I've read since then, the tour is quite pricey to see just a few rooms. Perhaps we saved enough by not being allowed in to spring for dessert that night!

If you're visiting Connemara during the warmer months, I'd definitely recommend lingering in the Connemara National Park, where you can hike, see if you can spot the wild Connemara ponies, and have a picnic. The weather was super, super windy and quite cold while we were there, so a hike wasn't the most feasible of activities; several times throughout the day, the gusts of wind nearly knocked us over when we got out to take pictures.

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com
Battling the wind to get some pictures. #travelbloggercommitment
Connemara is stunning and is well worth a half day--or more, if you've got it--out of Galway. Make sure to allot plenty of time to stop and take pictures because every turn in the road is a new kind of gorgeous. 

Have you visited Connemara? Do you like planning when you travel or do you prefer to let things unfold?

Wild and Wonderful Connemara, Ireland | CosmosMariners.com


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