🇮🇪 January 24, 2022 - A Month In Ireland - Part 3

Written By Amanda

For our third week in Ireland we homebased in Galway. I was the most excited about this leg of the trip because Evelyn would be returning to school and Tommy would be working. Our rental apartment was located right in the city center. I had grand visions of exploring the city solo while they worked and schooled. I can be a bit of an introvert. After two full weeks of continuous family time, I was looking forward to being alone with my own thoughts for a bit. To sum it up, our week in Galway was far from what I had envisioned. Tommy had his last Friday off of the summer and we held Evelyn out of school. We took the long weekend to make it to our final homebase, just north of Sligo, with several stops along the way.

Galway, Ireland → Connemara National Park → Tubbercurry → Sligo → Slieve League Cliffs → Bundoran

Be on the look out for Part 4 for more tips, tricks, and inspiration for traveling to Ireland! Also, don’t forget to look back at Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already!

Day 16 - Around Galway

Galway, a major city and tourist destination in western Ireland, seemed like a great place for us to homebase for the week. Galway would provide plenty of activities and opportunities for us to explore in the mornings before school and work. It would also allow for the possibility of me getting out and exploring on my own during the evenings.

After all the biking we did the day prior, I allowed us all to sleep in. While Evelyn continued sleeping, I focused on “nesting” in our new rental apartment. I felt a lot of pressure (self-induced of course) to make the apartment feel somewhat like a “home away from home” because Evelyn would be starting virtual 2nd grade. Since we were spending it in a very untraditional way and in such a different place, I wanted the environment to feel as much like home as possible.

Although the apartment was roomy, it was difficult to set up two separate areas for both Evelyn and Tommy to work without interrupting one another. They were both opposed to using headphones all day. We finally settled on Tommy working in the living room and Evelyn schooling in her room. There was no desk or side table in the apartment that could be moved, so I transitioned an ironing board into a desk. I was impressed with my creativity, however, I could tell it fell far short of Evelyn’s expectations of an ideal workspace. I forced myself to maintain and model a positive attitude about the situation but internally I struggled with feelings that I was disappointing her.

Once we were all up and ready for the day we went out to casually explore the city. My only goal for the morning was to get our traditional “back to school” photos and make the morning feel as special as possible. We had no real sightseeing objectives. We were able to get some really fun photos in Erye Square and along Quay Street. The older Evelyn gets, the more she is willing to indulge me and pose for the camera. Tommy treated us to an amazing breakfast at Pascal Coffee House. As advertised, they have the “best pancakes in town”. I am not sure how they could get any better! Getting out of the apartment and exploring Galway made Evelyn and I feel better about starting our first day of school in Ireland. It was a little bit of a reality check on counting our blessings about being here and dealing with the minor discomforts.

Before returning to our apartment, we made a stop by Dunnes Stores for some groceries. As we were nesting that morning we discovered that our apartment lacked the basic kitchen equipment needed to cook even simple meals. This was not ideal for a family who planned to “live as locals” and “cook at home” during our time in Galway. Luckily, we found that Dunnes sold pre-cut and seasoned meats and veggies in oven trays. This really saved us from having to eat out every meal! We were becoming loyal Dunnes shoppers and I miss that store even now that we are back at home.

Back at our apartment, Evelyn and I anxiously awaited 2:15 pm so we could login and meet her new teachers and class. When the time finally came, our access was denied over multiple attempts. Evelyn was so disappointed and my mommy’s heart was broken for her. I was trying everything I could over the next few hours to fix whatever it was that was preventing us from getting in. I emailed other parents, the teachers (who couldn’t check their email because they were teaching), and made several calls to IT. Finally, we discovered that our access was denied because we were trying to login outside of the United States. This of course would require special IT approval and we were given no indication on when that would be addressed.

After hours of working at the computer and trying to get Evelyn logged into school, while she sat nearby and watched YouTube, I finally just gave up. The harsh reality hit that this wasn’t going to be the fairy-tale we had envisioned. It would not be easy to travel without interrupting Evelyn’s schooling. The “mom guilt” was eating me up! I worried that I was placing my daughter’s education in limbo just so we could travel around. Evelyn was not helping the situation. All of a sudden school became her favorite activity in the whole world and she was devastated she was missing out. I was disappointed as well but tried to hide it the best that I could for her sake. I tried to make it out like it was all just a part of the adventure while shouldering her disappointment and mine.

To lighten our spirits, I forced Evelyn and I to go outside for a walk. Evelyn mandated that this walk would also include a stop by an ice cream shop because that was the only thing that could make her day better. We took the walk along the Docks which was absolutely beautiful with the sun beginning to set. Several locals were relaxing and picnicking alongside the water. I had the strong urge to find a takeaway cocktail and Evelyn an ice cream and join them at the riverside. This would have helped melt away the stress of the day. There was a nearby Off License store just for that purpose. However, when we went to check it out there was a long line out the door. I quickly aborted those plans because it just didn’t feel right to enjoy a drink in such a beautiful setting without Tommy.

Evelyn and I headed back up the very busy Quay Street in search of some ice cream. It was much livelier than it had been that morning. Lots of people were out enjoying the beautiful weather. The pubs and restaurants were full. A few street performers had set up and were playing music. It made me sad to realize that we all wouldn’t get to experience Galway to its full extent with Tommy having to work in the evenings. I was also realizing that maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing since COVID was still aggressively spreading. We eventually did find some ice cream. While that helped rid Evelyn of her disappointment over school, she still felt guilty enjoying an ice cream without her dad. I think it was just going to be “one of those days” even though we were in such a beautiful place.

Day 17 - Around Galway

The following morning when we woke up, Tommy was convinced he had a hack to get Evelyn into school while we awaited IT approval to log in from Ireland. We were eager to try it out and hoped for a better second day of school than our first.

Before work and school, we set out to tour Galway in a more organized manner. I took Tommy back along the Docks via the Spanish Arch, up to the Galway Cathedral, back to Erye Square, and finally back down Quay Street. Galway’s few sights are very walkable. We could also tell that most of the town’s excitement happened in the evenings. Again this was unfortunately while Tommy would be working. It was neat, however, to see all the empty kegs from the night prior sitting out in front of the pubs waiting to be replaced.

While wandering around the city, we popped into a novelty candy shop to check it out. There they had a large display of pop-tarts! After traveling for 3 weeks in Ireland I felt a strong craving for one but I was not willing to pay almost €7 for a box when I can get them for $2 at home. It was so odd because I rarely eat them at home! Despite searching several grocery stores in Ireland during the remainder of our trip, I had no luck finding pop-tarts. They were, however, the first thing on my grocery list when we got back home!

Before returning to the apartment, we hunted for lunch. Most of the restaurants we were interested in were only open for dinner. We also tried to avoid dining on the much busier Quay Street. The day that we would have to COVID test to return home was quickly approaching and we were trying to be cautious. We ended up settling on pizza at Wooza where we enjoyed dining outside in the nice warm weather.

That afternoon, Evelyn was finally successful at logging in to school! We were all so relieved! I am not sure if it was Tommy’s hack that worked or that we finally received IT approval. Either way, we were in! Evelyn liked to refer to it as “her second day of school that was really her first.” Her disappointment quickly shifted to the fact that she was missing the materials handed out to the students a few days prior to the start of school (i.e. worksheets, counting cubes etc). We were traveling so I had a neighbor pick ours up for us. Her teacher was aware but Evelyn would not let me leave her side in case I needed to help make any modifications for her. That was how I spent my envisioned “alone time” in Galway for the remainder of the week.

The atypical nice warm weather we were having in Galway was starting to make the apartment very hot and uncomfortable, especially for sleeping. With no air conditioning or fans, we had to sleep with the windows open. We were a little off the main drag and our windows faced a courtyard. The city noise was not too bad but we did have to deal with a large population of seagulls. For some reason they loved perching on the rooftop of the neighboring apartment complex. We attempted to fall asleep every night and were awakened every morning to their cooing. I didn’t think there was anything worse than a rooster but I was proven very wrong.

Day 18 - Outside Galway

After a much more successful day of schooling and having already seen many of the tourist sights within the city center, we felt it was time to explore outside of Galway.

After researching some activities, I was set on going out to Glengowla Mines. Glengowla Mines is a “one stop shop” for all your rural Ireland experiences including an underground mine tour, sheep herding lessons, and turf cutting demonstrations. It was a scenic 30 minute drive outside the city passing by castle hotels, lush farmland, lakes, and golf courses. Unfortunately, we only had time to do the mining tour because we had to be back to the city for work and school that afternoon. If we had more time we could have spent a good part of a day there!

We had a knowledgeable guide who interacted well with both the kids and the adults in our group as she guided us down into and through the abandoned lead and silver mine. She did a wonderful job detailing the harsh working conditions for the miners, especially those working during the Potato Famine. Workers labored for hours and hours but would only get paid if something of value was found.

After our tour, Evelyn got to go panning for gemstones. She found and got to keep several tiny stones that our guide helped us identify. If it looked like it would belong in a rainbow we kept it! Evelyn absolutely loved playing in the tiny gems, rocks, and water mix. It was hard to pull her away when it was time to go. I was also reluctant to leave because I wanted to do an additional tuff cutting and sheepherding tour. Unfortunately, it was time to return to our real world responsibilities.

Day 19 - Outside Galway

Looking for more to do outside of the Galway city center, I went scrolling through TripAdvisor. There I found some information on visiting Menlo Castle ruins (also known as Blake’s Castle). After reading all the reviews, it looked like an adventure that would be perfect for our family! This quest would entail some questionable trespassing on private property. Tommy took some convincing (because he is very much a rule follower) but after a little nudging, I convinced him to check it out!

We parked at the end of a narrow neighborhood street. At the beginning of the street, there were the remains of an old castle wall. This assured us that maybe we were heading in the right direction. It was already amazing being able to see the new(er) houses that had been built around the old remains.

We saw the gate that all the reviews I had read said to just “jump over - it’s not trespassing”. I totally would have lost Tommy at this point had we not seen a local girl walking her dog jump over. Evelyn jumped over the gate (a skill she learned in farm camp earlier in the summer and was eager to show off). Tommy and I found a little trail around. After walking for about a quarter of a mile, (still very much feeling like we were trespassing) we started to see some old ruins of what possibly could have been the old castle wall and maybe the stables.

Walking a little further, we finally saw the Menlo Castle ruins sitting on the banks of the River Corrib. There was a lot still remaining of the structure and it was beautifully taken over by vines and other plants. We were the only ones there giving our “discovery” a haunted feel. We were tempted to wander inside but did not want to take the risk of going in a potentially unstable structure. I was fascinated by the experience and spent the rest of the evening while Evelyn schooled researching the castle’s sad history.

Following our little adventure, Tommy dropped Evelyn and I off at Silverstrand Beach. Having no morning session, Evelyn was not scheduled to start school until later that evening. After we enjoyed the beach, the goal was for us to walk back into town along the Salt Promenade.

I never would have believed that we would spend an afternoon swimming at the beach in Galway, Ireland of all places! Well, technically wading for me and swimming for Evelyn. It was a very warm day and the bay was calm. There was a surprising amount of people out on the beach in the middle of the work day. The water was way too cold for my southern blood but after about an hour and multiple failed attempts, Evelyn finally made her way in. Evelyn and I also had fun making a “sandcastle” out of the beach rocks and seaweed. It was a very long and hot walk back into the city. I never knew it could get this hot in Ireland! Staying and playing on the beach would have been much more fun in Evelyn’s opinion, so getting us back to the city required a lot of motivation. After a few gift shop and playground stops and of course some ice cream, we finally made it! We were a little early for our scheduled meet up time with Tommy. An emergency bathroom break brought us into The Dáil Bar Galway where I found non-Irish beer on the tap. After the long hot walk, I was so happy to order a Hoegaarden!

We met Tommy next door for an early dinner at Umbrella Asian Tapas. It was a unique asian and tapas fusion restaurant. Being lovers of both, we had to check it out! It ended up being very good!

Tommy was having a demanding week at work which was at its worst by dinner time that evening. His ability to cope was made even tougher by the late working hours, limited sleep, and having to be on demand tech support for Evelyn and I. Tommy was trying to talk through his frustrations at dinner and Evelyn completely melted down. She was so upset that her daddy was having a bad day. It became apparent to us then that she was already overly tired and she still had to log in to school at 5:45 pm!

By the end of the school day, she was in hysterics. I learned my lesson the hard way as I fought to calm her. We could not over schedule ourselves before school because she does actually still needed the mental energy to attend.

That night we were at our “boiling point” literally. The heat in the stuffy apartment was unbearable. In combination with the very vocal seagulls, it made for a rough last night of sleep. I loved our time in Galway but I was ready to be moving on the next day!

Day 20 - Galway to Connemara National Park to Tubbercurry

We were fortunate that Tommy’s work had given him Friday’s off in July and August as “Wellness Days”. This being his last wellness day of the summer, we wanted to take full advantage of it. We also held Evelyn out of school. I felt a little guilty about it since we had such a rocky start to the school year but it’s not very often that dad has the day off. Family time took priority!

No tears were shed this time as we left our rental apartment in Galway. I never knew I could hate seagulls so much! We headed out of the city with plans to explore Connemara National Park. We originally planned to spend the morning hiking Dymond Hill but after a rough night’s sleep and Evelyn’s meltdown the evening prior, we figured we should not push ourselves too hard.

The drive from Galway and into the national park was absolutely beautiful! We drove along the windy roads through the valley past free roaming sheep and towering mountains reflecting on the lakes. You could actually see where turf had been cut in the fields for peat. Passing by the picturesque scenery made me regret skipping out on a hike in this region!

Our end destination in Connemara National Park was Kylemore Abbey. The castle and surrounding land was once a private home but now houses Benedict Nuns and a school. After a quick snack at the cafe and paying our entrance fee, we immediately boarded the shuttle that took us up to the gardens. There was a scheduled pig feeding in the gardens that Evelyn would not let us miss! Again, she must have been reminiscing back to her days in farm camp. She was the last kid remaining after the feeding was done and she had a lot of good questions for the pigs’ caregiver.

After that, we explored the very well groomed gardens. We liked walking along the trail in the surrounding forest the best. Along the way, we were lucky enough to find another fairy garden! This one was so cutely decorated with several fairy houses, signs, and painted stones. Unfortunately, we didn’t last long because it was also the home of several midges! This was our first encounter with the famed Irish midges which are just as pesky as the mosquitos back home. Before leaving the gardens, we visited the very tame Connemara ponies.

We walked back to the Abbey via the walking trail and road. It was only a little over a mile walk but we figured we could use the exercise after skipping out on the Diamond Hill hike. Surprisingly after the short little walk (mostly downhill), we were all pretty tired. The late night’s disturbed sleep was catching up with us.

We then toured the very well maintained Kylemore Castle. It was beautifully furnished and decorated. It almost looked as if the previous owner had just stepped out for a walk. It was also nice to see a castle not in ruins for a change. The front rooms had amazing views out to the lake right in the front yard. I could easily see myself living here and enjoying the view with a morning cup of coffee. We learned that the house was built by a couple who had honeymooned in the area. I can see why they fell in love with all the natural beauty in Connemara National Park.

Following the castle tour, we walked over to the church located on the ground. We then enjoyed a late lunch at the cafe and did some shopping in the gift shop. All the goods are made by the Benedict Nuns. I fell in love with the pottery they make that is accented by the fuchsia flower which is found all over Ireland. I later found out that Michele Obama was once gifted her own set of Kylemore Abbey pottery from Ireland!

Leaving Kylemore Abbey, we then made our way further north to the small town of Tubbercurry. We decided to stay in this small town because there were a few sights we wanted to see on the southern end of Sligo the next day. We stayed the night at Cawley’s Guesthouse. They had a nice grassy area out back where we let Evelyn run around. The weather was perfect and Tommy and I enjoyed a beer while we watched her.

The guest house also had its own restaurant. Given that it was the only restaurant in town and it was convenient, we figured we should give it a try. We were so glad we did. The food was amazing and we had a wonderful dining experience. Evelyn ordered ribs off the kids menu. This was her first time having them and I wasn’t sure how that would all work out with all her missing teeth. She loved them! Tommy and I were also surprised how good and tender they were. We couldn’t believe they were a kids menu item! Evelyn has been ordering ribs at restaurants ever since but so far has found nothing that compares.

That night, we headed to bed super early. I think we were all passed out by 8:30 pm. We were all so exhausted from our lack of sleep in Galway. We also had a big day of hiking planned for the following day.

Day 21 - Tubbercurry to Sligo to Bundoran

We woke up feeling so rested and prepared for a full day of hiking! We slept much better without the cooing seagulls. After a delicious breakfast, we checked out of Cawley’s Guesthouse and made our way 30 minutes down the road to our first planned hike for the day, the Carrowkeel Passage Tombs (also referred to as the Bricklieve tombs).

I had very little information before starting the hike, just some GPS coordinates for parking (54.059036, -8.394502 if needed) and that the trek was about 3 miles out and back. When we arrived, it was immediately evident that those 3 total miles meant 1.5 miles up and then 1.5 miles back down again.

The hike was along a dirt farm road with several sheep grazing in the thick grass all around us. I was again very thankful there were no snakes in Ireland! I really didn’t care what I was hiking to or that the elevation was climbing. I was so fascinated by all the sheep! The panoramic views were also very rewarding.

Having never visited Ireland before, none of us were too familiar with passage tombs (burial chambers covered in earth and stone, from the Neolithic Age) so we weren’t sure of exactly what we were hiking to. Once we spotted a big pile of rock on top of a grass covered hillside, we knew we were there. The views were absolutely breathtaking from the top of the hill and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to be buried on this spot. We explored the area a bit but stayed respectful and did not climb on the tombs as advised.

Following our Carrowkeel Passage Tombs hike, we made our way to the more well known Knocknarea and the passage tomb of Queen Maeve. I didn’t know much about Queen Maeve before and during the hike but I did some googling later. She was a very interesting character for sure! Some say you should carry a stone with you up the hill to place on the grave. This is either to bring you good luck or for the purpose of ensuring that Queen Maeve stays buried. Either way, we grabbed a rock from the parking lot hoping it would bring us some good “Irish luck”.

From the parking lot, it was a very steep climb up Knocknarea (close to 2 miles) to the passage tomb at the top. The afternoon was getting warm and the trail was very sun exposed. At the beginning of the hike we veered to the right, thinking we could walk along the tree line in the shade. We were incorrect and had to back track towards the trail. Evelyn, nor I, were happy about the “extra credit” hiking we just did. It was a tough climb, especially after the hike we had just done that morning, but finally we made it to the summit. Once there, we didn’t spend much time at the tomb itself because we were so taken by the views! After depositing our rocks on the cairn, we hiked a little further along the summit so we could get a better view of Sligo, Strandhill, and the bay. It was a tough day of hiking but well worth the unforgettable views! We rewarded Evelyn for her efforts with an ice cream once we got back to the bottom.

After the hike, and on the way into Sligo, we felt we needed to check out Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. We made it to the parking lot and could tell it was much of what we had seen already (more megalithic monuments). It looked like an awesome place but given the hiking we had just done, we really were not motivated to get out of the car. I would recommend this site to anyone who couldn’t hike up Knocknarea or Carrowkeel. It seemed much more accessible.

We then headed to downtown Sligo for a quick visit and to kill some time before we could check into our rental home. We also weren’t sure if we would be back this way later in the week because our apartment was a good 45 minutes to the north. We didn’t have much energy to do more than walk to a pub (Fiddlers Creek) with a nice view of the river and sit and enjoy a drink. After that, we went into a local gift shop/ department store (Mullaney Brothers) where we had a very nice conversation with two of the employees. It seems that Sligo is the home of tweed and this is where you go to get outfitted! They had lovely, well-made clothing but there was no way we could wear any of it at home in the southern United States. We did, however, get a nice history lesson on the Ireland/North Ireland divide. We could tell it was a heated topic, especially in this region of Ireland so close to the border.

After Sligo, we were able to check into our beach side cottage. The views from the backyard out into the ocean were breathtaking! I could already see people surfing and horseback riding on the beach. I was so excited to be spending the week here!

After quickly unloading, we headed into the nearby town of Bundoran for dinner and groceries. Bundoran was busier and more touristy than I expected. Finding a place to eat on a Saturday night without reservations in a beach town was starting to feel impossible. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we ended up at McGarrigles Restaurant. I can’t really remember much about the quality of the food (which says a lot in itself). I do know that we were seated among a very rowdy group of patrons who were drunkenly taunting each other. We were also asked to pay before the waitress would bring out our food. This seemed very unusual since we were at a restaurant (not somewhere with counter service) but I guess they must have a lot of “dine and ditchers”. We ate as quickly as we could so we could return to the peace of our seaside rental.

Day 22 - Bundoran to Slieve League Cliffs

We again woke up feeling so rested. The sound of the ocean and the fresh air were just what we needed! We decided to take it a little easy today and let Evelyn sleep in as much as possible. We wanted her to be fully rested before school started on Monday. We did not want any repeats of of Thursday evening.

Once we were all awake and ready to go, we took the drive up to Slieve League (Sliabh Liag), Ireland’s highest sea cliffs. We had been to the Kerry Cliffs and the Cliffs of Moher and really enjoyed the views. We were eager to check out what Slieve League had to offer!

It was a little odd getting to the cliffs. We had an address that we placed in our GPS but the road signs indicated that we could not go the way the GPS was directing us. We drove in the only direction we could and wound up at a parking lot. I still wasn’t sure we were there until I went to pay for parking and the machine had “Sliabh Liag” written on it.

From the parking lot, we walked up a steep road and along the ridge. I was surprised how long of a walk it was to get to the cliffs from the parking lot. Tour vans frequently passed us. I was under the impression that the tour vans were private companies out of Donegal but apparently you can catch a ride up from the small gift shop. We will keep that mistake a secret from Evelyn.

Although it was a bit of a climb, walking allowed us to get a better look at the amazing views along the way. We walked past sheep grazing on the cliff side with endless views out to the Atlantic ocean. We were also able to hike off the road a bit to check out a bog. The whole place was absolutely magical!

When we made it to the cliffs, we grabbed a snack from one of the vendors and relaxed on a rock while we enjoyed the beautiful view. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay too long because we started to be attacked by midges. It was fine because we enjoyed the views on the hike back just as much as we did at the cliffs.

On our way back toward Donegal, we drove through the small town of Carrick. As we were driving through, we saw one of the storefronts said “Evelyn’s Central Bar”. We had to check out Evelyn’s very own pub! We ordered her a 7up and sat with the locals while they watched Gaelic football. We spent our time trying to figure out what was going on!

We stopped in Donegal for a quick look around and a late lunch. We lucked out with a table outside at The Old Castle Bar and Seafood Restaurant with views of a church and Donegal Castle. We were so excited to find a good place to eat after our difficulties the night before in Bundoran. I had read wonderful reviews of Donegal Castle but unfortunately it was closed due to COVID while we were there.

We returned to our rental house early that evening and started binge-watching some (Modern Family)[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Family]. It was nice to have a normal relaxing evening. During this time, we started to notice a little bit of slow internet speed but it didn’t interfere too much. We were all feeling rested and ready for our last week in Ireland. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to get far from Evelyn while she was schooling but at least I had the amazing view out the back windows! I was already planning our walks along the beach we would take during her lunch breaks!