When the tour bus left the Knockranny Hotel that morning, there was a feeling of deja vu; we took the same road we’d driven on the day before until we reached Leenane. Instead of going along the foot of the hills to the catamaran pier, however, this time we turned onto a road that led up into the hills and headed south along the west coast.
Although we were not always in sight of the ocean, we were never very far from it. The scenery was, as usual, lovely and it was another sunny-but-chilly spring day. We didn’t stop during this part of the journey, but everyone tried to take photos through the bus windows–sometimes with better results than others.
Our first brief stop of the morning was at the Connemara Marble Factory. By some strange quirk of Nature, the green marble they quarry here is unique to Ireland.
We were taken on a tour of the area where the marble is cut and polished, then let loose in the gift shop. I bought a few nice little pieces for friends and relatives–an emerald-colored cross, some “worry stones,” and a little Scotty-dog figurine.
Our next stop, somewhat longer, was at the town of Galway. Doug walked us through the town square, then let us wander for about an hour. Unfortunately, I had to spend most of that time getting more money at a bank, then hunting down the ladies’ room at the mall. Between the two, there was barely an opportunity to walk quickly down Shop St., which is closed to traffic and has some very pretty buildings, including one in blue and white that looks like a piece of Wedgwood china.
Because of the long hunt for the ladies’ room, I was the late getting back to the bus–something I dread when I’m on tours like this. Doug had sent some of the others out to look for me and, once I was on the bus, Sean phoned Doug and the search party to let them know I’d returned. Very embarrassing!
The Cliffs of Moher
The day was still beautifully sunny, but it was very, very windy here with nothing to blunt the ocean breeze. A couple of times, I thought I would be knocked off my feet by unexpected blasts.
A wall about 4-feet high at the cliff’s edge keeps people from being blown over, and there are stairs and a path that run along the edge up to the top of the cliffs on either side of the parking area, and beyond.
I had hoped to walk more, but the wind was a deterrent and I didn’t get very far in either direction. Some of the older people on the tour didn’t even try but went straight into the Visitor Centre. A woman who had been playing a harp in hopes of selling her music on CD gave that up too even though she was seated with her back to the wall.
This was our lunch stop. The Visitor Centre was set into the hillside and its upper floor was a restaurant with a big bow window overlooking the southern cliff so that patrons can have a spectacular view while they eat.
The line for hot food was long, so I wound up buying a baguette sandwich and sat nibbling at it for a little while as I sat with the view before deciding that I didn’t want to waste my time here sitting in a cafeteria. I carried the rest of my sandwich outside to eat while I had another try at walking along the cliff path. Still too windy to go far, but I gave it my best effort.
Inside the Visitor Centre was also an educational display called The Experience that informed visitors about the geology of the cliffs and the type of animals that make their homes in this environment. There was also a short animated film shown on a panoramic screen that followed the flight of a seagull from the top of the cliffs down into the water and high up in the air again to show not only the local fauna, but dizzying images of the landscape.
We got back on the bus around 2:00 that afternoon and continued down the coast. We glimpsed the Cliffs one last time from a distance; they still looked impressive from miles away across the water.
Sean drove as quickly as he dared along the narrow coastal roads, for we hoped to catch the 4:30 ferry across the Shannon. If we missed that, we had to wait another hour for the next one and there was nothing do or see at the ferry landing.
Crossing the Shannon
We were in time for the ferry. The Shannon was wide where we went across, at the point where the river opened out into an estuary before flowing into the ocean.
The crossing only took about 20 minutes, but it also took at least that long beforehand to load the cars, trucks, and tour buses aboard. Passengers were asked to stay inside their vehicles until the ferry was fully loaded, but once we were in no danger of being run over, we were allowed to get out, make our way through the maze of narrow gaps between the vehicles, and wander around. There were catwalks on either side of the ferry-boat where you could climb up and have a look at the river and the line of green shore on either side.
When we reached the opposite bank, we drove past Limerick, Tipperary (Doug made the expected joke about it being a long way to go), and Tralee to reach our final destination for the day, Killarny.
For the next three nights, we would be staying at the Malton Hotel. In Victorian times, it used to be the railway hotel; the old station is only a short walk away. Our rooms weren’t in the old hotel, but in a new building attached to the old one by an annex. It was a hike down the hallway, but I had a nice view overlooking the back garden.
Before rejoining the tour group that evening for another great three-course dinner, I took a little time to explore the hotel. There was a pleasant sitting room by the reception desk as well as a library with actual books and an internet connection. On the other side of the garden in a building at the back was a swimming pool; I walked over to it via an enclosed walkway to ask about the hours, but couldn’t figure out how to get into the garden itself. All the doors to it seemed to be locked or would set off an alarm if I opened them, so I didn’t try.
Just before dinner, I asked at the front desk about the hotel’s fancy tea in case we were back one afternoon early enough for me to repeat my pleasant experience at the Knockranny.
Alas, I never got to the pool here, nor had tea. We were never back from our day tours in time for tea and there was a wedding reception in the back garden the next day. Somehow, I didn’t feel like going for a swim in the middle of someone else’s party.