Ennis is a small town but after being in Westport and Doolin it felt quite urban. Ennis also is known as a center for traditional Irish music, and it has a lovely irish history museum.
It’s a small village strung along a highway crossing and leading down to the harbor. You can also catch a boat from Doolin to go to the Arran Islands, but only when the weather is amenable. the distance from Doolin to the islands is shorter than the distance from Galway, but the water is rougher here and the boats are smaller. Although it is small, Doolin is a mecca for lovers of traditional Irish music (Trad). The pubs serve the standard pub fare, accompanied by nightly live music.It is a great place to explore the Irish countryside, being close to The Burren and to the Cliffs of Moher. We took a walk down to the harbor and were rewarded with spectacular views of ocean, and islands, cliffs and rock formations, and an assortment of wild flowers. In the morning we headed up onto the top of the cliffs, past the ruins of a castle, for more great scenery.
Rain! We arrived on the island during a torrential downpour. Luckily, I had reserved a room at the inn that was closest to the dock. it was too early to get into our room but they had a lovely lounge (with wifi) where we could wait. Ennis Mor is the largest of the three main Arran Islands. The most popular tourist attractions here are the bicycle rentals, and the horse drawn wagons that take you to the ruins of an old fort. It was much too blustery out for those, so we had a leisurely lunch and when the rain died down we went for a walk and explored the town. There was a charming little church, and the ruins of another. Narrow cobblestone streets lined with cozy cottages separated by dry stone fences led us across the width of the island.
The Arran Islands are famous for their high quality knitted wool fishermen’s sweaters. so we checked out the sweater shop. It also serves as a museum with several displays about the history and craft of knitted sweaters. All the wool is grown and processed locally. Some of the sweaters are knitted on these islands, some on the mainland. Some are still hand knitted, others are made with knitting machines. All are quite lovely.
It’s not Faire, but it’s not bad. The Pirate Queen Festival included a small Midieval Village. It was just a handful of costumed folk demonstrating crafts and fashions from the time of Grainne O’Malley. I enjoyed chatting about macrame techniques with the man who was making a fishing net. He said it is taking him weeks to make it and he is determined to catch fish with it when it is done. I also had a nice talk with the woman who dyes wool yarns using natural substances like woad and onion skins. The resulting colors are quite lovely.
Caught the bus from Westport to Galway, a major port city on the Atlantic coast. Galway is a bustling university town and the center of Ireland’s tech industry. It is a little short on tourist attractions, but is much visited because it is the gateway to the Arann Islands. So we stayed one night in a B-and-B close to the main square and in the morning we caught the shuttle bus which took us to the harbor where we boarded the boat to Ennis Mor.
While in Westport, we got to attend the third annual Pirate Queen Festival, sponsored by the makers of Grainne Ale, and hosted by Gracy’s Bar.
The Grainne Ale Festival was a family friendly event with lots of children in attendance. Unfortunately it was pouring down rain so all the families were crowded into the covered patio at Gracy’s Bar. Along with all the families, was a band playing some sort of jazzy rock music. The music was good, but oh, so loud! We almost left, because there was nowhere to sit and conversation was made difficult by the volume of the music but, we retreated to a sheltered space away from the festival, and checking the schedule and the current time, figured that the band was already on overtime and would surely be quitting soon. I guessed that when the band left that some of the crowd would go as well. Turned out, I was right soon we had a pint of Grainne Ale and some good food and a place at one of the long tables. the woman sitting across from me asked where we were from, we replied “Oregon”. She quipped, “So, you brought the weather with you.” I am accustomed to hearing this from Californians, but had to laugh at hearing it from a resident of a place that receives far more rain than Portland does.
The departure of the aforementioned band was not the end of the festival entertainment. The final act was billed as Mr Whippy! Mr Whippy is a decommissioned ice cream truck that now houses a D.J. and his sound equipment. It was parked alongside the patio and connected to the bar’s sound system. As the band began to pack up, Mr Whippy began to play. He started with some Reggae, then played his theme song, a snappy tune with with indecipherable lyrics about Mr Whippy. He then moved on to some electronica.We had another pint, a Clew Bay Sunset Ale this time, and pulled on our rain gear for the walk back to our charming temporary abode.
Westport is a great tourist destination; beautiful scenery, bustling pubs, international restaurants,friendly people, live music, festivals, theater, historic buildings, bucolic walkways and bike paths. We had a wonderful time just walking around, taking it all in. However, we missed out on seeing the attractions that lay outside of town, just a little too far to walk to.
Our hostess recommended the walk up Croagh Patrick. Crouch Patrick is a hill about 14 kilometers from Westport where Saint Patrick preached and baptized converts. It is a popular pilgrimage site and the walk to the top takes about 3 1/2 hours to climb up and back down.Near the base of the hill is The Coffin Ship Memorial, a sculpture dedicated to the desperate Irish people who set off to America to escape starvation during the potato famine.If I had it to do over again, I might arrange to rent a car for a day to drive along the coast and to visit these sites.
Westport’s most famous former resident is the infamous pirate queen Grainne (Grace) O’Malley. As a wee girl she always begged her father the sea captain to allow her to join his crew and travel with him to far off lands. When she pressed him for a reason why girls should not be allowed onboard, he said that their long hair would get caught in the ropes. She immediately cut off her hair. It, of course, grew back and she grew into a strong and beautiful woman. But she had her way, and became a very capable sailor, and eventually took over her father’s merchant business.
The O’Malley clan controlled a broad stretch of Ireland’s Atlantic coastline and Grainne and her fleet of ships made sure (through hook or crook) that anyone passing through paid taxes on their cargo. For this they called her a pirate! She was fearless and shrewd and fought bravely against Turkish, Spanish and English pirates.
During her reign as Chieftain of the O’Malley clan, the English were gradually taking over Ireland, one kingdom at a time. Grainne was one of the last holdouts. When one of her sons and one of her brothers were captured and imprisoned, she went to meet with Queen Elizabeth to negotiate for their release. She agreed to stop fighting against the English in return for the release of her family member. She also demanded, and got the right to hold onto her lands and the properties of her late husbands. She was able to live quite comfortably off the income from these lands and died at the age of 70.
Today, her estate is a popular park which includes a mansion, and a pirate themed amusement park, and a wildlife preserve.
The full Irish breakfast is a wonder to behold. It has eleven items: two eggs, two bacons, two sausages, black pudding, white pudding, a tomato, toast, and soda bread; all served with a coffee or tea, orange juice,and plenty of butter and marmalade.
We never had the full Irish breakfast. It is too much food, and we don’t care for the puddings. The Irish bacon looks and tastes more like ham, and is quite good.The eggs normally come sunny side up, unless you have a cook who is willing to break with tradition and scramble them for you. Trog had a modified or mini Irish breakfast nearly every day, hold the puddings, please. I usually had yogurt and fruit, toast and soda bread.
Pudding is a very nice euphemism for blood sausage.The puddings also contain oats, pork, onion and spices, but the black (and it is black) color comes from blood. When we asked about the white pudding, we were told that it is like the black pudding, but with less blood.
Dublin has two train stations. Dublin Heuston serves the rails that go north and south along the east coast of Ireland. To head west from Dublin you have to go to Connolly Station. So, first we had to go from Belfast to Dublin, then take a light rail tram to Connolly Station, and then take the train to Westport. Irish people are friendly and will gladly make small talk while carefully avoiding any potentially controversial subjects. Several people had inquired about where we were heading next and they all talked about how lovely Westport is. Westport did not disappoint it is a beautiful town. What people had not talked about is how cold and windy it is there. I guess that is why they call the west coast of Ireland The Wild Atlantic Way.
Westport is nicely laid out with a river running through the center of town. It has a thriving business district with lots of hotels, restaurants and pubs. We stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast called Willow Lodge. Our hostess, Angela, couldn’t have been nicer. She gave lots of advice about where to eat, and where to go for music, and she cooked breakfast to order every morning. I will tell you more about breakfast in another post. The town of Westport was built in the 1700’s, so most of the houses are built in the Georgian style: built out of limestone, two to four stories high with a central doorway and large regularly spaced windows on the ground floor, with slightly smaller windows on floor one , and still smaller windows on each floor as you go up.
FYI: In Europe, the ground floor is not the first floor!. The floor above it is referred to as the first floor, so if you are given a room on the third floor, you will have to walk up three flights of stairs to get to it. Historic buildings rarely have elevators or, as they say in the British Isles, lifts.