Misty Mountain Hop

As I pulled the curtains back one morning to look out of the window, I could see the reflection of the sun on the river at the bottom of the field. It looked like a beautiful day after the rain of the last few days. What would I do today? The world was my lobster as they sometimes say. One thing I had always promised myself was a trip to Connemara. I had heard it was the jewel in Ireland’s crown. That is what I would do today then, drive around Connemara.

I began to plot a journey as I was having breakfast, mainly on the strength of what Jim & Nonie were telling me. There were no satnavs back then so I got a map out, had a quick glance at it and that was it. I rarely used maps on the basis that, that is what road signs are for. Of course you need to have a good idea roughly where places are in relation to each other. Give me a map and I’ll sit looking at it for a while, after a few minutes I will have memorised it. I’m like a human satnav.

I set off from Roscommon on the road to Castlerea with the intention of popping in at Knock to see what all the fuss was about. On the way I passed through Ballyhaunis, a typical bustling town with narrow streets and brightly painted shop fronts, mainly reds or green. At Knock there is a large basilica, an airport complete with duty free and most importantly, the holy shrine, the scene of many miracles which Father Horan exploited unashamedly in the name of Roman Catholicism. For money! Knock became a major stopping point for pilgrims, rather like Lourdes. In fact the Pope stopped by on his visit. It has become known as the Lourdes of Ireland. Plenty of money was raised and new buildings sprung up virtually overnight, the piece de resistance being the enormous airport plonked in the middle of nowhere.

From Knock, which was virtually deserted and was not really my cup of tea anyway, I drove on to Castlebar, where the famous music festivals are held and then on to Westport which is the northern gateway to Connemara. A beautiful little town bisected by the Carrowbeg River. I decided not to go right out onto the Atlantic coast at Louisville, but to traverse the Partry and Maamturk Mountains instead and admire the scenery.

I compare them with my beloved Yorkshire Dales for sheer beauty, although there could be no ultimate winner of course. I decided to follow the River Eriff down to Killary Harbour at Leenane. It is not a harbour however, it is a fjord.

The Eriff is one of Irelands premier salmon rivers. The passage to Leenane is winding and follows the river most of the way. I could see the foaming white of the mountain streams rushing down to join the main river, reinforced by the rain, which was now falling. What had started as a sea mist (seafret), was filling in rapidly and turning into a thick drizzle. Stopping the car and taking photos through the windows was a non starter.

As I was approaching Delphi and the Aisleagh Falls the mist was shrouding the tops of the mountains and all I could see was the tree line. The very mountains I had come to see were not visible, at least the tops of them weren’t. I managed to take a photograph of Aisleagh Falls between the heavy squalls, which were now becoming more frequent.

On reaching Leenane I decided to stop and have a cup of tea from my flask. It was absolutely bouncing down now and I was getting soaked because I had lit a cigar and was standing under an umbrella. Funnily enough I did not give two monkeys, it was a million times better than being in a filthy, stinking steelworks. I was hoping to get a good view down Killary Harbour from here, but all I could see were a few sandpipers and terns searching for food in the shallows, and after that just a bank of mist.

From Leenane I set off on the left of the Maamturks towards Cong, the road driving between Lough Mask and Lough Corrib. By taking this route I would not actually be visiting the Connemara area but I was running out of time and anyway, what was there to see except mist. I reasoned that if I came a bit more inland, the mist would recede.

It did and I managed to take some spectacular snaps of Lough Nafooey and the surrounding hills, along with one of Ross Abbey and a very angry looking sky in the background. Cong was a pretty place, and I wished I’d had more time to explore the surrounding area, especially Cong Abbey and the Salmon & Trout fishery. Cong is a well renowned centre for fly-fishing and the rich and famous come from all over the world to cast a line, not that rich and famous has me reaching for the sweat towel, I was just saying it. However the price does not restrict the fishing for just the rich and famous. The moderate tarriffs allows the average working man the opportunity to fish on one of the most famous fisheries in the world.

To really enjoy a journey around Connemara, and see and take in the spectacular scenery, you need at least a fortnight and two hundred litres of petrol. I was to visit Connemara at a later date under different circumstances.

I returned to Fuerty via Galway, crossing the Clare river at Claregalway, where I believe Jack Charlton whets his whistle and from where the Saw Doctors originate. Okay, just to explain to all you philistines out there, they are a very good folk-rock band whose drummer coincidentally won £700,000 on the Irish lottery whilst I was there. He lived in a converted bus parked alongside the bridge at one time.

The other coincidence was the fact he had bought his ticket in Ballygar, as I myself did, and from the same shop! There ends the coincidence, as he is considerably richer than me now, and probably was before come to think of it. Anybody materially poorer than me lives in an igloo and eats raw seal blubber! From Claregalway I drove through Mount Bellew and onto Fuerty. On the journey back I remember listening to Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, (another rock musician for the philistines!) explaining on RTL2 why he loved living in Ireland. It was for tax purposes but he didn’t say that. He said the only drawback was not being able to get over to see Sheffield United play as frequently as he would like. Well Joe, without wanting to appear too biased, I can’t for the life of me see why that should be a drawback. Joe would obviously be paying less tax by living in Ireland, so any drawbacks are greatly negated by personal choice.

When I returned to my job, my boss rang and asked if I go over to his office. I thought “Here we go, shouting match, job threat, trying my patience etc” but no, he asked if I’d had a good break from it all then told me I had some new responsibilities that would be reflected in my salary. I still wonder what might have happened if I’d been sacked. Would I have ended up in Ireland? Nonie had a house for sale for £25,000. I will never know.