Connemara and Kylemore Abbey

I read an article recently about some scientists discovering a wrinkle in the universe – some crazy science-fiction-esque phenomena – which led to a discussion on the obtainability of time travel. Unfortunately I don’t think these said scientists have translated their (supposedly) astounding findings into anything relevant to our daily lives (yet) – so for the time being, let’s just call this a trip down memory lane.

Sorry about my nerdy introduction, too much NPR! I listen to Fresh Air almost daily and have learned a ton about American culture and the current political, economic and social climate in the US. Listening to Terry Gross is always informative, often funny, and has done wonders for my limited vocabulary (now if only I could learn how to spell…). I also love listening to Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, a current events game with a panel of comedians and a celebrity guest. Needless to say I have embarrassed myself multiple times laughing out loud on the elliptical at the gym or on my walk home – they are hilarious!

I digress. This post rewinds to September 10 – the twelfth day in Ireland, the first weekend after classes started, back in the fall when it was warm (but still rainy!) and there were more than 7 hours full hours of sunlight in a day. I took my first tour with the Galway Tour Company to Connemara and Kylemore Abbey. I had originally planned to just wake up Saturday morning and head off – but luckily a couple classmates were talking about going on the same trip and invited me to join their group. My new friends are both Erasmus engineering students, completing the first semester of their fourth year of university in Galway (their “undergraduate” degrees are only three years long, with a fourth and fifth year as more of an option). So off I headed on a rainy Saturday morning with a group of Italian, French, and German students from NUI Galway.

The day was the definition of an adventure – but looking back it was a lot of fun and taught me a lot about how some people perceive Americans. First thing in the morning, at the bus station, somehow in the shuffle of groups from one bus to another, the large twelve person group was split in half. I spent the rest of the day with three German guys and two French girls – plus a bus of young Italian students (probably around 13), an older Indian couple, a few twenty-something European couples, and the strict GTC bus driver who spoke too quickly for even me to understand! Needless to say, I had an interesting day ahead of me!

The tour started with a lengthy drive through the Irish countryside. The actual “Connemara” region in western Ireland isn’t very well defined, however, it is boasted to be the “last unspoilt areas in Ireland.” The picture below is the basic scenery for the first half an hour of the trip, along with countless stories recalling the “old days” and what Ireland used to look like (can’t really imagine it being much different but apparently there is a lot of pollution now with the many factories around Galway and in western Ireland). There was a major emphasis on the peat bogs, which are cut and the turf blocks are used as a fuel source. This sounded kind of crazy to me, especially since I wasn’t quiet sure how a bog could be used as a fuel source, but every place we stopped at from then on had turf piled up outside to use for a fire and students here have said that also use peat in their fires – so it is the equivalent of us cutting down trees to use wood for our fires.

Peat Bogs in Connemara

After our little geography lesson we made our first stop – Ross Errily Abbey. The Franciscan friary was founded in the mid-15th century (that date is for you mom!) and is one of the best preserved medieval monastic sites in Ireland. Local residents are still buried at this and other medieval and post-medieval religious sites all around Ireland – so you visit and see tombstones from the 1400s right next to those from the 1900s.

A 14th Century Franciscan Friary

Ross Errilly Friary


Inside the friary, the majority of walls are still standing and you can distinguish between the different rooms – the kitchen, the living quarters, the chapel, and even the bathroom (eww)


Pretty view looking out of the friary windows, this is before the torrential downpour!

Tombs in the Friary

One of the tombs, probably belonging to a leader of the church, many lay people are buried there and just have flat tombstones with lovely engravings on them (those slabs of rock on the ground on either side of the large tomb).

After the friary, the next stop was in the city Cong. The city is actually located on an island between two lakes right between Counties Galway and Mayo which connect through numerous underground streams. We stopped for a coffee and bathroom break and then walked around the city for a bit. Of course I ordered an Americano – I really wish they would have named it something else – and all my travel buddies got espresso, then we went off to explore Cong. We ended up walking around one of the parks and I took some lovely photos. However, when I go on trips with people I don’t know very well, I find it a bit odd to ask them to take pictures of you (especially since they weren’t doing it for each other…). So I regret to inform you that you won’t be seeing my pretty face for the rest of this post.

River surrounding Cong (city where the Quiet Man was filmed)


The bus driver also told us that John Ford’s movie “The Quiet Man”  starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Barry Fitzgerald. The film was shot in 1952 and won an Oscar. The city apparently hasn’t changed much in the past 60 years, and is a tourist attraction for “The Quiet Man” fanatics. Sorry but I have never seen or even heard of this movie – so I was a bit unimpressed by the museum – and I’m pretty sure no one else on the bus even understood what he was saying let alone why they should care! – o the joys of a very large language and cultural barrier.

Although the intended destination of the tour was Kylemore Abbey, the scenic bus drive through Connemara was definitely a highlight. The area is gorgeous, everything is soooo green – unfortunately, the pictures through the bus windows don’t really do it justice.

Lough Corrib -- Largest inland lake in Europe

A few of the 365 islands (or so the tradition tells…I think there are actually over 1,000) in the middle of Lough Corrib. The Lake connects to the sea via the River Corrib running through Galway.

DSCN1599       DSCN1604

Famine House -- Rocks in windows to avoid taxes

On our trip through Connemara, we saw a lot of homes or churches left in ruins. This is a home (from around the time of the Irish Famine, 1845-1852) and you can see there are rocks in the windows. The landlords would charge a fee per window, so to avoid this the tenants put rocks in their windows and cut their front door in half to allow some sunlight in – this is where the term “robbing the daylight” came from. Also, this home is situated right on the lake, meaning it would be really windy, so less windows meant less turf needed to keep the house warm.

After a long bus ride we finally arrived at our destination – Kylemore Abbey! First a bit of history (mostly pulled from their site …or Wikipedia – don’t get me started on my love of Wikipedia). Mitchell Henry built the castle as a family home in 1867. Henry was a wealthy politician and a Member of Parliament for County Galway during his residence in the castle. In 1920 the Benedictine Abbeys purchased the castle and the grounds when they were forced to leave Belgium during World War I. Once established at Kylemore, they opened an international boarding school, which recently closed in June 2010. The castle, chapel, gardens, and the rest of the grounds are now a tourist site in western Ireland.

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey – the main Castle


The sitting room inside the castle. For some reason, being inside the castle (which really wasn’t modernized in any noticeable way) reminded me of my many visits to Mt. Vernon and Monticello as a kid (however, both of these Presidential homes were built about 100 years before the castle, it must just have been the “old” feeling of the rooms).

I’m a bit disappointed in how well the pictures turned out (haha)! It was pouring down rain the entire time we were at Kylemore Abbey – we literally almost got in a fist fight to get a spot on the tram from the Castle to the Royal Gardens (literally a 10 minute walk away). But the gardens were gorgeous, and with admission visitors can also climb the mountain behind the Abbey- however we didn’t really have the time, motivation, or energy to go on the adventure.

Victorian Walled Garden

The walled gardens were built by Henry and then resorted by the Benedictine Community.


The gardens were so advanced for their time, they were often compared to the Kew Gardens in London.


Renovated glass greenhouse used for tropical fruits and veggies

The original garden had extremely innovative technology and must have had top-notch engineers working on the design and construction. Henry had 21 glasshouses filled with exotic fruits and plants in the original garden. These early-day greenhouses were heated with thousands of feet of pipes carrying hot water from the main living area of the grounds to the garden.  Recently, these too have been renovated, as seen in this picture.

Overall, I really enjoyed my trip through Connemara and my visit at Kylemore Abbey. It was kind of crazy to drive through the gorgeous Irish countryside, with very little to see besides green pastures, mountains, lakes, and sheep, and then just arrive at a large Castle and visitation complex. The other interesting part of the day was being the only American in my group, and one of the few fluent English speakers on our bus. This definitely presented some challenges and meant there wasn’t much more than casual small talk (“o I hate the rain” or the jokes about the strict bus driver who wouldn’t allow us to eat anything on the bus). However, when we could form that bond over such simple topics or events, it made the day that much better. I’m really glad I went with the group, it made me more aware of how I, as an American and fluent English speaker, am perceived by my European peers, which was helpful throughout my time in Galway.

I’m all done with exams and can focus on celebrating the end of the semester and cleaning and packing up my apartment! In a little less than a week I’ll be back in Westlake – eating cookies, playing with Zeke, and laughing with my family. I’m definitely excited to go home, but know I’ll miss a lot of things from my semester in Galway. I already had to say farewell to two of my girlfriends – one from California and the other from Milan – but I hope I’ll get to see them again, or at least keep in touch over Facebook!



About ewittenberg

Senior biomedical engineering student at Purdue University studying abroad this semester at the National University of Ireland -- Galway.
This entry was posted in Day Trips, Ireland, NUI Galway, Study Abroad, Weekend Adventures. Bookmark the permalink.

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