Friday, November 15, 2013

Homestay Weekend in Carna

For my Irish language course I got to go on a trip to the Carna Ghaeltacht in Connemara, one of the Irish-speaking regions of Ireland.  I stayed with ten other students in a local family's home and they were lovely to spend time with.  The family had a 3-month-old puppy named Cooper who was excited to meet new people and it was nice to play with a pet again.  I was nervous because our course instructor made Carna sound like a very traditional place in which we would feel alien.  For a minute I thought they might not speak any English, and that I would be sleeping next to the cows!  Luckily, Carna was just a more rural town and everyone spoke English when my Irish wasn't good enough to understand them.  It was the type of town with only one store, one gas station and a few bars, but while it was simple it was very endearing and I found myself thinking that the slower pace wouldn't too bad and that I could live that way.  Indoor plumbing and electricity is all you'd really need, right?
In terms of my Irish skills the weekend was immensely helpful!  My host-mother spent the time to repeat questions and slow down on certain words so I could answer properly.  She was patient with all of us and taught us some new phrases.  We also got to do some group line dances and hear old-style music which was beyond great.  I wish I could find more of that in Galway! 
We also got to go on a cold, rainy walking tour of Ballynahinch Castle, which is now a luxury hotel.  I'm sure I would have appreciated it more had the weather been better but it was still a nice walk. 
Backyard of the home I stayed in

Local teenagers (who are VERY talented) came to play Sean-Nos, or old style, music to us
And they attempted to teach us all to dance
My friend Rachel has been taking an Irish step class at the University so she got up to give it a whirl!

Ballynahinch Castle
Ripples in the water from where a salmon had just jumped up-- the castle runs a fishery and the salmon come here to spawn

Tobar Feithin, the holy well on the castle grounds--this area was once ruled by the O'Flaherty clan and was a gathering place for matchmaking and celebration
The sun went down very quickly on us; I forget that it will only keep getting darker earlier

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Mail Time!

I got two great pieces of mail today from Delia, Finley, Sarah, and Mike that put big smiles on my faces. First from Delia-
I'll make sure to get plenty of horse pictures for you, D!
Next up, nerd jokes from Mike (the guy likes to play it cool but now you all know he's a big geek at heart)-
Thanks for the mail! 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and Doolin

Friday we woke up to a blue sky and made for the Cliffs of Moher as fast as out little tin can car would take us.  Which wasn't very fast because my father values our lives and is not crazy enough to actually go 100kph on the smallest, twistiest roads ever.  We made an impromptu detour to the Burren Perfumery, which had great so many great scents.  I bought some goodies, and Hurricane Amy knocked over a whole display of glass perfume bottles; luckily nothing broke.  We then went to the Cliffs, making Sally's vacation complete since she's been talking about seeing the Cliffs of Moher from the moment they decided to visit me!  The visibility was great and we could see clearly to the Aran Islands.  Our stop in Doolin gave us one of the best meals we had all week, with delicious Beef & Guinness Stew, Bangers & Mash, and of course Chicken Fingers for me.  I was thrilled to get to share the amazing views and great food with good company!
The Burren Perfumery
Cows by the side of the road

Rough waters and strong winds at the Cliffs

One happy camper!
Amy happy to be without rain

Mary, Mark, Amy, Sally
Amy and me
Sally, Mark, Mary Ellen
Amy actually smiling, a rare occurrence
Mark was not willing to go much closer to the edge than this!
Cow grazing in the field by the cliffs
Marky and I walked a little further down the cliffside

An old stone tower/castle on our way to Doolin
The white spray in the background is actually from the waves crashing against the rocks; some of the plumes were going up even higher!

Kylemore Abbey, Connemara, and Clifden

We made a day of driving through Connemara to see Kylemore Abbey and to stop in the seaside town of Clifden.  Kylemore Abbey is a Benedictine monastery and was also a school for young women until it was shut down in 2010.  The estate has the main castle, a Gothic church, a mausoleum, and walled Victorian gardens.  The roads to Kylemore were narrow and serpentine, and the stone walls just seemed to appear from nowhere once we made it to one of the turns right before the entrance.  It rained on and off, giving my family a taste of the unpredictable weather; one woman on the shuttle bus to the gardens said "if you don't like the rain just wait five minutes."  We then stopped in Clifden on our way back to Galway so Amy could buy some sweaters. 
Kylemore Abbey
Amy and Mark on their iPhones

Side view of the castle

Ridges in the distance that were all around the area, covered with sheep half-way up

Princess Amy and one of her future properties

Sally, Mark, Me

Sally standing with a wooden cat cut-out

The Gothic Church

The mausoleum where Mitchell and Margaret Henry are buried.  Mitchell Henry built Kylemore for his wife.

Mark being grabbed by a giant hand

Ireland and EU flags waving in the wind

The Victorian gardens

Mark and Sally

I've never seen broccoli grown before; it really does look like little trees!

Pathways in the gardens

"The Rockery" area of the garden
The residencies of the workers
Standing door to one of the old glass houses currently being restored
Pot shards outside the glass house
Walls of the garden

Amy, Mary Ellen, Me
View of the garden through the entrance
Some boats outside the garden
Cute sheep sculptures made from rope and metal