This post is going to include a lot of pictures, because we saw so many magnificent sites all in the same day.
On Saturday, our group was awake (kind of) and back on the bus by 9:30am. We left Galway and, to our surprise, actually wouldn’t be returning there for the rest of the weekend.
On the way to our first stop of the day, our bus driver was talking to us about this really important landmark we were going to get to see. He described it as something extremely significant to Irish history that many people overlook, so we should be “really excited” about this opportunity. This is the landmark he was talking about:
Now, if you look a little bit closer you can see what both of the plaques say:
Ha-ha bus driver Tom…you got us. The weather on Saturday was absolutely horrendous, and all 60 of us had gotten out of the nice, warm bus to see this super important landmark…some of the students were slightly irritated, but I thought it was hilarious. The landscape behind these monument was quite beautiful, which made me appreciate the stop even more.
After this humorous little detour, we made our way to what was actually supposed to be our first stop of the day: Kylemore Abbey and the Victorian Walled Garden. Tom got us all hyped up because he told us we were going to be able to meet and talk to some Nuns, but they decided to “play shy” (Tom’s words, not mine) while we were there. Instead of hanging out with the Nuns, we spent a couple of hours walking through the garden and checking out the magnificent Kylemore Castle.
It had been raining so much in the area that several little waterfalls formed all along the mountain behind the castle. It was one of many reminders on this trip of how amazing nature can be.
We also got to go into the castle and walk through some of the rooms, all of which were beautifully crafted and furnished. Apparently the University of Notre Dame bought the castle recently, and were doing some remodeling and putting additions on it before turning it into a school. Can you imagine going to school here?!
After walking through the castle we made our way to the Victorian Walled Garden, which was nearly as impressive as the castle. I thought it was magnificent and I was walking through it at the beginning of February…it must be even more beautiful in the spring months. I used my time in the garden to break away from the group and explore the area on my own, which allowed me to focus more on each individual aspect of the garden as well as the area as a whole. I’m not sure what it was about that day specifically, but I really wanted to just quietly take in my surroundings…and I’m glad I did.
In the final 30mins of our stop at Kylemore Abbey we were able to go and get something warm to eat, as well as take in a little bit more of the beautiful landscapes surrounding the area.
On the way to our next destination, Tom really wanted to stop somewhere in Gowlaun, Co. Galway that has a beautiful view so we could all see more of the mountains and get a picture. At this point in the day, the weather had reached the point of being the worst I had experienced in Ireland so far. The west coast was getting the aftermath of a hurricane, so the mix of wind and rain was brutal. It was the kind of weather that hurts your face.
When Tom stopped, though, I couldn’t help but get off the bus to capture what was in front of me. I can only imagine what this view looks like on a sunny day…
I would love a chance to go back there sometime when the weather is a little bit better. This stop only lasted about 3mins because it was so cold out, so after everyone was back on the bus Tom began the drive to what would become my favorite stop on the entire trip.
Joyce Country Sheepdogs in Connemara is owned by Joe, the third generation in his family to farm sheep in the area. Joe trains adorable little Border Collies (according to Joe, the only dog suitable for herding sheep) to herd the thousands of sheep owned by various farmers all along the mountains. There are very few things that I would have willingly stood outside in that weather for, and Joe and his sheepdogs are on that short list.
Joe walked us through how he trains his dogs and the various commands he uses to get them to herd sheep properly, and then gave us a demonstration with one of his best dogs (I think his name was Roy).
Little Roy went and fetched all of these sheep from the top of the mountain and on Joe’s command, brought them down the mountain, into a small pen, back out of the pen, down to the water, and back up to the fence in front of us. It was insanely fascinating watching Joe interact with his dogs and the sheep, and watching Roy go to work. Joe was even nice enough to pick up a sheep and let whoever wanted to either hold it, or get a picture with it (I opted to just go for the picture).
The scene in Marley and Me (with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson) where Jenny gets out of the car to shoo away the sheep was actually filmed at Joyce Country Sheepdogs, and Joe has pictures of the actress and actor hanging out with his family and dogs in his main office. The whole experience was amazing. As you can tell by the look on my face in this picture, I probably couldn’t have been happier than I was in that moment even though the weather was absolutely horrible.
After we left Joe, Roy, and the sheep, we made our way toward Ennis, Co. Clare where we would be staying for our last night of the weekend. After spending the entire day soaking wet and freezing, my friends and I went to get dinner and then headed straight for bed. We know we’re boring, but we were exhausted.