St. Patrick’s Day musings: Ireland travel memories

St. Patrick’s day makes me think of Ireland, one of the places that has captured my heart. It isn’t home and never has been and yet, it’s the place on earth I feel homesick for and long to be. It’s not a place I could ever live, too bloody damp. My body craves the dry high desert climate I call home these days. But I dream…

Ireland travels

Steve at Cong Abbey, photo/Billie Frank

A few Irish memories on this St. Patrick’s Day:

The first time I went to Ireland, I went solo (meaning without Steve). I was actually traveling with a friend. We were based in her rented house in Oughterard, a small village in the north of County Galway at the edge of Connemara. It was where I spent my best birthday ever.

On the big day, five of us went out on Lough Corrib, the largest in the Republic, in a friend’s motorized dingy. Our destination: the verdant Inchogoill Island once owned by the Guinness brewing family. We arrived at a secluded area and beached the boat. It was a wonderful place to explore. Finding the Guinness Tower, 19th century stone structure and then the ruins of the 5th century Teampall Phaidrig where St. Patrick’s nephew and navigator, Lugna, (or Lugnaed) is buried made for a special day.  Heading back to our camp, a friend and I somehow got lost in woods so ancient if felt like a Druid might pop out from behind a tree. Thankfully we found the shore figuring that  if we followed it, eventually we’d come to the spot on the 100+ acre island where our boat. It took a while, but our strategy worked. It was with great relief that we found the spot and the rest of our group.

There was cake (with candles), wine and presents. A plush leprechaun, named O’Flaherty, who still sits on my desk, was from the impish Carmel and there was a Sheela na Gig (a pagan fertility goddess) made by my friend, Joe.  As we motored back to the mainland, I thought, “What a perfect day.” And it was.

Sadly, it was before my picture-taking days, but I found this video of the island. It’s a bit touristy, we had the island to ourselves, but it will give you a bit of a feel for it.

On Saturday night, a bunch of local folks took us dancing at a pub up in Connemara.  Musicians played traditional music; almost everyone was on their feet performing couple dances that had been passed down for generations. It was good craic as they say. I tried to return to the pub on my next visit, but like Brigadoon, it was nowhere to be found.

The next year, Steve and I went back together. Our base was a cozy apartment in a converted stone barn way off the beaten path.  Every day brought a new adventure. Here are some of them.

Ireland travels

Our home away from home outside Oughterard, County Galway photo/ Steve Collins

We chose our direction one day because I wanted some Connemara socks at a bargain price. We set out for Cornamona, on the north end of Lough Corrib where the Connemara Sock factory was. With a half dozen pairs of their wonderful woolen socks in hand we continued onto Cong, on the east side of the big lake. The quaint Irish village, just over the Galway border in County Mayo, is home to both Ashford Castle (once owned by the Guinness family; now a luxury hotel) and Cong Abby.  We drove in to see the castle and then went on to the Abby. We strolled the grounds on a pleasant afternoon discovering our favorite part, the Monk’s Fishing House on the bank of the River Cong. This 12th century stone structure, built atop a stone arch over the river, has a trap door. The monks were able to fish while keeping warm by the fireplace.

Ireland travels

Monks’ Fishing House, Cong Abbey, photo/Steve Collins

We headed north on a couple of our long days. One day we drove all the way to Westport, home of the Crough Patrick, a holy mountain, and even a bit beyond. It was a magical day, but alas no photos survive. Another day we went to Clifden and then down along the ocean to Roundstone. We were on a mission. Steve wanted a bodhran, an Irish hand-held drum. Malachy Kearns, one of the most famous bodhran makers in Ireland presides over Roundstone Music. Steve picked out a beauty that has a doodle in it meaning, they told us, that Malachy had played it at some point. We paid for it and with fingers crossed, had it shipped home. It arrived intact and sits with some Taos drums and a djembe in our living room. Sometimes, we even play it. Our business concluded, we went exploring and found Dogs Bay, an incredible beach and peninsula. To get to the tip, we had to go through a style onto someone’s farm, passing grazing cattle on our way. After a brief storm, we were greeted by a splendid rainbow. I still have an old film can filled with water collected from an eroded bowl on an ancient stone at the edge of the bay.

Ireland travels

Rainbow at Dog’s Bay, photo Joey Christensen

We left our cottage for two nights in The Burren, an amazing area on the northeast of County Clare. Highlights are here in this post.

Ireland travels

Poul na Brone, in The Burren County Clare photo/Steve Collins

It’s a beautiful country that changed a lot after it beoming part of the EU. In many ways, we long for the old Ireland, where the Punt was the currency, cars were small and everywhere you turned you were greeted with an Irish lilt. But, it remains a magical place that will always have my heart.





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24 Responses to “St. Patrick’s Day musings: Ireland travel memories”

  1. Steve
    March 18, 2019 at 10:32 am #

    I’ve never been to Ireland, although you’ve reminded me how beautiful some parts of the countryside are. Dog’s Bay looks absolutely stunning. As you point out, were it not for the often cold temperatures, it would be the perfect place to retire to!
    Steve recently posted..Visit Kathmandu on a Nepal Trekking HolidayMy Profile

  2. Cathy Sweeney
    March 18, 2019 at 10:51 am #

    Happy (belated) St. Patrick’s Day! I LOVE that country & its people. Galway was very special to me when we visited in 2004. Would have been so cool to have a rented house there as a base. Something that really struck me about pubs all over Ireland is that the generations all get together in them and socialize. You never see that here in the U.S.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in San FranciscoMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      March 19, 2019 at 8:05 am #

      I didn’t notice that about the pubs. I’ll have to check next time. We love staying in one place and exploring so cottage rental is a great option for us. We love being able to take advantage of the local bounty in the shops and cook at home some evenings.

  3. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista
    March 19, 2019 at 11:43 am #

    You have some great memories of Ireland! Your enthusiasm is infectious 🙂 Great tip, when I visit I think I’ll stay in one place and explore from there.
    Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista recently posted..European Beer from Germany and BelgiumMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      March 19, 2019 at 12:39 pm #

      I’m glad my enthusiasm and love come across. Stay tuned- there will be more Ireland posts when I get really nostalgic. Great Ireland photo of the week coming on Friday.

  4. Erik Raftery
    March 19, 2019 at 1:35 pm #

    An excellent of your travels around Ireland, Loved the read 🙂


    • Billie Frank
      March 19, 2019 at 5:36 pm #

      Thanks Erik! A great compliment coming from someone who specializes in Ireland.

  5. Leigh
    March 19, 2019 at 4:07 pm #

    Three full weeks in western Ireland a few years ago gave me a great sense of the place. Biked Connemara for a week - and hiked the Dingle & Kerry Way. Managed to get over to the Aran Islands for a night too. Loved the place but wouldn’t want to live there either.
    Leigh recently posted..28 Fun and Interesting Facts About St. John’s, NewfoundlandMy Profile

    • Billie Frank
      March 19, 2019 at 5:40 pm #

      You did really great things and got to places that speak to me on your trip. I’ve been trying to get to the Arans, but had some boat and rough sea issues. One day- it’s on the list.

  6. Patti Morrow
    March 17, 2019 at 9:18 am #

    I’ve been to England and Scotland, but never Ireland. Your story makes it very enticing, especially on St. Patrick’s Day!

    • Billie Frank
      March 17, 2019 at 2:06 pm #

      I’m enticed myself. So want to go back!

  7. Doreen Pendgracs
    March 17, 2019 at 1:27 pm #

    I’ve not yet been to Ireland, but would definitely like to go soon. They have some terrific chocolate and Guinness there! Happy St. Paddy’s Day to you!

    • Billie Frank
      March 17, 2019 at 2:07 pm #

      I’m not sure I got to Irish chocolate. Next time. The Guinness is another story.

  8. Patti
    March 17, 2019 at 3:43 pm #

    Happy St. Patty’s Day! I’ve longed to find the pot of gold at the end of an Irish rainbow, maybe someday we’ll get there. You’re photos only add to the yearning!

    • Billie Frank
      March 17, 2019 at 8:06 pm #

      They add to my yearning, too. We didn’t find gold, but there is so much more there and it feeds my soul.

  9. Suzanne Fluhr
    March 17, 2019 at 5:54 pm #

    Your photo of the rainbow at Dog’s Bay is special. Ireland certainly gets more than its share of rain — the silver lining — rainbows. I agree that Dublin certainly seems a cosmopolitan city, very much a part of the EU, but when we got into the countryside, especially in the Gaeltacht region, we felt we had a taste of the Ireland of centuries past, especially when most of the programming on our car radio was in Irish gaelic (at least I’m pretty sure that’s what it must have been). One thing I enjoyed about the pubs in the countryside was that they were not all about the alcohol. There was the music.

    • Billie Frank
      March 17, 2019 at 8:10 pm #

      The west definitely still has a bit of a timeless undeveloped feel, though we notices that the now gasping, if not dead, Celtic Tiger brought a lot of changes to the west, too. The music is special to us, too. My first visit to Ireland, on a Saturday night, we were taken into a really rural part of Connemara by local folks. There was music and everyone was doing kind of a two-step. It was amazing. Our group had the only Americans in the pub. I tried to find it again but couldn’t. Brigadoon?

  10. Viv and Jill
    March 19, 2019 at 11:20 am #

    Ireland is such a wonderful country and your article brings back many fond travel memories of our visit a few years ago. We would love to be there for St. Patrick’s Day - so much Guinness… so little time 🙂

  11. Neva @ Retire for the Fun of it
    March 27, 2019 at 1:34 pm #

    What gorgeous pictures as well as a handsome one of your hubby. That rainbow on Dogs Bay is very special. What month is the best to go there?

    • Billie Frank
      March 27, 2019 at 2:42 pm #

      I’ve been to the west of Ireland in spring, summer and fall. The weather is best in summer, but it gets a bit crowded. I loved October there and that’s when the shot at Dog’s Bay with the rainbow was taken. I think, no matter what time of year you go, Ireland has something to offer, but I would try for the warmer seasons. Perhaps mid to late May before the heavy onslaught of tourists or mid-September to mid-October.

  12. Will
    August 25, 2019 at 11:27 am #

    Wow, so much history, the Poul na Brone really interesting.

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