Anyone who tells you its always raining in Ireland obviously hasn’t spent much time there. There’s no doubt that it has a high average rainfall, which is what makes for such a fresh, verdant and magnificent landscape, but as our second day in Galway dawned the overnight rain passed and a dry day was promised.
Having exhausted our personal, if not the Tourism Board’s list, of Must See places within easy reach of the South of the city, we plotted our tour to take in sights to the North at a leisurely pace. We skirted the city on its ring road and headed inland through a stunning, mountainous landscape of deep lakes and fiord-like inlets. Our first port of call was another famous film set, but a much older one than that of the day before.
Long before either of us had been born, actors John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara had shaken up the tiny hamlet of Cong, placing it on the map as the location for a film called The Quiet Man. This movie was to develop a cult following, even amongst my own generation, so this tiny place in the middle of nowhere has become another destination altar at which many come to pose and worship. Since my last visit countless years ago it has created much more of a commercial face for its visitors, milking the cow of tourism for each lucrative drop.
Every other house seems to claim a film identity. A statue of the two famous film characters overshadows the much older and more historic abbey in its backdrop and a tiny museum of memorabilia lures an international audience. Sadly, this modern face held little charm for my daughter and I, so we admired the river view and moved swiftly on. Much more significant to us was our next port of call, a town called Delphi, the rocky road running to it from the north and a stone roadside memorial.
Those familiar with any of Ireland’s history will know of the death and destitution caused by the Famine Years in the 1800s. Western Ireland was particularly badly stricken, with thousands starving to death and mass emigration often leading to even more death or extreme hardship. One particularly horrific story of starving villagers forced to walk many, wintry miles in search of elusive aid is commemorated on this road and standing there, on a windswept, unforgiving landscape, with a full belly, good health and comfortable transport the full horror of the times, though imagined, cannot really be convincingly conceived. One can only stand there helplessly and pray that those poor men, women and children went to a better, peaceful and more plentiful place.
Our following landmark was to be a much more positive, uplifting one. Returning to the coast and the Atlantic route one small site in the midst of a vast area of unprepossessing bogland offered two very different but equally significant historic tales. Derrygimlagh may not be somewhere you have heard of, but all of our lives will have been impacted by what happened on this remote, windswept site.
The surrounding blanket bog and Twelve Bens mountain range bear witness to over 6,000 years of environmental archaeology, but it is two events of the twentieth century that makes this particular site significant to many. In 1907, the great Irish-Italian innovator Guglielmo Marconi achieved the first trans-Atlantic, wireless transmission of a Morse code message and his commercial radio station dominated the landscape until partial destruction and eventual closure during the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923.
The second event was in 1919, when two daredevil aviators, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown made the first non-stop flight from Newfoundland to Ireland. They were aiming for London but seeing what they thought was a green field they landed, only to damage their plane in what turned out to be soft bog! Plans to fly on to London had to be abandoned, but they still won the prize and the record. Today a nose-cone shaped monument commemorates their amazing achievement sitting proudly atop a slope running up from the bogland with its drying piles of cut turf and grazing sheep.
The West coast of Ireland may be low on the travel agenda of the modern traveller, spoilt for choice of fantastic destinations via cheap flights and internet-booked hostelries. It’s unfair reputation for inclement, soggy weather will put off the sun-seekers and an absence of “Disneyland” resorts will further dismay the masses. Nevertheless, for the independent traveller with a mind of their own this wonderful place has a whole new world to offer.
Getting there is simple and may be relatively swift. A choice of local and international airports, newly built highways and modern hotels offer everything those on a short trip may desire. For those lucky enough to be more at leisure it also offers empty A roads, winding through its emerald patchwork, with a wealth of charming hostelries and a pretty-much guaranteed warm welcome from the locals. A weekend, a week or a lifetime, its your choice, but Irish-time will infect you and you’re sure to return.