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May 29, 2006: Ireland Trip - Ring of Connemara

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After figuring out what we'll need in the way of clean clothes between now and next Friday night (when we fly out), we both realized we needed to do at least one more laundry run. So this morning we stuffed all our laundry into two garbage sacks and dropped them off at a little laundrette we found in Sandhill. We also dropped off our jackets because the weather was nice enough we knew we weren't going to need them, and more importantly, after the last two weeks of extremely damp weather, they were starting to develop a bit of a mildewy sort of funk.

While Richard dealt with dropping off our laundry, I zipped into the post office to mail a bunch of stuff back home. Or rather, I intended to zip in, but it turned out I had to open up both boxes we'd oh-so-carefully sealed shut to rearrange things, and even move some of my yarn into a padded envelope so all the packages would meet the weight limit (hint - when trying to mail something to the US, if the box is over 2 kg, your shipping cost triples). The women behind the counter were extremely helpful, and more than willing to keep weighing the boxes for me until I got them right.

We toured the Connemara region today, so most of our time was spent driving. But we were driving through some absolutely beautiful country. Some of the landscape is like what we saw in The Burren - the limestone with a thin covering of grasses or wildflowers, or the stone itself peeking through in folds and ripples, with native plants clinging precariously to the cracks and crevices inside. There was a bit of forest here and there, but most of it was the typical farmland, all divided into hundreds of uneven little fields by stone walls that had probably been there for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

We stopped first in Spiddel, to wander around the little crafts complex there. It's a series of tiny little white buildings that house individual artists, some of whom were there at the time, working on their products. There was a potter with whimsical animal sculptures, and a weaver with brilliant colors in most of her work, and a metalsmith, who made jewelry out of old Irish coins.

The route we took today runs mostly right along the coast, so we had lots of time to look out over the beaches and the water. There are a few tiny little patches of pure white sand here and there, but for the most part the water's edge was defined by a rather harsh landscape of limestone boulders, many covered in lichens, or sporting a dusting of tiny little pink or white wildflowers, or nearly hidden under an entire forest of seaweed.

We stopped for sandwiches at a tiny little pub somewhere near Carna, and then stopped again in Roundstone, which is a charming little seaside town whose sole claim to fame is the existence of a music workshop with a famous Bohdrain maker. Unfortunately the drum makers where out to lunch, so instead we just poked around in the rather extensive shop and pondered whether or not my niece and nephews needed their very own Irish drums (don't worry,family members who are reading. We didn't get them any).

The road wove around along beside the ocean and then eventually turned inland, which meant we were now driving through huge fields populated by pretty much nothing but rocks and the occasional sheep, a number of whom were ambling down the road with determined expressions and absolutely no regard for cars at all (What, you want me to move? Please! I'm a sheep. Go around me). Eventually we started seeing careful little arrangements of peat stacked together to dry, and figured out that we were in the midst of a large peat bog. This assumption was confirmed when I got out of the car at one point to take pictures of the little stacks of peat. Bogs are squishy. VERY squishy.

Our route eventually turned back toward Galway, so we made one more stop before returning to the city - this time to tour an abandoned mine. The Glengowla mine was mined in the 1800's, completely by hand. They were mainly looking for galena, which is 97% lead and only 3% silver, so they just weren't the slightest bit interested in the obvious veins of copper or calcite or all the other minerals they were passing by as they dug.They chipped the galena out by hand, then processed it and sent it off to Galway, where it was shipped off to other countries. The mine was eventually abandoned once cheaper sources of lead were found elsewhere, and over the next 100 or so years, filled completely with water, but only about 6 or 7 years ago the owner of the property decided to drain it and open it up for visitors.

There were three of us there for the tour - Richard and I and a middle-aged woman with an expressed fear of heights. We were instructed to select hard hats, and then a young woman took us on the tour, showing us various mining implements that had been left in the mine before it was abandoned, showing us samples of all the minerals found inside the mine, and then eventually taking us down inside.

Mining by hand, especially mining through limestone, sounds like it was not a very fun job at all (although back then it was during the recovery from the potato famine, so I guess any job was better than no job at all). There are tool marks still on the walls showing where they would have chiseled holes for blasting (using bits of gunpowder), and she showed us veins of copper, and calcite, and of course the Galway marble that they were blasting through, which is pretty much everywhere in that area. The mine was constantly damp (and even while we were there it was dripping) and they would drain out the water manually and then carry it off to a nearby lake - water which had been pooling in a mine full of lead, so you can just imagine how poisonous that lake still is. It was pretty interesting, and also a nice change from castles and forts and other ruins (although it still had to do with rock, so at least it kept things consistent!).

Back in Galway (or rather, Salthill), we picked up our laundry, including our jackets which now smell clean and fresh, had dinner at a rather generic sort of restaurant in a hotel (the food was good though) and then came back to the B&B to relax. Richard's off to Galway this evening to go find music but I'm not really up for more wandering, so I intend to just curl up in bed and maybe do some knitting until I fall asleep.

Pictures from our drive around Connemara are here.

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By the way, tomorrow (May 30th) is my birthday, and I wrote up my birthday wish here.

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