We’ve been planning to go to Clare for quite a while. Ever since herself started studying the Burren in geography and asked why we had never been there.
A colleague had been encouraging me to try out youth hostels for some time saying that they have really gone upmarket with family rooms and it would be great for me and my family.
I put these elements together and booked us into a youth hostel in Clare. We booked to go in early March. I was only mildly put off when I got a phone call saying that the hostel didn’t open until after St. Patrick’s day and could we re-book. We did, for this weekend.
It’s a good three hour drive from Dublin and we set off on Friday morning. The children played an amusing and quite successful April’s fool joke by pretending that they all desperately wanted to go to the toilet as we were speeding along the motorway; they are using their increasing age and sophistication against us. It’s working. We stopped in Ballinasloe in Galway for lunch. It was lashing. Ballinasloe, famous for an annual horse fair in October, was grand but, frankly, not at its bright and beautiful best. I managed to get us lost on the way from Galway to Clare and we floundered around the back roads of the Burren for some time pausing occasionally to force the children out of the car to look at damp Karst landscapes. We saw Leamaneh castle which was impressive but not open to the public and surrounded by grazing cattle.
We arrived into the youth hostel in the late afternoon. I am sure that had I seen it in the late 1980s/early 1990s when I last graced youth hostels with my presence, I would have been suitably impressed. However, in the intervening 20 odd years, it appears that my standards have risen quite considerably. The bedroom smelt unpleasant. Mr. Waffle had suggested we bring towels. I said, “nonsense”. There were no towels. You were able to hire them for €2 a towel (it subsequently transpired that this was a mistake and we were refunded for our towel investment). There was a drip in the games room. The light fittings in the TV room did not work. Are you getting a picture?
All in all, it was not a hugely successful day. We went out to the local pub for dinner which was pleasant and afterwards we forced the children to go on a mild walk. Michael was particularly bitter until we found that the path led to a playground. Great happiness followed. Then we went back to the youth hostel and played pool. All my old skills came back to me; I was quite useless. But the children enjoyed it.
The next day, it was not raining. This was a surprising and very welcome development. We had a day of intense activity which was largely successful. We saw the Cliffs of Moher which continue to be impressive. However, we were greeted on entry to the car park by an extraordinarily rude employee. I think when this kind of thing happens in your own country, you are doubly annoyed a) it’s annoying and b) what will the poor tourists think? And there were plenty of them, mostly bus tours with lots of French and German teenagers. In the 20 years since I have last visited, direct access to the edge has been fenced off. Probably for the best.
Herself was quite impressed by the interpretative centre. After that we had more Karst, Caherconnell ring fort, the Burren interpretative centre and the cathedral in Kilfenora of which apparently the Pope is bishop – I doubt he gets there often.
After that we saw the Fr. Ted house. We had tried to book tea in advance but to no avail, alas, so we could only stand outside and admire.
From left Fr. Jack, Mrs. Doyle and Fr. Ted (out of shot, Fr. Dougal).
We then went to the Aillwee caves which was definitely the highlight of the day. We almost didn’t go to the accompanying birds of prey show which was an extra €15 for the lot of us. But we did. It was the best money we spent all weekend. The show was amazing. Michael demonstrated a knowledge of birds of prey which was startling and detailed. Herself got to hold an owl.
The birds flew really low over our heads and the whole thing was unnerving but fascinating. We quite enjoyed the caves too.
Then we had a successful pizza dinner in Ballyvaughan and another night in our communal room in the youth hostel. Everyone else complained about snoring and tossing and turning noises but Michael and I slept fine, thanks for asking.
This morning we visited Corcomroe Abbey which was very beautiful and lonely and quiet. It became considerably less so as a “Paddywagon” bus full of tourists deposited them as we were leaving but we had timed our adventure well.
Our final cultural stop of the day was over the boarder in Galway where we visited Dunguaire castle in Kinvara. It’s the first time I have ever been in one of those square stone castles (with which Ireland is very well endowed) and been warm. Their heating bill must be breathtaking. It was pleasant though.
Then lunch in Kinvara and about 2 and a half hours to get back to Dublin in the late afternoon. The children are back to school tomorrow after a very long Easter break and are not contemplating the prospect with any great enthusiasm. Still, I think that we all enjoyed the trip.