Story and photos by Tori Ward, ROX Travel, Cruise and Resort Specialist
It was wet and cold with a foggy mist drifting across Pollacappul Lake. The weather deterred other tourists, and I found myself alone on the wooded paths around the stately former castle of Kylemore Abbey bordered by the lake on one side, the Connemara Mountains on the other and bookended by a gothic chapel dedicated to the wife of the original builder and the Victorian walled gardens she enjoyed.
I suddenly discovered I was not alone when a ewe crashed down through one of the streams flowing from the mountain. She rolled her martyred eyes at me as her lambs caught her on the shore and began feeding.
Of all the beautiful places we visited in Ireland, this location touched me with an ache of longing to learn everything I could about the Henry family, the tragedy that touched them, and later the Benedictine Order of nuns who fled from Belgium and founded the abbey. It operated as a convent school until 2010.
It was a quiet break from the busy weekend we had enjoyed with a ferry trip on Saturday to visit the Cliffs of Moher in the morning, an afternoon in the village of Bunratty and a dash to Galway on Sunday.
The wind was fierce creating a perfect backdrop for the dramatic panorama of vertical cliffs stretching for around 9 miles above the pounding Atlantic Ocean. I considered how many years the sea has beat against the Cliffs of Moher creating the outline of which Ireland is so famous.
Bunratty reminded me very much of my beloved St. Augustine, Florida. Not the castle, but the restored village with homes and shops selling artisanal goods. I can’t resist pottery and spent a pleasant hour chatting with the potter at O’Neill’s as he carefully wrapped the plates and a cup I carried back.
As we settled in for the evening, I asked Gordon, our private guide, how far the closet church was so I could attend Mass on Sunday. I mentioned I could go to a 7 a.m. service if it would help us keep on schedule. It was the only time I saw him at a loss for words.
He finally said: “Sure, and you won’t find a priest up at 7 here on a Sunday. 10 will do.”
Finally our last full day arrived. We sat down for an opulent high tea in the shadow of Trim Castle, but I secretly wished I just had a piece of Irish soda bread toasted with butter and black current jam. How have I lived so long and not known about black current jam?
Trim Castle is as imposing as the Braveheart movie makes it appear with towers, moats, drawbridges and narrow stone gates that prevented the enemy from pouring onto the grounds. It is the largest and best preserved Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland dating back to the 12th century. The town provided great last minute shopping.
As the sun set the wind and rain picked up we heard the song “We are the World.” Looking out onto the castle grounds we saw a choir of school children braving the elements to record the song as a fundraiser for Ukraine.
It was a perfect end to a magical trip.