The Wild Atlantic Way Part IV: Connemara and Galway Bay… Lobster Anyone?
STS ROAD TRIP DAY III: Rugged Connemara and Lobster Fishing in Galway Bay
On Day three, we met in the dining room of the Station House Hotel and sat down to a nice breakfast. We discussed the activities of the day before we went on our way. Brian pulled the Viano in front of the Hotel Entrance in what was becoming our daily ritual. Meet up, have a breakfast, and saddle up in the Viano to begin our day’s journey.
Today, we were going to explore Connemara. Known for being remote, Connemara offers spectacular land and seascapes, and as you traverse its winding roads, it offers a great opportunity to spend a leisurely day discovering tiny villages and shops along the way.
We also had a bit of a personal mission to accomplish as we had a friend from New York in the area minding his dad who had been ill. They were in a “remote area” of Connemara which we quickly realized was redundant statement as the entire region seems removed and untouched by modern day. We quickly realized that one of the great things about having an experienced driver on a day like this was that we didn’t have to do any guessing as to where to explore. Brian had some great suggestions and surprises for us along the way. Our first point of business, however, was coffee and Brian knew the perfect spot. We stopped into Walsh’s Café prior to departure and as we entered, we were presented with one of the most incredible displays of pastries, cakes, and donuts I have ever seen. It was like a museum, and the aroma of fresh coffee was heavenly, simply perfect. We ogled the display counter and, after some deliberation, made our choices and sat down to enjoy. It’s a good thing we had an agenda to stick to that morning as I could have enjoyed a couple of more donuts in the café. At any rate, we discussed what we wanted to do for our friend and decided on a gift basket. So, into a box went a selection of goodies from the bakery and we walked to the local supermarket to do some shopping. The clerk on duty was incredibly helpful and presented us with the perfect sized basket for us to fill. We proceeded through the shop procuring the various necessities someone held up in a remote cottage in Connemara might need. We filled the basket with cookies, jams, pasta, some smoked salmon and of course, a bottle of whiskey for the cold Connemara nights. As we exited the store with our bounty, Brian was waiting outside for us. We loaded the treasure into the front seat, buckled it in and then jumped in the back to begin our day. Another advantage of having a private chauffeur drive is that we were able to adjust our schedule to add some stops along the way. This was really nice for us for a couple of reasons. One, Brian was very accommodating but could also advise us as we went. His insight to what could be accomplished in a day’s travel was very helpful. On this day, our final destination was to be Galway City. Brian was able to take a quick look at some of the things we wanted to do and plot out a course for us that gave us plenty of time to accomplish our goals.
I gave Brian the address and off, we went. Our friend didn’t know we were coming so it was a bit of a surprise, which we somehow pulled off smoothly. While I mentioned my friend was in a remote place, as we arrived in his area, we realized just how remote it was. The nearest shop was 10 kilometers away and as we slowly approached along the narrow one lane “road” neighbors poked their heads out to see who might be traveling out that way. We were definitely noticed, and it was a truly Irish experience, like something from a film. As we arrived at the door, my friend was already waiting for us outside the entrance. He had been alerted by the sound of the van coming up the drive. Apparently, the sound was enough to get people’s attention. There wasn’t too much traffic passing by there. We said hello, presented our gift, chatted alongside the road for a bit and then we were off again. It was a good stop and great to see where our friend and his people come from. He has often shared stories but now we will be able to place them, which is nice. When Brian heard what we wanted to do, he was totally on board in helping us put it together. It went off perfectly and without a hitch. It was such a personal touch to our experience, and it will be remembered for a long time. A great memory.
After we said farewell, we took a moment to stop halfway down the lane and pick blackberries on the side of the road. One of the most amazing things about Ireland is so simple, it’s those moments where you can just stop what you are doing and enjoy the moment you are in. We stopped the van, got out and walked along the lane picking blackberries. It was perfect timing too as they were fully ripe and ready to be picked. We picked quite a few and they were a delicious treat. Here we were, walking down a country road in Ireland picking blackberries. This was a special moment that you can’t really plan, you just go with the flow and when something seems interesting, you stop and experience and enjoy the moment, and we did and it was really nice… a perfect pit stop before we moved on.
We were now headed off to Galway where we would be meeting up with Ciaran Oliver of Galway Bay Boat Tours to join him on his famous Lobster Safari. We were looking forward to this unique experience and it was a beautiful day for it. As we made our way to Galway, Brian said that he had a little surprise for us. We had plenty of time, so Brian took us on a little detour. This was really great and unexpected which we liked. So, we made our way to the coast where it was explained to us that where we were being taken was only accessible while the tide was out. We were intrigued as we approached the beach and Brian parted the sea for us. The tide was in fact out when we arrived and we proceeded to drive across the beach to Omey Island, a mostly abandoned island and home of a 7th century monastic settlement. A fantastic detour with beautiful views of the surrounding sea, a sea that would quite literally be surrounding us if we overstayed our welcome and let the tide return ahead of us. We stayed for a little while to take in some fresh air and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. After about 20 minutes, we returned to the road and continued on to our scheduled rendezvous. We had a great day traveling through Connemara and had definitely worked up an appetite as we skipped lunch in hopes that the lobster pots were full… we would not be disappointed.
As we passed through Salt Hill, Brian explained the history of the area. It was interesting and informative to hear the history behind the former fishing village just outside the city walls, The Claddagh. The village of 468 thatched cottages was ravaged by tuberculosis in 1927 and deemed a health hazard. Its people were forcibly removed, and the village razed, the last cottage being destroyed in 1934. Generations were displaced and council houses built on the site. Another example of hard times faced by generations of the Irish in Connacht.
We parked alongside the area that was once known as The Claddagh, across the water from the Spanish Arch and walked over to the Quay where Ciaran was waiting for us with the boat, we climbed aboard, donned our life vests and off we went, down to the end of the Corrib River as it spills out into Galway Bay. It was a beautiful day and as we set off into the bay, Ciaran explained that his family were from The Claddagh and had been fishing the bay and beyond for countless generations. He was one of two fishermen left from the village and still lived on the grounds in one of the newer buildings. He pointed out his home as we passed, and we watched it fade into the distance.
By now, we were cruising right along and enjoying the ride as we came up on one the first lobster pots that had been set out the day before. We watched in anticipation as Ciaran hoisted up the first pot, this would be an indicator of how well we would be eating this evening. As the pot came to the surface and Ciaran hauled it on board, we were thrilled to see that it contained some beautiful specimens of what Galway Bay has to offer the seafood lover. Two beautiful lobsters and one nice sized crab.
We continued along and were quite lucky as we went. Being out on Galway Bay was a great way to end the day and the generous catch was quite a bonus. Ciaran took us back to shore after about an hour, he explained the traditions of the sea and his family’s own history as we cruised back to the fishery to get ready for dinner. They have put together a nice adventure there in Galway, mixing outdoor activities on the water with the culinary experience of getting to sit down and enjoy the spoils of the day. We ate well that day! It was a great, personalized experience and another adventure that we will not forget.
After dinner, Brian took us back to The Ardilaun Hotel where we would spend the night. This was our third Select Hotel of the trip and once again, we received a warm welcome by the staff. This was day three and it was nice to know that everything had been taken care of in advance for us. We really had to do only a little bit of planning as once we explained to the STS team what we were looking to do, they put together a well-conceived game plan for us. It was a relaxing experience and all we really had to do, was sit back and enjoy the trip. We were in good hands!
Formerly a country mansion, the 4* Ardilaun Hotel boasts 123 luxury bedrooms with superb conference centre and leisure club facilities, is independently owned and operated by the Ryan family, celebrating 57 years in business this year. Nestled in Galway’s suburbs, in a secluded setting in leafy Taylor’s Hill just 1 km from Galway City and Galway Bay, Salthill, guests may stroll around the hotels lush spacious gardens with patio, or enjoy open fires and spacious lounges whilst indoors.
Enjoy the facilities of the award winning Camilaun Restaurant with AA rosette, Blazers Bar and The Ardilaun Bistro or relax in the spacious Garden Lounges for Afternoon Teas. Complimentary parking and free wi-fi onsite. The Ardilaun Hotel is ideally located on the doorstep of Galway City, Capital of Culture 2020, a vibrant, bustling and colourful city of festivals but also close to the gateway to Connemara and the Aran Islands.
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