Monday, June 05, 2006

Lisdoonvarna to Galway

With only a short-distance to cover today, I had a nice long sleep last night, uninterrupted by the Gaelic songfest downstairs. At breakfast I was warned that the pub owners' children had been waiting to see the big dog since they woke at 7.30am. When I brought Bondi down to say hello to them in reception, they were caught betwixt delight and terror. I invited their son to stroke him (or "rub" him as they say here) but he refused because "the owner's upstairs". I think he'd been told this for so many hours that he couldn't associate me with this mythical "owner".

Before leaving, I had my photo taken outside the Matchmaker Bar just up the road. Each September, Lisdoonvarna hosts Europe's largest matchmaking festival. I wondered if the town was twinned with Anatevka, with an Irish fiddler on the roof.

My map showed a few historical sites in the area that I could loop through en route to Galway, so I made my way to Kilfenora and its Burren Centre. The Burren is essentially a 300 sq. km. region of eroded limestone pavement. It doesn't really look like anything in particular, but it is particularly noted for its range of rare flora. Bondi got a rousing welcome at the centre, and we drove on towards Ballyvaughan so I could see the Poulnabrone dolmen along the way. Unfortunately it seems that there are at least 3 roads between Kilfenora and Ballyvaughan and I didn't take the right one.

We stopped for a while in the pretty bayside town of Kinvara, where one of the local sailing boats, a dark-hued Galway Hooker was being launched.

Galway city was overflowing with people enjoying an Irish bank holiday Sunday, supplemented by all those who had come to town for a Bryan Adams concert. I was a bit disappointed by the city itself, which was rather drab and dirty after all the tidy-town, freshly-whitewashed towns of Cork, Kerry and Clare. Here, cinder-block grey buildings are dressed up in the colourful Italianate graffiti style. The singing had already begun in the bars at lunch-time, and you could smell urine in the main-streets. The river Corrib flowing through town seems very polluted, water as brown as the Guiness bottles launched into it. I overheard one young guy saying to his mates "let's go get scissored" as they marched across Wolfe Tone bridge, shoulders laden with slabs of beer.

In recent days, I'd been struck by how much the inland towns resemble the country towns I grew up in NSW. The wider streets, and I guess even the shapes of buildings, not to mention the look of the people, and when I walk through Galway, past a few pubs and a betting shop, I feel I could be in almost any country town back home. Supposedly one of Europe's fastest growing cities, Galway's population is about that of Wagga Wagga; Ireland itself only having about as many people as Sydney (4 million).

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