We are nearing the end of our week in Ireland. We’ve seen cities, towns, village, countryside, seaside, fields, mountains. And although it’s been fairly relaxed, when I planned the tour back in December 2018, I thought it would be prudent to take a break from the driving. So, no destination tonight, we’re stopping two nights on the shores of Lough Corrib, and touring the west side of the country.
Not that it’s going to be a laid back, feet up kind of day. As normal, I have a few things planned, and no doubt we will find a few more on the way.
I don’t know if it’s a good trait or bad, but I spend my life planning things, my work involves planning things, and the thought of driving down the road and tossing a coin at each junction is a non starter for me. Unlike my friend Joe. He is an exact opposite of me, and thoroughly dislikes my idea of having a pre-planned itinerary. In fact, he would be quite happy to drive around looking for B&B’s on the fly. I’ve tried that with him once, I had to admit, it was different. We only came unstuck one night, where he reluctantly gave in and let me book a hotel room on booking.com before we ended up sleeping in the car all night!
Going back to my pre-planning. What I often do when visiting a new area is to quickly look over google maps at the surrounding area, and while looking around Oughterard I noticed something just up the road which intrigued me – “Quiet Man Bridge”
Now, that couldn’t be coincidence. And sure enough, after a little research on Wikipedia, it turned out that just a few miles away, on the other side of the lake was the village of Cong, famous for providing many of the film sets for the classic John Wayne movie, “The Quiet Man”.
It was of course mandatory that I should sit and watch the film (a bit of a struggle to find) and check out the bridge in question.
So our main aim today was a trip to Cong, and find this famous bridge, after which we would just wing it. But first, a hearty traditional Irish breakfast courtesy of our hosts at the Lakeland Midsummer Lakehouse B&B.
The road out of Porta Carron is fairly flat as we travel along the lakeside with stunning views. The landscape in this part of the country is a drastic contrast to what we have seen so far, fairly flat, very green and reminiscent of the lake district back home. It’s a steady 50 min drive to Cong, where we conveniently park next to the ruins of Cong Abbey, an unexpected surprise.
After a quick wander round the abbey, Sue, Renata and myself set off to visit the Quiet Man museum here, while Joe decides to talk a leisurely stroll down the river side where he’s spotted a carpet of flowers.
It’s a quaint little village yet with surprisingly heavy traffic – lots of large lorries and artic’s squeezing along the narrow roads. When inside the small exhibition, we watch a short video while Sue explains the film plot to Renata, who is not familiar with the the film. There are quite a few artefacts from the film on show, and a mock up of the bedroom, although it transpired that most of the inside shots were filmed elsewhere.
The village has staked their claim to the history of the movie, no less with a huge bronze statue of the famous scene where Wayne picks up Maureen O’Hara and carries her away.
The village is very pretty in its own right and well worth a wander around. One of the interesting things is that a little bridge marks the county line between County Galway and County Mayo. You can stand with a foot in each county!
When we final catch up with Joe again after his reflective stroll, the arrival of a tour bus full of Japanese tourists signals our hasty retreat from Cong, and we head off in search of another tea shop.
There’s only one route around Lough Corrib, and it’s a long trawl down the eastern side back into Galway, so we double back on ourselves. While in Cong I spot an information leaflet for nearby Ashford Castle & Hotel, so I plot a route on the Sat-Nav to take that in, expecting we could find somewhere for lunch.
It’s not long before we arrive at the impressive castle gate entrance, where a gatekeeper ithat looks like he wouldn’t be out of place outside a swanky London hotel, or Harrods waits to let us through the barrier.
We explain that we would like to visit the restaurant for lunch, but he explains that it’s €10 just to enter the grounds. We decide that’s a bit of a steep charge to be levied on someone wanting to pay for what is increasingly looking like an expensive lunch, at which point he offers entry for a fiver.
That’s enough to make us wonder if entrance is actually free, so we quickly spin the car round and head off back down the road. Their loss. Joe had spotted a sign for a place called Leenaun, and as we had nowhere else to go and it was sort of in the right direction, we decided to head there. Just as Joe likes it. Spontaneous.
After leaving the lakes behind and heading back into the hills, a steep windy road leads us down to what I can only describe as the end of a fjord.
We learn that we are in the cultural region of Connemara, which retains many traditional Irish values. I also learn that we are looking at one of three actual fjords in Ireland, so my visual evaluation was spot on.
Another popular tourist destination, we park facing the water and cross the road to a wool museum which also has a nice cafe. Unfortunately they are setting up for a bus trip arrival, but when we promise to only have a sandwich and a cup of tea, they take us in.
The coach arrives, this time lots of American’s, so once again we make a run for it to the car. still overlooking the fantastic fjord view, which we soak in one last time.
From Leenaun we take the N59 circular route through the Connemara national park, again quite hilly with sheep regularly wandering on the road.
There’s a temptation to take this route rally style but that’s not really me – I remember an advert a long time ago regarding careful driving, with a couple in a wedding car sipping champagne, the chauffeur driving so carefully they didn’t spill a drop. That’s my aim with Joe and Renata and I take each corner, slope and dip so gently they hardly notice the change in direction.
Soon we hit the road junction at Maum for the third time today and head off back towards Oughterard, looking out for the sign to the quiet man bridge. And it’s not long before we find it. Obviously well visited as they have created a large lay-by for visitors to park up in. The setting isn’t at all like I recall in the film, but then there was no asphalt road. It’s worth a visit just to say you’ve been there, but don’t stand too long, as speeding cars obviously are weary of strangers standing on the narrow bridge, and the truck drivers seem oblivious to your presence. Not for the fainthearted!
After a brief stop at this iconic structure we are soon heading back to the B&B, and then back to Oughterard (after a quick belated afternoon nap) for dinner.
We found two restaurants in Oughterard worthy of note – last night we walked past the Powers Thatch Pub as it looked very small, and instead tried out the exceedingly nice Kelly’s. Tonight, we take a second look in the Powers and realise how wrong we were. Its like a tardis inside and is well worth a visit – they do an extensive menu and have a wide collection of locally brewed beers. I only wish we had called in the previous night as they had live music, something that has been sadly lacking on this trip.
Believe it or not, Joe and I decided to try our first glass of Guinness and as I expected, hated the stuff. We’ve been spoiled I suppose by pilsner lagers. Fortunately Renata liked dark ales and finished it off for us. I have to say we hadn’t had a bad meal so far, and Oughterard was no different. They even had after coffee biscuits with my name on!
And so it was that we stayed our penultimate night in this lovely part of the country, having had properly our fullest day so far, on the very day we were supposed to catch our breath before we head back towards Dublin and home…
To Be Continued…