Ireland - Doolin - Clan O'Brien Country
Jul 15, 2004
|I've been thinking a lot about my friend Maureen O'Brien lately. It's hard not to. You see, I seem to have landed in Clan O'Brien country. There's an O'Brien Castle on Inisheer Island, an O'Brien Tower at the Cliffs of Moher, and O'Brien shops, cafes, guesthouses and pretty much O'Brien everything in Doolin!
Doolin is a magical place. If you don't believe me, just ask anyone who's been there. For me, it really was love at first sight. It's a tiny little village just south across the bay from Galway, well postioned to many tourist attractions but tucked far enough away from the big city of Galway, where most tourists congregate, to remain somewhat off the main tourist trail. Because of that, it's hugely popular with backpackers ... you know, us crazy peole who like to leave the big city behind and get out into the clean country air!
Somewhat strange for such a small remote village, Doolin has a music recording studio and thusly attracts some great musical talent. Some of the best traditional Irish music is played in the local pubs (of which there are 4 in this tiny village!) which are packed every night, partly for the beer and socialization, but mostly to listen to the music.
There are many hostels in town. I chose to stay at Aille River Hostel and really lucked out this time. Although pretty basic, it was very clean, had a wonderfully eclectic and interesting group of travellers staying there, and had a cool dude manager who hung out with us all day. It was the type of place where everyone chatted with everyone, instant friendships developed.
The weather hadn't improved much when I first arrived in Doolin, although we were down to a drizzle instead of heavy rainfall. Everyone just hung out at the hostel in the morning, waiting/hoping for the weather to improve and in the meantime just did a bit of reading, chatting and relaxing. The rain did clear up in the afternoon, and I ventured by ferry over to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands.
The Aran Islands, not far off the coast from Doolin or Galway, have some of the oldest Christian and pre-Christian ruins in Ireland. Inisheer, the island I visited, is rocky, windswept and mostly treeless (deja vu of Connemara). Time has almost stood still here. Because of its small size, motorized vehicles are rare, ponycart power is more common. It doesn't take long to visit all of Inisheer's places of interest which are a bronze age mound dating from 2000BC, 9th and 10th century churches, and of course 15th century O'Brien Castle (sorry Maureen, you have a castle but it's a real fixer-upper!). I even had time for a quick pint before catching the ferry back to the mainland.
The thing that really amazed me when I first arrived on Inisheer was the volume of ridiculously high stone fences separating the tiniest pieces of land. I'm not talking little fences here ... most of these babies were taller than me! From afar it looks like a strange spiderweb. I heard there's more kilometers of stone fences on tiny Inisheer than in any other county in Ireland.
The next day saw the return of mostly blue skies and sunshine (hallelujah!) and I did a little hike (2 hours, 9 kms) to the Cliffs of Moher with two Canadian girls, Catherine & Erin, also staying at the hostel. The Cliffs of Moher are perhaps South Ireland's most famous coastal cliffs, dropping dramatically around 700 feet straight down to the sea. The North has the Giant's Causeway, and the South has the Cliffs of Moher.
Somewhat busy with day trip tourist coaches, we nevertheless found a fairly quiet spot at the edge of the cliffs, near the base of - you guessed it - O'Brien Tower, to eat our picnic lunches and take in the amazing scenery and linger in the warm sunshine.
Eventually, feeling adventurous, we decided to hike back to Doolin via the very scenic footpath that snakes right along the cliff's edge. Many times I was tempted to drop to the ground when a strong gust blew by for fear of being swept over the edge! Sometimes just glimpsing at the 700 foot drop right beside the path made my knees go a bit weak. Adding to the challenge was that the path sometimes disappeared, or went across a stream (swoolen from the recent rains), or under an electric cattle fence, or through a cow pasture. Anyway, 2 hours later (and another 9 kms) we safely arrived back in Doolin.
Later that evening I went out to a couple of the pubs with some Aussie girls also staying at the hostel to listen to live bands playing traditional Irish music. Actually, I think everyone from our hostel, and every hostel in town, was out at the pubs that night as they were jammed to the rafters! The music was excellent. It was a great way to finish off a great day and a great time in Doolin.
Doolin is the type of place where you plan to stay a day or two and then leave a week later. I would have done that, really wanted to in fact, but my days in Ireland were limited, I still had lots of miles to cover, so unfortunately I was forced to move on.
If I had to choose only one place to return to in Ireland ... it would be to Doolin and Clan O'Brien country.
Hey there, hope everyone's doing well. Sorry, my journal writing is about a month behind, but I've been busy travelling and it's often difficult getting access to internet. Anyway, you know all what I've been up to via these journals, but I'm feeling very information-deprived over here! So keep the emails coming, let me know how you're doing, what you've been doing this summer, etc etc. Cheers for now, Connie