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Driving Ireland’s West Coast


Photo: Jessica Schwartzberg

Day 5: Galway to Lisdoonvarna (42 miles)

I spend Friday night exploring the streets of Galway City—full of college students socializing well after midnight—then wind my way into County Clare in gray, drizzly weather. After a damp hike in the limestone hills of Burren National Park, I head to the 18th-century spa town of Lisdoonvarna to meet up with Maryangela Keane, a social geographer whose charm is as remarkable as her deep knowledge of the region. She leads me to the ruins of Kilcorney, a 900-year-old church hidden beside a narrow back road, and from there points out an ancient stone ring silhouetted faintly at the top of a hill. Against the misty sky, it looks like an apparition.

From there we move on to Corcomroe Abbey, a 12th-century Cistercian complex centered on the now-roofless Church of Mary of the Fertile Stone. Just down the road, a half-dozen or so brand-new cookie-cutter bungalows stand single file on a pancake-flat quarter-acre, fronted by a sign reading Rent an Irish Cottage. At the abbey, however, the sense of history and remoteness is not diminished. If anything, the awesome quiet of a place like Mary of the Fertile Stone reduces the affronts of contemporary real estate speculation to a passing joke.

Ironically, the next day breaks clear and sunny for my drive to Shannon Airport. During a twisty climb on the R480, I recognize a pulloff where Keane and I stopped the day before. I park and again pick my way through hazel brush to the narrow footpath and a historical marker, undetectable from the road, identifying the early medieval ring fort known as Cahermore, situated on a hilltop so that its residents could be forewarned of the approach of strangers from land or sea. Today, unlike yesterday, I can clearly see Newtown Castle in the far valley, and beyond, Galway Bay and the distant Galway coast. The view is not notably different from what it would have been 10 years ago—or 200.

Michael S. Cain is a freelance writer and editor based in New York.


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