You already know that one of my honeymoon dreams was to get to go horseback riding together, preferably on a beach. Army Boy’s wish for the trip was to see castles. He was in luck, because there were at least three relatively close to where we were staying. Practically every time I searched for “Connemara,” I got an image of this:
This is Kylemore Abbey, formerly Kylemore Castle, built by Mitchell Henry as a gift for his wife Margaret. Story has it that they visited Connemara on their honeymoon and fell in love with the area, vowing to eventually live there. It has a rich history, including being owned by the Duke and Duchess of Manchester, who mortgaged it to the hilt before it was purchased by Irish Benedictine nuns and turned into an abbey and a boarding school for girls.
We’d also planned to visit some other castles, including one on the island if Inishbofin, but my foot injury prevented that day of hiking.
Kylemore was on our agenda for Saturday, the day after our pony trek. It took us a little bit to get moving that morning after our ride, but by the time we set out in the car we could tell that it promised to be a lovely day.
Sure enough, as we reached the grounds of the estate the clouds dissipated entirely and we were treated to the most beautiful blue sky for the rest of the day. It was perfect for exploring the expansive Abbey grounds, the Gothic Church that Mitchell Henry built as a memorial to his wife, and the gorgeous walled garden.
The gardens were massive, surrounded by a red brick wall that was interrupted at intervals by large wooden gates that were painted a cheerful aqua. We saw the site of Kylemore’s many greenhouses, which are in the process of undergoing a restoration project, as well as the Bothy (home to the full-time gardening staff) and the Head Gardener’s cottage. The cottage itself was a small white building nestled at the bottom of a cliff, painted white and accented with the same lovely aqua echoed elsewhere in the garden. The large windows inside let loads of sunlight in, and I could easily have imagined holing up in the front window with a book or to write.
We spent the majority of the morning wandering around and enjoying the beauty of the day, which was only briefly marred by a busload of American tourists. Guys, it’s sad but true- we deserve the stigma that other countries have regarding us. The gentleman wearing a Harley Davidson shirt and making a scene on the shuttle bus because he didn’t think they had time to tour the garden? Way to perpetuate negative stereotypes, buddy.
Feeling energized after being out all morning under the brilliant blue sky, Army Boy and I decided that we were going to climb to the D’Arcy monument that afternoon. It was a squat stone monolith on the hill above the hotel, and easily within walking distance. I’d heard that the view from up there was one of the best that you could get in Clifden, and knew I’d kick myself if we didn’t at least attempt to get up there. (We meaning me, obviously, and my busted-ass foot.) I wrapped my foot much as I had the day before for pony-trekking, and off we set along Sky Road, my camera firmly strapped in place.
We found the entrance to the monument easily enough, but quickly realized that the going was going to be more difficult than we anticipated. The land was exceedingly boggy, and it took us some time to get from the road to the bottom of the slope where the monument resides. By the time we reached it, we were covered in mud, and just took it as part of the adventure. I was already beginning to be enchanted by the views, when Army Boy whispered urgently.
“Brooke… Turn around… Verrrrry Slowly…” I complied, fighting down panic at whatever Irish-style beastie might have appeared to endanger our trek-
Only to burst out laughing at the sight of two hardy Connemara ponies deftly picking their way through the muck toward us. It seemed that we had arrived at their tea time, and were going to have to share the trip to the monument with them. Their lack of halters and shoes confirmed my suspicions that we were lucky enough to be in the presence of some of the region’s wild residents, whom I’d barely allowed myself to hope we’d encounter.
“No worries babe, I’m sure they won’t even pay attention to us,” I reassured quietly, standing still so as to gauge the ponies’ intent. Sure enough, they came up and sniffed us cautiously, and then gave us space as we continued our walk up to the summit. They stayed a few steps back, as if observing our technique of picking our way over the rocks and brambles, and then took their own (doubtless better) path.
The mess was worth it when we reached the top of the hill, and looked to see the town of Clifden nestled in the valley below, with the mountains of Connemara National park in the background. If we looked to the other direction, we could see more of Western Ireland, out toward the sea. It was one of those moments in life where it takes great restraint to not throw your arms out a la Julie Andrews and start singing about the hills being alive with the sound of music. That probably would have terrified our equine companions, and Army Boy as well.
Speaking of the former, they were going about their business of grazing without much thought to the two-legged intruders in their midst, pausing occasionally to gaze at us with liquid brown eyes and pose for a picture or ninety. We kept our conversation low and soothing, so as not to startle them. I seriously wished I’d stashed some of the brown sugar cubes I’d become so fond of on our trip in my pocket to share with them as a snack, but hindsight is 20/20 and all that.
When I felt full to the brim with the glorious scenery and the magic of that whole afternoon, I reluctantly allowed Army Boy to lead the way down from the monument so that we could return to the hotel for tea. We also had quite a bit of cleaning up to do to make ourselves presentable for dinner that evening, Saturday night.
As I mentioned in my previous post, weekends at the Abbeyglen were a whole different ballgame than the quieter weeknights. The atmosphere became even more festive and fun, with nightly champagne toasts in the pub and a group gathering with entertainment after dinner. Typically, the hotel’s manager Paul would take a turn behind the piano, encouraging any and all guests to share a song. That night was the Marys’ last night at the hotel, and we joined everyone in the pub after dinner, to the amusement of many.
“The American honeymooners emerge!” greeted us more than once, along with more offers of alcoholic beverages than we could count.
*Side note: Earlier in the evening, I’d been DYING for a Sprite/7up/any clear non-alcoholic beverage that I could get my hands on after days of wine, beer and water. The bartender looked at me like I should be committed, but that was the best tasting 7Up of my LIFE.*
Usually, I’m not one to turn down a chance for a sing-along, but there happened to be a large party of Australians in the castle that night, and many of the songs were geared toward them.
*Another side note: Australians like weird folk songs, y’all.*
We were happy to bask in the company and get acquainted with some more of the guests before calling it a night. We had our last day in Ireland ahead of us, and plenty more on the agenda.