Day 1 in Ireland: Cliffs, Cars, and Clifden
Greetings from Ireland! We left from Boston Monday evening on an overnight flight to Shannon Airport on Ireland’s west coast. Our plan to sleep through the flight and wake up refreshed in the morning was foiled by the fact that you can really only manage about two hours of sleep on a six-hour flight. So we were more than a little sleepy upon arrival and quickly downed two airport coffees to jump-start our new day. We picked up the rental car we had reserved in advance, having splurged an extra $100 or so for an automatic. We’d heard tales of terror about driving on Irish roads, and although we can both drive a stick shift, we didn’t want the added pressure of figuring out how to do that with our left hands. Driving on the right side of the car on the left side of narrow roads while navigating endless roundabouts would be tricky enough.
It was barely 7 AM local time, so traffic was light as we left the airport. That was helpful in our quest to get used to the car, which although automatic, was barely so…it changed gears frequently and without as much fluidity as we could have managed on our own. We lurched forward and meandered back roads west toward our first stop at the Cliffs of Moher, a popular stretch of coastline on the southern edge of the Burren region. The dramatic cliffs drop hundreds of feet down into the Atlantic Ocean, and protective stone walls and fencing attempt to keep visitors from the cliff’s edges. The walls were a change from my previous visit to the area. I remember crawling on my hands and knees–and then inching forward on my stomach–to get a glimpse of the frothy ocean crashing below. Yesterday, despite barriers and warnings (or perhaps because of them), just three brave souls had scrambled down to the same ledge where I had peeked down more than a decade ago. There is also a relatively new visitor’s center at the cliffs, and because it did not open until 9AM, we had the place largely to ourselves. It was nice to experience the cliffs in silence, filling our lungs with fresh air and stretching our legs after the long flight.
From the cliffs we headed north into the western city of Galway, arriving just in time for lunch. We had our sights set on a café I’d read about (Food for Thought) that served up vegan shepherd’s pie, and we found it tucked away in a pedestrian area near Eyre Square. The pie, served with a simple salad, was fresh and warm and delicious. After lunch, we wandered around the square, which had also changed since my first visit. It barely matched my memories of nightly trips to The Skeff with my sister (who was attending the university there). The pub, which used to be dark and smoky and next to a late-night French fries shack, now boasts clean green awnings and sidewalk seating across from public art installations. We did not linger long after lunch; I preferred the grittier version in my mind.
From Galway we set a straight course to the seaside town of Clifden and our first B&B stop. We were able to check in a bit early and get settled while we waited for a break in the rain, which had started during our drive. We had an easy 2-mile run to tackle, and we were hoping things would settle down. They didn’t. We finally tired of waiting and laced up our running shoes. We headed out into 25 MPH winds and warm, wind-driven rain. We ran uphill out of town on Sky Road and flew back down, dodging cars and brush and puddles on the way. It was wild and invigorating and the perfect introduction to running in Ireland. Our post-run evening consisted of a hot shower, a cold Guinness at Griffin’s Bar, and 12 hours of sleep. We awoke this morning rested and ready to explore the town…after breakfast, of course! -J.