Galway Girl in the Wild West

So my mom is great and gave me this little day calendar full of fun and inspirational quotes and sayings. Obviously I brought it with me to Ireland, and I just flipped to today’s prompt. It reads, “Happiness is…” with three fill-in-the-blanks. After this weekend? I’m going to go with 1. Puppies, 2. Lambs, and 3. Kitties. (If there was a fourth spot it’d totally be 4. Cancelled Science Labs. Thanks, Sojan.)

Pups with a view.

Pups with a view. My weekend in a nutshell.

This weekend Champlain Abroad Dublin took its second big Irish field trip, heading across the country and out toward the west coast. And all things considered, I’d say it went pretty well. I mean, we saw all three of the animals I mentioned above, plus some horses, a few donkeys, and a quick glimpse of a dolphin. All the makings for a great weekend if you ask me.

There were just so many dogs.

There were just so many dogs.

We boarded our bus bright and early on Friday morning — an impressive feat considering most of us had gone to the Abbey Theatre the night before to see a sold-out showing of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars. But don’t worry, both the late night and the early morning were worth it.

It takes about three and a half to four hours to drive directly across Ireland, so we settled in for the long haul and let our coach driver, Ciaran, take the wheel. Literally. (Fun fact: Ciaran was our bus driver for our Northern Ireland trip too, but this time other, Champlain Dublin, Ciaran joined us as well. Two Ciarans on one bus? So Irish.)

Alright then, Day One. I’m always pretty honest with you guys, right? Well, in that vein, I’m going to come right out and tell you that in some ways, Day One was kind of miserable. I know. What? Jess, how could you say such a thing?! I guess it is pretty bold of me, but it’s true.

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The western coast gets something like twice as much rainfall as they do over in Dublin. You know that picture of Ireland you have in your head? The one where it’s constantly raining? That’s life on the west coast. Hooray for polar maritime weather. (See, Stephen? I pay attention.)

It rained a lot on Day One. My bright blue raincoat you see in all my study abroad photos? The one that’s supposed to keep water out? Soaked through. But we braved the weather anyway, because how could we have come that far and not gotten off the bus to see it all?

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We were damp and cold for the majority of the afternoon, but somehow the fact that we were all damp and cold made it a little more bearable. We were in it together, soaked to the bone and mildly cranky, a good chunk of us couldn’t help but smile ruefully at our misfortune.

Spoiler Alert: The Cliffs of Moher were our next stop!

Spoiler Alert: The Cliffs of Moher were our next stop!

Our bus made a few different stops on Friday, giving us a taste of the harsh western landscape, but the highlight of the day was most definitely our stop at the famous Cliffs of Moher. It was raining, of course, but we were in good spirits. My roomie, Abbie, in particular, had been looking forward to seeing the cliffs since we arrived on Irish soil. I don’t think her smile left her face the entire time we were there. Which was approximately an hour and a half, by the way, and didn’t feel like enough time at all, even in the dreary weather.

She really was so happy.

She really was so happy.

A group of us made our way along the cliff-side path, stopping to take photographs and make jokes. I’m pretty sure we accidentally crossed over the barrier we weren’t supposed to cross at one point. (I’m sorry, Mom.) But to be fair, we didn’t really realize we’d crossed it until it was too late. We were just following the other tourists around a giant puddle (read: lake). And we did try to get back on the right path as soon as possible.

Looking death in the eye.

Looking death in the eye.

Despite our death-defying shenanigans, we all lived to tell the tale. And we got some really incredible views! According to Dylan, another student who was here last semester as well, we were lucky. When the group went in the fall there was so much fog they could hardly see anything. It was still foggy for us, but not nearly as bad.

You can see some of the fog in this photo.

You can see some of the fog in this photo.

After our adventure along the cliffs we returned to our starting point and…. Set off in the opposite direction! There was a castle and a waterfall over there. How could we miss it? Our long walk meant we didn’t get to take advantage of the museum on-site, which I’ll admit was a bit of a bummer, especially because the school had gone to the trouble of getting us all tickets. But really, it’s the views and the laughter shared with friends that I’ll cherish in the long-run, so I don’t regret missing out on the museum, however dry it might have been.

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Then it was back on the bus to Doolin, a small coastal village where we hunkered down for the night. We spent the evening chatting in a local pub, after changing into some dry clothes of course. And then it was off to bed in preparation for another busy day the next morning.

Another honesty moment: I wasn’t really looking forward to Day Two. Yeah, I tried to stay positive, but the idea of spending another soggy day outdoors wasn’t exactly appealing. And so I thank Ireland for not actually putting me through that. Though the skies definitely looked a bit threatening at times, the rain never actually fell. Hallelujah.

Good morning, ocean.

Good morning, ocean.

Next stop: Inisheer. We took a ferry from Doolin out to the smallest of the Aran Islands, which is about one mile wide by two miles long and home to 300 people. And I thought my hometown was small.

Sarah's hat was still wet from the day before. She improvised.

Sarah’s hat was still wet from the day before. She improvised.

A few of our classmates rented bikes and headed out to explore the island on their own. While that looked appealing, Sarah, Abbie, and I opted for a horse and carriage tour given by one of the locals. Our horse’s name was Sophie, we got to meet an energetic little dog named Chico, and we learned a bunch of interesting facts along the way. All in all, A+ for cuteness.

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Our tour guide, whose name I didn’t actually get because I was too preoccupied finding out the name of the horse, dropped us off and pointed out where to go to see the main sites on the island: an underground church and an old castle. We hiked around for a bit, taking a short bathroom break in this little “cafe” that was actually just a woman’s house-turned-hostel.

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We strolled along the beach — apparently the clearest on all of Ireland’s west coast — on our way back into town. I also fell in love with a precious little kitty outside of the bike rental shop. She reminded me of my baby Zoey back home as she nuzzled her head against my hand. If there’s one thing I’ve been missing in Ireland, it’s a sufficient amount of kitty snuggles. I had to tear myself away from her, and only because if I didn’t Sarah and Abbie were going to leave me behind. (I wonder now, would that have been such a bad thing?) She pawed at my hand and tried to follow me as I reluctantly walked away. My heart swelled. I tried to find her again after lunch as we were waiting to board the ferry back, but had no luck.

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Speaking of ferries, did I mention the crazy swells our little ferry-boat had to plunge through in order to get us on and off the island? They were SO BIG. I’ve never been on a boat that rocky before. Thank goodness for motion sickness medicine. And even with that I had to make sure I stared at the horizon the whole time to avoid getting nauseous. I cannot say the rest of the Champlain crew was quite as fortunate. There were casualties. Our dear Sarah was one of them. Her face turned bright white and my heart broke for her.

The before shot of Sarah's ferry ride from hell. I didn't take an after.

The before shot of Sarah’s ferry ride from hell. I didn’t take an after.

Sarah and company’s misery was extended on the trip back to Doolin as our boat made a detour to the foot of the Cliffs of Moher. They were still beautiful.

So much pretty.

So much pretty.

I think it’s safe to say there was a lot of rejoicing going on when we finally made it back to dry, stable, land. And then it was back on the bus for our drive to Galway! Those poor tummies.

In case you weren’t aware, the small town I grew up in back home is also called Galway, so visiting Galway, Ireland seemed very fitting. I was a true Galway Girl that night.

As morning arrived the next day, we left the city, me clutching my postcards in hand like prizes won. We were headed up to the Connemara Mountains. If I thought Wicklow was beautiful, this was another thing all together. Our bus pulled over for a photo stop and a lesson on bogs from our program director and resident geologist, Stephen. I’ll admit I was too busy taking in the view to pay much attention.

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And then, if you can believe it, my morning got even better. We arrived at Joyce Country Sheepdogs for a sheepdog demonstration courtesy of Joe Joyce. Watching him direct the dogs using only different types of whistles was pretty impressive, but I think its safe to say our group was even more excited about the animals themselves.

I really love this photo. Thanks, Ciaran.

I really love this photo. Thanks, Ciaran.

Joe breeds and raises the sheepdogs himself, which meant — wait for it — puppies! Now, I’m a cat person for sure, but these puppies were just so gosh darn adorable. I didn’t even mind them licking my face and trying to eat my hair. Being abroad has definitely made me miss my animals, so getting to hold these little angels in my arms and pet their soft fur was the highlight of my weekend. Sometimes you just need to feel close to another living creature for awhile.

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And if the puppies weren’t enough, Joe then had his sheepdog, Roy, round up another group of sheep. And this one had lambs! Did we get to hold the lambs? You bet we did. Some Champlainers even held a full-grown sheep as well, but I chickened out of that one. I didn’t want to drop him! The lamb, however, was much more manageable. I believe the one I held was about two weeks old, and there was another that was only a day old. Meanwhile, the puppies were still running about, trying to climb through fences and cause trouble. We were surrounded by cute. It was a great morning.

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I boarded the bus feeling totally and completely satisfied by the experience. And I suppose a bit tired, too. We stopped for a lunch break in a nearby town, where the roomies and I of course popped our heads into a local bookstore. And then we were Dublin-bound once more.

That rascally little pup.

That rascally little pup.

Upon our return, I took a nice, long, hot shower, video-chatted with Ben, and then settled in to watch my Facebook page explode with puppy pictures.

Here's a photo of Sarah with a sheep to make your day better.

Here’s a photo of Sarah with a sheep to make your day better.

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