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Way Out West

The first thing you learn when you live in Ireland, is, never EVER trust the Weather Forecast. Its notoriously difficult to predict the weather in this country, with fronts coming in from all angles so even a ‘it’ll be dry with sunny spells’ can turn out to be ‘torrential rain and nowhere to hide’ type of weather….and so this trip proved.

The first thing you learn when you live in Ireland, is, never EVER trust the Weather Forecast. Its notoriously difficult to predict the weather in this country, with fronts coming in from all angles so even a ‘it’ll be dry with sunny spells’ can turn out to be ‘torrential rain and nowhere to hide’ type of weather….and so this trip proved. 

I booked myself a basic B&B in a small village called Kilkelly in Co.Mayo. Right in the heart of nowhere, it was a perfect location to get to the different places I had to shoot. It was more or less an hour from everywhere so suited me down to the ground. I drove in on the N17, and involuntarily started singing the infectious Saw Doctors song. I dropped my stuff off and set off almost immediately around the County of Mayo.

My first port of call was to Kiltimagh. Its hard to photograph a village as such without knowing what places have special meaning to the people concerned so I stopped at the now defunct railway station and took a quick snap of that. It’s so typical of small market towns in Ireland especially in the west that these beautiful stations are now just reminders of a bygone age and they look on as the weeds and grass slowly digest the railway line that once fed a thriving community and ran from Claremorris to Collooney in Co.Sligo (I’ll happily be corrected on this as its based on guess work!)

I travelled on to Bohola and was through it before I blinked. I turned the car around and stopped at the Square….its been pointed out to me that maybe calling it a Square is pushing things a bit but for the benefit of this image it’ll have to do. The image features, in fact, 2 pubs. The one on the right is easily identifiable but the ordinary looking house on the left is also a pub. The living room of the house serves as a watering hole for intrepid travellers and, err, Kangaroo’s apparently. Its called McDonagh’s Bar.

I travelled on towards the North coast and stumbled across a derelict castle at Ballylahan. Ruins are plentiful in these parts. I stopped briefly in Pontoon on the edge of Lough Conn, and thought I’d imbibe myself at the Pontoon House Hotel but sadly it fell victim to the economic recession and has been boarded up since 2011….yet another ruin. The whistle-stop tour continued via Ballina and I joined the Coast Road, part of the renowned Wild Atlantic Way, that would bring me to Downpatrick Head.

As soon as I got to Dún Briste, I realised I was out of luck weather wise. I knew I wouldn’t get a sunset but not even a hint of sun broke through while I was there. Yet it’s still a spectacular place to visit. The sense of awe and danger as you step closer to the edge is phenomenal. There’s a sensory overload as you approach the cliff edge and I gulped as I realised I was one or two steps away from certain death. I set up my tripod as close as I’d dare and took a few images. Amazingly I discovered that there are remnants of a medieval house on the Sea Stack, quite how anyone decided to live here is a mystery but it adds to the mystique of this place. As I stumbled my way down to the rocks below I had the good fortune of some brighter weather coming through and I was able to get one or two nice images of the stormy seas before heading back to the relative safety of my temporary home in Kilkelly.

I woke the next morning to more greyness. No beautiful sunrises yet. I set off for Westport, aiming to drive down to Galway via Leenane. I’d been to Leenane before but approached the last time from Clifden. This time I wanted to explore the area north of the Killary Harbour. Over the previous day or so, one thing was very clear, failing to win an All-Ireland since 1951 does not deter the Mayo people from roaring their support in any way possible for their team. Every available roadside has good luck messages, every town or village seem to have a connection with a player on this years panel and if possible, every outhouse or shed visible from the main road are blazoned with the county colours.

As I reached the village of Murrisk at the foot of Croagh Patrick the cloud suddenly and without warning broke and the long subdued sunshine broke through. The clouds defiantly clung to the top of the mountain but the rest of the valley was bathed in sunshine. I took a couple of quick snaps and clambered back in the car driving quickly to the next beauty spot. I had no idea how long the sunshine would last so I had to try and get as many nice images as possible whilst it was out. I continued on to Louisburgh and then turned off the coast road to take the mountain road to Leenane….and boy am I glad I did. The best weather of the three days I spent in the west was along this stretch and I had the good fortune to grab a number of stunning images of the pass. The Sheep looked on nonchalantly as I asked for a smile and they didn’t disappoint. The views in this part of the Island are stunning, I liken it to visiting New York. As you gaze in awe at a huge skyscraper you stroll around the corner and spot one 10 stories higher. so it is with the West of Ireland. You stare in wonderment at one amazing view only to stumble across an even greater vista around the corner.

I arrived in Leenane, the setting for the infamous play and movie, The Field, and stretched my legs all the way into Gaynors Pub, but sadly whilst I was there the weather took a decided turn for the worse and the sunshine that had welcomed me into County Galway was now telling me to get the hell out again. I had a spot of lunch, turned on the wi-fi, password: thebullmccabe, not the most secure and certainly predictable, and set about checking all the images I had just taken. A disgruntled tour bus driver came in looking for two tourists that had gone walkabout, says it happens on every tour which I can well believe. Stopping for ’10 minutes’ to take in the views just doesn’t cut the mustard in these parts and its easy to see why tourists would forget any sense of time when looking at the wonderful views before them.

The rest of the afternoon was a wash-out as I drove on to Clifden, Roundstone and Ballynahinch, circumnavigating Connemara in the process. From previous visits I know they are all stunning places but today they were lost in a murky, grey drizzle that vowed never to release them again. I reached Ballynahinch Castle and decided on a brief pit-stop but was soon back in my car again as the leftovers from what had obviously been the wedding to end all weddings were boisterously celebrating the weekends events at 2pm on a Monday afternoon. alright for some.

My destination was Galway City and the Main Street in particular. I arrived at 5pm, had time for a spot of dinner in the lovely John Kehoe’s pub and then headed in to the main strip in Galway and set my gear up. The conditions whilst wet and windy added to the effect for the photograph and I’m delighted with the result. It took a lot of patience, waiting for the sun to set, I know how daft this sounds when I hadn’t seen any evidence of a sun since midday but once it had gotten sufficiently dark I started snapping away and then by chance this young lady strolled past with a magnificent umbrella. Luck really does play a huge part in Photography.

That evening I settled in to the imaginatively named, Dew Drop Inn to watch the all important World Cup Qualifier between Ireland and Wales. The place is emblazoned with hurling memorabilia and its clear how they feel about Kilkenny too but tonight was all about soccer and the place was rammed with Irishmen and women cheering on the boys in green…oh and one solitary Welshman with his lucky or should I say unlucky mascot. I snuck a hasty and discrete retreat when the match was over heartbroken that yet again we had missed out on qualification. Our short lived hysteria after the Euro’s in France was over.

The next morning I got up at the ungodly hour of 5.30 and set off for Sligo hoping and longing for the sunrise that Met Eireann had promised at 6am. When I got there I was left disappointed once more as the greyness persisted all around. I clambered to the highest point of Mullaghmore head and waited in vain for the clouds to do a disappearing act. The wind was happy to blow me and my camera around but the clouds were set for the morning at least. I took what I could and then bade a hasty retreat down to the beach below….but not before drowning my trousers and shoes in the long grass. I took another couple of shots of Carriebawn Castle and hoped for the best. I set off and planned on circumnavigating Benbulben like some intrepid explorer. some 3 hours later it dawned on me that I had gone a bit off target as I reached the dramatic Eagle Rock, still part of the same mountain range but I was now in lovely Leitrim. I ventured further east, as far as Manorhamilton, before turning back for home so to speak. I had stopped in the lovely Lough Genade and also made a brief pit stop at the waterfall at Glencar. I’d been on the road nearly 7 hours at this stage and I was famished so I decided to stop in Sligo town for a spot of lunch. My favourite Sligo pub, Shoot the Crows, wasn’t open till 5 so I checked out the Swagman Pub, no prizes for guessing the country of origin of the publican with the place emblazoned with AFL and wallaby jerseys and a huge 3d map of Australia on the wall. I will say though, they do a mean ham & cheese toastie and a hearty bowl of soup too washed down with a lovely pint of porter. Re-energised I set off once more, having come to terms with the fact I wasn’t going to get any lengthy spell of sunshine today, not a hint of a sunny spell despite the assertions of you know who. I continued along another stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way along the north coast of Sligo towards Enniscrone or Iniscrone. The wind was extraordinary here and nearly blew me off my feet, didn’t stop one brave soul from swimming in the wild waters of the Atlantic.

This was pretty much as far as I go on this trip. The forecast said Wednesday morning was going to be wet and windy, I should have known better but I didn’t bother setting the alarm and had a lie in…yep you guessed it, the sun was splitting the stones when I got up…typical! I made a brief sojourn into Knock, just to see what the fuss is about. I’m not a religious person but its interesting nonetheless and I can imagine the comfort some people get from visiting this place.

So my 3 days in the west came to an end, Yes the weather wasn’t as good as I’d hoped but it never spoils a trip down here. Once you accept that it’s the weather that has created the beautiful landscape you just have to roll with the punches and take whatever it gives. If you’re lucky enough to get some nice weather, you’re unlikely to visit anywhere more beautiful anywhere but if, as is more likely, you get bad weather then so what, nip in the nearest pub, down a pint, have great conversation and look forward to the next time you get a chance to come along.


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