Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.
~ Irish Proverb
If I had to pick one place in Ireland that touched my soul deeply, it would be Doolin, in County Clare. This small village near Ireland's wild Atlantic coast invites you in and then makes you feel at home.
As you learned from Part 1, Ireland is like no other place under heaven, the journey began in Bunratty, County Clare. From there, our newly formed group set off on an hour-long ride to Doolin, by taxi bus. Sean, our driver, told the history of the area as the bus wound its way through the countryside, along narrow roads, which was bordered by four-foot rock walls. The fields were dotted with sheep, cattle, and horses, marked off by more stone fences.
Sean told us why these property markers are both simple and practical.
Since many parts of Ireland are very stony, the land needs to be cleared to farm. The stones are made of “carboniferous limestone, very old stones from the ice age and naturally rounded in shape.” Because the stones are very dry, there isn’t a need for mortar between the stones. The landowner need only select stones that will knit and hold together.
When it’s time to move the livestock, it is just a matter of taking down part of the wall and allowing the animals to pass through, then rebuilding that section of the fencing. These walls do need to be taken down and rebuilt over time, but they give aesthetic value to the land.
Upon entering the village of Doolin, I was filled with anticipation! I had dreamed of visiting this little village for over a year and now my dream had come true. As our taxi bus crossed the stone bridge over the River Allie, the strip of colorful buildings perched along the river's edge immediately had my attention.
This was the scene in pictures that I had
fallen in love with and it was even
more enchanting in person!
The taxi bus squeezed onto the main street, making a sharp right turn onto a narrow road heading towards the first night's bed and breakfast. We passed homes that were neatly kept and dogs that ran out to greet us.
We arrived at Twin Peaks, B&B in mid-afternoon and were greeted by owners, Sinead, Pasquel, and their toddler son. After getting settled in our rooms our group walked back to the main street for dinner at Gus O'Connor's Pub, established in 1832!
O'Connor's is the classic Irish pub with good food, local music, and a lively atmosphere! My salmon fillet was fresh, mashed potatoes were creamy, and the carrots were tasty. With a pint of Guinness, the meal was complete!
After dinner, we strolled through the shops and visited with some of the locals. As we meandered back to our home for the night, we each marveled at the stillness, as we looked forward to our next few days in Doolin.
The next morning, after a delicious Irish breakfast, our group began preparing for the seven-mile hike along the Cliffs of Moher. We repacked our suitcases and while we left for the hike, all the luggage was moved next door by Pasquel, to our new home for the rest of the stay, Daly's House.
But, before I tell you all the wonderful things about this lovely Bed & Breakfast, I want to share the hike with you!
We met our guide, Patrick Sweeney, owner and guide of Doolin Cliff Walk, in front of O'Connor's Pub. We were joined by 20 other hikers, all looking forward to what the day would hold. Pat Sweeney had the vision to open up a trail along the cliffs. He stated, “This trail was a dream of mine for years, so it is sometimes possible for dreams to come true. I created a walking trail for people to come and see the sights that I can see every day from my farm.”
His land borders the cliffs, as do some 39 other farmers, so it was necessary for him to get all the owners to agree to his project. He began the venture in 2007 and today the length of the walk is around 7 miles long.
After a brief talk about what to expect, we were off! His son, in the picture above, joined our group as the sweeper, keeping everyone moving along.
The terrain was not as easy as Patrick portrayed. There were several waist-high fences to go over, muddy trails to traverse, large boulders to cross, and steep hillsides to climb. Everyone walked at their own pace, watched their steps, and stopped when necessary to rest and take a look around.
After one particularly steep climb between two pastures, I stopped, not only to catch my breath but to take in the view. I was in awe!
The deep green grass ran down to the cliff's edge and on that slope were several undisturbed horses. Some were grazing on the lush vegetation, while others were comfortably lying down in the grass. Their backdrop was the wild Atlantic. The serenity and beauty I found in that scene is a vision that will remain with me.
We arrived at our destination breathless and tired. But, once at the top, some 702 feet above sea level, we took in the views of the Aran Islands and the Dingle Peninsula.
Looking out at the beauty of the cliffs, it was easy to understand why The Cliffs of Moher have been named a UNESCO Global Geopark. This is a place I could visit yearly and never tire of it.
There were some issues, but I believe that each woman felt stronger and more empowered after completing this difficult walk.
I was quite impressed by the determination of one of the women in our group. In an attempt to help someone, she slipped and fell. We later learned that she had broken her radius, yet with some 3 miles still to go, she finished the walk! She didn't want us to fuss over her, but I marveled at her strength and resolve.
Thankfully, a local school bus picked us up and dropped us back on the main street, where we stopped for some lunch and a pint at the pub. After a much-needed rest, we walked back to our B&B to get unpack and settled into our rooms for the next 4 nights.
Daly’s House is quite possibly the best
Bed & Breakfast I've ever stayed in!
Upon meeting Susan, the owner of Daly's House, we were welcomed as old friends and invited to feel right at home! The rooms were tastefully decorated with all modern conveniences. Each window looked out onto views of the surrounding pastures and hillsides. It was easy to relax into this cozy home away from home. Some of us took a rest, while others took a walk, then we came together to stroll back up to the main street for dinner.
This time we chose The Ivy Cottage and again, we were served a delicious meal! Most of the women in our group ordered the fresh salmon and again, it was excellent! Our poor waiter was running from table to table, working to keep everyone happy and served. We later learned that they were short-staffed, so when our dinner wine finally came with dessert, we smiled and gave him a nice tip!
Two nights later, we returned to the same restaurant and when he saw us, we were given the “royal treatment!” We sat under heating lamps and covered ourselves with proffered woolen blankets, while we sipped our glasses of wine and enjoyed yet another delicious meal.
Mornings at Daly's House began with a full breakfast in the sunroom, surrounded by flowers, birds, and busy bees outside the windows. The sun seemed to shine in on us every morning. The table was set with beautiful china pieces, silver, and sparkling glassware. Before entering the room, there was a buffet filled with parfaits, scones, yogurt, and a variety of nuts and fruits. There were several hot breakfast options to choose from, with plenty of rich French press coffee and cream. Remembering my afternoon tea in Bunratty, I decided again, that this was a practice that I could get used to!
Another fun adventure was to Inis Oirr (Inisheer), the smallest of the Aran Islands. The Doolin Ferry Company made our 25-minute ride smooth and relaxing. We hired a horse-drawn carriage that carried us all over the island, showing us the sites and giving us a history lesson of the area.
The island is approximately 1.8 miles long and 1.2 miles wide, with a population of over 260. The name means “island of the east” and it is the most easterly of the three. It has the expected Irish cottage-style houses, endless stone walls winding around the landscape.
We visited the island's cemetery that is filled with beautiful Celtic crosses. We took pictures of the Plassey Shipwreck, which washed ashore in 1960 and is perched upon the rocky beach.
For lunch, we stopped at Tigh Ned Seafood Pub, where we huddled around small round tables and enjoyed fresh lobster and salad, homemade soups, and freshly baked brown bread. Then, to top it off, we stopped at a locally owned fudge stand!
In the afternoon, It began to rain steadily, so we hunkered down in a little café for coffee to drink with our chocolates. The owner gladly gave up his table, where he was reading the newspaper, so our group could wait out the steady downpour.
Finally, after some confusion, we boarded our ferry back to Doolin. Going back wasn’t quite as smooth, with swells that we hadn't experienced going over! It added a bit of excitement to a very relaxed day!
St. Brigid's Well is believed to have healing powers, which brings people from far and wide to touch the running water that is housed in an open stone grotto. This house also serves as a gateway to an ancient cemetery on the hill above it.
In Irish folklore, St. Brigid is the patron goddess of the Druids and visible signs of Druid language and pagan worship are still seen in the well.
As I touched the water, I said a prayer and thought of all those that have come here in the hope of finding healing from the powers of St. Brigid's.
The Morrison Gallery in Lahinch was a side trip to check out the art of Phillip Morrison Susan Daly had many of his pieces throughout her B&B and she had table coasters that depicted his work. That was enough to give us the idea to stop in Lahinch to make a purchase. Well, they were sold out of the coasters, but the gallery was filled with the artist's scenes of Doolin.
The gallery did well that day with each of us purchasing at least one of his paintings and mugs with a herd of Irish sheep on them. Lahinch was a lovely town and well worth visiting!
Our last stop was the Doolin Cave and it was quite a sight to behold! Donning our hard hats, our guide lead us down into the limestone cave. Watching our steps while keeping our head low, we weaved our way towards the main feature of the cave, The Great Stalactite!
The stalactite measures some 23-feet in length in length and weighs around 10 tons. It is considered the longest free-hanging stalactite in Europe. Looking up at the massive structure, it is hard to believe that it is formed from droplets of water over thousands of years.
Once out of the cave, we enjoyed some time in the nature garden before heading back to Doolin. The day began without any set plans and turned out to be an adventure.
That evening, our group had the pleasure of going to the home of Christy Barry and his partner, Sheila. The Doolin Music House has entertained friends and musicians at their home for many years, sitting around the fire playing music and telling stories. It was a delight to listen to Christy tell us stories from his childhood, while he and his friends played traditional Irish music, which the village of Doolin is famous for. Sheila passed around tasty hors d’oeuvres and kept our wine glasses filled! The two-hour visit was a highlight for all of us!
But the night wasn't over. A few of us headed back to O'Connor's to listen to more trad music from Christy and friends. The Pub offers Trad music every night, so the place was crowded and seating was hard to come by. Luckily, a mom and daughter from Germany graciously offered to share their table. We listened to great music, answered questions about each other's countries, and swapped travel stories.
For me, this is what travel is all about!
During our stay in Doolin, we met in the cozy living room at Daly's House and journaled on questions that were asked.
I read the group the following quote:
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.
The important thing is to not stop questioning.
Curiosity has its own reason for existing.
From this quote, I handed out questionnaires that helped guide us in digging deeper into our hopes and desires.
I then asked the ladies to take one of the questions that they found difficult to answer and take a contemplative walk by themselves, focusing only on that question. The walking paths were lined with rock-walled lanes and pasture lands. At the end of the lane was a view of the Atlantic ocean.
Most everyone agreed that it was the most peaceful 20 minutes they could have imagined and they realized that it had been a very long time since they had experienced such quiet.
During our time together, I read a meditation practice that focused on staying in the moment. We also did a mindfulness practice where again, we worked on staying present while concentrating on the object in front of us.
One of my favorite quotes that I shared with the group was:
What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
~ Mary Oliver
Again I handed out questions for them to answer regarding what they wanted in their future and how they planned to make it happen. I also wanted them to name one activity we worked on during the retreat that they would promise to continue.
To finish up our retreat activities, I asked them to write an encouraging letter to themselves, making a personal commitment to move in the directions of their dreams.
After 5 full days exploring Doolin and the surrounding areas, we bid a farewell to Susan, with the hope of returning in the future!
Our driver, Sean drove us to our next destination, Galway, via The Burren GeoPark. We made a quick stop at the Poulnabrone Dolmen, Ireland’s oldest megalithic monument and an epic portal tomb made up of massive stones. It's name meaning, "the hole of the sorrows." Its impressive structure indicates the care with which the dead were honored during that time; two portal stones stand upright to support a 12-foot horizontal “roof,” creating a chamber that sizes in at around 30 feet high.
Sean took us on an adventure where we walked across slabs of rock, through a field of cows, and wound our way into thick cropping of trees. Our final destination was the remains of an old church surrounded by acres of pasture land.
Our final stop was The Burren Perfumery, in Carron. All their products are inspired by the local landscape and made in their blending room. The Organic Herb Garden provides visitors with examples of native herbs and information on their traditional uses. The Tea Rooms offers freshly made cakes, cookies, and pastries. Along with homemade soups, an assortment of cheeses, salads, and loaves of bread. Although we didn't have much time to spend, the Perfumery would be a great place to spend a few hours.
But, time was getting away from us, so once we were back on the bus, it was a straight shot to the "Cultural Heart of Ireland - Galway!
My third and final blog post on our trip to Ireland will include Galway and the capital city of Dublin! I have much more to tell you about our amazing Ireland Travel Retreat!