Showing posts with label Burren. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Burren. Show all posts

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Ballyvaughan to Kinvarra. Forts, Castles, Sheep and Dogs

Connemara Mountain sheep

Ballyvaughan to Kinvarra.

 Forts, Castles, Sheep and Dogs

Sometimes when I visit an attraction or exhibition, I find myself overwhelmed with information on boards and screens and I have developed a kind of easier way out by concentrating on the food element. And there is almost always a food element.

As there was on the 1st of September when I found myself in Dunguaire Castle (more of a tower house than a fortress) on the shores of Galway Bay, very close to Kinvarra. As it happened, there wasn’t that much info here (don’t get me wrong, there was enough) but the food element did catch my eye as we moved up through the four floors. 

It was also possible to get out on the roof and take in the views, possible if you were Johnny Sexton, perhaps not if you were one of the prop forwards on the Irish team, as the walkway between the parapet and the coned roof is very very narrow.

There are displays for each century and in the 17th you’ll see that Galway exported hides, tallow, wool, salmon, animal skins (hare, squirrel, fox and lamb), kelp, oatmeal, linen, pork and herring. Imports were salt, wine, iron, weapons, guns, spices, calico, flax seed, tobacco, potatoes, sugar, cotton and rum. Also at this time, the donkey was introduced to Ireland.

The castle takes its name from Guaire, a 7th century king of Connacht, noted for his generosity. He features in the legend of the Road of the Dishes, dishes filled with the good stuff from his table and transported to that of the hermit St Colman MacDuagh.

Merriman Hotel, Kinvarra

Tables are still often laden here at Dunguaire. It now belongs to Shannon Free Airport (since 1972) and they have developed it as a small scale banqueting hall. Here you may enjoy fine wines, “stories and excerpts selected to lift the soul and lighten the heart”. No banquets at present though due to covid but that could change soon!

Deep Fried Brie in Kinvarra

Later that evening, we ate dinner, some with a retro feel to it (anyone for Deep Fried Brie?),  in the well-located and popular Pier Head Restaurant and Bar at the heart of Kinvarra. A similar Brie dish was on offer in Hylands Hotel in Ballyvaughan on the previous evening.

Fire Pit (for cooking) in Caherconnell

Perhaps one of our better places to eat in this corner of Clare/Galway is Monks in Ballyvaughan. Go for their shellfish, especially those Kelly oysters, and you won’t go far wrong. Watch out too for seasonal trucks and cafés such as Julia’s Lobster Truck and Linnane’s Lobster Bar; I haven’t been at either (I keep missing them) but the recommendations are trustworthy.

Dog on guard Caherconnell

Places to stay? Our favourite is definitely Hazelwood Lodge where you get terrific hospitality, great comfort and a marvellous breakfast. Hazelwood is very well located for nearby Aillwee Caves, Caherconnell Fort and its Sheepdog Demos, and the ancient Poulnabrone Dolmen.

The 10-year old Kinvarra Guesthouse is right in the centre of that village and is bright, modern and spacious with a decent breakfast too (do watch out for the currant soda bread!).

Eagle at Aillwee

Of course, we visited Aillwee and did the fabulous Hawk Walk, details here. Another interesting call was to Caherconnell Fort. We started with the sheepdogs and marvelled at how they responded to the calls and whistles from their very informative handler to get the sheep to where he needed them and also to keep them there. Some of the dogs are also trained to handle the cattle in the hard rocky Burren fields.

I knew very little about the fort here but, amazingly, it dates back to 3,000BC. Our guide talked as she walked and when she stood still. She told us about the first artefacts (from 3,000BC), the first graves (from 500AD), the fire pit (650AD), the construction of the fort (900AD) and the last habitation (1700AD) right up to today (where a small exterior enclosure is used to shelter and protect weak lambs).

Salmon starter at Hylands Burren Hotel Ballyvaughan

Many kinds of jewellery and domestic tools have been found here and all are now in the charge of the national museum in Dublin. A human body was found just outside the fort and that too went to the capital. The remains of an adult female and an infant dating to 600AD were discovered under the fort walls. It seems that it was a mark of honour to them that they were left undisturbed at the time. And they have been left more or less undisturbed too by the today’s archaeologists as such an intrusion would disturb the now historic walls.

It is quite an amazing place and perhaps too little known. If you are in the area it is well worth a visit, well worth the modest fee. By the way, they have a lovely tea rooms here as well overlooking the calves in the adjacent field and vast sweeps of the grey Burren.

The Poulnabrone Dolmen

Just a few minutes away, you’ll come across the Poulnabrone Dolmen (no entry fee). This is a Portal Tomb built from great slabs of limestone, over 5,000 years ago (around the same time as the pyramids were being built). The remains of over 30 people have been found on this ancient site. It is indeed much smaller than the pyramids but still you look at it in awe. 

From it amazing Cliffs of Moher to the Burren to its caves, there is much in County Clare to look at with respect and awe. Time to go and visit!

* Sometime during the 12th century, the mute swan was introduced to the Irish dinner table. (ref: Dunguaire panel).

** Other places worth a visit in the Ballyvaughan to Kinvarra area are Hazel Mountain Chocolate (bean to bar makers) and the Burren Perfumery.

Monday, September 6, 2021

You can call me Al. Our bird on the outstanding Hawk Walk at Aillwee Cave

You can call me Al. Our bird on the outstanding Hawk Walk at Aillwee Cave

Al, with Galway Bay in the background

We are hanging out with Al, a Harris Hawk and our bird on the walk through the woods by Aillwee Cave in the Burren. We include CL (Al is her bird for the walk) and our guide James of Aillwee. Al has been speeding up and down paths (sometimes millimetres from the ground), more often skimming through the often dense hazelwood, for his rewards of little nibbles.

Al checks out his handler

But now, after an hour or so, we are on the way back and he is now on my arm. Suddenly he tenses, he knows dinner is coming from James. His grip increases - you feel the enormous power in his solid bone claws (the rest of his bones are hollow). He is excited as any other hungry animal, just think of your puppy when he hears the rattles of nuts, and he shifts often. Finally, the red food is at hand and he tears (literally) into it.

Quite a feed vanished in no time and soon he is picked up any stray bits and licked between his toes. James says he that after a feed like that he’ll be in a lazy mood in the morning and won’t be assigned to any early duties.

Our afternoon had a more gentle start, in the arena where the Birds of Prey staff put a few different birds through their paces. First up is a Red Kite, a medium large bird found mainly in Western Europe and North West Africa. Kites have a fantastic ability to glide and turn and that was well illustrated here by our bird called Éiru.

Next came a falcon, “one of the fastest animals on earth.... And his eyesight is on another level, he can spot a pigeon at four miles.” As he was put through his paces, by James, swallows crowded around him in the air, safe in the knowledge that they are one of the few birds that the falcon cannot catch!

And the arena show closed with a trio of Harris Hawks (not including our Al!). Theses hawks, found in Arizona and down through South America to Argentina, are unusually social and will look after their weaker group members. They are the only social raptor and even hunt in groups, anything from three to twelve birds. Twelve would certainly make a formidable opposition in the wild.

Hungry Al

With the arena show over, we were taken to meet Al, who had a good look at us. It seemed that he approved. Just joking. These birds have little interest in humans other than as providers of food. Soon we were in the woods and Al was showing off.

Whistle for Al

He would fly away, until out of sight. Then James would whistle and Al would come at a fantastic speed, up the path maybe, just a few inches above the ground. Sometimes, he didn't oblige with such a photo friendly run but would pick his way through the trees. In either case, he would come to a stop, seemingly at the last minute and land on your hand, facing back the way from which he had come. As time went on, he responded to my whistle (doesn’t really matter who he gets his food from!).

Éiru, the Red Kite

James filled us in on these hawks. Al by the way is an 8-year old and has been doing these walks since year one. They are weighed every day and that determines the amount of food each bird will get. In the wild, they can live to between ten and twenty years, double that in captivity.

Dinner for Al!

Their diet in the wild consists of reptiles, birds, rodents and rabbits. Here they get lots of chicken and quail and anything else they see themselves. While we were in the wood, Al spotted a pigeon, the fastest pigeon I’ve ever seen and he just managed to get into the thicker part of the wood before the hawk arrived. Trained Harris Hawks have been used to remove unwanted pigeon population from buildings in the US and the UK.

All the birds of prey take a note of their surroundings as this falcon does here on arrival at the arena.

James kept emphasising the magnificent eyesight of these hawks. It seems to be an amazing system, with nine tenths of it going back into the head, a kind of sophisticated control room. This Swedish study revealed that Harris Hawks have the best colour vision “found in the animal kingdom to date.”

So big thanks to Aillwee and James for the amazing opportunity to see Al at close quarters. If you book the Hawk Walk, your companion can also come to record the event for a much reduced fee. And again, there is a combined ticket for Hawk Walk, the Arena Demos and the Cave itself. All the details at Aillwee Cave. And don't forget a visit to the Farm Shop for some fantastic tastes of County Clare and Ireland.

* I didn’t realise it but I did come across the Harris Hawks before - they are very popular for falconry displays. I met mine at the Dordogne’s Chateau des Milandes (the former residence of song and dance star Josephine Baker, in the news recently for having been awarded the French Légion d’honneur). Birds put through their paces that day also included a Kestrel Falcon, a Barn Owl, an eagle owl, various other falcons and an American fish eagle. You don’t have to go to France to see them at close quarters as many are right here in County Clare!

** Check out our visit to the food treasure trove that is to be found at the Farm Shop in Aillwee; details here.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Head For Clare in 2018

When the snows vanish, it will be time to start thinking about heading to County Clare again...

Lough Derg

The Burren



The Burren

Where the Burren meets the sea

Cliffs of Moher

St Tola

Two pucks
 See more detailed County Clare posts here

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tea and Garden Rooms

Tea and Garden Rooms

If ever you find yourself in Ballyvaughan or anywhere near it, and there are quite a few good reasons why you should be in the area, then be sure and check out the lovely Tea and Garden Rooms  run by Jane O’Donoghue in the scenic village.

Perhaps the best reason for calling to Ballyvaughan is to visit the Burren. There are quite a few routes to take through and around the Burren but perhaps the most spectacular is the coast road, up from Doolin, via Black Head and from there to Ballyvaughan. You’ll have the Burren on your right and Galway Bay and the Aran Islands to your left. There is also a smashing walk in the area.

Whether walking or driving, you now deserve a break. Park the car by Ballyvaughan harbour. Enjoy the scenery, the grey mountains and head into the Tea and Garden Rooms. Have a look at that large table groaning with freshly made cakes and head for the conservatory or indeed take a seat in the lovely garden.

If you just want a cuppa and cake, this is the place. Maybe you want lunch. Again, this is the spot. I really enjoyed a tasty fish pie here recently and followed that with a visit to that tempting table. Needless to say, I didn’t come away empty handed. Study that garden, have a look at the fish in the pond before you depart to finish your circle of the Burren.

And they are open, at the weekends, for November. So why not take a trip to Clare and the Burren. You’ll be there in no time, thanks to that Limerick tunnel. No one could resist this line-up on that celebrated cake table.  I certainly couldn’t!

Also visited: Cliffs of Moher The Burren Brewery Wild Honey Inn  St Tola Goat Cheese The Burren