The Real Emerald of Ireland

The Connemara Region lies in the West of Ireland and consists of both breathtaking coastline and inland wilderness. The vistas along the coast are unparalleled. In fact, the word Connemara means “Inlets of the Sea,” and the region is best known for its coastal villages.

Still, my most vivid memory of our experience in Connemara was the beautiful landscape of the inland – the peat bogs, valleys, waterfalls, and black lakes. Last spring, during my month in Ireland with the MU Study Abroad program, I experienced the Irish-speaking Connemara region during a day-long excursion to Galway, Kylemore Abbey, and the Killary Fjord in the heart of Connemara.

Here is where you find the largest concentration of Gaeltacht Irish – those who speak the Irish language. Their Irish-speaking radio and television stations are located here, as is the Irish language newspaper, Foinse. Traveling through the region, we heard people speaking Irish fluently. Sometimes, it made for some awkward exchanges, especially when we made purchases. They seemed to have as much trouble understanding our American dialect as we did with their Irish-influenced English.

Killary Fjord is one of Ireland’s three glacial fjords and its terminus is located in the village of Leenane, a place best known as the locale for filming of The Quiet Man, in 1952. The road we traveled to Kylemore ran alongside this scenic fjord. Most noticeable were the long strings of mussel pots strung like ribbons for miles along the fjord. Mussels and salmon are the major resources for this part of the Republic. I loved seeing the quaint fishing villages that squatted on the fjord bank.

Further inland, we encountered the peat bogs that provide turf for heating. In the moors of County Galway and County Mayo we spotted the turf being cut and transported. The peat cutters are called tuskers and the peat carriers are called currachs. It’s challenging to fully describe the sensory experience of a turf fire. They don’t exactly burn; rather, they smolder, and the smoke has a distinctive smell, not universally appealing. In fact, some say that peat fires reek. But the aroma grew on me. On one wet evening in Kenmare, at a pub where Live Trad performers were playing, there was a peat fire burning in the main room. The combination of traditional music and the musky aroma made for a cozy, welcoming experience.

I look forward to revisiting this part of Ireland when I return in May and June. I’ve heard Connemara referred to as “The Real Emerald of Ireland.” I agree.

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