The best part of being a history and archaeology buff in Ireland, is the opportunity to explore its past through the landscape. One weekend, my housemates, my sister, and I jumped in a car and for two consecutive daytrips. We headed out of Galway Saturday and took a cruise down the Wild Atlantic Way.
I’m not much for itineraries, but I looked on the Wild Atlantic Way website for helpful suggestions to guide our journey. We stopped for an early lunch in Roundstone and then headed through Clifden and took a cruise down Sky Road. The view at the lookout spot on the road was breathtaking and we could not have asked for a better day for a road trip. I took us through Kylemore Abbey and the Connemara National Forest. We ended our day by stopping by Rockfleet Castle. Rockfleet was one of the Bourke castle’s that was a favorite of the Irish Pirate Queen, Granuaile. The more I learn about the west coast of Ireland, the more I fall in love with it. The history is complicated with written records sparse and its folklore expansive, which makes placing the archaeology, like Rockfleet Castle, into a narrative, so exciting.
The next day we headed East out of Galway to Athenry. The city has the breathtaking remains of a Dominican Priory, which was the first stop on our journey. I love medieval churches and I find that those with Dominican origins are some of the most beautiful examples in Ireland. The morning was cloudy and wet that gave the old priory, and the gravestones that adorn it, an eerily haunting beauty.
The next stop on our journey was Uisneach, one of Ireland’s royal site. The site is on private property and only provides one tour a day, but it is very much worth a visit. The guides are extremely knowledgeable about the site, which is no small feat for something that is so extensive. At the summit of the hill, twenty counties in Ireland are visible and the landscape looks like a patchwork quilt of green. The hill itself has origins all the way back to the Neolithic and holds significant political, religious, and mythologic importance through the modern day. It still holds the Bealtaine Fire Celebration, a festival that marks Uisneach as the location of the first great fire to be lit in Ireland, has been held intermittently at the site for centuries. It is said to be the burial site of the Irish Goddess Ériu and the God Lugh. It also contains the ‘Aill na Mireann’ (the Stone of Divisions) which is the mythological axis mundi of Ireland making it also known as the ‘Naval of Ireland’. The site is in the process of applying to become an UNESCO World Heritage Site and, although it is not the most well-known royal site in Ireland, it is a site of great importance and well worth a visit.
With a successful weekend under my belt, I am ready for another great week of classes. The places I have visited have definitely helped in learning the material for my history, archaeology, and Celtic Civilization classes. It is one thing to read about things in a book, another to experience them first-hand.