July 9, 2007
On Monday we left Dublin and headed to the west coast of Ireland. We drove on the N^ for most of the way, a road that felt like Rte 66 in the United States. We drove through small town after small town, through farming fields and just small town Ireland on a road that may someday be by-passed by highways. Even though it took longer to get there I am glad this was our route because it made us take our time and appreciate the drive and see more of small town Ireland and parts we never would have decided to visit in our short time. A forced scenic tour that I'm glad we did not miss.
As we drove through the countryside we pointed out cows, horses and sheep just as we would here in the states. We wondered if the Irish point out our livestock when they drive through our country. Or if they wonder why ours are so penned up and there are so many more in such a smaller space. This was very noticeable as we drove through Ireland and in comparison to much of the American heartland we have driven through - factory farming is much more apparent in the United States and by appearances the livestock in Ireland have a very different experience. Interesting to us because we care about that sort of thing, wonder how many other people would have even noticed that difference?
The towns we drive through all seemed to have a similar look and feel. The local bar had a storefront that looked much like the ones in Dublin and the towns seemed to have the same staples with some slight variety. It was apparent to me how much more choice we have in the United States, how much variety there is and also how much consistency chains provide. It is hard to go somewhere in the US without being able to get predictable and reliable food and stores. In Ireland I could not find a bag of pretzels in all the places I looked. Also we never knew what you would find for food in restaurants (an interesting experience for vegetarians travelling). There were brown historical sites all along the way throughout these towns - we did not take the time to stop and see all that was offered to us. We had to be disciplined near Althone and Clonmacnoise but we still had a ways to go.
After three and a half hours in the car listening to bad music and driving through the central part of Ireland between Galway and Dublin town (anyone get the song reference yet?) we arrive in Galway. Only to discover that we have another hour drive ahead of us to get to the ferry docks in Ros a Mir.
We spent some time tooling around in Galway exploring what it had to offer and actually shopping (one of the few times we did this intentionally in Ireland). I will post more about this in my Galway post. We divided our visit to Galway in half on either end of our Aran Islands trip but I will put it all together in my next post. We headed back into the car and along the coastal road to Ros a Mir where we boarded a ferry (people only no cars) over to Inishmore of the Aran Islands.
As I sat on the ferry I reflected on the things we just saw along the way from the busy streets of Dublin to the small towns all along the N6 into Galway (which feels in many ways like a smaller more enjoyable Dublin) off to the very small town of Ros a Mir and on to the boat to the island that is home to several hundred people who still speak the Irish and have their land divided by stone walls. It was a lot of variety for just four hours of driving. To make it from one side of a country to the other in that short time seemed amazing to me considering how long it takes to travel withing some states that feel like they will never end.
Still even as we drove and saw the differences there was a certain familiarity that makes you smile. Watching moms push baby strollers, friends walking together, an older couple holding hands, construction workers waving us through, kids walking home from school and all the normal day to day activities of people no matter where you live. Seeing petrol stations, grocers, shops, churches, farms and homes from town to town - what was the same and what was different. Experiencing some of the 40 shades of green as we drove along the highway, making our journey part of our destination. Sharing what we saw and thought with one another, wondering what others think as they drive along this road and what out of towners think when they drive through the roads in our state and neighborhoods. It was a good drive and a nice way to spend an afternoon in Ireland even as we looked forward with anticipation to our final destination of Inishmore.