06 Sept 2006 Wednesday - Galway area

Today wasn’t very eventful but it was very beautiful. After taking a few snaps around the castle,

we drove around to the south of our castle-hotel to the Galway area. It was very beautiful and we got out several times to take photos, but most of the time was spent driving. Much of the photos were taken of the picturesque landscape, but we knew most of it would not transfer to film well; you just can’t capture that kind of beauty on film.

Or in this case, on digital media. Still, we took lots of photos. Some of it reminded me of Arizona desert, only green.

Other places were extremely rocky and barren. It had an ageless beauty about it.

Along the way, we found sheep that were painted in bright colors to identify their owners.

We also saw wild ponies wandering around, which is odd to see.

It wasn’t all driving. We stopped at a place called Croag Patrick, a mountain where there is a statue of St. Patrick.

I think this is where St. Patrick supposedly drove the rats who carried the black plague into the sea.

Every St. Patrick’s day, hundreds of faithful Catholics make pilgrimages to the mountain.

To absolve their sins or have prayers granted, they walk around the mountain in different circles. The scenery was beautiful.

We also stopped at Kylemore Abbey,

but we were short on time and I couldn’t justify spending as much as they wanted for the admission fee–eleven euro–to see another castle. So we took a few photos from outside and got back in our car.

Looked nice from the outside, but we were on a tight schedule.

On the way out of the site, I saw a hitchhiker who I took pity on. I have never picked up a hitchhiker before in my life because in the United States it can be very dangerous. But this guy looked pretty harmless, so we decided to help him out. He was a young man, a German citizen, and we had fun talking with him as we drove. Eventually we got out to eat and he decided to stay at a youth hostel that we just happened to park in front of.

We tried to do some shopping, but were unsuccessful because we found two basic types of gifts: the cheap junk that I wouldn’t be seen with and the expensive gifts that are multiple hundreds of dollars. Plus, we were still on a tight schedule. The problem was that we had to return to our castle hotel for our second night, and so we had to do a lot of extra driving back to Sligo that would otherwise have been unnecessary.

So we drove and drove on through the countryside, stopping at little sites along the way.

Finally I got tired and we stopped at a cute pub and ate dinner. We chatted with the bartender and he was very amusing. The food was fantastic.

We drove on through the evening and into the night until we finally reached our castle again. When we returned to the hotel, we sat in the bar there and drank hard cider called Bulmer’s (alcoholic) and talked with two couples, one from Boston and one from Ireland. It was a blast. We talked about many things. For example, about marriage and how people get married too young these days. And how in Ireland, it’s expected that the man goes to his wife’s family for holiday celebrations like Christmas and Easter, and not the husband's family.

The Americans were celebrating the fact that the Catholic mass they’d attended only lasted twenty-five minutes, whereas masses in the States were normally an hour and fifteen minutes long. They loved it, but they also felt as if they were being rushed through it.

The Irish couple, who acted like very devout Catholics indeed, said that it’s not the length of the service, it’s what you get out of it. If I understood them correctly, what they were saying is this: basically, you have to be responsible for what you take away from the mass. You can go there and take away nothing or you can pay attention and be involved and you can take away a lot of spirituality, and it’s basically on your shoulders, not the responsibility of the priest.

I asked the Irish couple if there was still a rift between the Catholics and the Protestants in Ireland, because in America, there are no problems and nobody cares; religious differences are almost expected and accepted there.

They told us that things were pretty relaxed now, with one exception: Apparently Protestant boys won’t even consider marrying a Catholic girl. That may have as much to do with the boy’s parents than anything else. Of course, the Catholic girls aren’t very happy about this, but that’s just the way Protestant boys are.

We also talked a little bit about ghosts. They told us there was supposedly a ghost in the castle; the spirit of a young girl who died on the premises. Sounds like two or three days ago, a team of paranormal investigators–ghost hunters–came into the castle and tried to research it. People have apparently said that the ghost has been most often seen in room 107, which is the room right next to ours: we’re staying in room 108. I definitely did not sense any ghosts though.

Before we knew it, it was 1:00 in the morning and we all decided to go to bed. After three drinks, I was quite sloshed and happy.

We trudged up the wide stone stairs up to our room, talking with the couples as we walked. The sounds of our voices echoed loudly off the stone walls. When we reached the second floor, a woman dressed in pajamas poked her head out of room 107 and gave us an angry look. Surely, this wasn’t the ghost, I told myself. Surely it was a hotel guest and we were making too much noise. Quietly, we excused ourselves and quietly went to our room.