Today was a great day…even though by 1300 it was raining pretty steadily and we had to accomplish a lot of today’s goals in the rain. No matter…we had rain gear so all was good.
After breakfast we headed out for our first stop…which was the location of the transmission site for the original transatlantic radio signal by Marconi back in 1901. Guegliemo Marconi established a transmission station at nearby Clifden and started testing transmissions. On 12 Dec 1901 he successfully had a signal received by a kite borne antenna at Signal Hill in Saint John’s, Newfoundland. I mis-spoke last night when we said we had been at the other end already…where we actually were previously was at his station on Cape Cod, MA where he established the first successful ongoing transatlantic radiotelegraphic service…this was set up a couple of years after the original transmission. Still though…we felt like seeing the transmission site here would connect the dots on both ends of the transatlantic link.
We headed south towards Roundstone and turned off onto Bog Road (so named because it runs through the bogs)…we didn’t have an exact location for the site but were going by a notation on a tourist map. After 12 kilometers or so we got into Clifden without spotting the site so we figured that we had missed it somehow. Since the museum in town for the station didn’t open until 1100 we continued on to our next scheduled stop at Connemara National Park. We did get a couple of moody foggy shots of the Twelve Bens (this comes from the Gaelic word Binns which means mountain) which are some closely packed peaks in the area.
We arrived at Connemara National Park…on the way over we figured out that we’ve seen 4 of the 6 National Parks in Ireland…we’ve seen Connemara, Burren, Killarney, and Wicklow. The remaining two are both up north and we’ll get those later in the week so we’ll have a clean sweep of all of them. National Parks here are a lot different from the ones back in the US…usually just a small visitor center and a very few marked hikes; they’re also a lot smaller and not contiguous like the ones back home are. The park service here buys up what land they can when creating one but private landowners still own chunks of property inside the boundaries. They are more like state parks back home than our national parks. Connemara National Park is largely composed of peat bogs which in days past were harvested for fire fuel. Peat is kind of a cross between moss and mulch and is formed by compression of layers of dead vegetation. It’s cut into blocks and dried and then it’s hard but relatively light. It lights readily and burns steadily so given the relative lack of trees here it was an obvious choice for fuel.
On the way to the park we transited another section of the Wild Atlantic Way…this is a 1,200 kilometer stretch of road right along the coast here…all small roads but lots of sea views and high cliffs. This particular portion was known as Sky Road and we drove for an hour or so right on the edge of the cliff around a couple of small headlands right in the Clifden area. Nice views all around. We also continued our sampling of the goat track roads in Ireland…we thought we had found a winner with this one that has grass growing out of the road…usually that’s a great sign that it’s not too great of a road. No photos from Connemara NP as there wasn’t much to see unless you went hiking and by this time it had gone from mostly cloudy to off and on drizzle. Shortly after we left the park we spotted a place where some peat had been harvested. You can see in the photo below the cut face where it was harvested (it’s usually in a layer 6 to 15 feet thick) and then stacked up on end on top of the bank in teepee shaped piles to dry.
Our next stop was at the Kellary Fjord. For those of you who don’t know what a fjord is…it’s a long arm of the sea that penetrates inland. While we were sitting there watching it and having lunch (chips and M&M’s) we tried to decide what the difference between a river mouth which gradually widens into the sea and a fjord was. About the best guesses we could come up with were that a river gradually widens out whereas if a river dumps into a fjord it widens in a much more dramatic manner. Along with that you look along the sides of the fjord and if the tidal action of the ocean exposes mudflats then it’s a fjord whereas a river might have some tidal action but usually doesn’t have exposed riverbed at low tide. The first shot is looking down the fjord toward the ocean…and you can see several deep gashes in the far side in the second photo with trees growing in them.
From there we were off to Kylemore Abbey and by the time we got there it was raining pretty steadily. The abbey was originally a castle purchased and built by a wealthy American when his daughter married an English Earl. After their deaths and a series of owners the property was purchased by the Benedictine Sisters in 1920 for use as an abbey and girl’s school. The school closed in 2010 but the abbey is still mostly occupied by the sisters. We did get to see a few rooms on the first floor, followed by a visit to the church on the property that was constructed as a monument to his wife by the Earl after she died on a trip to Egypt. Then it was off to the restored walled Victorian Garden that is also on the property.
By this time it was up to a pretty decent rain so we decided to blow off the extended woodlands portion of the garden and went back to the car. While we were catching our breath, having some more M&Ms, and a diet coke Connie happened to look up on the hillside above the abbey…and there he was…Touchdown Jesus!! Score.
Since it was raining pretty hard we decided to call it a day and headed home. On the way the it slowed to a drizzle so we decided to give one more search for both the Marconi radio site and also the nearby landing site of Alcock and Brown…who completed the first nonstop transatlantic flight in June 1919 in a modified WWI Vickers Vimy bomber. After completing their flight at an average speed of 115 miles per hour they landed in what they thought was a field…but it turned out to be a peat bog so they came to a very sudden stop when the landing gear sunk. They were able to repair their aircraft and continue on however.
We went again down the Bog road with (once again) no success. At the end, instead of turning right into Clifden we decided to go the other way and not a mile up the road spotted a sign for the Alcock and Brown memorial so we headed up there figuring we would get at least one of the two. On the way down the Bog Road we did see this guy trout fishing in the river in a style known as Beat Fishing. Each anger gets a portion of the bank assigned to him and only him and he’s free to walk his beat in search of the best fishing spot. Since a lot of Irishmen ended up as NYC or Boston cops after they emigrated…and since cops in those days tended to walk their assigned patrol zones…this was the source for the expression that a cop walks his beat. This guy has to be a serious fisherman…it was pouring rain by this time and he was out there having a great time. He is pulling in a fish here but Neil didn’t get a shot as he pulled it out right onto the bank behind the grass.
Here’s the Alcock and Brown memorial. It’s about 20 feet high and is a mile or so from the landing site on top of a hill…no idea why they put it here.
We headed down from there and were bound for Clifden for beer and dinner and all of a sudden spotted a sign that said Alcock and Brown landing site off to our right. On turning into the road Neil then spotted a sign that said (in little letters) Marconi Station Site…so we essentially stumbled onto both of these. Heading down the road we went about 300 yards and got to a closed gate. We almost turned around until we spotted a sign that said “Please close gate, livestock on mountain.”…so decided that we could go in as long as we closed the gate. Connie opened and closed it and we headed through and sure and behold about a mile down the road we reached the location of both events.
I gotta tell ya…this road is the new first place holder in the Irish Goat Track Road standings. Heck, it’s actually got goats on it (well, they’re sheep…but that’s almost a goat). This thing was about 3 feet wider than our car is and passing another car would be impossible as there were drop offs on both sides most of the mile or so we were on it.
Here’s the second Alcock and Brown marker along with a shot of the field about 500 meters away where they actually landed. In addition to the rain…it was blowing 20 knots or so up here so with the damp it was really pretty nippy. Connie was glad she was bundled up.
Finally, a couple of shots of the station plaque that was placed there by Princess Elettra Marconi Giovanelli (Marconi’s daughter) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the event along with some shots of the foundations for the transmitter towers. Not much left of them…but we thought it was way cooler than going to the museum in town…heck, anybody can do that but ya gotta be an adventurer to head down the sheep track gravel road in the rain then tromp through the heather to reach the site.
With that done…we decided we had earned our beers again today so we headed back down the goat track, through the gate, and into Clifden where we stopped at Mannion’s Pub for a couple pints each along with potato/mushroom soup for Connie and a caramelized onion and goat cheese tart for Neil. Both were pretty good…then we headed back to the castle for a dram of Jameson, some cookies, and sat by the warm fireplace.
Tomorrow we’re off to Sligo with a couple of planned stops on the way…the Knock shrine and Clonalis House…this was the seat of government for the O’Connor clan who ruled the area. Turns out Neil is distantly related to either the Connors or the O’Connors so he’s claiming some Irish royal heritage now. Connor and O’Connor are sort of like being named John Smith over here though…so that must might mebbe be a stretch.