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My "Best of Ireland" Tour Journal

Chapter 7: Sligo to Galway

At this point in our tour I must have finally tired of taking notes as I found nothing in my journal when I returned. Therefore, the information in the last two chapters is taken from our ever-handy reference guide - Lonely Planet - Ireland.

WESTPORT (Cathair na Mairt)
Westport, on the River Carrowbeg is one of the prettiest little towns you'll find anywhere. The present Westport House was built on the site of an O'Malley castle, which was once surrounded by about 60 hovels and the original settlement of Westport. These were moved when the house was planned, and the Brownes, who came here from Sussex during the reign of Elizabeth I, even had the course of the river altered to make the Mall a grand approach to the gates of the house. This wasn't entirely successful, as the Mall is still subject to occasional flooding.
Connemara (Conamara) is the wonderfully wild, barren region north-west of Galway city. It's a stunning patchwork of bogs, lonely valleys, pale grey mountains and small lakes that shimmer when the sun shines. At its heart are the Maumturk Mountains and the grey, quartzite peaks of the Twelve Bens (or pins) which offer some tremendous hill walking. The trip north along Lough Inagh Valley past the Twelve Bens and around Kylemore Lake would be difficult to surpass anywhere in the country.

The 19th century Kylemore Abbey was built for a wealthy English businessman, Mitchell Henry, after he had spent his honeymoon in Connemara and had fallen in love with the region. During WWI, a group of Benedictine nuns left Ypres in Belgium and eventually set up in Kylemore, turning the place into an abbey. Today, the nuns run an exclusive convent boarding school there.

Galway, one of Europe's fastest growing cities, ranks 4th in size in Ireland after Dublin, Cork and Limerick. It is the administrative capital of the county, and home to the local government.

Galway is a gateway to Connemara and the west, as it sits at the southern tip of Lough Corrib, which forms a natural border to the region. The city is also a handy base for exploring the Burren in County Clare, which begins some 30km. south.

Galway grew from a small fishing village in the Claddagh area at the mouth of the River Corrib to become an important walled town when the Anglo-Normans, under Richard de Burgo (or de Burgh or Burke) captured territory from the local O'Flahertys in 1232. In 1396, Richard II granted a charter to the city, which effectively transferred power from the de Burgos to 14 merchant families or "tribes". This led to the name "City of the Tribes", by which Galway is still known. These powerful families were mostly English or Norman in origin, and clashes with the leading Irish families of Connemara were frequent.

It is said that Christopher Columbus' side trip to Galway supposedly occured because one of the crew was a Galway man or because Columbus wished to investigate tales of St. Brendan's earlier voyage to the America's from here.

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