Driving from Dingle up to Galway, we decided to make a stop at the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s most popular tourist destination. Of course, we knew that this would likely entail lots of people but, just the same, it wasn’t far out of the way and we didn’t want to miss it.
We arrived at the cliffs at around 2:00 which is, I think, THE most popular and crowded time of day to stop. The skies had threatened rain all day and, just about the time we arrived, so did the rain. We inched our way through lines of cars into the parking lot and walked toward the attraction in windy, gusty, horizontal rain. We almost turned back on the way from the parking lot but decided that we were closer to the visitor center than we were to our car so we would at least see the informational film about the cliffs.
Walking out of the visitor center 20 minutes later, it was as though we were in the eye of the hurricane. The winds had calmed and the rain had stopped. Great! We hiked up to the top of the viewing area and then, of course, the eye of the hurricane passed and we were once again in the gusts of wind and rain.
Until recent times, the Cliffs of Moher viewing area lacked any sort of guard rail – visitors could literally walk to the edge of the cliff and several times, people fell off, losing their balance in high wind, or jumped to their deaths. It is said that the lack of guard rail represented certain Darwinian beliefs on the part of the Irish. All I can say is that I am glad we were protected from being blown off the cliff. We took a few quick snapshots and took our rain-soaked selves back to the car to drive down to Galway.
On to Galway
We reached Galway late in the afternoon and were greeted by torrential rain and street flooding. We managed to find and get to our apartment, located on Eyre Square, a lovely green space right in the heart of town. The rain continued throughout the evening. Oddly, however, it was not accompanied by thunder or lightning. I had frozen a generous amount of our Chinese take-out leftovers from the night before and taken it with us in the car so, rather than go out, we reheated the Chinese leftovers and opened a bottle of wine and that was supper.
The rain abated overnight, but the outside streets were noisy. Around midnight there were two men right below our window arguing loudly about something and later a group of students or maybe a hen (bachelorette) party serenaded the city after closing down the pubs.
We were startled awake early the next morning to the sound of a fire alarm in our building. This is never a welcome sound but is even less so if you are sleeping on the third floor of an old and rundown building. We made our way out of our apartment and into the hall and the French family next door told us that there was no fire but that leaking water in their unit had shorted something out and set off the alarm. I went back into our apartment and got out earplugs, then went downstairs. It was raining furiously outside, so the option of walking across the street to the Starbucks had limited appeal. We waited about 45 minutes and, finally, someone came to disable the fire alarm. We returned to our apartment to find water coming in through the light fixtures in the ceiling, literally raining in our apartment. Eventually, we were told that the ‘leaks had been fixed’ which we took to mean that a few buckets had been strategically placed in the attic. The morning was pretty much ruined, however. We had registered for a 10:00 class on making scones and brown bread through Airbnb but we couldn’t really get ready to go because of the chaos, and the Airbnb host taking our towels to clean up water eliminated the possibility of a shower. For the rest of the morning we could hear fire alarms going off in buildings all over town. In Ireland, they don’t often get the kind of rain we do in Louisiana or Georgia.
Meanwhile, back to the scones and brown bread class
We were able to reschedule our class to make scones and brown bread for a time later in the afternoon. We were excited about the class, as we had been eating scones since early June when we arrived in Scotland, and the brown soda bread is a perennial on the menu for every restaurant in Ireland. Often, our lunch was the hearty seafood chowder that seemed to be on all the menus, accompanied by fresh brown soda bread.
We drove the thirty minutes to the home of Kate, our instructor, arriving just a few minutes late. Kate is a trim blonde, probably in her early sixties. She is warm, ebbulient, and just a little bit bossy. When we arrived, she was finishing up a class for a family of four, two parents and their daughters who are from Israel but are now living in NYC. Clearly no stranger to multi-tasking, Kate wasted no time in getting us started on our breadmaking, while helping the other family finish their class.
John opted to make orange and cranberry scones; I chose the lavender. The secret to making light and fluffy scones, we learned, starts with mixing the butter in with the (self-rising) flour. The butter was very soft, but not melted – about as soft as it would be if you left it out for several hours. Butter was mixed with the fingers, both hands, very thoroughly, being careful to sort of “fluff” the mixture to ensure lightness. Wet ingredients followed (see recipe at the end of the blog) and then the dough was ready for light kneading. The kneading and cutting was the exact same technique I have used to make biscuits for all these years. After cutting and brushing with an egg wash, the scones were ready to go into the oven. Next we started on the brown bread. Kate helped us in the process, occasionally throwing an ingredient in that she deemed, from experience, to be the right amount of something. We popped the batter into small pans and sat down with Kate in the kitchen to wait.
As we chatted waiting for the bread to bake, we learned more about our cooking teacher. Kate had once owned a fine-dining restaurant in the popular Spanish Arch section of Galway but had closed it and now owns Kate’s Café in Oranmore, which is open for breakfast and lunch only, every day except Sunday. She teaches three different cooking classes through Airbnb: the Brown Bread and Scones class (her most popular), an Irish Stew class, and an Irish Coffee and Apple Pie class. She also rents out bedrooms in her house on Airbnb and actually serves breakfast to her Airbnb guests. In her spare time (and we wondered how she has any) she rides century rides (100k) on her bicycle and practices yoga. Oh, and she has a beautiful garden that must require many hours of work.
When the bread was ready, we sat together and tasted it. The scones were the lightest we had had in our travels and were delicious. The brown bread was also excellent. We sat and talked and laughed with Kate for well over an hour. She was fun and funny and had some great stories about people in her classes and Airbnb guests. One of the most enjoyable aspects of travel for us is getting to know people along the way.
The next morning we headed off to Inishmore or Inis Mor in Gaelic, the largest of the Aran Islands. The trip involved a bus ride of about an hour to Ros a Mhil Harbor, then another hour on the ferry to the village of Kilronan. I had visited Inishmore sixteen years ago with Mary and Chris, my two youngest children, when they were 13 and 10 respectively. We were there on a cool, overcast, and blustery day in early June. We rented bikes and, after we got beyond Kilronan, we scarcely saw another human all day. We visited a sandy beach, some ruins of a church, and had a little picnic. On the way back to the ferry, the headwinds were strong and the riding was hard for the kids. What I remember most about the day was concern that we would not make it back for the return ferry, meaning we would have been stranded on the island until the next morning.
The day John and I were there, we were joined by throngs of other visitors. After the heavy rains of the previous days, we had a perfectly gorgeous day and people flocked to this outing. The ferry over was packed and, once the boat was unloaded, everyone swarmed the three bicycle rental outlets in Kilronan, or found a minivan or horse and carriage tour. We found bikes to rent and, instead of moving with the crowd to ride down the island, we stopped for a lunch of seafood chowder and brown bread at Joe Watty’s Bar and Restaurant and let the crowds pass. We had a beautiful day of riding and, as I had sixteen years prior, we enjoyed the ruins of the church and the sandy beach, plus a seal colony. What I hadn’t known about on my last visit was that there is an impressive Bronze Age fort, Dun Aonghasa, just beyond the sandy beach on the other side of the island. It’s set on a cliff that is just over a football field in height. Over the years the dramatic weather on the Irish Coast has worn away much of the original fort. We’re not sure how many people get blown into the sea from the worn away fort’s edge, but there is nothing there resembling a guard rail to prevent this from happening.
There are other things to see on Inishmore as well, but we were mindful of catching our ferry back for the two-hour journey back to downtown Galway.
In the end, we only had two days in Galway and really didn’t end up going to any of the visitor attractions. We also missed a highly recommended local food tour and didn’t hear any traditional music. But we did learn to make brown bread and some pretty great scones. And here are the recipes:
Kate’s Fruit Scones
4 oz self-rising flour
A pinch of baking powder
1 oz Caster sugar
1 oz of raising (can use other fruits instead)
1 oz butter or margarine, softened
1 egg lightly beaten
About 3 tablespoons of milk (may need a little more or less)
1 egg beaten with 1 T water for egg wash
- Mix dry ingredients
- Add in butter and mix thoroughly with fingers
- Add egg and milk; mix lightly until dough forms (do NOT overmix)
- Remove from bowl to floured surface and knead several times; flatten to about 2 inches and cut with scone cutter (or you can use an appropriately-sized juice or wine glass)
- Brush with egg wash, bake on baking tray at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes
Kate’s Brown Bread
6 oz. of coarse brown flour
2 oz of plain white flour
½ t. of salt
1 heaping t. of baking soda
1 dessert spoon of sunflower oil
1 oz. oatmeal
¾ cup of buttermilk
- Mix dry ingredients
- Add buttermilk, egg, and oil and mix with wooden spoon. Mixture should be a batter consistency
- Grease two, 1 lb. loaf pans and equally divide mixture, Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees