Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Beast of Connemara

Most of the roads we drove on weren't even quite this roomy

All right, I’m going to try to do a series of short-ish posts on my recent trip, hopefully being less-stereotype reinforcing than the previous post.

Our ostensible purpose for visiting Ireland was so that Amynah could deliver a lecture at the University of Galway. Our real reason was to visit our friend Eilis, her husband Jim, their two insane dogs, and the as-yet-unnamed bump gestating within Eilis (so far nameless, Jim’s rendition of its voice has the thickest Limerick-accent you’ve ever heard, much to Eilis’ dismay).

In any case, other than Eilis and Jim, there were only two things that I wanted to do in Ireland – visit the benighted spot from which my ancestors fled during the Famine, and see Connemara.

Connemara is a wild, bleak land, just west of Galway, that somewhere back in paleohistory had been attached to Newfoundland. It’s also the corner of Ireland from where Eilis hails. When we met Eilis in Montreal, where she did her post-doc, she would often talk about the wonders of Connemara, with such wistfulness and longing that for the longest time I thought it was pronounced “Ah, Connemara… (sigh).”

Semi-artsy seaweed picture on a Connemara beach. We bumped into a professor from Eilis' university, and her cousin and sister out here, about an hour and a half away from Galway.

Years of anticipation did not really prepare us for the area. Sadly, I did not get any pictures of the most beautiful spots – massive mountains, bare but for the occasional sheep, looming over enormous loughs. Eilis and Jim were on a bit of a nostalgia kick themselves – they’d been married in the region only a year before, so were hitting the high spots for our benefit – the beach where they took photos, the chapel where the deed was done, the hotel where they had the reception.

At one point, I asked Jim if they got out to the area that much these days. Deadpan, he replied, “Well, not so much, as the weather’s been pretty bad for the last three years.”

At one point, we drove through a massive, desolate landscape, devoid of trees, fields, or even Ireland’s ubiquitous sheep. The incredibly rough roads and the previous night’s Guiness having their effect, I asked for a pause, ostensibly to take some photos, but really to settle my stomach.

Lair of the Leviathan

It turns out that we were in the Connemara Bog, home of the Connemara Bog Monster. What is the Connemara Bog Monster, you might ask? Well, according to local legend, the Bog Monster is Ireland’s answer to the Loch Ness Monster, a massive water serpent some 30 feet in length. Unlike in Scotland, where Nessie’s an industry unto herself, the locals in Connemara seem content to leave their monster be, and aren’t making many efforts to publicise her presence. I suspect they’d feel differently if their sheep started going missing.

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