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Connemara

Updated: Dec 19, 2021

We left the Aran Islands one morning on a fair wind for Rossaveel, a small bay near the entrance to Galway Bay. Rossaveel is a relatively unprepossessing place and sports a large ferry dock with some fishing boats and a new marina. It is a popular place (maybe the only place) from which to catch the ferry to the Aran Islands. We anchored outside the moorings and there was a convenient slipway to land the dinghy within rowing distance. On the moorings were a fleet of Galway Hookers, beautiful traditional fishing smacks in pristine restored condition. Sadly we didn't see them in action while we were there.


The Galway Hooker. Originally open deck boats that remind me of the Mullet boats in New Zealand and were built to the same purpose. With large amounts of sail area for speed, the fastest in got the best price for their fish. Extremely sturdy, these boats were built to withstand harsh, open Atlantic conditions ånd much heavier in comparison to Mullet boats are more lightly built.

Connemara is a place of rocks, even the locals say so, though they will probably say it Gaelic. It was very evident that Gaelic is very strong in this part of Ireland, in contrast to Cork. All signage was in Gaelic and sometimes also English. This area had no walks and according to the local girl I quizzed, no real attractions to visit except a "coral" beach. I got blank looks when asked about walking paths. I did a circuit to check out the area ending up in the village of Carraroe, the nearest to the boat.


The fat donkeys.
The old donkey. An old fella with a healthy, shiny hide sway back and friendly nature. He seemed content and had a nice young one to keep him company.
Donkeys are used to keep the grass down and preferred over sheep for this.

Along the way I found the fattest donkeys I had ever seen and the oldest donkey I had ever seen. The old donkeys owner informed me that he was over fifty years old and had belonged to his father. It seemed sad to me in that fifty-plus years no one deemed it necessary to give to poor fellow a name. The area is littered with small freshwater lochs in the peat and rock. Every house had a huge mound of peats waiting for the winter chills to set in. We had to stay in Rossaveel for a couple of extra days to get the passport so I took a bus into Galway to see the town. Galway Bay has some lovely beaches of white sand and clear blue-green water. It was a cool, grey day and not deterred by gloom or rain, people were swimming and enjoying the beaches as only the Irish can do. Galway is a charming little town, I enjoyed some much longed for shellfish and found a second hand copy of The Black Soul by Liam O'Flaherty who was an author that lived on Inishmore and wrote about the life there in his novels. The street music in Galway is among some the best I have experienced. Not wasting a trip to the big smoke I stocked up on specialty items at Tesco and humped the lot back to the bus in my backpack.


We weighed anchor in the warm light of the evening and set sail for Inishbofin. Inishbofin is an island north of Galway past Slyne Head, Aughrus Point and it's many islands—due west of Kilary Fjord, Irelands only Fjord. We sailed overnight running off under a reefed main in a fair breeze and a medium following sea. The dark settled in between the Aran Islands and a whole heap of shoals and rocks on the land side. I awoke to a light grey morning. We were right off our destination as we approached the harbour, it can be tricky with low areas at the entrance so best avoided in the dark. It was still early when we got the anchor down and launched the dinghy. I went ashore to explore and get the lay of the land.


Ironbark on anchor in the harbour, white sand beaches and pristine water.

The water was beautifully clear, the harbour small and beautiful with Cromwell's barracks, a ruin at the end near the entrance. Almost the first thing I noticed was the abundance of harakeke, the New Zealand native flax plant.


The church with it's huge amount of flax.

With very few (almost no) trees, this flax provides some protection as well as greenery. Inishbofin like the rest of Connemara is mostly rocks with gales that howl out of the open Atlantic and strike the island with huge waves (mostly in winter). This means that any tree has little chance of rising above a protective hillside. Nothing was open when I landed at the fishing pier, not a soul in sight though it was about 9AM.


The quayside road.

I started walking up the hill from the pier and got onto a high flat land area with a scattering of houses. I started to see signs of life but it appeared that no one rockets out into the early mornings, or judging by the few hungover visages I did encounter, there had been a bit of a party the night before. The sedate atmosphere shattered when I encountered a corncrake and her brood of half-grown chicks... a lucky sighting as they are rare and one of the main attractions for the many birders that visit the island. At the end of my walk I made my way around to the Community centre which was open by this time, to investigate the possibility of showers and laundry facilities. By the time the ferry arrived the village was awake and operational—a civilised pace of life.


The place name signage as seen all over the island, someone did a great job with this and it really reflects the island flavour.

At the community centre, I was greeted by the ever helpful Philippe who answered all my questions but regretted that the showers were off limits (Covid) though he would see what he could do. More sea bathing for me then... The Community centre is a hub and fantastic resource for visitors. During our too short stay in Inishbofin I was able to do a some design work, they even provided me with an office including chair, desk and wifi. I felt really at home. Such a welcoming and friendly place.


Always with an eye on procuring any local delicacy that I can afford, I had espied the two fishing boats going out in the morning and resolved to approach them to see if I could get any crab claws and whatever else they might have. When the first one came in and stopped near our anchorage to retrieve their holding pen, I quickly rowed over to have a chat. I don't think they are often approached by a woman rowing a large dinghy asking for seafood. I asked him how he fared today and he asked what I was after. I said I'd love some crab claws and he put a bucket in my hand and said "take what you want" where upon I took the bucket and said "oh thanks!" pretending to accept the whole bucket but then laughing at his surprise I said, "no... just joking!" I took a couple of handfuls and gave him back the bucket. He asked me if I wanted fish and I said, sure.. after which he started chucking fish into the dinghy. I had to stop him and put all but one back because having no refrigeration, I could only take what could be eaten for dinner or breakfast the next day. I then put an order in for a lobster for the following day. They wanted no money for the crab and fish they gave me and said I should just pay for the lobster the following day, truly generous and very decent fishermen.

Crab claws out of pristine waters, fresh and sweet.

The crab was delicious. I steamed them lightly and made a chorizo-butter dipping sauce with some fresh parsley. I served it with colcannon (mashed potato cooked with chopped kale, garlic, butter and cream). We made a real mess, the shells were very thick and had to use pliers to crack them open. Sometimes the claws would slip, shooting across the cabin and in the end there were bits everywhere, thoroughly worth the effort. I cured the fish fillets and we had them fried for breakfast the next day. It was a light flakey fish but didn't have much flavour, better suited to a curry or something highly flavoured.


Mystery fish, I didn't catch the name.
Before his drink of rum and hot bath, (almost) too beautiful to eat.

The next day we collected the lobster and received a couple of mackerel thrown into the bargain. Mackerel is one of my favourite fish. If you pour a little rum (or whiskey) into the lobster gills it will immobilise it so that you can easily put it in the pot. Understandably, the lobster being alive prefers not to go into the pot and it can be quite distressing to have to keep shoving them in as they try and crawl out. We flipped him on his back and gave him a tiny bit of rum which immediately acted to stop his movements. I don't know how it works, but it certainly made it less distressing for both me and the lobster. He went into boiling sea water for 6 minutes which rendered him bright red and perfectly cooked. Fantastic. After our feast we went to the pub in the hopes that this island of musicians would come out and play.


A striking change to red.

The pub was a buzz but it wasn't until later that two fiddlers and a guitar started playing. We saw John who had earlier paid us a visit on IB3 from his boat Sullivan John and we found ourselves in lively conversation with locals and visitors for the evening, a fun nights entertainment out with lovely people.


We lamented that we were needing to press on north because we both felt so welcome and enjoyed the island so much. Inishbofin is a place I hope to revisit some day.


The approach to Kilary and little Kilary

The next day we weighed anchor early and headed over to Little Kilary on the mainland for the night. The coast area around Clifden and the Kilary harbours is truly stunning. Dramatic mountains, lochs, forests, white sand beaches and that crystal clear, green, green water. I made a mental note to return at the earliest opportunity, by sea or by land. We anchored in little Kilary and went for a walk in the afternoon sunshine, it was a beautiful day and a peaceful night. The next morning we headed out, starting our passage to Scotland.


Little Kilary harbour
Overlooking the anchorage
One of many lochs with lazy beds and peat cuttings

With few all weather anchorages between Kilary and Scotland, and the time getting short, we opted to sail direct from here. We had a decent weather window for the next several days, and while not brilliant sunshine we had a fair wind and that was all that we really needed. There was much discussion as to where we should head. The approaches to Scotland are the start of strong currents and uneven seabed that can kick up a mean sea and standing waves in certain conditions. We settled into a routine that seemed to work best: Trevor sailing the nights and me the days when he would sleep. We expected the trip to last between 3 to 5 days with the possibility of it taking longer, though unlikely. After the first night at sea I awoke to foggy, drizzly, grey dawn with poor visibility just passing Achill Head and entering Donegal Bay. We were running off under a reefed main sail in a moderate breeze and steep-ish wind against tide chop. We also had the usual Atlantic swell. The boat was moving comfortably but I opted to stay inside out of the wind and drizzle. Every so often I stuck my head out to make sure there was nothing alarming in our path. One of these times I was standing in the cockpit and looked behind to see a row of dolphins launching themselves out of the wave behind us at eye level—an unusual perspective. IB3 moves like a log through the water so this kind of swell/chop was not uncomfortable, I made good progress on knitting my Irish colourwork sweater. The boat movement was enough to make photos impossible and then it was just sea all around so not much to photograph.


Eventually we sailed out of the tide and wind then it all calmed down and we moved very slowly through the night. The next day we left Ireland behind and had decided to head for Tobermory on the island of Mull (inner Hebrides) to check in. It was difficult to really know what would be required of us when we entered Scotland so we opted for a place where we could quarantine on the boat if need be but also check in and do anything they required. We continued with fair winds across the sea between Northern Ireland and Scotland, not seeing much boat traffic (surprise) and sailing around potential danger areas. I was very thankful for such a blessedly uneventful passage thus far. It was a pivotal moment when we started receiving the Stornoway coastguard weather reports on the VHF, though we couldn't yet see Scotland. The next morning I awoke in the predawn to noises of tacking and feet on the deck and I knew we must be close to our destination.


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