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Wow, I can’t believe I am at Day 70 already; that means I will be home a week from tonight!

Today Eric and I woke up and packed before going downstairs for the second “B” from our B&B.  Seawinds B&B in Na Cealla Beaga (Killybegs) is owned by Gerald and Patricia, a lovely Irish couple, he from the Aran Islands and a fluent speaker of Irish, she a native of County Donegal and a very good speaker herself.  Over tea, coffee, eggs, bacon, sausage, potato waffles and grilled tomatoes, we discussed my strange obsession with Ireland and the four years I have spent learning the language for no good reason.  I got to speak a little and hear more, which was thrilling in a way that you just have to understand, to understand.  Then we were off for a bit of a haul down from the north to the middle of the west coast.  On our way out of town we admired the red-and-white-festooned town, geared and giddy for today’s game against Na Gleannta which they’ll probably lose due to two major injuries last week, but they’re still going in whole hog.

The Gaelic Athletic Association organizes Irish Football, which is a cross between hurling, European football and rugby, or so I hear.  Each parish in the country has its own club (team) which to me feels very tribal and clan-like.  Very fitting for this country.

A quick drive down the road was Donegal Town, where we stopped briefly to tour the Donegal Castle.  Built in the 15th century by Red Hugh O’Connell (don’t you love that name?) it was the seat of Tír Chonaill (the land of the O’Connells) until the British stomped old Red and sent him packing to Spain.  This was my first visit to a castle ruins and it was really…well, cool!

Just out of Donegal Town we turned a corner and like magic the landscape changed from harsh rocky country to the lush green patchwork farmland seen in posters and postcards of Ireland.  We left County Donegal and over the next three hours drove through Counties Sligo and Mayo, finally reaching County Galway and the unspeakably gorgeous Connemara region and then, our stop in the village of An Líonán (Leenane).  The drive was beautiful, but the pinnacle is truly our humble hostel, Sleepzone Connemara, situated a half-kilometer off the road in wild woodland, perched just above An Caoláire Rua (the Killary), Ireland’s only fjord.  The sun is going down now, but Eric and I just enjoyed a self-cooked meal in the dining room of the hostel, with a panorama of the sunset over the fjord.

Hostels are a great way to save money not only on lodging but on food, if you want to make your own meals.  All hostels have a very usable kitchen stocked with all the basics, while the fridge usually boasts a box of free food left by previous hostelers.  Tonight we enjoyed roast chicken, local mixed greens, some cornichons and mature Irish cheddar (I did have a square or two as it’s my very favorite cheese) from the free food box, and a bit of gluten-free bread with honey for me, a teensy bit of Ben & Jerry’s with local Irish cream for Eric.  And the sunset.  Seriously.

This afternoon we also got to visit the Kylemore Abbey, itself perched between a mountain and a lake, a beautiful castle which even today is home to a group of Benedictine nuns.  We decided not to pay the rather high entrance fee to see inside – no matter, the outside is stunning all by itself!

Tomorrow morning we hope to wake early enough for a hike along the fjord before we head out to catch our noon ferry from Ros a Mhíl (Rossaveal) to Inis Mór (Inishmore), the largest of the Aran Islands.  I am very excited to visit this island!  In college I designed costumes for a production of Riders to the Sea, and had the pleasure of researching the dress of the island fishermen and their families.  It definitely deepened my love for the country, and I have wanted to visit there ever since.

A quick word about my use of the Irish names for towns: yes, it’s because I’m a geek and love the language, but also because the names actually make sense in their Irish form.  The stupid Brits came over and just slapped phonetic names on all the towns, not caring what the names actually meant!  Rossaveal, for instance, is just a silly sounding name until  you translate it and learn that it means “peninsula of the sea monster”.  Donegal sounds whimsical enough, but Dún na nGall, “fort of the foreigners”, speaks to its history as a Viking settlement in the 8th and 9th centuries.  Galway’s Irish name is Gaillimh, meaning “stony river”.   An Caoláire Rua (Killary fjord) means “reddish narrow sea inlet”, a perfect description of this spot where the peat’s slightly reddish color seeps into the spring water, giving us a slightly brown-tinged bit of drink.  Geesh.  But see what I mean?  Okay, I’ll stop now.  But I think it’s cool.

Oiche mhaith ó An Caoláire Rua (good night from the Killary fjord)!