The Irish Life Experience left for Galway on Saturday morning-bright and early. The wonderful, Brian Farrell from Burren Coaches, picked us up and we were delighted to see him. He is a treasured friend of the ILE and is absolutely wonderful. He does a fantastic job guiding the students around the west of Ireland.

We arrived into Galway in the afternoon-while listening to Steve Earle’s Galway Girl to set the mood-and gave the students their food stipend for the next few days. After they got the apartments situated at Gort na Coiribe and were settled, they had free time to wander across the road to Dunne’s-where they would do their grocery shopping for the week. When they returned, many of them made delicious meals for each other. Spaghetti and meatballs, grilled cheese, and scones-were just some of the items on the menu that evening. Zoe made a delicious Italian feast, while Jenny said she can’t wait to whip up a lemon chicken and angel hair pasta dish. Taryn knows what apartment she will be visiting in the next few days;).

After the long travel day, students were in bed early before their first tour during the Galway portion. We left for Connemara on Sunday for a few wee hours and left with many memories to treasure. Our first stop was a brief photo opportunity at Kylemore Abbey. Kylemore is a Benedictine monastery founded in 1920 on the grounds of Kylemore Castle. The Abbey was founded for Benedictine Nuns who fled Belgium in World War I.

Prior to Kylemore becoming an Abbey, it was built as a Castle and private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy politician from Manchester, England who was also MP for Galway County from 1871 to 1885.

The Castle covered approximately 40,000 square feet with over 70 rooms and the principal wall was two to three feet thick. The facade measured 142 feet in length and is made of granite brought from Dalkey by sea to Letterfrack and limestone from Ballinasloe. There were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, ballroom, billard room, library, study, school room, smoking room, gun room and various offices and domestic staff residences for the butler, cook, housekeeper and other servants.

In 1920, Kylemore became an Abbey and is the oldest of the Irish Benedictine Abbeys. The community of nuns, who have resided here for 189 years, have a long history stretching back almost three hundred and forty years. Founded in Ypres, Belgium, in 1665, the purpose of the Abbey at Ypres was to provide an education and religious community for Irish women during times of persecution here in Ireland. Down through the centuries, Ypres Abbey attracted the daughters of the Irish nobility, both as students and postulants, and enjoyed the patronage of many influential Irish families living in exile.

Here the nuns opened an international boarding school and established a day school for local girls, which closed in June 2010. Since the 70’s, the Benedictine Community have opened their Abbey and Estate to the public and now Kylemore has become known as a must see when visiting the West of Ireland.

Next was a lunch break in the quaint town of Clifden. Students enjoyed meandering through the streets and MC and Zoe did an impromptu modeling shoot with their matching pink wellies. Epic!

The final stop was Dan O’Hara Heritage Center. Built on the site of the original cottage home of Dan from Connemara-renowned in the popular Irish ballad all over the world.

Along with his wife and seven children, Dan lived in this tiny cottage and the family were self-sufficient even in times when poverty stalked most other areas of Ireland in the early 1840’s.

On the eight acre farm the O’Hara family had their own crops, they had the usual array of farm animals as well as ducks and hens around the farmyard.

The turf for the fire was also cut in the local bog by Dan, and in the flickering firelight of Dan O’Hara’s kitchen many a marriage stemmed from relationships developing into romance at the Ceili dances in this Connemara kitchen which was the the Ballroom of Romance of another era.

But the tranquillity was suddenly shattered by the dreaded “battering ram” and the landlord who laid his old home low when Dan was unable to pay the exorbitant rent demanded by his superiors after it was discovered he had modernized his little home in 1845.

Dan, his wife and seven young children had to abandon their homeland and work for their passage on an emigrant ship bound for New York. Sadly his wife and three of their children died on that terrible journey.

With his four children fostered out to American families, Dan was a broken man selling matches on the streets of New York-a far cry from the tranquillity that his family had enjoyed in scenic Connemara.

Now the cottage has been restored to it’s past glory. Irish Life Experience students were invited to step back into the past in this traditional Dan O’Hara cottage and the music, merriment and memories of another era came floating back in their mind’s eye.

Martin, our wonderful host, took the students on a tractor ride to soak in the gorgeous views of Connemara, showed them how to cut turf, told them about Dan O’Hara, sang a few wee songs, and challenged them to a tug-a-war. Angie’s team ended up winning. Only by default, since she convinced them to drop the rope after a few minutes into the war. Students even had a horseshoe throwing contest, and Molly won the grand prize of delicious Irish chocolates for getting TWO horseshoes around a stake.

It was a great day for the ILE!