On Saturday (24th of Sept) we wandered around Galway City for a bit after breakfast to check out the area around the St. Nicholas church.  We knew the town was going to be busy celebrating the Oyster Festival though, so we had already planned to ditch the crowds and venture west toward the beautiful Connemara peninsula and circle around the big lake there — the Lough Corrib, that is.  The landscape along the way was absolutely beautiful, highlighted by quality visits to two amazing castles.  There was no sign of Oyster Festival revelers, but there were plenty of sheep dotting the mountain sides and lake shore to keep us company.

“Iron Fence of St. Nicholas” ~ Built in the 1300s, the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas is an Anglican church located in the heart of Galway. It's the largest medieval parish church in Ireland that has been in continuous use as a place of worship. (click for prints)

Fresh produce, crafts and other goods were being sold along the perimeter of St. Nicholas church.

The Lynch Memorial Window is embedded in stone with skull & crossbones to mark the spot where 16th Century Mayor of Galway James Lynch FitzStephen condemned his own son to death after the son had confessed to murder.

Another shot of the Lynch Memorial Window, cool!

After a short drive from Galway City, we arrived to the entrance to Aughnanure Castle. The lucky horse - aka Prince Lucky Arse - is standing on reclaimed land, as the small bridge just in front of the gatehouse originally crossed over water.

"The Watch Tower" ~ A small watch tower marks the outside corner of the inner bawn of Aughnanure Castle in County Galway, Ireland. Remnants of the outer wall still stand in the distance, while a small portion of the castle frames the right side of this photograph. Built around 1500, the castle is intact, with its six stories still standing prominently on the banks of the Drimneen River. The watch tower is about 15' (5m) in diameter. It can be seen in the distance in the entrance photo above, as well as in the drawing below. (click for prints)

Artistic rendering showing what the grounds of Aughnanure Castle looked like in the 1500s. The watch tower closest to the castle is the one shown in the photo above.

Silly mushrooms growing on the doorway of the watch tower at Aughnanure Castle. Dumb ‘shrooms.

"Castle by the River" ~ Aughnanure Castle stands tall on the opposite side of the modest Drimneen River in County Galway, Ireland. (click for prints)

"Castle through the Leaves" ~ Aughnanure Castle amongst silhouetted foliage in County Galway, Ireland. (click for prints)

Danyell found the castles to be quite extraordinary, as did I. But I was a bit disturbed at how much the Murder Holes absolutely fascinated her. I believe her response was something like... "Holy shit, who needs ADT when you can have a murder hole! I want one of these in our house!" So let this be a warning to you all... Danyell is intruder-intolerant!

Actual Murder Hole above the front entry of the castle, covered by wire mesh so Danyell doesn't hurt any tourists.

Danyell pretending to be an intruder who has survived the front entry Murder Hole only to meet her imaginary demise through a kill hole in the walls of the castle stairway. This is also the same look she gives when asked to organize her closet.

Welcome, minions!

This is my castle, bitches! I shall stand on my perch looking distinguished.

Architectural porn. The castle roof was restored in the 1960s. The castle was declared a National Monument a decade earlier.

Danyell was also fascinated with this castle diagram which shows what goes on in a castle. I'm pretty certain we could have figured out what to do in the pooper without this. Someone was a bit of an over achiever with this creation. But being an engineer, I can totally appreciate the detail!

Shamrocks! They may look normal, but these shamrocks were on the grounds of Aughnanure Castle, so they’re fertilized with royal fairy dust. Or maybe the fertilizer was produced as shown in the diagram above...

Prince Lucky Arse in his humble pasture fenced in by ancient stone

Prince Lucky Arse munching on fancy grass

Prince Lucky Arse showing off his royal gallop. Spotlight hog!

Knighted by Queen Danyell as “Sir Roams Alone”, this castle doggie apparently got his grey fur from the same shop as the horsy. How embarrassing! The very hospitable Sir Roams Alone escorted us all the way back to our car. We bid our farewells in the parking lot, with a very original downward dog bow.

We made an executive linguistic decision during the trip that an individual sheep shall henceforth be called a "shoop". This here shoop just walked straight into traffic during our drive between castles. Bah-ah-ah-ah-ahd sheep! And, he couldn't walk a straight line. Must've just had a sip of whiskey. Silly shoopaholic.

Beautiful landscape with sheep along this route! Just down the road from the shoop above.

"Ashford Castle" ~ The oldest portion of the castle was built in 1228, followed by major expansions in 1715, 1852, and most recently in 1970. Ownership has passed through many hands including the Guinness family's before being turned into a luxury resort by Irish-American investors in 1985. (click for prints and to see it BIG)

A nice peek of the Lough Corrib appears through the watch tower windows at Ashford Castle<

Mrs. Huggard’s Walk – named after previous castle owners – dips under Ashford Castle’s curtain walls to connect the castle grounds to the manicured lawns on the lakeside of Lough Corrib.

“Ashford Tricolour “ ~ As viewed from beyond the curtain wall, the Irish tricolour flies atop the west wing of Ashford Castle in County Mayo, Ireland. (click for prints)

The architect did a fabulous job at making the newest wing of Ashford Castle look old and royal, c. 1970

A beautiful castellated multi-arched bridge over the salmon-filled River Cong welcomes visitors to Ashford Castle. That’s one helluva fáilte!

“Ashford Gardens” ~ Beautiful gardens and fountain on the grounds of Ashford Castle in County Mayo, Ireland. (click for prints)

“Ashford Gate” ~ Decorative iron gate on the lakeside of the medieval curtain wall at Ashford Castle in County Mayo, Ireland. (click for prints)

Just outside of the Ashford Castle grounds is the “Gate of Cong Abbey” ~ A gothic entryway into Cong Abbey in County Mayo, Ireland. Cong Abbey is a monastic site built in the 1120 with the support of the High King of Ireland, Turlough O’Connor. The last High King of Ireland Rory O’Connor died here in 1198, with many of his descendents being buried on the site. An estimated 3,000 monks lived here at any given time, with the Abbots themselves being accomplished in poetry, sculpture, and even harp making. (click for prints)

“Arches of Cong Abbey” ~ A portion of the 12th Century cloister arcade still stands at one corner amongst the Cong Abbey ruins in County Mayo, Ireland. (click for prints)

A view of the cloister arcade from an upper level of the church Cong Abbey ruins

One room of the Cong Abbey ruins has a floor made of grave ledgers. It was hard to decipher the writing on most of the weatherworn slabs, but we did see one from the 1700s – a modern grave relative to its 12th Century backstory.

The contrast between the magnificent and active Ashford Castle to the much smaller and vacant Aughnanure Castle is extreme, but we loved visiting both. There were also so many other landscapes and historic sites in the Connemara and Lough Corrib areas that we didn’t get a chance to see, leaving an abundance of bait to entice us into returning to this wondrous area on a future trip.

We headed back into Galway City for a fun Saturday night filled with pub shenanigans before driving southward on Sunday afternoon to our next overnight destination. Coming soon to the blog: Doolin!