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Galway City, the Connemara Countryside, and a Memorable Arrival
This morning just after 8AM, Expedition Leader Robin West came across the PA to let us know that at around 8:30, we’d be passing through a lock in order for Silversea’s Silver Explorer to berth in the town centre of Galway, Ireland. But I doubt anyone onboard knew just how spectacular our arrival would be.
To start with, the lock we were supposed to pass through looked extremely narrow. The basin it led into looked equally tight.
Captain Alexander Golubev then showed the guests what a consummate professional he is. Positioning himself on the starboard bridge wing, he called out helm orders to his officers with rapid precision, and adjusting Silver Explorer’s propulsion as needed.
We passed through the lock with mere inches to spare, only briefly touching one of the rubber bumpers once.
One of the starboard bow mooring lines was tossed to the longshoremen waiting in their reflective green jackets, and Silver Explorer ever so slowly began a swing to starboard – which seemed odd, as the pier there was far too short to accommodate even our modest 108-metre length.
Keep in mind that while the bow is swinging to starboard, just clearing the pier nearest to the town, the stern is swinging out to port, barely clearing the other side of the lock wall.
Then, just as it looked like we were going to tie up, the starboard mooring line was let go and we began to reverse into the basin. Our bow began to swing back to starboard as we backed up, clearing the lock wall once again.
But small boats docked behind us made a full turn impossible, so we began to slowly creep forward while the bow was still clearing the lock wall, and eventually berthed alongside with our port side up against the small dock that just barely accommodates our size.
Captain Golubev made this look like a walk in the park, though I am sure it was a stressful manoeuvre for himself, his officers and the local pilot. Anyone who doubts the extensive knowledge of ships and navigation possessed by these talented individuals would have done well to witness this event.
The locals had the same idea, turning out in droves to snap photographs of our ship as she made her three-point-turn in the basin.
When we did dock alongside, many of the passengers burst into applause. These are people who have sailed the world many times over, yet I only overheard glowing comments on the Captain’s feat in bringing us alongside. Many cruise lines wouldn’t even bother to come to Galway City, and those who do would probably have found it easier to just drop anchor in the bay and tender passengers ashore. But we had a few metres of clearance and the decision was made to bring us alongside instead – something that speaks very strongly to Silversea’s commitment to providing guests with the best possible experience.
After an early lunch on the pool deck, we boarded our three coaches for the 2-hour journey to Kylemore Abbey. Which brings me to my next point: Silversea could probably squeeze the entire ship’s compliment onto 1.5 busses, but instead they charter three in every port, ensuring that each bus sets out with about 30 passengers onboard.
I said yesterday that I didn’t think Ireland could get more beautiful, and every time I say that I eat my words. Ireland has to be, without reserve, the most beautiful and diverse country I’ve ever been to. I say that because today surprised me more than any so far, with the presence of rugged mountains, rocky terrain and wind-swept plains lined with centuries’ old stone walls, cows grazing and sheep roaming the scrabbly landscape.
I had no idea Ireland could look like that. It was wild, it was raw, and yet it was almost romantic. I know how odd that must sound, but I found the Connemara countryside to be more romantic than Venice, more impressive than the Ring of Kerry. It spoke to me in a way that few destinations do.
We arrived at Kylemore Abbey, where guests from the Silver Explorer were turned lose to wander the grounds at their leisure on another unseasonably-warm day. And wander I did, enjoying two hours out in the gorgeous sunshine.
Kylemore Abbey actually began life as a grand mansion but much like Muckross House yesterday, things didn’t work out quite as planned. The mansion – now the Abbey – was built by Mitchell Henry for his wife Margaret in 1867. The love of his life, Margaret came down with dysentery while on holiday in Cairo in 1874, and died just 18 days later, only weeks from Christmas.
Mitchell Henry had his wife’s body returned to Ireland and almost immediately set out to construct something that would stand as a permanent testament to his late wife’s memory. The result of this was the Gothic Church, just 500 meters from the Abbey along a gorgeous tree-lined pathway. Materials from throughout Ireland were used in its construction, and the chapel was completed in 1881.
Just a few hundred meters further down that same path lie Margaret and Mitchell. Well over 100 years after their deaths, they are entombed in a Crypt built by Mitchell for his wife’s remains.
Mitchell Henry died in England, nearly destitute, and his wish to be buried in Connemara next to his wife was granted by the then-landowner.
After the First World War, the grounds were purchased by displaced nuns from Belgium, who have remained there since.
Of course, I read all this on the coach ride back to the ship. I had no idea when I was there that Mitchell Henry built this chapel to remember his wife. And it occurred to me then: he just intended the chapel to remind him of her, but in the process, he ensured that people for generations to come would know who Margaret Henry was.
I’d actually always wanted to see Connemara. I’m an enormous Titanic fanatic, and I knew that disgraced White Star Line managing director J. Bruce Ismay lived the latter part of his life as a virtual recluse in the Connemara countryside. He’d written to fellow surviving passenger Marian Thayer that Connemara was, “wonderfully wild and away from everything…I think I shall enjoy this place.” It’s not difficult to see why: with its rugged mountains and rock-swept valleys, it’s a world apart from the sea and, undoubtedly, the nightmare of 14 April that continued to follow him around for the remainder of his life.
A real treat and surprise for me on a personal level was that our guide for the day, Mary Flynn, had actually seen this site before and had mentioned it on her tour. In fact, I thought she used it to great effect: many guides ask us what we had done, seen and visited up to that point, but Mary came prepared and already knew what we’d been up to, from our chilly weather in Waterford to our day at Muckross House yesterday. She’s the first tour guide to ever mention my site, and I am honoured she did so as part of her tour!
Which brings me to my last point of the tour: the Irish are so wonderfully friendly, welcoming and inviting that it almost brings a tear to your eye. There’s places in this world that I’ve liked, places I’m glad I’ve visited but don’t care to return to, and places where I could live quite happily for the remainder of my days.
Ireland is at the very top of that “I want to live there!” list.
Back onboard the Silver Explorer, the always-smiling staff and crew were there waiting to greet their guests after a long day ashore, with a refreshing fruit punch – the perfect antidote to the searing sun!
We were also treated to a special performance: four young local girls came onboard to perform some traditional Irish dances for us in the Theatre just before departure, and dance they could! They had everyone in the theatre on their feet applauding once they’d finished after 20 minutes; a real treat after our great day ashore. That’s the kind of thing I really love when I travel, and one of the greatest aspects I love about river cruising throughout Europe, so it was nice to see Silversea take the steps to bring some local talent aboard today in Galway.
Once again, we squeezed our way through the lock entry to Galway harbour, and it was an education to see Captain Golubev and his team of Officers guide Silver Explorer out of port with expert precision. Everyone is still talking about his navigational feat this morning, and something tells me it’s taking him a long time to get from one end of his ship to another with so many passengers stopping to shake his hand and congratulate him.
Tomorrow, we have a relaxing morning at sea to enjoy the Silver Explorer and all her amenities, including a lecture from one of the Expedition Staff. Our itinerary has been pretty jam-packed until now, so it will be nice to have a morning to read – or, if you’re me, write. But the amount of experiences I’ve had in the past week continue to astonish me, and I can’t wait for the next four days!
For me, the perfect end to today will be a trip to the Panorama Lounge for a well-earned drink to reflect on the day and to listen to Lou serenade guests with his musical talents.
Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Silversea’s adventurous Silver Explorer returns tomorrow as we arrive in Killybegs, Ireland for an afternoon of adventure!
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