One Day In Clifden

Standing Stones, Clifden. These are thought to date back thousands of years to the Bronze Age and may have been where druids made human sacrifices

Arriving in Clifden with a sleepy head at 11.30, the first thing I go in search of is a cup of coffee. Entering a bakery in Market Street to acquire same I am served by a pleasant young black woman and when she speaks she has as Galway an accent as anybody could ever hear. I don’t know why this surprises me, but it does, and is a sort of wow moment which makes me smile a bit.

“Where’s the loo?” I ask.

“You mean the toilet?” she replies, to which I nod. These days I feel I am increasingly speaking a different language to the youth of today.

A sleepy little town, Clifden was founded around 1820 by a man called John D’Arcy. I know this because I read it on Wikipedia on the bus on the way here.

Strolling through the town with my coffee and not really sure where my path leads, I spot an inlet of the sea with boats on it and so head that direction.

My sleepiness starts to subside a bit and I spot a man sitting on the dock and so I ask him if there’s anything interesting to see further down this road that I’m on.

“There’s a beach about a mile down that way he says,” gesturing to the direction I was headed.

“Is that your boat?” I ask and he confirms it is and goes on to tell me he’s been all over the world in it. “I just dock it and travel around,” he says. The idea captivates my imagination.

Upon leaving the man, I walk a little further up the road and see a placard commemorating a Polish explorer, Pawel Edmund Strzelecki, who is credited with helping 200,000 Irish children survive the famine years of 1845-49. “So, he wasn’t just over to steal our potatoes,” I muse to myself, making a mental note to look him up on Wikipedia later on.

Arriving at the beach I see a group of children with their parents tossing stones into the water. The air is still and a warm calm permeates my soul.

Upon taking a few photos of the beach and boats with the mountains of Connemara in the background, I spot a sign which seems to indicate a nearby castle and so I follow a trail along the edge of a cliff until I come to a sign warning “Do not cross this field unless you can do it in 9 seconds because the bull can do it in 10.” I’m pretty sure there is no bull here but I understand the message and so I back track a few hundred metres and, instead of following the trail back to where I came from, take a left up to the top of a hill and this is when I spot Clifden Castle.

Along the way I spot what looks like a standing stone. These are thought to date as far back as 5,000 years ago or maybe more but opinion as to what they may have represented varies; they may have been territory markers, burial sites, or locations for human sacrifices by druids. Nobody really knows, but to look at it it seems to me that maybe it was merely a symbol of a well endowed and fertile man who had many wives and fathered many children. They didn’t have big houses, big televisions, big cars or big wallets to impress others in them days and so what better way to demonstrate your manhood to everyone than by putting a big erect rock in the middle of a field for everyone to be envious of.

Clifden Castle built c 1818, uninhabited since 1894. Home of John D’Arcy – the town’s founder.

Arriving at the ruins of the Castle that was the residence of D’arcy, the founder of the town, I go for a little wander inside.

What was previously an example of extreme luxury is now a hollow shell. The lives, the laughter, the love, the hate, the ignorance, the sickness, the grandeur and all that this house represented is now just dust in the wind.

Many of the floors and walls are stained with a greenish mould characteristic of places where people have taken pause to urinate.

The walls have been decorated with the names of people who have passed through the ruins and made an eternal declaration of love on the walls which will doubtless still be there long after those have split or perhaps even died. Someone even took the liberty of painting a couple of penises on the walls and I wonder what Lord D’Arcy would have thought about that.

Graffiti on the walls inside Clifden Castle
Graffiti on the walls inside Clifden Castle

Upon taking a few photos I mosey back towards Clifden town along a different path to which I took to get here; it leads to a road which I follow, assuming it will lead me back to town. But I’m not sure, and I don’t much care since the day is warm and pleasant and I have two bottles of water which is everything in the world I need right at this moment.

After a time I see a sign for a monument to John D’Arcy and so I climb over a gate and ascend a small hill to investigate.John D’Arcy Monument Overlooking Clifden Town

John D’Arcy Monument Overlooking Clifden Town

Halfway up I encounter a pair of horses, one with its face pressed against the side of the other’s bottom as if deriving some comfort from the touch. One is white and one is grey with white dots. Their stillness is somewhat unnerving. I approach them and they barely move, as if not even registering that I am there. Taking a picture, they don’t even react when I put my camera within six inches of their faces.

Horses near the John D’Arcy Monument in Clifden
Horses near the John D’Arcy Monument in Clifden

A hundred metres away another horse is standing on his own, equally still.

The tranquility of the moment is mildly disturbed by a bee buzzing past my ear and flies on the horses body, causing it to twitch in response.

 A 10mm portrait of a horse
A 10mm portrait of a horse

Continuing up the hill to the monument I am greeted by a panoramic view of Clifden town.A panoramic view of Clifden town from the John D’Arcy Monument

A panoramic view of Clifden town from the John D’Arcy Monument

Alone, I soak it up while enjoying some water to help relieve the slightly suffocating nature of the warm, humid air.

After a spell I descend the hill again and the two horses are still in the exact same position of stillness.

On the way back to town I come to a church called Christ Church, which was Anglican. On a placard here I learn that the town’s founder is buried within and that his son, Hyacinth, subsequent to his father’s death, lost the family fortune on account of the famine of the 1840s and had subsequently become the first minister of the church in front of which I am standing.

I take a wander around the graveyard and read some of the headstones and reflect that one day I’ll be in such a grave with such a headstone, and I wonder what the date will be. For all I know, for all any of us know, the year of death on our headstone could easily be 2019. Such are sobering thoughts. We may not be equal in life but we are all equal in death.

Back in Clifden town I wander a little further and visit the main church. It’s much the same as every other Catholic Church in Ireland. Just as grand, just as empty, with the typical depictions of the sufferings of Jesus and his forlorn mother.

After 5 hours of wandering around this sleepy town on a warm and humid summer’s day, I resolve to have a tea and head for the bus to take the last bus back into Galway.

On my way to the bus stop I greet a middle aged rocker called David who strikes up a conversation. A thin man, with a leather gilet, piercings, and a London accent, he tells me he is here to remember his mother who was from Clifden and had died a year previously.

At the bus stop some teenage German boys are playing some angry music a little too loudly and it disturbs the sleepy atmosphere of the town. They look at me with scowls on their faces but it’s not something that bothers me. There’s likely many times in my life I behaved like such an inconsiderate arsehole so who am I to judge.

The bus driver eventually arrives and he’s a contrary sort of man and his contrariness is tangible in his driving as he drives back to Galway in such a way as to jostle my stomach in ways which would induce projectile vomiting had I any amount of booze in my system.

Dozing into my seat and pondering the day’s tranquility, here is the end of my One Day In Clifden.

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