Even if you aren’t a fan of The Matchmaker, starring Janeane Garofalo, Roundstone is a must-stop town on your trip to Western Ireland. Located in the scenic Connemara region of County Galway, Roundstone is accessible both by car or public bus.
There is one road running through the center of town, the same road that runs to Clifden in the West and Galway city in the east. Besides being the location of The Matchmaker, Roundstone is also known for famed local celebrity, Malachy Kearns, owner of Roundstone Musical Instruments, home of the Irish drum, the bodhran; and Mt. Errisbeg, which looms above the seaside community.
Climbing Mt. Errisbeg can be an adventure, if not a physical test of endurance. When I climbed the mountain, it was during the Food and Mouth disease outbreak, that hadn’t seemed to reach the outskirts of the wild West. Using the tiny map in my Lonely Planet guidebook, I found a path next to O’Dowd’s pub and then a small lane by some houses and farms.
I came to a dead end with a house right at the end of the path, with the mountain looming up in front of me. A man standing outside the house joked with me when I asked him if I could go through his back yard to climb the mountain. He said it would cost five (punts) to hire him as a guide and also told me there were a lot of “wild animals” up there. I went through his gate (“just close it behind you,” were his last words to me) to his pasture where his sheep were grazing. The whole mountain was used for sheep grazing and I’m surprised no one was worried about me spreading Foot and Mouth. But I am slowly learning that in Connemara, rules mean nothing.
I made my way up the mountain, carefully avoiding the streams and sheep droppings, and scaring the herds as I walked by them. It was a beautiful mountain with no real path and when I got to the top I could see the entire town and the water down below. The strong, chilly wind kept me from lingering too long at the top, so I quickly started my descent. I should have left a trail of breadcrumbs because I got lost and disoriented on the way down. I couldn’t remember which way to go and soon I couldn’t even see the town for a landmark. Also, there were gates and walls up around me and I couldn’t figure out how to get around them. I feared I was on the private property of people not as kind as the man who offered to be my guide and that they would come out of their homes and yell at me. I made a lucky guess on the direction I had to go in and the man’s back yard and gate was very close to where I was as I made my way back to civilization.
I went to Roundstone Musical Instruments store to browse for the second day in a row. A man having tea said, “Hello again” and I said hello even though I had no idea who he was. He began talking to me and I soon learned that he was the bodhran man, Malachy Kearns, owner of the shop, maker of the most famous bodhrans in the world, a vary prominent man, actually. He makes drums for all of the famous Irish musicians, including the Chieftains. I told him that I was planning on purchasing one of his bodhrans and he proceeded to force me (kindly) to sit and talk with him over some coffee and a delicious cream pastry. He took me over to his collections and pointed out some particularly nice drums. It just so happened that we liked and admired the same one—the skin used to make it wasn’t perfectly white—it had some darker patches running through it—and a painted Celtic design of a bird. Malachy actually gave it to me along with three beaters (“sticks” to hit it with) and a manual on how to use it. It was such a pleasant surprise because we had just met and didn’t even know each other very well. I only had to pay the 24 punts shipping charge to send it home so I wouldn’t have to carry it around with me. I think it was worth around 50 punts, which is actually inexpensive for a bodhran. I thanked him profusely and told him I would stop in the next day to say hello.
I had to find something to do to fill the next day because the bus didn’t come until 4:50, so I wandered into town and back to the music shop. I had coffee with Malachy, two local men, and a Swiss couple who bought one of the only replicas of the Book of Kells (the original being on display in Trinity College in Dublin). The Book of Kells is an illustrated manuscript from the year 800, which makes it one of the oldest books in the world. It is believed that monks on the island of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland, produced the book and moved it to Kells in Ireland to keep it safe from a Viking raid in 806. To buy your own copy of this book would cost $18,000 but a paperback version can be bought for $17.99. Malachy said he wanted to buy one of the copies and display it in his shop and they were all discussing how he could do that (how to display it, how to keep it safe, among other logistics).
After Malachy gave a brief talk on the bodhran and an explanation and a demonstration to a hoard of German tourists, I left the commotion and went to O’Dowd’s Pub for lunch and caught the bus on the way to Oughterard, which is another adventure I might write about later.