Memories of a blessed childhood in Connemara and a family steeped in west of Ireland prompted Amelia Joyce to publish her first book at the age of 80. A mix of guidebook and personal journey, at the heart of My Connemara Journeys is Amelia’s undying passion for Connemara.
“I love Connemara,” she says. “It is where I was born, where I have held so many vivid happy memories of childhood, and with this book, I also wanted to honour my father.”
Her father John Joyce was the great grandson of one of the west’s famous men, “big Jack Joyce”, and grew up in what is known as Joyce Country.
From a family well known in Connemara with vast acres of land and sheep, John was an unusual man, says Amelia, who left Connemara and travelled the world.
“My father was one of 10 in the family and rather unusual in that he moved to Dublin when we were young, and, brought the wool from everyone in Connemara, and exported it.
“He sold up everything and moved to Costa Rica - he was extraordinary in that the world was his home no matter where he was. He’d arrive somewhere and settle and it didn’t matter if he didn’t have the language.
Whistle on the bus
“In Costa Rica he’d get on the bus and use a whistle which was always round his neck, to let the driver know when he wanted to get off. He was an unusual man so unusual man, so I really wanted to dedicate this to my father, and it is my last journey too, because I am 81.
“Thus the book is something of a personal pilgrimage. Having left Leenaun for Dublin as a child before spending most of her adult life living and working overseas, Amelia returned to the county of her birth after her husband passed away some twenty years ago.
In between she inherited something of her father’s wanderlust. She married William Lynch, in the Garden of Gethsemane and lived in Jerusalem for three years before being evacuated in in the ‘67 war. The couple went to the US where husband William completed his studies for a doctorate in literature, and ended up in La Jolla, near San Diego, California.
“I was a great fan of America, not now of course,” says Amelia. It was a fabulous country - Roosevelt, I visited his grave, and Thomas Jefferson. I always felt I had to pay tribute to these extraordinary people. Yes, they have made mistakes, but you know the Marshall Plan saved Europe.”But now you wonder. I would never go back to the US again, I couldn’t face it with Trump, there’s no vision, no diplomacy, no sense of the world.”
No surprise that Amelia returned to Ireland after husband Bill died of leukemia and built her dream house overlooking Lough Corrib in Oughterard where she has run a successful B&B. It reignited her love for Connemara, and combined with her rich appreciation of history, Amelia’s book is the perfect introduction to Connemara and a must-read for anyone wanting to capture the best of its scenery.
Amelia’s guidebook consists of seven journeys in Connemara, while providing a history and an insight into the lives of people who have lived there over the centuries.
“I originally wrote the book for my guests, and they used to say, ‘Amelia, you have to write the book because we would never have seen the places in Connemara without you.’
“I give them a sprinkling of history, because you don’t want to write a serious history guidebook, but it’s for the person who wants to see Ireland. It is not a book for the academics,” she says.
“It is a pleasure for me to take you on journeys to my favourite off-the-beaten-track gems that the average tourist never sees, and to suggest places where you can enjoy afternoon tea, a creamy pint or a picnic on one of the many sandy beaches dotted along the coast.
“You come into Maam Cross and the first journey is to Clifden and you go down to Lough Inagh, but I describe the lodge, and the barman Thomas and the countryside - it’s a fabulous hotel and the scenery from the hotel is stunning. I call it a David Lean extravaganza in my book.
“And then you have Kylemore and its and history and Clifden. The other journey is down towards Rosmuc where my grandmother came from - so I talk about Screebe House, Patrick Pearse’s Cottage.”
Her journey includes Carna - “although it’s a bit bleak down there”and she met the Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh - a “charming man” who provides an endorsement on the back of the book, before the tour continues to Roundstone and Cashel House.
“I did seven journeys throughout Connemara - one for each day - and I just want people to enjoy Connemara.”
Amelia went to great lengths and expense to complement her writing with photographs to do justice to Connemara.
“I spent a fortune on my photos but every one tells a story,” she says, including one one of the Mayor of Boston from the Belfast Telegraph, and the “most expensive” one of Delphi Lodge in Conde Nest.
Amelia has also included some family photographs and poetry in her second edition, in addition to a new photo on the cover.
“It was very daring, not Connemara, but a photo taken in California — the modern girl with not the pearl earring but with the ring,” she explains. “An unusual decision, but it attracts attention.”
However, what is so special about this book is Amelia’s obvious love and knowledge for the place she loves so well.
“I used to sit in my bedroom in the morning and listen to the salmon jump in Killary, and when they hit the water, you could hear the sound of it. That was my first memory, listening to salmon jump in Killary Harbour - now you don’t get one.
“We were like wild mountain goats, had the whole place to ourselves, knew everyone and picnicked in Lettergesh. I used to go out with the fisherman about 4am. It was fabulous - with the sun the whole place would glow in purple and red, and when we came back to the little beach at Major Thompson’s house, we’d haul the boats up and have salmon on the spit for breakfast.
“These are the memories, special to us. It was a unique youth there and it hasn’t changed at all really - just different people now.”
My Connemara Journeys by Amelia Joyce is available at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, Galway, and Keogh’s Irish Gifts, Oughterard.