Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Day 4 – Castles, Cong, and Cream

We woke up in the Ballykine House to light filtering in through the window curtains. We went downstairs and chatted with our hostess Ann a bit, then had a simple breakfast of cereal, toast, and eggs. We also got to chat with the other late-night arrival, a young lady who works for Ulster Bank in Dublin. The Irish banks were having a fishing competition at the lake, and she was in town to officiate it.

After breakfast we walked around the grounds a bit, met Ann’s dog Jack and her daughter’s dog Amber, talked to a fellow repairing the wall around the lodge (he was using centuries-old stone from an old house that had fallen down to repair the centuries old wall. A great system!), and discussed what we were going to do with the day. We didn’t have a lot of time in Galway (well, technically we were in County Mayo; we’d crossed the county line several times on the way up the previous evening, and weren’t sure where we’d ended up). We had to be back in the Dublin area the next evening so we could get ready for our (ugh) 7:30 am flight the following morning. Ann had plenty of suggestions for us; nature walks around the lake, mountain climbing (really!), a drive down to the other end of county Galway… had we more time in the area we might have taken her up on it. We only had the day, though, so we kept it simple.

First, we headed up to Ashford castle, on the hill above the village of Cong. We’d passed it the night before while trying to find our B&B in the dark; the sign was lit up, and the entry way was hard to miss… we figured we should try to see at least ONE castle while we were in Ireland. A man met us at the gate and explained that the castle had actually been turned into a hotel (one of the top hotels in Ireland, in fact), and was off-limits to non-residents. The grounds, however, were open to visitors for a mere 5 Euros per person. We paid the man and drove through the gate, past a rather large golf course, and over a hill to find the castle itself.

It’s a pretty magnificent castle… words don’t really do it justice. Thankfully, we brought the camera. I did sneak into the reception area and swipe a brochure. The off-season rates are a mere 299 Euro per night. High Season, you’re looking at 499 per night. Not your run-of-the-mill Motel 6 castle, to be sure.

We had a great time wandering the grounds. We probably spent a good three hours just wandering around the gardens and along the lake shore taking pictures. A great afternoon for the price, I’d say.

After the castle we drove into the village of Cong. Turns out this is the village where The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was filmed back in the 40’s. There were plenty of memorabilia shops and even a Quiet Man location tour. Cong also is a lovely holiday village in its own right; it’s on a small river with an old church (dating back to the 800’s), and has lots of little shops and B&B’s. We stopped in at the Hungry Monk Café to check our email. We also got a ham panini with smoked cheese and apple that we ate by the river. It made for a lovely afternoon.
We headed back up to the B&B and took a little nap. After we got up, we went out to find something to eat for dinner. After a little bit of wondering (again crossing the line between counties Galway and Mayo a couple of times) we ended up in Clonbur, a small village a couple of miles from the B&B. We went into what we thought was a local pub, and ended up getting shown back to a much fancier restaurant than we were prepared for. We hadn’t really had a fancy-restaurant type meal in Ireland, though, so we decided to splurge. Boy did we end up happy we made THAT choice!

The food was really good (I had a stuffed chicken dish, and Trish had an Irish lamb stew to die for, with tender chunks of lamb and potatoes), but the real treat was talking to our waitress Jennifer. She has family in Boston that she goes to visit regularly, and we got to talking about the differences between the East and West coasts of the United States. She also shared a big long list of Irish phrases (what we used to call Gaelic… Irish has stopped being a "dead" language, and is now taught in the schools. In additional, all the official signage in the country is bi-lingual, and many radio and television programs are entirely in Irish. As Trish pointed out, calling it "Irish" instead of "Gaelic" serves a couple of purposes; first, it solidifies the language as the property of the Irish people. Second, it makes the language a "living" language, rather than an old language that was only spoken in antiquity). By the time we’d left, Jennifer and another of the waitresses, Carolyn, had written us out a long list of Irish phrases to take back with us.

Before we retired for the evening, we had one more stop to make. When we were in Cong earlier in the day, we’d noticed that one of the bars advertised live Irish music every evening. We thought it’d be a shame to leave Ireland without having heard any live music, so we went back by the bar and grabbed a seat. The place was very full, and two musicians sat at one end of the room with a pair of guitars (and one had a harmonica rigged around his neck so he could play it while he played his guitar). I ordered a glass of Jameson’s and Trish had a cup of coffee with Baileys. Neither drink was particularly to our liking; the barman put ice in my Jameson’s (he may have assumed that Americans all prefer their whiskey "on the rocks"), and he put some sort of sour cream in Trish’s coffee. After a while the cream wasn’t sitting too well with Trish’s stomach, so we took off back to the B&B.

We settled into our bed back at the Ballykine House sad that we only had one day to spend in this area… we could easily have spent an entire week here and not soaked in the beauty of the countryside or the people.