County Mayo 2018

Tuesday Oct. 2, 4:00pm – Carrygerry Country House, Shannon, Ireland.

This trip with Marcia, Janet and five Magnusons began for Marcia and me when we left for RDU Airport yesterday at 11:15am. Our 1:15 Jetblue flight to Boston was delayed until 3:15. We met Jan in Boston and flew with her on Aer Lingus here to Shannon. We arrived about 6:00am. Took a taxi here. It’s close to the airport and we’d arranged with our hosts Gillian and Charlotte to be met at the door. We found our rooms upstairs and took naps.

Carrygerry Country House (restaurant on left)

Martha’s group left San Francisco on Saturday and flew non-stop to Dublin. (Audrey came from Seattle.) Tomorrow they will take a train and meet us in Westport around 4:00pm. Marcia, Jan and I will take a taxi back to the airport to meet a bus that will take us to Westport. We’re all taking a UNC tour with AHI Travel—ten days on the Wild Atlantic side of Ireland.

Today, after our delicious breakfast of smoked salmon and eggs–YUM!–the three of us napped some more, and then took a brief brisk walk (50⁰ and breezy) along the narrow lane that runs in front of this place. We saw brown cows and sheep who watched us suspiciously. Then another nap, a midday snack of scones and cakes—more YUM!—and another nap.

Looking forward to dinner.

Road and hedgerow near Carrygerry Country House
Pasture and driveway Carrygerry Country House

Dinner Tuesday was delightful. After napping three times during the day, we slept for hours and were up early for another fine breakfast on Wednesday. Caught an early cab back to Shannon where we met Fiona, our guide, and Paul, our driver/guide; our UNC handlers Regina and Ted, and other members of the tour.

Paul behind the wheel

(Paul performed a remarkable bit of bus driving by backing and turning into the narrow gated entrance of a hotel in Ennis where we picked up other members of the tour who had arrived three days before.)

Our bus, the mighty Cygnus
Hotel Ennis (Regina and Ted)

We had to wait for other travelers to arrive and so we didn’t leave Shannon until after lunch. We got to the Westport Plaza Hotel just in time for a 3:30 guided walking tour of the town. Instructive. Sat in an Anglican (?) church, learned some history, saw what we thought was an otter but turned out to be a mink in the river.

Tour guide in church, Westport

Met Magnusons later that afternoon. They trained from Dublin.

Had a reception at 6:30 with Irish girls dancing (once technical problems involving an iPhone and the sound system were worked out). It was actually very nice, followed by dinner. Fell face-first into bed. Marcia’s throat was sore.

Up early on Thursday. Excellent breakfast at the hotel. Took a bus to the County Mayo branch of the National Museum of Ireland devoted to rural life. Museum staffer gave a talk and slide show of exhibits. Museum itself is a sleek modern building on a terraced slope next to a Georgian manor house (the first of several we would see), a Big Cold Gray Place (BCGP).

National Museum of Ireland and most of Erik
Dave on museum grounds
Museum pond and grounds

Throughout the drive, Paul has been delivering an episodic lecture on Irish history with digressions concerning whisky (and the proper spelling thereof), amateur athletics, decoding Irish license plates, etc. Example: Paul told us that Irish whisky is distilled three times, while scotch is distilled twice and bourbon is distilled once. (Shows what happens when you get it right the first time.) Fiona provided footnotes and asides.

Paul keeps Brigid’s Cross tucked into a window by the driver’s seat. It’s named for Brigid of Kildare, Paul’s hometown, and is usually placed over doorways and windows in a home to protect it from all harm. Paul also has what appears to be a clove of garlic at the lower left corner of the window.

Afterward, we bused back to The Shebeen in Westport for a pub lunch of superb Irish stew.

Ted and Audrey
Audrey, Page and Erik at The Sheebeen
Clew Bay
Erik and Page huddle against the howling wind off Clew Bay. Audrey and David consult…
…while Marcia waits near the bus.

After lunch, it was on to Westport House, another BCGP, with a fascinating history, both ancient and recent. It was by far the nicest BCGP we visited.

Locked privy at Westport House
Westport House lawn and sheep
Creepy wax figures in Westport House

Misty, rainy afternoon. Some members of the group walked back to the hotel. M&M wimped out and took the bus.

Marcia feeling worse. Did not join group for dinner at a fine hole-in-the-wall (again the first of several) that Erik and Page located.

We were up early Friday. Still feeling poorly, Marcia stayed at the hotel while the rest bused to Foxford Mill where they weave woolens and sell stuff in a Pottery Barn-like place. Several members of the tour bought hats. I did not, having been told by Fiona that I should wait until we get to Galway.

County Mayo and Galway “colors” at Foxford Mill

Then on to Lissadell House, a hotbed of early Irish political activism. It was also the coldest and least hospitable of the BCGPs we visited with a definite Addams Family vibe. Our guide was Leo, a farmer, fiery feminist and radical whotalkedsofastyoureallycouldunderstandoneinthreewords. He was still angry at the English for everything they’ve ever done to Ireland up to and including Brexit which is really screwing up his cattle business.

Fiona and Leo
View from Lissadell House
Leaving Lissadell House

After that visit, the bus stopped at W.B. Yeats’ grave in Drumcliff Cemetery in the shadow of the Ben Bulben, a massive rock formation in the Dartry mountains.

Ben Bulben

Had another excellent lunch at a pub in Sligo that reminded everyone of the Rat with low ceilings, dark paneling and small wooden booths. Smoked salmon on brown bread—YUM! It was followed by a brief funny lecture on Yeats at the Yeats Society around the corner from the pub.

Then it was on to the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. As the name says, it’s a stone age burial site with capstones, etc. It was a cold, sunny, breezy afternoon—perfect for being outside on a hill. Actually, the weather made a day on the bus driving through Irish countryside quite pleasant.



Carromore, big grave on horizon

Still, it was a long day on the road and we returned late in the afternoon for another dinner at the hotel, but not before we retired to Dave and Martha’s room to sample a special bottle of Jameson that Dave bought at the source, the distillery.

Marcia is feeling better.

Saturday, we were off to Achill Island, the Deserted Village and a demonstration of properly made Irish coffee.

Achill Island really is one of those spectacular places on a good day, such as we had. After some rain, it was bright, cool, windy and brisk. We stopped at an elevated overlook populated by sheep with grand views of the ocean, and a village down the road. Lots of picture taking. The road leaving it is one of those narrow twisty things where you have moments when it looks like the bus is going to go over the edge. But this isn’t South America and Paul would never let that happen.

David, possibly Regina, Audrey and Martha on the way to Achill
Paul, Regina and Fiona trying to gather their charges for pictures
Achill overlook and sheep
Regina and Paul
Paul and Fiona
Achill overlook
Ashleam Village seen from Achill overlook
Achill road
Achill overlook
Everyone at the overlook

Another excellent lunch of poached salmon at a restaurant in the village of Keel and then on to the Deserted Village, a collection of ruined stone huts where, according to Fiona, people actually lived until the 1960s. But it, like so many other places, was devastated by the potato blight and the famine.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at another hotel overlooking Clew Bay for the Irish coffee. We were all suitably impressed by the presentation, but were more interested in the comings and goings of the wedding party that was going on around us, including, according to Jan, two little boys who were stuffing their mouths with pebbles.

Clew Bay from the terrace of the Irish Coffee hotel

Dinner that night was at another excellent hole-in-the-wall. Overall, everyone agreed that the food on this trip was surprisingly good—not what we’d expected. Paul made a real point of the pride that the Irish take in the raising of their beef and lamb. Also, we got a full breakfast every morning in the hotel dining room—including a half Irish for those what wanted it. (I had a full Irish on my second morning at Carrygerry and so demurred.)

On Sunday, the rains came—sheeting, horizontal rains. With them came the wind—umbrella-shredding, sustained gale-force gusts that you had to lean against. We all made a quick visit to the Famine Memorial, drove past Croagh Patrick Mountain, which was lost in the whirling mist, and went on to a sheep farm in Glen Keen. Had we not been in the middle of a small hurricane, I’m sure I would have appreciated it more, but even with that kind of wind, the unique and overpowering odor of sheep poop really got to me.

Two border collies, Liz and Holly and their owner Catherine put on quite a demonstration of herding the woolies. I was more taken with the way she has turned the farm into a “destination,” with a coffee/gift shop, and interesting talk about the economics of farming in that environment. Despite the weather, it was one of the highlights of the tour. I bought a copy of Into the West, which is hard to find in this country.

From there, it was on through the rain and the gale-force winds to Kylemore Abbey, a mansion turned church school turned tourist attraction.

Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey with statue of Jesus (the white dot high on the hill to the left of the Abbey)

On the way, the bus agreed to alter our plans for the afternoon and instead of driving on to Clifden, we’d go back to a pub known to Paul and Fiona. At Kylemore, it was a wild walk from the bus parking lot to the ticket center and then up a walk to the Abbey. Our guide was another fast talker who zoomed through the history of the place. Lunch that day was in the visitor center—actually pretty good soup and sandwich.

After it, the rain let up and we were able to walk around and take a better look at the outside of the Abbey and the little chapel on up the walk.

The highlight of the day was the stop in Leenane at the pub on the way back. It’s Gaynors Bar, the pub used in the film The Field. It was indeed an archetypal place. Except for the widescreen monitor showing Irish football, it might have been early 20th century. The whiskey was fine. The pub was warm, dark and dry.

Audrey and Dave and others
Half of Jan and Marcia
Martha and half of Page
Half of Audrey, an unidentified fellow traveler, Fiona, the lady from Wisconsin, Dave, and Ted
Kilarry Fjord, across the road from Gaynors Bar

On Monday, we went to Cong, where they filmed The Quiet Man, and Galway. The rain had eased up. Cong maintains a Quiet Man museum and the little village seems to have worked hard to keep its picturesque quality intact. Fiona tried to get us into a church with a must-see stained-glass window, and eventually managed to find someone to unlock the door. Most of us wandered around the place and saw the curious little ruined stone house over the river where, we were told, the monks had a narrow hole in the floor through which they fished. They’d had a food festival the previous weekend and they were breaking down the barriers while we were there. All in all, kind of cool.

Maureen O’Hara, John Wayne, Paul
Bridge over Cong River
Cong River
Jan on Cong Street
The Monk’s Fishing House, Cong River
Must-see stained-glass window, Cong

Galway was much larger and busier than any of the towns we’ve seen. The guide there spoke at a more reasonable pace and focused his talk on the Irish diaspora and the importance of John Kennedy and Irish Americans in general. Numerous buskers on the streets.

We lunched at an o.k. place, then went shopping. I wanted to find a bottle of decent Irish whisky because we’ve been drinking Dave’s bottles all week, and a cap. I found a bottle of Red Breast that wasn’t too expensive and a few shopfronts further on, there was O’Maille’s Original House of Style for the lid. (These are the folks who designed the costumes for The Quiet Man.) I chose a fine simple gray number.

On the way back to Westport on the bus, Paul played The Quiet Man. We saw the first hour or so, right up to the point where John Wayne and Victor McLaglan begin their long comic fight.

When we arrived at the hotel, I was dismayed to discover that my bottle of Red Breast had been stored on its side and though the seal appeared to be intact, about a third of the product had leaked out. Fortunately, it was in a thick plastic bag and so only a small bit of whisky had leaked onto my MWA backpack and the scarf Nan made for me.

However, when I decanted the spilled whiskey from the plastic bag into a tall glass, it was clear that the booze that had been in contact with the plastic looked cloudy We elected not to drink it. Instead, we repaired to yet another hole-in-the-wall.

Tuesday was our free day in Westport. As we discussed where we might walk, the rains returned along with the wind. Our party split up. Several shopped. I replenished our dwindling cash supply and braved the elements for a short walk that afternoon. We spent much of our time packing.

That evening, we had a reception in the hotel bar and then dinner at the hotel restaurant. Again, the food was excellent.

We were up early (5:30am) Wednesday. Bags out by 6:00. Buffet breakfast in the lobby. Bus back to Shannon at 7:00. But that was Jan, Marcia and me. Magnusons took the train back to Dublin, and from there, Erik and Page were off for five days in Paris. We got to see the rest of The Quiet Man on the bus.

Leaving Westport at dawn

Our Aer Lingus flight to JFK was uneventful. Though Hurricane Michael was hitting the panhandle of Florida, Jan’s flight to Orlando was on time, as was ours to RDU.

We got back home around 7:00pm and were met by our niece Laura who has been staying at our place since Monday for work at the Research Triangle.

In the end, an exhausting wonderful trip.


Books by Mike Mayo