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Published: March 27th 2014
Exiting Derry (or Londonderry depending on your point of view) meant the time had come to really get out into the Irish countryside. We suspect that not many Americans venture into the northwest part of Ireland, mainly because it’s a bit off the beaten tourist path created by the many travel companies that bring Yankees here by the planeload. The locals we have encountered are extremely friendly and always willing to chat it up and provide useful information. But back to the point…..
Dave is an excellent driver even on the wrong side of the road (that’s what all Americans say) and as we ventured out of Derry for the countryside we were filled with excitement and expectations. We’d booked “The Best Irish Cottage” through airbnb in County Donegal near the town of Croaghacullion. (that is a mouthful) In our quest to experience true Irish culture we wanted to stay in an Irish cottage or farm. It had to be the best cottage because it clearly said so in the advertisement. And if the pictures were even close, we were in business.
The temperatures dropped last night and honestly it
was colder than expected for our time here in Ireland. Being the tough travelers, we would not let this dampen our spirits. As we drove deeper into County Donegal armed with directions we were a bit shocked when we came around a curve and looked up through they stunning Irish mist to see a lightly snow covered hilltop. Can’t really call it a mountain, although this hill was much higher than anticipated for this country. A lovely green hill lightly embraced by fresh fallen snow stood before us. A cold damp gentle rain continued to fall as we motored along, frequently stopping to take scenic photos. The roads continued to get smaller in width the further we ventured into the Irish countryside. The “Jukemobile” seemingly takes up most of the road at this point, while MJ holds her breath whenever we see another vehicle coming our way as we slowly pull off into the grass and wait as the other driver drives past. Only later did we did learn these were actually mountains. We drove through the Glendowan Mountains.
Now we got GPS when renting the car, which is always a good idea in this day and age, but
the location where we were headed wasn’t to be found within the memory of our GPS and the host of the cottage made that clear in his directions. You could put in a place that would get you within a mile, but it wouldn’t deliver you to the actual location. Oh my, that meant we actually (gasp) had to read and follow directions from a piece of paper! How frightfully archaic and exhilarating! We pressed on.
You may want to study a snippet of the directions we were given;
“If you get lost people nearby know the cottage as ‘Paddy Burkes’ place as he was the former farmer who farmed the land all his life, or they may know it as Greg’s Cottage or just the house that Welshman owns.” Seriously?.....you bet! Now we’re out there….the directions continued; “head up the valley and continue up the winding and impressive Glengesh pass, past the small layby at the top, over the summit, and take the first right, head on this bumpy road ignoring all turnings left and right. Keep on, keep on, until you see a small lough (this is the Gaelic term for a lake) on the left hand side. You’ll come to a “T” junction with a hand written sign pointing to “Port” on the right, turn left, go past…….
Well, you get the idea. We only made one wrong turn and made it to the cottage’s housekeeper’s place. By then, the snow was falling at a pretty good rate. We talked with the housekeeper Mary briefly and then headed up the hill to the cottage. Had trouble freeing the key from the lock box and headed back down the hill where Mary gave us her key. Back up the hill and we unlocked the cottage door and discovered……Mary the housekeeper had not turned on the heat.
The cottage is everything we had hoped for, in the setting we were seeking but we were somewhat wet at this
point and it was so freaking cold in the cottage. This place is at least a couple of hundred years old and has concrete walls and floors, which no doubt keeps the place cool in the summer…..and freezing cold in the winter.
We scurried around and unpacked our car. Dave immediately set out to get the heat going and began building a fire in the fireplace. There was a silence that filled the air as MJ paced the cottage in layers of clothing trying to stay warm. Dave was being optimistic about how quickly the cottage would heat up. Dave was having a heck of a time with the fireplace. Seems they did not provide anything in the way of kindling wood and in these parts, you burn dried out sod logs, not wood. Tough sledding here, trying to get things going.
He could see the look of dread on MJ’s face. She wasn’t complaining but he could hear the wheels turning and the look of disappointment. The electric heat was beginning to warm a bit as well as the oil-heated radiators, but we must admit incredibly slow. It was cold in here,… still. Finally MJ said for
Sleive League Cliffs
what we were paying for two nights you’d think they could have turned the heat on a couple of hours before we got here. Dave was working harder and faster. After more than an hour he was able to get the fire in the fireplace going.
By this time MJ was putting on a second pair of socks, a hat and another sweater under her coat. She has never been known for being subtle but she is doing her best. She was cold and can only tolerate real cold for short periods of time. We had imagined a warm cottage with a roaring fire and so far that had not happened.
It took three hours for the cottage to warm enough for MJ to take off her gloves and four hours before she took off her coat. Five hours into it she was still snuggled under her blanket in front of the fireplace but happy and content. Enjoying the life in the Irish cottage that had filled her dreams and loved having a flock of sheep in the front yard!
Earlier when the rain stopped and the sun came out we swapped our shoes for “Wellies” that
were left for the guests and went out while the cottage continued to heat. Wellies are waterproof boots that kept our feet dry as we wandered about in the mud a lamb dung to enjoy our pasture and our flock of sheep. Oh yes, we have sheep in our front yard. A few photos are sure to follow.
The beauty of a cottage is that we can cook our own dinner. We stocked up at the grocery before we arrived and had everything we needed and it is a good thing because all of the properties we’ve rented through airbnb have provided a few basic supplies like coffee, sugar and paper towels. This one had nothing so it is a good thing we had salt and pepper with us. It is odd to us that they had nothing but alas…. we were at least an hour from the nearest grocer. No worries, we had everything we really needed.
While we were in the kitchen cooking we heard it raining again and then in a few minutes we heard the hail pounding down. It added to the ambience. We are thrilled to be inside and even happier it is
starting to warm up as well.
This cottage adventure could have proven to be a disaster and there is a great deal of certainty that MJ would have been packing the car if it had not warmed up when it did. Years ago when she worked in Antarctica she spent the night in an ice cave but was not really wanting to spend the night in a location that cold tonight. The bed had a mattress warmer that kept us toasty and upon awakening in the morning the entire cottage was still warm.
The next day was for exploring. Our drive today took us to several locations within Country Donegal and our guidebook described it as, “ a rugged hinterland, dramatic headlands, and a fierce beauty at the cliffs”. Indeed we can agree with that description.
Regarding the guidebook, before the trip, we purchased Back Roads Ireland by Eyewitness Travel and it has turned out to be an invaluable guide for our day trips. We’d been told if we were in this part of the world we should go to the Slieve League Cliffs that they were more impressive than the famous Cliffs
of Mohr. Well, only one thing to do since it sounded like a tourist challenge of sorts….visit them both and make up our own minds! The Slieve League Cliffs are simply amazing, stunning and breath taking. They are the among the highest sea cliffs in Ireland at almost 2,000 feet. The winds were almost gale force on top of the cliffs, but the beauty was stunning.
After our encounter with the cliffs and the narrow roads of County Donegal, it was time to head to Nancy’s Pub in Ardara. Not for beverages, but for soup. Fresh seafood is a specialty and the soups were magnificent. It would seem that this entire nation really knows how to make great soup. Seriously, everywhere we go and order soup it is simply amazing how good it is. And not your run-of-the-mill offerings either, but carrot and orange soup (you read that right), spicy parsnip with curry and of course several seafood chowders that knock your socks off. And they serve it with wheaten bread, which is a perfect compliment. Several days for lunch all we had was soup and that’s all we needed.
We repaired to the cottage and settled in
for the evening. The cabin was toasty and we slept well in preparation for the next day’s journey, which would take us to Ashford Castle for the evening. Staying at a castle sounded absolutely royal to us and we were keen with anticipation. On our way to the castle, we stopped at St. Columbus Church to view the gravesite of William Butler Yeats, famous Irish poet and writer who won the Nobel Prize for his work back in the 1920’s. County Mayo, Galway & Clare
Never having to say….why didn’t I?
As the sunshine came through the window gently waking us we could feel the fancy sheets and the luxury duvet cuddling our bodies. We had the window cracked open a bit and could hear the rushing water of the river below. Consciousness takes over along with a big smile on our faces when we remember we spent the night in a castle! The main reason we are in Ireland is to celebrate our 20th
wedding anniversary and we decided it warranted a stay in two different castles. Our anniversary isn’t for a few more days so we are just warming
Working the fire
Man it's cold....get busy, man!
up in this one.
We arrived early and stayed until they kicked us out. Check in was 3pm and we arrive at half past noon. We headed to one of the dining areas, looking out over the lake in the back of the Ashford Castle. They brought up free champagne to celebrate our anniversary and informed us they were upgrading our room to a deluxe. Thank you Angeline! Our travel agent booked this portion of our trip and she seems to have influence.
After a lovely lunch we were informed our room was ready and we could check in early. Upon check in they gave us a coupon for one free massage. If you know anything about us you know how much we love our massages. We had promised each other while we were in the castle we would not focus on money but whatever we wanted to do. We quickly checked the price of a massage because of course we both wanted one and they had only given us a coupon for one free massage. Yowza…a bit pricey but it was quickly rationalized because with the free one we could divide by two. We would have done
it anyway because we promised ourselves this day we would not make decisions based on price. As it turns out there was some noise down in the spa area……and we ended up receiving the second massage for free!
We walked the grounds front and back of the castle. We toured all the lovely rooms and artwork inside. The digs were grand and the service top notch. We had dinner in the dungeon and it was appropriately decorated, complete with a few armored fellows with the appropriate battle gear. We are finding we simply love castles. We loved sequestering ourselves in this castle of luxury. We’re not sure what it says about us, but we did take note that we enjoyed conversing more with the staff than the other guest at the castle. We had a wonderful conversation with a bartender from the Philippines.
Once we checked out we spend a few hours touring the countryside. We enjoyed the Connemara National Park, the Sky Road, The Killmare Abbey and the 12 Bens. An amazing drive that was made more special due to the weather. It bounced from sunny to overcast, and our favorite was foggy.
The mountaintops had little hats on them and they appeared mystical. This area has frequently changing topography as you start inland with hills, many lakes a couple of rivers and two mountain ranges.
We motored into Galway to our next hotel and the weather was taking a turn for the worse. After dinner, we were keen to hear some authentic Irish music and Galway is well known for their sounds. We borrowed a couple of umbrellas and fought our way to the Tig Coili Pub through the rain and wind. Galway is a port town and the winds were in fine form at that moment. One of our sturdy umbrellas was no match for the wind and it folded like a circus tent. While we were enjoying our evening at pub, two gents told us they were happy we could see the 12 Bens and the other locations we saw today in the mist because that is how they usually look and how they should look. They are pleased we are traveling Ireland in the off-season and getting a better feel for what it is like living in Ireland. We concur.
Galway is bigger than we
were expecting. Eyre Square is the focal point of the city. The business and pedestrian streets branch off from there. Quaint Irish shops, pubs and restaurants fill the neighborhood. It is very easy to walk and maneuver in this city.
Ennis is the cutest town around. You will want to spend a few days here. We went to Kenny’s Pub & Market. There are only a few of these pub markets left in Ireland. The front of the store is a grocery market and the back of the store is a pub. Our guess is that it may have originated because if you needed to pick up a loaf of bread or a box of cereal for the wife you could then enjoy a pint. We enjoyed taking with a few locals although their brogue was very thick. They apparently take up residence there in the afternoons and were quite pleased to have a chat with us.
Another day trip took us to the Burren area, which has a sight called Poulnabrone Dolmen. It is a rock, a megalithic portal tomb and frankly a bit of a disappointment. When you think of monoliths that
so many babies
are stacked, the normal inclination is to think of Stonehenge, or something like that. This looked like someone had taken a front-end loader and placed a large oblong rock on top of a few others. Thank goodness the short drive there was lovely because the pile of rocks are underwhelming. Now, the surrounding area had gray hills covered in rock and stones. Some were attached and some free flowing. It was ugly in its beauty. We read that Cromwell’s surveyors declared it a savage land, describing it as yielding “neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him in, nor soil enough to bury.” That about covers it.
Another stop was at the Cliffs of Moher, which are well known around the world. We stood before them appreciating their rugged beauty and commanding presence. The sun was blinding us and obscuring some of the colors of this magnificent geology. But we were in a quandary as we had gone to the Slieve League Cliffs a few days ago. They are smaller and more isolated but you can get much closer to them. It feels more up close and personal. The colors at Sleive League are more
dramatic and more to our liking. We will not dismiss the grandeur of the Cliffs of Moher because we are glad to have come but we really preferred the lesser-known Slieve League Cliffs. Plus the beauty of them is that it is not on the tourist trek so there are no buses, fees and large parking lots a few feet away. At Slieve League you feel like you are off in the wilderness enjoying something special that few people have seen where at the Cliffs of Moher you feel rushed because the next tour bus just unloaded.
One thing is for certain; counties Mayo, Galway and Clare have amazing drives both coastal and inland. One could spend weeks hiking, exploring and enjoying these rolling green hillsides. It is serious eye candy and just think; spring has not really arrived yet!
wedding anniversary was spent enjoying the luxury of the Dromoland Castle. This was our second visit to a castle in a few days and we enjoyed it immensely. Very similar to the first castle and yet different-- they have their own personalities. As we sat in the drawing room, sipping on fine beverages, the
notion crossed our minds that we needed to stay at many more castles, as they are all different and inquiring minds want to know. No….that’s not the case at all! We really enjoyed the pampering and opulence of these fine establishments and simply want more! Places we’ve stayed: The Best Irish Cottage via airbnb The Ashford Castle, Cong The Park House Hotel, Galway The Old Ground Hotel, Ennis The Dromoland Castle, near Shannon
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