Luck of the Irish

I’ve recently read a Maeve Binchy novel (Whitethorn Woods). Yes I did. Yes I know it is not challenging literature. But it is lovely escapism.

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Maeve Binchy’s novels are full of Irish romance, where everything goes wrong and then there you are! Everything works out and the lovers finally get together… and we all sit back and go well, escapism fiction what do you expect.

Except.

Except, when we were in Ireland (photos here), we met a couple who could have come straight from a Maeve Binchy novel. It’s true. And I didn’t realise it until I read another Maeve the other week.

We went to a pub in Ballina one night…we were staying in the very swish Mt Falcon Hotel… and we thought we’d experience “an authentic village Irish pub”. So we went to this bar and feeling a little self conscious headed upstairs to balcony table which overlooked the main bar. There was another bar upstairs so we were close to drinks…

Anyway we started playing Brag to fill the spaces in our conversation and this Irish chap started chatting to us and wanted to be dealt in. He was with his sister and brother-in-law. Now it’s been a little while since this conversation so I’m going on my gut remembering what was said but the sister told me how she met her bloke.

She’s from a family of five or six and she had been seeing this fellow and they’d booked a scuba diving weekend away together to learn how to scuba dive but they broke up. Devastated she decided she needed to get away anyway and she went on the holiday alone.

Day one she turns up at this diving centre and signs up and she meets this fellow. She wasn’t very nice to him as I remember… but that evening as she’s dining alone she sees him again and he joins her table. She tells him the whole sorry story. Turns out he’s the diving instructor and at the end of the weekend they’ve fallen in love.

But not only that, he’s made a squillion on telcos and was just doing the diving job for something to do… he doesn’t have to work. His family situation is fraught too. His parents died when he was a teenager… 17 or 18 and he brought up his sister.

Anyway they are together and the brother is a bit of tear-away and wanted to go into business with them but they decided not to do it.

Does this not sound like a Maeve Binchy novel plot to you?!!!

Oh that’s right. You haven’t read Maeve Binchy.

It is JUST LIKE a Maeve Binchy novel.

And then! And then the brother-in-law/dive instructor/squillionaire tells us his accountant used to be Ken Crew.

Yes. The guy that died of a shark attack off Cottesloe Beach.

How amazing is that for a coincidence!

It was like WE were in a Maeve Binchy novel, and the funny thing was, until I read that Whitethorn Woods book the other day I didn’t even realise it…

Photoblog

All the photos…
At the Gravity Bar at Guinness.

In their defence it was very very cold.

See, on the right… that’s us with the Wallabies…

Max and PC came over for a fine game of cards…

Hot whiskey – perfect on a cold day.

At the match. Final score Ireland 21 Australia 6.

Adare Manor. We stayed here.

Cliffs of Moher

Where Alcott and Brown landed the first trans-Atlantic flight.

Loved this sign.

Potatoes – a national food.

And this is where we went on the last day – created in 3800 BC – Newgrange.

All the photos…

Home Sweet Home

We’re back… after what I would say was the worst flight of my life. Yes, even worse than when Immy (aged 3) weed on me on the way back from Bali, and that wasn’t good but at least it was short.

It started off okay. We got to Dublin airport in plenty of time – did our souvenir shopping and then sat down for a snack and then for some reason completely missed our boarding call and ended up being named – oh the shame – we ran the length of the airport and were the last on the flight. Embarrassment.

Then we had a six hour wait in Manchester which was okay. We caught the train into the city and had a lovely couple of hours in the Christmas Fair drinking excellent German beer (started with an E) and sausages and pancakes – yum.

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Again got back in plenty of time and caught the flight to Dubai. I didn’t sleep on the flight thinking that I’d be able to sleep on the last leg. This was a mistake.

Got to Dubai. It’s a huge airport but bizarrely there are NO visual displays of boarding times and gates. We had three hours so I found the “quiet lounge” and fell asleep on a chair with our bags while Rory shopped. I woke up to the sounds of the final boarding call. But no gate number! And I couldn’t see a display anywhere and I couldn’t find Rory (who cooincidentally was lining up at the one Information Booth to find out about our flight – but I didn’t know that).

So I stand in the corridor – starting to panic – and then figure that he’ll have to get to the gate eventually – so I go up to another gate, thrust the boarding pass under their nose and ask where to go. I get to the gate – no Rory – and ask them to page him and say the gate number… well he’s paged… but would have been hard pressed to recognise his name – and no gate number. We’ll now we’re five minutes from take off time. I’ve become completely hysterical (very unusual for me – must have been overtired) and finally there he is.

We get on the flight. You’d think after all this time I’d be able to sleep but I can’t and I just get more and more tired and it’s horrible and I’m horrible and I’m stuck there irrationally just wanting it all to stop.

Eventually I see someone who has had four seats wake up and I ask him to swap with me so I can sleep – which he does… and finally I sleep.

I’m usually a good traveller so this flight was a surprise to me. I can’t explain why it was so bad but I will be thinking very carefully before flying that way again. Maybe it was the really long leg at the end of two connecting flights. When you go through Singapore you get the long flight in the middle, maybe it’s because I didn’t sleep on the first leg, maybe it’s that nice beer I had in Manchester. Whatever it was it certainly spoilt the end of what had been a fantastic holiday.

Just for the craic of it

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After two nights at the Mount Falcon which didn’t have very accessable web services (but they did let us use the computer in reception) we are now at the Wineport Lodge near Athlone in County Westmead. Our final hotel for this tour, the Wineport is situated on Lough Ree – one of Ireland’s inland lakes off the River Shannon. Not far from here, St Cieran used to unload vats of wine from France in the 500s, so this hotel is themed after great wine regions of the world. There are rooms called things like Tuscany (our room) and Barossa Valley.

In each room’s entry way is a little alcove with a bottle of wine from the region the room is named after. And a complimentary serve of Jamieson’s Irish Whiskey.

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Our room – like all the others looks out over the lake and has a little balcony on which to sit and observe the sunset. We didn’t see the sunset because the sun sets at about 4.30pm and we were still out touring the countryside. We came across The Millennium Forest project which was very impressive. It made us think about the projects Australia did for the millennium… we couldn’t actually think of any.

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I know I know we had the Olympics to worry about, can you think of any??

One of the things we’ve noticed about Ireland is that they don’t do gardening here. Okay maybe they don’t need to because the whole landscape is so lush and verdant (at least it will be in the spring). I couldn’t work it out at first. The houses looked so stark, so unrelated to the landscape… and then it dawned on me. There was a fence… then grass to the walls – or sometimes a path around the house. Occasionally you’d see a pot with something dead looking by the front door or a tree in the corner of the yard but that’s about it.

There are garden centres though, we passed them in nearly every town. So maybe they are getting in on the start of a curve or something…

And we now have a new favourite Radio host. His name is Gerry Ryan from RTE 2 and we are addicted. All that driving around listening to the radio. He is hilarious! You can download a podcast to check him out. We can’t believe what he gets away with – to be sure it’s that charming Irish accent…

From his website check out this Prayer for Irish Women:

Dear Lord……So far today I am doing all right. I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or self indulgent.I have not bitched, wined, cursed or eaten any chocolate. I haven’t even charged on my credit card.
However, I am going to get out of bed in a few minutes and I will need a lot more help after that.
AMEN.

The other day Dublin had a 7 hour traffic jam on their M50. Can you imagine that? Apparently it was a burst water main or something. I can remember being caught on Stirling Highway for 3 hours when that water main burst on Kwinana Freeway but 7??? Apparently there were women squatting all over the place – one lady – a diabetic happened to notice an aquaintence further ahead in the standstill traffic – which was lucky because he happened to have a tuna sandwich so she didn’t go into glycemic shock. Another lady had to call her husband in order for him to come and pick up her baby – only a few weeks old… needless to say we’ll be leaving some time to get to the airport on Tuesday…

Indulgence

It’s been a couple of days since my last post so this may be a long one…

On Wednesday we went for a drive to the Cliffs of Moher.

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These sheer cliffs on the west coast are quite spectacular and stretch for miles. We went to the visitor centre which is being redeveloped at the moment and is going to be fantastic. They are using a lot of local stone which we also noticed at the Ennis Cathedral. It’s distinctive because it has the fossilised evidence of eels. In other words it has a squiggly pattern over it.

On the way back we stopped at Biddy Early’s – Ireland’s oldest microbrewery. Groover rated the beers and stouts he tried but the atmosphere was somewhat lacklustre and they only served toasties. I guess it’s not high season.

So we had to eat in Ennis. I chose a place called Glor which is their cultural centre. The menu looked good but sadly the food was a bit stodgy. Serves me right for ordering risotto I guess. After that we visited the Clare Museum which had an interesting layout – four themes – Earth, Power, Faith and Water. A lot of the exhibits were copies which was a little disappointing. (not that you could really tell unless you looked closly – Groover looked).

Then we had the best coffee we’ve had in Ireland at a coffee shop called Mocca. You can tell how deadly it’s been coffee-wise that I need to mention it.

We ate at the hotel (okay) then traipsed across the road to listen to the RTE Symphony Orchestra. RTE is Ireland’s public broadcaster (with ads!). The concert featured Mozart, a local composer Buckley (world premier) and Tchaikovsky. It was held in the Cathedral which was a spectacular setting but I’m not sure the acoustics did it justice.

The next day we drove straight to the g, our hotel in Galwey. I say straight to, but it took a fair bit of driving around to find it.

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The g is a spectacular, new, 5-star hotel with an impressive funky designer look and an equally impressive spa. We decided to check in early and spend the afternoon hanging out in the spa. It had a thermopool – with 6 stations for water massaging – a sauna, a steam room, several types of showers including Tropical Rain and Ice and these thermo-couches which have some special name which I can’t remember.

After playing there we went upstairs to the relaxation suite which consisted of a number of lounges facing a bamboo garden – very nice. Then we had a sea salt and aromatherapy oil scrub which was fabulous. You chose the colour of your room – which was a bit OTT but we loved it all.

In the evening we had dinner downstairs – sensational and then retired – a little influenced by the excellent white wine.

The breakfast was the best we’ve had so far and I’ve made a note of the bed manufacturer. Niiiice.

Today we drove around the West country through the Twelve Bens Mountain Range and some spectacular countryside. We found Alcock and Brown’s landing spot (they were the first to cross the Atlantic by plane) and nearby was the spot Marconi tested his radio across the Atlantic (but we didn’t actually find the spot).

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The sheep are wild looking things here. Multi coloured due to some sort of spraying regime, long tangled fleeces, horns, black faces and legs. Bold as you like.

We’re now staying at the Mount Falcon Hotel near Ballina in County Mayo – a brand new hotel in what looks like a pretty spectacular setting – which we will explore tomorrow when it’s light!

Don’t pay the ferryman

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Just thought I’d throw in a Chris de Burgh lyric there to keep you guessing but indeed we did catch a car ferry across the River Shannon yesterday on our way to Ennis. Ennis from the Irish word Ines meaning Island. Not quite sure which Island they mean though.

We are staying in The Old Ground Hotel in the centre of this somewhat lively town. Tonight we go to the Cathedral for a concert but before that we head to the Cliffs of Moher… sounds like a place out of a fantasy novel I know but apparently they are quite spectacular. Also on the agenda today is a visit to the oldest brewery in Ireland…

Yesterday after driving here from Adare we went out to a little pub for lunch. Sitting in front of a very effective little fire we whiled away the hours trying to work out what the bricks were made of that they were fuelling the fire with – turns out they were indeed peat. Very impressive fuel.

What has also impressed us is the amount of building going on in County Clare. Everywhere we drove yesterday there were new developments, new houses springing up all over the place. There is a lot of money floating around to be sure.

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We had planned to enjoy dinner in one of the local restaurants last night but we must have been more tired than we thought. Instead we lay our heads down for a nanna nap at about 5pm and woke up at seven! Haven’t done that in a long while.

We’ve been enjoying listening to local radio here… yesterday we were amused to listen to an Australian give advice on wine. He’d written a little book called The Juice 2007 where he divided wines into (now lets see if I can remember…) Skint, Brownie Points, TV Dinners and Bling… which I thought was quite brilliant.

The other topic we listened to was about Cowparks. Now that is another story…

Bingo Wings

Ah the Irish, got to love their charming terms for everyday things… like the other day watching morning television the charming description of what we know as tuck-shop-lady arms… bingo wings. Oh yes, a term that will be used.

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Last night we stayed at Adare Manor. A charming castle like stately home which was built in the 1800s and converted to a hotel in the 1990s by a wealthy Florida couple. Let me tell you they do Castles ‘r’ Us very well indeed. Rooms appointed well, service charming, castle-like features abounding.

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Unfortunately we didn’t get one of the upper rooms which I think would have made our stay even more castley but the room still had a view of the river – famous for salmon and trout – and the golf course.

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It is November and the extensive park lands feature magnificent trees dressed in their autumnal splendour.

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Yesterday we left Dublin about 11 in our little hire car and made our way to Glendalough to see the ruins of St Kevin’s Cathedral. Kevin just sounds wrong doesn’t it for a saint but indeed does give some hope to the Dwaynes and Sharons out there today who may find it possible to stay in the one spot while a blackbird lays an egg in their outstretched palm and patiently wait until it hatches. (how likely is that with today’s attention spans I ask you??)

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After Glendalough, we traversed the Wicklow Mountains – used in the filming of Braveheart – before winding our slow way down to Kilkenny.

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We had expected to get there around lunchtime. We got their at 3.45, just in time for the last tour of Kilkenny Castle which was very good. During the restoration they discovered fragments of the wall coverings so the lurid shades of irridescent yellow were original. Just shows that bad taste was not limited to the 70s or Zorzi.

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We decided to eat dinner in Kilkenny and after a pint at one of Kilkenny’s finest we ate at the Marble City Bar. Outstanding food but they don’t know how to make coffee. Trust me you don’t come to Ireland for the coffee but what is up with making black coffee and putting it in a pot? What’s wrong with making it (as opposed to boiling the bejesus out of it) in the cup so you get that lovely creamy head? And you needed a password to get into the ladies… 4466# in case you’re interested.

Then it was a long drive in the dark to Adare – we got in about 9pm so didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy the facilities but we had a drink in the drawing room and library – very nicely appointed too – and then repaired to The Tack Room bar where we were entertained by a pianist and an Irish singer… we left the second time he sang Danny Boy.

Today we’re off to Ennis.

Goodbye Dublin

We leave Dublin today after watching the Irish Rugby team thrash the Wallabies. They never looked even close to making a try which was a little disappointing. However leaving the stadium surrounded by very happy Irish fans a smiling – not a bad thing.

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It was great fun and we were most impressed when the entire crowd (bar the Aussies of course) broke into song. The weather was wild and blustery and I didn’t envy the players or in fact half the crowd out in the elements. We were snug as bugs up high in the stadium, sheltered from it all and as I was wearing about 4 layers, even a little bit hot. Just call me Michelle In. Groover looked like Kenny with his hood well up.

They serve hot whiskey at matches with a slice of lemon and cloves – it was also very warming.

Today we head for Adare via Kilkenny and Glendalough – pronounced Glendalock here.

Landsdowne Road

We went down to the Captain’s Run training session at Landsdowne Road where the match is to be played tonight. It was cold. And by cold I mean that immediately afterward I bought some thermal underwear. Freezing.

The funniest sight was our big tough Wallabies in their shorts and shortsleeved tops posing for a photo – while they waited – they wrapped white towels around their legs – sarong style. Makes for an amusing look.

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wallabies with us

Afterwards we hit the high streets – central Dublin was packed! There are pubs everywhere – so we went to one – The Porterhouse – which is a micro-brewery in Dublin to meet up with Max and PC over from England and there we whiled away the afternoon drinking, playing cards, changing pubs til about 11.30pm. It was still pumping in town but we’d had enough.

Is there anything else to do in Dublin but drink?

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The irony of Ireland

Turns out Vodafone doesn’t have global roaming in Ireland. I know. Bizarre. Ironic even.

Today we went exploring – bought tickets for one of those sight-seeing buses and lucked out on getting a stand up comic for a driver. He was hilarious. A joke a minute plus his observations on the other drivers were hysterical.

We stopped off at the Guinness Storehouse for our tour which was very well put together ending up at the Gravity Bar for our complimentory pint of the black stuff. Sadly I didn’t become a Guinness convert. It’s just that compared to Chimay and Leffe and Trappe and all my other favourite Belgian brews, well it’s just not that nice.

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Impressive factory though. At one point one in 30 people in Dublin were employed by Guinness. They even have their own medical centre and ambulance service. According to our wag of a driver who happened to pick us up after the Storehouse again, the ambos have ladders on them after a worker fell into a vat of Guinness and drowned. The only question asked at the Coroner’s was – did he suffer?

We kept going on the tour until our driver went off for his lunch and was replaced by a driver who preferred to use the recorded tour notes. Alas it lost it’s Irish charm for us and we decided to get off and check out the Book of Kells at Trinity College.

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That was quite impressive. Again, beautifully displayed. Great videos showing how the books were made and the caligraphy.

Perhaps even more impressive was The Long Room. A library filled with hundreds of these old and valuable books.

We didn’t bother getting back on the bus although we may pick it up tomorrow and do the rest of the tour – hopefully we’ll find a driver who does his own commentary!