Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Roaring winds at the Cliffs of Moher

Day 5: The plan for today was to check out the Cliffs of Moher, head inland and north up to Galway via Kinvarra, and then down to Limerick.

We'd checked out the B&B book, and Mum happened to spot a castle in a town just out of Limerick. I didn't think we'd have a snowflakes chance in hell of getting a room in a castle for the night, but when I rang, they said they had availability. So we booked, and spent the rest of the day wondering what this castle would be like.

The day was fairly fine, although windy, and as we crawled up bendy narrow country roads behind another heavy truck bound for roadworks, the wind really kicked in. The poor moos were walking sideways...

We got to the Cliffs of Moher carpark and donned jackets and scarves. It was blowing a gale - I guess the weather on this very exposed coastline copped a lot of rough weather and high winds.

The Cliffs of Moher were awesome, and we ploughed through the wind up to an old light-housey sort of structure on the top of the hill. I really thought we could have been blown off that hill! But the view was worth the chill factor.

To the strains of increasingly familiar "The Irish Rover", we drove down into lush green countryside, through a funny little town called Lisdoonvarna and into a picturesque seaside town called Kinvarra. I liked it because it had pink buildings. Mum liked it because she got to play with a ginger cat, and we had a hot chocolate.

Just out of Kinvarra, was the relics of yet another castle - Dunguaire Castle, which perched atop a hill overlooking the colourful little town.

The drive up to Galway was uninspiring, as we hit a motorway and lanes of traffic, all streaming into what we suspected was the 3rd largest city in Ireland.

Galway's a great spot - once you can park your car! Once again, traffic was rife and carparks were completely chockers. Driving round Ireland on a daily basis would be a complete nightmare. Galway has all the facilities of a large city like Cork or Dublin, but the charm and quaintness of Kilkenny or Killarney. It's old town weaved through the centre of the CBD, and heaps of people were out, walking the streets. It was a beautiful day - unbelievably sunny!

It would have been easier to spend more time in Galway, but we had to get back down through County Clare and into the midlands by that evening.

We passed through the towns of Gort and Ennis and stopped for a quick beer in Limerick, Ireland's 4th biggest city. We were both surprised at how big some of the cities were. When we entered the Squire McGuire pub for a drink (it was Friday afternoon after all!), a roomful of blokes looked at us as if to wonder what we were doing in their pub. To be sure!

The karoke continued as we drove south through County Limerick and into Tipperary (It's a long Way to Tipperary!). The small town of Bansha was another 20kms or so out of Tipperary, and we started to look for our castle.

Out in the fields, a large manor loomed and a sign pointed to Bansha Castle. Our bed for the night! Ok - so it was smaller than Buckingham Palace, and even Kensington Palace - but in much better condition than Blarney Castle - like it had electricity and carpet.

We drove into the large property and up a well groomed track to the main house. John, the host, was out mowing the enormous lawns, and came over to welcome us. He introduced us to Paddy, his gorgeous black boofy labrador and showed us into the house. It was without a doubt the best place we stayed in Ireland.

Our room was huge and there were about another 10 we could make use of - the lounge room, which was a vast sprawling luxurious room that backed onto a billiards room with a full size billards table.

The furnishings were perfect and small reminders of the castle's past dotted the walls. Hanging in one room, was a scroll addressed to Dr Russell - a former owner of the house and Doctor for the town of Bansha. The townsfolk had presented him with a scroll in 1945 on the occasion of his marriage in 1945 - it wished him well and talked about how fine a man he was. They were probably crawling,and trying to get into his will to get their hands on the gorgeous chunk of house we were standing in. I was certainly trying to work out how I could make it mine.

Dinner that night was down the road in the little village of Bansha. We had a choice of two pubs, and were fortunate enough to pick the one where a local wedding party was celebrating. I went to the bar to get drinks, and this leprechaun-looking little old man at the bar started chatting to me through a gummy smile. He asked if I was travelling...yes, I was from Australia, living in London and travelling with my Mum. Then he asked if I was married - the cheeky b*****! I said no. Then he asked if I was looking for a bloke - I told him it depended who was asking...Mind you, if he had had any direct ties to Bansha Castle, it might have been another story....

As Mum and I tucked into yet more salmon and cider, people from the wedding party started traipsing through the pub in their best wedding clothes. To give you an idea of how ridiculously inappropriate their clothing was - we had each worn our woollen coats to the pub. It was COLD! But these guests had strappy dresses and shoes - or the ones who bothered to dress up did. Others had jeans and shoes that looked suspiciously like was quite the country wedding! I didn't manage to get a look at the bride, but Mum did, and reported that she was about the size of a house and gave a speech.

There was also a fair in a park opposite the pub, and as we left, we saw several of the younger wedding guests tottering through the mud in those strappy shoes...really quite bizarre.

Bansha Castle at night was not at all drafty or cold. Much renovation work had made it warm and cosy, all in keeping with the style of its 18th centure structure.

I drifted off to sleep that night dreaming of dashing Irish princes...

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