Our 2008 Grand Tour - Ireland

August 2, 2008, Mulranny, Ireland

We made it! It was an unbelievably easy, uneventful flight to Dublin. No, really. The car rental experience was touch-and-go but Tom pulled through in the end without hurting the agent and we set out for the west coast with a 5 hour drive on the narrow, rural roads for which Ireland is famous. With no sleep under his belt, two-way, narrow, rock-lined roads and a minimum 120 km/h, Tom had a meltdown so I had to take the wheel. Sure it may have been all of 15 minutes most of which was in stand-still traffic, but Tom got his 90 second nap and was back behind the wheel speeding toward our home on the North Atlantic and I saved the day. Now then, after a very restful night of sleep, here I sit, looking out at the calm waters of Clew Bay, Croagh Patrick in the distance, a warm cup o’ joe in hand, writing this journal.

The house


The view

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Irish door


August 4, 2008

Mulranny is a quaint village. It has a grocery store, petrol station, post office and pub. Wait, it has two pubs. It also has mountains, beaches, bogs, streams, cliffs and clean, crisp air. It’s a stunningly beautiful landscape. There is so much to explore. Tom is still dealing with jet lag but I’m ready to get exploring. Next stop - Galway City. Stay tuned…

Store in Mulranny

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Achill Island

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Tom’s creek


August 5, 2008

We got a late start today - stayed up too late watching the sun set and drinking wine. No matter, it was overcast and windy, perfect sleeping weather, no?  I drank two cappuccinos, stared out at the developing rain storm over Croagh Patrick and decided it was a good day to drive to Galway City, so we did. We left at 11:00 a.m.  It rained the entire trip. It took 5 hours. Tom stopped at every stream he saw. (There are lots o’ streams in Ireland!) We stopped in Clifden and had a scrumptious rhubarb crumble and a cup of coffee. We arrived in Galway and went straightaway to The Cheesemonger for an assortment of cheeses and salami to take back to Mulranny. We ate at the wine bar above the cheese shop - a smorgasbord of smoked fish, meat, cheese, olives, bread and a couple of glasses of vino. We walked about town and headed back to Mulranny by 7:00 p.m. I think I’ll go to bed now…

Burrishoole Friary

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August 7, 2008

I don’t have a lot of experience with extended vacations. Oh sure, I’ll take a two or three week trip every year and jam-up the days with as much sightseeing as possible. But this trip is a bit longer than usual so I’ve decided to pace myself. For instance yesterday - we didn’t do much of anything. Let’s see…awoke at 9:00a.m., drank coffee on the porch gazing at the sea, ran for 1.5 hours up the coast and back, took a couple of walks, went to the beach, went grocery shopping, chatted with the locals, cooked stuffed chicken breasts wrapped in bacon served with cauliflower, carrots and onions, drank a nice Bordeaux…oh, and joined the local Leisure Center. The Leisure Center is a gym/pool/sauna/hot tub complex less than 500 meters from our house. Alas, it’s time to get busy.

One of the locals


August 8, 2008

I’m famously early to bed. But the lingering twilight here that bathes the sky in pastel ‘til 10:30 p.m. makes it irresistible to stay awake until sinfully late. Tom was particularly slug-a-bed, not stirring until 10:30 a.m. (I think that’s 4:00 p.m. in dog years). We finally have settled in. We did a day of errands, which sounds dull and mundane to my readers, but everything is still an adventure, particularly the music of the language we hear from the locals. (Or foreigners, Tom buttonholed some unsuspecting French tourists on the road to an Corraunand butchered the language of diplomacy with them until they cried “oncle” - that’s uncle in French) We traveled to Newport and schlepped thebruscar (that’s “trash” in Irish) to the dump (very state of the art and environmentally friendly) made a note to chow at Kelly’s Kitchen there and rambled on to Westport, a charming town that has really captured my heart. I left Tom with his journal at Curry’s Tea House (it was scone and “capachino” (that’s how they spell it here) time) and I went in search of a new pair of running shoes. Score! 25% off and just what I needed. We returned to Newport (ancestral home of the O’Donel’s who have a grim reputation as landlords) and ate white and black pudding. This translates into blood sausage and bacon pork sausage. Nothing like seared swine flesh and lots of blood to take the edge off. I washed it down with an impertinent red wine. Then on the way home, the piece de resistance. We took a tiny suicide Irish country road through the gorse and bracken and brambles and suddenly found ourselves at the Rockfleet Castle, the home (one of many) of Herself, the Pirate Queen of Mayo, the inestimable Granuaile (Grace) O’Malley. A French couple endured Tom’s bull-in-the-China-shop tongue for a while and told us how to open the door and go in. No one guarding it or taking tickets or anything. This is a 400 year old stone castle, solid and sturdy as if it were built by Dave Norton himself just yesterday and it was all ours. Owl’s nests built on landings through the tiny slit windows. The Pirate Queen used to sleep here with her ship tied to her bedstead (this is true) just in case anyone was foolish enough to try to commandeer it. Have a gander at the pics. You can’t find this kind of stuff everyday back in Phoenix. It gives you goose bumps.

Grace O’Malley’s Castle


In Grace O’Malley’s bedroom

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Cottage by the Bay 

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August 9, 2008

This must be what it’s like in Ireland most of the time - rain, wind, fog and mist. Sure, there’ll be a clear sky for an hour or so, in between all the “soft weather”,  just to tease me. And being the novice Irelander that I am I fell for it. This time. A break in the weather was all I needed to set out to conquer the mountain in my back yard. I was about 3/4 the way up - on bike - and the weather changed from so-so to terrible. I was enveloped in a cloud of rain for the last portion of the steep ascent and could barely see five feet in front of me. I swerved to miss a herd of sheep when suddenly, out of the mist and rain, Tom appeared, soaked to the bone and shivering. I yelled over the gale-force wind, “Need a lift?” He cried, “Please!” So I put him on my shoulders, pedaled down the mountain and back home to a toasty fire and a nice glass of 2004 Cotes Du Rhone. He may not agree with how everything transpired, but, after all, he was delirious.

August 10, 2008

Sundays are made for long, leisurely runs and long, leisurely drives. So we did both. After a leisurely run up the mountain over-looking Clew Bay we drove north through the Nephin Beg Range to Ballycastle. I suppose I should mention the weather conditions - rain, more rain, wind, rain, a spot of sun then more rain. Had it not been for the freshly baked scones slathered in butter and topped with fresh cream I’d have surely gone mad. After one bite I forgot all about the rain. But, I digress. Now then, we made our way to Ballycastle and Polke’s Pub where we visited with Brian Polke, the 81-year-old proprietor. Seems the pub’s been in the family since the mid-1800’s. Business must be good. We got back to Mulranny by sunset and sat by the turf fireplace with a warm cup of tea - how very Irish.

In Polke’s Pub


Through the Rain




August 13, 2008

I haven’t written anything in several days because I haven’t done much. Sure, I could tell you about my bike ride “over hill, over dale, through bush, through briar, over park, over pale”, to a secluded beach even the locals don’t know about, or sailing the open seas on a windsurf board among 10 foot waves, or maybe climbing Croagh Patrick barefoot, but why bore you with the mundane? The real and pressing issue is the weather - two days of non-stop rain! Yeah, sometimes it’s a soft, mist-like rain, but mostly it’s a heavy, hard rain, one you think, surely, can’t last. But it does. It just keeps coming. And coming. Mind you, I’m not complaining. I could be stuck in the hot and humid monsoon summer of Phoenix. I’m grateful I’m not. But, if I don’t get an infusion of sun to replenish my vitamin D supply soon, there’s no telling what might happen.

August 14, 2008

Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air” -Ralph Waldo Emerson. And so it was. A day of sunshine, at long last. It’s time to get out of the house and explore more of Co. Mayo. We are going on a drive through the Nephin Beg Mountains on a narrow, curvaceous road called The Western Way and then to the other side of Clew Bay to find more river prospects for Tom’s fishing fetish. I’ll let you know the outcome. Later that evening…We met two couples on our journey through the Nephin Mountains and they invited us to join them in their picnic feast. So we did. “Please, have some cake,” said brother #1. “Thanks,” I said, grimacing internally at the stale “brick” that lay before me on a soiled napkin. “You’re too kind.” Brother #2 yelled, “Take some for the road…we insist!” “No, no, no,” I pleaded. “You must leave some for yourselves.” And with that they all agreed. We named the two gentlemen of the group the Bothy Brothers as they were picnicing at the bothy on the Bangor trail. That’s right - the bothy on the Bangor trail. Now then, we did find some water for Tom to fish and, lastly, met with his cousin, Mary Duffy, in a pub in the lovely town of Westport. What a delight. We arrived home about half-eleven. The moon, waxing gibbous and reflecting off the ocean’s surface, was magnificent.

Bothy Brothers

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August 16, 2008

We got a bit of a late start today but were in the car heading to The Deserted Village on Achill Island by 2:30 p.m. For many years people lived in the village but in 1845 famine struck in Achill as it did in the rest of Ireland. Most of the families moved to the nearby village of Dooagh, which is beside the sea, while some emigrated. The village of some 80 single room buildings was completely abandoned, hence the name. Fascinating. By nightfall the sky had completely cleared of the one white cloud that’s been hanging over us for what seems weeks and the lunar eclipse was in full view. What a sight. The moonshine reflecting off the bay is really quite spectacular.

The Deserted Village






August 17, 2008

After two weeks of pleading with Tom to get up early and hike the magical mountain that is Croagh Patrick, he finally caved. This is how it all happened…I awoke early to something that has become quite foreign to me - the sun peeking through the curtains. I threw off the covers, ran to the window, ripped open the drapes and stared out, blinded by the sun. Tears of joy ran down my cheeks as I began to realize my dream of climbing C.P. was about to be fulfilled. I leapt onto the bed and began jumping up and down to startle Tom. It worked. After he got over his anger, he, too, could not deny that this was “The Day”. And what a day it was. It was glorious in every sense of the word. Legend has it people actually climb to the top barefoot as a way to reduce purgatorial sentences. I thought, surely, ‘twas legend and nothing more. Of course, on the trek up, who do we pass, but some Irishman walking barefoot up the steep, rocky trail. I’d rather take a harsh purgatorial sentence! Anyway, at the top we had about 20 minutes before the weather turned to low clouds and light mist. We started our descent and made it back to our car in record time. I had to stop in my new favorite town, Westport, for a nice big bowl of homemade Irish stew and a glass of house red and the all important, “I Climbed Croagh Patrick” t-shirt.

Croagh Patrick at the bottom


Midway up C.P.


From the top


August 18, 2008

We went on an afternoon drive but I really can’t tell you much about it because, well, I fell asleep. Tom says we drove to Ballinrobe, the birthplace of the parents of his friend John, but I have to take his word for it, because I was snoring the whole time. I did wake up ever so briefly to snap a few fotos but for most of the drive I slept. That is until we drove through Westport. As far as I’m concerned all roads lead to Westport. “We really must stop, Tom…I’m famished,” I muttered, in my best ‘famished’ voice. Tom’s reply - “Oh brother!” And with that we found a parking spot and were walking the streets looking for a place to eat. Many shops and restaurants are closed on Mondays in Ireland. Luckily, Sol Rio was open and not yet full, so we got a cozy table for two and promptly ordered a glass of Shiraz. (Tom had a coke) They have a rather eclectic menu, a fusion of Irish home cooking and Mediterranean cuisine. I had tagliatelle with smoked salmon and asparagus. Delish. Tom had, um, actually, I don’t remember, but I’m sure it was good. Anyway, we were about to order dessert but backed down at the last minute. Instead, we walked across the street to Matt Molloy’s, the famous pub owned by the man himself, the flautist for the Chieftains, Matt Molloy. He resides in Westport, we’re told, so Tom is anxiously awaiting his meeting with your man, Mr. Molloy. I guess we’ll be regulars of Molloy’s in the coming weeks.

Horse and Ruin


Tom at Molloy’s


August 20, 2008

his could have been the best day yet, weather-wise. I knew it was going to be a grand day. I could tell by the clouds. There weren’t any! This was my chance to get on the bike and pedal my way around Co. Mayo. I biked to one of my favorite places in all of Mayo, Achill Island. I’ve posted entries and pictures of Achill on this very journal so you may know we’ve been there often. But, today, I worked to get there - 20 miles of hills along the Atlantic coastline and back again. I was single-minded in my approach - pedal hard to the Irish Knitwear shop on Achill Island and get the hat I’ve been lusting after. Of course, when I got there I saw a lovely sweater I just had to have so I bought both. Once the shopping was done I could relax - lunch on the veranda over-looking Achill sound, people-watching, soaking up the sun’s rays… Overall, the day was a great success - exercise, shopping, eating. Is there really anything else?

Along the Coast


Coming of Night


August 22, 2008

Three days of glorious sunshine and I’m like a new person. I rode the bicycle to a deserted beach and actually swam in the chilly North Atlantic. It wasn’t too bad, although when I got out of the water and the sun hid behind a puffy, white cloud, well, I froze. My fingers? Numb. But, it was well worth it. I can carry this memory with me and recall it next July, in Phoenix. Know what I’m sayin’? Later that evening we met Tom’s cousin, Mary, and Mary’s father, Mr. Duffy, for a delightful dinner in Louisburgh - great food, dare I say, outstanding food, but I must say, better company. How fortunate for Tom to have relatives in his ‘homeland’. Our next stop happened to be the best pub in Newport, The Granuaile. Thursdays are ‘Traditional Night’. Ok? That meant nothing to me until we walked in. There were three Irishmen sitting in the corner of the dimly lit pub. One had a fiddle, one a guitar and the other a small harp. They started playing some traditional Irish music as the crowd (full house, I’d say) listened and drank their pints. It was fantastic. Tom wanted to get up and do an Irish jig but I restrained him so as not to embarrass me. We are already known as, “that American couple”, and I’m not quite sure how to take that.

August 24, 2008

We had planned to run a half-marathon in Longford, a town about two hours east of us, in the Midlands, but, much to our surprise, the race was full and they would not let us enter. Tom pleaded with the race director telling him we’d come all the way from Arizona to run this race but the guy wasn’t impressed and didn’t change his decision. Tom was crushed. He decided to run his own half-marathon and I was to be his support, providing apples and water when he looked like he needed it. I was on the bike, he was on foot. The wind was blowin’ a gale at 30 mph in all directions. Mist and fog were our companions. Other than that it was grand. Two hours later, as Tom approached the imaginary finish line and ‘broke the tape’, the skies cleared and the wind died…wait, no they didn’t. 

Stormy Sea


August 25, 2008

What can I say about a day like today? It was brilliant? Grand? Bonny? I think, maybe, miraculous is  most fitting. The wind wasn’t blowing a gale but it was windy enough for big ocean waves to form. The sun was shining for five, maybe six hours continuously. What I’m telling you is that there weren’t any clouds. Not one. I biked to MY beach, sat down on the sand and stared out at the waves pounding the shore. As I felt the ultraviolet radiation slowly penetrating all five layers of my epidermis I was rudely interrupted by two surfers. Surfers? “Are you mad!”, I yelled to the intruders. “You can’t surf in these waters! This is my beach!” The roar of the ocean must have been too loud because they ignored me and paddled out to catch some waves. Oh well, I guess I could go to the pub, sit on the deck overlooking the bay, and drink a Smithwick’s. I did. Blocked from the wind, the sun hitting my face, a lovely couple from Australia to converse with, I drank a half-pint of beer and continued working on my Irish tan. Later Tom and I went on a drive to scout out a potential river for him to fish. We found a round tower ruin and plenty of ripe blackberries but no river. (that was fishable, anyway) How does that saying go? Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to fish? Yeah, that one.

Boat on Lough Cullin


Round Tower


August 28, 2008

We’ve been in Ireland for a month and have adjusted quite well. We’ve seen and done some wonderful things. We’ve also met some wonderful people. Last night we were invited to Peter and Genevieve Murray’s home for tea. I’ll get back to the “tea” but first, a brief history of how we met Peter. He and his crew are building a studio at the Browne Manor, the house we’ve occupied for the past month. (I liken him to DL Norton but on a slightly smaller scale). Tom being, well, Tom, he immediately went out to introduce himself and tell Peter all about his studio building skills. After all, he and Norton just finished our studio not 18 months ago. Wait, that’s how long it took them! Anyway, Tom and Peter became instant buddies. Now the tea. I was expecting to have a cup of tea. I mean, one gets invited to tea expecting tea. Oh, there was tea. There was ham. There was turkey. There were three types of bread. There were cakes, cookies, bars, wine, cheese…you get the idea. The “craic” was flowing until midnight and then we went to the pub where, by chance, we met Peter’s parents. There was a trio playing traditional Irish music and the place was packed. We stayed until 1:30am and returned to Peter’s for coffee! We got home at 3:00am. It was brilliant. 

Killeen Graveyard Flower


Headstone 1784