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CONNEMARA AND BIRR
At Shannon, early on Wednesday, March 13, 1996, it was dark, only partly because of the hour. Our luck: a rare spring snowstorm. It was cold, too, with blustery wind, and we were very tired, having slept only 2-3 hours on the plane. Shannon Airport is not lovely.
We got our rent-car, a four-speed micro-Nissan, and headed north for Galway. I was terrified of the very narrow, icy roads and of driving on the wrong side the road. Craig, who was driving, actually thought it was fun.
In less than two hours we reached Galway and headed northwest. We stopped in Oughterard, a cozy little town much occupied with fishing (in Lough Corrib - we were well inland of Galway Bay). We bought postcards, had coffee in a little shop, and met an interesting old Englishman, CEO retired, 95 years old.
Sheep were everywhere, all marked with little patches of blue and red. I suppose these are brands. I liked this. No burned flesh or terror. Just a busy human, a puzzled sheep, a dribble of vegetable dye.
On to Cashel House, where General and Mme. DeGaulle often summered in the years after the war. Cashel House reminded me of Howard’s End and was the most comfortable and expertly run hotel I have ever stayed in. Peat fires burned in every room, and windows opened everywhere on perfect garden views.
After lunch, we walked along the bay until we were very cold and wet, then we showered, napped, and finished the day with a perfect dinner of Connemara lamb (Craig’s) and rabbit casserole (mine). At this point snow was accumulating thickly on the beautifully shaped and placed trees and shrubs outside the many large windows.
After breakfast the next day, we drove to Clifden, where Craig's family is from, before heading north. We enjoyed the view of the Twelve Bens and Kylemore Abbey through the mist and occasional snow. But as we headed toward Leenane, we almost got stuck. We just did manage to turn around and had to retrace about 20 km. We felt lucky to escape. We cut back to Recess and into Galway and out the eastern side.
We thought of staying in Longbrea or Portumna, but it was hopeless. Everything in Longbrea was shut up and "Granny" at the B&B in Portumna was indisposed. This was our first taste of the widespread distemper that afflicts small-time hostelers in deep off-season. A similar indisposition prevented us from staying on the river in Birr. Bedaeker's was useless: there was no telling what listings were actually available. We gave up on the little B&Bs and settled in Dooley's Hotel right in the center of Birr, which turned out to be just fine.
Dinner was breaded pork for me and lamb for Craig. The locals were much horrified by news of the murder of 17 people at a MacDonald's in America. They asked us about it.
We spent Friday morning at Birr Castle. It is set in a beautiful park of more than a hundred acres along two rivers, with waterfalls, lovely views of the castle, an arboretum, and a fine prospect of County Tipperary. There were formal gardens with box, yew and hornbeam.
At Birr, we found this (left), the earliest known suspension bridge, first described in 1826. The bridge, house, gardens and a 72-inch telescope (at the time, the largest in the world) were all built by Sir Lawrence Parsons, Earl of Rosse.
By now it was dry, cold, and occasionally somewhat sunny. We saw a beautiful allee and parterre. After two hours of walking, we drove on for Kildare.
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