Friday, 5 October 2001
The majority of this tiring day was spent in the car. But it was tiring as much because of how little sleep I got as how much time I spent behind the wheel. It was well after 2 am that I got a chance to sleep. My cute hotel located so cutely in the very middle of the little village that has been “optimized” for the tourist trade is also located in what would be the Grand Tier, if anyone wanted to use the town square as, say, a stage from which to shout whatever. Which is what happened last night. I’d never actually gotten to sleep, as the noise of the midnight pub group got me thinking about my lonely little (literally) car sitting alone in a back street car park. How easy it would be for that rowdy group to trash the poor little thing. Leaving me stranded in Clifden, “hundreds” of miles from Shannon (more on that later). Then, after it seemed that the pubs closed around midnight, three or so of the most inebriated set up shop outside a diner that stayed opened until after 2 am. I had already figured that I needed to leave before the infamous breakfast (all establishments, apparently, enroll you in the bed & breakfast category), if I wanted to make it to my next goal. So I set the alarm for 7:30 (it never did go off, but I’d awakened before 7 anyway), and got what I could.
I had to wait for someone to come to work, so that I could check out at 8 am. But, sure enough, the usual Irish prediction of how far some place was proved way off. Whenever you ask, you get a standard answer: “Oh, now that’s a far piece. That’ll take you 4-5 hours, that will.” In American English, that means from 20 minutes to an hour (depending upon whether you keep a sharp eye open for leprechauns). I figure the reason that these estimations are so far off is: 1, the person you’re asking doesn’t drive; 2, she’s never been to the place you’re asking about.
That night, I’d figured that I’d at least get to Roscommon. With luck, I might make it to Athlone. I made Athlone by noon. Now, admittedly, it rained so constantly today that when it began at about 10 am, I gave up stopping for photographs, so I made much better time than ever before. But before that decision, I was seeing some of the loveliest lighting of any morning of my life. No sun, of course, but a kind of heavenly sign that just maybe, if I were good, a piece might peek out later in the day.
So ventured on to Mulingar, a largish town that figures in one of Lord Dunsany’s novels. It was a joy to finally stop there, despite the absolute madhouse town center appeared to be. All hotels proved to be full. The desk personnel knew no reason for this. So I decided to go on to my next day’s destination: Trim, the nearest town to the Dunsany Castle that is, more or less, the goal of this Ireland trip. I’ve even extended my stay to two nights, and just came in from dinner.
I keep getting the most elegant dinners in the most unlikely places. After some thought and inspiration (two quarter bottles of wine), I’ve figured it out. When Melissa’s friend Marie-Pierre bought her estate/git in the Brittany region of France, her goal was to enroll it in the European summer vacation trade. There are strict rules for the ratings from this organization. I realize that in July and August (the official High Season here), thousands of Europeans come to Ireland for a cheap but elegant summer vacation. These hotel restaurants I keep coming to (three stars) must have to satisfy a set of standards for that rating, and part of those standards would refer to meals. Few Americans would understand much of this, as we seem to expect highly varying standards at the places we might stop as we, say, made our way across the United States. Not so the Europeans.
I visited County Mayo this morning, and, in fact, had the same breakfast some manual laborers were ordering in the equivalent of a 24-hour Texaco station. It was great. I got directions for my next destination from the absurdly typical Irishman (who will get rounder and pinker as he ages), who, like all his countrymen I’ve met so far, was exceedingly helpful and friendly. They’re such a sweet people.
Trim has several interesting thingees here, as well as being very near some other interesting thingees, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed against the chances for rain tomorrow. I peeked in at the Trim Castle (used for the Mel Gibson film Braveheart), but got rained out. An hour later (it stays lighter here much later than in DC), when I went to find a restaurant, the sun was shining gorgeously in its last half-hour before hiding in the Atlantic. So cruel.
The accent here in Trim (County Meath) is very thick. I can seldom understand any of the conversation of the hundreds of Young People I pass on my scouting trips. I seem to manage well enough while in a shop, but then we’re all using the same words, I suppose. Traveling here is not expensive. the room I booked for this evening and tomorrow is about $40 a night, and while that elegant dinner certainly adds a chunk to that, it all comes in way under the $100 a night I’d presumed throughout this trip (just for lodging). Dublin will certainly(?) see an increase in the nightly fee. Breakfast is free, and I’ve never been able to manage an appetite for lunch, so that one nightly expense is all a person seems needful of arranging. Last night’s hotel room was about $55, but the clerk said it only goes to about $65 in the high season, so even traveling in the summer wouldn’t cost nearly as much as I would have presumed.
So, tomorrow is a day for visiting the “famous” landmarks of this area (which include Tara, the seat of pre-Christian Ireland). If the pattern holds, I might get a couple rain-free hours in the morning. Here’s hoping...
These shots taken during the short time I spent in County Mayo benefit both from the rain and also from an ethereal mist that hung onto the nearby hills. I was much reminded of scenes in Lord Dunsany’s Rory and Bran, where such a mountain takes on a spiritual role for the young hero.