The next morning we woke up pretty early so we could get a jump start on what would be a long drive up to County Mayo and Ashford Castle. Based on Google Maps and GPS, we already knew we were in for a 4+ hour drive but when you add in stops along the way and who knows what sort of weather-induced detours and delays, we wanted to make sure to leave ourselves as much time as possible.
Our first stop of the morning was Adare which is supposedly this amazingly beautiful village with several restored thatched roof cottages. And it is a little village and there are thatched roof cottages, but only a handful. I kept wondering if we were missing some part of it but we weren't. This is also the home to Adare Manor which is a huge manor house and golf course that caters to the very wealthiest of society. It was obvious the town of Adare had been set up to do the same. There's a very pretty public park, a castle (closed to the public during winter) and some shops in the cottages and a cafe or two, but not a whole lot of reason to stop if you don't have a specific reason for being there. We were on the lookout for a brooch to go with a sweater we bought for Alan's mom and so the shops were a perfect place for us to find something unique and not what you find at every other tourist shop across Ireland.
After Adare, our next stop was Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. I know, I know. "What a tourist trap," you're thinking. And, you might be right. But we loved it (we also love Colonial Williamsburg, so there's that to consider). The castle is what you'd expect from a castle - made of stone, cold, damp and uncomfortable to live in with secret passageways and staircases to all the different areas. The castle's great room was decorated with giant tapestries from the ... 13th century (???) ... one of which that had just been restored and returned from specialists in Brussels. The colors on it was so striking and vivid compared to those that hadn't been restored. And obviously, the original craftmanship was unlike what you'd find today to withstand so many centuries.
The present castle was built in 1425 by the McNamara family and remained in their possession until 1475 when it past to the O’Brien’s, the largest clan in North Munster. Under Henry VIII's "surrender and re-grant" scheme, the O'Brien's were granted the title "Earls of Thomond" and they agreed to profess loyalty to the King of England. The reign of the O’Brien’s came to an end with the arrival of the Cromwellian troops and the castle and its grounds were surrendered. The O’Brien’s never returned to Bunratty. Bunratty Castle and its lands were granted to various Plantation families, the last of whom was the Studdart family. In 1804 Bunratty fell into disrepair after the family decided to relocate to a more modern and comfortable at Bunratty House, located in the grounds of Folk Park. Bunratty Castle was finally returned to its former glory when Lord Gort purchased the estate in 1954. It is now the most complete and authentically restored and furnished castle in Ireland and it has been open to the public since 1960.
Those McNamara's must have had TINY feet because at size 7, mine were way too big to fit on the stairs. I had to walk sideways from the knees down and forward facing from the hips up to avoid falling down the stairs to my death. I imagine this was intentional.
Our next stop of the day was the Cliffs of Moher. Again, more hemming and hawing as we decided whether or not we should make this stop. We knew we only had some much time in the day as the sun was setting at 4:15 p.m. and it would add about 45 minutes each way to our drive. On the flip side, it's one of those places that everyone you meet who has ever visited Ireland asks if you visited. I can't imagine the looks and questions we would have gotten if we said no. We also were wondering if it would be as magnificent as everyone says, having already seen the Napali Coast in Hawaii. In the end, we decided to go for it and I'm glad we did. While I imagine in calm weather the cliffs themselves are a sight to behold we were more excited about the way the weather was behaving at the Cliffs. Behold, not a waterfall, but a waterup.
That is the ocean being pushed up and over the cliff from the force of the winds as they hit land. And yes, it was FREEZING here and we got drenched - again.
(This is me holding on to the binoculars for dear life because the wind was so strong it was pushing me back into the concrete wall and I was terrified that a strong gust would catch my jacket, turning it into a sail, and I'd go up and over. Needless to say, I let go and RAN away from the edge.)
After the Cliffs, we drove to The Burren to see not just the landscape in general, but also the Poulnabrone Dolmen. It's no secret to anyone who's read this blog for some time that I'm a fan of historical romance novels, several of which are set in Ireland and Scotland well before modern times. I'm also a fan of some supernatural book series and the Burren - and this site as far as I can tell - has been featured periodically in several of the books I've read. [Sue me if that's not reason enough to want to see an ancient reminder of civilization.]
Our GPS decided that if we were going to The Burren it was going to make sure we really saw the place, sending us on what was quite possibly the most ridiculous scenic route ever. I am convinced we could have gotten there much quicker, and with much less stress (at one point Alan asked me to let him know when he needed to remind me to breath) by taking some of the larger rodes. At one point were were driving down a pretty windy one lane road that had a sign for hikers and bikers. Further up there was another sign noting this was a path for summer hiking and biking enthusiasts. The GPS sent us down what is essentially a bike path! I mean, it was an actual road, but it's typically used for feet and wheels! Alas, we finally made it and the landscape was just incredible. You've never seen anything like it. The Dolmen itself has been roped off (which I hadn't noticed in recent visits from blog friends) and was much smaller than I anticipated it being given what its original use was.
Poulnabrone Dolmen (Poll na mBrón in Irish meaning "hole of sorrows") is a portal tomb in the Burren, County Clare, Ireland, dating back to the Neolithic period, probably between 4200 BC to 2900 BC. The dolmen consists of a twelve foot thin, slab-like, tabular capstone supported by two slender portal stones, which lift the capstone 6ft from the ground, creating a chamber in a 30ft low cairn. The cairn helped stabilize the tomb, and would have been much higher originally. A crack was discovered in the eastern portal stone in 1985. Following the resulting collapse, the dolmen was dismantled and the cracked stone was replaced. Excavations during this time found that between 16 and 22 adults and 6 children were buried under the monument. Personal items buried with the dead included a polished stone axe, a bone pendant, quartz crystals, weapons and pottery. In the Bronze Age, around 1700 BC, a newborn baby was buried in the portico just outside the entrance. With its dominating presence on the limestone landscape of the Burren, the tomb must have remained a centre for ceremony and ritual until well into the Celtic period.
Leaving The Burren, the sun had gone behind a cloud bank so while it wasn't quite sunset yet, we had definitely lost the last of daylight. Our drive was a bit slow with some roads that had been completely flooded but were now just flood remnants and traffic as we approached Galway. We had heard on RTE that Galway - like Cork - had suffered some serious flooding but we weren't entirely sure where that flooding was (other than Gort) and what impact it would have on our drive up to Ashford. We eventually got through the outskirts of Galway after a minor stop & go delay only to find ourselves completely stopped on road outside of the city leading up to Ashford. Our road itself wasn't closed but the one adjacent to it was so all the traffic was being diverted our way. And then about an hour later as we inched along we did come to a place where the lough had flooded the road and emergency road crews were literally pushing back the water with pumps and sandbags.
We finally arrived to Ashford and holy freaking money! It's one thing to be treated respectfully when you check into a five star establishment, but it's an entire other thing to check into Ashford. First of all, the place is quiet, like a library or a museum. And wealth just oozes from every corner. Unlike The Shelbourne (also a five star property) where they just give you your room key and wish you a good trip, the concierge walked us to our room, pointing out the bar and restaurant along the way. He also encouraged us to make reservations for one of the two restaurants as they fill up. We knew that coats were required for gentleman in the George V restaurant but the dress code hadn't said anything about female attire. Looking at this place I knew I had nothing in my suitcase that would be suitable for dinner (this was confirmed later in the evening when a couple came out in a full suit for him and sequin evening dress for her). We ended up making reservations for the dungeon bar, where we - and all the other young people, apparently - belonged.
Our room was nothing fabulous - two double beds, a tv, and a nice bathroom but at that point I knew we'd paid probably the absolute least you could pay to stay at Ashford so I had expected it. A few minutes later the women in charge of rooms (she has a much fancier title that I'm forgetting) called and asked if we had requested to be put in a double room because if not, she had a room available for us that had a king size bed with the same view. Say no more! We made our way down the hall and checked into what would be Alan's favorite room of the whole trip.
After dinner that night we sat in the Drawing Room to make use of its free WiFi so that I could use Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I'm an addict. Sitting there I was really uncomfortable by how much wealth was on display. We do alright for ourselves and we live in one of the richest areas in the country so it's not as if I'm not used to seeing overt displays of wealth, something that is actually very common in Silicon Valley. But this was on a whole new level and it just made me feel completely out of place. I am not the person you'll see walking by with her 5 carat diamond ring, $1500 Louis Vuitton purse and $600 Jimmy Choos. I like comfort and I'm definitely a very casual person - Gap is definitely more my style. That said, as I sat there feeling awkward and out of place, I noticed the man's suit was a little faded and the sequin dress was definitely not high fashion. As I sat there in my Prada glasses, I felt at least marginally better about being there. Shallow and ridiculous? Absolutely, but sometimes you gotta take what you can get to make a situation bearable and this was definitely one of those times.
Later that night the storm rolled back through and it was a doozy. Our windows were rattling, the wind was howling and eventually around 4 a.m. one of our walls started leaking - drip, drip, drip. Once I figured out where it was coming from and that none of our stuff was getting ruined (can't say the same for the lovely draperies) I fell back asleep for the rest of the morning.