Friday, September 14, 2007

The Auld Sod, Plan 9

We went to our rooms to find numerous bottles of water. As luxurious as Ashford is, it still falls prey to the vagaries of the local water system. Every so often, we were told, the water in County Galway is invaded by a local bacteria. Recent tests showed it “might” be present and so the phrase of the day for our two day stay was “Don’t drink the water.” For the next two days, we drank and brushed our teeth with bottled water. After a nap and a shower (perfectly safe, apparently), we donned our Sunday best and headed to the dining room.

Like much of Ashford Castle, the main dining room is resplendent with mahogany. The walls are covered with carved mahogany panels rising from the floor to a height of about ten feet where it is topped with a basket weave molding. Above that to a final ceiling height of about 16 feet, the walls are covered with a warm cream colored wall paper with a delicate floral pattern. The flat ceiling is criss-crossed with a dark oak lattice work trim with crown molding. Three small alcoves, each accommodating three or four tables, adjoin the main room. These have lower arched ceilings finished with the floral wall paper. The floors are covered with thick and intricately patterned Persian rugs. Wall sconces illuminate beautiful artwork on the walls. Great arched windows with wonderful views illuminate the room during the day. At night, huge Waterford crystal chandeliers bathe the room in a soft white light tinged with rainbow hues.

Dinner matched the setting. Service personnel were dressed in white tie and white gloves. The menu was varied and consisted of five full courses and a post dessert treat of petit fours served with perfect French roast coffee. After dinner, we walked around the castle for a while and then headed off to bed (these multi-course dinners last about two and a half hours and we finished after ten o’clock). Back at our room, we found chocolates and a decanter of mead, a honey based dessert wine, for which Galway is famous. We slept like royalty.

Morning brought more overcast skies but no rain. Breakfast is served beginning at 7:30am. We wandered down stairs at 7:00am and found that the side table in the bar lounge was covered with tall sterling silver coffee urns and fine china at one end and a lovely selection of scones and pastries at the other. We sat with our coffee looking out past the garden fountain at several small boats on the lake. At 7:30am on the dot, the dining room opened. As with all our breakfasts on this trip, there were tables with assorted pastries, fruit, cereals, cheeses, and salami. Helpful service staff, clad in pure white, dispensed eggs, omelets, that wonderful Irish bacon, roast beef, and ham.

Way too many calories later, we boarded our coach and set out for Kylemore Abbey. Kylemore is located in the Connamara region of County Galway. This area is known for its wonderful lakes and rivers…and fjords. As we drove along the mountains, on either side of us got closer and more vertical. Rock formations similar to the Burren began to appear. Occasionally the rocks would move. The sheep in this area were the same size and color as the rocks. The sun broke through just as we saw a glimpse of blue. It was the tip of the fjord. The mountains hugged ever closer until the road was a notch carved into the mountain side which went directly down into the fjord. At a wide spot, a tiny village clung precipitously. Now we were well along the fjord which was about a mile wide. On the far side, a similar notched road made its way along. We stopped at an overlook, where we saw numerous lobster traps. The fjord is fairly deep. According to our tour guide, during World War II, Ireland was neutral and American and German submarines were in this fjord at the same time making repairs. The Americans, the Germans, and the Irish all knew what was going on but nobody said anything. The fjord continued to widen and then we saw it on the far shore, Kylemore Abbey, peaking out of a wooded hillside adjacent to a quiet lake set back from the fjord. The Abbey started out life as Kylemore Castle, built between 1867 and 1871 by Mitchell Henry. After the untimely death of his wife, Henry built a beautiful gothic church about a quarter mile away along the shores of the bay in 1877. In the other direction he constructed a wonderful formal garden. In 1920 Irish Benedictine nuns took possession of the property and established an abbey and a girls’ secondary school. We crossed a long bridge and we were there. A grove of trees in the parking lot blocked or view until we walked out onto a smaller bridge to the main grounds. The view was stunning. The lake was absolutely still so the abbey was perfectly mirrored in the water. The abbey is constructed of light gray granite with both round and square turrets. It sits atop a great granite wall about twenty feet above the height of the lake.

Having determined that the stone bridge was quite strong and stable (at least a half dozen coaches worth of tourists were standing on it at the same time taking an exponentially greater number of photos) we entered the visitors center/gift shop/snackbar passed through a turnstile and made our way to the abbey. The asphalt path is fairly wide and affords wonderful views of the abbey exterior and the forested hills directly above it.

Inside you are able to view only a small number of rooms which have been preserved/restored to their Victorian splendor. The remainder are still used by the nuns and students as classrooms and dormitories. The rooms you see are gorgeous.

You enter through a great gallery hall. Unlike the castles, the walls are covered with dark brown oat and the floor is oak in a stunning parquetry. Dark red drapery matches the dark red velvet chairs and a circular sofa in the room’s center.

Much lighter is the dining room. The walls are painted cream white and accented in pale sage green. All the furniture, including the dining table, the great side table (set in its own little alcove) and the accent chairs and table, are of matching dark mahogany. The chair cushions are red velvet. The rug is another Persian wonder with hints of gold and red on a mostly sage green back ground that perfectly matched the wall accents. At the end of the room is a great curving bay window with hunter green drapes pulled back and secured by golden cords.

Much lighter still is the drawing room which has been restored to match the splendor of the original with beautiful rosewood furniture upholstered in the finest silk tapestry. The walls are painted a very pale yellow with slightly darker accents and appliqué panels. Carved serving tables abound. Floor to 12 foot ceiling windows let the light stream in through gauzy white curtains framed by great gold drapes. The floor was covered with a light teal blue Persian rug with a gold floral border that explodes at each corner into a twist of gilded vines. Lighting was from very ornate gold leaf chandeliers with etched glass globes.

But my favorite room was the Community Room. This room houses artifacts of the nearly 100 years the Irish Benedictine Nuns have been here. The room is bright but formal. The walls are painted in a very pale golden yellow. Alternating wide and narrow panels are covered in a patterned gold leaf wallpaper. Each panel is edged in wood trim painted cream white. Near the ceiling, a delicate painted vine wends its way around the room. Two great roman columns painted cream white support the ceiling and, at the end of the room, a small white fireplace with a gold leaf detailed screen is topped by a huge mirror. The floor, in stark contrast, is the dark mahogany parquetry. On the walls are paintings of the nuns who have been Mother Abbess over the years. Sealed behind glass are a beautiful illuminated hymnal and several other religious books. Atop one case is a stunning five panel painting on wood (quinquetych?). We finished looking around and decided to explore outside. As we walked out to the edge of the great wall and looked down at the lake…the sun came out.

Next: More Kylemore and our trip to “Inishfree”

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Auld Sod, Iteration 8

We made our way out of the town of Galway and headed inland. Gradually the rolling fields with their ubiquitous stone walls were replaced with a more forested terrain…beautiful rolling hills covered in trees opening to velvet green pasture areas. I half expected to see medieval knights in full armor on magnificent steeds engaged in battle or, perhaps, Robin Hood eluding the Sheriff of Nottingham. The imagery wasn’t that far off. We rounded a corner and, exiting a complete canopy of trees, we saw a broad expanse of green, the golf course at Ashford, and beyond we could see Lough Corrib, Ireland’s second largest lake. And then we made a sweeping turn to the right and the 13th Century just popped up right before our eyes…Ashford Castle.

As I started to write this chapter of my journey, I got to the end of the previous paragraph and stopped, and sat, and had to think about how to describe Ashford. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then my mental images would fill several volumes. It is stunning. If you had never seen a castle but had read of Camelot and Ivanhoe and Galahad, the image you would likely conjure would be Ashford. It is a great stone edifice and it loomed up before us. It sits on the banks of the River Cong where the Cong empties into Lough Corrib. To get to the Castle, you cross the Cong over a stone bridge with great arched stone towers affixed with heavy green iron gates at each end. It gave the appearance of crossing a moat. Once across, you enter a beautiful courtyard which, on the day of our arrival, was littered with Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Mercedes, and one lonely BMW ( I guess they let the riff raff in). To the right was another smaller tower gate which led outside the castle’s low stone wall to a large expanse of grass with a large concrete circle. We thought this might be some ancient monument…until the helicopter landed, and several guests made their way in. Looking back to our left, we could see a tourist boat called The Spirit of Inisfree which can take you down the last few hundred yards of the Cong River and out into the lake. We walked toward the main entrance marveling at the great stone towers that seemed to be everywhere. As we approached two great oaken doors, two gentlemen in white tie and tails and white gloves, no less, opened the doors and welcomed us inside.

The interior of Ashford Castle can basically be summed up in one word…mahogany. The walls, the ceilings, the hand rails, the stairs, even the bulk of the custom furniture and nearly all the antiques were made of the finest mahogany. Much of it was intricately carved and all of it was beautifully stained and highly polished. This place created a big hole in a rainforest when it was being built. About the only things that weren’t mahogany were the great stone fireplaces. Large works of art and several great mirrors hung on the walls and the finest Persian rugs were under foot

We were escorted up to our room which, while beautiful, had an interior door to an adjoining room and we could hear the quiet conversation next door. Joan is a very light sleeper, and so she went off to see if anything could be done. I guarded the baggage and looked around. The large flat screen TV was on with a message welcoming Joan and I, by name, to Ashford Castle. Joan hadn’t been gone more that three minutes when the screen made a slight “boink” sound and went blank. Within seconds Joan had returned with new room keys. When we entered our new room (two doors down) this TV greeted us as well. The room was very comfortable with a sitting table and two large wingback chairs. It was painted in beautiful cream and rose colors with mahogany trim everywhere. We overlooked the entry courtyard and had a wonderful view of the entry bridge and the River Cong.

We left our bags and went exploring. Back downstairs we really began to take in our surroundings. The entry atrium opens to the right to the business/concierge area. This room had a stone fireplace and four small tables with chairs. If you had to wait for assistance (highly unlikely) you rested comfortably. A beautifully carved mahogany archway to the left led you to a long open hallway. Opposite the archway was a large open lounge, separated from the hallway by an ornately carved mahogany rail, with numerous overstuffed chairs and couches. To the left was a bar that looked as if it had been carved from a single piece of mahogany. The lounge had a vaulted ceiling covered with carved mahogany tiles. On the far side of the lounge, two story high windows overlooked the main garden. To the left of the bar, tucked in a corner was the magnificent dining room (more about this later). Stepping into the lounge we looked back and up to a second story overlook, the walls covered with photos of the famous visitors who have stayed here. We walked down the hall to a second room in which eight foot high china cabinets displayed historic serving pieces, china and crystal (Waterford, of course) which had been used by the castle over the centuries for state dinners. A little farther down the hall, I looked to my right and, to my delight, there was an inglenook. An inglenook is a small sitting area (nook) usually recessed into a main wall. This one was about six feet wide and four feet deep. On the back wall a small brick fireplace, to the sides, built-in mahogany benches with seating pads. What a lovely place to quietly sit and sip a cognac with your significant other. The hall ended in a second smaller dining area which was available for large private parties. The rain, which had been on again off again all day, had stopped and so we went out back to the main garden, known as the Terraced Garden.

The Terraced Garden is very large and formal, but simple. It is longer than a football field and half again as wide. The perimeter to the left is a 10 foot high stone wall which runs from the castle to a two story tall half circle stone tower rounded outward. The inward facing curvature was designed for defense by archers who could fire through small slits in the wall. Running the length of the garden, from the tower, is a smaller stone wall with a number of stairway passages through to Lough Corrib which glistens some 100 feet beyond. The interior of the walls are lined with roses. Walkways encircle the perimeter and lead to the center of the garden and a wonderful large fountain which sits in the middle of a 50 foot diameter reflecting pool. As you walk out of the castle, the view of the garden, fountain, and lake beyond, is both breathtaking and serene. We walked to the lake side of the garden and looked out. On a point, some 100 yards to our right, we saw a living breathing postcard picture. It was a fisherman, wearing a tweed hat and rain gear, sitting in an Adirondack chair, completely mindless of the rain. To the right were two paths. The smaller curving one led into a forested area along the lake. The larger straight one led to the other gardens (more later). At this point we turned around and looked back at the castle…it is HUGE!

Your initial view of Ashford is a tip of the iceberg experience. What you see is the end of the castle, and because of the angles of the walls you can’t see how big it is…and how diverse.

Time for a little history lesson. The castle was started in 1228 by the de Burgos Family after the defeat of the O’Connors of Connaught. In 1589, English Lord Bingham seizes power and adds a fortified enclave. In 1789, the Oranmore and Browne families add a French style chateau. In 1853 Sir Benjamin Lee Guiness adds two Victorian-style extensions. In 1868, Lord Arduilan (Guiness’s son) rebuilds the entire west wing. SO…from the first building there have been four extensions and a rebuild. And even without a blueprint it’s easy to see what’s what, as roof lines change from medieval turrets to Victorian peaked roofs. As you move from section, the size and shapes of the windows and their treatments change. The great commonality is the ivy creeping up the sides in hues of green and red, Mother Nature showing no preference as to style. And while one might expect that such a pedigree would yield an architectural nightmare, the fact is it is…beautiful! And if you look at the mixture of sizes and shapes of the buildings in almost every charming Irish town, Ashford may well be the most “Irish” of Ireland’s castles.

It started to rain again and we were tired. It was time for a nap and dinner was a few hours away.

Next: More Ashford and Kylemore Abbey

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Auld Sod, 7th Edition

We left the Cliffs of Moher and headed north along the west coast of Ireland. The amazing black limestone that creates the cliffs extends up the coast in dramatic fashion in an area known as the Burren. The Burren, from the Irish “bhoireann,” means stony place. And stony it is. As we drove along, suddenly all the topsoil and vegetation we had been seeing…stopped! We entered this otherworldly area that looked like a cross between a moonscape and a lava plain. As far as the eye could see there was flat black fractured rock. From the road to the sea the rock swept gently downward, the fractures growing in size and depth until it dropped straight off like a mini Cliffs of Moher. Across the road the rock swept gently upward to the base of a hill. The hill had eroded such that it looked like a series of giant stairs or the side of a Mayan pyramid. If you didn’t know what you were looking at you might think you were looking at a really beat up asphalt parking lot. Despite the lack of soil, flowers abound. Every crack was filled with tiny yellow and red and blue flowers. Tiny cypress plants mimicked massive trees…Nature’s Bonsai. Nearby were succulents usually found only in Mediterranean climates. The juxtaposition of the black rock and the colorful plants in every crack made it look like a vast black cloak sewn together with the most colorful of thread. After many pictures, we journeyed on.

The Burren goes on for miles. As we road along we spied a castle ruin sitting off to our left on the Burren cliffs above the ocean. We were told that the locals from Galway had taken over the place and turned it into a regional theater. We didn’t have time to stop but I can only imagine the experience of seeing a play in a venue like that.

The City of Galway rose in the distance. Galway is a seafaring town and we drove along next to the port with its dozens of fishing boats nearby and small freighters in the distance. We made a hard right turn and there, looming above the town, was the Galway Cathedral. Officially known as The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas, the cathedral sits on a small hill with its great green Renaissance dome towering 145 feet in the sky. Built between 1958 and 1965, it sits upon the site of the former city jail…redemption replaces incarceration. Built with attention to classical detail, this great stone church offers its visitors a virtual time machine experience. To look at this spotless edifice is to get an idea of what the other great churches in Ireland may have looked like in their youth. The Cathedral has four great rose windows and the walls are adorned with wonderful mosaics and the floor is inlayed with at least 10 different kinds of stone and marble. The pews are of carved mahogany stained a warm russet color. The aisles along side the nave are separated from the pews by a series of great stone arches. There are magnificent stained glass windows absolutely everywhere. The choir loft is unique. The choir and organist are on a mezzanine level looking down on the congregation. Directly above them on a separate level sit the pipes of the huge organ…stunning! The altar sits on a large raised area made of cream colored travertine. The access to the altar area is through wonderful sculptured gates made of polished brass. We took pictures, lit candles, and knelt and said a prayer. I know God is supposed to be everywhere, but I’ll bet he (she?) enjoys spending time here. You could make a day of this place.

Back on the coach everyone was eager to continue as we were now on our way to one of the highlights of our tour… Ashford Castle.

Next: Ashford Castle

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Auld Sod, Stanza Six

We awoke to dark skies and a very light mist. Breakfast at Dromoland was a comfortable yet elegant affair. A large hallway off the main dining room was set up with all the cold goodies we had come to expect. Lots of fresh and dried fruit, a world of scones, muffins, and sweet rolls, four kinds of fresh juice, cheeses, salami, lox and a selection of cereals. Take as much as you want and then step inside for a wonderful full menu of hot breakfast items. One perfect omelet later and I was ready for the road.

As our coach started away, I looked back at Dromoland. The mist had started to shroud the castle. As it began to fade in the distance, it was almost as if our stay had been a reverie, a brief daydream, the place was so magical. Happily, it had been real.

We made our way out to the west coast of Ireland, a hard, rugged and awe inspiring part of this wonderful island. As we drove, the landscape began to change. The terrain became more rolling and almost treeless. And the ubiquitous stone walls…were nowhere to be seen, just low lying shrubs and grass as far as the eye could see. Ahead we could see a great headland but, as we approached, something else caught my eye…a golf course, but not just any golf course, it was Lahinch. Lahinch is one of the two or three most famous and respected courses in all of Ireland. This 36 hole complex sits hard against the Atlantic Ocean. It is what is known as a links course. Links courses are the earliest kind of courses. They were laid out on “links land” which was the un-arable grass land that linked the beach sand to the farmland. Arguably, the most famous links course in the world is St. Andrews in Scotland. Anyone who has ever watched the British Open being played there has seen the rough and tumble fairways, which appear as almost a continuous flat plain, pock marked by small deep sand bunkers. Lahinch is different. It sits atop great heaving sand dunes, the fairways looking like beautiful green roller coasters and greens sitting perched high above. The wind was blowing hard and it was raining…perfect Irish golf weather. The course was packed with players. I tried to stifle my whimpers as we drove by. I must return and play this beast.

We started to climb up toward the headland and passed through a rather simple gate with a sign welcoming us to the Cliffs of Moher. We drove a little farther…and then we saw the cliffs. Now breathing, as any student of anatomy will tell you, is an autonomic function. We don’t think about it; we just do it. We inhale and we exhale. And each of us does this at his or her own rate depending upon our level of exertion… 36 people all gasped for breath in perfect unison. We were at the end of the world. I have seen sights where the best of photographs can never come close to the majesty of the first hand experience (the Grand Canyon, the Hubbard Glacier, Yosemite Valley); this is one of those places.

The cliffs tower some 700 feet high and seem to rise almost straight up from the ocean. Just off the cliffs are remnant spires jutting out of the water looking like giant chess pieces. The area visitors are allowed to visit is a long concave arc walkway of about a third of a mile in length which sits at about the mid point of the 5 miles of cliffs. At the highest point on the cliffs sits O’Brien’s Tower a round stone tower built in 1835 by Cornellius O’Brien, a descendant of Ireland’s High King Brian Boru. For better or worse, the area has been developed to accommodate the 1,000,000 visitors per year, who all, no doubt, gasp as did we when first seeing the cliffs. You used to be able to crawl over to the edge of the cliffs, and lying flat on your belly, look over the edge. However, because these cliffs tend to erode from the bottom up, it isn’t easy to see if the place you are lying has any underlying support, and people have fallen as recently as 2004. Now you are restricted to a walkway behind a wall of the very slate that makes up these cliffs. No matter, you are close enough to experience the wonder of the place.

As we made our way to the north end, near the tower and looked south, it started to rain. The cliffs, a dull dark gray, turned jet black and shiny. They looked like huge pieces of polished onyx. In the distance, we could see the Aran Islands, three small islands off the coast where the Irish language is spoken almost exclusively, and tourists can virtually step back in time a century or so and see the Ireland of yore. To the north, we could see Galway Bay, our next destination. As we walked to the south end of the viewing area and looked north we got a better view of the sentinel spires in the ocean. The tops had been dusted with soil over the millennia and low lying vegetation gave several a Kelly green toupee and what appeared to be thousands of black and white polka dots. Binoculars revealed the polka dots to have specks or red and orange…puffins covered the spires and the cliffs.

We made our way to the stunning new visitors’ center. In an effort to not let the center detract from the natural beauty of the cliffs, the center was, literally, cut back into the mountainside. Like a giant hobbit house, windows and doors peak out from the grassy hillside. Inside are a variety of exhibits which tell the geologic and cultural history of the Cliffs of Moher, highlighted by a 15 minute widescreen movie shot mostly from a helicopter giving you breathtaking views of the cliffs you could see no other way. One final little detail… in keeping with the whole natural scheme of the center, the sinks in the restrooms had motion sensor faucets that were small waterfalls tumbling off tiny copper cliffs…appropriate.

Next: The Burren and Galway

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Auld Sod, Unit Five

We awoke to rain our last morning in Killarney and went down to the dining room at Aghadoe Heights for breakfast. As with many of the breakfasts we had eaten on this journey, there was a table with all sorts of pastries, scones and breads, fresh fruit, cereal, and a selection of juices. They also had lox and things you don’t expect at a breakfast buffet like a selection of salamis. After you take your fill, you order your hot items from the menu. After several days of omelets, I wanted to try something different. The menu had sautéed kippers served with potatoes and a rice vegetable mixture…sounded interesting. A short while later everyone got their food and I got…two lonely small kippers on a plate. I stopped my waiter who appeared to be in a hurry and he insisted I got what I had ordered. I tried to say something but he insisted my order was right. I called the head waiter over and showed him the menu and my plate. He apologized, called the waiter over and showed him the menu. Without saying a word to me he quickly took my plate and returned about 60 seconds later with the same two kippers, now accompanied by about a half a cup of a mixture of cubed potatoes, vegetables, and rice. Good thing I ate the scones. A final word about the Aghadoe Heights Hotel. This place is veeery expensive. Our meals were included but they would have run about 120 euros per person for dinner. In the closet of our room, they had posted the seasonal room rates. Our room, this time of year goes for 1,250 euro per person per night double occupancy. For my wife and I that would be $3,500.00 per nights. Yikes!

We boarded our coach and headed to the seaside town of Foynes. In the 1930’s Trans-Atlantic flight, on a commercial scale was under serious consideration. In the late ‘30’s amphibious aircraft called “flying boats” were being developed by America and Britain. The closest safe harbor, on the edge of Europe, was Foynes. From 1939 until 1945, Foynes was the gateway to Europe. On July 9, 1939 Pan Am’s world famous “Yankee Clipper” landed in Foynes. We visited the Flying Boat Museum which has a full size replica of the Yankee Clipper…rather Spartan accommodations but great legroom. Foynes other claim to fame is that one night in 1942 a flying boat took off in a cold downpour. After several hours of flying the pilot deemed the head winds too severe and returned. One very tired, cold and wet passenger asked the bartender for a cup of coffee. The bartender poured a hot cup, added a shot of Irish Whiskey and a dollop of cream and handed it to the weary traveler who allegedly asked “Is this Brazilian coffee?” “No” replied the bartender, “That’s Irish Coffee.” And one of the world’s great toddies was born. Oh yeah! Our tour included Irish Coffees all around!

Next it was on to the little town of Adare. Adare is one of those little dots of town I mentioned earlier. However, it has a heritage center where visitors can research their family histories. We had time for a brief visit and then lunch in town. It was raining so we didn’t stray too far. We selected a little pub about a block away on the other side of the street. Believe it or not, this was our first chance, as pedestrians, to cross traffic in Ireland. Even with the rain, nobody slows down much, and there was a surprising amount of traffic. As we got ready to cross we noticed the Irish acknowledgement that they, like the Brits, drive on the wrong side of the road. Painted on the street in large letters at every possible crossing point are the words “Look Right”. We looked right and started to cross and every car on both sides of the street stopped Very polite, these Irish.

Lunch was another hearty affaire with Shepherd’s Pies all around. After lunch we had a few minutes so we went into a small market to see what it was like. What we saw was a lot of brands we recognized but not the products. Candy bars and chewing gum by Mars and Wrigley but not Snickers and Doublemint, familiar brands of soda but in odd size and shaped bottles were the norm. Interesting!

Back on the coach we were on the road again. Everyone had a great deal of anticipation because we were now on our way to spend the night in our first genuine, certified, castle…Dromoland. The road from Adare was much more wooded than we had been experiencing. As we neared the castle, we saw something we hadn’t seen much of, hedge rows…very tall hedge rows. We turned off the main road, down a narrow road with 15 foot high hedge rows on either side. We turned onto another road, same thing. For a minute I thought maybe the castle sat at the center of an elaborate maze. One more turn and then a large open area appeared. It was the golf course which surrounds the castle. As a golfer, I was drooling all over the coach window, with tears in my eyes knowing that the time constraints would not afford me the opportunity to play. We drove through some enormous oak trees and there it was, Dromoland Castle.

Dromoland dates back to the 16th century and was the ancestral home of the O’Brien clan. The present structure dates to 1935. It was the O’Brien home until 1962 when it was sold to American, Bernard McDonough, who turned it into a five star hotel. The driveway curves around the main tower of the castle revealing great gray stone walls draped with a delicate shawl of ivy. You turn to the right, past a beautiful formal fountain and enter a large terraced courtyard. The facility is shaped like a U with the main entry to the right through huge mahogany doors. It was pouring when we arrived and a phalanx of courteous staff created a canopy of umbrellas between the coach and the door. Inside everything is made of stone, marble or wood, in perfect proportion and in perfect condition. Lots of towering ceilings and overstuffed chairs…very comfortable. The staff had our rooms ready, and we were quickly escorted away. Our room, which we affectionately dubbed “the Dungeon” was down stairs through a narrow corridor. The room was delightful. Like Hayfield Manor in Cork, it was Victorian by design but 21st Century in execution. The one wonderful anachronism was the room key. Rather than your typical electronic card, this was a massive brass key attached to a large leather fob…a proper key for a castle. Our room overlooked a small formal garden.

After getting our luggage, we took a walk in the rain which was now a light mist. We visited the formal walled garden which was resplendent with roses, small fountains and ponds. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel you should sit down and write a sonnet or something. As we left, we noticed a small sign beside the gate asking visitors to close the gate so the local deer can’t get in to browse…charming. We paid a brief visit to the golf shop and then headed back to our room. We wanted to rest and freshen up because tonight was to be our first coat and tie dinner of this trip.

Dinner in a castle is…well…dinner in a castle. Everyone dressed for the occasion including Devin and Gavin, our two youngest touring companions at 11 and 13, who wore nice blue blazers over their t-shirts. The dining room had a vaulted ceiling adorned with numerous Waterford crystal chandeliers. All the waiters were young, and most were French. The five course two and one half hour meal was elegant and excellent. Afterward, we wandered around the castle, marveling at the stained glass windows. When we returned to our room, we found chocolates and a decanter of fine port to finish off a perfect day.

Next: The Cliffs of Moher