Saturday, May 23, 2009



We went to a lot of places, saw more than I can describe in even a dozen posts.

We stayed at Markree Castle, but before we got there we visited the other castle I considered staying at (but it was quite a bit more expensive.)  Ashford Castle is a five star hotel, and we weren't allowed inside.  But we were allowed to wander the grounds.  They included hundreds of acres of woods, a shooting range, impressive stables, and so on.  We crossed a bridge to get to Ashford, the first image on this blog post.  Guards at the gate took our entry fee.  My DH noted that he felt excluded since we couldn't go inside, but he was grinning.  We all were.  The place is magical.
It's hard to understand the scope of the castle itself without walking completely around it.  Before we did that, we roamed along the river and through woods.  Gunshots periodically pierced the quiet. We found a cave, and in it, pieces of orange skeet.  We decided that heading back might be a good idea, in case loose bullets might be flying in our vicinity.  On the way, we found the building where marksmen can shelter while playing.  The folk who'd been using it, if they had been there and weren't shooting at real pigeons on the trail, had left.  We didn't hear anything after that, though.
We found several gardens, all huge and old.  My favorite was the walled garden, in which there's an herb garden that looks like regular landscaping until you realize that the big shrubs matched in size to the roses were things like sage, rosemary and thyme.  Ancient, gnarled wood supported fat, fragrant sprigs that can be used in cooking or medicine.  They had a long arbor--hazelnuts, not grapes--shaped to bend sharply at about eight feet in height so that it was difficult to tell the trees apart from the supports.  This is what all gardens want to grow up to be.  I could have stayed for days and days.  Next time I'll bring shoes that look good but have a serious waffle sole so I can stomp around without slipping in the sometimes muddy areas.  Or just go horseback.  I didn't see signs that said we couldn't ride horses through the walled garden.  

I loved Ashford.  Loved it.  If you go to Ireland, you have to stay in Cong, visit Ashford Castle and the church and abbey, and be sure to bring your walkin' shoes and nice clothes for the day you visit the castle.  If you stay at the castle, bring your best clothes, and bear in mind that the restaurant is black tie.  And don't forget to stop by the Crow's Nest in Cong.  They do good food, and if you're looking for a brawl, that'd be the easiest place to get into one.
That probably bears further explanation.  These kids, on our way walking to the Crow's Nest, hooted and hollered while driving like Irishmen through the streets of Cong.  We went into the pub, and a few minutes later these same kids came in.  The four of them could only afford one cider.  The bartender gave it to them in the can with a glass upturned over it.  One of them tried to be impressive by picking it up by the glass and flipping it over ... and the cider ended up on the ground.  And of course exploded when they opened it.  Then the shrill wolf whistling started, right behind us, while two old guys sang songs familiar to everyone but me--no Danny Boy, no Whiskey in the Jar.  Just when I thought he'd whistled for the last time, he'd whistle again, sometimes in my ear, sometimes in Ruairi's ear, sometimes between the lady and gent sitting to my right.  I kept Ruairi in check (which entertained him) but I wasn't sure the lady to my right would be able to restrain her companion for very much longer.
The whistling won, in the end, in the sense that it drove us out before the fight was on.  As I got up, the lady smiled at me.  We never traded a single word, but our eyerolls were timed about the same (synchronized eye-rolling, anyone?) and we were friends in irritation.  I wished her luck and she laughed.
Fun town, exquisite castle, great food, incredible scenery, and a sense of ancient peace and yet liveliness that's hard to describe.  It's a place to go fishing, not to doze by the river but to actually catch stuff.  It's a place to practice falconry, and race on horses, not amble sedately on animals so jaded they're like zombies.  The ancient is alive and well at Ashford Castle.

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