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Rain Drops & Blossoms August 23, 2019

I could have spent longer exploring the shops of Galway but we were scheduled to meet up with another of Tricia’s friends from Facebook for dinner. We returned to the B&B and shared some our adventures with our hostess Pauline. The laundry we had left drying that morning was mostly dry by this time and Pauline had even been kind enough to fold them. She truly went above and beyond to help us out of this mess. We left a handful of stubbornly damp items by the fire and went to freshen up before heading to Donnelly’s pub.

 

Donnelly’s was one of the places recommended to us by the couple we’d met during our delay in Iceland and Pauline had highly recommended it as well. Turns out that Tricia’s friend Clare and her husband George also often stop in here when they are visiting Galway.

 

We arrived shortly after 7:00 pm with Clare and George only a few minutes behind. An observer would have thought Tricia had known this couple for decades the conversation flowed so quickly upon their arrival. With a very few exceptions, everyone we met in Ireland was warm and friendly. George and Clare were generous, funny, and just lovely to chat with.

 

We stayed out way too late and by the time we returned to the cottage the wind was howling. I lay in bed listening to it rage against the walls and felt like I was back in Florida during a hurricane. The morning came and despite the vicious wind, there didn’t appear to be any damage around the cottage. We packed up, something that was becoming a more arduous task as we accumulated souvenirs that hadn’t yet found a home within our suitcases. Pauline was already at work, so after checking several times to make sure we had collected everything we locked up and dropped the keys through the mail slot. (I love that there was a mail slot! I’ve never seen one in real life before.)

 

In our original plan, this would have been our last day in Ireland so we were headed back toward Dublin. Since we had been able to extend the trip a day to make up for our delay arriving, (if you missed that misadventure click here) we were able to take a more leisurely drive from Galway to Dublin. We decided to stop at Birr Castle, about 90 minutes from the cottage.

 

The sun was shining, with the ubiquitous clouds so we debated wearing our raincoats, but decided to risk it. At the ticket counter, we learned the castle itself wasn’t open yet for the season, but the grounds were and I really wanted to walk around. I’d seen some of the grounds on Netflix, Tales of Irish Castles, and was looking forward to exploring.

One wing of the tree fort

Just past the welcome center/gift shop, is a large play area for children with a gigantic tree fort. I imagine this place is mobbed with kids in the summers. Since we were the only people around, Tricia and I had to detour through the fort to check it out.

 

A fine mist began once we left the play area, but quickly turned to a steadier drizzle. We jogged across an open expanse to a small pavilion and caught our first glimpse of the castle; truly an impressive sight. The Parsons family has lived here for more than 400 years! One of the Earls in the 1800s was fascinated with astronomy and had a giant telescope constructed. It remained the largest in the world until 1917.

 

Leviathan Telescope

 

When the rain reduced to a light mist again, we ventured from the cover of the pavilion and within an hour the sun was shining again. There are more than 120 acres of gardens to explore, so it could take a person days for a full examination. There are so many picturesque spots that I imagine many of the residents have at least dabbled in painting trying to capture the beauty. A river with rushing rapids nearly kisses the base of the castle wall then makes a stately path through the property.

 

River past the castle

 

Despite the chilly weather, there were a number of flowers blooming. I’m enamored with fresh blooms and trying to capture their beauty in photographs so I took more than a few artsy photos here. One area had a walkway of cherry trees which were in bloom. I felt like I was walking into a cotton candy tunnel. I don’t know if a picture could possibly do justice to this area.

 

 

At some point my mom texted to tell us to be careful driving as Winter Storm Gareth had moved onshore overnight and was said to be causing flooding. This information helped explain the crazy wind the previous night. The flooding wasn’t surprising either. I believe I mentioned earlier that there had been rain for weeks prior to our arrival as well as pretty much every day of our trip. Most of the rivers, streams and lakes we had passed were exceptionally high, just waiting for one more storm to push them over the banks.

 

 

Tricia finally pulled me away from the gardens and we tried to get lunch at The Thatch, a pub a mile or so from the castle. She’d found it on Yelp and was set on having lunch there. When we arrived there wasn’t a single car and I deduced it wasn’t open yet but she insisted we try the door, which of course was locked. We headed for the motorway again, hoping to find another place to eat along the way.

 

The Thatch

 

We weren’t too far down the road when we came to a Lidl grocery store. I’d been wanting to visit one since landing in Dublin. I had seen one on a map near our first hotel, but with all of the chaos of our arrival hadn’t even thought to look for it while we were there.

 

I managed to convince Tricia to stop here and we wandered through. I frequent Aldi in my hometown so was interested to see how the two stores compared. I have to say, the bakery gives Lidl a bit of a boost. We purchased several baked treats for lunch and set off for the Hill of Tara.

 

Day of Discovery August 16, 2019

We woke Tuesday morning and found our excellent hostess, Pauline, had left out a bag of clothespins as well as her “clothes horse” drying rack. Tricia had sent Pauline a message during the laundry fiasco to see if it would be okay for us to use the clothesline. Pauline hadn’t received the message until that morning and left us a sweet note. Before we even had breakfast, we transferred all the clothes to either the line or the clothes horse, tried to stoke the fire to get the room warmer in hopes of the clothes drying faster, and went about getting ready for the day’s outing.

Laundry on the Clothes horse and line

 

The sun was shining and the wind was whipping so I was hopeful the clothes would dry quickly. We pulled out of the driveway and were maybe ten yards from the cottage when it started hailing. Well, hail isn’t as bad as rain, I thought, and it’s not coming down very hard. By the time we reached the end of the street, it had become a downpour, so we turned around and hurried to pull the clothes in off the line.

 

Back on the road, our first stop was a place we’d discovered the previous day on the way to the Cliffs of Moher. Hazel Mountain Chocolate is a small, family-run operation. You can view their facility and sample the chocolates, visit the gift shop or grab a bite in the cafe. They start with raw beans that they roast and mill themselves. Luke was manning the shop and provided us with an overview of the factory process. The resulting liquid is poured into molds and aged for three weeks before being turned into its final form. What they do is really an art. We bought truffles and chocolate bars to take home and Luke told us about a nearby Abbey he thought we might enjoy visiting.

 

 

Next we headed to The Burren Perfumery. I stumbled across this place on Instagram and it sounded so interesting I was glad we were able to fit it into our schedule. The road into it was maybe the smallest we had been on with high grass and bushes pressing in on either side. I was sure we’d made a wrong turn but then, in the middle of nowhere a sign indicated a turn and within a few seconds we were in the parking lot.

 

The road into the Perfumery

 

What a charming place! I felt like I was walking into something out of a fairy tale. A friendly lady greeted us as soon as we entered and took the time to explain each of the perfumes made on the premises and gave us a quick tour of the other products available. There is also a short film visitors can watch about the Burren. It’s a landscape of strange beauty that is both harsh and home to great beauty. We learned that perfumes change once they have been on your skin for a time and interact with your body chemistry. The associate recommended we try our favorite scent and allow it to transition for several minutes before making a choice. I liked all of the choices, but Winter Woods was unlike any perfume I’ve known before. It’s earthy and evoked within me a picture of a thatched cottage on a crisp night, a crackling fire in the hearth and a good book waiting to be read.

 

This is also a family-run company and in addition to the perfumes they make balms, soaps, and skin care item. There is an herb garden right behind the tea room that even in the days before spring truly arrived was still a place of rugged beauty. I could have spent a small fortune here, but I only came home with one bottle of Winter Woods perfume. However, they ship for free to anywhere in the world if you spend 60 euros on their website.

 

Upon leaving the perfumery, we started looking for the abbey Luke had mentioned. We knew it couldn’t be far, he’d said something about it being across from the Chocolate Factory. How we missed the sign for it on the way to the perfumery I don’t know, but we caught it the second time and turned down a gravel road that ended at Corcomore Abbey.

 

The road to Corcomore Abbey

 

This abbey was found around 1195 by Cistercian monks and holds the tomb of Conor O’Brien, king of the territory once known as Thomond. Aside from the missing roof, the ruins are in remarkable condition. We were the only visitors for close to thirty minutes. We were surprised by the number of graves that had fresh flowers on them and there was even a crypt with a burial from as recent as the early 2000s.

 

 

When another family arrived, we decided to move on. This was a slower paced day and we hoped to explore the shops in Galway a bit before meeting another friend of Tricia’s for dinner. Pauline had given us tips on places to shop and we found a parking garage with ease. Parking was another matter. I was sure the top of the car was going to scrape the ceiling of the garage and the spots were tiny. Thank goodness Tricia was driving.

 

It turned out the garage we had stumbled on was in an ideal location with the Aran Sweater Market steps away. I still hadn’t purchased a sweater yet and time was running out so I went inside while Tricia visited the jewelry shop across the street. I tried on a dozen sweaters, with three or four becoming quick favorites. There was another lady trying a bunch of things on also and we struck up a conversation. She and her husband were from Alaska, so it made sense she was planning on taking at least a couple of sweaters home.

 

I wasn’t ready to make a commitment by the time Tricia arrived and decided to see if there were any other shops that might have a sweater like the one I’d seen in Bunratty. The street was closed to cars, paved with bricks, and lined with shops, cafes, or restaurants. With street performers and banners stretched across the street there was quite a festive air.

 

 

We visited a number of shops, but no other sweaters caught my fancy so we returned to the Aran Market and I chose two to have shipped home. I also found a knit hat for my dad, whose head is always cold in the winter, and a small sheep to always remember our close encounters.

 

 

 
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