Thursday, September 10, 2009

County Mayo and a new tire

Our night at the Clewe Bay Hotel turned out to be our best; a great night’s sleep in a comfortable room. Cool air coming in the window over the sound of the rushing river sealed the deal – it was a nice way to end the journey portion of our trip. Of all the hotels recommended by our guidebook, this one actually lived up to its reputation and I would use it again.

After a quick cold breakfast we went out in search of a tire to replace the one I had destroyed the day before. The desk gal at the hotel had recommended two places and one of them was the same as that mentioned by the Hertz roadside service agent I had spoken with. So down the road to Castlebar we went, passing the first one in about the place we’d been told it would be and finding the second about the time we were about to give up. Twenty minutes and 200 Euros later we were on our way again. How nice for me, spending a bit of time doing “guy stuff” on what is supposed to be my time away from such mundane things.

Today’s weather was just about perfect, to be expected on our last day in the country I suppose. We had a 3 hour trip to Dublin ahead of us but it was still early so a one last bit of exploring was in order. Leaving Westport on the N59, we headed in the direction of County Mayo and a couple of ruins that showed up on one of our maps.

Burrishoole Abbey was first the first objective and we found the road quickly once past Newport. At the end of a long farm lane, the abbey stood atop a small hill overlooking a harbor, home to a couple of sailboats. This abbey was built in the 1400’s by the Dominicans and almost cost them their eternal souls, having settled here without the express permission of the Pope. How funny, the head of the church thousands of miles to the south sitting in his palace in complete ignorance of this place and these people threatens his own flock with excommunication when they build a monastery without his patent. Such were the times, when the figurative heads of nations and people extended that kind of control in regions far outside of their reach. In the end, the contrite monks were forgiven and allowed to stay in this lovely place, contemplating their place in the universe.

Our next stop was Rockfleet Castle, originally known as Carrigahowley, and the main fortified residence of the Burke family of West Mayo. In 1566 it passed to Grace O’Malley, more famously known as The Pirate Queen or by the more colorful Gaelic name of Granuaile. She used this location as the principal stronghold from which she launched attacks up and down the west coast of Ireland. In 1574 she broke a siege laid by the Sheriff of Galway, Captain William Martin, driving the forces off. A local legend claims that each night she tied her boat to her bed via a hole in the seaward facing wall.

This location was just as beautiful as the last - a compact harbor hemmed in by green fields with hundreds of sheep. A few small boats were moored off shore and a couple of dories lay dry-docked above the tide line. I climbed up to the top floor of the tower via a very narrow stone spiral staircase. It was slow going, wet and very dark and as always happens in structures like this my passage made me think about what it must have been like 500 years ago making the same climb. In a small niche between floors I found the lavatory. While it may sound like I’m obsessed with medieval plumbing, the facilities in these structures are pretty fascinating in their simplicity. This one was a small seat with a square hole atop a dark shaft that fell three stories to the ground below. According to the sign, the bottom of this one was washed clean twice per day with the changing of the tides.

On the road again we headed back to Newport and to the N5 motorway that leads to Dublin. We stopped once along the way at Turoch, a 10th century round tower and by far the best one I had seen in Ireland. Another beautiful spot chosen by the architects of this place – a hill with a commanding view of the surrounding valley affording the chance to see the bands of drunken Vikings stumbling up to attack the church. The monks would have grabbed the church silver and all their manuscripts and locked themselves inside until the brutes became bored and returned to their ships, off to attack someone less vigilant.

The remainder of our ride to Dublin was longer than it should have been but such is the nature of travel in Ireland. The distances may seem short, but the endless diversions into and out of towns exacts a price – we had expected to arrive at 3 and got in at 4 instead.

We’re spending our final night here in the town of Ashbourne, just up the road from the airport. After all the oddball hotels we’re patronized over the past week, it feels nice to once again spend the night in one of those fancy travel hotels that have become such a part of my current life. Shampoo, conditioner, bars of soap, a bottle of mineral water – things that make a night in a hotel special. It’s too bad we’re only here for one night and not a week.
















































































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