Thursday, April 7, 2011

Connaught: Ashford Castle and Beyond

After our brief time in Northern Ireland, we jumped back into the car and drove over to the west coast of Ireland--to the Connaught area.  The drive was lovely, even though Chris spent much of it being frustrated because he hadn't fully researched his route (I'm not actually sure if the route on the map below is the actual one we took, but if it isn't, it's pretty close.)  I'm so glad that we rented a car, and so glad that Chris is such a confident driver.  Driving from one location to another ended up being a great way to see some of the countryside.
The area of Connaught (Connacht) is varied in landscape and quite beautiful throughout.  It wasn't until we drove into this province that we began to see the rock walls that I assumed covered the entire country. (In the places we'd seen before, properties and fields were divided by hedgerows.  I could probably write a whole post on American misconceptions about green beer on St. Paddy's Day, no corned beef and cabbage, and much better food than I'd anticipated.) Roscommon and Galway counties (2 of the 5 counties in the Connaught province) are where my mother's maiden surname, Curley, seems to come from (Roscommon has a town called Ballymacurley, supporting that idea) although I don't have family records indicating a tie there.  Whether it is because of that predisposition, or simply because the area is magical, I felt drawn to this area.

View Ireland in a larger map

We stayed near the small village of Cong, on the shores of Lough Corrib, at Ashford Castle.  Not only were all 3 of these things (the village, the lake, the castle) drop-dead gorgeous, but we found plenty to do and tremendously enjoyed our stay.  The entrance to the castle grounds (which were extremely large grounds, by the way) was meandering and unfolded in a way you'd expect to happen only on film.  The castle was originally built in 1228 and eventually was purchased by the Guinness family in 1859 (they extended the estate to 26,000 acres, and added two Victorian wings to the castle) and stayed in the family until it was sold and re-purposed as a hotel in 1939.
Ashford Castle...view from the back by the lake
Inside the lobby.
I want a little tunnel pathway!!
Now that's a driveway.
A view of Lough Corrib.
Rosy cheeks and bagpipes!
While at the castle, we were able to bake scones with the pastry chef, (I loved being able to go into the service parts of the another of those weird dreams come true. I'm fascinated with what goes into making a huge estate work.) learn to be falconers at the school of falconry, ride horses, and watch The Quiet Man free of charge at any time (this is where the movie was filmed!)

The School of Falconry was one of the best experiences ever.  We learned so much about the birds and falconry in general.  We even got to meet Dingle the Owl...quite awesome when you're a foot away from him!  The birds we flew are Harris Hawks, which work well for hunting with multiple people because they naturally work as a team.

Wow, this is a long post.  Sorry about that!  There's just so much to talk about in this area and I couldn't conceive of how to split it up.  What follows are some pictures of Connemara, which we saw on our drive from the castle to Clifden (where we got a flat tire that was--amazingly--replaced in only a couple of hours).  Connemara is beautiful.  All the pictures I see of it look a little like Nevada, which is funny because it didn't look like that when seeing it through my eyeballs. :)

Remnants of potato farming still exist on the mountains.

Love this area...lot's of good memories, would love to go back and explore more!

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