Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Chance of Sun, Sept 25

The weather has been desperate to coin a phrase from the Irish. The wind has been blowing steadily from the North Atlantic at around 50 mph and the rain has been pretty steady.

We decided to travel north from Galway to Cong. Cong is where the John Ford film “The Quiet Man” was filmed starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Victor McGlaughlin. We drove north on the back roads for about 40 km on the east side of Lough Corrib.

Now I won’t say the roads are narrow, but given that we are driving on the left side of the road and the roads are sided with stone walls and vines, I was picking sticks from my teeth. Diana is doing an admirable job but she does constantly say under her breath, “Drive on the left. Drive on the left.”

As we arrived at the entrance to Cong, we turned into the drive of Ashford Castle. The entrance fee is 5 Euro per person and is well worth it. If one wishes, you can stay at the castle as they have turned it into a hotel. The grounds of the castle are well groomed and covered in lush plants, flowers and trees. Ashford Castle is also home to a falconry school which was established in 1999.

  We were most impressed with the view across the lough. It is dotted with small islands and, of course, is covered in mist.

The highlight for me was the small village of Cong. To say that “The Quiet Man” may well be my favorite John Wayne film would be an understatement. I think this is perhaps John Wayne’s best film ever and he should have won an Academy Award for this film.

Cong has turned the location into a cottage industry. As you exit Ashford Castle grounds, you immediately pass through the old Cong Abbey and into the main street of Cong. Turn right and find the Pat Cohan Bar (one of the first scenes from the Quiet Man. Across the street is the The Quiet Man house and Squire Dannegher’s Bar. Those of us who love the film will recognize the names.

To the left is the Quiet Man museum with about every possible spin off from the film from calenders to post cards.
The village is tiny but busy with tourists and we had espresso and yes, Diana found cappuchino at the Hungry Monk. We walked the old tombstones of the Abbey and the gardens behind the Abbey. A few hundred meters beyond is a beautiful river with the Monk Fish House situated on the bank of the river.

One can almost see and hear Ward Bond (the priest in the film) and Maureen O’Hara having their Gaelic conversation. The Irish are justly proud of their ancient language and the signs everywhere are written in English with the Gael translation on top. They are preserving their national heritage with pride and honor.

After a few hours in Cong, we headed west through Joyce’s Country, the Maumturk Mountains into Connemara and the edges of the North Atlantic. I thought the wind was gusty in Galway! The winds, rain and mist increased as we pulled into Kylemore Abbey.

We proceeded to do the Connemara Ring a route that takes you around the coast through some of the most incredible scenery imaginable. Beautiful views of the coast and harbors, mountains and of course, sheep. Sheep are everywhere and cows? (Diana just loves cows. It must be a Dutch thing). The cows are huge.

We have never seen cows this huge. We drove and photographed until about 5 and as the sky was darkening we found a nice little B&B (fluent French spoken) in Clifden. We holed up for the night in the B&B to prepare for another excursion in the Connemara Ring.

Incidentally, the B&B’s are as ubiquitous as the grass. You can’t drive 50 meters without seeing signs for B&B’s. I would venture that staying in a B&B is a better bet than a hotel. They are more intimate and far less expensive than a hotel. We averaged 60 Euro a night whereas hotels range from 89 Euro to 150 Euro. The breakfasts are the same. Everyone serves the “traditional” breakfast which consists of “crisp” bacon (sliced ham really), black and white pudding (little cakes of, uh, uh pudding?), one fried egg, two sausages, toast, a fried tomato, baked beans, tea or coffee and very nice people and conversation.

Tomorrow we will finish the Ring.