24 May 2013, Friday
It turns out our hostess is a locavore …
lo·ca·vore noun \ˈlō-kə-ˌvȯr\ : a person who eats foods grown locally whenever possible
First Known Use: 2005
… our breakfast—the Big Irish Breakfast, remember that?—included all local meats. I know I said it in the last post, but I’ll say it again: Hawthorne Lodge B&B in Mountshannon is the place for me from now on.
I have visited County Clare every time I’ve been to Ireland—it’s that magical. But I’ve always been in the west—the Cliffs of Moher, Lahinch, the Burren, Kilfenora. Many, many travelers fly in to Shannon Airport, which is in Co. Clare, and spend their entire visit on the west coast of Ireland.
Here’s a map (zoom out to see the outline of Co. Clare):
This trip, for the first time, I got a good look at East Clare. It’s very quiet. 🙂 And it has a magnificent lake. Honestly, we had a lot of activities connected to the wedding—and an Irish wedding is an all-day affair—so not a lot of time for investigating. But I’ll be back, and this is one of the things I plan to do next time: the Lough Derg Garden Trail. And this. I always pick up brochures when I’m someplace new, but often don’t get to read them until I come home. So I knew Mountshannon had a lovely public park (Aistear Park Inis Cealtra) with a maze (a maze!), I knew about the Holy Island tours (definitely no time for that), but I didn’t know there were ring forts, holy wells, famine graves … I’d like to go back with more time to spend poking around.
Put it on the list for next time! as Gerry says.
After breakfast we went for a little drive down the R352 to Scariff (pop. 798); I wanted to pick up some things at the chemist. We wandered around the village for a few minutes, even stopped in at the local healthfood/hippie store (my people). On the way back we stopped at the harbor in Mountshannon for a few minutes so I could take some photographs.
One very interesting thing happening at Mountshannon Habor is An t-Iolar Mhara—a project to reintroduce the white-tailed eagle (also known as the sea eagle) to Ireland. “White-tailed eagles were once widespread and fairly common in Ireland, although largely western and coastal in distribution,” the official brochure says. “At least 75 historical nest sites are known, though Ireland is likely to have held many more pairs in the past. Driven to extinction by human persecution (shooting, nest robbing, and poisoning), the species hung on as a breeder in its last stronghold in County Kerry until 1898. … One hundred white-tailed eagle chicks were taken from nests in Norway under license and released into Killarney National Park between 2007 and 2011 as part of the reintroduction programme. To date, 21 eagles have been recovered dead, at least 9 of these as a result of illegal poisoning. Released eagles have spread far and wide throughout the island, including at least 6 birds that have visited Scotland. One male dispersed as far as the Orkney Isles in 2009 before returning to Kerry. The oldest birds are now reaching the age at which they can breed. To date [spring 2012] at least four pairs are holding territory in SW Ireland. One pair has been confirmed breeding on Lough Derg, Co. Clare, the first nesting attempt in the wild in Ireland in over 110 years!” *
Local folks are absolutely thrilled by this news, and there is always someone with a tripod and a powerful camera set up having a look at the eagle goings-on. When we were there, the chicks had hatched and were being closely watched (read more about it here). I’m pleased to report the chicks are out of the nest, now, and down near the lake (read more about that here—great photos!).
And then it was time to go primp and curl—the wedding at St. Caimin’s Church would start at 1:30 pm. (St. Caimin, by the way, is the seventh-century hermit to whom the Holy Island in Lough Derg owes its, well, holiness.)
Call me sentimental if you must—but I just loved everything about this wedding in this humble country village church, which dates from 1790. Everything was just beautiful.
Neil, the groom, is a fan of all things comic-book superhero. He, his best men, and his father were all wearing superhero socks and cufflinks.
The ceremony itself was so sweet. The country church, the country priest. Remember, this is the church Maureen grew up in; Father John Jones is a family friend and much beloved in Mountshannon. Great voice too. 🙂
Honestly, the entire ceremony was emotional (but then, weddings are, aren’t they?). Tears were shed, as they say. But there was laughter too. Maureen’s godfather—I believe this is Gus Byrnes on my wedding program; he is Maureen’s father’s oldest friend—was to give the reflection (actually, to read one of my all-time favorite poems, “I carry your heart with me(I carry it in]” by E. E. Cummings), but he ran to the podium without his notes. So while he was waiting for someone to bring them to him, he began to speak extemporaneously about his love for Maureen and about the first time he met Neil. He knew Neil was the one, he said, because he rode a motorcycle and he arrived with chocolate (Gus and his wife life in/near Cork). The speech was moving and emotional and just perfect. And made us all cry. 🙂
Finally, some beautiful prayers, including the “Our Father” (Lord’s Prayer) in Irish (Gaelic), a lovely nuptial blessing from Father John, communion, and then we were done.
After ten minutes or so of standing around outside in the cold, we all jumped in our cars and headed to Killaloe (Killa-loo), where the reception would be held. I, of course, was the only driver who was unfamiliar with the road, so I relied on the GPS. Whoops. Ms. Emily, Gp.S., likes to take the most direct route.
This map shows the way we should have gone.
But zoom in. See where you can leave the R463 on a road called Bealkelly? It makes a triangle on the map. Yeah, Emily took us there. It is literally a one-lane road, barely paved in spots. Go ahead, drag the little yellow man over to the map and have a look; I’ll wait. I don’t mind saying when I got to the other end (the road changes names in the middle, becomes Rahena Beg) I was a nervous wreck. It’s a distance of maybe a couple miles, through a neighborhood of upscale country homes, but I was so frightened of meeting someone coming the other way, I was in bits by the time we got to Killaloe.
The countryside is just gorgeous, though, with many trees and bushes flowering, others just beginning to leaf out. I wrote in my notes “must look up that salmon-colored bush,” but I have been unable to figure out what I was seeing.
We didn’t spend much time in Killaloe the village (pop. 1,035), but what we saw was beautiful. It sits right on the River Shannon and has a lovely, historic bridge that crosses the river. (The earliest mention of a bridge—wooden—is in 1013, but the one here now was built in the early 1700s.) Instead we went straight to the Lakeside Hotel & Leisure Centre.
The location is just gorgeous.
That said, the hotel doesn’t have luggage carts, because it doesn’t have lifts; the bags had to be dragged up the stone stairs to the hotel and from there up the staircase to the rooms. I’d just walked in from the back parking lot, so I wasn’t amused. We’re told there are some very nice rooms at the hotel, but ours was closet-sized; we had to move furniture to get in and out of the door! I’ve slept in lots of uncomfortable beds in Ireland, but this one … oh boy. Our room was right at the confluence of the stairs and the lobby, with the patio behind; that is, the door opened to the staircase, up which every guest had to walk at some point, and the window opened to the patio behind the hotel. Since the only way to cool the room was to open the window, we listened to everyone who visited the patio to smoke. All. Night. Long. (Of course, some of these things we wouldn’t know for hours yet.)
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t stay here again, especially not with the charming Hawthorne Lodge just up the road. But it was just one night, and the company was excellent. 🙂
However, there was the rest of that all-day wedding to contend with. It’s a lot easier to get a room at the hotel where the reception is held than to drive the twenty-five miles back to Mountshannon late at night. And the festivities were a lot of fun, as Irish weddings are. 🙂
First, reparation to the bar, while we waited for the wedding party to finish with photos. (We wouldn’t go in to the dining room for dinner until the bride and groom could join us, of course.)
The meal was wonderful—chicken Caesar salad followed by leek and potato soup, then steak with creamed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Dessert was a sampling of tasty treats; I was wowed by the brown bread ice cream.
After dinner, we settled in for the speeches from the wedding party and parents. I had never met Maureen’s family or friends; to be honest I haven’t known her that long myself. (Small matter of an ocean between us.) But I can tell you this: the O’Rourkes are a family who love their children and their friends widely and deeply; since I come from a loving family myself, I felt very comfortable with these lovely folks. The Hampsons I know well, and they also could have been my family of origin. (I don’t know if this makes sense. Sometimes you are friends with someone, but as you meet his or her family, you know they are different—you grew up with pets, say, and they were a family who wouldn’t consider having an animal in the house. It might be actual cultural differences, or it just might be family culture; it might be family dynamics. Different is OK, don’t get me wrong. But when you meet someone with whom you are so in tune, whose family of origin could just as easily have been yours, you just slot into that extra place at the table as if they were just waiting for you to get started … well, that’s how the Hampsons are for me. And that’s clearly how the O’Rourkes are for Neil.) There was a lot of good-natured ribbing—after all, the Hampsons are Dubliners, going back for generations, while the O’Rourkes are from a tiny village in the rural west of Ireland—but I sat there and just cried through those speeches. This was a lovely meal with a lovely group of people.
Soon the tables were cleared and the dance floor was ready. Gerry and I stuck around for a little while but we’d been up early (can’t help it: the body clock just goes off) and were wiped out. We went upstairs to read and get ready for bed sometime around eleven.
(*The editor in me wants to copyedit the text in this brochure, but I present it as it is.)