We’re Off!

5 October 2015, Monday
Gerry and I had—weeks ago—a heated exchange about the best way to get to the Inishowen Peninsula from Portmarnock. I, being the driver, assumed that one plotted the shortest distance between the two points (which would take us through Northern Ireland) and started driving. But Gerry had been told by several locals that the most efficient way was to “go through Sligo.”

“What?” This just made no sense to me. Look at the map—you’ll see.

 

Until I got to looking at some online discussions about this very route. Turns out those Northern Ireland roads go through small villages, traffic gets backed up, etc. So … we went through Sligo. 🙂

We were up early for breakfast and then hit the road; it would be five hours in the car, plus whatever else we might get up to, so the adventure needed to get underway smartly.

I’m a big one for stopping to stretch one’s legs on a long trip, and on the N4, not far from Boyle in Co. Roscommon, we all saw … something … on a hill in the distance. With a turnout. Curiosity got the better of us, so that’s where we stopped.

It was a statue. Some guy on a horse. “Tonto,” Gerry shouted as he and John got close.

Gerry and John, with “Tonto” in the distance.

Gerry and John, with “Tonto” in the distance.

I’ve seen stranger things in Ireland, so I reserved judgment until I got close. Actually, it’s called The Gaelic Chieftain (sculptor Maurice Harron) and it was inspired by the Battle of Curlew Pass, which it overlooks (the pass, that is). Fought in 1599, this was a classic Gaelic Irish ambush—the English were surprised and routed while marching through a pass in the Curlew Mountains.

It’s massive.

It’s massive, this statue.

There have been visitors before us.

There have been visitors before us. (Remember, you can click to enlarge and zoom in.)

There were other things to see, so I took a few photos …

Camera in my hand!

John took this one of us—camera in my hand!

Mist on the hills in the distance.

Mist on the hills in the distance.

Mist on Lough Key.

Mist on Lough Key.

… and then we got started again. By the time we neared Sligo town, it was time for tea. And something to eat.

This part of the world—counties Sligo and Leitrim (though Gerry said, Dubliner that he is, “The best thing that came out of Leitrim was the road to Dublin”)—is known as Yeats Country: the great poet wrote movingly of the mountains, lakes, and lore of this region. (Though born in Dublin, the family relocated to Sligo—it was his mother’s family’s place—and Yeats regarded it as his childhood home.)

Just past Sligo town, the village of Drumcliff is where Yeats is buried (or maybe not!)—in the graveyard of St. Columba’s Church of Ireland church, where his paternal grandfather was rector—and, right on the N15, is the appropriately named Yeats Tavern (and Davis’s Restaurant). Easy off and on to the highway, so we stopped.

Leek and potato soup with brown bread. Just what I needed. Along with copious amounts of tea.

Leek and potato soup with brown bread. Just what I needed. Along with copious amounts of tea.

In the lobby of the restaurant there was a series of signed prints by Annie West. They were hilarious—poking fun at William Butler Yeats—and that night in our hotel we looked up the artist. The entire series of prints is available in a limited edition book, and Gerry ordered it. It was waiting for us (in the post office) when we got home. I have tried and tried to take an adequate photo or four, but it’s a large book. (Check her website instead.)

This is the best I could do.

This is the best I could do.

No trip through these parts would be complete without the obligatory oohing and aahing over Ben Bulben—the large plateau in the Darty Mountains immortalized on Yeats’s gravestone:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Going through Sligo: Ben Bulben. It’s quite a sight!

Going through Sligo: Ben Bulben. It’s quite a sight!

We drove along the coastline for a while … Grange, Cliffony, Tullaghan, Bundoran, through Donegal town … and then turned inland as we crossed County Donegal from west to east, heading for the Inishowen Peninsula. The last time we’d been here was 2003, and I’d forgotten: Inishowen truly is another world (and I mean that in the very best way). It’s rural and beautiful.

We skirted Derry and got on the R239. This makes it sound like more than the road is—and soon we were all shrieking and giggling at the ride. OK, maybe that was just me—but John took a video of the drive from the backseat (here’s the link). When I posted it on Facebook later, my friends all commented “Slow down!” and I told them I was only doing 35 mph.

So we had a good laugh and enjoyed the drive. When we got to Muff (I just report these things, kids), we swung left and got onto the R238, which drives right along the east coast of the peninsula, overlooking Lough Foyle (really, practically an inland sea, separated from the Atlantic by a gap of just a couple hundred yards).

Muff, Quigley’s Point, and then Redcastle village, whose only claim to fame, really, is the Redcastle Oceanfront Golf & Spa Hotel.

Yes, it is a picturesque setting! I got this photo from the hotel’s website.

Yes, it is a picturesque setting! I got this photo from the hotel’s website.

You can’t miss the sign, and when you turn onto the property, the driveway twists and winds through a gorgeous, tree-covered park. (Watch out for that lady in the BMW going 50 mph, though. Good grief, lady!) And then you arrive. You can see Lough Foyle on the other side of the building, and you, um, gasp.

Arrival at Redcastle Inn—the lake in the distance.

Arrival at Redcastle Inn—the lake in the distance.

The website has a little bit of history—the original ownership of the land dates from the 1500s—but not enough. And there are gaps. What little I was able to find dates the structure, the house, as eighteenth century. So it was built during the 1700s (the gap in the website history), but modern ownership—of the estate—started in 1862 when a local man bought it, and it remained in that family until 1986. They’d started the hotel business, but a developer bought it and modernized the property into the golf/spa venue it is today.

I’ll be frank: it’s not all that modern yet. The place is like a maze, with several public rooms packed with couches and tables (typical of Irish hotel style) and halls and fire doors between halls and stairs up and down and turn here, turn there, elevator up to the second floor, then switch elevators to go further. (And woe be to the poor American who thinks of the bottom floor as the first floor, and the floor above it as the second. I do know this is a uniquely American problem.) If it weren’t for Gerry I would have been completely and utterly lost.

In the photo above of the hotel, our room was on an upper floor of the wing that extends inland on the left, and our room was on the outside; we overlooked a little stream and what looked like a gardener’s shed. Not much of a view … but then we were not giving a party here. 🙂 John, on the other hand, was in a room that was part of the original home, on the ground floor with the water lapping against the outside wall—a spectacular view!

It had been a long day, and I didn’t feel like driving any more, so we met in the bar for supper. One thing we noticed was a big change in accents—a lot of the staff were Northern Irish, which has a very Scots sound to it, and can be very, very thick.

Gerry and John, laughing about something, in the bar at the Redcastle.

Gerry and John, laughing about something, in the bar at the Redcastle.

The punchline.

The punchline.

It was good. And then we made an early night of it.

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