9 October 2015, Friday
Oh, yes, we were living the life of Riley* at the Lough Eske Castle Hotel. I have always looked askance at folks who declare their desire to go to Europe “and stay in a castle!” (Insert high-pitched squeal here.) Why? Because this is what I think of when I think of a castle:
Trim Castle, of course, isn’t habitable, but I cannot imagine the concept of “castle” without thinking cold, damp, stone walls, and, you know, thousand-year-old plumbing. 🙂 But I realize now that what most folks mean is something like the Lough Eske Castle.
While the hotel traces the roots of a castle (actually, a friary) in this location back to the late 1400s, the current building was constructed in the early 1860s. Those Victorians! They did love their nostalgia and their sentiment and their (ahem) fake castles. 🙂
Call it a castle—
—or call it whatever you’d like. It made me swoon when I saw the website months ago, and it made me swoon when we drove up to it too. We slept like babies, and then we got to sample a most spectacular breakfast buffet, oh-my-goodness-gracious.
The breakfast was wonderful. A manned omelet station. Every single product was of the highest quality. And I discovered these:
Glenilen Farm is a small family-owned dairy farm in west County Cork. If I could, I’d have the yogurt every morning. And then I’d turn around and have it for dessert too! Anyway, you can rest assured we did not miss a single breakfast at the Lough Eske.
After breakfast we wandered around taking photos of the whimsical outdoor art …
In the welcome package in the room we’d found an advertisement for the Belleek Pottery company, located in what is now Northern Ireland, so we decided to see the Visitors Centre. You’ve seen this pottery: Wikipedia says is is “characterized by its thinness [and] slightly iridescent surface”—and that classic shamrock pattern. Waterford and Belleek = Ireland, in some ways.
It’s a nice drive, but we had to laugh: our GPS was loaded only with maps for the Republic, so the minute we crossed the line it just went dark. Fortunately, the factory isn’t but a few thousand feet over the border, in a pretty setting. (And when we crossed back—magic!—the map appeared again.)
I’ve always had a thing for glass, china, pottery … so this was right up my alley. We went round and round that showroom, making a decision. (Made somewhat more difficult by the arrival of a tour bus.) Finally, we picked out a beautiful vase and had it shipped home to Tennessee. We were warned it would take five to seven weeks—and it did, which was interesting, because we have shipped things home from Nicholas Mosse Pottery and had it arrive in a week. That’s not such a big thing, really, but I must say Nicholas Mosse does a great job of packing in brand-new reinforced boxes, whereas the Belleek factory shipped our vase in a box that had clearly been used at least once before—it was, at best, dilapidated. The vase was rattling around in a box inside that wasn’t the box it had been displayed in, and to be frank, we were astonished to find it in one piece. (Really, Belleek, you should visit Nicholas Mosse sometime and take a look at how they do it. If they can get it to us in a week in a brand-new box at no more cost, surely you could do better than six weeks in a beat-up old box? Just a thought. Presentation is important.)
Furthermore, the marketing materials in the Visitors Centre proclaimed that we would never find better prices on Belleek Pottery anywhere—which made sense at the time, right? we were right there at the source—but later that day in a Donegal Town gift shop, we found the same pieces we’d looked at for a little less (and they weren’t sale prices). So all in all, I’d say if you’re going to visit the Belleek Pottery Visitors Center, check out online retailers and get an idea of what the cost is before you visit the factory.
We’d also seen mentions of the Donegal Craft Village, a collection of local artisans working in a retail environment. This is a lot like the Kilkenny Design Centre in Kilkenny (they have a retail-only store in Dublin we like to shop at), so we stopped there for a visit. Then we drove on in to Donegal Town, where we parked and walked.
We shopped a little around the central square (and off it, too), finding our way, eventually, to the Four Masters Book Shop (of course!), where I did buy a couple books. (Possibly more than a couple. It all gets so hazy.) Then we toddled across the street to the public square (they call it a diamond, but, hey, one gal’s diamond is another gal’s square, y’know?) and admired the monument to the Four Masters. They’re a thing.
I hadn’t heard of them, of course. That’s what writing these blogs are for. 🙂 In a nutshell, the Annals of the Four Masters—hello: a book!—purport to be a chronicle of Irish history dating from the Flood (uh-huh), which the writers dated as 2,242 years after creation, to AD 1616. You can read more about it here.
I’ll be frank: Donegal Town was crowded and noisy in the early afternoon, and we were still tired. In the previous week we’d had a big party, stayed up really late, driven across the country, and then all over Inishowen. All of it was fun, but it was catching up with us; we were both completely exhausted. It was too early to eat, so we went back to the hotel. I had some editing I needed to work on anyway.
On the way, we found a more convenient way to enter and exit the hotel property, by ignoring the GPS. 🙂 This road actually drove us right by Lough Eske (the lake).
I worked a little, then we went back to the bar for supper. If I have any criticism of the hotel, it’s that the food in the bar, though it looked good, was not that special, and they were pretty chintzy with the portions.
Still, it was good just to relax in our spacious room, reading, watching TV (rugby! the world championships were on the entire time I was in Ireland, and I watched a lot but never truly understood the rules), snacking on goodies we’d picked up. Good night!
* Am I showing my age? My parents used this expression frequently when I was growing up. You don’t hear it these days.