The Anglers Rest Hotel in Headford, population in 1887 about 1,441, has shrunk as at the 2011 census it was 889. Most of those were having dinner and making noise last night down below our bedroom. Built in 1905, the hotel occupies the major corner in Headford. The other three corners occupied by businesses run by the Joyce Family – a supermarket, a garage, a clothing store and just down there, a used car yard. Our room was adequate with our cooked brekky so so and a tad unusual as our poached eggs were delivered with hot chips. I have never ever had hot chips for breakfast apart from when I was working in construction camps at North West Cape. There, it was either chips with bacon, eggs poached in dishwater or pancakes with a gallon of Maple Syrup poured over. No wonder I have irritable bowel syndrome. Only three of the Anglers Rest Hotels 16 rooms were occupied last night allowing the jolly rotund cook Stella, she badly needs an Elle McPherson sports bra, to come and sit just over there to make sure everybody eats their brekky. As is my want I say Good morning its a great breakfast which means I have added to by hundreds of venial sins as the breakfast was’nt great. Passable yes, just. We discover that she is aged 71, was born in the Hotel and has been here ever since as part of the furniture. Her pleasant demeanour and smile would have helped her along the way and particularly in her courting days when she possibly had no need for a bra. Her granddaughter, a freckled seventeen year old, with long ginger streaked natural hair, is the waitress and is easy on the eyes and has inherited grandma’s personality. I inherited the propensity to Act The Goat, Large Ears and Dad’s battered felt Trilby.
Our next o/niter is at Ballina County Mayo for three nights in an AirBnB and are we looking forward to that. We do not know what to expect today in our travels from Headford but the map shows a few unusual names. The villages of ‘Cross’, ‘Cong’, ‘Derrylea’, ‘Clifden’, the mountains called ‘The Twelve Pins’ and another lot ‘The Maumturk Mountains’ all sound bloody interesting plus its all facing or near the wild Atlantic Ocean and theres the possibility we will get wet. Into and thru the neat little village of Cross with its numerous B&B’s, neat roadside walls and about are small stone walled paddocks divided up as the demands of family inheritance dictate. The paddocks are shrouded in a lovely green and the road, as usual twists and turns but all rather delightfully as theres not a great deal of traffic. Yay. Way back in time, a Hurling Match and then a Battle took place on the the Great Plain of Moytura in Cross, between the Firbolgs and the Tuatha de Danann (ancient tribes of Ireland). Being sensible men, and at the urging of the women, they first played a Hurling match which the Firbolgs won. The women of both tribes were contented, but some of the men were not. It seems the Tuatha mob had a huge sook about losing so they started fighting the Firbolgs which led to a Great Battle which was won by the Tuatha de Danann after all the key Firbolgs hurling players had their arms chopped off. The Irish tribes were not exactly friendly towards each other and if you watch today’s hurling and their roundball football game, theres lots of biffo going on.
We get a wiggle on and enter Cong the name derived from Conga meaning ‘the narrow neck of land between two lakes’. With a population of 145, this small village is really something special with flower boxes on all window cills, street corners and alongside roads all ablaze with colour. Theres the ruins of a 7th century Abbey opposite the tourist bureau set inside an 1870 Courthouse. Opposite this is a statue of a man carrying in his arms, a smiling young woman – cripes, its John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. This small town was where they filmed parts of the movie ‘The Quiet Man’ in 1951. We rate the village 8.5/10. Sell your house, car and family and come here to live. Bring lots of whiskey, blankets and thermal underwear as it gets bloody cold. And wet. The locals are friendly and theres work available re-freshening the flowers in the planting boxes and polishing up the bronze bits and pieces of John and Maureen’s statue.
This area is referred to by touristy people as ‘The Lakes District’ of Ireland and its nearly as good as the English version but this Lakes District wins as theres far fewer tourists and we are yet to see a coach.
The Maumturk Mountains are to our left their crowns capped in cloud and a fine rain is falling but the roadside is alive with interesting rock walls, hedges, displays of all colour wildflowers while the plains stretch away to the foothills. Small streams percolate down the mountainsides and here and there, plantations of Spruce Trees fill in the bare plains that once were filled with forest. Its smoko time and we are into the fairly scruffy looking ‘Fjord Cafe’ on the waterfront at Leenane. A sign inside refers to the cafe as ‘The Village Grill’ which is more appropriate with the smell of fat from pork sausages and Black Puddings. Just across the road is the tail end of the long narrow Killary Harbour which is fed by the Atlantic Ocean. Its low tide with scruffy mudflats about where sea birds have a natural breakfast. We move on past a fancy Hotel advertising ‘Seaweed Baths’ for 25 euro!!!
Motor on thru Letterfrack a busy small village, lots of backpackers and hardy souls walking into and out of the Connemara National Park and then we are into Clifden a larger village of population 2,056. Sue goes to a Supa Valu Supermart and I spot ‘Kings Bar and Snug’ and I’m inside to see what its all about. This despite a black mid 40’s Jamaican man sitting in the small paved town square adjacent the pub, singing and humming soft melodies unaccompanied in the gentle style of Nat King Cole. In the bar I’m not unaccompanied for long as I strike up at times a difficult conversation with an elderly well built man sitting on a barstool his face, especially the mouth, showing no lips as thow they have been vacuumed inside him. He has no natural or false teeth so its even harder to understand his Gaelic speak. His name is Sean or Sheahen or Shorn whatever and we warm to each other over his large Guinness and my Jamesons. He lives 15k out of Clifden and comes here every day to drink, meditate and exchange words with whoever, for as he explains, hits da only pub it town all da rest are ferkin bars he says with some disgust. He shows me the ‘Snug’ in the pubs title a small comfy room just inside the entrance where in days gone by, ladies could enter and sit and order drinks thru a small hatch with sliding door. They drank their sherry’s as the ladies knew their place and the men ‘played’ on that until womens lib came along.
Before long we are in Ballina and meet our AirBnB hosts. I present their three month old Alexander and two year old Sebastian with tiny furry Koalas which they start to pull apart. Its all very pleasant and we are happy little vegemites. Its only a short walk to Ballinas main street, its shops cafes, pubs and just over there 50 metres away, is the River Moy with its Salmon weirs. This is the fly fishing capital of Ireland and the fast flowing wide River Moy is the best place to catch salmon. We also have fish to fry so its Ooroo from Des.
hen women knew their place and men plyed on that. A nice small village rated 7/10.
More twisting turning roads out of Clifden ‘The Twelve Pins’ or high hills come mountains on our left as we motor thru Derrylea and Canalbridge passing more Loughs with tiny cottages built on small islands possibly summer retreats and fishing lodges. We loop back on the R344, a righty onto the N59 and back thru Leenane where we wave to the ‘Village Grill’ crowd then on the N59 and into the large town of Westport where we find a cafe that has a licence to print money. ‘O’Hehirs Bakery and Cafe’ is chokas inside and out on the pavement churning out food and cuppas. Then thru Castlebar, Foxford the woolen mill town and onto the R318 and R 310 to have a squiz at the very large Lough Conn then into our AirBnb at Ballina where we have three nights in a two bed, two bath ground floor unit. Theres a unit above and the hosts live about 50 metres away with baby Alex two months and Sebastian aged two. I present them with two tiny Koalas which they start to pull apart. Its all bonzar and we are happy little Vegemites.