We backtracked from Ballina after a near tearful farewell from Marie half of our AirBnB hosts. Its drizzling Irish Mist as we headed back to Foxford as She, my Bride, realised that Foxford was apparently, known for its woollen mills and manufacture of garments. There may be clothing bargains at fair and reasonable prices. There wasn’t and after a slow walk about the Old Woolen Mill pretending we were Ivanka and her son Donald jr, we purchased some postcards as everything else needed a bank loan.
Turning east on the N26 then the N5, we had an appointment with the village of Ballaghaderreen as my first cousins Val, Marg and Aileen, had ancestors from there who emigrated to Australia to enrich the O’Brien line. And badly needed it was. We felt we would need a Jamesons, Me, and a Cab Sav, She, at that town with the sixteen letters including three ‘A’s and three ‘E’s. Its south of the main road and we briefly got lost, had a melt down, Me, bit of a sook, until we accidentally came across an ‘L’ road which are generally Heritage Listed goat tracks. This one was a proper bitumen road with semi-trailers heading for 16 Letter Town. Fair bit of industry on the outskirts we thinking its craft stuff but no its an Animal Feed factory into which the semi’s pull to discharge horses and other unloved animals into the glue factory to make Chumpy Chum. Or other Bio-Active, Nutritious and Eco Woof Woof’s and Meow Meow’s delights for the pets of Ireland, England, and the poor living in tents above peat bogs. We pass over a bridge and a sign saying Ballaghaderreen, A Secret Village which whets our thoughts that we are entering a mysterious village full of characters, oomph, ambience and people who wanted to shorten the village name to Ballageen. See, I should be on the Nomenclature Board of Ireland.
First impressions are disappointing, but nevertheless undeterred, I mean I’m no delight at first glance, but theres a bit of delayed life inside, enough Des, we park up and it doesn’t take long to see just why my three cousins ancestors left the place. We walk this way and that looking for a cafe but nort to see. Cripes its 11am and apart from a few really aged people hobbling about checking the rubbish bins for food, theres not much going on. Perhaps its a holiday. Durkins Bar and Restaurant is open and we get a cuppa each and I ponder what I am going to tell my lovely cousins about their ancestors town. I feel it rates 4/10 but I’m giving it a 6/10 because my cousin Marg cooks this really bewt Lambs Fry from new seasons Lambs and I like it. The Lambs Fry and Marg that is. Her hubby Wilf also. Back on Friday May 1991, the headline in the Irish Press Newspaper stated in Bold Lettering THE TOWN THAT LIKES ITS BEER. It goes on to state that back then, this town of Balageen (without all the ‘ee’s etc) had 27 pubs, 2 hotels and two Off Licences. From the headline one assumes that the village is afloat in beer and hardy souls with damaged livers, i.e. no good for Lambs Fry’s, helping accomplish that. In September 2014, the N5 main road was re-routed around the town and those approximately 4,000 vehicles a day that went down the town’s main street were no more. Today we found only three pubs, The Fiddlers Elbow, Mannion Bar and The Hatch. Thats besides Durkins which was more a Cafe/Restaurant and Accommodation hub. Perhaps my three girl cousins ancestors had an inkling that the road was going to be diverted around the town, and so sold their interest in the 27 pubs and emigrated over 130 years ago. Or perhaps knowledge of the APPARITION at Knock, its a village, scared the be-Jesus out of them.
The village of Knock is nearby and this is where THE APPARITION was seen by over fifteen Knock villagers on a rainy stormy night back in 1879 when they were involved in a Group Therapy Session. The group saw the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, John the Evangelist and Jesus Christ having an earthly visit. Perhaps their Intergalactic Spaceship had run out of Holy Water. Yeh I know, if there is a Heaven I will never get there. Today over a million people visit Knock to say the rosary, recite Novenas, look about for a halo, hope to instantly look like Elle McPherson and/or George Clooney, be cured of boils, get absolution of divorce and cure their crutch itch. At the same time they swell the coffers of the Holy See and pour money into dear ol’ Knock. Read up on it, its all a bit iffy.
We did our best to like Ballaghaderreen and its current population of 1,808, but try as I may, I couldn’t get it over the 6/10 line and even then I was cheating. The smaller Frenchpark a little further east is far more presentable, neater and people go to the trouble of having baskets of flowers in their shop and house windows. Feeling much better, the large town of Boyle with a population of 2,568 is ahead and its alongside Lough Key the prettiest Lough in Ireland but on this rainy, cloudy, misty day, it difficult to see the beauty thru the windscreen wipers. I put the turn indicators on but this doesnt help clear the rain from the windscreen. Instead we had a squiz at Boyle Abbey from 1161 after coughing up our seniors fees. Hmm, seen one Abbey, seen them all and theres just so many in Ireland. Kilcooley Abbey down near Killkenny takes some beating. However, the Abbey at Boyle was kicked off by those hardy busy Cistercian Monks who settled here in 1161. At one stage, it was partly developed as a ‘fortress’ to ward off jealous ‘tribes’ like Hugh O’Neill who beseiged the place in 1603. In the eighteenth century, the ‘Abbey’ was used as a military barracks and suffered much damage as soldiers were a rough sort with a liking for wine, women and song and sometimes, all at once. We push on across Curlew Pass where a huge battle was fought in 1599 between English Forces and a Rag Tag bunch of Irishmen and the Rag Tags won. But only briefly. Theres a great sculpture of everyone’s battle hardened Irishman mounted on a stainless steel steed on top of a hill near the pass. We motor on in the rain and heavy traffic on the N4 and just before the large town of Sligo, we divert left onto the R292 to have a squizz at Strandhill population 1,753 and rising. It faces Sligo Bay, has surf breaks, is neat and tidy and hence very popular for tourists like now. So we continue on by-passing Sligo where Yeats the poet was born and onto the N15 northwards. Its a lovely drive, quiet road, mountains about their crowns hidden by clouds as hedgerows march alongside our wizzing 4 metres of metal, windscreen wipers working furiously as occasionally we get glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean. We divert into Mullaghmor because its there and we are nosy and its well worth the trip particularly if you miss the turn into town and take the very narrow road looping about the cliff tops where hardy brain dead hikers of a mature age are strolling along appearing cheerful. All of them drenched and looking be-draggled, but they are giving off the impression that they are happy chappies when really, they are cursing and want a warm cocoa. Particularly the middle aged wife lagging despondently some ten metres behind her husband, her bouffant all wet as she forgot the hood for her rain jacket. Again its a busy town, people picnicking in the drizzle, coaches waiting outside souvenir shops their clients buying trinkets, motor cycle groups and a harbour. Its small but adequate where the tide has gone ta ta for a while. The walls holding back storms and surging tides, are thick, tall and covered in molluscs, weed and algae. Mullaghmor is a bit off a surfing mecca for those with blond hair, a Centrelink Cheque and/or rich parents. Waves of a regular 5 metres height regularly break nearby and in 2011, a whopper wave of 20.4 metres the highest ever recorded in Ireland, broke on the shore line upsetting a seal colony who marched on Parliament wanting a sea wall and free cod fingerlings.
Further on, back on the N15 we enter Ballyshannon to discover its the Oldest Town in Ireland. Cripes, I thought that Waterford was. Ah ha, Ballyshannon traces its ancestry back to those Neolithic people who had settlements, dated by knowledgeable people and one cannot argue with them, to 4,000 BC. Ballyshannon wins. Never mind, all this ‘first’ business is all tourist advertising. With a population of 2,504 and set at the mouth of the River Eme, it has a picturesque setting the town set up a steepish hillside with its streets all narrow and higgly piggly. In the very small town square instead of a statue of a past Irish Warrior or Patriot, theres a statue, full size, of Rory Gallagher with wild long hair and he’s posed as though he is playing a guitar. Rory born 1948, died in 1995 after a liver transplant failed!! He was an Irish Blues singer, songwriter and guitarist amongst other musical strings he nailed to his name. They obviously dearly loved him here in Ballyshannon where he was born. We go into Sean Ogs Bar for a Jamee and a Coors Light and perhaps to listen posthumously to Rory.
Finally we arrive at our Donegal overniter, two of them unfortunately, at a B N B run by Basil Fawltys brother Marty. Marty had rung us earlier in the day, to say that eye gotta wedding to attend so cood ya not arrive till after four dirty. No prob Mart. And we do but Mart isnt home yet so his harassed wife Breege, pronounced without the ‘e’s as Brg, is standing up on the porch directing us and another couple to our rooms. Ours room cost extra because its ground floor, has a patio where its damp, a card table with a can of paint sitting on a wet newspaper and alongside, a scrappy dog eared paint brush. It all stays there during our stay.
When we arrive back that night after dins out, its still daylight at 7.30pm, theres stockily built 60ish Marty in dark trousers, maroon jumper & tie with nose the colour of his jumper possibly due to Guinness and Whiskey at the wedding. He’s directing guest traffic by loud commands and much arm gesturating from the elevated porch with a grim expression. His free, three bay parking area jammed between a fence and a rock garden wall bearing roses, is barely adequate width for two. Theres five rooms here so that if you arrive late, and all three free parking bays are occupied, then its the street. You could have a verbal joust with Marty but in his present Basil Fawlty mood, I doubt you would get anywhere.
Morning, daylight sneaks in about 6am into our crappy room with one chair, no desk for Desmond, but there is a miniscule card table which you could possibly solitaire. The advertised all inclusive free brekky, ha ha, starts at 0830 and includes a full Irish breakfast with hash brown, a single pork sausage, eggs in any of three ways, streaky bacon, grilled tomato, toast and tea or coffee. Oh, theres a choice of two cereals and a bowl of tepid fruit. And, apparently, any combo of the above. But Basil has other ideas about that as his hangover kicks in.
Mrs Fawlty, Breege who has some spirit, greets us and sits us in the tiniest breakfast room with two tables. One long rectangular table for four already seating the elderly Peg and hubby Brendan us all in a row like ducks as the tables length is against a wall. The other table, oblong shaped to seat six is squished in over there. The room is the size of a small bedroom about three metres by three. Barely. Basil appears with his still maroon coloured nose to take our order as he is Maitre de this morning but firstly without offering, fills two glasses with an orange liquid we assume is orange juice. No thanks we say as Basil momentarily taken aback, takes stock of us upstarts and thinks Ow dare day refuse me juice. He looks bewildered for a moment then pours the juice back in da jug. Sue wants scrambled eggs, hash brown tomato and toast. I, two poached eggs, hash brown, tomato and toast. He looks at us as though we are aliens come nincompoops with his maroon nose twitching ye cinnot both of yer ave differin tings its gotta be eddar poached eggs or scrimbled, now wich is it ta be. Sue is far braver than I although neither of us quite understands just why we cannot have different eggs. So Sue measuredly explains thinking that Basil has misunderstood us Martin she says soothingly Des would like poached eggs and I would like scrambled please he repeats this time with more firmness ye canny both be avin differin eggs. Now, wich is hit to be, scrambled or poached. We succumb to Basils rising voice, red nose and twitching lips and both order poached in case we get a Basil Fatwa placed on us. How stupid of us to consider that we could have different things for brekky. But its not over yet, as ya be wantin tea or coffee. She wants a coffee and I want a cup of hot water with a tea bag on the side. Basil looks at me perplexed as though Ive explained to him how the Hadron Collider works. Ya be wantin wot. I explain again how the Hadron Collider is designed to smash small nuclei and atoms but in his case, as he’s full of shit, it would not work. We chat to Peg and Brendon both living in Dublin. They both having the same full Irish brekky. As a young man, Brendan came down from his birthplace in Northern Island, got a job in the Government Law system as an ‘Insurance Clerk’, dealing with ‘wigged’ persons he explains, met Margaret, Peg, three children and fifty or so years later here they are. And, in all that time, neither Peg nor he have been back to Northern Ireland and have absolutely no wish to do so. Peg is as sharp as, whereas Brendan is getting a tad slow and continually looks at Peg for reassurance. As I look at Sue for the same reason, especially when I turn the indicators on to get rid of the rain on our U Bewt Nissan Quasimondo’s windscreen. Then compound that be tooting the horn and putting the hazard lights on.
Killybegs population 1,236 is a deep water fishing port on the coast seems to be a town worthy of a visit. Squatting out there on one of the many of the Irish west coast ‘fingers’. which are those many pieces of land jutting out into the Atlantic. Ireland has been described as a Green Teddy Bear with its claws and fingers up its north west end, pointing into the Atlantic. Its bum faces England. The softer bits of the Teddy bears fingers have been worn away over millenium by pounding from the wild Atlantic and earth softening by Neolithic man chopping down all the trees. The town squats at the base of a vast mountain range including the Blue Stack Mountains that extends northeastwards. Blue Stack itself tops out at 676 metres apparently, but one rarely sees the top as its usually shrouded in angry blue and grey clouds. Nice town Killybegs and we prop at the Tara Hotel overlooking the large port where fishing trawlers lie fallow. Some big and new, others carvel planked and old. I’m the carvel plank sorta bloke. After a cuppa served by the personality and smile plus Christopher, aged about 18, we are off exploring and much like. 7.5/10 for Killybegs. Oh, the 12 metre deep port, thats at low tide, is also visited by cruise ships.
We head back a bit, then left onto the N56 a twisting winding road, aint they all, heading into Ardara population about 700 and its neat, tidy, colourful buildings, many pubs, a Tweed Shop I avert Susans eyes from and we award Ardara 7/10. Onwards into Genties anther nice small town with new houses going up. Another 7/10. Into and past Fintown and we park up and have lunch made by Sue in her cramped front passenger seat whilst I study the small narrow Lough below. I take some rubbish to the community bins and when I come back theres a sheet of newspaper on my seat. Susan wants me to sit on it and drive with it under me. She is a reasoning rational woman and I obey. But as we motor on, I think, our 40 litre plastic container on the back seat has newspaper under its bottom as I do, yet Susan has none. She sits on the imitation leather of our Nissan Quasimondo. This starts to play on my mind. Why, what have I done to deserve newspaper under my bottom like a 40 litre plastic container. So I ask. She says, Because you are dribbly. Cripes, Ive got to nearly 76 years without newspaper under my bottom and here I am in a strange country, with just that. You dribble your food and it drops on the seat and the floor she says by further explanation. So Ive morphed into Mister Dribbles and need newspaper to catch my food dribbles. I’m aware the next step may be a bib, a nose bag, incontinence undies and the Setting Sun Retirement Village in Balga. So I keep quiet so that our marriage continues hoping that we can go into the Setting Sun Retirement Village together in a dual wheel Gopher.
The reason we like travelling some of the minor roads, is that sometimes you come across a real gem. And we found one in the small village of Doochary where the ‘Teach Gleann Ceo’ is open and we are inside and its a delight. The Yul Brynner lookalike barman/owner, Felix, welcomes us with a Jamies and a Cab Sav whilst his offsider, Mister Burley, cleans up the broken glass from last nights ‘Craic’ when somebody, accidentally, put their head thru the glass in the back door. The inn name means ‘The Mist of the Glen’ and its a bonzar small Inn next door to ‘The Old 1790 built Garda Station’. Outside the pub leaning against the wall with a cane basket over each wheel full of happy colourful flowers, is ‘Our Mary’s Bike’. Its another of those towns to come and live in and it does not snow every year. Apparently. Says Yul Brynner.
We journey back towards Letterkenny population of 19,274 the name coming from or meaning, ‘Hillside of the O’Cannons’. Now pay attention as this is really interesting, the O’Cannons are descended from ‘Conn of the Hundred Battles’ AND ‘Niall of the Nine Hostages’. How did that knowledgeable person know that? But wait theres more, of Letterkennys 19,274 residents, 4,957 have a disability illness, 640 have a registered disability, 537 have a chronic illness and 345 suffer from an emotional condition. Hmm. We came in here to have a squiz at the Cathedral where theres the remnants of a funeral procession. Nice Cathedral, tall spire. Sorry Mum, I’m over Cathedrals, Churches and Priests, so we motor on south to Donegal the traffic horrendous due to roadworks, and a broken down semi trailer with a Cape Canaveral Rocket on the back shutting off both lanes of the main road thru the old part of Ballybofey. Basil Fawlty is in the kitchen when we arrive at his Fawlty Towers Donegal, the kitchen overlooks and supervises the free parking area, and seeing us, he rushes out in the rain, mobile jammed in his ear and shouts, Bik hup, bik hup an move in closa to da fince. I obey. He must be expecting an ambulance to take him to hospital to have a Frontal Lobotomy.
We are up early as we just want to escape from Stalag Basil but not until a small drama about paying the bill arises as he does not take credit cards because, and we booked direct with him despite him being on Booking.com, if he puts it thru a machine, Booking.com heavies will come down on him and want their ‘cut’. Therefore he says, his crimson runnymede coloured nose inches away from mine, I’ll ave two effin wel charge ya an extra 15% to cover dat. I box flyweight whereas he boxes heavy weight so I dutifully motored down to the teller machine in the centre of town, withdrew sufficient cash to pay him. I think he smiled as we left. Wait until we get on Trip Adviser, he will feel the wrath of disgruntled Aussies. He he he. Ooroo from Desmondo