The Landlord’s Cottage
It was daylight when we arrived in Dublin and even though the fresh early morning air had brought me around a bit, I was still a little tired. I had driven through the night from Sheffield to Holyhead. This was my own personal guided tour especially for my Mum and Dad, around the country I love. It was my Dad’s first visit to Ireland and I wanted to make sure he took it all in. My mother last came to Ireland in the 1950’s when she was on the boards with Carroll Levis and his travelling troupe of dancers, comedians and variety artistes. My mum was a dancer who performed a duo with her friend Marina. They were described as “The Babes with the Dancing Feet”. She vividly remembers looking over a bridge in Cork and seeing nothing but fish in the river below.
I drove around Dublin on the scenic route at 5.30 in the morning, pointing out the landmarks, the colourful Georgian doors, the elaborate chandeliers visible through the half windows above the door frame and all the things that I’d noticed and considered interesting on my first visit. As I glanced round I found first my mum asleep then looking through the mirror saw my Dad was well away on the back seat. What a waste of time that was. End of history lesson!
I was getting tired now and had to stop for some coffee and a walk to wake me up. We pulled up in a lay-by on the Roscommon road and got out to stretch our legs. It was still early and the roadside verges were soaking wet with the early morning dew. Just up the road were Fuerty and Castlecoote where I had arranged to stop for a breakfast at Lisheen. I could not bring my parents all the way to Ireland without introducing them to Nonie and Jim Golden. After all, they had been my friends for going on twenty years. I had lived with them and been their guest on many an occasion.
When we arrived at Lisheen, Nonie was her usual magnanimous self, delighted to see “Mick’s” mum and dad. Jim gave us all his usual “broken hand” welcome. We all tucked into our breakfast, and even though at first my mum had a little difficulty understanding the harsh Roscommon dialect, her and Nonie were soon involved in a good old rabbitting session. Nonie even managed to throw a few “feckins’” into the conversation which amused me, this goes a long way to explaining my strange sense of humour!
We set off after spending a couple of hours at Nonie’s beautiful house, heading towards Galway. I had only travelled a few miles and I began to feel tired again. Obviously my brain attached more importance to the digestion of my breakfast than in telling my eyes to stay open. I pulled up at the roadside somewhere near Loughrea and just crashed out, joined almost immediately by my mum and my dad. It was raining by now I hasten to add and as I have previously said, the weather out west is very changeable but I just love it.
After a short spell asleep I felt sufficiently refreshed to begin driving again. I set off for Galway, which was only about 20 miles, but even after we reached Galway there was still about 50 miles to go.
As we wound our way through the hills, the hills began to turn into vast mountains. A dark green tree covered landscape began to turn gradually into a barren rocky “moonscape”. Either by good luck or bad map reading, I managed to pass through Ballynahinch, one of the most picturesque areas in Connemara. It is also the most prestigious salmon and sea trout fishing area in the west of Ireland. The scenery is breathtaking, especially when the sky is blue and you can see the mountains through the trees. This was not the quickest way to Roundstone, through which we had to pass to get to Ballyconneely, but it was the most spectacular. We were all waking up by then and the sun was out and the sky was blue.
I was not used to all this sunshine in Ireland, but it was welcome! My Dad had got his binoculars out and was looking up at the seemingly tiny sheep on the vast mountainsides. Roundstone is beautiful and the coastline, rather than being spectacular like the Cliffs of Moher, is exquisite in that the flora reaches right down to the shoreline and offers a splash of colour and richness found only on postage stamps from Trinidad & Tobago! There are so many islands in Galway Bay that the Atlantic rollers run out of energy a mile or so before the shoreline so there is at most only a gentle swell at high tide.
The roads follow the shoreline, where deciduous trees and Rhododendrons grow only yards from the saltwater side by side with palm trees, various species of which are cultivated by the locals in their gardens. Black and red Carrageen seaweed covers the rocky shoreline. The sun was dazzling and turned the strands of sand a brilliant white, whilst the sea covering it became aquamarine blue and the breaking waves became as pure white as the driven snow. Further out the sea was cobalt blue and white horses were riding the wavetops. A photographer could spend a week waiting for a day like this. But they don’t, they cheat and use filters to enhance the sea and the sky.
All I could do was look. I had the most striking vista right there in front of me. I felt the warm breeze and I could hear the waves gently lapping against the rocks, lifting the seaweed softly up and down. Just think, 3,000 miles in front of me is New York!
After a bit of searching, going up and down dead end lanes and on a few other wild goose chases we eventually found The Landlord’s Cottage. It wasn’t exactly in Ballyconneely village but it had to have an address so it was deemed to be in Ballyconneely. It was infact a good mile from the village, down a long winding lane, 200 yards from the sea and beautifully isolated.
There were palm trees in the garden! The house was whitewashed and the brilliant sunshine made the house stand out spectacularly. It was blinding and everybody looked strange walking about in sunglasses even the kids. It was a phenomenon I had experienced rarely in Ireland! The window frames and all the woodwork was painted brilliant blue but all the windows were brand new uPVC double-glazed. They were to serve their purpose later on in the week. The lawn had been freshly mown and the smell of cut grass filled the air.
Gill, (my sister) and her husband, David, had arrived earlier with the kids and were just finishing unpacking their car. They had travelled on a daytime crossing the previous day and had stayed overnight at a hostel down in Ferbane. Tom did not travel too well and 12 hours on the road might have upset him for a day or two so it was better for him especially to split the journey in half. This also enabled the kids to get a good night’s sleep so they would not be tetchy on the first day of the holiday.
Back in England we are virtually on top of each other all the time and personally speaking, I need plenty of breathing space and elbowroom. Now this place gave me serious breathing space and acres of elbowroom.
There was a half-moon gravel parking area in front of the house and a large courtyard around the back. The house had seven bedrooms available to us plus a couple more, which were locked. (For reasons which weren’t to concern us). There were also servants quarters around the back of the house. The scullery was a long narrow affair; we had two large bathrooms, one with a shower. The baths were so big that you could nearly swim in them! The kitchen adjoined the scullery and led out into the back yard where there was picnic bench where the kids enjoyed eating their meals. It took a day or two to figure out how to work the oil boiler and as time progressed it came in very handy. The lounge was small but cosy with an open fire. We were spoilt for fuel. In the back courtyard was a large log and a long ripsaw, alternatively there was a pile of rough peat. Fire-lighters were one of the first items on the shopping list.
Whilst Dave was chopping wood and Gill was organising the scullery with my mother, dad was snoozing upstairs on the bed. The view from my mum and dad’s bedroom was out towards the Atlantic. It was the only one with sea view. I could just about see the sea if I leaned precariously out of my bedroom window, however I had a splendid view of the 12 Bens and the Connemara Mountains.
The kids and myself were exploring the grounds. They would sleep well later. They were everywhere at once, up trees, in and out of the house (and getting shouted at for being there), on top of walls, running across the fields and generally making as much noise as they could. They reminded me of the Famous Five or the Secret Seven from the Enid Blyton books, everything was so exciting and each one had a secret thing or place they would not tell.
It was not just exciting for the kids, because when the house was shipshape all of us were embarking on a new adventure. It was new territory for all of us.
My dog Yoli, would have loved it here, playing with the kids and all this freedom, however she was getting on a bit so we left her back home with a good friend of the family. Poor little Yoli!