Day 5 – Sunday Aug. 20, 2006
After breakfast at the B&B, the owner, Ann Lambe, told us about the original house. It was the small cottage home of the gamekeeper for the Guiness family who owned Ashford Castle in Cong. The home had been in her family and her mother had also run a B&B. The original cottage had been expanded with several extra rooms, over the years.
Since Ballykine Castle was badly overgrown we decided not the check it out but instead drove into Cong where the ruins were much more accessible. We parked in the car park across from the modern and very ugly looking Catholic Church. It looked more like a VFW Hall than a church. This was at 10:00 AM and we originally thought we could get back in time to beat the folks coming in for the 11:30 service – WRONG. They parked like sardines – in the aisles – in the streets – everywhere – nothing was going to move until Mass was over.
We went through the ruins of the old church next to the car park and the abbey across the street. The sun was just right and we got a lot of nice pictures. There was a nice park, behind the abbey ruins, with a small stream running through it. Cong is actually an island and is surrounded by a stream that branches around it. These old buildings were on either side of the road that was the entrance to Ashford Castle, which has been turned into a hotel – a very expensive hotel. It had been the home of the Guinness family We walked up the road leading to the hotel and met a member of the Garda (police) who was collecting an admission charge (5 Euro each) for those wanting to wander the grounds of Ashford Castle. At this corner of the road he was right across the street from a Church of Ireland church that had been used in the movie “The Quiet Man.”
It turned out that the movie had been filmed in the Cong area and all around the shores of Lake Corrib and there was still a brisk business in tours related to locations that had been featured in the movie. The lady who was running the local Tourist Bureau office also had a connection to the movie. Her father, still alive at 93 and with an excellent memory, had provided the collie that was featured in the movie. The cast of the movie had stayed at Ashford Castle while they were filming in the area.
Ashford Castle was beautiful. We walked around the grounds and took many very good pictures. While we were there a tour bus was trying to squeeze through the very narrow gates at the castle end of the bridge. It took him awhile to maneuver the bus through the first gate but he made it through without a scratch.
We walked back to Cong and wandered around the village for a while, waiting for Mass to get out, so that we could recover our car from the car park. After picking up a few things to eat and drink we went back to the car and were back on the road headed for Athenry. The road to Athenry was a maze of roads, narrow roads and almost non-roads – too much driving – 550 km in 3 days.
We arrived at Athenry and drove around trying to find the castle. Once we found it we parked the car in the castle parking lot and walked to a nearby pub for some drinks and to use the facilities. The castle was just around the corner from the pub and we arrived just as a short historical film was starting on the 2nd floor, so we went up just in time to catch it – not bad. The castle (actually a tower house) itself had been reconstructed – largely the floors and the roof but there wasn’t much else inside to see. Originally there was a wall that surrounded the entire town to protect them from the native Irish. Parts of the wall and a gate in that wall were still standing.
After taking a few photos we left Athenry Castle and walked to an old church just down the road that was in ruins and had and attached graveyard. There were many old gravestones all around the structure plus some inside the ruins as was the custom during the penal times of the 18th century. There were some modern stones that indicated that the graveyard was still in use. It was starting to rain as I snapped a few pictures and then we went back to the car and headed toward Killaloe via Feakle and Scarriff.
Along the way we saw a lot of very beautiful scenery but most of the time there wasn’t any place where we could safely stop to take a few pictures. We stopped in Scarriff and checked out St. Cronan’s 10th century church that appeared to be the headquarters of the East Clare Historical Society. We called Jennie and Clint using our International Calling Card – the only time it worked. Everything at home was fine, the three cats had been fighting but not eating much. Henry had taken over the upstairs and Puisin and Reilly were kings of the bottom floor. That was the usual territorial division that took place when cousin Henry came for a visit.
Calling the B&B for location information resulted in some confusing directions but then this was par for the course. We knew that we would somehow find it. The village of O’Brien’s Bridge was VERY SMALL so we went back to nearby Killaloe for dinner and crossed the bridge to Ballina to Molly’s Bar on the river. The food and service were excellent. One waiter was from the Czech Republic. He and his girl friend from back home were both working at the restaurant. Since Ireland joined the European Union its borders have been open to all the immigrants from all the other member countries. The eastern Europeans have flooded Ireland with the Poles leading the charge.
We had pizza and dessert. We finally found some live music but it wasn’t going to start until 9 PM. However, as the group was setting up we noticed a huge drum set so we knew it wasn’t going to be the traditional Irish music that we had been looking for.
We drove back to the B&B at O’Brien’s Bridge and turned on the Irish language channel and to our surprise found some traditional Irish music on the TV. It wasn’t live but it wasn’t bad either. I called Con Ryan and Mary answered the phone. I set up our visit for 1:30 the next day (Monday).