Sisters Abroad: Galway and Ballina

Village Cong, County Mayo, Ireland
Village Cong, County Mayo, Ireland

On October 15th, we got up early and headed north and west to Galway. The driving was beginning to go a little more smoothly for me and the GPS was also beginning to make more sense. We actually found our way relatively easily. Galway is a beautiful seaside town with breathtaking views. While we were there, the sky and the water were both gray with a rocky coast that was somewhat intimidating.

When we found our bed and breakfast, only a few blocks from the coast, our hostess, Nora O’Malley, greeted us warmly and allowed us to come in even though we were three hours early for check-in. She sat us in the “company” living room and plied us with hot scones and tea. She was concerned because she thought we looked tired. We were, but it was a little surreal to have someone fussing over two women “of a certain age.”

After we put our bags in our room and took a few minutes to freshen up, we headed for town. We walked for miles, enjoying the unusually warm October weather. Being natives of cities that are landlocked, it was fascinating to feel the temperature warm as we got further from the coastline. The walk through town also gave us an opportunity to observe people living their lives; we were obviously tourists, but we (hopefully,) didn’t intrude on their day.

Once we got to the shopping district we started looking for sweaters. I normally don’t buy a lot of souvenirs when I travel, but I really wanted an Irish sweater. We had lots of stores to choose from and I found a beautiful sweater for myself. We then went together and bought an equally beautiful sweater for our mother.

After we were done shopping we stopped for a drink in a pleasant pub. Unfortunately, they did not sell any food, so we then had dinner in another pub in the area. I had fish and chips, one of the few things I knew I wanted to eat while in Ireland. It was delightful, but we didn’t linger since we knew we had another long walk ahead of us and we wanted to be sure to get back to the B & B before dark. It was early to bed once again.

The 16th started out delightfully. Nora was such a gracious hostess and customized our breakfast. Whatever we wanted, she was willing to cook it. We didn’t order anything elaborate, but it was so sweet of her. She was definitely the most gracious hostess of our entire trip.

In making sure we had an interesting day, she suggested we drive by the village Cong which was where John Ford’s famous movie, “The Quiet Man” starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was filmed in 1951. Nearby was Ashford Castle, which has a rich history extending back to 1228 and was once home to the famous Guinness family. Ashford Castle quickly became a must-see on our agenda since our step-grandfather was George Ashford. Back in the 60’s he and my grandmother went on a world tour and made a stop there.

Cong is a beautiful village that is externally devoted to the tourism associated with the movie, “The Quiet Man.” On the edge of the village there was a deserted Abbey with an ancient cemetery. We were there fairly early on a weekday morning and the quiet mist felt completely appropriate to the setting. Ashford Castle was a walk of about a half a mile and while we didn’t go in the castle, it felt right that we were there. We both knew that somewhere our grandmother, Mary, was smiling.

After a pleasant few hours in Cong we started off for our original destination, Ballina. The drive to Ballina was fine and I felt like I was really getting the hang of the driving. And then, we got to Ballina. One of the main roads through town was closed due to construction. We had multiple GPS’s with us and none of them took the construction into consideration. As we kept driving in circles trying to find our way, the schools let out and traffic on the narrow streets became heavy. So, we spent two and a half hours driving in circles, getting more and more frustrated. The hostess at the B&B was not answering her phone, so after Claire begged enough, we stopped at a petrol station to get directions. (I am that person who absolutely HATES to stop and ask for directions.)

The young man at the counter behaved as if we were slightly daft, but gave us directions anyway. Back in the traffic, I accidentally knocked someone’s side mirror off their car door. I felt terrible but we could not stop due to the traffic. I sent a silent request to the Universe to bring the person unexpected funds that would pay for my mistake. I hope it happened.

When we did finally get to the B&B, Josephine, the owner, was more distant than what we’d gotten used to. When we asked where we could walk to get dinner, she directed us back to the part of town we’d gotten so last in. At least this time we were on foot and could walk around the road closures. We had a nice dinner and walked back to the B&B for another early evening.

We started the next day at 7 a.m. (I am definitely NOT an early morning person and in retrospect I consider Claire quite brave to wake me early each morning.) We went down for breakfast and spent the meal with a lovely gentleman from Connecticut. He was there on an ancestral search and found more family than he ever dreamed of. He was really excited to be finding his “roots.”

We found out from this lovely man that our hostess was a distant cousin and had been hosting get-togethers for him. This piece of news went a long way towards explaining her distant attitude. The poor woman had her hands full with family and then had to deal with cranky paying guests who were tired of being lost.

After breakfast, we gathered up our gear and headed north to Donegal, another sea-side city.

Things I had learned so far: hot water is not to be taken for granted when you travel; my idea of what constitutes a “warm” room is far different than what the Irish consider “warm”; narrow roads are stressful, no matter what side of the road you’re driving on; I don’t care for Irish breakfasts, especially not black pudding; and the Irish people are lovely, but the further north you go, the less frequently they smile back when you pass them on the street.

Our hostess in Galway was Mrs. Nora O’Malley:

Our hostess in Ballina was Mrs. Josephine Corrigan:

What are your thoughts?