Mayo – February 2016

Friday; and I start my day with a haircut; I won’t be able to navigate later through the hedge that is atop my head otherwise. Needs must. A three and a half hour drive awaits us, Friday evening, hopefully afternoon. We anticipate the journeys start, which arrives at around 16:30. We tear into it……as far as the M50 and the queue at the Ballymun exit. Fifteen minutes later we’re reaching the dizzying speeds of 60 Km/h, just. But alas, our joy is short lived and we’re once again bound by traffic to beyond Lucan. After that it’s a straight shoot to Castlebar. More or less. The odd truck slowing us down. We make our destination by about 20:30, to a charming welcome from Angela (Orla’s best friend-cousin), Kevin (Angela’s husband) & baby Grace. Within minutes of our arrival we’re tucking into a much appreciated Chicken Korma. Angela and Kevin are incredibly welcoming, a real family style embrace. Grace is a bundle of energy, always busy. She never stops. Almost always smiling and laughing. Or just staring. We settle into a delightful evening with a couple of beers and way too much apple tart.

After a marvellously deep sleep in the quiet and dark of Sheeaune we drive around Beltra Lough. A quiet, beautiful part of Ireland. Mountains, lakes and fields. Only slightly spoiled by agriculture. We pick up Irene, Orla’s cousin, who is wheelchair bound and we try to think of an accessible lunch destination. We take a seriously scenic drive over the mountains, with the lake to our right en route to Westport and the Plaza Hotel for a pulled pork, red cabbage and coleslaw sandwich in a Waterford blah bap. Amazing stuff. I was waning with hunger too, so we made it with perfect timing.

We take the rest of the loop back to Beltra Lough to drop Irene home before heading back to watch England defeat Ireland in a match we had more hope than belief in.

Saturday night and Angela, Kevin, Orla and I travel to Westport once more. Dinner in Helm, the place is packed. Orla and I share a couple of starters, the biggest wedge of brie you’ve ever seen, deep fried and melting and some king prawns. Everything is going great until a full pint is spilled on top of Angela by a, subsequently shaking, waitress who can’t bring herself to come near our table again. Angela was very calm about the whole situation, displaying an incredible reaction time. The service takes a hit after that, unsurprisingly, and we’re waiting a while to order deserts after an exquisite salmon darn with spinach and prawns. Not quite stuffed, but placed gently on top. Lovely stuff.

After that we make our way back to Castlebar to John McHale’s for a pint. An excellent bar serving up a decent Guinness. We end the night tearing over the hills at 1am on the pitch dark roads. It feels so remote, you can see almost nothing but the sky, where the stars seem to shine more obvious.

The local accent is fantastic; the ‘st’ in almost every word is prolonged and exaggerate. West becomes Wessht. Castlebar becomes Casshtlebar. It’s wonderful.

On Sunday morning we’re treated to fresh eggs for breakfast. Free range chickens we can see down the path. The weather is amazing, the Wessht is usually wet but it’s been sun and blue skies for the last two days. Cold but glorious. We say goodbye to our wonderful hosts; Angela, Kevin & Grace. Grace is reluctant to let Orla leave, dragging her back to play football and run around the kitchen pushing the ride-ons. We have to construct an elaborate ‘pull the car around and I’ll I jump in, before we tear off’ type deal.

On our way back to Dublin, sort of, Orla and I head to Newport to walk a stretch of the Greenway. Plenty of green banks with bridges dotted along the river. Stunning scenery to Lough Furnace and beyond. What a shame we have to head home. We contemplate staying in Westport for the night, but with a 5am start being necessary to just make work on Monday morning we think better of such an idea. Instead we spend most of our 4 hour journey home trying to find a coffee with not much of an option worth stopping for after Castlebar en route back to Dublin.