The Pig Yard

Ireland 2005...

Holiday Locations

We've never been to Ireland together (Jane went on a religious manhunt when she was a mere slip of a girl) and so we didn't know what to expect - apart from peat bogs and Guinness but more of that later.

The first thing we realised was that there is such a thing as "Irish Time", this is like the Spanish mañana but nowhere near so urgent. The people are incredibly friendly and just want to talk, often very quickly and in broad accents that made it difficult to keep up. It's quite unnerving because they want to make eye contact but not in a threatening way. Their conversations are full of diversions, going off at tangents, rarely sticking to the point - if there ever was one - and all at a machine gun pace. Above all of this there is a warmth that is rare to find in most of our interactions with the great British public.

The flight from Birmingham airport took about an hour which is bearable on a low cost carrier and we always take our own drinks and food - why pay their prices? To travel by ferry would take all day and it isn't worth it for a week's holiday. Maybe one day when we've retired we'll take the car and tour Ireland using B&Bs.

Knock International Airport has to be one of the smallest International airports on the planet's surface. There is significant EU funding which is helping to develop the region and some of it is being used to subsidise the airport however it still doesn't stop them charging 10 Euro per person to leave, another airport tax not included in the air fare - bmibaby watch out we're coming for you and we know where you live.

The cottage we stayed in was pink. We expected to find "My Little Pony" grazing in the field at the back but we only ever saw black cattle.

The area is renown for it's fly fishing and it seems most of the people who stayed were fisherman however from conversations we had with locals fishing is becoming ever expensive and there are significant restrictions on what can be kept - one fish per day.

There are cottages and bungalows being built across the countryside and none of them will win any prizes for architectural excellence. They are generally bungalows built with concrete blocks and then rendered. Most of them are built towards the rear of the plot which sets the house back from the road and on pleasant days the occupants could be seen sitting at the front watching the world go buy.

We hired the Nissan Almera through Avis at Knock Airport and we haggled between several rental companies to come up with the best price. It seems most of the people off the plane queued to pick up their pre-booked cars whereas we went to the company with no queue and were out of the airport with an excellent deal.

The car itself was pretty basic but roomy enough for four of us and all of our luggage. The suspension was something else and the back end seemed to bottom out every time we went over a minor hole in the road. We would never buy a Nissan Almera.

The Irish driving is a wonder to behold. Everyone is so polite that nobody ever moves anywhere. We didn't come across a single dual carriageway and the overtaking by the locals is very dangerous. There was even an article in The Times (published in Ireland) relating how poor Irish drivers are at overtaking.

A visit to Ireland couldn't have taken place without a visit to at least one McCarthy's bar. There were two in the same street in Castlebar.

Our eating out experiences were not great but they might be due to our choice of bars. What they are good at is making great sandwiches at very reasonable prices - less than 3 Euro. They are totally stuffed with meat, salad and as many extra as you might want - there is even a sandwich company called the "Stuffed Sandwich Company" and how appropriate that name was.

We visited Tesco Ireland and found that none of the trolleys were in particularly good order, the prices were high compared to Britain. The cheapest recognised bottle of wine was around 8 GBP compared to 4 GBP here. It meant we didn't consume much wine but we managed to get by on bottled Real Ale and Tiger beers.

The Irish countryside is dotted with signs to castles which turn out to be nothing more than towers. This one was at the end of a creek and was used by, according to the information plate, a female pirate. This brings up images of a woman of Amazonian stature, long black hair and an eye patch but in all probability she would have been short, ginger haired, covered in facial warts and decidedly smelly.

Images to one side, the sky shows the true colours of our Irish holiday, it was hot, dry and wonderful.

Magnificent views, atmospheric skies and nobody around for miles. This was during the Irish school holidays and everywhere we went it was devoid of tourists.

Tourism has been on the decline since 2000. It wasn't helped by the Foot & Mouth outbreak in Britain and Americans were deterred from travelling after 9/11.

Fly fishing in the area has become prohibitively expensive, costing as much as 2,000 GBP for one weeks fishing on the river Moy and restricted to one catch per day - that makes it a very expensive Salmon. We found that wild Salmon in restaurants was not cheap and we know why however it was the best Salmon we've ever tasted.

No holiday would be complete without the mandatory stops for tea and coffee in the morning and afternoon. Here we are on Achilla Island enjoying wonderful cups of our favourite beverages with excellent cakes in clear, bright Irish sunshine.

The shop and cafe was new and had only just opened. We were almost their first customers and we were treated like Royalty.

We received such excellent service that Steve persuaded Jane to buy a beautiful pink top.

We were determined to see some live music and so we took the opportunity to visit Ballina where there was a street festival allegedly going on. The only culture available during the day was a harpist and french horn player but it was very good. The weather was sunny and warm, so warm that they had to move the harps into the shade because they kept going out of tune. We sat on wooden benches in a courtyard outside a pub listening to "posh" music so what more could we ask for...

We did hear some proper Irish music but this was being piped into the Foxford Mill customer toilets so it wasn't really what we expected.

On one of the hottest days in County Mayo for over ten years we decided to take a boat trip to Clare Island with every intention of walking across the island. The boat was supposed to leave at 14:30 but we forgot we were running on Irish time and it didn't leave until twenty minutes later.

Once we were on the island we found there were few footpath signs and the tarmac roads were melting under our feet so we decided to have lunch in a soft, green, field and abandon our walk. After eating and reading for a while we headed off back to the quay to catch the boat back to the mainland.

It's amazing what the Irish can grow on their hilltops. These wind turbines are very beautiful and although many people see them as despoiling the scenery we consider them as excellent examples of utilisation natural forces. They have clean lines and are noiseless so what's the problem.

Farming in the Moy valley consists of silage and cows. The landscape is an alluvial flood plain and probably very fertile. All the fields are small indicating subsistence level farming with ancient tractors noisily clattering along the lanes. Most of the farm machinery looks as though it was built about 40 years ago and is held together with string.

Bird life in County Mayo is sparse. All week we didn't see a single bird of prey, not even a kestrel, which are so common in Britain. Around the huge lakes there were very few water birds apart from an infrequent heron or swan. We could hear a chiffchaff in the woods behind the cottage but there was a distinct lack of activity.

The lack of birds was made up by the number of wild orchids, butterflies and dragonflies. Jane spent her time photographing as much of the wildlife that would stay still long enough to focus on. This dragonfly is similar to ones we saw in the South of France a couple of years back.

Here's the famous four relaxing on a stone left by a Leprechaun. We made several attempts to find footpaths that we could follow but to no avail. On this occasion we followed road signs to a ruined abbey, the road petered out and the signs stopped leaving us scratching our heads as to where to park the car and which field to cross to find the elusive ruin.

It was worth the search because the abbey had cloisters and trefoil gothic windows - no glass of course. The building stood on a peninsular into the largest lake we've ever seen.

We are so lucky to have Ordnance Survey in Britain because there is not an equivalent in Ireland. The last time the country was surveyed was back in the 1800s when the British did it whilst occupying Ireland.

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