Monday, Jan 23 through Friday morning, Jan 27
Southeast of Yeats country, near Roscommon, is Strokestown Park, home of the Famine Museum. Time to get down to business and do a bit of research (ostensibly one of the reasons I am here in Ireland – doing research for my upcoming book – a historical novel that opens in western Ireland in 1848, at the height of the very miserable days of Ireland’s most severe potato famine). Housed on the property of the landowners of the time, the Mahon family, there is the grand mansion – the Big House – which one could tour but we cho$e not to, opting instead for the self-directed tour through the museum. Toned down and sanitized history for the easily traumatized, but the details surrounding Mahon’s efforts to remove nonpaying tenant farmers from his land by paying to ship them off to what would hopefully be a better world in Canada is an interesting story , in that he was murdered by a local (for all the wrong reasons … not that there are ANY good reasons for murder, just saying). Bridget found the museum enlightening, and truly, if you are coming across “The Potato Famine” for the first time, the museum does tell the story. If you’d like a little history lesson, you can check out her blog post and read her comprehensive take on the afternoon spent there.
Southwest from there, along a few windy roads, we arrived in Athleague minutes before the sidewalks rolled up and were able to get a bite for dinner before heading over to the coast to Galway to settle in for three nights. Ever since we arrived in Dublin weeks ago, everyone has said “Go to Galway, it’s absolutely the best.” And it is the best if
a) you’re young
b) you like to go out drinking
c) you’re a busker
d) and it’s not raining
e) oh, and it’s also great in the summer, with tons of music, culture, festivals galore
It rained pretty much the entire time we were there. It’s a soft rain in Ireland, so no big deal, except of course if you want to busk. No good for violins. But by day 3 she had figured out how to dodge into the cafes when the rain started, and when it let up for a few minutes, she was right back out there, plying her trade. The first day in town, though, the rain never let up, so we did the tourist thing – heading down to the riverfront to the River Corrib and the Spanish Arch, the remaining vestige of the vast walls that surrounded Galway town during medieval times.
In complete contrast, at least architecturally, is the nearby Galway City Museum, a modern glass building housing three floors of displays. A very pleasant way to spend an afternoon indoors, and it’s free. The first floor gave a history of the city, floor two was about Galway’s cultural history, including this guy…
I was particularly taken with the exhibition of intricately crafted paper art. Here are a couple of the pieces, and the first one – by Bridget – really captures the essence of the whole thing. But being a book fiend, I quite liked the second.
Day 2 in Galway and the rain never let up. I had the brilliant idea that we should head out of town for a drive north to Westport in search of a sweater for moi, and if I couldn’t find one there, then let’s go back to Sligo. You’ll remember that we were just in Sligo a couple of days ago – Monday to be exact. It’s not good to be retracing our steps; there are enough new steps going forward. But I had a bug in my head. You see, there’s a sweater shop on the main street in Sligo, and every sweater in the window made me drool. I wanted every one of them. We arrived in Sligo on Saturday evening, just as the shops were closing. No matter, we’ll come back on Sunday. Nope, that doesn’t work: The shops are closed on Sunday in Sligo. OK, then, no problem, we’ll come back on Monday just before we head out of town. Turns out Monday is Paddy Dooley’s day off. I was in a funk as we drove out of town, but consoled myself with the platitude that it must have been meant to be, that it must mean there was a better sweater in some shop somewhere on the road ahead of me in the days to come. Two days later and the road leads back to Sligo. I wanted one of those sweaters. But Westport first.
We were in Westport just long enough to buy a really nice sweater that will keep me warm next winter, get a latte, take a few pictures of the river, and hop in the car to Sligo, because I wanted that Sligo sweater in the window. Mission accomplished, and while I shopped and chatted with Paddy Dooley about our mutual love of Van Morrison’s music, Bridget found an empty doorway to stand in and busk away for an hour. Then back to Galway in the rain.
I spent our final day in Galway indoors at the library doing research and was most successful, at least in terms of finally figuring out where in Ireland to place my characters, or at least a general location – near the border of co. Tipperary and co. Kilkenny. Which just happens to be on the way to Dublin after we wrap up our stay here on the west coast. It means having to cut our time in Killarney short by a day, so we can add in a day in Kilkenny. Killarney, Kilkenny, what does it matter – it’s all good.