in which your author returns to a classic trad pub and
03.08.2018 - 03.08.2018 70 °F
Day 5 begins in Westport, at one of the nicer Airbnbs of the trip. It makes a big difference to meet and engage with a host, and Patricia is a great exemplar of the tradition of Irish hospitality. We head into the center of town, only about a 5 minute drive, where Dan gets out to grab us coffees; the traffic is substantial and street parking is impossible so we circle around, eventually finding a small lot. I go and get Dan, eavesdropping on a walking tour on the way (the charismatic guide tells the story of how the statue in the center of town was originally a British banker who the townspeople shot at) and we stop into an Irish tchotchkes store where I pick up some patches of Tyrone and Westmeath, my ancestral Irish counties. (Or at least the ones I know about.) Dan buys a mug that says “Irish seasons," each showing a sheep under a raincloud. We wander around a bit, stopping into a kitchenware shop, where I pick up some cocktail-making utensils, and a bookshop, where I pick up a discounted Liam Clancy CD. (I don’t need another, but it was only 5 Euro and knows what gems might be found!)
We grab a specialty hot chocolate for the road, and make our way the short distance to Croagh Patrick, a grand mountain I climbed, through dense fog, back in 2008. It’s a legendary Catholic pilgrimage spot in Ireland, and I tell Dan and Dad that St. Patrick was said to have – well, in fact I forget what he did here, but it was something very important and religious! I recall fighting my way through fog to the top, and finding an actual chapel up there! Dad tells us how, at age 22, he climbed Ben Nevis, a similar mountain in Scotland. We park for a couple minutes in a driveway and look up at the imposing mountainside, too covered by fog to make out much of the upper reaches.
We press forward, passing through Louisburg, a sleepy seaside Mayo town where I stayed for a few days in 2008, courtesy of Peter and Moira, our friends who we will meet up with later this week.
Dan has a recommendation from a friend involving the coastal town of Clifden, another place I’d never been. The main part of town is packed and we luck out with a parking spot; I depart to go check out an antique shop and a music shop, and Dan and Dad head to Lowry’s, an inviting whiskey-focused pub. The antique dealer is a bit brusk, but I’m able to bargain my way into picking up this beautiful book on France between the World Wars for ten Euro. (Ergh, just realized I coulda picked it up for Amazon for less, but I didn’t have cell service to check, and there is something old school and support local-business-y about buying on object where you actually found it.) I didn’t find anything to buy at the music shop – CDs are terribly pricey these days, and I admit the convenience of Spotify has really taken a hit on my music purchases!
I join them at Lowry’s, where Dan asks about an alleged former bartender who used to date his friend Meghan, and a picture of Boston mayor Marty Walsh which she says was hanging in the front window, but the friendly bar minders don’t have any recollection of either. We get a recommendation for a food spot across the street, and sit down for soups, which are really terrific. Dad enjoys the rich seafood chowder and Dan and I order carrot-based curry soups. Two musicians start playing and they’re very good, singing acoustic covers in harmony vocals – sadly we must be on our way toward Galway, but we have a bit of chat with them before departing. Clifden is definitely bookmarked as a town to make a stop in for a day or two on a future trip, seems like one of those delightful Irish places halfway between a city and a small town.
The drive to our next stop, Galway, reveals some of the most impressive scenery of the entire trip. This is the heart of the Great Atlantic Way! Eeking our way down winding, one-lane roads, the mountains and lakes are massive and lush. This drive is not for the faint of heart, as turning a mere 4-5 feet to the right of our lane would launch us over one of the cliffs. Along the way, we encounter many ambling sheep, grass munching happily on grass, and we shoot this fun interview with two of them.
Dan leaves a sticker of his beloved dog Howie, who passed away last November (special thx to Jackie for the awesome specially designed stickers!), on a road sign looking out at one of the most dramatic views, and I leave one of Aeronaut Brewery. Wonder how long they’ll stay up? We stop at a rest center and Dad buys a beautiful Aran sweater; I pick up books on gravestone letterings and Irish traditional music, which are like, almost kind of the same thing.
Galway is of course one of the musical centers of Ireland, and its 6th-largest city by population (odd, I would've thought it ranked 2nd to Dublin!). This is technically my 3rd time here, but I don’t know the city very well save for a few musical and rainy memories. We locate our Airbnb, which is an actual Bed & Breakfast in a residential neighborhood about a 10 minute drive from the city centre; our hosts John and Anne and very pleasant. Though it’s quite expensive, our room is tiny (only two beds!) in comparison to some of our previous lodgings; not only is it a holiday weekend, but the annual Galway (Races (horses) is on this weekend, and (admittedly) I also booked the place on the late side.
We take a cab to the Crane Bar, one of the best known music pubs in all of Ireland. I first visited here in 2008, and met a man named Gerry Shannon, who sang these epic solo songs about Donegal and his hometown of Doolin. (Apparently he still comes in!) After stopping at a convenient pizza place next door, we walk into this famous venue – I recall walking here from our hotel late at night, during the pouring rain, during my last visit to Galway in 2014, just to see it. The upstairs music listening room lives up to my memory of it, as it’s stuffed with people focusing on the quartet of traditional musicians facing the bar. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage audiences with music in drinking establishments, it’s so impressive to be reminded how seriously and respectfully the patrons treat the music here. We find a table toward the back, and the folks sitting next to us are really the only ones talking at anything above a low-medium level. Our friend Leo (Mark Madden’s Dad) joins us with his friend Bernadette. I grab Dan and myself some whiskeys, which are priced ridiculously cheap compared to American bars, and I particularly enjoy the Jameson Crested. (I would pick up a couple bottles of this on the cheap later on the trip.) We swap pints with Leo, and fight to understand his thick Northern Irish dialect underneath the din of the music. Leo and his son are two of the finest people I know anywhere, and it’s cool to meet up with him again.
Toward the end of the music, I consider asking to sing a tune, but chicken out, as it doesn’t feel quite the right vibe or timing yet. I know another chance will come up. Dad’s tired, so we part ways with Leo and offer a personal tour of Boston if he ever makes it over. I take a picture of the document attesting to the fact that the Crane Bar is a sister pub of DeBarra’s in Clonakilty, where we’ll be in a couple days.
We grab a cab back to the Airbnb and experience one of our many friendly cab drivers, who hives us recommendation on fish & chips for tomorrow: “that place will blow the ears right off ya!”
I do wish we had more time to spend in this town, but we did experience some good craic and will have some time to explore a little tomorrow.