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Day 4: The Top of the West, Westport & Dan McCools Pt. II!

in which your author does a wee bit of driving toward the wild wild west

semi-overcast 68 °F

The towns of the north of Ireland possess a certain dryness, a gritty, almost left-behind quality. Far off the familiar tourist routes, with nary an American to be found, the unspectacular, workaday-ness of these places remind any visitors who do pass through that Ireland isn’t all boisterous energy and reckless vistas.

We wake up at the Kee’s Hotel in Stranorlar, on the late side, with a fairly substantial travel day looming ahead. After a pop-in at fine café/bakery (about as close to Brooklyn as this town gets), we have one more important stop before heading down along the northwest coast of the country.

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During my first trip to Ireland in 2008, I stopped into Stranorlar in search of McCools; an old Griffiths Valuation land survey ca. the 1840s indicated there were a bunch here. Along with a fantastic old sign (seen by pretty much every McCool in America) on the side of a rickety barn (actually a decades-old funeral parlor/pharmacy), I met up with a 60-something man named Dan McCool and his wife Patsy. I promised him I’d return one day with my same-named brother, and I did this back in 2014. We thought it would be fun to stop in say a quick hello, especially as Dad knew the story well and had never met the man. And, sure enough, there he was, sawing away at his sawmill! He instantly recognized my brother and I, greeting us with a warm handshake, then met Dad – two mid-seventies fellas, most likely 7th or so cousins, chatting in a mild Irish drizzle about the sordid state of American politics. Elder Dan has a meeting to get to in 20 minutes, so we say our farewells, with Dad pledging he’ll be back with his fiancé some day. It’s a nice thread connecting three of my Ireland trips–one of many similar threads on this trip. On the way out, Dad remarks he doesn’t think he’s ever seen an actual sawmill before.

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Approaching the town of Sligo (new to me!), where we plan to stop for lunch, we fortuitously happen upon the ancient grounds of Drumcliffe, once a monastery and now site of the final resting place of W.B Yeats. Adjacent to the parking lot is a Celtic cross dating to the 900s, and across the road is a tower almost as old, struck by lightning in the late 1300s. We stop into the guest stop and I pick up some gifts (including some witty Irish magnets and this splurge) before walking over to the graveyard which abuts the church. Last year, I played W.B. Yeats at a party commemorating the 110th anniversary of his marriage, so it’s good to be here to pay my respects in person I also realize that my Dad’s sister (our Aunt Betty) stood here years ago (she once gave me a book of Yeats poems with a photo of the grave inside) so that’s a nice remembrance.

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The massive Ben Bulben looms in the background. A congenial clergyman gives us a brief tour of the church and chats with Dad. He mentions he’s from Tyrone so I tell him about our likely family history in Clougher, and he repeats a short rhyme along the lines of “Clougher, Augher, Fivemiletown… six miles around and seven to town.” It’s a nice little stop on the way.

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I attended Eastman with violist and (future) travel writer Zeneba Bowers, who along with her husband published two “Little Roads” books on travel in Ireland and Italy; these are really terrific sources for anyone who wants to experience things the more touristy guides might miss. Zeneba recommended Hadagorn’s in Sligo, an expansive Victorian-era gastropub dating back to the late 19th century. The place has a sort of layout that would never be constructed today – the old goods counter by the entrance, adjacent to a tiny snug room that fits maybe 6 people, followed by a long hallway of tables and two larger rooms and bustling backroom bar. Our meal is lovely, though we’re beginning to feel the creeping effects of covering so much daily distance.

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Before departing, we pop into a pub called Shoot the Crow, recommended by Dan’s friend Sarah, where some gents are fixated on the women’s field hockey match. We have some fun banter with them, and they give us a hard time about ordering half pints. On the way back to the car, I take a few shots of a very slender W.B. Yeats statue.

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With soft serve ice cream in hand, we press forward toward our next stop, the delightful music-saturated, seaside town of Westport, where I visited in 2008, and haven’t been back since. We’re running on the late side, and roll into our Airbnb, on the outskirts of town, around 9pm. Our host, Patricia, is a warm and welcoming as could be (the "Welcome Jason & family" chalk sign is a nice touch!), gets us set up, then drives us into the town, giving us the lowdown on Westport, which was named as the best place to live in Ireland by the Irish Times; the town seems to have it all: water, great food, history, and easy access to Galway and the gorgeous west coast.

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Patricia leaves us at Matt Molloy’s, one of the more famous music pubs in all of Ireland. Matt Molloy was a founding member of The Chieftains, and this place is packed continually with some of the finest Irish musicians in the world. (My Vice President (and hopefully future actual President?) Joe Biden stopped by here a few years ago. The band is lively, featuring a mix of friendly, crowd-pleasing songs and more “pure drop”-style traditional music. We manage to score a few stools near the door; the back room is just as packed with tourists as I remember it was in 2008. Live music was the only thing Dad specified he wanted to experience on the trip, and this is our first exposure. We walk around a bit after the bands wraps up – it’s Saturday night of a holiday weekend so this town is nearly overrun, but it’s a refreshing change from the barrenness of the last few days.

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We grab a cab back to the Airbnb, I do a bit of catching up on the blog, and call it a night. We’ve launched into my favorite part of the trip: joyful, live Irish music for four nights straight!

Posted by coolmcjazz 15:09 Archived in Ireland Tagged yeats westport sligo stranorlar Comments (0)

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