Tuesday, July 5–Doolin, Co Clare

Gort; Yeats Tower Thoor Ballylee; Coole Park; Ballyvaughan & Corkscrew Hill on the road to Lisdoonvarna; lunch at the Irish Arms; dinner at the Riverside Bistro; live trad music and an Irish coffee at McDermott's

Suantrai House B&B

Black VW Passat sedan



Today went pretty much as I had planned. I left the hotel around 10 AM, and headed out of town to the nearby town of Gort, which is the closest town to both Thoor Ballylee/Yeats Tower and Coole Park, the former site of the estate of his greatest patron, Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory. Once again, the Garmin sat nav couldn't find either place I was going to but Google Maps on my Irish Android smart phone did.

I started at the Yeats Tower, Thoor Ballylee. This is a ways off the main road, and is located beside a lovely small stream. As far as I can tell from the site's web site, it was always just an isolated fortified tower from its start and not the remains of a larger castle. I rather enjoyed visiting it, even though the stairs up through the tower and to the top are worn and uneven heights, and the stairwell itself is rather narrow. I could hear an American couple there at the same time I was keep saying things like "I can't believe they had children here". The door at the top of the stairs to the roof is quite small; I asked a guy who came out of it while I was on top to stand next to it so I could take a picture, and it only came up to his chest.

Many rooms in the tower have furniture, possibly from the period when the Yeats family lived there. On the ground floor is a small kitchenette, where the ladies working the reception desk offered to make me a cup of tea, and several exhibits about Yeats, his poetry, and the influences on his work. One of the exhibits is about Yeats' muses, as he called them, the women who were his poetic inspiration, and I have to admit that I thought all of them quite lovely in their pictures displayed there.

The former manor house at Coole Park, Lady Gregory's home, was demolished long ago. All that's there is the gate house at the entrance from the main road, her walled garden, trails through the gardens and the nearby woods, and a fairly modern exhibition center with a lovely small café and a small auditorium showing a short film about Lady Gregory that is very well done and very informative. Since the film takes about half an hour, and I wanted to be in Lisdoonvarna to have lunch before it got too late (closer to 2 PM rather than 3), I skipped doing either of the walks or going to the walled garden.

The Garmin of course was able to find both the towns of Lisdoonvarna and then Doolin.

The trip from Coole Park to Lisdoonvarna at first heads out to and along the beautiful Atlantic coast before heading back inland for the rest of the trip. As usual the scenery was often stunning and I drove through several towns that looked like they'd be fun to explore if I had the time, including Kinvara in Co Galway and Ballyvaughan in Co Clare. Somewhere the road enters the Burren and at one point there are a couple of huge barren hills and nowhere to stop and take pictures without causing an accident.

Between Ballyvaughan and Lisdoonvarna the road becomes the stretch famous or infamous worldwide as Corkscrew Hill which is mile after mile of 180 degree switchbacks down one side of the valley and up the other side (as I'm typing this paragraph I'm listening to a recording of a tune called "The road to Lisdoonvarna" played by Dancing Hammers, my new friends from this year's Florida Renaissance Festival, Victoria Ann and Robert, who came to dinner their only weekend at the Fair). There are several videos about Corkscrew Hill on YouTube. (This one's from the front of a bus.) (And here's "The road to Lisdoonvarna"done by a guitar quartet).

On the way to Lisdoonvarna I passed signs for two places that I'd been interested in possibly visiting, the Ailwee Cave and the Caherconnel Stone Fort, but they are now on the other side of Corkscrew Hill from here in Doolin, and my route from here to Ennis on Thursday thank God doesn't go back that way.

Lisdoonvara's a small town but quite pretty, best known for being the site of the very long running Matchmakers' Festival every year. I don't always stop at the first place I see when I come into a town, but the Irish Arms looked quite old and nice and I was ready for lunch and to use the toilet so I stopped across the street and wandered down further into the town itself where I went into the very lovely church. About halfway between the church and the Irish Arms was a guy in perhaps his thirties or early forties out in his front lawn raving loudly to himself; needless to say, I walked along the other side of the street there.

From Lisdoonvarna to Doolin is less than fifteen minutes and is very well signposted along the way, so I unplugged the Garmin well before I got to Doolin.

I didn't see any signs for Suantrai, my B&B here in Doolin for tonight and tomorrow night, but it is listed on Google Maps. I didn't find it at first, but pulled into the parking lot of a closed storefront that said it was the Aran Islands gift store, checked Google Maps, and went for a wander. Suantrai is indeed quite well marked with a visible sign out front, and looks exactly like it does in the picture on the web page.

On the ground floor is a small living room with comfortable seating and a small pretty room where breakfast is served, both of which are open to guests all the time. There are six rooms up on the first/second floor. I didn't go into any of the other rooms, but mine although small is perfect and quite comfortable for me, with a view of the street, and a small but useful desk where I'm typing these notes up.

When I was unloading my stuff from the car, I noticed a small dog on a chain out back and went to say "Hi". The poor little thing, whom I later learned is Lucy, obviously didn't like the noise made by the weed whacker and lawn mower a guy was using.

Afterwards I went for a wander up and down the main street here in what is a rather small town, but is still rather charming. Like Boyle, it's obvious in places that hard times have come and not quite gone yet. Not only is there the closed Aran Islands gift shop up the street, but right across the street from Suantrai is what looks like a closed but fairly new or newly renovated hotel. If I remember, I'll ask Martine, my hostess, about it at breakfast tomorrow.

At least half the buildings I walked past seemed to be attractive looking B&Bs. Suantrai is right smack in the middle of two nice pubs in one direction and two nice pubs in the other direction, all having traditional Irish music most nights of the week. I decided that tonight I'd start with the direction where there isn't any sidewalk, and you have to walk in the street, and tomorrow night I'll go the other direction.

After my first wander around it was still early. The musicians don't get started in any of the pubs until between 9 and 9:30 so I didn't want to go out for dinner too much before then. Instead I just had a rest on my very comfortable bed, and might have dozed off a bit.

I had a very good dinner up the street at the Riverside Bistro (yes, there is a small river, the Aille, running through town). The bistro's right next to McGann's and right across the street from McDermott's, the two pubs onl that end of the street. I had planned on checking out McGann's but just as I got there a tour bus dropped off a whole load of tourists all at least a bit older than I am, so I decided to come back later and went across the street to McDermott's. I was able to get an unused stool close to the musicians at a table with a French family who seemed quite nice. I had a very tasty Irish coffee and enjoyed the music for about an hour or longer before heading back here to Suantrai. I did stop in at McGann's again, but it was still as crowded; shortly after I walked past, however, the same tour bus that had dropped its load off earlier was coming to pick everyone up again.

When I got back to Suantrai, I made myself a cup of tea in the living room downstairs and brought it up with me to have with a shot of my Bushmills honey whiskey, which I've been enjoying as I type these notes up.

I plan on devoting tomorrow to the Cliffs of Moher. If the weather holds up, and it isn't too windy, I've got a spot booked on O'Brien's Tours cruise to the Cliffs and will then spend a couple of hours there afterwards. Just a little ways back up the road is the Doolin Cave, which sounds well worth visiting from its web page, especially since I'm not going back to Aillwee Cave when I leave Doolin.

And that's it for tonight. Time to check my email, and get to bed.

Return to journal