The feeder vehicles brought my passengers in ready to leave for 7am. It was nice to see so many familiar faces. We had a very straight forward day today as far as I was concerned. I had been given more than enough time to make a comfortable journey to Holyhead where we were booked on the 1350 hrs sailing of Irish Ferries,Ulysses. We were loaded on to the ship early and I had finished my lunch before we had sailed out of Port. I spent the rest of the crossing enjoying the peace and comfort of a cabin. And yes, it would have been rude to not make use of the bunk and have a little snooze!
We arrived in the port of Dublin at 1730 hrs and travelled the short journey to our overnight stay, the Johnstown House Hotel, Enfield, County Meath. Well! What a hotel! I do not have one bad thing to say about any aspect of our stay in this hotel.
The rooms were large, bright and airy with large bathrooms and they are all the same so there is no chance of getting a bad room. Our evening meal was scrumptuous. We had 6 choices of each course, every dish that was served was obviously someone taking pride in their work. All the staff were extremely helpful, professional and efficient. There was not one thing that we had to chase up. It was an absolute pleasure to stay at this hotel and the bar has been raised for our hotel for the main stay of our tour!
We had a nice leisurely start this morning after a lovely breakfast and it was going to be another easy day for me. We were heading to Strokestown Park, House and Garden, and Famine Museum, County Roscommon, which was only an hour and a half journey.
When we arrived, we were met by our guide, James, who gave a quick welcome to the park and gave us time for a quick comfort break before our introductory guided tour of the Famine Museum. And it WAS only an introduction. A very brief summary as we walked through each room. There was an awful lot of reading material throughout the museum that we weren't given time to look at. We were being rushed through and I soon realised why.
There were a lot of coach groups visiting here this morning and the house is quite small. Each group had a time slot for their guide around the house which was why we were rushed through the museum, to make the house at our allocated time.
The famine museum is well worth a visit but do it self guided so you can take as much time as you need. I don't recommend visiting the house, nor the garden, unless you like looking at weeds! It seems to me that the owners have no interest or enthusiasm to restore the property to what it was and that so long as it funds itself, that is good enough. Quite disappointing. The cafe however, was very good!
We stayed long enough for lunch and to revisit the museum before we were back on the coach and making our way to Westport and the Castle Court Hotel, which would be our base for the next 4 nights.
I had been warned about the access and parking for the coach at this hotel but I wasn't expecting it to be quite so ridiculous! I can see it will be fun and games every day trying to get in and parked.
I had a nice room in this hotel and the food was good but it is no comparison to our hotel last night! Everyone settled in quickly and enjoyed dinner before most of our group moved to the bar for the live music. Unfortunately it wasn't traditional Irish, it was American folk, but it still created a good atmosphere.
Today is the day I have been looking forward to. We have a day of scenic driving around Connemara and Joyce Country with a visit to Kylemore Abbey and a short time in Cong. We had a lot to fit in today but we had the weather on our side, not a cloud in the sky. The views today should be outstanding.
We left the hotel and straight away headed for the Connemara National Park and drove the Connemara Loop, County Galway, which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
We drove around the loop in a clockwise direction in order to arrive at Kylemore Abbey at an appropriate time to also have lunch.
is a Benedictine monastery founded in 1920 on the grounds of Kylemore Castle. The abbey was founded for Benedictine Nuns who fled Belgium in World War I.
Kylemore Castle was built as a private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London whose family was involved in textile manufacturing in Manchester, England. He moved to Ireland when he and his wife Margaret purchased the land around the Abbey. He became a politician, becoming an MP for County Galway from 1871 to 1885. Construction first began in 1867, and took one hundred men four years to complete. There were 33 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, 4 sitting rooms, a ballroom, billiard room, library, study, school room, smoking room, gun room and various offices and domestic staff residences for the butler, cook, housekeeper and other servants. Other buildings include a Gothic cathedral and family mausoleum containing the bodies of Margaret Henry, Mitchell Henry and a great grand-nephew.
The Abbey remained in Henry's estate after he returned to England. The castle was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester in 1909, who resided there for several years before being forced to sell the house and grounds because of gambling debts. In 1920 the Irish Benedictine Nuns purchased the Abbey castle and lands after they were forced to flee Ypres, Belgium during World War I. The nuns, who had been based in Ypres for several hundred years, had been bombed out of their Abbey during World War I. The nuns continued to offer education to Catholic girls, opening an international boarding school and establishing a day school for local girls. They were forced to close the school in June 2010.
The Estate includes large walled Victorian Gardens. Since the 1970s these have been open for public tours and 'nature' walks. The Benedictine community has restored the Abbey's gardens and Cathedral with donations and local artisans in order to be a self-sustaining estate. Unfortunately, I ran out of time before seeing everything, still so much more to see today!
We stopped in the little town of Cong, famous for the film 'The Quiet Man'.Cong is situated on an island formed by a number of streams that surround it on all sides. Cong is located on the isthmus connecting Loughs Corrib and Mask, near the towns of Headford and Ballinrobe and the villages of Neale and Cross.
At lunch time I indulged myself with a glass of the black stuff! In the afternoon I took advantage of the Spa and Leisure facilities at the hotel and lounged in the jacuzzi for a while!
Today we have a local guide joining us on board the coach to take us around Achill Island. We had another day of beautiful weather and breathtaking scenery.
Our guide had booked us into a pub for lunch where we were all very well fed before spending the afternoon driving out to Keem Beach where we literally came to the end of the road.
After leaving the beach, one of our passengers requested that we visit the deserted village. Close by Dugort, at the base of Slievemore mountain lies the Deserted Village. The village is divided into three areas called Tuar, Tuar Riabach and Faiche, and there are approximately 80 houses in the village.
It had been another fantastic day today. We weren't restricted by timings anywhere and just spent as much or as little time that we wanted. County Mayo and Connemara are my new favourite areas of Ireland.
This morning we are leaving Westport. We stopped for a coffee in the town of Longford before today's visit at Belvedere House.
Belvedere estate today is a very important example of cultural built heritage that has been transformed into a tourism asset of national importance for the region. Currently attracting over 160'000 visitors a year the estate is a multi faceted tourism/leisure site with a diverse range of uses throughout the year.
A day visitor to Belvedere gets to explore the restored Belvedere House, Victorian Walled Garden and rolling parkland with it's numerous follies. Belvedere can be a place of quiet contemplation and also a bustling, vibrant, colourful place with the many events held here, it is a place resonant of the past but relevant to the future.
The historic role of the Big House in Ireland was one of dominance and exclusion. The Houses were hidden away behind high walls designed to keep people out and were surrounded by idyllic landscaped grounds for the enjoyment of the few. Now days a big house such as Belvedere (stature not size) in public ownership the aim is for inclusion not exclusion. As well as normal tourism business Belvedere works closely with providing access to large numbers of community based projects, sports clubs, art groups and local initiatives.
The house was initially built by Robert Rochfort as a retreat, having incarcerated his wife in their previous home at Gaulstown, for an alleged affair with his brother Arthur. Arthur was later put on trial and fined £20,000 which he could not pay. Arthur spent 18 years in debtors' prison in Dublin but was released upon Robert's death. Robert built the Jealous Wall after falling out with his brother George, who lived on the adjacent estate at Tudenham. His wife was only released on his death in 1774, after 31 years of being locked away.
The estate passed to his son George Augustus Rochfort, the 2nd Earl. He was MP for Westmeath from 1761 to 1776 and High Sheriff of Westmeath for 1762. He left for England in 1798 and died in 1814. When his widow died in 1828, Belvedere passed to her grandson Brinsley Butler, 4th Earl of Lanesborough. He rarely visited Belvedere and it was subsequently inherited on his death by his cousin Charles Brinsley Marlay in 1847.
Charles moved into the house and during his time there was responsible for the alteration of the Diocletian windows on the upper façade and for the addition of the terracing. He commissioned Ninian Niven, curator of the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, to draw up plans for the Victorian walled garden.
In the period following the second world war Charles Howard-Bury, a soldier and mountaineer, restored the house and gardens. He never married and on his death in 1963 the estate was inherited by Rex Beaumont. Rex had been Howard-Bury's friend and companion for 30 years and sold the estate to Westmeath County Council in 1982. Following a multi-million pound restoration the house and gardens have been opened to visitors.
We left here, heading for our overnight hotel, The Stillorgan Park Hotel. Another very nice, comfortable hotel which serves very good food. One thing with coming to Ireland is that you will never go hungry. There is always plenty of food!
An early start this morning for our early morning sailing from Dublin to Holyhead. We left the hotel at 0630 and pointed out a few of the sights as we drove across the centre of the city to the port. It was another beautiful morning and it looked like we'd be having a smooth crossing.
We had breakfast booked for the whole group on the ferry. Once again I had finished eating before we left port and I went straight back to bed! After a couple of hours sleep and a shower we were back in Holyhead and heading for home.
I have really enjoyed this week and would love to return to the west of Ireland. Another successful tour delivered!