We woke up to a beautiful day at Ballynahinch Castle filled with sun, followed by hail 15 minutes later, then followed by extreme cold, then some rain, more sun and…well, you get the point. The weather was quickly changing within the hour, but we managed to get in a peaceful walk throughout the grounds, a lively fishing area as well as a phenomenal panoramic view of the Connemara region. As we said goodbye to the old world of English houses and manors, we trekked down to County Clare, in anticipation of hearing the trad or traditional music it is well known for, along with seeing the tremendous Cliffs of Moher. When they say this time of year is the off-season in Ireland, they’re not kidding around! The weather is very off-putting this time of year, and as we approached the gate to the Cliffs of Moher, we saw a bright, yellow sign: “CLIFFS CLOSED DUE TO DANGEROUS WEATHER – DO NOT PROCEED”. We could feel the wind outside the car, but we thought maybe the sign was up for precautionary measures. So my husband Paul and I decided to just test the outside air of the parking lot (a far distance from the cliffs); as soon as Paul stepped outside, he was blown straight across to the hood of the rental car – needless to say, the sign wasn’t just a warning and he ran straight back into the car. We began to drive back out towards Ennistymon, the town where we would be staying for the evening, a bit disappointed. We did see a small road that showed the high waves and small castle tower, so we thought to at least take a picture there. As you can see from my hair, the wind was blowing!
Not completely defeated, we knew that our hotel was only 15 minutes away from the Cliffs, so if the weather was calmer the next morning, we would attempt a trip back out again. Until then, we were to find some music and entertainment in Doolin and the neighboring towns. Well, it being the middle of the week in the dead of winter, we could not find any music. We did however find Gus O’Connor’s, a local pub in Doolin known for their music but also for their incredible food. We each had a chowder (cream-based soup made from all
local fish including mussels, salmon, and cod) and then we shared a cod fish and chips – both unbelievably fresh and beyond delicious! With old photos and musical instruments covering the walls, we knew that this is definitely a place to come back and visit during the warmer months.
With no music and only three people at the bar, we finished our food and decided to head back to the hotel to drop off the car. A nice evening stroll through town might find us a nice, local pub, and it did. Running into the proprietor and her dog on the way out, she said to pop into Cooley’s, a tiny bar around the corner from the hotel. As we entered the establishment, we found ourselves in front of a coal-burning fire with the lonely bartender waiting for us. Kevin, “a Kerry man” whose gregarious nature made us feel at home, taught Paul how to properly pour his own Guinness and kept us up to date with the roots of some fascinating Irish traditions (did you know that the shamrock is the symbol for Ireland because St. Patrick used it to explain the Holy Trinity to the Irish pagan people? We didn’t!)
Almost two hours passed and one more patron stepped in the door; an older fellow, Jerry, a farmer from Lehinch who came in to finish his evening of bar hopping. Kevin poured him a whiskey straight and handed over a small, glass pitcher of water for Jerry to add to his tasting. Jerry opened his mouth, only two teeth remained, and his accent was so thick that Kevin had to continuously translate. We had the best night, listening to old Irish jokes (understanding as much as we could) and learning more about farm life in these rough lands. Since it was only the four of us in the bar, I figured a photo of the men was fitting.
Before we called it a night, Kevin did some fancy tricks with the drinks, including pouring Paul’s name in the head of a Guinness pint and making orange-white-and-green Irish flag shots. It was a great sendoff to a most memorable Irish pub experience – thank you, Kevin and Jerry!