Friday, November 13, 2009

The Thatch is my Happiest Place on Earth

It's just a little past 8am and I'm sitting inside the Hunts Room at Ballynahinch Castle. It's a luxury having internet access, but I thought I'd take the time to catch up on blogging. Yesterday I uploaded a ton of pictures to Facebook and did some email. It's been amazing looking back on everything we've done just since Monday. I am loving this vacation. It's exactly what I needed- restful and restorative.

Working backwards here's what we've been up to.

Yesterday was mostly a catch-up day. The after effects of partying at The Thatch were in full effect. Evident entirely by this picture:

We drove from Carrick-on-Shannon to the castle, which took about 2 1/2 hours. Erica did all the driving, because I'm pretty sure I would have still be considered driving under the influence had it been me. One of the great things about Ireland is that it's beautiful everywhere. So even though it wasn't a terribly exciting drive, it was gorgeous. We passed rolling green hills dotted with sheep, babbling brooks with old stone bridges, waterfalls, rainbows (I was asleep for this), old ruins, thatched roof houses and quaint little villages. We also drove right on by Kylemore Abbey- which I had been to last year. It's an amazing building on beautiful grounds. This time of year there are very few visitors, which is always a bonus! A few great pictures from the drive:

Once we arrived to Ballynahinch, we ate some lunch and then spent the rest of the day relaxing. In fact, Katie and I haven't seen Erica or Sawnia since we split after lunch. I read, played on the computer, ordered room service, took a bath, did more reading, wrote in my journal and went to bed. I remember right before falling asleep feeling really peaceful. The windows were opened just a titch and I could smell and hear the river right outside our room. Heaven.

On Wednesday night we went to The Thatch. I always have such high hopes for my visits there. When we walked into the pub after a short cab ride from town (courtesy of Michael Glancy a local shop owner who, Gene later told us, is very wealthy and doesn't need to work but drives a cab so he can meet and talk with people), it was just the four of us and Parcy. I've met Parcy on all my visits to The Thatch. He's a quintessential bartender- dressed in his green plaid jacket, Irish tweed hat, glasses and handlebar mustache.

"Are you the group from America who wrote to Gene?"


"I'll ring him up to let him know you're here. He's been under the weather a bit."

About 30 minutes later Gene walked in and said hello. He disappeared for a few minutes and then came back with a tray of four shots of Bushmills and welcomed us all to The Thatch again. We had a really interesting conversation about religion, corruption (the two almost always go hand-in-hand, right?) and how Ireland operates with both of those things. He told us about a very interesting letter written into the Irish Times from someone questioning all sorts of religious beliefs and I can't even do it justice, so I'm just going to try and find it.

We were very skeptical that any music would be happening. It was well past 9pm when we all had resigned ourselves to the fact that no one else was coming in and it was probably going to be a quiet night. But almost as soon as we said that, Gene told us that it would be a good night for music and a few people were playing.

I should have known better! I forget how late things get underway around here. Gene was right, three people showed up- Jim, (Jigga's boyfriend from last year who wasn't playing music at the time), Deasun (the principal who plays the button accordion and taught us all to dance last year) and George (a flute player who I met on my first trip to The Thatch). And Gene, of course, played as well.

As always, it was an incredible night. At many points throughout the night I declared that The Thatch was my happiest place on earth. I may have been under the influence, and perhaps a little tipsy, but, I really do feel that way. I wish I could pack it up and bring it home. To share it with everyone in my life. To have them experience the magic that takes place inside. It's exactly what everyone hopes for their authentic Irish experience to be like.

Deasun had us come up and do some Irish dancing. So up Katie and I went and attempted to learn some more moves that I knew I wouldn't be good at. There was a small group of 5-6 Frenchmen who were in Carrick-on-Shannon on a fishing trip. Apparently they came to Carrick-on-Shannon years ago on a fishing trip and had such a good time that they now turn it into an annual trip, complete with a visit to The Thatch.

Deasun had one of them come up to dance with me. He barely spoke English, but Deasun coming from a teaching background, and just generally being a patient and caring man, took such care in attempting to explain the instructions in English and French. It was hard enough having to explain it to me and Katie, but he did a great job getting French #1 on board. It was a lot of fun. As ridiculous as I felt and as much as I attempted to set myself up for failure by declaring I couldn't do it, it was a blast. And a large part of what makes this experience at The Thatch so fun (and funny). Sawnia even got up to dance with us and French #2. Erica opted to sit it out, but Deasun tried his hardest to get her to do something- sing, play music, whatever.

That's another thing I love about The Thatch- they really do everything they can to involve the people who are there. You are not only welcome, but very strongly encouraged to get up and dance, sing, play an instrument and contribute to the night. They have extra instruments on hand and are very persuasive in getting you to participate. After a few beers, I was happy to do so!

Once the music stopped playing, I asked Deasun to teach me how to play the button accordion. Why I thought that would be the easiest thing for me to take on, I have no clue, but as it turns out, I actually could play it! I learned how to play the scales and even made Sawnia take a video to capture the whole thing for me.

At a certain point in the night, I ended up turning into the bartender. Gene's girlfriend Katherine retired for the evening (and let Gene keep playing, hooray). Parcy was long gone. And I was itching to get behind the bar. It was comical to say the least. I had, at this point, more than enough to drink, but wanted to be in control of getting the drinks. Gene had no problem letting me run the place. He went as far as showing me how to make an Irish coffee (sorry to the Frenchie who had my first Irish coffee- I'm sure it was not anything to write home about) and how to use the cash register. Both proved to be difficult as the night went on, so I just put money to the side and made my own version of an Irish coffee when one of the Frenchies ordered another one.

As the night started dwindling down, after 2am, Gene called the cab to come and fetch us. Michael Glancy arranged for someone else to come out, but he wasn't answering his phone. And the big pile of cards that Gene went through to attempt to have someone come out for us wasn't working out. The only option was for Gene to drive us drunk asses home. But since he could only fit one person at a time he decided he'd just drop us off one at a time. As he thought about it more, however, he instead chose to drive with Katie to the B&B, grab the keys for our car (which we could all fit in), drive back to The Thatch to get all of us (and our drinks- he told us to just bring them in the car), drive back into town and then get into his car and drive back to The Thatch. I'm tired just thinking about it, but I was in no shape to help contribute to any plans of making this happen.

I was sad to not have a proper goodbye with Gene, or get a proper picture, but here are some great ones from the night:

During the day we drove from Longford to Carrick-on-Shannon. We drove all over the place looking for our B&B. After an hour we found it and I laughed to myself when I realized it was one door down from the B&B Steve and I stayed at during our honeymoon in 2006. Classic.

The last time I was in Carrick-on-Shannon was really in 2006. Last year I was here, but really just for the pub. We had driven from Belfast and got in much later than I had hoped. And when I was here in 2006, Steve was still suffering from frickin' food poisoning and I was walking around on my own. But in an effort to get in as much activity as we can, Katie & I walked into town from the B&B (probably a good mile or so walk) and then walked around. It's a cute fishing village located off the Shannon River. Here are some choice pictures from the day in Carrick-on-Shannon:

That brings us to Tuesday. After the nice long walk all over Dublin, we all hopped in the car and started driving away from the city. Which was great. I enjoyed Dublin more than I have on other visits, but was anxious to get outta there.

One of our goals with this trip was to not spend too much time in the car. So we broke up the drive from Dublin to Carrick-on-Shannon by spending the night at a B&B sort of in the middle. We realized that we really didn't need to do that since the distance wasn't really that far- at all. But, it served an important purpose to help us rest and relax. Katie had just flown in that day so she was wrecked. We went into Drumlish for lunch at a pub- which was only serving Chinese food, of course- and then went back to the B&B to read and nap. But as it turned out we never left. Everyone crashed, napped, watched TV, read, etc. I ended up working out (lunges, squats, push-ups and sit-ups in the room) and staying up until almost 2am finishing the only book I brought with me to Ireland.

So far the trip has been incredible. Erica, Sawnia, Katie & I travel really well together. Today Katie and I are going to explore the grounds at the castle and then head into Clifden.

More later!


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