This is Part II in the Going Green to Ireland series. Today we have made our way to Cong!
Ashford Castle is a medieval castle built in 1228 by the Anglo-Norman de Burgo family. Over the centuries the castle has been expanded and turned into a five star luxury hotel near Cong on the Mayo/Galway border in Ireland, on the shore of Lake Corrib. In 2012 the hotel was voted the best resort in Ireland and the third best in Europe by Condé Nast Traveler. We arrived at the expansive wrought gates and drove down the long driveway to the castle at early dusk. In the shadows I felt just like a maiden returning to the manor. We were shown to a beautiful corner room of the hotel with views of the garden and Lake Carrib.
The dining room was our next stop, just like something out of Downton Abbey, but on a much larger scale. It was tuxedos and white gloves for all the servers. Later, we topped off the evening in the castle pub, where the singing was about to begin. The Irish music was so captivating, and I had had just enough drink. The result: I was coerced to go onstage and sing. It was so much fun! However, there was a group in the rear of the pub who would rather talk than listen and/or sing. Before I got up for the sing-along with the entertainer, he had warned the inattentive group to keep it down. We began our song, reading the lyrics from a tele-prompter. Of course he had a beautiful voice with an Irish brogue, and I was happily trying to sing along and not make a fool of myself. During one of our subsequent songs, suddenly the entertainer stopped singing and the music stopped. He determined the guests at the rear table were not paying any attention and asked them to leave. So that was my stage debut and my last. But, it was great fun while it lasted!
The next day we toured the Falconry School training area where falconry classes are taught at Ashford Castle, the oldest established falconry school in Ireland. A young American girl led the class and I watched and some participated in a session with a falcon and an owl, known as the Hawk Walk. Falconry is an ancient art and said to be the oldest sport in the world. It was used as a way to catch food for yourself and your family. Harris Hawks, owls and falcons are brought from their cages and within minutes, with the bird sitting on your gloved hand you are ready for the walk and his performance. Our teacher explains the birds’ exceptional eyesight, speed and agility and how the bird will follow you from tree to tree and at the end return to your gloved hand. Everyone truly enjoyed the falconry class.
Later in the day we walked more of the grounds of Ashford Castle. I was particularly interested in seeing the cottages and land marks filmed in the 1951 movie, The Quiet Man, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. The grounds of Ashford Castle and nearby village of Cong, formed the backdrop for much of the action in the film. It’s March, time to watch The Quiet Man and listen to Bing!
For information about Ashford Castle see:http://www.ashford.ie/irish-castles.html