Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Closed for the Season

One of the greatest joys of traveling is the unexpected discovery. And what we discover is that, most apologetically, Ireland is closed. The country was, apparently, open until some vague, unnamed timed earlier this month, with the occasional petting zoo (yes, we're talking to you Newgrange Farm) taking vacation as early as September.

My Irish friend Brendan says, "It takes a brave sort of person to visit Ireland in the wintertime." But what he doesn't take into account is the following:

1) We might not be brave but, instead, just plain stupid.
2) We figured, if it was going to be rainy and cold, we might as well go someplace that is supposed to be rainy and cold and can be enjoyed that way (hello, cozy pub!). As opposed to Italy, or Spain, for example.
3) Many of Ireland's tourist sites are actually somewhat enjoyable from the outside. It gets to a certain point where we don't really need to visit the inside of another castle or church.
4) And at least this means we have no lines, and no crowds, anywhere -- even at the most touristy of spots. The ones that are open, I mean.

So, here's a partial list of things we do not get to see while in Ireland:

Though Aughnanure Castle, which is our first stop on a day of touring Connemara, is closed, I want to climb into it anyway. You can see by the photo that it would be easy enough to scramble through the gaps in the ruined 16th century walls. I would like to say that I am held back by common sense, or by the desire to set a good example for our children. But, in fact, I am only held back by my husband's common sense and desire to set a good example for our children, and I, personally, regret not breaking and entering.


Consolation prize: cute puppies in the parking lot.

What is open later this same day is the 19th century Kylemore Abbey. But I wish that it were closed. We are using a Lonely Planet guidebook from 1996 -- the same one I used when I visited Ireland about 15 years ago -- as a rough guide. I didn't get to see the Abbey the last time, because it was an exclusive convent boarding school. Well, now it's open to the public, and open year-round, unfortunately. It is shockingly expensive (in fact, it will turn out to be the single most expensive admission fee we pay, at 25 for the family). And as impressive as it is from the outside, the inside is really just not worth it. The best part of the place is this view and the excellent café, both of which come before the ticket counter, so no need to pay.

Another day, at the Dunguaire Castle, we see the people milling about the outside, craning their necks upwards, and we know it's closed without even seeing the "Sorry..." sign on the door. Luckily, at this point we are on our way to the Cliffs of Moher, and we are optimistic that it's difficult to close a cliff.

And finally, on another day, we head down toward Ennis where we are all disappointed not to be able to go into the Craggaunowen Project, which is a sort of re-created prehistoric village. This is the closed place we most wish we could see. Then we head to the also-closed Knappogue Castle, pictured below. By now, it is starting to feel a little like our Dismayland Paris experience. But with more driving.

So we are relieved when we get to Quin Abbey, which is open, even though it's not a major tourist destination and not, probably something we would have bothered to go see. Still, it's open! And why? Mostly because it's a currently used cemetery. It's a partial ruin from the 15th century, with some of the walls from a previous 13th century castle, and it's charming enough. Nevertheless, we hightail it over to the Dromoland Hotel, which is a 5-star hotel and golf resort, to treat ourselves to a very fancy lunch. And it's open (thank goodness).


On the way home, our last stop for the day is the W.B. Yeats tower. It is, of course, closed.


The engraved stone on the outside of the tower -- the only side we get to see -- says:

I the poet William yeats
With old millboards and sea-green slates
And smithy work from the Gort forge
Restored this tower for my wife George.
And may these characters remain
When all is ruin once again.


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