Our trip to Ireland was so wonderful that sometimes I fear I’m slipping into hyperbole here; everything becomes the most gorgeous scenery, the most delicious food, the most memorable experience. And the truth is that while so much of what we did was actually that wonderful, there are some days on the trip that stand out from the rest as truly special – and today was one of them.
As our day began, our guide told us he had not one, but two, surprises in store for us. We drove toward the town of Cong, passing by Ashford Castle along the way. Our guide told us that Ashford Castle has been transformed into one of the most luxurious hotels in Ireland; in fact, Pierce Brosnan even got married there. Sadly, the Castle was not on our itinerary, and we passed it by as we headed into Cong.
Upon our arrival into Cong, our driver made a loop around the town while our guide pointed out landmarks. But then…rather than stopping the bus and letting us explore Cong, the driver completed the loop and left the town behind. Surprise! We were actually going to Ashford Castle after all…
Needless to say, we were all pretty excited about this. We arrived at the Castle and went inside, where we explored some of the hotel’s beautiful rooms.
We then were taken into a dining room for part one of our surprise – Irish coffees for everyone (and tea for those who weren’t wild about the idea of whiskey so early in the morning). As I drank my Irish coffee and my mom had her tea, we had the biggest smiles on our faces. We’re in Ireland! In a castle! And it’s all so fancy and elegant! Life is good.
After thoroughly enjoying our beverages, we headed outside for part two of our surprise – a visit to the Castle’s School of Falconry.
As we toured the school itself, our guide told us more about the falcons and other birds kept there. We learned about how the birds must maintain super precise flying weights (as little as a quarter ounce can make a difference). It was all quite fascinating.
Next, our group got to go out with one of the hawks, Inca, on a hunt. Each person in our group would get to don the big black glove, have Inca land on their arm, and then cast the hawk out to hunt again. This is the part of the story where I make a small confession: birds scare me. Like a lot.
So, that said, I opted not to put on the big black glove and have the bird land on me. Instead, I played photographer for my mom and others as they each took their turns. The whole experience was awesome to watch, and my bird-phobic self has no regrets about the situation – seeing it was quite enough, thank you.
After finishing up our hawking, we headed to the back of the Castle and took a stroll through the impeccably manicured gardens. Everything was just lovely; I can completely understand why anyone – James Bond or otherwise – would want to get married here.
From the Castle, we walked back into the town of Cong itself. The walk was relatively quick – about 15 minutes – but there was lots of beautiful nature to take in along the way. We also stopped for a short visit at the ruins of Cong Abbey.
Once in Cong itself, we had lunch at The Hungry Monk (great name for a cafe, don’t you think?). There, I had a yummy bacon, brie, and cranberry panini. After lunch, we walked around Cong, and though there weren’t a ton of things to see there, the town was still a cute and charming place to relax.
We then climbed back on our bus, driving through the spectacular Connemara countryside. While I tend to take pictures of everything (obviously), I rarely snapped photographs while on the bus during this trip. Even though the scenery out my window was beautiful, I knew my shaky bus pictures would never come close to capturing it, so I preferred to watch and soak it all in. But in Connemara, I made an exception: the views were too beautiful not to try for a few pictures.
We ended our day in Westport, a frequent winner of Ireland’s Tidy Town competition. Walking around town before dinner, we could see why; there were flowers everywhere and all the buildings were beautifully kept.
That evening, we finished our day with a dinner at Madden’s Bistro. I started with my usual goat cheese salad (it never disappointed), ordered a rather unremarkable chicken with mushroom sauce for my main, and ended on a very delicious note with profiteroles – a sweet dessert to end one of our sweetest travel days.
- Ashford Castle: Cong, Co. Mayo, Ireland | +353.94.954.6003
- The Hungry Monk: Abbey Steet, Cong, Ireland | +318.104.22.168866
- Madden’s Bistro: James St., Westport, Co. Mayo, Ireland | +353.98.28088