Although tired from the previous evening’s festivities, I got out of bed the next morning early enough to allow myself a half hour of wandering the grounds of Abbeyglen Castle. So pretty there, with a lovely fountain overlooking an almost tropical landscape. It is common to see palm trees in the areas of Ireland that we visited. I was able to snap a few photographs of the castle grounds as it was a beautiful morning, the cold drizzling damp of the day before dissolved into memory.
Breakfast in the dining room was sumptuous. Brian served me a pancake and poured on some good old Canadian maple syrup. Our group had a bit of fun over our meal, reliving our evening in the piano bar before Denise arrived with the bus. This was the first time on the trip that I experienced a real reluctance to leave a place. I would have liked to tour around the halls for an hour or two and have a peek into some of the bedrooms my fellow tour members had occupied. Actually, I would have loved the opportunity to simply enjoy my own room, cuddled up in one of the soft robes that were provided and settle into an easy chair, gazing out over the splendid views with a cup of tea. A good, long chin-wag with the delightful Brian in the sitting room would also have been an enjoyable event. This is one of the down-sides to doing a tour. A tour requires an itinerary to be successful, and that means being slave to the clock. You can build some flexibility into a tour, but when all is said and done, you are watching your wrist for the better part of your time. There is no lingering, no reorganizing, no shifting around. The sand in the hourglass runs out, and there is no flipping it back over again.
That being said, I think the tour format was the best way to go. I never would have seen the incredible things I was able to see if I hadn’t been on that little green bus. And I would have missed meeting all those wonderful friends who were on that bus with me.
And so, we were back on the bus again, and its nose was pointed in the direction of Dublin. We would be back in the city by early evening, and it would be time to say our good-byes, then face the long trip back to Canada.
But, the day wasn’t over yet.
Denise took us down some narrow back roads and through some hills, and we were soon pulling into the lane of a working sheep farm. I had been looking forward with much anticipation to this part of the tour, and it truly was a perfect way to end off. The farm was nestled in the green hills, and below was an enormous dark and shimmering lake, lined with rows of mussel traps. The sheep dotted the slopes like cotton balls. Misty clouds bent to graze the top of the distant hills. It was just a gorgeous sight to behold, and I remarked to Tom, our host farmer, that it must be pretty tough to wake up to that view every day. Tom is the fourth generation farmer to run the place and this has been his view every day of his life. I don’t think I would ever get over the shock of the beauty of it myself, but Tom seemed to take it all in stride.
Sheep farming is far from lucrative in Ireland these days (wool is not a sought-after commodity with softer synthetic fibres available now), but it has been a big part of their traditions for generations. Sheep are still everywhere you look when driving around the Irish countryside. Tom inherited the farm, but is only able to continue running it because of his wife’s income as a teacher.
The star of the show was Roy. Roy is a black short-haired Border Collie, and he herds sheep. Tom trained him for three years and the feisty, lean little canine is worth 8000 euro. Roy was quite friendly with us, but if Tom hadn’t been present, it would have been another story. Roy had a very intense, wolfish look in the eyes, and he never took them off his master. I’ve never seen a dog with such a muscular frame. He sat poised, every hair on alert, waiting for Tom’s command. Once given, he sailed like a gazelle over the fence and tore off down the hill in the direction of a group of sheep. Tom stood at the top with his whistle, calling out directions. “Away” would send the dog immediately to the right. “Come by” would bring him left. “Walk on” would bring him behind the sheep. When Tom called, “No!” the dog would plunk to a seated position. In no time at all, Roy had gathered all the anxious-eyed sheep into a ambling formation and the little herd were soon clustered in the pen at the top of the hill. It was an enthralling sight to witness. It was as though the dog and owner had an intense psychic connection.
Busy Roy was difficult to photograph, but there is he in the top right, and the sheep all looking pretty worried. I wonder if they think he is about to devour them?
Before we leave the sheep farm, meet “Sweep.” He is Roy’s predecessor, and now happily retired at the ripe old age of 13 and enjoying the high life. I love his name!
As Denise was travelling back to the castle to retrieve a tour member’s forgotten cell phone, we had some time to linger and gaze out over the lake at the magnificent scenery. We were also toasting a birthday of a tour member, and gathered around a picnic table to enjoy some champagne. Tom agreed to take our picture. I was wearing the lovely green Aran sweater I’d bought on a whim in Galway. One too many of us sat on one side of the table, and we almost tipped over. My new sweater was thoroughly baptized in champagne!
After a final lunch together, Denise did some fierce driving for the remainder of the afternoon and got us all back to Dublin, dropping us off at the same place we’d begun the week before. By this time, we were all “friends” on Facebook, so saying good-bye, although sad, was made easier by the knowledge that we would be staying in touch. It has been awesome to see everyone’s pictures of the trip, as everyone has a unique perspective even though we were visiting the same places.
My travelling companion and I had one more full day in Dublin before leaving in the wee hours the morning after for our flight back. We deliberated taking an excursion out for the day, but frankly, I was by this time “bused out.” We caught up on some sleep, walked through Trinity College, and did a bit of shopping, buying some small gifts to bring back for our families.
We were at our gate in the Dublin airport in plenty of time, and as I amazingly still had some euros left, I went to browse in the shops. It was there that I found the perfect memento of my time in Ireland, something to remember a special friend by…
Farewell to beautiful, unforgettable Ireland.
If you would like to read more by me, I hope you will check out my book Corners scheduled for release in March, 2018.