Co Galway: Time again to arise and go


Thoor Ballylee, the Hiberno-Norman tower described by Seamus Heaney as the most important building in Ireland.
Thoor Ballylee, the Hiberno-Norman tower described by Seamus Heaney as the most important building in Ireland.
Melt your stress away at the Galmont Hotel and Spa

By six months, the how-to books will all tell you, your new baby will have a regular sleep pattern. Regular schmegular. Our baby was having none of it.

So the pair of us – T and myself – were exhausted as only out-of-your depth parents can be, and while on the outside, we were both screaming at each other to pass the nappies, inside we were both screaming for a break, one where we didn’t have to travel that far, one where we really didn’t have to do that much at all. A couple of days would do – but we needed it fast.

It was at that very moment that I remembered that just two hours down the motorway from Dublin lies Galway and the Galmont Hotel. “That’s the Galmont Hotel and spa,” said T pointedly as I made the call.

Yes, they had rooms. Yes, family rooms, suites, whatever we needed. Yes, they’d be expecting us. Yes, we could drive straight into their car park, get the baby out and go straight to our room. Easy as that.

Within minutes we were haring down the motorway into the West. Glee was general, and to add to our joy, the low rumble of tyre on tarmac knocked the wee lad for six. Yes, Baby’s first trip away was looking good.

For legal reasons I can’t tell you how long it took us to arrive in Galway, or how short it took us to get set up in the Galmont. Determined to move as little as possible, we phoned down to book a table in the hotel restaurant – also checking that they’d be good with a little one sitting in – and bringing his own food to the table. ‘No trouble’, they told us at Marina’s Grill. ‘What time will you be down?’

Marina’s Grill has got an AA rosette, which I think is like an English-language Michelin star. Certainly the food was delicious – and while T did her usual healthy thing (going for a risotto of golden beetroot, with rosemary and goats curd, with pecan nuts and orange zest), I was free to unleash my inner carnivore on a 16oz mohawk steak, dripping in a poitin and peppercorn sauce and adorned with a mushroom-stuffed red onion. Yes, you read that right.

There was also broccoli with almond butter in the mix, and I could swear someone ordered Mac & Cheese. And I really ought to mention the scotch egg with black pudding and pickled pearl onions.

Funnily enough, we even found room for a baked cheesecake afterwards – and the boy slept through!

Best of all, once we were finished, we rolled the buggy to the lift and within minutes were back ensconced in our room where deep sleep was waiting.

Next morning the weather was threatening to wreak all sorts of Wild Atlantic Waylaying, so instead of a picnic by the sea past Spiddal (and there are any number of lovely little coves up there, before you get to Inverin), we struck out south – almost as far as Co Clare – to Coole Park, on the outskirts of Gort.

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Coole Park, as you might recall, was once the home of Lady Augusta Gregory – who along with WB Yeats founded the Abbey Theatre and steered the Celtic Twilight literary movement back when the 19th turned into the 20th Century. And then, of course, there’s that poem – The Wild Swans at Coole.

When the poem was written, in late 1916, Yeats was staying in Coole House with Lady Augusta Gregory. He was then 51 years old and acutely disappointed with just about everything touched by human hand – romantic rejection (by both Maud Gonne and by her daughter Iseult) plus political disillusionment (in the aftermath of the Rising) fed into his sense of his powerlessness in the face of the world rapidly changing around him.

Licking his wounds in Coole House, walking from the house through the woods down to the lake, the poet’s spirit found saving grace in the rhythms of nature and the perceived constancy of the “nine-and fifty” swans that he recounts seeing that dry October day.

There are swans there still. Though neither of us had the poet’s temperament to sit and count every bleeding one. But the rumble of the pram over the gravel path to the turlough had charmed the little boy to stony sleep. Result! (As WB said.)

The house in Coole burned to the ground in the 1950s, so no one can walk the halls where the Abbey Theatre was imagined up or where early drafts of Easter 1916 were hurled into waste paper baskets. (Can you imagine what the butler threw out?)

What there is, is the nature that so energised the illuminati of the early 20th Century – and the autograph tree into which they carved their initials. It’s a massive copper beech tree in the walled garden, and the sign by the tree helps you just about make out the carved initials of George Bernard Shaw, Yeats, John Millington Synge, Lady Gregory, Douglas Hyde, Sean O’Casey – just about everyone of note in literary Ireland. They’re all dead now, but the tree goes from strength to strength – and every year it reclaims just a smidgen of each penknife-carved autograph. Who knows if the little boy will be able to read them when he’s a grown man? Catch it while you can.

If you really want to fleadh the Yeats thing, it’s only five minutes from Coole Park to Thoor Ballylee but you’d want those five minutes to be between 10am and 6pm. We got there after 7pm. Living on nappy time.

All too soon it was back to Dublin, and, of course, the sun burst out just as we were driving onto the Lough Atalia road with every car in Galway coming out to wish us goodbye.

At that very moment we turned on the RTE news to hear Conor Faughnan “of the AA” deliver his punchline: “Traffic is heavy on the Lough Atalia road, heading in and out of Galway.” Jaysus, but he was on the ball with that.

Nothing for it but to pull into a Topaz, have a couple of 99s, and watch the traffic. You could fry an egg on the stones here. It was a lovely moment in a strange kind of way, one we won’t forget – but I bet the young fella doesn’t remember a second of his first trip away.

Getting  there

* The Galmont Hotel & Spa is going to be one of the hotspots for the Galway Races with great Race Week packages. On Tuesday, July 31 and Wednesday, August 1, visitors can indulge in an all-inclusive lunch and racing package, which includes a two-course lunch in Marina’s Grill, Prosecco on arrival, transport to and from the race track and complimentary entry tickets. The Galmont will also host an exciting line-up of complementary live entertainment on what is Galway’s biggest week.

* The Galmont is also doing a huge range of get-away offers – starting from the €95pp ‘Summer in the City’ right up to the two-night ‘Explore the West’ family offer at €560.

* Thoor Ballylee is open from 10am-6pm in summer but Coole Park opens earlier (8am) and shuts later (7.30pm) in summer.

Sunday Indo Living

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