I awoke to blue skies and sunshine, which lasted just long enough for me to shower, dress and make it half way through my breakfast. What's a little rain when there are roads to be rambled? A delicious breakfast of cooked to order eggs, bacon & tomato and a wide selection of fruits, yogurt, breakfast breads, juices and porridge. I always walk away stuffed to the gills, especially at Gleeson's. Funny though that after eating all of that, I am hungry again a few hours later.
Off I set, full stomach and a contented heart, for Strokestown Park House & Gardens, Lough Key and Lough Arrow. Those were my primary destinations. I had faith in the Faeries to lead me to others of which I hadn't thought.
As I made my way downstairs, I caught a glimpse of sky and sun once again outside the window. However, by the time I made it out to the car, the skies were once again multi hues of grey and a drizzle was quickly nudging its way to a full rain. All was well as I had my Eddie Bauer weatherproof jacket and my Cowboy's Brawley (Cowboy Hat). Off I went to Strokestown and the Gardens which I was hoping, despite the rains and cold, would be in good bloom. Have I mentioned that I am an eternal optimist?
I arrived at Strokestown, only to find that it was still closed. No worries, onward toward Boyle and some time spent wandering the Abbey grounds. The Faeries must have had other ideas, as it began to pour in sheets just as I turned into the Abbey. Still undaunted, I pointed Peg toward Lough Key & Lough Arrow. Since I would have to backtrack anyhow, I first headed for Lough Arrow and its over look. I overshot the turn in for the Lough Arrow overlook. Undaunted, I headed toward Ballinafad planning on backtracking. As I pulled off to turn towards Ballinafad, the ruins of Ballinafad Castle caught my attention. Ballinafad Castle is an awesome ruin to muddle around. It is well preserved. It dates back to the time of the Plantations, which would be 16th century. What makes it such a treasure is that it was designed to look like a 13th century keep. It is built in a rectangular shape with 3/4 round towers at each corner.
As I grabbed my camera and climbed out of Peg, the grey skies became a glorious blue with clouds scudding across. It was an easy walk to the Castle, just a few yards from where I parked. I stopped a few moments to chat with the cows in the adjoining pasture. They seemed most interested in my Cowboy 's Brawley. My good weather lasted about ten minutes. It then ended abruptly with a gust of wind and a gusher of rain. Back again to Peg and the dry interior. Onward through Ballinafad and to the Lough Arrow overlook.
At the Lough Arrow overlook, once again the skies cleared. I was intent on photographing the Lough when I heard a disgusted snort from behind me and off to my right. I turned to find myself staring into dark, soft eyes which sparkled with mischief. I had attracted the attention of a horse in the neighboring paddock. He had wandered over to say hello and see if I might have a sweet bit for him. He seemed quite happy with the bit of scone which I offered. He was pure white and, being allowed a moment of fancy, I might say that he was that mythical, rarely seen beast, the unicorn. He had that air about him, you see. A few snaps of the Lough and horse and I was on my way to the Lough Key overlook.
Lough Key has a fabulous Forest Park, which on a good day makes for a full day of hiking and outdoor fun. Since the rains had begun once again, I settled for capturing some shots of the "Gaelic Chieftain" sculpture erected at the Lough Key overlook to honor the Battle of Curlew Pass. This sculpture, design and created by Maurice Harron, himself a Derryman, in 1999, is life size, twisted metals, which can be seen for miles on the main Dublin-Sligo road. It was very mesmerizing.
Onward again back towards Strokestown and the Famine museum' Gardens. I was hoping that they would be fairly devoid of people, as it was a weekday. I inquired in the Gift shop about the quality of the blooms. The clerk said that blooms could be found, if one looked carefully. She then took me out to the garden and passed me through the turnstile. I love the Strokestown Garden. It is a massive walled garden with one of England's longest Herbaceous borders. Even on a grey and wet day, it is somewhat better protected because of its walls. With the exception of the first ten or fifteen minutes. I had the gardens all to myself for the two hours which I roamed. I did indeed find some blossoms, including a couple of unique blossoms which I cannot name. When the weather cooperates, as it seemed to do usually within a week of my departure, the formal garden is a riot of colors and the farm gardens are bursting with produce and herbs waiting to be plucked a used in the kitchen. Into the Café for a quick cuppa to warm me up and a Faery cake to hold me until dinner. I do enjoy their Faery cakes. Once again, I forgot to ask for the recipe! A few small gifts picked up in the Gift shop and I was on my way back to Roscommon town.
On my way back, I stopped to photograph a monument at the Roscommon/Elphin turn-off. The monument commemorates those of the Irish Republican Army, Óglaigh na hÉireann, who gave their lives in the War of Independence. "SAOIRSE", Irish for "freedom", catches your eye as you go through the gate and into the courtyard area. Next to catch your eye is the giant stone "book" which lists all the locals who gave up their lives for Irish Independence. The focal point is the three soldiers, looking off into different directions, who tower over the monument at its center. There is also a monument to Padraig Pearse, a bas relief of a side profile etched into stone. A fitting, timeless tribute to the Cause's loudest voice. I had been wanting to stop there on each of my visits but we always had some place else to be. I was glad that I was able to stop and spend some time there this trip. I could feel an energy and a strength there. It was quiet, dignified and purposeful.
Back on the road and into Roscommon town, where I parked the car at Gleeson's and wandered off to walk the town. I usually find some amazing window boxes to photograph in Roscommon town. This trip I couldn't find any. I wandered into Gleeson's new shop, a Epicurean delight! It was there that I found "gold" in the form of Roscommon Chocolate Company. A transplanted Californian set up shop in the old Ballinderry schoolhouse at Fourmile House. I fell in love with the lambs done in chocolate. They were created to honor the Roscommon Lamb Festival held each April. I also came home with chocolate hedgehogs. I did a bit of gift shopping, picking up jam for my Daddy, chocolate hedgehogs for my best friend Eve, chocolate lambs for my grand-nephew and several bags of roasted pistachios. One bag for me and two for gifts.
Back in my room, I rested and went through my photos, deleting those that didn't come out quite right and making notes in my journal for those I would use on my various sites. I showered up and went in search of a cuppa. I had my dinner, fish & chips, which was light, non-greasy and delicious. The batter they use comes out light and crisp. The fish, moist and flaky, is something I can still imagine the taste of if I close my eyes. After dinner, I went in to the lobby and sat by the fire with a glass of wine. I was waiting for Brigid Lawless, my second cousin on my Gran's side, to join me for dessert. We had been trading emails for the better part of a year and a half. I would email her pictures and ask for names. She would name those she could and send me back pictures for which she needed names. It was she who had given me the lead for the Kanes, Rices, Murphy folk in Armagh. Though I had never seen a picture of her, I knew her as soon as she walked into the lobby. However, she walked straight past me. We both laughed and hugged. She said that she was sure that she would know me the moment she saw me.
We had a grand time sipping tea and trading stories. Some where sweet and others were dark but it is all part of the tapestry of Family. She had brought with her pictures that she had of her "Canadian cousins" taken whilst they were visiting her childhood home in Birmingham, England. She laughed when I told her that I had thought it strange for her to travel from Birmingham to Roscommon just for tea. She had long since moved from England to her husband's home area of Athlone here in Co. Roscommon. The photos she had brought were of my Aunt, Isabelle, and my Uncle, Bryan, when they were close to school age. There has been much argument between my father and Uncle, Tim, over the location at which those photos were taken. Tim swears that they were never in England at that age. However, Brigid has strong memories of them being there. My father as always said that they were in England, as well. We had a good two hour visit and then I walked her over to meet her husband at Doorly's. The proprietor, John, was happy to see one of the cowboys had come back. It had been 3 years since my last visit and still he poured a Jameson, tall and neat, and set it in front of me. This is why Roscommon feels like home. No matter how long you are away it still feels like only a few moments have passed.