Despite falling asleep rather easily, I had a hard night — and harder morning — after all those pints last night. When we left the room and dragged ourselves to the dining room for breakfast I had difficulty even listening to Pat suggest a full Irish breakfast, so I opted for scrambled eggs, cereal and lots of coffee. I was so hungover, I had to take my time with breakfast, but managed to get through it without incident.
Back in the room we were still wondering what to do with a week’s worth of laundry and very little in the way of clean clothes, so while Sarah showered I took a walk down the high street to see what options might be available. I poked my head in the chemists shop and was directed to a shop a few blocks away. After managing to pass it the first time I found the shop and spoke with the woman who runs it. She was glad to help, but her turn around time would be too late for us, so I thanked her and walked back to Skelly’s. Dave had said the night before that we could do our laundry at his brother’s place when we visited, so now it was looking like that was going to be our only option.
When I got back I asked Pat about wifi access because we had noticed at breakfast that there was a SSID named “Skelly’s”. He said we should be able to access it, but we hadn’t been able to. Nice (and trusting) guy that he is, Pat led us to the office where the access point was located and left me to fiddle around with things. After looking over the settings I decide to power cycle the access point and then we were finally able to connect.
Once back in the room we talked about the plan to return to London the next day, and decided that based on the news reports we should consider taking a train and ferry rather than risking our flight from Dublin being canceled. Sarah did some research and booked our train and ferry tickets and I spoke with Skelly’s manager, Peter, about the possibility of hiring a car to get us to the train station early tomorrow morning. Peter said he would speak with their brother James who drives the taxi (naturally!) and make the arrangements to have the car there at half five. We are very impressed with Skelly’s!
Dave and Anne met us out front with two cars. We hopped in the car with Anne and met Dave at the market to pick up the ingredients to make faux meat sauce and pasta. While there we hunted for fragrance-free laundry soap in case Dave’s brother and his partner didn’t have any on hand. Then we followed Dave to drop off the car he had borrowed and made our way to his brother’s place.
We meandered through the snowy back roads before arriving at Ken (Dave’s brother), and his partner PB’s, farm just as the sun was setting. What a beautiful spot they have! Before the sun went down completely we all wandered around outside enjoying the way the last light of day shown on the hoarfrost before heading in to start making supper, and finally do some laundry!
While PB and Anne made supper, Dave, Sarah and I chatted and noshed on some cured meats from Trealy Farm that James gave us, and delicious beers from Untapped Brewing we bought in Usk. Ken was finishing up some chores but joined us shortly before the meal was served.
After supper, I helped with the washing up, before we all settled in the sitting room around the Stanley wood stove to talk. Occasionally I would pop out to check on the laundry, which was is in the garage. The telly was on and when the weather reports came on we’d all stop to see what the latest was on the Dublin airport. It was starting to look like we made the right decision to book the ferry.
It was getting late and we had to get up very early if we were going to be ready for James the next morning, so we grabbed our clean clothes, thanked our wonderful hosts and all piled into the car. Once back at Skelly’s we all hugged and said our goodbyes. What a wonderful visit it has been, but tomorrow we head back to England.
The room was very comfortable and we both slept pretty well, even though Sarah’s cough has gotten a little worse. When we got up we went down to the dining room and Pat fixed us up with breakfast. Full Irish for me, and scrabbled eggs and cereal for Sarah. Pat’s an excellent cook, and very generous with his portions.
Because we are the only one’s currently staying here we dined alone near the window that looks out into the alley. Today seems to be rubbish day as we watched staff from Skelly’s and the next door shop gather their bins and take them to the street. Then we noticed a coffin going by on a gurney into the back of Skelly’s. Pat came into the dining room a few minutes later and said with a smile, “I guess you saw the coffin go by. We also do the undertaking around here, so if you die don’t worry it’s all sorted.” We laughed and I suggested they print up cards that read “Eat, Sleep and Be Buried!”
Pat also tells us that overnight were record cold temperatures for Ireland and that they are having trouble with some of the pipes. This means that we still won’t be able to get our laundry done!
After breakfast we return to the room to await the call from Dave and Anne. Sarah has decided that she is going to stay in and try to get better by watching Gaelic soap operas. Dave sends me a text message that they need to run some errands and asks if we want to join. I informed him that I will be glad to tag along, but that Sarah won’t be joining us.
Dave and Anne picked me up shortly after the text and we pile in the car and head for Athlone. We park in a lot and then walk around the frosty village taking in the sites, including stumbling upon a store named Scully Guns & Tackle! After while Dave and I parted ways with Anne so she could shop for a dress to wear to an upcoming wedding. Dave and I eventually make our way to his brother-in-law’s pub, An Cearnog (translates to The Square) where we had a delicious lunch — egg mayonaise (egg salad to Yanks) for Dave and a B.L.T. for me — and a couple of stouts* by a roaring turf fire.
After lunch Dave and I found the local O2 shop where I was hoping to top up my phone with more minutes, but ended up simply buying another SIM with time on it, as it was easier. Afterward we made our way to the mall where we planned to meet back up with Anne. Once we found the mall entrance we popped in a book shop to pick up a driving test manual and as we exited the store we ran into Dave’s mother and father, Ann and Tommy, before Anne found us. Dave invited his parents to join us at Skelly’s later for drinks, and we all made our ways back to our respective cars.
When we arrived at the car Dave got a call from his father that they couldn’t get into their car because the locks had frozen! We started toward where they were before receiving another call from them saying not to bother as a woman threw some tea on it and they were able to get inside. Dave and Ann dropped me off at Skelly’s so they could head home and feed their dog before meeting up with us later for drinks.
When I got back to the room, Sarah was still in bed but said she was feeling a little better, so after freshening up the two of us headed back to Cooney’s for a light supper. Sarah had soup and salad and I had the chowder and a stout. When we finished we walked back to Skelly’s, ordered a stout for me and a brandy for Sarah, and settled into a booth close to the fireplace to wait for the others to arrive.
Dave, Anne and Dave’s parents arrived shortly and we played the Interesting Americans role as Tommy peppered us with questions about the farm. Dave got the next shout and Sarah switched to Bailey’s which Dave’s mother was also drinking. A little while later a boyhood mate of Dave’s named Ollie joined us and the conversation and drink continued to flow. It was probably fortuitous that Sarah switched from brandy, as each member of the group eventually made their way to the bar to buy their round based on what each person was drinking when they left the table. By the end of the evening I had had six (20-ounce) pints of stout and Sarah as many Bailey’s!
Eventually we had to call it quits, and it was a damn good thing we are staying above the pub. We slipped out of our clothes, brushed our teeth, chugged water and did our best to pass out. We have to make a good impression for Dave’s brother and his partner tomorrow.
Being able to check out the night before made getting to the train station early this morning much easier. Switching rooms the day before had the added benefit of giving us more time since we were mostly packed, and going to bed at 9.30 p.m. made getting up at 4 a.m. … tolerable.
As soon as we woke, we called down to the front desk and asked them to have a taxi ready by 4.30. We brushed our teeth, threw on some clothes, and were in the lobby a few minutes early. We confirmed everything with the checkout staff and gave him one of the complimentary coupons for a bottle of wine we received the night before at Côte. The taxi arrived at the set time and the driver politely chatted with us about the state of world economies as soon as we got in the back seat. Nice guy, but at that hour neither of us were interested in such a heavy discussion.
We had already booked our train online from the states, so we weren’t all that concerned when we noticed the gates were wide open and no one was there to take our tickets. We figured we’d show the conductor our confirmation print-out and all would be well. Not knowing where we changed trains, we couldn’t figure out which platform to be on, so we asked around.
Once on the train there was some confusion as to whether we were on the correct train, but eventually we were assured; and told we needed to change at Shrewsbury to get to our final destination in Holyhead. We settled into our seats across from each other, covered our heads and tried to sleep. The speaker in the carriage didn’t seem to work, but we didn’t notice until we both woke and noticed we were at the Shrewsbury station. We hopped up, grabbed our gear, got off the train and ran down to the train heading for Holyhead.
Awake and on the train we checked for a cafe car, and found none. Announcements were being made that the train was being checked for a technical problem, so I took a chance. I grabbed my ticket from Sarah, just in case and I ran from the train to the Pumpkin Cafe on the platform. The place was packed but many people were simply waiting with their luggage until their train came. It was too cold to wait on the platform. I was able to order 2 chocolate muffins and 2 teas with milk and be back on the train in a matter of minutes. Only to be told a few minutes later that the train had been canceled and that we needed to move to another platform and wait for a train which would arrive in 20 minutes. By now, Sarah wasn’t feeling well, so we waited in the heated area near the next platform. When the train arrived we got in the last carriage on the train which just happened to be the one closest to where we were on the platform. We boarded, found seats and settled in for the rest of the journey.
It ended up that we were in a very cold carriage that we eventually learned had no heat! The train was packed and everyone was bundled up against the cold. The train was too packed to risk losing seats (and moving luggage), so we stayed in our table seats. Due to the weather, many people had opted to use the train to travel and those trains that were running, were running at capacity we learned. Sarah began knitting a baby’s jumper to keep her fingers moving. The train remained packed as Holyhead is a main ferry port and with closings at a few airports — including Heathrow and Dublin — more people than usual found themselves heading home for Christmas via the train.
We spoke with a few people on the train including a nice Irish guy who worked in England and was heading to Dublin to be with family for Christmas. We asked him if the ferry port was close to the train station, not knowing if we would have trouble considering we were a little behind schedule. He replied that he thought the 2 were connected as there is “nothing in Holyhead but the train station and the ferry.” A few minutes later after he had taken a phone call from his brother he said “I stand corrected. There is also a nuclear power plant.”
Once in Holyhead, we walked to the end of the station and directly into the ferry port, where we showed our tickets, passports and checked our bags. We then were shuttled from the station to the boat via buses. Once on board the ferry we found a few seats in the middle of the boat and settled in for the 1.5 hour trip. I picked up a newspaper in the store and Sarah continued to knit. The Irish Sea was relatively calm, the skies were clear and sunny, and the trip was uneventful. We noticed that most of the passengers on the ferry were parents and their young children, and decided that even in good weather parents may choose to take this route over airplanes. We also noticed that every crew member on board the Irish Ferry, including the people doing the announcements, seemed to be from Eastern Europe.
When we reached Dublin, we found our bags, headed for the taxi stand and quickly found a car hire to get us to Connolly Station. We arrived in time to use the facilities, grab a cup of coffee, and sit for a few minutes before boarding the train to Longford. The train took some time getting out of the city, but once it did we rolled nicely through the Irish countryside as the sun set on one side of the train and the moon hovered low above the horizon on the other. We arrived at the Longford station, on time, just after dark, where our friends Dave and Anne fetched us. We all caught up in the car on the drive to town, stopping briefly to get a few medicines for Sarah — who seems to be coming down with a chest cold. We dropped Anne off at their place to take care of the dog, and continued on to Ballymahon to check-in.
Skelly’s is one interesting place, and in the good way! From the street there is an off license shop with a pass-through to the pub, which can also be accessed from the side-street alley. Behind the pub, with another entrance off the alley, is the hotel lobby and the entrance to the restaurant. The stairs lead up to the hotel’s rooms and office space.
Dave walks us in from the street, says hello to everyone in the place as we make our way to the bar, introducing us along the way to members of the staff who quickly get us up to our room. Before we can blink we are closing the door behind us and in a very cute room with a full-sized bed, two end tables a wardrobe, a sitting chair and a small flatscreen TV mounted in the corner. The en suite has a new stand-up shower and lots of space. It is obvious the whole hotel part of the building is nearing the end of a complete remodel, and they have done a good job.
Once we unpack and clean ourselves up we head down to the pub and order two pints of Guinness. I made an embarrassing mistake when I grabbed for my beer off the stand after the second pouring and was reprimanded. One more pull later and we both had two pints with thick creamy heads, defying gravity, in front of us. We thanked the bar manager, Seamus, and took long pulls off what were the best pints of Guinness either of us had ever had. My personal mustache thick with a rich overlapping one of foam.
Like much of the rest of the area, Ireland has been dealing with record cold and snows, which are unusual for them. The pub was a bit chilly, and while we waited for Dave and Anne to meet us to go to dinner, we moved over to a table in front of the pub’s big fireplace to finish our drinks. Once they arrived we walked out (without paying or negotiating of any sort) and went to another establishment that is a pub/restaurant/hotel called Cooney’s. We all talked and talked and barely had time to look at the menu, but eventually ordered our meals (we had only nibbled all day) and had a nice supper. When we were done we walked back to Skelly’s where we had a few more drinks in front of the fire before saying goodnight.
We went upstairs and crashed. It was a long travel day, but a great deal of fun. Hopefully Sarah will feel better tomorrow, but she’s probably going to take a “duvet day” if she doesn’t.