I always tell you with great joy about the first time every year I see the lissome swallows of the beginning of the real spring in my Western skies. It is a spiritual sight because it beautifully signals that winter is over and done, there are brighter longer times ahead, the Earth is warmly awakening, we have survived.
For almost the past 20 years, I've always spotted the first flights of swallows over Cleenagh Lough behind the impeccable garden of my former good neighbor and friend Jimmy White across the road from Maisie's thatched cottage near Shannon. We moved house to the other side of Clare in Killaloe late last year, so I spotted the flickering visitors this spring through a different window.
I was back in Connemara for the night in the home of my son Dara and his wife Aine on a hill overlooking Galway Bay in aptly-named Cois Fharraige (Beside the Sea!), and when I opened the morning curtains there, I saw not just the elementally etched beauty of the Bay and the Aran Islands and Black Head across the silvery waters but also, flying high above all, seven scudding swallows against the cloudless blue of space.
I counted them as I stood there for a moment or two quite literally saying a prayer of thanks to the Almighty for that moment and that morning.
Enough of that now lest I become maudlin. I cannot go there this week because I have such good news for all of you intending to garnish your lives this summer with an Irish holiday which will itself be garnished by the extra purchasing power of your currently very strong dollar.
Firstly, traveling to Connemara on a fine Friday, I detoured across the top of the unique Burren. After a mild winter, it has never looked so awesomely special.
There are bursts of delicate white blossoms around every thorn bush in the stone walls, the furze is blazing yellow, flora and fauna I do not know the names of at all are emerging from the zillions of crevices in the limestone scalp of the place and, above all for visual impact, the cherry blossoms flaunt themselves at every bend of the many on the Burren roadways.
In all fairness, the scenic power of the place is quite beyond my word power to effectively capture. You will have to see it for yourselves.
The rising economic tide of recent times is visibly lifting all the boats from the Claddagh right out along the Connemara coast to Cois Fharraige and beyond away out to the Sky Road out of Clifden. I am delighted and amazed even at the value and quality of the food which I share with my family members in the Connemara Coast hotel in Furbo.
On my happy way home alone, I am equally pleased with the quality and price of the fare offered to travelers in O'Grady's restaurant/bar in the center of Gort town on the main Galway road. Coole Park on the outskirts, with its historic legacy from Yeats and Lady Gregory, should not be passed by lightly either. The tall trees here, including the famed Autograph Tree, seem to whisper sonnets when the breezes blow.
Killaloe, when I reach it eventually in the early evening, warmly nestles against the Shannon already busy with cruisers and the sailing boats of the first wave of tourists. The Dutch Nation is not at home so, on a whim, I continue through what is now my home town on the main Limerick road via O'Brien’s Bridge and Parteen.
Be you glad that I did because I had earlier spotted a roadside sign for O'Shea's ancient country pub in Clonlara. I pass over a humpy bridge and there it is in the dip below.
It’s rooted in the 19th century but bang up to date with wi-fi access, an open fire, friendly service for good food and drink at cheap rates, and just that special Céad Mile Fáilte that good old pubs (getting scarcer) powerfully radiate. Great craic at the counter with the locals and the bubbly lady behind the bar.
And real wisdom from the long lean man I met when I went outside for a vape from my smoke stick. Do you know what he said to me about the American election process?
He said he spent a year in the States in the fifties before inheriting the family farm and returning home. He had loved his American stay totally.
What he does not understand at all (and I agreed with him) was how such a powerful nation with millions of the best brains in the world cannot seem to escape from the shackles imposed by the existing political dynasties on both sides.
Are we to have a Clinton – again -- running against a Bush – again? He remembered what a "hanging chad" was in Florida and wryly commented that the likely entire field seemed to be composed of hanging chads of one shade or another.
I enjoyed our chat in Clonlara across the road from a signpost advertising the village's many boating and angling attractions.
I was driving and so was taking a small chance by having the one slow pint of beer which I relished alongside a tasty toasted ham and cheese sandwich. I could easily have been led astray for the whole evening but resisted the temptation.
I told the lovely lady behind the bar that I would be back soon. I will too and, should you find yourself on the same road this year, I warmly commend a stop in O'Shea's of Clonlara. You are in king's country here.
Talk to you again from underneath the flights of swallows next week. In the meantime, peace to all.