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Two golden autumn days, exploring old Irish ways.

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  • colmbolmcolm
    An account of our weekend adventure. Last Friday morning I left Galway (West of Ireland) and headed towards the midlands. I wasn t fully sure of my
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 1, 2004
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      An account of our weekend adventure.

      Last Friday morning I left Galway (West of Ireland) and headed
      towards the midlands. I wasn't fully sure of my destination, but
      knew it was in the vicinity of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, which
      bind together counties Offaly and Laois. There I would meet all the
      guys from the Dublin centre: Ambarish, Shane, Gary and Vinnie and
      also two friends Rastio and Jan - from Slovakia and the Czech
      Republic respectively. (I apologise to them both if I have misspelt
      their names!) Rastio had come over to run the Dublin Marathon, in
      which he achieved an excellent time of about 3 hours 30 minutes! Jan
      had come over for a business meeting, but I think this was just an
      excuse to come and explore Ireland! After a quick phone call and
      confirmation of a meeting point, I arrived in Birr at half one.
      Ambarish had unfortunately appointed my brother Shane (of all
      people!!) to navigate, which resulted in them being over an hour
      late! I put this time to use and collected Rastio who was staying in
      the town of Roscrea only 15 minutes away.

      At about three we were all finally united in a cafe in Birr. With
      the day pushing on, we scoffed the last of our potato cakes and
      marched to our cars with the prospect of squeezing every bit of
      opportunity from the daylight before darkness would fall. To
      Clonmacnoise, a famous monastery on the banks of the river Shannon,
      we drove. We had an hour before it would close for the night, but
      this was all we needed. We walked amoungst the many ruins of
      churches, high crosses and gravestones with the two round towers
      forever keeping a watchful eye on our location. Jan, relentlessly
      trying to break the record for the most photos ever taken in two
      days, was snap happy. The churches and towers were ancient and
      fascinating, but it wasn't until a video presentation in the centre
      that you really gained an understanding and true respect for this
      religious settlement.

      Walking outside once more, every aspect of the monastery became more
      significant, more special. We walked along the flooded banks of the
      Shannon. Land was flooded along the river as far as the eye could
      see. We all met back at a sheltered stage that had been built for
      the Pope when he had once given a presentation in the 80's.

      Outside, and clinging onto daylight, we spotted an adjacent castle.
      This is the most amazing castle I have ever seen, because it
      appeared to defy the laws of gravity. One of its corners - which was
      a huge mass of stone - looked like it would blow over with the wind;
      but it refused to give way. After centuries it was still having a
      huge argument with time over the possibility of immortality. We
      explored the castle, climbing spiralled stairs and openings.

      "Football!" Ambarish exclaimed seeing the field around the castle,
      but it was rough and full of cow dung. We had a football and all
      ready. I looked up, and across the road I noticed a primary school
      with a lovely flat pitch... what a gift! We were blessed with a fine
      evening. We played until we could barely make out one another. We
      played until the only light was the light of the white ball which we
      chased. We held onto daylight long after it had passed; it lived on
      through us until we could play no longer.

      With a welcome meal in Banagher we settled down for the night.
      Accommodation came in the form of a hostel and the back of my van,
      both equally comfortable!

      I woke the next morning and was proud of my roommates for the lack
      of snoring, which was unexpected judging by the joking prior to
      slumber. After meditation, Ambarish happily left to mark out the
      weekly 2-mile run. With everyone slightly warmed up but cheerful, we
      lined up and were off. Mist across the unknown landscape with horse
      and cattle grazing kept my mind at bay while my heart raced.
      Afterwards, cool showers and fresh clothes meant it was time for a
      well-deserved breakfast. Large portions of beans, mushrooms and eggs
      were placed on a table in a cafe to cater for seven hungry
      vegetarians.

      Our adventure led us to Birr castle. Never could I have conceived
      the magic that waited inside the boundary walls of this domain. I
      was spellbound. For hours we strolled through an enchanted garden
      overwhelmed by the infinite colours of autumn: reds and yellows,
      brighter than any flames in any fire. Noblemen, as they were, had
      planted many types of exotic plants and trees throughout this giant
      garden. A fast flowing river, a gentle waterfall, a large lake,
      bridges, tunnels, wells and passageways captivated the landscape.
      Every part of this expanse offered something totally unique and
      beautiful. The birds sang so loudly because they did not have to
      achieve anything to be in heaven. Jan, more frantic than ever, tried
      his best to break that world record for snaps.

      Amongst this beauty, some of the world's most intellectual minds had
      walked. Down through generations these wealthy land owners had
      devoted their time to science, engineering and astronomy. To read
      all the facts about this family of inventors and scholars would
      amaze anyone. To see all of their inventions and innovations was
      incredible - the most notable invention being the massive 72 inch
      telescope with huge supporting walls which could be seen from almost
      anywhere in the garden.

      With a lot of exploration done and more to do, we set off for the
      Slieve Bloom Mountains. Tired as we all were, we didn't intend on
      doing any major hiking, but instead went for a nice walk through the
      forested hills of the Slieve Blooms. Evergreen plantations
      disregarded the nature of autumn, spreading a dark green across the
      hills, while clumps of deciduous trees wept tears of gold at such
      resilience. The air was fresh and in turn we were fresh as we walked
      along chatting and joking. Reaching the top of a hill, we admired a
      valley below. An army of deciduous trees were coming down the far
      hill marching towards the evergreens and leaving behind a trail of
      orange, brown and yellow.

      We set off again, but did not know what the day had left for us. At
      one stage I stopped the van at the summit of a large hill, and Shane
      and I got out to watch the mesmerising sunset. We could see the
      entire midlands from where we were, and the setting sun shone like a
      glorious torch from left to right.

      We found Ambarish parked outside another primary school. These small
      pitches were perfect for only seven of us. We played a bit of Gaelic
      football so as to give the guys a taste of our national sport. They
      were definitely equally as good as us as we tried to kick points
      over the bar. We then played soccer, and at one stage I landed
      badly. I thought I had broken my leg or badly hurt my knee. The pain
      was intense. The guys gathered round me to help me. Rastio
      straightened my leg and as soon as he touched my knee the pain
      dissipated. It was as if the collective concern and care of everyone
      had expelled the pain. I was lucky!

      We all sat on the hill behind the goals and looked at Jan's photos.
      At the same time, we took in the beauty of the sunset which lit the
      sky. It softly touched the landscape and our hearts.

      We stopped for a meal just before setting off for home. Sitting at a
      large round table, seven men sat with seven big smiles on their
      faces, telling jokes and laughing loudly. Each one of us is grateful
      to God for our little adventure.

      Thanks lads, Colm.
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