At 1.15pm on Friday I received a call to tell me that my travel companion was ten minutes from my office. I started gathering my belongings in preparation for departure. Only then did my boss tell me that an urgent report was required. Cursing under my breath I downloaded it – quickly scanned it, hit send on the email. I suspect I will be asked about it on Monday. But there was no time to think about it then. I was off to Mayo for the weekend. Ballina to be more precise about the location.
A group of us had decided that a February weekend, way out west was an urgent requirement.
I was very excited. The last time I had been to Mayo was over thirty years earlier, when I paid a visit to Knock on a school tour. A hundred years earlier some pious young people had consumed some magic mushrooms (my theory) and the Virgin Mary appeared to them. Since that apparition, Knock had become a place of pilgrimage and school trips. I remember there being a lot of stalls selling religious tat. Very tasteful indeed.
In 2017 I am an adult. This trip was for my more mature delectation.
The drive to Ballina took about four hours. We arrived by 6pm and checked into our pleasant lodgings – a bed and breakfast upstairs from a pub. It was called the Loft. It was deeply comfortable and old school – the key to my room was a metal key on an enormous fob.
Unable to figure out how to turn on the electric shower – who leaves the ‘On/Off’ switch for the shower outside the bathroom – my cleaning routine required a sink full of hot water and a lot of stretching, to access those hard to reach areas.
I repaired downstairs where a black beverage named Guinness was ordered. It cost four euros. I whinnied with pleasure. It’s a long time since a pint of porter cost that little in dirty Dublin.
The group reconvened, and we met with the Ballina native whose residency in the town was the main reason we were visiting.
She recommended ‘The Broken Jug’ for dinner. And a very wise choice it was. Ballina is famous for its smoked salmon. I was unaware of this fact at the time, so it was serendipity that made me choose this dish. Tasty and tempting it was too.
Ballina is a medium sized market town in the west of Ireland with a population of about 10,000 people. It suffered terribly during the recent economic crash. It seems to be having a resurgence. On a Friday night in grimy Dublin, the streets would be heaving. Not so in Ballina. Owing to its size, the nightlife seems a bit more sedate, but there was still activity.
After our meal, we decided that the alternative bar was our favoured option. It is called Emmet Moloney’s and attracts an eclectic clientele. This is the chosen spot for the rockers and punks and tattooed people. There was no rock music that night. The DJ preferred 1980s pop music. I was in heaven. You simply can’t beat some 1980s cheese. The décor of the bar was grungy and interesting. I loved the place. It was established beyond all argument that the 1990s style of music began in 1988.
The next day I awoke at 9.30. Not because I wanted to, rather because I suspected my travel mates would want an early start. This was not the case. After my delicious and greasy meal, I decided that I would explore the town. I took a walk along the river, where I saw the cathedral, and passed the childhood home of former President Mary Robinson. The plan I believe, is to turn this into a museum, and the house has been purchased by the local government for this purpose. It’s not ready yet, but hopefully it will be an interesting addition to the town. Mary Robinson is probably the most renowned person from Ballina and she has always been my favourite Irish president. I remember my frustration when I was not able to vote for her. Then again, I was only sixteen at the time, so what did I expect?
On the way back to the hotel I called into the Jackie Clarke collection. Born in Ballina in 1927, over the course of this life, Clarke amassed a vast archive of local and national papers and memorabilia. When he died earlier this century, his widow donated the collection to Mayo County Council and his collection is now on display.
I entered the reception as the staff were on their tea break. I hadn’t planned to visit the entire museum, but as I’d interrupted their elevenses I felt honour bound to watch the film about Clarke’s life and view the display in full. I’m glad I did as it was an engaging exhibition.
That afternoon we took a drive to Enniscrone Beach just up the coast in County Sligo. As I was feeling slightly delicate after my previous evening’s shenanigans I made the executive decision that the only cure for my condition was a seaweed bath. The baths were built over a century ago. Seawater is piped into the building and heated and you stew yourself in the seaweed for the health benefits it brings. The cold sea shower at the end is not for the faint of heart. I am a sturdy person though, so I endured.
Following my bath, we went to Gilroy’s pub for refreshment. The non-Irish member of the party raised some eyebrows among the locals when she ordered ‘three Guinnesses’. Apparently, you are not meant to pluralise the word Guinness. I nodded in agreement at this. Although if the truth be told I had no idea that this was a rule. She announced that from now on if she was ordered plural Guinness, then she would ask for Guinnessi. This is a good compromise I feel
Arriving back in Ballina we went to Bar Square, where we had a reservation for dinner. I ordered the chump of lamb. I often order lamb when out to dinner. It is wonderful, but it’s a dish I never cook at home. It was a good decision. In the toilet afterwards I noticed the poster advertising the Valentine’s Day disco in the bar later that evening. It said that it was going to be a ‘provocative party’. Although this sounded thrilling we decided that it might be too exhilarating for us. Instead we selected a bar named ‘The Fishing Tackle’ where the smell of the turf fire burning was very relaxing.
After breakfast this morning we decided that an early departure was wisest. I am home at last and looking forward to the spring onion infused potato cakes, that I purchased in Billy’s Bakery in Ballina for my supper.
And I will leave you with one thought. I learned this over this magical weekend.
If a cow is ready to calve, then her skeleton adjusts in preparation for the upcoming birth.
You wouldn’t learn that in Dublin let me tell you.