| Treasures of Ireland:
Food, Fun and Falconry
At Ashford Castle
Story and photos by Tom Weber
it's not raining on your parade, and that's a real possibility when
visiting the Emerald Isle, there are plenty of outdoor activities to
keep you busy around Ireland's iconic country estate: Ashford
Guests can tee it up at the parkland golf
course; play singles or doubles on two all-weather tennis courts; go
fishing; grab a kayak and paddle around the lake; mount a horse and
hit the woodland trails, or take a carriage ride with the entire family;
hire a bike and cycle the castle's vast estate; take aim with skeet
and archery; play billiards; screen The Quiet Man and other box-office
hits in the velvet-seated cinema; relax in the spa; or, do what we're
about to do: experience the ancient sport of falconry.
Ireland's School of Falconry is the oldest
established falconry school in the country. Here, castle guests can
book a once-in-a-lifetime "hawk walk" and fly their very own
Harris's hawk in the nearby woodlands.
Meet Jamie and Lima. Jamie's the smiling
redhead from California in the watchman's cap and a bona fide falconry
instructor; Lima's the female Peruvian Harris's hawk. Together, they're
schooling us in this 4,000 year-old hunting sport.
Following its "handler" from
tree to tree, Lima periodically swoops down into a gloved fist, grabs
a "snack" and then flies off again. You know she's somewhere
nearby from the sound of the tiny bells attached to her talons.
I've been told that a "history"
cruise around Lough Corrib, sailing daily from Ashford Castle's private
pier, is a terrific way to explore the camera-ready surroundings of
some of the lake's 365 isles, one for each day of the year, and take
in the panoramic views of the Connemara Mountains in the distance.
Together with my mates 18 travel
writers and photographers invited by Insight
Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Treasures
of Ireland itinerary I board the M.V. Isle of Innisfree,
an original tender (lifeboat) from the Cunard Line, and shove off.
Captain/historian/owner Patrick steers
the boat and narrates the scene both at the same time as we cruise across
the lake. Meanwhile, Martin, an 80-year-old musician, entertains us
topside on the "squeezebox" with a selection of Irish tunes,
like Danny Boy and Rakes of Mallow.
In between the history lesson and the ditties,
a member of the crew ensures that our glasses are kept full with wine
or Jameson, or both, to ward off the cold wind hitting us straight on.
In 1906, the Prince of Wales was a guest
of the Guinness family, owners of Ashford Castle at the time. The prince
went on to become England's King George V. In honor of the king's visit,
the Guinness family built a special dining room that still bears his
Dressed to the nines coat and tie
for the gents and the LBD (little black dress) for the ladies
we're ushered into the graceful setting that is the George V Dining
Room, handed a glass of bubbly and prepare to dine like royalty.
From acclaimed Chef Philippe Farineau's
kitchen, a bounty of food magazine-worthy dishes is plated before us
from Ireland's lands, seas and farms. And, paired with our delectable
selections are several stellar wines from Bouchard
Finlayson Winery of South Africa.
With our 48-hour, fairy tale-like stay
coming to an end, members of the intrepid "band of merry media"
add their names to the guest book to ensure that they're part of the
Carnation Hotels has done a masterful job of meticulously restoring
this iconic country estate in Co. Mayo to its former glory, breathing
new life into her to carry her forward, hopefully, for another 800 years.
But, it is the staff, those warm and friendly individuals sporting the
emblematic flower in their lapels, who have made our visit so unforgettable.
For complete information on Insight's 100+
premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, including a five-star
luxury stay at Ashford Castle, just click HERE,
or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
Join me in just about three hours in downtown
Dublin when we'll pass through the "pearly gates" to see how
Irish barley, hops, yeast and water ferment in perfect harmony to form
the world-renowned "black stuff."
Quiet Man; Piped
Inside Ashford Castle; Galway
Cliffs of Moher; Remembering
the Great Famine