Day 5: Westport House, Fjord, Flying the hawks at Ashford Castle, Cong Abbey
We’re in the habit of getting up and out early every day so that we have time to do everything possible, and today was no exception, especially since there was so much to fit in before our appointment to fly the hawks at Ashford Castle. (More on that soon!) First we headed to Westport House, since we were already in town. Unfortunately it didn’t open until 10 a.m. and by the time we’d have waited for it and taken the tour, we’d pretty much have put the kibosh on anything else.
If our son had been with us (and younger), we’d have planned to make an entire day of Westport, since in addition to the historical significance of the house and grounds, which were well-preserved, there was a Pirate Adventure Park (in honor of Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connaught) with a carousel, zip lining, archery, canoeing, combat games and about everything else imaginable for the young-at-heart. Given our time crunch, we simply paid our fee to walk around the grounds of Westport House. The house that stands now dates to 1730, but the original Westport House was built in 1650 by Colonel John Browne and his wife Maud Burke, who was Grace O’Malley’s great-great grandaughter.
Then we were on to Killary and the only fjord in Ireland, which we’d added spontaneously to our schedule after hearing about it from a local. We’d never seen a fjord before and couldn’t miss the chance to do so now! So, we gathered our travel chocolate, as had become a tradition with us to help the miles go by (dark chocolate whiskey truffle bars, mostly), and headed off. It was beautiful, as you can see, though since we’d had no idea what to expect, we might have built it up a bit bigger in our heads…
It was just as well that the fjord didn’t require a hike to reach, because we had an appointment at the Irish School of Falconry beside Ashford Castle in Cong for a “Hawk Walk” on the grounds.
This was without question one of the high points of our trip. For the cost, we got a private lesson in falconry and a personal guide. It was just Pete and me, our guide Anya, and our brother and sister hawks Beckett and Sonora. Both were Harris hawks (originally of Colorado), since they’re the only ones that will fly and hunt communally. The hawk walk was…there are just no words. It was amazing. Magical. We learned about how the falconers know when to fly them. Harris hawks are generally between one and two pounds and their weights are recorded every morning, because they should be flown when they’re just hungry enough that they want to hunt, but not so hungry that they’ll make bad choices, as we humans do at fast food counters. Beckett was a very well behaved hawk, but it turns out Sonora was addicted to mushrooms, which she can’t really digest, and so she kept ignoring our guide’s calls to return to fill her crop with fungi! She did come back around, however, and it was an absolutely amazing day. We also got to see and hear about other birds as well, like the peregrine falcon, which can fly up to speeds of 273 mph and needs wide open spaces because of its speed, wingspan and prey (it hunts other birds). We also met Dingle, the Indian Eagle Owl, who was absolutely beautiful!
Also in Cong was the gorgeous Cong Abbey, pictures of which are below. It turns out that in Cong and Connemara, they’re all about the film The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, which was set in the area. There’s memorabilia everywhere, and I quickly snapped a picture of this statue on the way to the abbey.
The abbey was beautiful, and I’m so all about the Celtic high crosses it’s ridiculous. There’s a good write-up of the history here, so I won’t go over it all myself except to say that the architecture that remains dates back to the 12th century.
Dinner involved probably the most amazing desert we had during our time in Ireland, chocolate Guinness cake. A quick note: there should be absolutely no question of what to order anywhere in Ireland once you see the word Guinness in a description. To quote Monk’s theme song (the OCD detective, not someone who might have lived at the abbey), I could be wrong now, but I don’t think so…