Of all these wonderful things to do, it was the falconry that caught our eye. The school has close to 50 Harris hawks in enclosed aviaries. Our trainer explained that Harris hawks are different from most birds of prey because they tend to hunt in packs. To gain the bird’s trust, trainers have to become a member of the pack. They do this by, obviously, feeding the birds, but also by helping them hunt. When prey is caught, the trainer’s job is to kill the animal quickly. This, uh, kills two birds with one stone, so to speak. It shows the bird the trainer is useful to them and it is more humane to the captured animal to die swiftly rather than through a painful, prolonged death. Enough of that though.
The exciting part was donning the leather glove, getting our birds and heading to the woods to fly them. The first time we called them back and they swooped in for a landing on our arms, we braced ourselves thinking we would take a knock on their landings. Not so. They fly in at very fast speeds, but land as lightly as a butterfly. We got to spend an hour with the birds, and it was the highlight of our trip.
Dining at Ashford is everything you’d expect from a five-star resort. The George V dining room is magnificent and gleams due to the huge Waterford chandeliers. Tuxedoed waiters quietly bustle around making sure every need is met. A person can get spoiled very quickly.
Sadly we had to leave Ashford. We were among the last “commoners” to stay at Ashford that week because the staff needed to prepare for golfer Rory McIlroy’s wedding. We joked about trying to get an invite but were unsuccessful.
So, our wonderful trip to my homeland came to an end…or maybe it was just a beginning of many more to come.
Seven Fun Facts about the Emerald Isle
1. It’s clean, as in pristine. Big cities like Dublin and Galway are just as clean as the countryside. No litter, not even cigarette butts on the sidewalk even though there are plenty of sidewalk smokers. Strangely little graffiti too. In the cities, the streets are swept or vacuumed several times a day. The Irish keep their homes and yards perfectly manicured to the point that the entire country looks like a Disney set. They take special pride in their front door and paint them all manner of bright colors.
2. It’s green, like vibrant, eye-shocking green. The green pastures and hillsides make it easy to spot sheep which are everywhere and just as likely to be standing in the middle of the road as up on a hillside.
3. If rocks were Euros, Ireland would be the richest country in the world. In fact, there is a whole area called The Burren which is nothing but a giant rock and it goes on for miles and miles. Although I’ve never been to the moon, The Burren is what I imagine it looks like. The Irish are a resourceful lot though. They use those rocks to build thousands of miles of fences. This is a clever way to clear pastures of rocks. Unfortunately, many of those rock walls line country roads making two-way traffic, let’s just say, less than ideal. When they need to move livestock from one pasture to another, they move rocks to create an opening, move the sheep or cows through and then replace the rocks. Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to build a gate? They also use those rocks to build sturdy homes and castles. Ruins from ancient structures are everywhere. The rock walls still stand but the wooden and thatched roofs are long gone.
4. The Irish disposition is overwhelmingly positive. These are people who have been abused, starved and put on “coffin ships” to the New World (that’s the USA) to become indentured servants. They’ve been invaded by Vikings and dominated by the British. How this kind of history creates such jovial, positive people I haven’t a clue. What I do know is that they are amazing at finding the silver lining to every situation. Example: It’s raining. Irish outlook: “Oh would you look at that now. We’re getting a right nice rain to help our vegetables grow.” Example: It’s bitterly cold and windy. Irish outlook: “Isn’t this a perfect day to make a lovely Irish stew?”
5. They speak English. Of course, you probably can’t understand Dubliners their accent is so thick. People from southeast Ireland, say the Wicklow area, have almost no accent. Because of that many from those areas are in the service industry as guides and concierges. Ireland, as well as Scotland, is trying to revive the Gaelic language. It is ridiculously difficult and only about 5 percent of the population understand it much less speak it. For instance, slainte, meaning health, is a word they use for a toast, like “cheers.” It’s pronounced slon-cha. Uisce beatha, prounounced iska baha, means water of life which is also the name for whiskey!
6. Spoiler alert: The color associated with St. Patrick is blue, not green. Sorry to burst your bubble on that one.
7. The Irish value a good story above all. And, if it’s a true story, even better. But, the main thing is it’s a good story told well. It’s the gift of the Blarney Stone. My family has this gift and it’s the thing I love most about them.