Traveling Through the Emerald Isle

Even if you grew up Jewish in America in the olden days, part of your musical repertoire was “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” and Jimmy Cagney belting out George M. Cohan’s “H-A-double R-I-G-A-N Spells Harrigan.”

Thus a trip to the Emerald Isle, where folks go around kissing the Blarney Stone, has always been on our traveling wish list. So when our daughter, who lives in London with her husband and two young sons, suggested renting an Irish cottage for a week of transgenerational bonding, my wife and I went for it.

The Davillaun Cottage turned out to be a rather resplendent two-story house in County Mayo, on the northwest Irish coast on the outskirts of the harbor town of Westport.

It included four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a comfortable living room with a fireplace, an enclosed garden terrace, complete kitchen, and washing machine and dryer — room enough for four adults, plus 4-year-old Benjamin and 1-year-old Gabriel.

As promised in the promotional material, our cottage was only 100 yards from the nearest pub and not much farther from a supermarket and shops.

On clear days, we had a splendid view of Croagh Patrick, revered as the mountain retreat of St. Patrick, and across Clew Bay. The bay looks lovely at high tide in the late afternoon, but is rather less picturesque at low tide.

Depending mainly on the napping regime of our grandsons, we launched half or full-day excursions from our base in Westport.

We visited the magnificent grounds of the 13th century Ashford Castle in Cong, although the castle itself has been converted into a pricey hotel and was off-limits except to guests.

We did considerable hiking along the windswept beaches of Bertra Strand but were disappointed by a drive through the much-touted Achill Island. More rewarding was a trip to nearby Newport, with a first-class children’s playground.

Westport itself retains much of the charm of a small town, though the government is spending a lot of money to upgrade (or downgrade) it to a major resort. Restaurants and pubs abound, with The Towers along the quay as our favorite.

For Californians, who gotta have their regular swim, the Westport Leisure Park offers an adult pool (indoors, of course) and an imaginatively constructed pool for kids and infants. (On the whole, we have found that facilities for kids in England and Ireland are designed much more imaginatively than in the States.)

We stayed in Westport during the middle of March, which has its advantages and disadvantages. Accommodations, and we assume restaurant prices, were considerably lower than during the summer season. However, we endured frequent rains, and while the Londoners took the cold weather in stride, the decadent Angelenos shivered occasionally.

What about costs? The one-week rental of our cottage came to a little over $400, not counting electricity and gas, for which we paid separately. There’s a TV set, but no phone.

During July and August, the cottage rents for about $600, and in May, June and September for $500.

For information on County Mayo cottage rentals, the best way is to e-mail inquiries to bfq@visitmayo.com, or fax to 011-353-98-25749. The Irish Tourist Office publishes an illustrated catalogue of cottage rentals throughout the country. Phone (800) 223-6470.

Since many tourists will combine a visit to Ireland with a stay in England, here are a couple of tips:

If you start out from London, take the train from Victoria Station to Gatwick Airport. It’s cheaper (about $30 roundtrip) and faster than taking a cab, and very convenient.

From Gatwick, we flew Ryanair to Dublin at a roundtrip fare of $98 per person. At the airport, we picked up a seven-seat minivan (booked through Alamo) at a cost of $400 for a week, mileage unlimited. The three-hour trip from Dublin to Westport was a bit of a squeeze, what with the luggage and baby seat, but we managed.

For a pit stop we halted at an excellent pub called The Covert, just outside the town of Mulligar.

One of England’s legacies is that the Irish also drive on the left side of the road, and that might take some getting used to.

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