Mayo, Day Fourteen

Sometimes the universe offers a perfect day just to see what you do with it. I think we did pretty well.

For myself, those blue skies call me out. Kat intends to take Griffin for a stroller walk, but the boy goes down for a long, hard nap. I think being a social, active, cheerful baby, he needed recovery time from all the socializing, activity and happy.

Napping is hard. Photo by Kat

While his batteries recharge, I head out to the walled garden. It’s a favorite spot among many favorites for me here. It’s a lovely walk even before I get there with a kicky little breeze, happy skies.

Magic tunnel. Photo by Nora

I go through the stone tunnel that open up to magic. Another tunnel, this of vines, and lovely, lush gardens spreading, climbing, dancing a bit in the breeze. It’s quiet as a church but for birdsong with all those colors, textures, thick blooms. White benches sit here and there, an invitation I accept so I can just bask in company of the flowers and butterflies with the clouds above sailing along the blue, silent as ghosts.

In full bloom. Photo by Nora

For most of my visit, it’s mine alone. Others wander in now and again, to stroll along and snap pictures as I do. But for most of the interlude, it’s just me, birdsong, butterflies and busy bees.

Herb and veg garden with a rabbit guard. Photo by Nora

There are vegetables and herbs, too. I see dill taller than BW. Cabbage and kale and leek along with the  Black-Eyed Susan (a reminder of my own garden at home), astilbe, coneflowers, the fuzzy spread of lamb’s ear.

I know the work that goes on here to make this enchantment—I dig in the dirt, sweat and weed plenty. But it looks as if it just grows wild and wonderfully on its own.

There’s nothing like a garden for brightening the heart, body and spirit.

I want to take Griffin next time.

More strolling until a light drizzle falls (light and brief). Back out, as the boy (and now his dad) sleeps still. I walk over to Mrs. Tea’s gift shop to scout. I’m after two more gifts, and think I see them. But I want Kat’s opinion.

So back I walk in this gift of a day to find BW. After some discussion, we decide to have lunch back at Cullen’s and eat outside to take full advantage of this special day.

A man in search of lunch. Photo by Nora

It’s warm, actually warm and sunny and blue. Kat joins us—so do some bees, and one gets a little too intimate with Kat, stings her hand.

Contemplative Griffin. Photo by Kat

Some vinegar for that.

She helps me decide on my gifts—a very satisfying purchase—and our boys finally surface to have some lunch with us on Cullen’s pretty patio.

We take our time with it all before going back to suit up for our much-anticipated Hawk Walk.

For this I want a jacket as we’ll walk through shady woods, and it’ll chill no doubt as the sun lowers.

Kat straps Griffin in the backpack—though I guess it’s a front pack. The birds, we’ve been warned, are terrified of strollers. We wouldn’t try maneuvering one through the woods, but just in case.

Griffin’s well rested, well fed and ready for an adventure.

Cullen at the Falconry School prepares to give us one. 

I always love this part of our Ashford’s visit. Everyone at the school is so knowledgeable about the raptors, and their deep (and mutual) affection shows. BW generally stands as photographer on the walks, but this time Kat and Jason take that job so BW can have a chance to experience. He has Wilde, and I Mia.

Heading out with Cullen

Griffin is delighted with the birds, but behaves himself very well, studying them, watching them as we walk. I fall for Mia very quickly, and thrill to have a hawk on my arm again. Off they soar, just magnificent, to perch on branches and wait until our gloves are baited and raised.

And the sensation, the sight of having that gorgeous creature fly back to you, land so perfectly on your arm is indescribable.

We learn quickly that Wilde is clever. If BW inadvertently raises his glove arm a bit between flights, back he comes—and Cullen has to feed him as that’s how it works. Cullen explains Wilde is training BW.

He’s also not one to let a bit of dropped chicken go to waste. He’ll jump down to get it, gobble it right up.

Coming in…
for a smooth landing

Into the magical woods we go, and those amazing birds wing through the trees, find their perch, wait to be called. Sometimes we leave them behind a bit, so Cullen’s whistle and the raised arms call them to longer, lovely, acrobatic flights.

Along the path, through the woods toward the lake as Cullen’s tells us of the birds’ personalities—ours and the others. He know them well, and they obviously know him, too. A few times Wilde chooses my arm, beating Mia, and once they nearly land together before she hops to BW’s glove.

At one point it seems they spot some sort of prey in the bushes and brambles, so in Cullen goes with a big stick to try to flush it for them. No luck, but the birds seemed entertained.

Then we cross to the pier by the beautiful lake, with the birds on the opposite shore. We’re to keep our arms down, the bait hidden in our fists, then call them so we can watch their flight over the water.

It’s breathtaking.

They fly back, perch, soar across the water again. That wingspan! The grace, and agility as they skim over the water.

It’s truly a soul-stirring sight.

A boat comes by, someone Cullen knows. We wave, then move on.

Through the woods again, enjoying every moment and back to the main path where Wilde and Mia are rewarded with bigger pieces of chicken for a job well done.

The birds decide Cullen’s taking too long to produce their reward and make impatient noises, almost growls. Hurry up, man!

But oh-oh! As we approach the school a family—with a baby in a stroller round the corner.

Both birds freak—they weren’t kidding about the fear. Luckily, Cullen had tied the jesseys before the sighting, so the birds flap, flap, try to fly away, but have to stay put.

I can actual see the alarm in their eyes.

To complicate things, the family is French, with little to no English. They’re understandably baffled about why Cullen seems to want them to go back. I can’t pull out the French for stroller (could maybe have used pram) or bird, but Kat uses pantomime very effectively flapping her arms like wings, making a scared face, pointing to the stroller.

Crisis averted.

BW, Wilde, Cullen, Nora and Mia

Cullen tells us if the birds had been able to fly off, they probably wouldn’t have gotten them back until the next day. The fear’s real.

We’re given an extra treat when we get back to the school. A chance to fly Dingle—the gorgeous owl we met on our first trip here—maybe a dozen years ago.

Nora and Dingle

He is so beautiful, so regal. About 20 now, he strikes me as the king of his castle.

Here Griffin is stunned into love. He really likes owls and to see one, a real one, so close brings out happy noises. Dingle gives a wary eye to this creature—who would appear to have two heads and four arms as the boy’s strapped to Kat.

Dingle has an indoor flight area, so we try it.

I can hardly believe I have this amazing creature on my arm, that I’m looking right into those stunning amber eyes.

He takes his flight—oh what a beauty—but decides: Hey, this beam looks good, and perches there. He’s not hungry, Cullen explains, so isn’t much interested in flying back to me for a snack. Still we try once more, same result, but it’s a thrill to have that spectacular bird on my arm, to watch his flight.

And Griffin gets a chance for closer look as Kat dons the glove—and Dingle consents to pose on her arm for a photo. (Laura’s note: This says owl, but I have no photographic evidence of such.)

Hmmm, Mom likes this, I’m not so sure.

Ashford sends us ice cream! Still one more treat we enjoy as we talk about the birds. There’s a kestrel, just a little guy—who the school took in after a farmer saved it from crows trying to have some lunch.


So sweet, and what a good home it has before it’s released into the wild again.

It’s been perfect, start to finish. Thank you, Cullen, again and again. 

Wee head into Cong for dinner. Before it comes, Griffin, passes out, so naps on the bench between Nana and Mama.

He wakes to eat a bit, and we take the rest of his meal with us.

Revived, he finishes it at home, has some play time.

Then it’s time for bed after a wonderful day at and around the castle.

Soft and gray this morning, mists over the water, lacy and thin, quiet light, and some drips of rain while I work out.

Griffin came to visit while I did cardio, and I promised him a Shaun T session later. Off to breakfast, and now napping. Kat’s driving somewhere in Galway for the wool she covets. 

I’m going to clean up, then hope the weather allows me to steal the boy from his daddy—or share him for a walk down to the walled garden.


17 thoughts on “Mayo, Day Fourteen”

  1. The previous one seemed unbeatable but Nature has a way of saying “hold my coat” and keeps providing ?
    So happy this is being a Travel to write the family (us ?) about.
    Keep having all the fun. And enjoying Griffin growing up so bright and joyful ?

  2. Oh my goodness…I can see a trilogy coming from this visit for sure. Your description from all the locations is perfect and the photos are absolutely stunning…

    Have a fantastic day!!

  3. What a wonderful adventure with the raptors! And how cool that “the boyo” got a close-up look at them. I have a hawk who use to dine on its prey on my deck railing. I finally convinced it to dine elsewhere and use the peak of my roof for a lookout post on the fields next to my house. Late afternoons now, I go out on my deck, look up, and there it is … barely sparing me a glance as it studies the fields in search of dinner.

  4. Every day is more adventure. Love seeing photos of the birds. Majestic is what comes to my mind. And bravery. Not sure if I could put my arm out for those landings.

    Looking forward to tomorrow.

  5. Thanks so much for the wonderful narrative. Your words are so expressive that we feel like we are walking with you!! You are so talented and amazing! Enjoy your time with your family.

  6. I am fascinated by the raptor session! Cannot begin to imagine how exciting and thrilling this must have been!!!

    Thank you for sharing!!

  7. Love reading your travelogue, can you take more vacations??? Love them all!!

  8. Thanks for sharing this incredible trip with “us” – your writing as always brings us right into the moment.

  9. I wonder as Nora sits in the beautiful garden if it gives her new ideas for her own garden. I hope she’s getting new ideas for either a new trilogy or stand alone book. Love her travels.

  10. What a lovely, lovely day your family had! Isn’t it great to enjoy a beautiful garden that you didn’t have to slave over? I had a pair of falcons briefly visit last month. It was odd, considering I’m in town, but I think the chicken coop next door might have held some interest. They seemed to contemplate their odds while I stood still as possible, just breathing in the beauty of them. Then they soared off to the trees and gave that haunting call of theirs. What a gift. Thanks for the videos, so beautiful to watch them come in.

  11. What an experience! I was expecting the cousins O’Dwyer to come say hello. Such a magical beautiful place. Enjoy the rest of your stay, and keep posting please Whether in book or blog, your words bring us right into the scene. Thank you

  12. Every morning it is a joy to wake to your adventures. I have Irish and Scottish on my mom’s side. So hope to explore there one day. You bring the country to life. Thank you for taking us along.

  13. I so enjoyed reading about your raptor session. It sounds like a fascinating experience. They are such magnificent creatures.

    I’m in love with the magic tunnel. Next to my grandkids, nothing gives me as much joy as a beautiful garden, and walking in a forest. But arbors and tunnels are just heavenly. Thank you for this pick me up.

  14. Gorgeous gardens, and so peaceful. The hawk are glorious! What a perfectly spectacular day! Dingle is beautiful. What a joy for you. Griffin sleeping, contemplative and being carried by Kat with the hawk on her are are priceless. Thank you, again, for sharing your vacation with us.

  15. Thank you for sharing! What a beautiful day you had, bringing back fond memories of my visit to Ashford Castle. My desire to go to Ireland stemmed from reading your books and to see your pictures, of places I was not too long ago is amazing. I loved my stay at The Lodge at Ashford and hope to stay in the castle one day. My favourite place in Ireland is Kylemore Abbey. Perhaps you’ve been as it too is a magical spot with an incredible walled garden and so much peace and serenity. Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip. Safe travels!

  16. Oh, this trip is so magical. Through every description it’s as though I’m there and I’m loving it. Thank you for a gorgeous glimpse of your trip to Ireland. I now am in high hope of a new Irish trilogy!

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