Apr 252011

Day 5 (April 24)

The light sure arrives early here in Ireland, far north of the equator. I started waking up this morning at 6:30am, but managed to sleep in until just past 7. Today started cool and misty at about 52 degrees out with a light rain. This is more the Ireland weather that i expected, but it was still disappointing to see yesterday’s beautiful day gone.

We were on the road by 9am to start our 2 hour journey to the town of Mallow in County Cork, just north of the city of Cork. Here was day 2 of their 3-day Easter Racing Festival. This morning the town center was filled with a food and crafts fair. We found lots of homemade cooking and baked goods to sample and purchase. One guy made some pretty spicy sauces. I found some banana bread for breakfast tomorrow, Mark found some hot sauce, Mark’s parents found several cakes/cupcakes, and Alan found some cheese and hot sauce. We were all successful and came home with treats. We all found our own thing for lunch as well at the many food booths. Probably the most popular was the mobile petting zoo with baby bunnies, lambs, sheep, goats, a pig, baby ducks, a rooster, and a puppy. The women working the zoo were very helpful and liked to tell stories about their animals as well.

My favorite part of the food and craft fair was that I didn’t see another tourist. Or at least if they were there, they did not stand out. This was really purely a local event and everyone know everyone in this small town. People watching was at its finest and it was fun to listen to stories. Oh, and the light rain from the morning was gone and the sun even came out several times the rest of the day.

Another favorite was the Mallow Rotary Charity Ball Run. Quoting the program guide: “A spectacular visual event where thousands of colored [tennis] balls are released down O’Brien Street with all proceeds going to local charities.” Basically, we all stood and lined the street holding up orange construction fencing and thousands of tennis balls were released at the top of the hill. They came rolling down to a funnel at the bottom. People can purchase a number (each ball has a number on it) and the first four balls to reach the bottom win some sort of prize. It was indeed a fun visual event and even more fun was watching all the kids help throw the balls down the street and then pick them all up at the end.

After the fair, we headed over to the Cork Racecourse Malllow for the first race at 2:10pm. There were 8 races today, all spaced with starting times 30 minutes apart. What a day this was! Everyone came dressed to the nines for the best dressed ladies and gents competition. The ladies had huge decorative hats on and tall high heels. The guys were dressed in a combination of old style suits or newer classy suits. I felt as though I had gone back in time to attend a racing event. It was impressive. The horse racing itself was different from anything we’d seen before as well. Firstly, there were almost 20 horses racing in each event. There was a combination of hurdles and steeple (taller hurdles) races. Also, there were no starting gates. Instead the horses seemed to just circle the start over and over until the red flag was raised and they were off. All the races were over 2 miles in length. The racecourse ring was huge! The background was a perfect setting to the horse race with it’s rolling hills, trees, and green pasture land.

We had a great time and stayed until the last race finished at 6pm. Then it was back to Mallow to find a pub with some live music. I poked my head into several pubs to ask about live entertainment, and soon we found Murphy’s a great, small little pub with the group Double Trouble entertaining. This pub was straight out of a Rick Steves show on Ireland where all the people there were friendly and came over to talk to us. We learned the life stories of several members and shared our stories. We were asked to sing with the group of two guitar-playing ladies or at least suggest a song. With a combination of stouts and lagers on our table, the 5 of us had a great time relaxing after our wonderful vacation day.

The best part of finding new Irish friends is getting recommendations for places to eat. We got about 3 recommendations, of which we stuck with the first, a bar down the street named Fitzpatricks. They served a great roast turkey and roast lamb with all the fixings. Each plate came with about 4 scoops of mashed potatoes as well! We also learned that it would be best to eat before 8pm in Ireland as afterward most places shut down. This is different from the rest of Europe and very good to know.

By the time dinner was eaten and our stomachs were stuffed it was dark out. The sun sets late here and there is still residual light between 8:30 and 9pm. Driving home in the dark was fairly easy and similar to driving at night in the Canary Islands where everything is completely dark and there are very little cars on the road. We found our cottage though pretty easily, and now we are all decompressing and heading to bed.

Tomorrow we will sleep in and then eventually head out to Killarney National Park and that area once everyone is up and ready. It will be a bank holiday, so I’m crossing my fingers that the places we want to visit are open.

(Due to a slow connection, no photos this week, sorry)

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