Newport, County Mayo–the WRONG Newport

I left Limerick with my heart in my throat—it had been an easy drive from Shannon Airport to my hotel in Limerick, about 15 miles along a “motorway” (freeway), and my hotel was on the near side of town, easy to spot—third exit from the third roundabout. (God bless Google maps!) So far, no incidents driving on the left. But on the way to Newport, my next stop, I would have to pass through more high-traffic areas, and head to rural areas on “dual carriageways,” the 2-lane highways that are most common though the countryside. I was still a novice driving on the left—and I realized that the main obstacle for me was that I was accustomed to being in one PLACE in a lane—and it was not on the right side, next to the dotted line in the center. I had to pay attention all the time—ALL the time—to keep from hearing the little reflectors on the left side of the roadway as I began to drift to my accustomed position—no, not here in Ireland. PAY attention!

Proud claim to be the ancestral home of Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco

Outside Kelly’s Butcher Shop

Inside Kelly’s, striped aprons and straw hats, and butchers willing to talk to a stranger for an hour–so Irish!

Black pudding, a part of “full Irish breakfast” plates–made from dried blood (no guts–didn’t try it)

The butcher two doors down from the Kelly’s–both happy to talk to a stranger

I booked myself a loop in Ireland, going north to Newport, County Mayo, and then on to Galway, and finally toward The Midlands in the center of Ireland before returning to Limerick and Shannon Airport. At the time, I had no idea that it was the WRONG Newport—not the one where my relatives live in County Tipperary. They looked over my plans, and suggested I keep my itinerary and see as much of Ireland as possible—plus they endorsed my plans to stay rural, and not deal with city traffic. I had four guests staying in my house in Spello, and had to be gone for 2 weeks, so I decided to head for Ireland, meet my relatives, and then tour the West of Ireland and the Midlands while waiting to return to Spello.

Parsnips–a dietary staple in Ireland

Local market produce section–huge rutabagas, parsnips, leeks, rhubarb, cabbage–and potatoes of all sorts

Not sure we’d consider this name for our pet food

Not something I see at OUR dime store–and many brands on display in the front window (sheep country)

Newport was just precisely the perfect place to land, for me. I made all of my highway connections—so frustrated that there is NO PLACE to pull over and take a photo. The roadsides have a stripe on the outer border, and then there is no shoulder at all, and maybe even rock walls and high grasses beginning within a foot of the stripe. I passed so many scenes I would have loved to capture, but there was no place to pull over—and I was also trying to be courteous to faster drivers, pulling over when I had anyone stuck behind me—in whatever gravel patch or driveway I could find. One field I passed south of Galway was filled with about 30 Gypsy Vanner horses—spectacular long manes and tails, and feathers on their feet—a stocky but small draft horse breed developed by the Gypsies to pull their wagons, and very common in Ireland. I’ve loved them for years, and here they were, where I could see many in person for the first time—and I had to drive right by them.

Teens heading in from recess–both boys and girls in white shirts and ties

Not marked “Sold,” but “Sale Agreed.”

St. Patrick’s church, a landmark up on the hill above the city.

St. Patrick’s is known for the spectacular stained glass windows by the late Harry Clarke, considered a master of the craft in Ireland

Newport has one main street, about a block long, with 6-8 pubs, 2 butcher shops, a couple of small restaurants for breakfast and lunch only, a grocery (with the only ATM in town inside) and a shop of handcrafts from people in the area. I found myself there in the handicraft store, shopped a bit, and then just settled in with the owner and her friend—a transplant from Chicago 20 years ago. We shared tea and brown soda bread while they worked on felted crafts, and just talked. The Chicago native was a former nun, a nurse and hospital administrator—but was now a photographer, who had collaborated with Maeve Binchy on two books, one about aging gracefully and one about nurses from all over Ireland. I only wish I’d gotten her name—I cannot find the two books to take a look, since the author is not Maeve Binchy, but the woman I spent 2 mornings with in that shop. Newport is a place with a slow tempo, and everyone is willing and happy to have a long conversation with that California woman passing through, after she met her Irish cousins in the RIGHT Newport, County Tipperary. I must say it’s quite easy to carry on a conversation in English—not Italian. (They all thought it was quite funny that I was in the WRONG Newport.)

Crough Patrick, the largest mountain on the coast in the area, and a destination for hikers (get the t-shirt)

I just explored around town, visited the church, and then took the advice of the “publican” (bartender in a pub) to go visit Achill Island, to the north and connected by a bridge to the mainland. I did the ring road around the island, in a panic that most of the roads were one lane only, and then returned to the island bridge and had dinner outside while the sun set behind the island.

The Achill Island Bridge, said to be inspired by the rib bones of fish–at sunset

Not a bad place for a fresh salmon dinner–2 types of potatoes–watching the sunset behind Achill (“Ah-kill”) Island

Last minutes of sunset, behind the island

I had to learn the word for “Lady’s room” in Gaelic

The arched bridges in Newport are a landmark, but I didn’t realize that Newport was so close to the sea that the river flowed both inland and out to the sea, depending on the tides. It was a surprise to see the drastic changes in the flows, based on the tide.

Newport Bridge with the tide out

Newport Bridge by night–tide is in, water is up–St. Patrick’s on the hill to the left

For a first destination, I was such a welcomed guest in Newport—I could have stayed there for my entire 2 weeks. I lived on tea and brown soda bread, finding lunches out in my travels or from pub menus, and then skipping dinner for a pint of Guinness at 10 pm

I drank only Guinness in Ireland (no wine), but this is the first time I’ve seen wine served this way in a bar–“draft wine?”

Walsh’s River Inn, my home in Newport, with a room over the pub

Loved these bar stools–the wear, the style, heavy as heck

And it’s true—Guinness in Ireland is NOT the same as everywhere else, especially in the US or in a can or bottle (never!). I loved it before, and even more in Ireland—but one pint before heading back to my hotel was plenty!

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