“Horseman Pass By”: Riding the Wild Atlantic Way in William Butler Yeats’ Ireland

“Horseman Pass By”: Riding the Wild Atlantic Way in William Butler Yeats’ Ireland
(© Kip Mistral 2018)
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
~ William Butler Yeats, from “Under Ben Bulben”

“Beaches, Dunes and Trails: This unguided ride is for experienced and resourceful horse people who are prepared to take all responsibility for themselves and their mounts for a week,” the description began…

Having vowed to purge paperwork, boxes of photos, albums, to scan or die, to go paperless, yea, to have an empty closet where all this stuff is stored…I have gotten into the task. And in one of those boxes I still have the page I tore from the Hidden Trails riding vacation catalog twenty years ago, next month (August 2018).

‘That’s without a doubt me,’ I thought at the time, ‘experienced and resourceful,’ and kept reading. “One stays in a different local farmhouse or bed and breakfast each night, where the horses overnight as well. Riders must feed and care for them. Maps are provided and the routes are marked, but it can still take skill to find the right trail. On some days tide tables need to be consulted, as the beaches are impassable when the tide is high. The route takes in a variety of the beautiful country around Sligo, which was so loved by the great Irish poet, W. B. Yeats. There are woods and hills, beaches and dunes, farmland and peat bogs as well as quaint villages with their pubs and shops. It is an unusual chance to discover Ireland on your own.”

The trip I really wanted to take from the same catalog was to ride a week from château to château in the Loire Valley in France, dining and drinking with the fabulously wealthy aristocrats who owned them…or, if not aristocrats, at least, the fabulously wealthy. But this Ireland trip was unique and most importantly, only 25% of the cost of my dream ride.

The horses pictured with the catalog description were sturdy, handsome Connemaras that looked trusty and tough. Just the right kind of horse for the job. Reader, I did enjoy that unique riding vacation…but little did I know how it would REALLY turn out…

The Coldest Winter I Ever Spent was an August in Ireland

In County Sligo, Ireland, August is considered the fairest month, the warmest temperatures, and a lesser chance of rain, I was told. As you begin my story, note that in no photograph you will ever see me in shirt sleeves. Under my flannel-lined oiled drover’s coat (which served admirably–and daily–as my rain slicker) is a fleece-lined heavy coat, and under that coat is a very heavy, genuine wool Irish fisherman’s sweater, and under that is a sweatshirt, and under that is a long-sleeved T-shirt. Just saying.

From Los Angeles International Airport I had a non-stop 10-hour flight to Dublin, from which I took a commuter flight to Sligo. Even though the train travel across the entire country is only 3 hours, I wanted to save time inbound and my plan was to ride the train back to explore Dublin for a few days at the end of my trip. (Didn’t happen that way.) My taxi delivered me to the lovely Riverside Hotel in Sligo Town. It was late morning but I checked in early and because of the sleepless flight and jet-lag, fell fast asleep until dusk. The Riverside Hotel is exactly that, right beside the Garavogue River. It’s the big building in the center of the picture, a classy and substantial place.

See that mountain in the far background, that almost looks part of the clouds? That is your first look at the Ben Bulben Mountain immortalized by William Butler Yeats, who spent part of his childhood in Sligo and always considered it to be at the heart of his inspiration. The Beaches, Dunes and Trails ride would be taking us 120 miles, riding around this mountain.

And from my river view room I saw my first swans (not shown here).

It was grey and drizzling, so I donned, not for the first time, my raincoat and luckily took my umbrella, which I needed as it turns out, and walked out along the river to admire all the green, green, green and swan-watch. Not too many locals were out in the rain, but those who were out for a stroll passed by with a friendly greeting and a smile. Eventually I huddled in a doorway to read my city map and strolled through the streets to the oldest pub in Sligo, Thomas Connolly, established in 1861. I was intrigued by the idea of such an old place being in daily use all that time. I walked through the front door, past the bar, all the seating and the private booths that were partly enclosed, to the back of the bar and then turned around and walked right back out the front door. The few men sitting at the bar watched my speedy exit in a puzzlement, but the place was full of tobacco smoke and I couldn’t stay another minute, let alone sit down to have a drink. This would be a constant theme in my two weeks in Ireland. I found a cute bistro to have a light dinner, and made my way back to the Riverside Hotel, where I went to the somehow smokeless bar to have the most delicious Irish whiskey of my life for dessert.

Day 1: Be Careful of Land

I felt like a million dollars the next morning, after a great night’s sleep and a big Irish breakfast, but when my taxi dropped me at Horse Holiday Farm in the early afternoon, I had a feeling of misgiving. It was a large commercial establishment with big groups of riders coming and going on all types of horses imaginable. I checked in at the office and was given a set of saddle bags (which contained a brush and hoofpick for my future equine partner), a big colorful map which contained a couple of mysterious notes such as “Be careful of land,” a tidal chart, and a list of overnight stops. I had indicated that I wanted to do this trip on my own but after looking at the map, was more than a little relieved when I was assigned to a group of four other people.

Two of them were a newly married couple who were clearly not happy at being instructed to be part of a group, and a mother and daughter from Germany, who had been on this trip a couple years before and boy, did they come in handy as they recognized some of the scenery and prevented us a couple of times, but not all the times, from getting lost or going in the wrong direction.

On the information intake form, when asked what kind of horse I would prefer to ride, I had simply asked for a horse that was light to ride. Imagine my dismay when the groom led up my assigned mount, a gawky, lumbering 17 1/2 hand Irish sport horse, gaunt and clearly tuned out. He was so tall that at 5’3″, I couldn’t get my foot in the stirrup to mount. As I wondered how I could manage riding cross country for 120 miles on a horse I could not even mount, the groom prodded the horse over to a mounting block and suddenly I found myself sitting on a house, thinking that this must be a joke and now they will bring out my “real” horse. This was a trial ride for our group, led by two grooms, one a cute boy with curly black hair, pink cheeks and bright blue eyes which were more or less riveted on the other groom, a pretty German girl who looked much like Kate Winslet, who told me she was working at Horse Holiday Farm for the summer. We rode out on farm roads and in between fields and passed another group who had clearly already been to the pub to which we were headed. Riding this horse was like riding an elephant and I was not enjoying anything about it. He basically ignored all my aids and just followed the other horses. I was going to have a talk with the grooms.

The interior of ODonnell’s is a rich golden yellow, giving the feeling of warmth and cheer. Girl groom held all the horses while boy groom inhaled a pint and a half of Guinness and two grilled cheese sandwiches before hustling out to change the watch so girl groom could come in for her refreshments. I could surmise that the grooms ate and drank on the house if they brought in the groups of riders who paid. I noticed how truly hungry the boy was and the girl confided they worked very hard and were supposed to get board as part of their pay at HHF, but that ended up being leftovers from the riders’ meals who might eat at the facility. And many nights they just ate cereal for dinner.

It was time to get back to the farm so we finished our drinks and went out to the parking lot where the horses were waiting. I tried to pull my horse over to a fence to mount but he stood rooted to the ground. I tried to pull my horse over to a rock but we got halfway there when he saw what I was up to and stopped like a stone. The boy groom saw my dilemma and said cheerfully “I’ll help you up.” His pink cheeks were pinker from the Guinness and his crush on the girl groom, and I knew he was getting ready to show off for her. “Don’t throw me over the top of this horse!” I warned. He took my leg and threw me upward so hard I never even got a chance to touch leather before landing on my right side in the rock hard parking lot on the other side of the horse. “I didn’t realize you were so light,” he panicked, “Don’t tell the boss or he’ll fire me!” (The parking lot where this happened, across the street from the bar, is still there and looks identical to 20 years ago, I can see it on Google maps. Kind of nostalgic in a masochistic way…)

When I could get up and stand, the pain in my hip started and of course since I had hit the ground so hard, I expected to feel some kind of consequence. So somehow we got me back on the elephant and the boy promised to get me another horse for the ride that started tomorrow. It was a few kilometers back to the farm and with every lurching step of my mount the twingeing in my hip was getting worse. I started to get worried it might be something serious.

Back at the farm I needed considerable help getting off the horse and the barn manager came to see what happened. The boy groom informed the manager that I had fallen and since I didn’t want him to get fired, I didn’t contradict him.

The two groups staying at the farm overnight before their rides started the next day, mine and one other, were having dinner at the farm house, and in the other group two of the riders were two doctors from Sweden. They were friends back home, attractive and friendly, and after dinner they did a cursory examination. Of course they told me to not go on the ride and go to a doctor the next day. They were going to a pub down the street before bed and invited me along. The bar was so thick with smoke I sat outside on the curb and one of the girls brought me a glass of wine, and came out to say hi a time or two. Once we returned to the farm, one of them told me that she feared something was really wrong and I really did need to see a doctor. However, she opened up her black bag and gave me 7 pain pills, one for each night of the trip. “At least, if you are going to do this, you will be able to sleep,” she commented darkly.

Day 2: Taking “The Wild Atlantic Way”

The next morning the other group, which was going in another direction, rode off and the doctors waved goodbye, looking at me doubtfully.

The barn manager assigned me another horse, a smaller bay Thoroughbred-type gelding by the name of Parole. Parole had two barely healed saddle sores and I voiced my concern to the manager about how these would hold up under riding. The standard saddle pad at this facility was an entire, unclipped sheepskin used pelt down on the horse’s back and a trekking saddle cinched on top of that. “Oh he’ll be grand, Parole here is fresh off two weeks vacation so he’ll be ready to go.” Hmm, we’ll see.
Since we were not riding far for the first day, after lunch we saddled up and off we rode, maps in hand. The Wild Atlantic Way refers to the coastal region of the west coast of Ireland and it spans six regions. Because we were basically riding in a circle in County Sligo, our taste of the Wild Atlantic Way was shortened a bit.
Here we are at the start of our 120 miles. Parole, the horse that could not stand still for even a moment, as we found.
And what is that in the background? Why it is Ben Bulben at the beginning of the ride. Yours truly on the left, fidgeting to pull that darned sheepskin forward to stay in place, which it never did. The young lady in the middle is the daughter of the German mother-daughter pair, whose names I unfortunately cannot remember.
In Ireland, you can’t turn your back for a minute or Nature will take over.

From the farm we rode down to Streedagh Beach, a long stretch of sandy beach that was the final resting place for many of the up to 1800 sailors who perished when three ships from the Spanish Armada were wrecked in 1588 while trying to shelter from Atlantic storms. The rest of the group took off in a mad gallop which was out of the question for me, and the best Parole could give me was a ferocious jig from being rather forcibly held back. It was extremely painful in the end and I considered with irony how my much dreamed of gallop on the beach in Ireland was turning out. I could also tell that the rest of the riders were concerned that I was going to hold them up, which I could understand. I was really questioning if I could do this after all, and decided to just keep going as long as I could.

The brush smelled wonderful and showed off with all kinds of yellow flowers.

And if I look at the written itinerary and compare it to the map we were given, it is easy to understand why we were lost daily. The map shows the trail coming inland from the farm south and west out to Streedagh, and the itinerary now says: “Take a detour along the strand to Dernish Island, situated directly opposite the farm. The island can be easily reached when the tide is out by riding across the stony, rocky coastline and along the mud flats. On the sandbanks off the island, seal families are often seen leisurely sunbathing. Return to Streedagh Point where riders overnight.”

So, not for the last time we missed the tide and had a rough scramble over some rocks to get back to the land to retrace our steps.

One of the riders walked over the rocks and found the best path for our horses to go. No horses were hurt in the process.

After retracing, we pulled into the guest house fairly early and it was just barely adequate. Sparse furnishings and a sparse dinner and a sparse breakfast the next morning. The daughter of the house was very charming, with honey blonde hair and a sparkling smile, and went with me on my short evening walk, passing the time of day in talk, skillfully as the Irish all do. She was the best part of it. Right next to the pain pill I finally awarded myself at bedtime.

Day 3: Painting by Arrows..It Can Still Take Skill to Find the Right Trail

The next morning we rode along the coast to Yellow Strand for another gallop that poor Parole did not get to enjoy (and I did not enjoy his jigging by any means), then across some boglands before reaching a village where we got lost for the first time. Note, I say the first time. There were two routes in Sligo for riding vacations. One route was called the “white” route, and the other route, ours, was called the “yellow” route. To aid in making the correct turns since the streets were not usually marked, white arrows were painted and yellow arrows were painted. When the paint is not refreshed often enough, we found, the yellow arrows were so faded as to look white. Add to this the horse manure which when run over and flattened by cars, and faded by the sun, looked identical to the dirty white arrows and the faded yellow arrows. This afternoon we went in circles for a while before accidentally finding our way out of the arrow maze, though the high point was going into a grocery to ask directions and buying two tiny bottles of Glen Ellen California chardonnay for pain killer and a packet of cookies.

After passing Raughly, a small pretty peninsula on Ardtermon Strand, we arrived at our delightful guest house, “Seaview Farmhouse”, run by Colm & Mary Herity, who are still running it today. In addition to the meticulously clean farmhouse they ran a small farm and the horses were happily munching in their pasture across from the house in short order. I was not so happy because Parole’s saddle sores had been rubbed as I knew would happen. I called the farm and they brought a therapeutic pad with cut outs for the now bleeding areas. I asked for another horse so Parole could be rested until his back was completely healed before being ridden again, but they said it wasn’t possible, he had to work and earn his keep. I was not pleased with that answer.

But the property was surrounded on three sides by the ocean and the view was spectacular anywhere you looked.

What were we given for dinner? Fried fish, potatoes and peas.

Ben Bulben in the distance…we have ridden farther than it seemed…

Day 4: The Things I didn’t See

It was raining and frosty-breath cold in the morning, this being August, the best weather in County Sligo.
The pain from my hip was savage and I couldn’t face riding in that pain AND being wet and cold AND another invigorating ride along the beach. And, this was the longest day of riding, all the way to Glencar, and the best day in terms of riding past Glencar Waterfall and Lissadell House, where Yeats spent a lot of time visiting the Gore-Booth family. My hosts called the farm to arrange Parole to be trailered to our evening’s guest house later in the day. Luckily the hosts didn’t need my bed so I just stayed in bed all day keeping warm and quiet, and praying some rest would help. Waving goodbye to the other four as they trudged out in the rain, one of them more or less sneered “Have a nice day” in such a way that I knew he thought I was just malingering and taking a holiday from the tough part of the ride. Here is what I would have ridden by had I been able to…
I did see Lissadell House on a subsequent trip to Ireland, you will be glad to know. The riders didn’t stop either, they wanted to keep going and get out of the rain, as I recall.
What’s in the background? Yes…Ben Bulben 😉
And there is Glencar Waterfall…we could see it in the distance from the road when the farm brought Parole and me to the night’s guest house.

The lovely hosts in Glencar were the owners of a big farm and the horses had great pasture. I had just gotten Parole settled and limped back to the house when the other riders came in, dragging their wet tail feathers.

And continuing the pattern of not having any lunch because there was no place to get any except buying a snack at a village grocery, they were starving and happy to eat what we were given…fried fish, potatoes and peas.

Day 5: Up and Down and Up and Down and Up and Down

Good morning! It takes me about 1/2 hour to mount Parole but we eventually take off in the rain. Some times it rains and sometimes it doesn’t. We are required to wear riding helmets on the ride and rain is going down the back of ones neck and soaking one’s clothing etc. From Milltown we have been following the country lanes and riding through the forest towards the Mountain of Hangman’s Hill. We’ve been following an old disused shepherd’s path over private sheep farms.
BUT. After it rains the green grass glows like emeralds and the air just sparkles. The sun makes rainbows in every drop of water hanging on anything. It’s kind of psychedelic. Time for a rest before we make the big climb.
Camera in hand…come on Parole, you can do it!
Here we come, Parole and I on the right. The path leads to heights of 1,000 feet and has excellent views of mountains, lakes and forested land. We stop often to let the horses rest and catch their breath. Our group was held together rather loosely in terms of friendship, but every one of us put the horses first.
Cresting Hangman’s Hill. If selfies had been invented then we could have had the whole group in one picture instead of taking turns doing the honors and then mailing physical photos between U.S. and Germany.
Parole, you’re a boss. (But it took him a 1,000 foot climb to make him stand still.) Isn’t he awesome, and handsome?
And this is the photo I was taking, when our photo just above was taken.
(Oh, by the way, not to interrupt the fun, Reader, but by now I had called my ex-husband in the U.S., who was a career firefighter paramedic with the City of Newport Beach, California Fire Department. I gave him my symptoms and he said, “Oh, I guess you’ve fractured the iliac crest of your pelvis. How can you ride at all? Aren’t you in a lot of pain, because every time you move any part of your leg it pulls on attachments to the pelvis so it pulls on the fracture, slightly displacing it.” “Why yes, dying of pain 24/7. So, that is why I can’t stand on my right leg or lift my right leg over the saddle to mount, good to know. If it weren’t for Ibuprofen, Glen Ellen, and my one pain pill at night I would be in a hospital. But I didn’t come to Ireland not to ride, so I’m riding.” (When I got back home and was able to get in to the doctor for X-rays, nearly 3 weeks later, my ex was exactly correct in his diagnosis.)
You can’t make this up, just when you think you’ve been imagining things, something like this comes out of your camera. Yes, another abandoned and grown over monastery or cloister. I wonder why 🙂

We ended our trek that day in the tiny village of Fivemilebourne where we overnighted in a farmhouse overlooking Doon Lake. The use of the term farmhouse is loose. Among ourselves we called it the “Magic House” because our hosts were an “Artist” and his wife, more about that later. They made us welcome and we turned our horses out in their lovely pasture.

I hobbled down a few streets to Lough Gill. There was an old fort, Parke’s Castle that I was curious about, but it was getting dark, I had overestimated my remaining strength, it was very cold and windy, and I had to haul myself back up the hill to the “farmhouse.” Here we see one of the turrets in silhouette. I am a terrible tourist.

So, we were invited to sit for dinner. We looked at each other. Guess what we were served? Fried fish, potatoes and, this time, carrots. We burst out laughing. Three nights in a row, the same meal, each day without lunch except what packets of cookies we could scrounge at a tiny grocery. We all lost weight, for sure. At least they had some wine. And then the “Artist” started inviting the women one by one to his attic “studio”. His art was something that, well, defies description, but one woman after another, including me, bustled back down his attic stairs with their eyeballs hanging out on their stems, and thankful to have their virtue intact. Only the rider husband was not invited to view the art. Just a bit creepily obvious.

Here I am the next morning, as usual standing not on my right leg because my hip is broken. 🙂
Yours truly in front, saddling our valiant Parole for the day’s journey.

Day 6: Pandemonium (In a Bottle, with Aggie, Charlie the Peacock, and Prince)

The itinerary tells us: “Follow country lanes and forested paths to the village of Dromahair where riders pass lovely old houses and the remains of castle walls. Continue on the trail to Lough Gill, a large lake situated two miles east of Sligo. Twenty islands, each one more idyllic than the last, make the picturesque scene. Yeats chose Lough Gill and the island of Inishfree as his favorite place and immortalized them in one of his poems. Past the shore of Lough Gill riders pass over boggy paths and along forested lanes to Slish Wood. Cross the Sligo/Ballingtogher Road to come to a mountain path which leads along small country roads to Lurgan Lodge Farmhouse where riders spend the night.”

From this point, all I remember is this view and country like this. It felt dry, and it went on and on. We all plodded along very tired, horses and riders alike.  Our destination is near the end of a long road that goes through low, dry looking hills with no trees and with scrub brush, then you came through that and all the houses start.

[And from here is my journal scribblings until I tell you it isn’t :-)]

And then Mrs. Agnes McDonagh (“Aggie”) welcomed us with her special brand of hospitality. Aggie’s is a white house like all the other houses, but larger and grander than most with far more property, with an upstairs level where the guests stay. If you are facing the front, where there are big wonderful trees, there is a wall around the front courtyard and around the left of her house. Then she has a lovely garden in back with big tall flowers of all sorts, and then the wall comes back up to the house from the right. Instead of having a garden/yard on the right side of her house, there is a stable yard with a nice long stable of maybe 6 or so box stalls. On the right side of that is a big pasture which then goes around back and to the left of the whole property. A lovely small holding. Everything seems normal to look at it. But nothing is normal in Aggie’s world.

Aggie’s husband used to breed racehorses and had died 20  years before, leaving her with this beautiful place to support, so she has taken in Horse Holiday Farm riders and who knows else. She is 82, strong as an ox, has big, perfectly round gorgeous blue eyes and curly blonde hair. HEART OF GOLD, just a loving sweet woman, but talking? She didn’t stop the whole time we were there, of course then there was the whiskey working too, but she was like a gatling gun firing, punctuated by JEEEZUSS CHRIST!! at the top of her lungs every few moments. We fed the horses and then turned the horses into her pasture, Aggie showed us to our rooms and got back to making the dinner.

The attic has been made into, well, I would have to say rather flimsy bedrooms, the walls of which allowed one to hear EVERYTHING, as I had to warn our married couple next to me just in case they hadn’t noticed. For some reason in my room I had this bright turquoise freestanding plumbed-in sink. I sighed with relief at the prospect of having hot water and soap to wash my hands and face and get 8 hours of travel dirt off. I put the plug in, started running water and turned around to get a towel. When I turned back, my bright turquoise sink was half filled up with tobacco-colored water. I got my camera, stood on a chair and took a picture, I was so amazed. Could sewage be leaking into the water supply, I wondered? I washed up anyway, praying I wouldn’t be infected by some terrible disease, and when I saw Aggie I asked as tactfully as I could about the unusual color of the water upstairs.

“GOD LOVE YOU!!!!! (She crushes me to her bosom and kisses my cheek over and over) “THAT’S PEAT!!! THAT’S PEAT, DON’T YOU KNOW, THAT BROWN IN THE WATER, DOES YOU GOOD, IT’S GOOD FOR YOU, DON’T BE AFRAID, GO AHEAD AND DRINK IT, WE ALL DRINK IT, IT’S A TONIC, LIKE, PEAT!!!! GOD LOVE YOU, YOU BEAUTIFUL CHILD!!!!!!!!!”

Aggie has a rather nervous daughter of about 40, with the same beautiful, bright blue eyes, who rarely says a word but when she does, the same torrent as her mother styles starts to rush out, except that Aggie sails over her and just talks faster until she drowns Doris out. Aggie also has a peacock named Chuckie, “Chuckie the Peacock” is his whole name, and he usually stands on her white car so he may not only keep watch on the proceedings of the property, but to be admired for his own fine self.

Aggie joined us at table, not eating but drinking more whiskey, talking, talking, talking, talking, talking. Doris sat with us too, but did most of the leaping up and down if anything for the table was needed. We were absolutely cracking up, we laughed so hard we could barely eat. Aggie was very much enjoying her table. Chuckie stood in a kingly, but somehow expectant way, on a very deep, comfortable ledge right outside the dining room window and longingly watched us, beak pressed against the window and he turned his head back and forth as we passed plates as if a spectator at a tennis game. On this night, we were thankfully spared fried fish, potatoes, and peas or carrots. I can’t remember what the dish was but it was not that.

BUT. As a special treat for us, Aggie had gone into town and bought a store-made pie, a 6-inch high fluorescent pink creation made with that non-dairy white stuff people use (which scarily doesn’t dissolve in hot water) instead of whipped cream. And white crust about 1/2″ thick with the consistency of a brick. She was very pleased with this pie. She pressed us all to have a piece and all of us said we were full. Not to be daunted, Aggie cut me a HUGE piece and lovingly slapped it on my plate. Instead of shattering and falling apart like it would have had it been real food, it just made a deep thunking sound and bounced. I heroically restrained a shudder and was grateful that there were paper napkins on the table. Actually I needed many, because when she would leave to get a refill on her whiskey I would squirrel some pie into the napkin and wad it up. I had such a pile by my plate of napkins I had to pass a couple to the other riders–of course we laughed like fools. Also, (at that time at least) the Irish put tomato halves on the plate at each meal and we Americans are not used to that, nor do most of us particularly consider them a treat it seems, so we had fun passing tomatoes to the one person who did eat tomatoes all day, when Aggie wasn’t looking.

Between Aggie’s antics, passing tomatoes, and me trying to spread the revolting fake pink pie around without getting caught, we giggled until we almost wet ourselves. Then there was Prince the dog, a little black and white terrier, who sat faithfully by Aggie’s side all night and followed her everywhere. When Aggie decided one of us needed something she would sprint like a cutting horse around the table to push more food on her subject, and Prince would sprint right behind her. It was like bedlam, with the machine gun talking and the peacock screeching outside and Doris coming in and out, and Aggie and Prince jetting around the table. We went to bed with our stomach muscles hurting and our faces hurting from laughing, and from our different rooms, because the walls were apparently literally made of cardboard, you could hear giggles start and then we’d all get going. I think we were near hysteria from riding in the rain for 5 days.

BUT. Aggie was as dumb as a fox, even 3 sheets to the wind. The joke was on us the next day, which was our last day of riding. At dinner, we had asked her what time we would have to leave to beat the tides at whatever point we had to go around to reach Strandhill, our final destination. It seemed very far to us on the map (remember we had no guide) and since the Horse Holiday Farm marks on the road were so faint, there were a few times when old dried horse manure ground into the asphalt looked like a faint yellow arrow which was the standard of our ride, and we got lost at least once a day. So we were a little doubting and wanted to allow plenty of time. When we told her what time we’d have to leave (and thus what time she’d have to have breakfast ready) she stared us with those quarter-size round blue eyes (with an expression that we thought was pure vacancy after all the whiskey but which we later realized was genuine amazement) and shrieked, “JEEEZUS CHRIST!!!!!! THAT’S TOO EARLY!!!!!!!!!!!!” We jumped out of our skins and stared at her, thinking she was offended that we wanted breakfast that early. It took quite a while for us to gather what she meant was, it was a 3 hour ride and not a 6 hour ride like we thought. Of course we thought she didn’t know what she was talking about at this late hour…you know. We talked her into it, Aggie shaking her head the whole time.

Aggie was noticeably quiet at breakfast the next morning. She talked very softly. We actually felt bad we had gotten her up so early after all the whiskey.

Our farewell photo by Aggie…Don’t notice the tilting of the frame…

BUT… when we finished our “6-hour” ride in 3 hours as Aggie had sworn we would and arrived at the point where we needed to cross but the tide wouldn’t be out until 3 hours later, and the tide was so very way in, all the way up to the road in fact, all 5 of us stopped in silence and turned to look at each other, started laughing hysterically and shouted “JEEEZUS CHRIST!!!!! IT WAS TOO EARLY!!!!

But we all felt her warmth in her goodbye.. [End of my journal…]

And…we did arrive safely at our final destination, The Dunes Tavern in Strandhill, but that is yet another part of the story, to be continued in Part II of this series, in which I spend a week in gorgeous Irish estate houses…

Parole and I at the end of the ride at Strandhill beach.

The horses’ reward when we turned them out in back of our last overnight stop, at The Dunes Tavern.

**********
Swear by what the Sages spoke
Round the Mareotic Lake
That the Witch of Atlas knew,
Spoke and set the cocks a-crow.
Swear by those horsemen, by those women,
Complexion and form prove superhuman,
That pale, long visaged company
That airs an immortality
Completeness of their passions won;
Now they ride the wintry dawn
Where Ben Bulben sets the scene.
Here’s the gist of what they mean.
II
Many times man lives and dies
Between his two eternities,
That of race and that of soul,
And ancient Ireland knew it all.
Whether man dies in his bed
Or the rifle knocks him dead,
A brief parting from those dear
Is the worst man has to fear.
Though grave-diggers’ toil is long,
Sharp their spades, their muscle strong,
They but thrust their buried men
Back in the human mind again.
III
You that Mitchel’s prayer have heard
`Send war in our time, O Lord!’
Know that when all words are said
And a man is fighting mad,
Something drops from eyes long blind
He completes his partial mind,
For an instant stands at ease,
Laughs aloud, his heart at peace,
Even the wisest man grows tense
With some sort of violence
Before he can accomplish fate
Know his work or choose his mate.
IV
Poet and sculptor do the work
Nor let the modish painter shirk
What his great forefathers did,
Bring the soul of man to God,
Make him fill the cradles right.
Measurement began our might:
Forms a stark Egyptian thought,
Forms that gentler Phidias wrought.
Michael Angelo left a proof
On the Sistine Chapel roof,
Where but half-awakened Adam
Can disturb globe-trotting Madam
Till her bowels are in heat,
Proof that there’s a purpose set
Before the secret working mind:
Profane perfection of mankind.
Quattrocento put in paint,
On backgrounds for a God or Saint,
Gardens where a soul’s at ease;
Where everything that meets the eye
Flowers and grass and cloudless sky
Resemble forms that are, or seem
When sleepers wake and yet still dream,
And when it’s vanished still declare,
With only bed and bedstead there,
That Heavens had opened.
                                        Gyres run on;
When that greater dream had gone
Calvert and Wilson, Blake and Claude
Prepared a rest for the people of God,
Palmer’s phrase, but after that
Confusion fell upon our thought.
V
Irish poets learn your trade
Sing whatever is well made,
Scorn the sort now growing up
All out of shape from toe to top,
Their unremembering hearts and heads
Base-born products of base beds.
Sing the peasantry, and then
Hard-riding country gentlemen,
The holiness of monks, and after
Porter-drinkers’ randy laughter;
Sing the lords and ladies gay
That were beaten into the clay
Through seven heroic centuries;
Cast your mind on other days
That we in coming days may be
Still the indomitable Irishry.
VI
Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago; a church stands near,
By the road an ancient Cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase,
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:
               Cast a cold eye
               On life, on death.
               Horseman, pass by!
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2 Comments

  1. Carole J Cox
    July 23, 2018 / 5:58 PM

    Having always wanted to visit Ireland, i was immediately drawn to this article. I love horses, ride as much as I can but do not fancy trail riding. Your travelog has done nothing to change my mind. I still am drawn to Ireland but will not visit it on the back of a horse!

    I may visit a pub or tw but will more than likely choose a ***** lodging!

    All precautions considered, I am certain to break a bone or two on any trip I take.

  2. Rachel Croskery
    July 23, 2018 / 9:36 PM

    This took me right back to pony trekking in the English Lake District as a child! Although with substantially more supervision, the rides were always “interesting” and involved a cast of characters I thought I must have dreamed up…until discovering you had met similar folk. I can’t imagine that ride with a broken pelvis, I am truly in awe of your toughness to stick it out!
    Can’t wait for part 2!

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