A trip to Adare to see what really matters
ONE of my favourite online clips of all time is that unforgettable pair of scamps Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris murdering Carrickfergus at the Heineken Cup final at Twickenham in 2000, as made famous on YouTube.
Wide-eyed libertine Harris pulled up his jumper to show that other wide-eyed bon viveur O'Toole his Munster jersey that he wore for Munster Schools against Connaught, saying "And I never washed it!"
At which point, O'Toole tackled Harris to the ground. "You tackle well!" roared the well-oiled Limerick legend Harris with laughter.
They are both sadly now gone to that rugby playing field in the sky, but the spirit of fun and love that they embodied lives on in Munster and in particular, Limerick.
My girlfriend and I enjoyed the craic as well as a glass of port and a cheeseboard by candlelight downstairs in the chic caverns of The Copper Room, Limerick's rather special new establishment on O'Connell Street.
The place came highly – and rightly – recommended by that other Limerick icon, Celia Holman Lee.
I have always loved Limerick – the bad press it gets is unjustified. The people are some of the friendliest in Ireland, if not the world, and as such it is impossible not to warm to the place.
A quick look at some of the characters who have come out of County Limerick – the aforementioned Mr Harris, the great JP McManus, Dolores O'Riordan, Frank McCourt, Eamon de Valera, Michael D Higgins etc – and you get some notion that there must be something in the water around this lovely part of Ireland.
Later that evening, 10 miles away in Adare Manor, I put a drop of water in my whiskey as I savoured the beauty and the feel of one of the best hotels in Ireland.
There were Americans, Australians, Japanese and French people enjoying the sumptuous bar, so the word had obviously spread far and wide about the Manor.
I was tempted to sing Carrickfergus for them but my girlfriend's dagger look at me for suggesting it persuaded me otherwise.
The next morning, we were up bright and early for a swim in the hotel's pool, followed by a session in the steam room. We had breakfast of fresh salmon, Eggs Benedict, and OJ, then went for a brisk walk around the 840-acre estate.
Time lingers on the wind while you are walking around the Manor grounds. It is great to clear your head of the useless clutter that modern life provides us with, whether we want it or not.
Walking through the trees brought me back to my childhood, and playing in the woods. That's the magic of nature, isn't it?
Next to the big old Irish oak, near the path to the geometrical box gardens, we happened upon a stone that read: 'I left the woods of Killarney in 1791 in the pocket of Sir Richard Quinn's shooting jacket – dear owner of Adare, don't put me in your pocket'.
In another part of the grounds are five Ogham Stones, one of them over seven feet high, brought to Kerry by the third Earl of Dunraven, back in the day.
We laid our hands on the old stones, hoping that some of their mystic magic would be transmitted to us.
The Cedar of Lebanon tree in the garden is "a great age", and a great beauty.
We spent an hour sitting under it just watching the River Maigue, a tributary of the Shannon, glide gently by. There was a heron standing in the middle of the river at its shallowest point, near the bridge. We continued our walk through the grounds right out the gates to the picture-postcard village of Adare, one of the loveliest villages in Ireland.
We stopped at the fountain in the village, a present by the Countess of Dunraven in 1844 to the people of Adare, and made a wish. My girlfriend browsed the shops and checked out the Michelina Stacpoole fashion emporium while I went for a shave in the barbers, The Waldorf.
We then went into The Good Room Cafe for coffees and cakes. It was more like some cafe you'd find in Boston. Very trendy.
After lunch, we popped into the Adare Heritage Centre directly across the street. The lovely people in there arranged for us to go on a tour of Desmond Castle.
Normally, the thought of a guided tour of a castle fills me with deep dread courtesy of sleep-inducing school trips to Wales when I was a kid. This was more Game Of Thrones than teachers' droning. I even went into the deep, dark dungeon and imagined myself making a daring escape in the 13th Century with a lusty local maiden by my side.
Our guide told us bewitching tales of James Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald who in 1565 led a rebellion against the English during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, losing the castle to the English after a siege. Later, in the 1650s, your man Oliver Cromwell did his best to wreck the castle. Anyway, this visually spectacular old ruin, which was built sometime before 1226 by the Normans, is well worth a visit; the tour is fascinating.
Afterwards, we just went back to our beautiful room (one of the staff told me that many of the rooms still have the little details and additions lovingly added by Lord and Lady Dunraven in the 1800s) in Adare Manor and read our books while occasionally looking across the 840 acres of beauty – Mother Nature at her best.
I looked out the window and my friend, the heron, was still standing in the middle of the river. It was a magical scene. The next day, at the same time, he was back.
I swear that after two days we were communicating without words. I'm sure he caught my eye looking at him, and that we shared a moment. At this point, perhaps, my poor girlfriend was starting to think I was losing my mind and that she needed to get me back to the big smoke in Dublin.
That night, we had an excellent dinner in the Wild Geese Restaurant in Adare village followed by a pint in Chawke's Bar. We walked back to the hotel, and under the moonlight all was right with the world.
The next morning, after brekkie of more Eggs Benedict and pancakes, we took some bikes into countryside for a long cycle. Through the village as we pedalled, we passed yummy mummies out pushing prams with their babies smiling out at us – and the world – in the idyllic sunshine.
On the way back, we had time for a fine lunch in the The Dovecote Restaurant in Adare Heritage Centre. Rushing back to Adare Manor to pack and get our train back to Dublin, my friend was back and standing in the middle of the river, oblivious to it all gliding gently by.
Maybe like Richard Harris, he was trying to teach us all a lesson about life.
Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort, Adare Village, Ireland, Telephone (061) 605200
Sunday Indo Living