Saturday, up with the alarm at 7 and breakfast devoured whilst listening to what was left of the wind, it was still hanging around and would make taking the awning down a little tricky but not impossible, this was eventually done by unhooking the awning from Pod and bringing the awning down to its knees ‘so to speak’ before taking the guy lines off fully.
Everything was packed up and away in Pod and our four hour drive to Knock began. Again, great roads all the way but the satnav let us down miserably, we were slightly more prepared this time but still managed to miss the entrance and ended up at where the satnav was determined to take us.. a school carpark.
Not too far from this error was a Garda and he kindly directed us back the way we had come and were told to look for an entrance near the bus stop.
This we duly did and found it blocked by an electronic barrier, a conversation was had through the intercom and once we’d confirmed our name and booking the barrier went up and in we rolled. The large open carpark area was a little deceiving and we guessed this wasn’t it so followed our noses round to the back and found the entrance to the site.
Booked in easily enough and the facilities were explained, free wifi and free showers so all looked good so far. We drove round and finally decided on a pitch in the middle of the upper area and as this was also a rock hard concrete pitch we decided to pitch as we had at River Valley, Co. Wicklow, that is the awning on the grass, the grass looked in really good condition and it didn’t look like drainage would be an issue, besides a soggy ground was preferable to spending another evening grappling with a flyaway awning.
Once set up we walked into the village, the shrine for which Knock is primarily famous was only a few 100m away, it is said that this was where an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a group of villagers. As we strolled down the main road it became apparent that something else was occurring in the grounds of the church because there was a very large group of people congregating around a bench in the carpark. The road was also lined with motorhomes and vans which appeared to have been abandoned in any space available, even those completely blocking any right of way.
We had to go and see what all the commotion was about and went into the grounds of the church through an open iron gate.
As we walked nearer we could see a very tight group of people of different ages who were all stood at different levels and using anything at their means to do this, from small walls to park benches and a lamppost stand in the centre.
All were straining with their arms extended high and holding mobile phones in their hand. The buzz of conversation was inaudible and after a few minutes observing this extraordinary event we walked around the grounds then continued with our walk up the main road.
Once back on the main path we again passed the group who were now turned in our direction, looking up to the sky. We of course looked to see what they were looking at but couldn’t see anything as we were blinded by the sun breaking through the clouds.
We continued on and made a mental note to google the event later, there were at least a few hundred people here and with them and the number of mobile homes in the area it must have caught a local news papers attention if nothing else.
A few groceries were bought and after passing lots of outside stalls and small shops selling water containers and small religious figurines we arrived back at Pod and set about making our version of an Irish stew.
Now, a lot of research went into doing this properly but there were many versions around, from the very basic that were cooked twice, strained and then eaten, to more complicated ingredients which took half the time of the former. For us, as long as the ingredients were all Irish grown, including the meat, then it was an Irish stew and boy did it go down well.
Those free hot showers were very welcoming and then spent an hour on the free wifi before climbing into bed with the rain and wind still battering the side of Pod, we doubted this would bother us this evening as we were both ready for a well deserved good nights sleep.
Sunday arrived and we could hear the church bells calling people to Mass, they weren’t particularly loud but we knew they were there. Weather wasn’t looking good for the day so took the moment to scour the internet for information about the incident in the church grounds yesterday, after checking the local papers we found a few articles which reported a young traveller whilst in Portugal at another shrine had been told he should go to Knock where he would see the Virgin Mary, this had obviously spread through their community and resulted in the mass visit to Knock yesterday, as to whether it all came true it didn’t say, but suppose that is down to a persons own prospective on the incident.
Our attention turned to looking for something to do, so after a little research on what was available in the area we opted for a drive out to Sligo and on the way back call into Eagles Flying, a preservation society for birds of prey and anything else of an animal nature that needed protection or nurturing of some kind. This would work out well as EF were only open for 2 hours in the mornig and two hours in the afternoon, we just needed it to stop raining so the birds could be seen flying outside and not in the indoor arena that was mentioned.
Off we went and after just over an hours drive we arrived in Sligo in the pouring rain. Parking was paid for and as we walked through the town centre it appeared that most of the shops were closed, we presumed Sunday trading laws were in place and after a walk to the sea inlet we turned and went on the hunt for somewhere to have lunch and dry off a little.
We found The Belfry, looked like a gastro type pub from the outside, so in we went. On opening the inner door we found ourselves in a dimly lit bar area with a few locals sat at the bar who were in deep conversation of a colourful nature whilst watching the horse racing on the TV, that in itself was unusual because any pub we normally walk into has either the news on or football.
A table was found not far from the bar and a chicken club sandwich was ordered along with a seafood chowder. Both arrived whilst we were doing our best to understand parts of the conversation taking place at the bar, not to be nosey, just to be able to identify a few words being exchanged.
Sandwich went down a treat and the chowder was exceptional, the mussels, fish and prawns were nice and chunky and left you tasting the saltiness of the sea.
Didn’t take long to dry off and once the bill was paid we made a dash through the rain and back to the car. Back on the road we hoped the rain would just stay off for an hour, that’s all.. one little hour, long enough to see the display on offer at Eagles Flying.
We loyally followed the satnav and found ourselves down winding hedge lined roads and nearly passed the entrance on the way, once in we turned right onto an area of rough ground and decided it must be the carpark as there was a sign clearly saying leave your car and walk up to the entrance, only disabled owners were allowed any further in their cars.
It was pouring it down and as we were the only ones there with minutes to go to the start time of 2.30pm we came very close to driving away and thinking about it for another day, but then another car drove into the carpark and stopped a little further onto the waste land. A quick look and nod at each other and we made the decision to wrap up and make it as fast as possible to the gate, we had no idea how far it was but thought we were already wet so a little more couldn’t make much difference.
A small wooden shed came into view and once there we stuck our heads in through the hatch, our eyes eventually adjusted to the dark and we saw its male occupant jump up from a desk and take the few steps to the hatch. Both arms were placed on the counter and a huge grin with smiling eyes greeted us with a ‘how are ya in this lovely weather’. At a guess we’d of said he was in his fifties, tanned with greying hair and didn’t have a particularly strong Irish accent, giving the impression he’d travelled.
We paid our fee not sure what to expect and as we crossed the threshold the heavy rain became drizzle and the fun began. We love remembering this bit, it was fantastic, like entering another world.
Within 10 metres we were stood outside a row of huts all displaying birds of prey of various sizes, all were sat majestically on a perch and either giving us they eye or preening themselves oblivious of our arrival.
From there we turned to move further into the park when we heard ponies neighing, as we looked across a large open field we saw two miniature ponies trotting over at full speed. They were oblivious to another group of birds on perches to their right and a flock of chickens who were directly in their path, they seemed to have one mission in mind and that was to reach us.
Once they did they greeted us with a muzzle in our hands and a nudge for a pat on the head, this was gladly given as who could refuse something so small and loveable, as we walked on more people were coming through the gate and they moved their attention towards them.
The staff were very informative and passed on vast amounts of information about the birds, such as how they came to be at the centre and where they would originally be found, they were able to answer any questions thrown at them and their passion for preservation was very evident.
From entering we’d passed eagles, sparrow hawks, vultures and owls plus many other breeds and eventually wound round to a large open wooden seating area, there were bins strategically placed with a few large umbrellas placed inside, if the heavens opened we would be making a grab for one of these.
Once sat a talk was given which was both very educational but fun at the same time and appealed to the very young in the audience as well as the older, it started to rain so umbrellas were grabbed and we all huddled beneath them whilst the talk continued and an explanation of the display was given, with a slight caveat attached, that if it rained too heavy the birds wouldn’t fly and we would have to go indoors, think we can safely say we all had our fingers crossed it would be outside, much better in an outside arena.
Out they came, one by one and through the expert handling of the staff each bird had a story to tell and gave an incredible display which wasn’t just around us but involved audience interaction on a major scale. Each bird flew between us, round us and landed amongst us.
During all this, much to our amusement, not more than 4 metres away chickens were roaming around and were occasionally chased and squawked at by what looked like a very angry cockerel, slightly surreal experience.
It was awesome, the knowledge and passion displayed was incredible, conservation and understanding of these incredible birds was clearly the main aim of the talk and the display, the children within the audience will hopefully have gained a love for them and not a fear which sadly many people have and destroyed them without a care. Hopefully this will apply to adults too, as they can be the harder to convince as have set views.
The air display eventually came to an end and we were reminded of the petting zoo, we were undecided about going as these are usually best attended by children, but hey, we were here, so why not. Turned out to be a great decision. Just wish I’d recorded it.
The ponies from before had arrived in the arena and after saying hello again they began to walk off in the direction of the petting zoo and we all followed, you had to be there to see the funny side.
They took us to what looked like a large metal cattle shed and we all walked in through the open double doors, on the right were pens with goats and pigs of all shapes and sizes, along the back were chinchillas and down the left side we had foxes, rabbits and an albino hedgehog, in the middle were rows of wooden benches with the ponies and a dog mingling in between.
All good we thought, very noisy too, as they all wanted attention and food if there was any on offer, then the unexpected happened, someone let all the pigs out, from tiny potbellied ones to a huge 12 year old saddleback.
Well, it looked like bedlam, pigs, ponies and a dog going in and out of the pews, some attempting to going under the benches and a few succeeding, others were nearly walking off with them and others were making a run for the door, many pottered around the children and adults, obviously on the look out for a nibble or two.
We did our best to stay out of their chosen route but no matter where we turned we were either shoved out the way by a pig on a mission or we bumped into a pony strutting their stuff through the shed.
It was at this point we saw a member of staff in the middle of it all, he didn’t look panicked and was in the process of showing the hedgehog to anyone who was interested, we then realised this was a petting zoo with a difference and we loved it.
It was brilliant, fantastic interaction yet again between all the animals and visitors, it was so funny to watch the pigs charging all over the place, the ponies nudging the pigs out of the way and kids and adults alike having a ball in the middle of it all, whilst the fox was being cuddled and the hedgehog stroked and fed.
We eventually had to leave and slowly but surely forced ourselves out of the shed and along the road out and back to the car, it truly was a memorable experience and we didn’t shut up talking about it for the next few days, we couldn’t recommend a visit highly enough.
Monday arrived and we were a wee but shattered, we’d done a lot of driving and just as much sightseeing so we decided to have an ‘admin day’, this for us was a food shop at Tesco where the necessary and a few treats were bought and then once back at Pod the laundry was done yet again.
This time it was 4€ each for the washing machine and the dryer. Once that was done the day was spent listening to golden oldies from Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash to name just a few, all this whilst enjoying a few beers followed by a good old snooze in the chair in the fresh air and sun, when it made an appearance. Batteries were recharged and we were ready for the next day.
Breakfast was eaten whilst we made plans for the day, we felt like a walk along a beach and decided on Bertra Beach in Westport. It had good reviews and was a Blue Flag beach as were most, if not all the beaches in Ireland.
It was just over an hour away so off we set and it was easy enough to find, we passed Croagh Patrick on our right and if we’d of thought about it we should have left earlier and done the walk up there too, but this was about a relaxing walk along a beach as it was our last day in Southern Ireland before heading up to Drumaheglis in Northern Ireland.
Car park was free and the sun was out, there were only two other cars there and the beach was empty, perfect. Once out of the car we walked on up the beach which was a mix of sand and pebble, the sea was on its way in and the wind was picking up as it came in off the sea, we were still on the Atlantic coastline but it was no where near as strong as down south.
We turned to walk along the dunes and then back onto beach and as we walked along the shoreline a very wet looking retriever came bounding over, at this point we made the bad decision to throw stones for it, unaware that this meant he would be our companion for the next half hour as we continued our walk around the peninsular.
He was great fun and very grateful for every stone thrown and we were extremely grateful when unbeknown to him, whilst he was cavorting in the water a curious seal popped its head out of the water not 3 metres behind him.
All this whilst his owner who was some 100 metres or so away shouted his name ‘Charlie’ in vain. The poor woman in the end had to walk all the way back up the beach to collect her wayward dog, she reached us full of apologies and eventually managed to entice Charlie away as she disappeared from sight, still shouting his name.
Lunch was calling so we continued round the beach keeping an eye out for more seals and eventually reached the car without seeing anymore, it was a beautiful bay and beach and in the height of summer we could imagine how busy it would be.
Driving along the road we searched good old google for a place to eat and we found The Tavern Bar and a Restaurant, reviews were good and as we arrived it looked ok. In we went, staff were friendly enough so we sat and ordered food. Lamb shank for one and fish for the other.
Within minutes the meals arrived and to one of us this didn’t seem right, takes more than a few minutes to cook chips, never mind the fish and lamb. But we tucked in and the lamb went down very well, can’t say the same for the fish and chips, so much so they weren’t eaten. Chips were oven chips and the fish was greasy, not what we’d come to expect of the eateries we’ve tried.
Once back at Knock we sat in the awning with a view down the site and planned our route for the next day, our trip to Ireland was slowly coming to an end and the following day we would be up early, packed and off to Drumaheglis Marina and Caravan Park.. check it out in Part 4.