Posted by: marthabernie | October 30, 2014

SUNDAY LUNCH IN ATHLONE, COUNTY WESTMEATH, IRELAND

On every trip to Ireland, there is usually some little experience which stands out in my mind and gives me something to talk about when I get home.  For example, I have met political figures, had a drink in the Senators (private) bar in the Dail Eireann at Leinster House where the Irish Legislature meets, and I have run into Maeve Binchy, Hugh Leonard and even Bono in the pubs and on the roads in and around Dalkey and Killiney.  One year I met Jean Kennedy Smith, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland at the time, in Grafton Street.  In 1993, I went to Derry by bus, and I was cross-examined by the British Army at the border, but that’s another story for another day.  I must look for those photographs!

In the mid-90’s, I was sitting with friends at their home in Sandycove on a Sunday morning.  They were exhausted from the work week and had already turned down several invitations to go here and there.  For my part, I was on vacation and rested and was looking for some action.  When another phone invitation came for lunch in Athlone, I heard Rory say that they were staying in but that I was ready and available, and a plan was made whereby I would be picked up around noon.

Now, you have to understand that in Ireland, Sunday lunch usually doesn’t start until about 3 pm and it can go until well after midnight depending on the crowd.  So I thought nothing of being picked up at noon for a drive to Athlone.  I had been there once before, and this being well before the roads were improved so dramatically, I figured it would take a couple of hours to get there at least.

Anna arrived to pick me up and the first red flag went up.  She said we would be back around 5 pm, and I mentally tried to figure out how we would drive to Athlone, have a leisurely lunch and then drive back, all by 5 pm, but I said nothing.  We got in the car and red flag number two went up.  Even though I was not driving around Dublin on my own at this stage, I was aware that to get to Athlone, you had to leave the city and go northwest.  After a few minutes, I realized we were going due north but still did not say anything because far be it from me, the tourist, to question the driver who has lived in and around Dublin for decades.

Finally, I could not stay quiet any longer when we pulled into Dublin Airport.  I thought perhaps we were picking up Anna’s husband, who travels a lot, but no.  We were flying on one of his planes to Athlone.  My sense of adventure really kicked in at this point because it was a clear but VERY windy day.

There were three of us, plus the pilot on this flight.  The little seaplane bounced around a lot in the wind, but I was not the least bit afraid as it just seemed to be part of the adventure.  I was later dubbed, “the intrepid traveler.”  Having always flown into Ireland over the Irish Sea from London at this point in time, this seaplane trip was the first time I had actually been up in the air over Ireland itself, and it was wonderful!  We flew over bogs and lakes and rivers before landing on the River Shannon where the restaurant was located.

Athlone is a midlands town, located on the Shannon right on the borders of County Roscommon and County Westmeath.  I’ve stayed in a Hidden Ireland historic house called Coolatore which is near Athlone, and we stopped in the town to pick up some picnic provisions.  But I have yet to actually explore the town itself.  This day we did not make it to the town either as the restaurant was outside the town on the river.  We landed on the water and motored to the dock where the owner of the restaurant was waiting to take the leads from the little seaplane.  The place was full of diners who were looking at us out the windows, thinking they might be spotting someone famous arriving, but alas, it was just us!

We did have a leisurely lunch and about the time coffee and dessert were being considered, the pilot suggested that we get back to Dublin soon as the weather was changing.  We quickly returned to the plane and were on our way back.  We managed to stay ahead of the storm, and the flight back was less eventful than the flight north.  But by the time we got back to Dublin, night had fallen and it was yet another new experience for me as I had never flown into or out of Dublin at night.  The city was alight and from the air, it was easy to see the River Liffey and all the usual landmarks.

The photo above was taken when we arrived at Athlone, and you can see the pilot securing the lines to the dock.  Also note how choppy the water was…and this was before the storm arrived!


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