Travel to the West Side!
In my mind, Ireland is the place to remove yourself from the ever busy city life and away from all the hustling of traffic (people and transportation), a place to grow old with your loved ones and enjoy retirement. Sounds all exhilarating and rejuvenating isn't it? Well, the last time I set foot in Ireland was on a business trip which spared me a few days visiting places like Dublin and Cork but never really got the chance to explore anywhere else. I was more than happy to do another side trip (besides UK), an opportunity to visit the "West Side" (how my fiance always says it) but there was a catch. I had to climb a holy mountain during this trip, something I was not prepared for (read about my other post on "I Conquered Croagh Patrick!").
Westport is located in County Mayo at the west of Ireland, formerly known as Cathair na Mart which means "stone fort of the beeves" and it's pretty close to the coast. Just like any other tourist, I typically try to find out as much information of my next travel destination all the "Must Try", "Must Visit", "Must Buy", "Must Eat" and "Can't Miss" headlines available from my web search. If you have been following my blog posts, you can see how far and extensive my search goes when it comes to traveling (Plan, Pack and Go Part 1) but since we were traveling with family this time (family knows best), I have decided just to research on anything to do with food and shopping. I even joined a Facebook group called Westport, Co Mayo, Ireland where I managed to get first hand information on where to go and what to do with places of interests and names of restaurants, cafes all spelt out for me.
We arrived in Dublin on 4th May at around 10-ish in the morning and pretty much went straight on with our road trip driving all the way from Dublin International Airport to Westport, County Mayo which took us 7 hours (we did stopped for lunch, lavatory breaks and short family visit at Castlebar along the way) before reaching our accommodation destination called "The Red Door" (read all about it in my post review on "The Red Door"). Once we have checked in, we headed straight off to town which was about 10 minutes drive from our place.
As we drove towards town, the sun was starting to set (around 8.30pm) and everyone in the car were just starving. The town consists of only 2 lanes which laid out to be the word "Y" if you looked down from the sky. Parking can be quite difficult as the slope tends to be fairly steep. We headed towards the streets of cafes and shops nearest to where we parked and decided to try out a restaurant called "Sage" that sat on 10 High Street which was highly recommended by our accommodation host, Tracy.
It wasn't easy getting a table for 9 people in a small town without prior reservations (a must) but we really wanted to try this place out hence I approached the waitress (Eva Ivanova - lady on the left was her name) asking if she had any available tables for 9 people and I wasn't surprised at all when she said "No, I am sorry". As I saw there were a few empty tables around but not seated together, I asked again if she could split us up in different tables as all we cared about was feeding our grumbling tummy and I swear to god she gave me an amusing look and said, "Sure" but we will have to wait while she cleared up the tables for us.
15 minutes later, we were all seated cozily at each corner, finding ourselves grueling over the menu feeling tired and hungry but excited at the same time. Since it was our first decent meal in a fancy restaurant of Westport, my fiance and I decided to splurge on a good meal so for starters we ordered a dozen of raw oysters, fresh from the coast of Ireland. As for the main course, my fiance ordered the 21 Day Dry Aged Rib Eye Steak (Balsamic Caramelized Pearl Onions, Aubergine and Fig Caviar, Peppercorn Courvoisier Sauce) and I decided to go for the Duo of Mayo Lamb (Marinated Rump and Hawkshaw's Cutlet of Mayo Lamb, Red Pepper and Walnut Relish, Mushroom, Pea and Cumin Ragout) as it turns out, it was the greatest choice!
While waiting for our food to be served, we ordered a glass of red wine (Malbec) to calm ourselves down from the busy day. As I was sipping away, I took a good around the restaurant which was packed on a Thursday night. Either the food is superb here or we are just in luck to experience high patronization rate that night. After waiting for another 15 minutes or so, our starter (pic 1 from the left) was served and followed by our mains. The food were nicely presented and the taste was just divine, both the lamb (pic 2) and steak (pic 3) were super tender with overflowing juiciness in them. A side dish of vegetables (pic 4) were served as well. I must say, I was super impressed and we decided to order their famous Creme Bulea (pic 5) to finish off our fantastic meal but the taste was somewhat not to my suiting as I prefer desserts to be sweet. On the other hand, my fiance loved it as it prefers desserts to be on a tangy side (slightly sour). A bit pricey for a small town but the service provided by Eva and Caoimhe were excellent!
To end the evening, some of us wondered off to the next door pub for a pint of Guinness while my fiance and I ventured to one of the town's most famous pub to be in, Matt Molloy's. This pub first started in 1896 and was later bought over by Matt Molloy in 1989. Matt Molloy's pub is renowned for having jamming sessions on Irish traditional music with bands of the highest prestige in town. Matt Molloy is one of Ireland’s greatest flute players and long-time member of The Chieftains. If you haven't had the chance to hear his music, I suggest you google him in Youtube and listen for yourself. Currently Matt Molloy's pub is run by his two sons and through Facebook, I was able to get an exclusive interview with James Molloy (aka Jimmy).
Funny enough when you stand outside the pub (bridge street), you can hardly hear anything but everything changes once you step in. On a Thursday night, the whole pub was packed with businessmen, couples, musicians, white collars, blue collars and possibly farmers who are there to socialize, chill and to drink of course. Jimmy came across very friendly and quickly offered me drinks but instead of having a Guinness which I really should (we are in Ireland after all), I asked for a cuppa instead. He came back with a big cup of Irish tea and soon we went off to the back of the pub to kick off our interview.
As Jimmy carefully answered all my interview questions, I couldn't resist to see the striking resemblance between Jimmy and his dad (Matt Molloy). I was told that the design, displays and layout of the pub have not changed since 1896 with only occasional vintage antiques added on, everything else remained unchanged. The only new thing that was happening that night was a Stand Up Comedy show taking off at the same time while Irish songs were banging next door. Over a month ago, Matt Molloy's pub opened up a stage for Stand Up Comedians (located right at the back of the pub) and the comedian on stage that night was best known as Paul David Murphy.
While I was busying with my interview, taking photographs of every inch of the establishment, my fiance was happy drowning himself with Guinness after Guinness (he is half Irish, go figure) listening to Irish music at a corner. Something tells me he was right back at home. Shortly after, I joined him and we sat down in the bar counter where we tried to finish off our drinks as it was getting late. It was then I met an interesting couple sitting right at the corner of the pub. They introduced themselves as Breda Mooney and Eddie Byrne. Apparently, they are singers and musicians too and I was quickly acquainted with a song produced by them called "The Old Achill Line" (check it out in Youtube). After a short conversation, we had to call it a night as we had to get a good night sleep, all ready for the next day mountain climbing adventure.
Just before I left Matt Molloy's pub, Jimmy took out Matt Molloy's trophy, an award his dad received for the best music album- 1996 "Santiago". It goes without saying, my camera immediately flashed out more lights to capture this proud moment, an expression from his face which I would never forget. Looking back now, I found it amazing how well the pub was being maintained since 1896 and it is not every day you see a town preserving a culture that was passed down centuries and still remains as it is today.
As usual 3 days went past pretty quickly (especially when you are on holiday and having a blast time) and it was time for us to drive back to Dublin (for another round of family visits and adventure). Although the time I spent in Westport was short, I truly enjoyed myself and I simply missed the people, the food, the culture, the mountain, the carefree livestock and our holiday home. It's the perseverance that kept this town, the Irish music and the people so grounded and passionate in what they strongly believe in, their faith. Will I visit this place again? Definitely but this time I might choose to drive from Knock instead which only takes 51 minutes.
Planning a trip to Ireland (East or West) and need ideas, recommendations or suggestions. Feel free to connect me via Facebook or simply drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.