As we pull into the pretty town of Oldcastle, County Meath, Ireland, population 2,500, Helen calls out to a tall, cute Irishman just walking by, “Where’s the hotel?”
“Which hotel do you want? The closed one or the open one?”
We want the open one. And it’s just there in front of us on the one main street.
Tom Shine, our friend from The Oak, invited Helen and me to check out his new boutique hotel here just an hour from Dublin, The Oldcastle House Hotel. It’s the August bank holiday weekend – it reminds me of our Labor Day weekend in that it feels like we’re saying goodbye to summer – and I’m thinking it will be a quiet two days in a quaint Irish town. But the Irish surprise me as always.
There’s a Le Cheile arts and music festival going on this week and we stop to hear singers perform on makeshift stages. We meet Cian, Laura, and Pijoux, three young musicians who are in charge of the ticket booth. Cian plays us a bit of his music video and his voice is beautiful.
We drive down an ancient road to Loughcrew, the site of the Loughcrew Cairns. It’s something that really is so hard to realize, but in this field in the middle of nowhere, there is a megalithic site – large stones that create a monument – that is older than the pyramids. (The pyramids are dated 2,630 BC and the site at Loughcrew is dated 3,300 BC.) It’s one of those things – a mini version of “billions of galaxies” – that I really cannot fathom.
Loughcrew – the lake of the sacred branches – also has gorgeous gardens on what once was the family home of Saint Oliver Plunkett in the early 1600s. Saint Oliver had a pretty good life, but he was ultimately convicted of treason and then hanged, drawn, and quartered. I hate when that happens. His leg is buried in one place and his head has been moved from one place to another. I simple can’t keep up. And then along with the strange history of Oliver’s life and the remains of his estate, there is a fairy trail. We see little girls and their fathers checking off each hidden find on the trail. And then from a huge tree in the middle of the garden, there is a very simple zip line. I’ve never seen such a strange juxtaposition, but somehow it all works.
Back at the hotel, we have just the best Irish comfort food. Lamb and stuffing and gravy washed down with Malbec and salmon with mashed potatoes and roasted potatoes – yes, really, two kinds of potatoes – with the best roasted carrots and cauliflower in a creamy cheese sauce. It was so good, we got the same again the next day. There’s a hurling match on television and Galway wins in the last seconds and I learn that “lovely hurling” is an expression that goes beyond mere hurling to mean “you did that well”.
There is a cozy area just a few steps up from Nan’s Bar and we start the evening with Bailey’s on the rocks, brandy, and Scrabble. And yes, Scrabble can be a lot of fun under the right circumstances. And then it’s out to a town with enough pubs that two are owned by men named Owen. I sing karaoke with a bunch of drunk women who tell me that they are not from Oldcastle. (They can’t get this drunk in their own town; people would find out.) We sing the classics and during “It’s Raining Men”, the drunkest of the group takes an informal poll to discover that not only is it not raining men, there’s a drought. There is not one single single man in the pub. I get to sing “One”, my favorite U2 song and I’m happy.
We return to our hotel to find hundreds of people out on a bank holiday Sunday night. In Nan’s Bar, the DJ is Damian from classic hits 4FM. He teases us about playing Scrabble and he takes our requests. And in the club there are more than 400 people out to see the band called Rhythm and Sticks who play until three in the morning. Where do all these people come from? Oldcastle is surrounded by fields and farms. But because we’re in Ireland, I really shouldn’t be surprised. The Irish know where to find the craic.
And to Tom, all the best on your newest adventure, and go raibh maith agat.