Cong, Ireland would be a place of many firsts for our group! The first time Padre drove on the left, our first Irish ruin, our first Irish castle, the first time any of us flew a hawk, and the first Ireland Bed & Breakfast we stayed in. 10/10 AMAZING!
We headed out of Dublin mid-morning, so we would have time to explore Ross Errilly Friary before our 2pm appointment at Ashford Castle with Ireland’s School of Falcony. Padre got us out of town without issues, and the drive to the Friary was uneventful, but gray. (Side note: I want you all to know that we were well looked after, with the traveling Buddha I brought for Padre- backstory, he has been known to exclaim “Thank Buddha!” from time to time, and as such I have purchased him a Buddha for many a gift). I am sure this had something to do with our lack of accidents/car issues.
**Disclaimer** No rental car dashboards were harmed in the attachment of Buddha**
The friary sits at the end of a one lane gravel road, in the middle of a field. While we were there, two other cars came and went, but generally we had the place to ourselves. There were so many rooms to explore, it felt like you could explore all day!! I loved seeing all the details, and how time has worn on them – the huge fireplaces, niches for statues, graves and headstones, and steps that lead to nowhere.
I also particularly enjoyed seeing how nature takes these places back – a plant growing from a crack in the bricks, ferns sprouting along the top of exposed walls, and a nest tucked back into one of those niches!
We had to be on our way to make our appointment, so we hit the road. The Ashford Castle was quite a contrast to the Friary- manicured grounds, a uniformed attendant at the gate, and of course, the gorgeous castle!
As you wind your way onto the grounds (via one way paved road), there are signs directing you to parking lots. We had been instructed to be early, as there is a decent walk to get on the grounds, and then walk back to the Falconry School. There was a bathroom by the parking lot, and the signs were all easily followed.
Not knowing what exactly to expect, we were 100% blown away by this experience!!! Your walk is only with “your people”. They don’t combine strangers together, and they do allow someone to accompany you, but not participate, for free. Our guide, I think his name is Dennis, was hilarious and knowledgeable. His calm demeanor (and effective use of words like “feckin”) made it easy to relax and really enjoy ourselves. First you learn a little about the Harris hawks – their demeanor, the group dynamics, how they care for them, feed them, hunt with them, etc. You go into a room where the birds sleep at night, get gloved up (learn about the glove), and wait breathlessly for your hawk!
We got to go on the walk with two females and one male – Maya, Joyce and Stoker. Maya was the “dominant” female, who led the group, and Stoker is actually the smallest one! These hawks work as a group, and are Matriarchal (much like Dennis’ home life, apparently!). You walk the grounds and learn how to launch and (ask for a) landing, with small pieces of meat placed in your glove by your instructor. Their website does not lie when it says “You will never forget the moment when your hawk first swoops down from a tree and lands on your gloved fist. Flying a hawk is an experience of a lifetime.”
I love animals, and I have always been in awe of birds of prey, but GUYS, these birds are GORGEOUS and so flippin’ smart!! The grace and skill with which they swoop down, calculating the landing on your glove perfectly, with minimal effort- there aren’t words that do it justice – you have to experience it yourself!
This was HANDS. DOWN. one of the coolest things (if not THE coolest thing) I’ve done in my entire life. I’d go back in a heartbeat, and pay extra for the extended walk! Though it was only our second day in Ireland, we all felt like if we did nothing else, our trip would have been complete!
After all this amazing-ness, we were STARVING. Our schedule/bellies weren’t exactly on Ireland eating time zone yet, so we got a late lunch/early dinner back in Cong at Pat Cohans Bar. It had been recommended that we check out The Hungry Monk Cafe, but it was closed when we arrived. Pat Cohans was DELICIOUS, so we did not feel like we missed out!
We looked around cute little Cong a little, but didn’t get into the park very far at first. I just loved all the bright colors, beautiful flower boxes, and vines crawling over everything. We encountered it all across Ireland, but I couldn’t get enough!!
St Mary of the Rosary Catholic Church
It was getting to be check-in time for the Bed and Breakfast, so we backtracked some and checked in with Christina at The Ashfield House. You can bet I chose this B&B because of the donkey picture- we didn’t get to meet the donkey, but we DID make a cute friend! Christina’s home was so comfortable, plenty of space in our room for three, she and her daughter were amazingly friendly, and breakfast was very, very good!
After we settled in some (and I took a brief nap) Padre wanted some beeeeer, so we went back out in the world. First, I convinced them to explore The Monk’s Fishing Hut, since we missed it earlier, and then we (finally) found the grocery store – one town north of where we were staying.
It was a whirlwind second day, full of badassery, animals, adventure, delicious food and drink, and a bunch of new friends!
Let me know if you have any questions, comments or concerns! Thanks for reading! 🙂