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A Yeats Sandwich, With Lots of Mayo

November 02, 1986|Zan Thompson

\o7 When we come at the end of time

To Peter sitting in state,

He will smile on all the . . . old spirits,

But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,

Save by an evil chance,

And the merry love to fiddle,

And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,

They will all come up to me,

With, "Here is the fiddler of Dooney!"

And dance like a wave of the sea.

\f7 William Butler Yeats wrote that and it can't have been very hard. I do not denigrate the poet who made heavenly music from bread-and-butter words. But I have been three times to Thor Ballylea, the stone tower Yeats built by hand for himself and his wife, near the town of Gort in County Galway. A stone bridge, a small and friendly bridge, arcs over the Cloon River to meet the tower and the house Yeats built. Three times, I have stood at the end of the bridge and leaned against the foundation stones of the tower. And I think if I had only had a good yellow pencil and a blue-lined tablet, I could have managed a few lines.

The river makes the music, writes the poetry. If you have the good fortune to stand there, you can see how Yeats transcribed the poetry from the sounds of the Cloon River hurrying over the brown stones. It's a small river, easy to understand. There is no intimidating roar, just the laughing murmurs of a small and carefree river, charged with nothing but making music.

This will probably be the last column about the most recent trip I took with Audrey Ann Marie Boyle to Ireland. There is more to tell but I can't get it all said. There is just a hatful or so more that I simply can't leave untold.

One of the beautiful country houses that was new to us this time is the Newport House in County Mayo. It was built by the O'Donels in 1720 and became a hotel in 1946. The chief of staff is a man of warm propriety, normally a contradiction in terminology but fitting this tall, white-haired man like his grand waistcoat. His name is Owen and he sees to every comfort, from the drink before the small coal fire in the study before dinner to the hearty breakfast, served early for the fishermen who have been coming to Newport House since it was open to the public.

One of the longtime guests who has enjoyed a sporting contest with a salmon or a sea trout is named Thompson. He and his wife are the present owners. He is a physicist who took early retirement when he heard that Newport House was on the market. His guests come back season after season.

In the lobby is a chest with a marble cover where guests proudly display their catch. Audrey Ann Marie and I were having coffee and clotted cream and warm-from-the-oven brown sugar lace cookies when a man and a woman came in proudly bearing a salmon which weighed 19 pounds.

The ceiling at the top of the house holds a magnificent stained-glass skylight. When Mr. Thompson bought the country house, he had the design of the skylight copied and woven into a large carpet for the drawing room. Mr. Thompson did some graduate work at Caltech in Pasadena and one of the fishermen we spoke to had taken his degree in business administration at Harvard. The Thompsons keep Newport House open six months a year, from May to October, and spend the rest of the year in the south of France.

Of course, we went to Ashford Castle, the grandest hotel in all of Ireland. It stands on the shores of Lough Corrib, the second-largest lake in Ireland. The first castle was built in 1228 and there are those who say there are records of a battle on the spot 4,000 years ago. Why not? It is known that St. Patrick stopped off for a few days to catch his breath after taming the wild Irish.

A covered stone bridge, portcullis and drawbridge lead to the castle. Inside, the public rooms are magnificent. There is a reception and drawing room looking out over Lough Corrib where the sun's sinking rays glint off the edge of your martini glass. The bartenders make a superb drink in a country where a request for a martini usually brings you a tumbler of Martini and Rossi vermouth.

The bar has carved oak walls and a fireplace big enough for an ox. In the dining room, the handsome young waiters wear tail coats and the captains and wine stewards wear dinner jackets. We had a waiter one evening with a twinkle in his eye that matched the gleam of the crystal. He told us where he was from and then underlined it by saying, "You must go there. Something's always doing in Donegal."

He paid poetic compliments to two pretty American girls who giggled with delight. Then he came to our table and said, "Got to keep them happy, you know."

I am willing to wager that something is, indeed, happening in his corner of Donegal.

We talked to a young couple from Boston who were on their honeymoon and glowing with spending it at Ashford Castle.

There's lots more, including Moran's Weir where we spent the first day of Galway Bay oyster season. A small oyster house on the road to Quin, Moran's is run by the seventh generation of the same family.

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