Some vacations are about the sights you ache to see, the wonders of the world, the foreign landmarks that transform you. Others are much more prosaic, filling a need to slow down, immerse in simple pleasures, and feel human. (Both have their joys, but it is hard to have both at the same time.) Iceland for me was the former. And Ireland is the latter.
I blithely ignored all the must-see lists on this one. Every person who started a sentence with, “But you can’t go to Ireland without going to–” was met with a firm Diana Ross hand gesture. I wasn’t after transcendence. I was after a simple, quiet, textural haven. An oasis in which to hear myself think.
I set as my mission for the holiday (and yes, I had a mission – Type A is Type A, no matter we we are) to say yes to all things lovely, and no to all things taxing. So it’s lucky I ended up at Ballyvollane House, a family-owned inn where there are so many lovely things to say yes to. Yes to a homemade ham sandwich and a pot of tea in the sunny back garden. Yes to reading by the fire in the drawing room. Yes to a soak in the claw-foot tub. Yes to a walk around the grounds accompanied by Dumpling, a hedonistic terrier, who knows all the good spots and can’t resist a splash in the muddy ponds. Yes to orange-yolked eggs freshly laid by the hens out back, yes to rocket and fennel salad that tastes like it just came out of the ground, yes to subtly sweet vanilla-poached pears and cinnamon plums. Yes yes yes to homemade blackberry cordial, afternoon bellinis, and chocolate cookies that appear each night in your room in a mason jar. Yes to magnolias and birdsong and a tutorial in daffodils by Fleur, the youngest of the proprietors’ well-mannered children. (“When they’re new they’re nice and yellow, but then they get soggy.” So true.) In short, yes to the good life, experienced in thoughtful little moments, with no pretension or pressure whatsoever.
As someone who lacks the talent for moderation and has a tendency to forget to step away from the laptop, sleep eight full hours, and engage in activities in the real world, you must know that this place is truly my definition of heaven. There doesn’t seem to be any choice but to go with the flow. Justin and Jenny Green, the owners of Ballyvolane, do everything they can to make the place feel welcoming and intimate, without any of the kitsch of a typical B&B. It makes sense that it was Justin’s childhood home; it feels like a family place, a place with roots. (As a side note, they also do parties, meaning mostly weddings, and you can imagine a pretty magazine-worthy shindig happening here.)
In these days of devices and always-on lifestyles, a good oasis is a valuable find. Many places claim to help you relax, and they can force you to detach from the things that are stressing you out, but few can do the harder thing, which is to softly connect you back to the things that will renew your zeal for making meaning in the world. It’s worth remembering that a place can transform you. Not just in big ways, as when you’re standing at the base of a canyon or under a desert-sky full of stars. But in little ways that create beautiful immediacy. Go towards the beauty, or create it, and it will repay you far more than the cost of your travels.
Images, mine. And thanks to Designtripper for the recommendation that inspired the trip.April 3rd, 2012