The Adventures of BJ and Tony Morris

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County Clare, Ireland
January 2007
"Home Sweet Retirement Home"

Tony is still talking about retiring to Ireland.  I am still not sure I'm in, but I don't have a better plan, so I agreed to go with him to look for property.  I figured it couldn't hurt to look around.

I dropped Tony off at the Hilton so he could get his shoes shined while I went to park the car.  I had gotten my shoes shined there a couple of weeks previous.  The shiner did a fabulous job, making mine shine like new, but he was not to be found when Tony got there. 

We took the Hilton shuttle to the airport, arriving in plenty of time for our wide-open flight.  The jaunt through security was a little more involved than usual for us since we were traveling with our new (to us) baby laptop. 

The baby laptop was one of Tony's eBay purchases.  Our first laptop had the biggest screen we could find and was heavy, not at all conducive to travel.  The new baby laptop, a Fujitsu Lifebook, is the perfect size for travel.  Tony had outfitted the baby laptop with a new USB bluetooth device and a Sony-Ericsson wireless card that accepts his T-Mobile SIM card.  He would pair the bluetooth with his GPS dongle and use the wireless card to surf the internet for property and then use the GPS and Microsoft navigation software to find the property.  We also had Jill, our Garmin Nuvi GPS Navigator for backup.

The Security line at the Atlanta Airport was fairly short.  We took the baby laptop out of my suitcase and placed it in it's own bin.  We put our toiletries (in their 3 oz or less bottles inside of a one quart zip-lock bag) along with our shoes, keys, change and Tony's belt buckle in a separate bin.  Miraculously, we made it through with all of our belongings and did not have to suffer a body cavity search.   It took us a good bit of time to reassemble our luggage on the other end though. 

Since we would be sitting for 6+ hours, we thought it would be a good idea to walk to E Concourse for our flight.  When we finally arrived at our gate at the far end of the concourse, they were already clearing the non-revs.  We noticed the girl ahead of us in line was wearing jeans and we commented to each other about it.  As we were picking up our boarding passes, we overheard the gate agent discussing the dress code with her.   She was looking quite distraught at the prospect of sitting in coach just because of her (very nice looking dress) jeans.  I decided to offer her a pair of my pants that would meet the dress code.  She was very grateful and rushed off to change. 

On the plane, we met formally and our new friend Kathy (wearing borrowed pants) told us that she lives in Ireland.  She is an author and has written a travel book about Ireland.  She gave us the address of her website:

We had a delightfully short flight with favorable tail-winds shuttling us into Shannon a half an hour early.  The pilot warned of a bumpy landing, so we tightened our seatbelts, but it was surprisingly calm.  On the ground, Kathy ducked into the first restroom and changed back into her jeans so she could return my pants.

We dawdled around the airport so that we wouldn't pick up our rental car too early.  We picked up the 2007 B&B guide and a map before we approached the Alamo counter.   The Alamo agent accepted our letter from the credit union showing proof that our credit card covers the collision damage waiver without question.  While Tony signed the paperwork, I stepped outside to see what the weather was like.  It was windy and cool.  I got back to the counter just in time to hear the agent tell Tony that it would be 10 minutes before our car was ready.  When she motioned to us that it was ready, I looked outside and it had started to rain horizontally.  We more or less blew across the street to the car and were drenched by the time we got our luggage loaded and got seated.

Technology Gone Bad!
Dawn was just starting to break, so we decided to take our time getting our equipment set up so we could start driving when it was light.  First we got out Jill, our trusty Garmin Nuvi navigator.  We were surprised at how quickly she acquired satellites, but disappointed to find that we had forgotten to load the Ireland maps.  No matter, thought Tony as he instructed me to get out the baby laptop and GPS dongle.  We hooked everything up and opened the Microsoft Streets and Trips application.  The map in the software only had the towns, but no roads.  Undaunted (well, to be honest, we were both actually fairly daunted at this point), we decided to try to connect to the internet to look at some maps.  No luck!  The wireless card would not connect.  We looked at our watch to see if we could still make the flight back through Dublin to the U.S., but it was too late. 

We started driving in the dark and rain, both of us in rather bad moods.  We pulled over to the side of the road & Tony took over the laptop and figured out that I had opened Microsoft Streets and Trips, the U.S. version instead of Microsoft AutoRoute, the European version.  Autoroute had most of the major highways (the green and orange roads on our Ordnance Survey Discovery Series paper maps).  Then I finally got the internet to connect, so at least we had SOME technology.

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Watch out for that BUS!
We used our old fashioned paper maps along with the GPS tracking on the laptop to try to navigate.  We started out toward Ennis.  As we rounded the bend at the top of the estuary, we spotted a tiny road that looked like it might match the one on the map that we wanted to take.  We had only gotten a few hundred yards down it when we rounded the bend and realized we were in the path of a HUGE Bus Eireann, coming fast.  We dodged to the left and dropped the front wheel of our rental car squarely in a ditch.  I was bracing myself for Tony's tirade when I saw the bus driver and two other men approaching.  Another man drove up and opened his trunk and pulled out a strap.   There was a lot of chin stroking and some conversation that Tony and I could not understand.  They circled the car looking for a place to attach the strap and finally settled on a place just in front of the right front tire. 

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Tony instructed me to sit in the driver’s seat while he leapt out to help the other men.  They all positioned themselves along the strap in tug-of-war style and started to pull while I gunned the motor and the tire hanging over the ditch spun.  The car won the tug of war.  There was more chin stroking and more conversation.  We understood the word "tractor".  One man got in his car and backed away from the scene.  A few minutes later, he backed toward us with his tow hitch prominently displayed.  I got out to take a few photos. 

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One of the men took over as the driver of our car and they started the tug of war between the two cars.  Our car won again.  They backed the other car up some more and retied the strap shorter.  That did the trick!  The little rental car popped out of the ditch no worse for the wear.  I clapped with delight and the men all grinned and wished us a good holiday.  After that experience, we were very careful about keeping the car on the road!

Our mood brightened significantly as we realized that our "pay it forward by loaning pants" deed had brought good luck to us in the form of those helpful men!  It had been raining all morning, but during the car towing episode, it stayed dry and then as soon as we drove away, the rain started up again.  We have "big luck!" 

Not such big luck, mind you that we weren't still considering cutting our trip short though, so I tried to bring up Delta's Travelnet site to check the next day flight availability.  I retrieved the baby laptop from the dash where I had put it during the unfortunate ditch experience.  When I tried to put in the web site address, the "L" key generated a "3".  A reboot didn't help.  Finally we figured out that when Tony slammed on the brakes to avoid the bus, I had grabbed the keyboard, striking the "Num Lk" key, which on the baby laptop changes some of the letters to a numeric pad.  By the time I found and fixed it, we had lost interest in checking the return flights, which was a good thing because we heard radio reports of flights being cancelled due to high winds. 

We found the first house that Tony had planned to look for fairly easily, but it had a "Sale Agreed" sign posted over the "For Sale" Sign.  We kept driving and found a few other houses for sale that we were able to find on the internet.   Most were out of our price range.

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After a couple of stops for Tony’s obligatory Diet Cokes, we started looking for a pub (mainly for a bathroom).  None of the towns were populated enough to have pubs until we got to Kilrush.  We popped into Crotty's pub and gratefully made our way back to the restrooms.  We had a couple of pints of Carlsberg and some potato and carrot soup.  The soup was the consistency of applesauce, but was delicious.   Warmed and refreshed, we started out again.

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We made our way out to Loop Head and found a wonderful house that had beautiful views in all directions, but was more than we wanted to spend.  We drove back along the north coast where the views are spectacular.  This is much prettier than the Cliff's of Moher!  With the wind blowing at more than 120km/hour, the waves were splashing above the 100 foot cliffs.  We later learned that two trawlers had been lost at sea during the high winds.  The whole country was mourning the deaths of the crew.

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We saw what we thought was a sandy beach up ahead, but as we got closer, we realized it was not sand, but foam on the rocks!  It looked like snow on the road and stuck to our windows as it blew off of the water.

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As we drove into Kilkee, I studied the B&B Guide and found two possibilities that were open in January.  We spotted the Bayview right away and hoped they had rooms.  

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The front door opened when we pushed it!  A good sign.  We couldn't find anyone inside, so we followed the sign through the back to Hickie's bar. 

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We ordered a beer (my first Guinness of the trip) and inquired about a room. 

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We were pleased that Room 1 with a view of the bay was available.  There were 2 double beds, but one had visible waves in the mattress, so we used that one for our luggage and had a comfortable night's sleep on the other one. 

The bartender at Hickies advised that there were only 2 places to get food in town.  The little seafood restaurant across the street looked a little too fancy for us, so we went to the Stella Maris Hotel. 

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Tony had the vegetable soup and I had some wonderful seafood chowder.  We split an order of french fries.  We made it an early night since it was our first and went to bed around seven.  I woke up a couple of times during the night and had a little trouble getting back to sleep, but when 7AM came I wasn't ready to get up yet.  We had arranged for breakfast at 8:30, so we finally rolled out of bed around 7:30. 

Our hostess had a "Mrs. Doubtfire" brogue as she guided us to the breakfast table.  As I started for a table in the corner, she instructed, "Oh no, deeeaaarrrr, take this one by the heat."  She went to get me some coffee and Tony ran across the street to get his morning Diet Coke.    

I ordered the full Irish breakfast, while Tony just ordered toast.  When the breakfast came, I divided it with Tony.  We're sort of like Jack Sprat and his wife.  How did that go?   Jack Sprat could eat no bacon; his wife could eat not sausage...?" 

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After Mrs. Doubtfire served breakfast, she said, "I think I'll take a nap. Things don't start up around here until around 1 in January."  And with that, she turned out the lights and left us to finish our breakfast in the dark. 

We started driving north along the coast looking for "For Sale" signs.  There was a picturesque scene with a church tower just below Quilty. 

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Just north of Quilty, our Microsoft map actually had the road we were on!  It appears that the GPS tracking is so accurate that it actually showed us driving on the left side of the road. 

We saw a few houses for sale and noted the web site addresses:

One of the houses, which we later found at a real estate office, was on a "yellow" road just north of Milltown Malbay.   It was an interesting property with two houses, a barn and some outbuildings on it, but unless we can find someone who wants to buy it with us, at $450K, it is out of our price range. 

We kept driving to Lahinch.  When we came into town, we saw one of the properties Tony was looking for right in front of us.  We went nuts!  It was just perfect - right on the water, in a bustling town with 4 windows that overlooked the water.  There was no "For Sale" sign, so we assumed it had been sold.

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We parked in front of it and walked around the town.  We saw a Leyden Realty and stopped in.  We talked to Roger Leyden.  He did not know about Clairville, but he gave us some flyers for some other possibilities.  Tony took a call from work, so while he was dealing with that, I questioned Roger about how difficult it might be for an American to buy property in Ireland.  He said it was very easy, "You have to agree on a price and give a deposit of 5-10,000 Euro that is refundable showing that you are serious about the purchase.  When you sign the contract, you put up 5-10% which is  non-refundable if you do not follow through.  Then you just close the sale."

We stopped for a pint at the CornerStone Pub and looked up the Clairville on the internet. 

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It seemed to still be for sale.  We called the agent, Aine (pronounced Onya), and she hurried over to show us the property.  It was not exactly as we had pictured.  It was the back half of what had at one time been a single property.

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There was a small entry way with a door to the right that led to a den with a solid fuel heater (the only one in the house).  

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Off of the den, was a small kitchen with a dorm sized refrigerator and a sink. 

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Another door off of the den, led to a tiny bedroom, just big enough for a twin bed. 

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Back out to the entryway, we turned right and went past a storage area under the stairs to get to the "big" kitchen.   The big kitchen was barely big enough for a stove, a sink and a washing machine. 

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A door opened to the outside where there was a patio.  Halfway up the stairs, there was a decent sized full bathroom. 

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All of the doorways and ceilings were a bit low, barely tall enough so that we didn't bump our heads. 

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On the top floor was the "master" bedroom, which was "ensuite" with one of the smallest bathrooms either of us had ever seen, rivaling the one in our hotel room in Nice.

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The guest room was fairly large, housing two twin beds with a sitting room adjacent.

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The agent advised that it was a registered building (the equivalent of our national historic register) and could not be altered.  She thought we could probably get planning permission to make some modifications to the interior but not the exterior.

Tony told the agent that he had found the listing on and raved about what a great resource it was.  She said that it costs them 100-150Euro to list a property on that site! 

We sat in the car for a few minutes and discussed the property.  I was more interested in it than Tony was, seeing it as a place where we could come for the next couple of years to enjoy as a vacation home, and then if we still wanted to settle here, we could sell it and buy a quieter place.  I liked the prospect of being close enough to walk to the shops, pubs and restaurants.  Tony was surprised by my enthusiasm.  We made a list of questions to ask and started talking about how to make an offer. 

How much are the utilities?
What kind of water heater does it have?
Did it have a big refrigerator (or space for one)?
What is the parking situation?
How much are the taxes?
How much will insurance cost?
What is a First Time Buyer's Stamp?  Do we qualify?  Do we need one?
How is external building maintenance handled?
What are ownership issues with 1/2 a building? 

We decided think about it some more while we drove to Doolin to see if there were any other properties that interested us. 

We stopped for a bathroom break at the Visitor's Center at the Cliffs of Moher.  The Cliffs of Moher is under construction, by the way.  Well, probably not the cliffs, but certainly the parking lot and visitors center.  It was so windy that Tony had trouble donning his raincoat for the walk from the parking lot.  Having seen them before in prettier weather, we didn't make the walk out to the cliffs.

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There was one "derelict" property that we tried to find, but it appeared to be up an ill-maintained road, and after our ditch experience we weren't interested in taking any chances.  We saw some familiar faces around Doolin.

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We drove out to the pier to see what the seas looked like around the ferry dock. 

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As expected, the ferries weren't running.  We stopped in town for some vegetable soup and a pint of Harp at O'Connor's.  We decided to drive back to Lahinch to spend the night where we could look around and spend more time thinking about the Clairville. 

There was one B&B in the guide that met our requirement (0km from town), but we couldn't find it easily, so we stopped at the Lahinch Golf Lodge  where we had stayed 5 years before with our friend Page on a bike trip. 

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Conor, the proprietor showed us a nice room, but there was a crack between the window and the window frame, so he thought we might be more comfortable in another room.  The next room he showed us had a broken shower head.  Conor said, "Its a bit like Faulty Towers here this time of year."  We were back to the first room.  As we were getting settled, Conor came in with a piece of 2x4 lumber and rammed the window frame, closing the crack. 

We went for a walk while it was still light and were very pleased with the variety of shops and restaurants in town.  Of course, several places were closed because it was off-season.  We stopped into Kenny's and sat by the fire while we surfed the internet looking for comparables in Lahinch.  

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Four "surfer-dudes" saw us surfing the net and came over to show us their pictures on the Magic Seaweed website   In the picture of the surfer-dude below, the surfer is pointing at a picture of a wave taken just offshore at the Cliffs of Moher.

070112 (44) SNN Lahench Surfers.JPG (62444 bytes) 

We had a good toast (tomato, ham, cheese & onion on toasted bread) with french fries at the Atlantic Hotel and then went back to our B&B. 

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We went to the lounge where we met some Australians and watched the local* soap opera, "Coronation Street".  The Aussies went to bed and left us with the TV.  We watched a bit more and then Conor came in to see if we needed anything.  We asked him about the Clairville.  He said that it had been for sale for a couple of years and "it's only half a house".  He also said that it is near a disco and would be very loud.   We started reconsidering our interest.  We went to bed to sleep on it. 

We slept from 10PM to 9AM!  The wind blew loudly all night long!  Breakfast was "fix-it-yourself" so we took our time getting ready, and then had cereal and toast. We drove up Station Road, looking for another property that we had found that "cannot be used as an investment property or holiday home."  We weren't sure what that meant and we never found the actual property that was supposed to be located at 27 Station Road, but we got far enough away from the water that we knew we weren't interested. 

We decided to drive back toward the south, and continue to look in that direction.  We stopped at Spanish Point when we saw some surfers getting ready to go out.  We tried to take some pictures from the window of the car, but rain was blowing in, so we were only able to snap a couple.  These people are nuts - going out in the cold choppy surf!

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We took some notes on a couple of properties before making a stop at Cooney's Quilty Tavern.

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As we left the tavern, we followed the directions from to see a house Tony had picked out.  "As you leave Quilty and go towards Kilrush keep on the main road for approximately 3 miles going over Annageeragh bridge and going past O'Looneys pub. Take the 3rd cross on the left after the pub. The house is first house on the left. We missed the turn since it is not always clear what is a road and what is a driveway.  We found some friends of Truett Cathy along the way.

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  We finally found the house, and if you really squinted, you could barely make out the ocean in the distance on a clear day. 

We saw another house along the way for sale by an auctioneer, Mossy Horgan.  We stopped to write down the phone number just as a couple of men were pulling into the driveway. 

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Tony got out to talk to them.  One of them turned out to be the builder.  The house was in our price range (195K) and he offered to let us see it.  It had a distant view of the ocean and surrounding golf courses.  It was a bit chopped up, with a large den, full bathroom, small kitchen and 2 small bedrooms downstairs (one with a small shower room).

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Upstairs was 2 bedrooms under the eaves with a slanted ceiling and a full bathroom. 

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As we left, I directed Tony to take a "gray" road on the map.  Green and orange roads are major highways; yellow roads are usually paved, sometimes with grass growing down the middle.  Gray roads apparently are not meant for cars, only tractors or monster trucks.  The road went right through a pasture and was covered in mud puddles!   They were so deep at places that I am sure the water was above the doors of the car.  There was NO place to turn around.  Tony was NOT happy.   We slipped and slid our way down the road for about a mile and a half, just sure that we were going to have to trudge through the mud on foot at any moment looking for someone to help tow our car again.  We were both wishing we had gone to the bathroom before we started this bumpy adventure.

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When we finally got back to a yellow road, we found the house of Tony's dreams.  It was not finished yet, but it had a fabulous view of the ocean in two directions.  While we were sitting in the driveway admiring it, a man drove up.   We asked him if he knew how much it was selling for.  He said he was just the "bathroom guy" but he could give us the phone number of the builder.

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It was getting late and we were ready to stop for the day, so we headed back to Kilkee and the Bayview where we had stayed two nights before.  When we parked the rental car, we noticed that it was missing a hub cap and possibly some piece of trim from over the back window.   We're not sure if those pieces were on it when we rented it or not, but we're pretty sure the mud was our addition.  It was filthy!

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Mrs. Doubtfire said that Room 1 was taken but she could put us in Room 3.  We liked Room 3 at least as well as Room 1.  It only had one double bed in it, but it had two windows overlooking the bay. 

The temperature had dropped significantly so we put on more layers and set out to explore the town.  After walking around a bit, we decided to stop into Joe's for a Guinness.  

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We called the phone number for the dream house and found out that it was out of our price range.  We decided to drown our sorrows in some tomato basil soup at the Stella Maris hotel. 

When we got back to the room, it was bitterly cold.  I felt of the furnace and the bottom left felt warm, as if it had recently gone off or was about to come on.  We burrowed down under the covers and huddled together for warmth, pretending we were in a snow cave.   It never got any warmer.  I kept my socks on to avoid having to step barefooted on the cold hardwood floor when I went to the bathroom.  I dreamed that Mrs. Doubtfire came in and built a fire for us during the night.  At 8, Tony nudged me and said I should get up to take my shower.  It took about 15 minutes to coax me out of bed.  The shower was nice and warm so I took a long one.  When I came out, the corner of the furnace was starting to warm up a bit so I stood near it to get dressed, but it never really put out much heat. 

At breakfast, Mrs. Doubtfire seemed hurt when we told her we had been a bit cold during the night.  I mentioned that I didn't know how to turn on the heat and she said it was on most of the night.  She said it only heated the bottom part.  I went back up to the room and felt of the bottom part of the heater and it was warm, but no heat had reached the top (or the rest of the room).

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I made a couple of notes of things to add to my packing list.  Most of the places where we have stayed in Ireland don't seem to realize the need for a mirror near the hair dryer, so they place the hair dryer in obscure places, like behind the TV. 

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I have decided to start bringing a larger travel mirror for these cases, or, for those places that do not supply a hair dryer, I'll pack an extension cord so my travel hair dryer will reach the mirror from the (usually only) outlet in the room.  I also want to add binoculars (for watching the surfers) and a thermometer so I can tell whether we are really sleeping in arctic conditions or if it is just my imagination. 

We met a nice couple from Wales at breakfast who were just here for the weekend.  The wife thought she wanted to live in Ireland, so the husband thought they should come in January to see what it is like before they moved here. 

As we left Kilkee, we started out going the wrong way up a one way street until a man gestured to us.  We turned around and got headed the right way.  We took the coast road back toward Loophead.   We took more pictures of the beautiful views along the coast.

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We stopped at a parking lot and walked out onto one of the rocky outcroppings.  We were afraid to get too close to the edge because it was so windy.

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When we got back to our rental car, it had deteriorated!

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Seriously, we wondered what had happened to the occupants of these two cars.  We hoped they had not met their demise on these cliffs!

We stopped at a small development in Cross, but the view was not what we were hoping for.  We went on to Carrigaholt and stopped at Morrissey's Village Pub.  Tony:  "I'll have a Harp."  Bartender: "We don't have any Harp.BJ:  "I'll have a Smithwicks.  Bartender:  "We don't have any Smithwicks.  All we have is Budweiser."  BJ and Tony:  "We'll have 2 Budweisers."  Bartender:  "We just ran out of Budweiser.  All we have is cans.BJ and Tony:  "We'll have 2 cans of Heineken."  We played a couple of hands of Casino before starting out again. 

We found a little yellow house just inside Doonaha that we had seen on a previous trip.  It had an acceptable view of the Shannon River.

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Further along that road, we found a house near Querrin that we liked even better.

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One other house captured our interest along the same road.  It was not a new construction, but it had a nice view and a garage.

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We decided to take the most direct route from Querrin to Newmarket on Fergus near the airport to see how long it would take.  We stopped to write down the phone number for these new construction homes we saw along the way.

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We made a stop for gas and a stop for a diet coke and were in Ennis in an hour and Newmarket on Fergus in an hour and a half.  An acceptable commute.   The blue line on the map below represents our route for this trip.  If you look closely, you can see the pushpins where we marked houses we were interested in.

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We took a room at the Hunter's Lodge where we had stayed before and strolled across the street to O'Neill's "The Best Little Pub in Ireland".  We were once again treated to an "Irish Flag" and conversation with the three daughters of Anna, the owner.  Anna had gone for dinner so we didn't get to see her.

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We walked down to the grocery store to get some Irish Soda Bread.  We're not sure if we'll be allowed to carry it back into the country with us, but we figure it is worth a try.  We had soup and chips (french fries) at the Hunter's pub and then retired to our room for the night.

We had a nice flight home with a wonderful flight crew.

We made it home with the bread!  Its in the freezer.  Tony is going to try to recreate the Irish Vegetable soup one of these cold winter nights to go with it.  Now that we've picked out a few houses we might be interested in, Tony has to decide if he is really serious about this venture!

*Update:  After publishing this write-up, we got an email from our new Irish pen-pal, Karen who tells us that "Coronation Street" is actually an English soap, set in Manchester.  She says, "If you want a real Irish soap though, next time you're here, check out "Ros Na Run" on TG4 (the Irish language channel)  It's set in Spiddal, about 10 miles from Galway, and for a small village, a lot goes on there!  It's in Irish, but with english sub-titles.  I don't know what part of the States you're in, but believe it or not "Ros Na Run" is now available in Philadelphia."

**Another Update:   We got our bill from T-Mobile!  We won't be surfing the internet in Ireland with our T-Mobile card again except in extreme emergencies.  Our bill for this trip was $450!!!  Live and learn!

BJ and Tony