The charm of Galway, beyond the town itself, is that it provides a gateway for almost any kind of holiday experience you are after. The glorious Aran Islands are just a short boat trip away, and there is fishing aplenty, lush green golf courses and the vast tracts of Connemara just around the corner. Add beautiful beaches, great food and a goodly supply of holiday accommodation and there lies the basis of a truly great family break.
A visit en route back to Knock via Ashford Castle is practically obligatory and might be construed as a pilgrimage of a somewhat different meaning. For here stepped (and sometimes even slept) the great and the good from JFK to Ronald Reagan, Russell Crowe, Brad Pitt, Madonna, Barbara Streisand, and home-grown Pierce Brosnan as well as a succession of Irish Prime Ministers mostly united by rumours of their variegated corruptions in office. A flawed list at best, but what a glorious building! With the oldest parts dating back to the 13th century, and with constant streams of well-heeled guests (well you have to be or you wouldn’t be there) it has to be the most perfect marrying venue in the whole of Ireland, and with a Michelin-starred chef to boot. Couldn’t we just grab a bite of lunch in the cavernous dining room, our faces seemed to say? The silent answer rolled back towards us; too early, too expensive, too time-consuming to eat and to catch our baby flight home.
Talking of which, bmibaby is really the one to thank here. For about £25 for an advance single, touching down at Knock has to be one of the great bargains of the year. How intelligent to piggyback a low-cost operation out of the mainstay of the business, a scheduled airline now with a great international reputation. This is surely the future for those airlines that are canny enough to recognise what the great unwashed really want and beyond that, to actually give it to them. And they fly from Birmingham to Faro as well; I booked a Ryanair Faro flight recently and after they had rescheduled twice from 4pm to 10pm, I gave up in disgust and demanded my money back, and got it! Hats off to the dynamic (and one might also add charismatic) chairman of bmibaby, Julian Carr, and his ambitious plans for future expansions which include additional destinations to Munich and Cologne. So bmibaby is eight-years-old and fattening up fast. What next we wonder, when she (he?) has grown up a little? Toby the Teenager, Andy the Adolescent or maybe Veronica the Virgin (hang on, I do believe someone else has thought of that one)?
One final word of warning. Fall in love with Ireland, and even the Irish themselves, en masse, by all means. But do not let your attention rest too long on any individual, be it girl or boy. For if you do, there will come that time when you will end up with Del boy, under the bar, I can practically guarantee you that!