by Judy Enright Special to the BIR One of many things I love about Ireland is that each time you visit, you are likely to be surprised by something that you haven’t before seen or experienced. Each season and location brings its own set of special delights and events. LOUGH INAGH This fall, I visited Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel (loughinaghlodgehotel.ie) in Connemara – my favorite small hotel and a convenient jumping off spot for photographic forays into the stunningly beautiful surrounding area. The hotel has 13 double bedrooms, is comfortable and welcoming, and the food is delicious. The first time I stopped there this fall, it was the last fishing weekend of the season and the hotel was jammed with men and women decked head-to-toe in waterproof gear who braved the rainy, chilly weather to join their ghillies in search of the biggest and best fish. The renowned Lough Inagh fishery includes Inagh and Derryclare loughs and a river at the top of the Ballynahinch system and is an immensely popular fishing spot. After the fishermen left, a group of hardy New Englanders – from Newton, Westport, and Dartmouth, MA, as well as several from Rhode Island – spent several nights at Lough Inagh. They were members of a VBT (Vermont Bicycle Tours) 10-day ride through the Burren, Aran Islands, and, ultimately, Connemara with a final overnight in Dublin. The ride is characterized as “easy to moderate” and the members appeared to be enjoying themselves tremendously in spite of the weather. Pat Sheehan, from Newton, said, “Everything here is so beautiful. It’s just beautiful scenery and there’s beauty at every turn in the road.” Jack Brady, from Lincoln, R.I., added that the sights they’d seen in the Burren and Aran Islands, “were not what I expected of Ireland from looking at travel brochures. We often stopped to talk to the local people and they were so friendly.” In the evening, the group and other guests were entertained musically by two talented Joyce brothers – John, 16, and Brendan, 14 – and their mother, Una, from Recess. The boys played instruments and danced and Una sang several emotional Irish ballads. VBT’s two guides joined in the fun too – Brian sang a song or two and Josey joined Una in spirited Irish dancing. For more information on VBT’s extensive list of varied walking and biking tours in Ireland and elsewhere, visit vbt.com. The company is headquartered in Bristol, VT. BALLYHAUNIS AND WESTPORT Isn’t it interesting to note that Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo, was recently named Ireland’s “most cosmopolitan town?” Hard to believe that Dublin, Cork City, or Galway didn’t top that list! Figures released by the Central Statistics Office show that Ballyhaunis has the highest percentage of non-Irish nationals living there – 42 percent of the population. The town boasts the only mosque in Co. Mayo and there are many Muslims who have lived in Ballyhaunis for decades, initially drawn by the Halal meat-processing plant that opened there about 30 years ago. Down the road apiece, Retail Excellence Ireland (REI) recently cited Westport, Co. Mayo, as the top place to live and shop. After the results of 16,000 surveys were tallied, Westport was named the best out of “100 Best Towns and Cities in Ireland.” Killarney, Co. Kerry, was second. Other towns in the top 10 included Listowel, Co. Kerry; Clonakilty, Co. Cork; Dungarvan, Co. Waterford; Ashbourne, Co. Meath, and Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan. And, that wasn’t Westport’s only honor recently. The town recently won The Irish Times newspaper’s designation as the best place to live in Ireland. If you haven’t been to Westport, it’s well worth a visit for interesting shops and restaurants and just for a walk around the beautifully designed and laid-out town. The Georgian style community was designed in the 18th century by James Wyatt and is very well maintained and decorated with colorful summer and fall blooming flowers along the quay and around the Octagon on James Street. Streets and sidewalks are clean and there’s ample parking in several pay-to-park lots behind the Bridge and James streets and sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can even find a place on the street, But those spots require more parallel parking skills than I possess, so I head for the parking lots. TIDBITS The Irish Times reports that the price of potatoes, long an Irish staple, rose 177 percent between August 2011 and last August. The newspaper said this year’s wet weather during the growing season resulted in a high incidence of blight because farmers couldn’t spray when it was so wet. Consequently, potato yields were adversely affected and the price rose 177 percent. Meanwhile, egg prices rose more than 11 percent and cereal rose by 30 percent while milk prices decreased by 13.6 percent. Another item of interest – this reported in The Mayo News – was the appearance of a male Belted Kingfisher – native to North America - in the six-acre Victorian walled garden at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara. The sighting attracted scores of birdwatchers because the Belted Kingfisher was last seen in Ireland almost 30 years ago. This recent arrival was credited to the Gulf Stream, which probably caught the bird in strong wind currents as it tried to migrate south, and carried it to Ireland. The magnificently restored gardens at Kylemore continue to attract unusual natural phenomena, the newspaper said. Englishman Mitchell Henry built Kylemore and the walled gardens as a gift for his wife in 1867. The property passed through a series of owners after Henry until finally being bought in 1920 by a community of Benedictine nuns from Ypres, Belgium, who operated a girls’ school there until 2010. CASTLEBAR SHOWS If you will be in the West and are a fan of Jedward (John and Edward Grimes, the singing 21-year-old blond twins) you will want to know that they have planned a show at the Royal Theatre in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, on Fri., Nov. 2. On Thurs., Nov. 15, Dublin folksinger Damien Dempsey will present his “Almighty Love” show there. Ireland’s national ballet company, Ballet Ireland, will present “The Nutcracker” at the Royal on Dec. 11. For details on these and other shows, contact RoyalTheatre.ie. MORE FUN THINGS TO DO The 57th Corona Cork Film Festival runs from Nov. 11-18. See corkfilmfest.org for more. In Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, from Oct. 30-Nov. 4, Irish cultural heritage will be showcased through a program that includes sessions, concerts, seminars, workshops, lectures, and visual arts. Top sean-nós singers, local and visitors, young and old, will hone their musical skills to compete in sean-nós singing, sean-nós dancing, violin, uilleann pipes, harp, duets and much more. For details, see antoireachtas.ie The Ardee Baroque Festival is scheduled for Ardee, Co. Louth, from Nov. 16-18. This baroque festival prides itself on quality music, evocative venues, and a friendly and festive atmosphere. It features a diverse range of performers. For more information, visit createlouth.ie TRAVEL Be sure to check Tourism Ireland’s informative website -discoverireland.com - for special events and activities taking place in Ireland when you visit. And, check out Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) and other airlines for flight deals in this shoulder season.