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New M4 Motorway makes for easy travel across Ireland

By Ed Forry, October 2, 2012

By Ed Forry
A September trip to Ireland brought with it good weather, some surprising motoring, and some great new memories from my ancestral homeland.
The good news for this visitor is how the exchange rate is advantageous against the dollar; in late September, a euro cost $1.30, not a bad rate compared to a year ago. Also, Irish hotels and restaurants are offering attractive low rates and package deals, helping the American tourist to stretch the travel budget.

Our trip took us to Dublin, Sligo, and Galway, and the weather – mirabile dictu – was mild and largely dry, In eight days of cross-country travel, we encountered very little rain, and after the hot steamy Boston summer, the mild mid-60’s Irish climate felt just right.
In Dublin the Fitz William Hotel was a convenient central location. Despite crowds in town for the Galway/Kilkenny hurling match, and a weekend gathering of some 25 Ukranian revelers, who filled the breakfast room with a bit of a clamor, the location was just right for a mid-day stroll across the sunny St. Stephens Green, and a walk down Grafton Street to see the Molly Malone statue across from Trinity College.
A one-day hop-on/hop-off sight-seeing tour offered a taste of Dublin, the only disappointment being an overpriced stop at the Guinness brewery.
In driving cross-country in a rental car to Sligo, we found that the new M4 motorway made our 100-mile Saturday afternoon excursion an easy trip. A sparkling Tesco service station and café in Enfield was a good rest stop, and the ride to Sligo took less than three hours. We settled in the Cromleach Lodge just off the N4 in Castlebaldwin, a spectacular resort on a hill overlooking Lough Arrow not far from Sligo town. It is easy to recommend Cromleach, with some of the best vistas of the Sligo hills and a fabulous menu of native meals and baked goods.
After two days we were on the road, with lunch in Westport (Ireland’s “best place to live,” according to the town leaders) and a meandering ride through Leenane and Maam to Galway. There, we stayed at the House Hotel, a 40-room “boutique” hotel just off Quay Square and the Spanish Arch.
A good example of great restaurant bargains: The Vina Mara (Spanish for vineyard and the sea) on Middle Street offers all entrees on Monday and Tuesday nights for just 10 euro. The food was terrific and the price was more than reasonable. One of our party said the complimentary sautéed potato wedges were the best she had every tasted.
Vina Mara proprietor Eileen Feeney said that she and her husband Jarlath opened the business ten years ago, conceiving it as a Spanish wine bar. “We spent our holidays with children in Spai