"I carry the sun in a golden cup, the moon in a silver bag."

--Irish poet W.B. Yeats

Breda met me in front of the butcher shop and led my car down a road so narrow a moonbeam would need daylight to find it.

Then we arrived at Thomas Lynch's whitewashed ancestral cottage.

It had stone floors. It had horses out back. It had branches scattered in the courtyard because of a recent fitful storm. February clouds marched across the pale sky.

"It's nice in the summer, oh, it's nice," she said, standing in the cold 200-year-old kitchen.

I nodded at the caretaker. I could see that it already was.

This place, a muse for Milford poet, essayist and funeral director Lynch since 1970, has made him a lifelong fan of County Clare in this magical part of western Ireland called the Shannon region. He inherited the cottage in 1992 from an aunt.

"To have a little house smack dab on the peninsula between the Atlantic and the Shannon estuary has never lost its romance for me," says Lynch, who visits two or three times a year. "The idea that I can look out the window the same as my great-grandfather did and see the same landscape ... there are maybe a few more lights, but it's the same."

Luckily for Americans, getting to the Shannon area has never been easier.

In February, Aer Lingus began flying every day from Boston and New York JFK to Shannon International Airport. Shannon is only a 5 1/2-hour flight from Boston. It is just minutes from western Ireland's castles and scenery in County Clare and County Limerick that tourists drive hours and hours from Dublin to see.

Most breathtaking is the Cliffs of Moher, Ireland's biggest natural tourist attraction.

The coastal towns of Doolin and Kilkee, the golfing mecca of Lahinch and the Burren town of Lisdoonvarna all are easily drivable. Bunratty Castle Folk Park with its 15th-Century castle is just 10 minutes from the airport.

I also made a side trip to nearby Limerick to see the newly renovated visitor experience exhibit at King John's Castle.

In deep February, getting to Ireland was cheap. The Aer Lingus ticket from Boston to Shannon was just $495 round-trip.

I stayed at the famous Old Ground Hotel in the market town of Ennis for $120 a night. I stayed at the pretty Bunratty Castle Hotel for $100. Crowds were few. I was one of only about 20 visitors at the Cliffs of Moher.

The mid-February temperature? About 50 degrees, windy and mostly sunny.

Best of all, Ireland's notoriously treacherous driving was easy. I saw few other cars, which was probably lucky for the other drivers.

High tourist season in Ireland is now through the end of August. But go a few weeks before or after, and you can see what the place is like when it's not putting on a show.