"It's a day for the high stool," laughs the old man in the corner, supping his creamy pint. And we raise our glasses in defiance of the rain lashing at the window. Right now there's no better place to be in the West of Ireland at eleven in the morning than John Lang's pub, with a side of ham on one counter, pumps on the other and its sagging shelves filled with faded tins of Batchelor peas. Another hot port please.

It's certainly better here than my once-favourite country pub back home in England. The last time we passed through there, new baby in tow, we had to take our drinks into the car park. This place may look dated, but today it is offering excellent creche facilities. Helen is serving behind the bar and, though we've only just met, she wonders would we like to put our child down to sleep alongside her own baby around the back. "I'll keep an eye on her, no problem," she says, topping up another pint.

But the moment passes since both children soon waken and are eyeing each other up on top of the bar. At which point a grandmother emerges from the back. We begin to realise what a marvellous set-up Helen enjoys. Her husband's parents own this pub. And only a short stumble away stands the alternative establishment, run by her own family. "I have no lack of grandparents to help me out," she says. "All I have to do is cross the road."

Which brings me back to why, mid-winter, we have travelled so far to visit what must be the wettest county in Europe. It isn't just for great pubs. We've come in search of grandparents or, more accurately, my own parents. For years it hasn't bothered me that they live hundreds of miles away. Indeed a little space between us has sometimes seemed a blessing. But since the arrival of our child, a week rarely goes by when I don't wish they lived nearby.

Your own parents are first choice when you need someone else to look after your baby. They feel so safe. So their closeness can determine whether you manage to have time alone with your partner, time that is a balm for busy lives. And when you tire of the constancy of parenting, they are usually the only ones who can allow you a chance to regress, however briefly, and taste your own childhood again, free of responsibilities. That's why, sitting in John Lang's on a grey day in Sligo, we drink to grandparents.