Hassell's Great Adventure in Ireland
Armagh, Bushmills, and the Antrim Coast
Saturday, June 6th
We were a little anxious about the whole car ferry process (notwithstanding our 5-minute maiden voyage in Windermere), so we hit the road fairly early and arrived at the Stena Line dock in Holyhead well before our 2pm ferry. Prior to boarding, we browsed through the duty-free shop. Stena Line’s high-speed car ferry service is incredibly well run. It took about 25 minutes to load hundreds of cars onto the ferry, and exactly 99 minutes to get to Dun Laoghaire in Ireland. On the boat, there are several restaurants (one had a live band), a duty-free shop, a casino, two bars, and comfortable seats for people who wanted to catch a nap. The crossing was smooth and uneventful.
Once in Dun Laoghaire, we drove north across the border and passed through Newry.
We had trouble reading the road signs after crossing the border because nearly all of them had been plastered with "Vote NO – it’s the right thing to do!" bumperstickers, the work of the loyalists in preparation for the peace referendum vote.
Since the referendum was passed last week, border security has been reduced to a single armed soldier watching the cars go by. I didn’t see anyone stopped. Since my grandfather hailed from Armagh, I wanted to check it out, so we went west to the oldest city in Ireland, Armagh City.
The weather finally turned sunny as we rode into Armagh. We found accomodation at the Charlemont Arms Hotel in the middle of town, and enjoyed some good craic ("talk" in Irish) and several Irish whiskies with the locals in the hotel’s pub. However, I noticed a certain stoicism about these folks. Not surprising since much of the violence in Northern Ireland has taken place in and around Armagh. Armored personnel carriers and grim-faced soldiers with automatic weapons were in evidence, and parts of the town were blocked by "peace lines" separating the Catholic and Protestant areas.
Sunday, June 7th
I’d never seen so many people with red hair in one place before. I felt at home in the cool, humid environment, being around so many people like me – pale and freckled.
It rained today, of course - how else would Ireland stay so green? –so we started off with a very nice Irish breakfast complete with porridge, in the hotel’s restaurant. We were planning on visiting St. Patrick’s Trian Visitor Complex and Armagh Ancestry, but everything was closed, it being a Sunday. Since Armagh is the religious capital of Ireland, we grabbed our camera and got photos of both of the St. Patrick’s Cathedrals – the majestic, four-spired Roman Catholic edifice, and the more unassuming Church of Ireland (Protestant).
We then made a pilgrimage to Navan Fort ("Emain Machca")– a system of earthworks, settlement sites, and sacred places where traces of man dating back to 5500BC have been discovered. It looks like a large mound covered with grass from the outside, and is thought to have been a vast ceremonial center for the surrounding area in the centuries before Christ. It was known as the ancient capital of Ulster. The Navan Visitor Centre offered an informative and entertaining three-part exhibition that told the story of Navan Fort, and was worth every penny. There are a couple famous stories about how the name of Emain Macha came about, and they’re both associated with the Celtic war-goddess, Macha, who not only gave her name to Emain, but also to Armagh ("Ard Macha"). Navan Fort is an example of the strong association between mounds and the Otherworld that has long existed in Irish tradition.
Oddly, sometime in the 1st century BC, the people set the whole thing on fire and then piled several meters of earth and sod on top of it. This formed the large mound seen today. Go figure.
We left Navan Fort, and made our second pilgrimage of the day, driving north to Bushmills at the tip of Northern Ireland. We had reservations at the Bushmills Inn, and so proceeded directly to the Old Bushmills Distillery. The hour-long tour of the distillery was pleasant, and Bill particularly, was overjoyed when they asked for volunteers to do some tasting. He ended up being the proud owner of an official Irish Whiskey Taster Certificate.
Dinner at the Bushmills Inn was delicious – we had the fixed price 3-course meal in the restaurant. We weren’t sorry that we’d ordered the luscious onion soup and lightly sauteed prawns over oriental noodles as appetizers. Our entrees were gaelic steak (filet mignon in a brandy-pepper sauce), and roasted guinea fowl with a gratin of cheeses, Irish bacon and cabbage, which we thoroughly enjoyed. We got two kinds of potatoes with the entrees (boiled new potatoes, and potatoes in a red sauce), along with small ears of corn and buttered carrots. Dessert was very good. Bill got a selection of Irish cheeses (sharp Cheddar, a local Ballymoney blue cheese, and Brie), accompanied by small sections of apples, celery sticks and crackers. I succumbed to a blueberry pudding with my current addiction - warm custard sauce. Topped it all off with an Irish coffee. Mmmm.
On our waddle back to the room, we located the library, and found the secret room. We got a couple books, and wandered back to the rough-hewn timbered ambience of our room. The Bushmills Inn brochures say "it’s one of those places where you hope it rains all day so you have an excuse to snuggle indoors", and we were convinced…
Monday, June 8th
…particularly when we woke up this morning to a drizzle of soft, insistent rain on our window. We checked out of Bushmills after breakfast, and took the A2 East along the Antrim Coast. We drove through the Antrim Glens (supposedly on a clear day, you could see all the way across the North Channel to Scotland), but the rain prevented us from seeing the Glens in their best light. We stopped for a car-picnic on one of the craggy cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea, and soaked up the dramatic, wind-swept views.
We’d planned on checking out the Giants Causeway and the Carrick-a-rede Rope Bridge, but decided against it. We had lunch in Cushendun or Carnlough, and continued on to Belfast, a total of about 90 miles. We checked into Jurys Inn in downtown Belfast.
Unfortunately, I’d again managed to contract a nasty infection, and so the rest of the day was spent dealing with doctors and pharmacies, listening to the sound of the lone helicopter hovering over the Catholic neighborhoods.
Belfast and Newgrange
Tuesday, June 9th
We explored a bit of Belfast today, but stayed away from the Falls Road-Shankill area where the "Peace Line" between the Protestant and Catholic areas of the city is. Probably the most popular "sight" in Belfast is the magnificent City Hall building. We did a little shopping, and then hit the road, driving southwest to Armagh on our way to Dublin, hoping to visit St. Patrick’s Trian and Armagh Ancestry. On the way, it rained off and on, and we stopped for a pint at Corrigan’s Lounge, about halfway to Armagh. (Actually, it was closed, but after we’d knocked on the door and went ‘round the corner, Corrigan himself came after us, inviting us in.) It was all of 30 seconds before the locals started coming in. Corrigan was the prototypical talkative, rough-hewn Irishman, with a day’s stubble and heavy smile lines deeply etched into his reddish face. He used to be a border guard for the police, but he said the stress of the Troubles took its toll on both him and his family, so he decided to retire. Once in Armagh, we found Armagh Ancestry open. I got plenty of souvenirs for the family, including a surname search on the origin of the name Murphy. I also found out that tracing my ancestry through my grandfather, Patrick Murphy, would be costly with what little information I had, since the Murphys had been really prolific, and there were many men named Patrick. Kind of like John Smith or something…
Just past Drogheda, we passed the River Boyne and took the turn-off to Newgrange, an incredible passage tomb that's one of the most impressive prehistoric monuments in Europe.
Built in 3500 BC, Newgrange predates Stonehenge by about 1000 years, and the Egyptian pyramids by more than 1000 years. It took over 70 years to build, using only stone and bone tools to fashion the 328 feet diameter of this pre-Celtic cathedral. Not a dollop of mortar holds the 200 thousand tons of stone together. This fact was not lost on us as we squeezed through the cramped, claustrophobic tunnel running from the northeast 62 feet into the center of the chamber.
Passage tombs are thought to be ancient cemeteries, and Newgrange is where the Ancient Kings of Ireland are thought to be buried. Like most passage tombs, Newgrange consists of a round mound or cairn with a long stone lined passage leading from the outside to a chamber within. Situated on a hilltop, the mound is enclosed by a circle of twelve standing stones.
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Newgrange does not have to do with geology, but rather astronomy. During the five dawns surrounding the winter solstice, the " roof box" (located just above the horizontal stone above the entrance) catches the sunrise and draws a shaft of light into the entire length of the entrance. Shooting through the entrance at dawn, the beam of light bounces off a smoothly polished stone at the back of the tunnel and floods the chamber.
The entrance to Newgrange is dominated by the curbstone - a massive stone with three spirals carved in it. It is not only one of the most remarkable stones in the Newgrange complex, but in the whole of megalithic art. Each carved motif is said to have a meaning of its own and the triple spiral is no exception. There are several theories about its meaning. One story has it that the High King Cormac MacAirt who reigned in nearby Tara, did not want to be buried in such an "idolatrous place". So when his subjects tried to take his body from Tara to Newgrange for burial, the River Boyne supposedly "swelled up thrice" to prevent the body from crossing, hence the triple spiral. (Cormac was buried at Ros-na Righ on the opposite side of the river from Newgrange.) Another theory is that the triple spiral represents the great god Aengus protecting the fabled lovers Dian-nud and Grainne. The Bruna Boinne, as the Newgrange complex is known, has also been called the House of Aengus. Yet a third theory has it that the triple spiral represents the Triads of ancient Ireland. These Triads were cultural observations on life and many have come down to modern times, such as: "Three things that cannot be acquired; voice, generosity and poetry" or "Three most beautiful things to see; a garden covered in blossoms, a full rigged ship and a woman with child."
On our way back from the cairn, it began to sprinkle. The entire group of visitors stopped on the bridge over the River Boyne to watch a farmer and his dog herd cattle into the barn. The farmer started off by calling the cows in, and the dog made a beeline for the ones who dawdled, circling each one in turn, yapping continuously. The laggards bellowed, but got immediately to their feet and headed for the barn, proving once again that actions speak louder than words (moos?).
This idyllic area was the setting for the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, in which the Catholic forces of James II fought the armies of William of Orange and lost. The oppression of Catholics ensued, along with the yearly July 12th Protestant parades through Catholic neighborhoods.
Dublin and Galway
Tuesday, June 9th
We rolled into Dublin around 7pm, and went to Jurys Christchurch Inn, downtown, hoping to get a room. No such luck – they were booked up. So we ordered a pint and sat down in the crowded foyer area, where some sort of party seemed ready to begin, with a dozen women gathered around. Then the fun began. It’d been a long day, but we couldn’t help but laugh as the bride-to-be, unwrapped her rather suggestive presents, as the elderly gentleman in their midst (How did he get there?) continued to read his paper calmly, ignoring the delighted shrieks. The coup d’grace was a huge inflatable "willy" that sent everyone into peals of laughter as the bride-to-be waved it around. The women gathered up all the gifts and left the area with the elderly gentlemen still reading his paper.
After calling around, we found an expensive room at the Trinity Arch Hotel in downtown Dublin, so we drove over and checked in. We should’ve made reservations ahead of time in Dublin, as it’s a big city, with half of the nation’s population living there, not to mention us tourists. It was a typical overpriced tiny room. We waited in line at a local seafood restaurant, and met up with a couple from Indiana who had a nephew that worked at the same company BIll and I work for. Small world.
Wednesday, June 10th
We decided that this would be a fine day for A) shopping and B) drinking. Luckily, opportunities for both were abundant in Dublin. We headed to Grafton Street, Dublin's shopping mecca. I noticed that there was quite a bit of 9 carat gold jewelry for sale that isn't available in the US, so when I found a contemporary Claddagh ring with a green agate that appealed to me, I snagged it. It was, of course, raining off and on (mostly on), so we ducked into a second-floor botique called "The Decent Cigar". It was a nice, cozy shop, filled with premium cigars and accessories, and we enjoyed some wine and cheese with the proprietors, after purchasing a few good stogies. When the rain let up, we walked down to St. Stephens Green, a beautiful park that was donated to the City of Dublin by the Guinness Corporation. It was beautiful with its lakes, fountains , and monuments to various Irish patriots. Uncrowded and peaceful, it was an oasis in the middle of the city.
Next, we hit Merrian Square, which boasts the " doors of Dublin" rowhouses, each with a colorfully painted door surrounded by intricate glasswork. Each was unique and typical of Georgian architecture.
In the late afternoon, we found the "Howl at the Moon" pub, and stopped in for a pint. The first game of the World Cup was scheduled to start at 5pm and around 4:30, office workers began pouring in, sporting suits and ties. The first game of the World Cup would be Scotland and Brazil, with Brazil favored, but with no support for the Brazilians was forthcoming from this crowd. Brazil won 2-1, and Bill lost a bet to a local, while thoroughly enjoying several pints of the "freshest Guinness in the world". I partook of my first real Black Russian since I'd left the States. (For all you Black Russian fans out there, you should know that the American and the British/Irish versions of that cocktail are very different. The two versions share a couple ingredients (vodka and Kahlua), but the Irish version usually substituted Tia Maria for the Kahlua, while adding Guinness and Coca-Cola.)
We cabbed it back near the hotel, and ate an early dinner at the only Mongolian Barbecue in Ireland. The food was very tasty, and the hour early enough (6pm) to avoid the 8-9pm stampede.
Thursday, June 11th
First on the agenda today was Trinity College , so we walked there, took some pictures, and toured the Library. The Library included the Long Room which contained the Book of Kells and the Book of Armagh (also known as "St. Patrick's Confession").
From there, we took a long walk to the Guinness Hopstore at St. James Gate, strolling along the River Liffey, stopping for tea and sandwiches at a pub along the way. Unfortunately, tours of the brewery are no longer offered since it's all computerized now, and there's nothing to see. So we took the short tour of the Hopstore facilities, and enjoyed a couple free pints of "mother's milk" in the bar, after stocking up on souvenirs in the Hopstore.
Leaving, we took a cab to Cleary's, the largest department store in Ireland. (Cabs are fairly inexpensive in Dublin.) Actually, Bill took up residence in a nearby pub while I shopped for crystal and porcelain.
Soon it was cocktail hour, so we headed over to the Clarence Hotel, which is owned by a consortium of investors, including Bono and the Edge of the Irish band, U2. The Clarence offers a cool, casual, art deco ambience that is especially evident in the Octagon Bar, where we whiled away the better part of the evening. Luck was with us, and we managed to get a table at 9pm in the hotel's restaurant called the Tea Room. Dinner was wonderful. I had the duck confit with kale and au gratin potatoes, with a delectable demi-glaze, and Bill had roasted scallops, which he declared to be the best he'd ever had. Bill enjoyed a new Irish whiskey called Midleton for dessert, and I had coffee. The waiter came by to offer a selection from the restaurant's well-stocked humidor, so Bill availed himself of a Dunhill that complimented the Midleton nicely. Ended up spending a ton 'o Irish pounds (aka "punts"), it was worth every penny. As we exited the Clarence, Bill told the doorman, tongue firmly in cheek, to give Bono his best regards. The doorman said he'd be sure to let him know when they next met. Hoo-wah!
Friday, June 12th
We made reservations at a Bed and Breakfast in Salthill, near Galway called the Cashelmara Lodge. So we had breakfast and got on the road to begin the 150-mile drive directly west across Ireland. When we arrived, we met the proprietress, Christine Fahey, who had recently spent a couple years in Los Altos, just over the hill from our hometown. In the beautiful guest living area, we chatted about the Bay area, and met all three Fahey children. Since we were the only guests, she offered us the "honeymoon suite" with its sweeping view of Galway Bay, modern facilities and nicely kept cherry furniture. Very nice for less than 40 pounds per night.
Since we only brought enough clothes for about ten days, it was once again time to do laundry, so we dropped ours off at full service launderette. At Christina's recommendation, we drove about ten minutes to a restaurant called Donnellys in Barna for dinner. It was, it turned out, justifiably renowned for the fresh seafood. The salmon, scallops and monkfish were fresh and perfectly cooked, accompanied by a variety of light sauces. The jacketed (baked) potatoes were huge and creamy - much tastier than their US counterparts. These monsters didn't need any sour cream - they were perfect as they were.
Saturday, June 13th
We awoke to a nearly-sunny day, and after driving into Salthill to pick up our laundry, we drove the few miles along the water to Galway. We stopped to take some pictures of the Galway seafront with its multi-colored boats and groups of white swans, and breathed in the sea air. Galway is a lovely town with its historic waterfront and lively atmosphere. Around 1pm, we stumbled across a street fair where we found a delightful variety of local crafts and foodstuffs. We bought some freshly barbecued homemade sausage and cheese, as well as fresh-baked onion/cheese rolls, and retired to the nearest pub to get a pint to complete our lunch. Delicious! . Shopping was very good, and I ended up buying a bodhran with a traditional Celtic design made by Malachy Kearns of Connemara (aka "Malachy Bodhran").
Later that evening, we spent a few hours at O'Connell's Pub in Salthill, listening to "trad" (traditional Irish) music.
Sunday, June 14th
We had a long drive planned (from Galway to Kenmare - about 200 miles), so we got an early start on our way south to the Ring of Kerry. Reluctantly, we left the scenic Cashelmara B&B, glancing back at the horses frollicking on the beach. Instead of taking the main carriageway down through Limerick, we took N68 to Kilmer. We boarded the Kilmer-Tarbert car ferry and enjoyed a 20-minute ride across the River Shannon.
About 100 miles later (on Irish roads, this is equivalent to about 500 miles in the US or even the UK), we pulled into Killarney for dinner and a pint. After a quick meal, we left for Kenmare at the bottom of the Ring of Kerry, where we would be staying that night. The ride was rough over the pass between Killarney and Kenmare, but was the most beautiful scenery that we'd seen so far. Mountainous and rocky, it offered views of the Lakes of Killarney and Killarney National Forest. It was a wonder we ever made it to Kenmare since we stopped about every mile or so for more pictures.
We pulled into Kenmare around 9:30pm, and checked into the Rosegarden Guesthouse & Restaurant, a couple minutes outside the town center. The proprietors, Peter and Ingrid were most accommodating, and gladly provided Bill with a nice, cold Heineken and some snacks for the room. This custom was repeated each night we stayed there. The room was spacious but unassuming, with a hand-made burlap kite hanging on the wall. It was very quiet and the beds were actually comfortable, which we were grateful for after the long drive.
Monday, June 15th
After conferring with Peter, we decided to drive the Ring of Beara first, followed by the Ring of Kerry tomorrow, since the weather was great today. Peter said that the Ring of Beara is much more scenic and less touristy than Kerry and he was right. After poking around a bit in Kenmare, we set off for Beara, crossing over Healy Pass. Once again, we found ourselves pulling to the side of the narrow road every few minutes to take another picture. Every view seemed to be more beautiful than the last. Lots of sheep, craggy hills and small, peaceful lakes.
In Castletownbere, we saw a monument built in honor of the men and women of the Berehaven Battalion who fought for the Irish Republic from 1916-1923 during the Easter Uprising. This was when Padraic Pearse and 150 others took over the post office in Dublin and read the Proclamation of Republic Ireland. There were monuments similar to this one in most of the Republic towns we passed through.
We passed a pub called An Sibin Beag, and I noticed a tiny version of the same building across the street. We pulled over and I got a picture of the "Leprechaun Lounge".
We ate dinner at the Horseshoe Pub, also recommended by Peter, where we had some excellent wild mussels, sauteed chantrelles, and Irish lamb stew. In World Cup action, the Americans lost their game yesterday to Germany, but we held out hope that they'd win their next game so they could stay in competition.
We'd more or less fallen in love now with Ireland, and so we changed our high speed ferry tickets to 6pm on Sunday, a day later than originally planned. We'll spend a last night in Kenmare tonight, followed by three nights in the Kinsale/Cork area. We had read that both Kenmare and Kinsale claimed the title of "The Gourmet Center of Ireland", and we were committed to resolving that issue once and for all.
Hard work, huh?
Tuesday, June 16th
Tuesday's itinerary was the Ring of Kerry, the Lakes of Killarney, and Muckross House. We started off after breakfast at the Rosegarden restaurant by driving to Killarney, where I bought a sheepskin and some Irish linen at Ladies View Industries. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do with the sheepskin, but I felt compelled to buy one of the soft, fleecy things. Actually, we had it shipped since it was much too big to carry home. The Master Packer was already starting to sweat because we were beginning to reach critical mass, suitcase-wise.
From Killarney, we drove the Ring of Kerry, which as Peter predicted, was less scenic than the Ring of Beara, but it was still a pleasant drive. If you're up for shopping, The Ring of Kerry is for you. If you prefer spectacular scenery, go for the Ring of Beara.
Muckross House, a Victorian mansion in Killarney National Park was elegantly furnished, and accurately portrayed the lifestyles of the landed Gentry. The gardens were lovely, and "jaunting horses" were available for those who wanted to see the place in style. The Muckross Weavers are located there, and I got a couple softer-than-soft lambswool scarves for my mother and me.
On our way back to Kenmare, we stopped in the picturesque town of Sneem for dinner at the Sacre Coeur restaurant, which a local told us was the best place in town. The green mussels were very fresh, as were my scampi and Bill's cod. Then it was back to the Rosegarden for the night.
Kinsale, Cork and Waterford
Wednesday, June 17th
After leaving Kenmare, our next stop was to be Kinsale. We decided to take the scenic route down along the coast instead of the direct carriageway to Kinsale, and it turned out to be a good decision. Since we'd gotten a taste of fresh mussels, we stopped both in Skibbereen and in Bantry to sample the local offerings.
All this dilly-dallying cost us the hotel room that we'd reserved without a credit card, so upon arrival in Kinsale, we had to find a place to stay. Finally, we found the San Gregorio B&B, a block away from downtown, and run by Jimmie the Leprechan. Always smiling and cordial, Jimmie made us feel right at home. There weren't really many sights in Kinsale, but there were many botiques and restaurants.
In fact, Kinsale was an important port in the 16th century with trading links to many countries. Wine, salt, metals and luxury goods were the main imports, while ships leaving the harbor usually carried hides, cloth, wood, and fish. In 1569, Kinsale was one of sixteen designated Wine Ports in Ireland, which was an auspicious beginning for the future "Gourmet Capital of Ireland".
We began our culinary investigation at Hoby's Restaurant in downtown Kinsale. Bill thoroughly enjoyed his Clonakilty Black Pudding Salad appetizer - fresh greens with several hearty pieces of the famous Clonakilty black sausage, surrounded by slices of poached pears, and covered with a warm cream sauce. (Black sausage is the same thing as "black pudding" and "blood sausage/ pudding".) The salmon filet and Seafood Tataglielle with mussels and salmon entrees were very good, as was my dessert, the chocolate rum mousse. Bill had something called "Banofi pie" for dessert, which was comprised of a biscuit or cookie topped with a thin layer of caramel, a layer of sliced bananas and topped with whipped cream. ("Banofi" = caramel (coffee) and bananas, or something like that.)
Thursday, June 18th
We took the morning off and lazed around our room until it was too late to make breakfast downstairs. We headed downtown, did a little shopping, and had lunch at the Blue Haven, which was supposed to be one of the better Kinsale eateries. I had a lovely chicken sandwich with apricot chutney, and we both had broccoli/cauliflower/spinach soup which was tasty. Bill chose a grilled smoked ham and cheese sandwich with home made relish that was excellent. The food was so good, we decided to come back for dinner that night.
After lunch, I picked up some postcards and stamps, along with a handmade silver "Newgrange" ring at Kinsale Silver. Bill picked up a CD called "The Afro-Celtic System" that we've been hearing at various places through Ireland that combines African drums and rhythms with Celtic instruments and vocals.
We retired to the room until hunger drove us back to the Blue Haven. Unfortunately, the place was packed and they had no tables available for the evening. So instead, we went to The Vintage restaurant in Kinsale. After sitting in the tiny bar with a drink of our choice, looking over the menu, we were escorted to our table. We both ordered lobster, and actually met our dinner when the owner brought out two healthy specimens for our approval. The lobster was delicious, as was the recommended bottle of Pouilly Fuse and the homemade ice cream for dessert. We felt it was a little overpriced, but good. We returned, happy as clams, to Jimmie's place for the night.
Friday, June 19th
We got up late again, looking forward to the blessedly short drive from Kinsale to Cork City. After breakfast, we said a fond farewell to Jimmie, and headed out. Once in Cork, we landed at Lotamore House located on the N8, just outside Cork City on a hill overlooking Cork Harbor. The room was large, but even better, it actually had two wonderfully comfortable overstuffed chairs next to the window that overlooked the harbor. And of course, it had the ubiquitous, yet useless (to us anyway), trouser press.
Cork was a bit difficult to find our way around in because it's bisected twice by the River Lee. There were like sixteen bridges in the city. We explored the downtown area, stopping in the Tourist Information office for maps and souvenirs. Try as we might, we couldn't find any trad music being played anywhere in town, so we ended the day at Clancy's Bar on Princes Street. I loved Clancy's. It was a large place, complete with two mirrored bars and plenty of carefully placed snugs, each of which had its own decor. (A snug is a small area of a bar set apart from the main area with panels and/or doors of its own for privacy.) One snug, which seated about eight people, was decorated like a library, with shelves of books and a marble fireplace. We had a good, reasonably priced steak dinner upstairs at Clancy's bistro, having had our fill of seafood for awhile.
Saturday, June 20th
Today, we went to the Cork Summer Show, which was advertised with signs all over the city. It was just like an old-fashioned county fair with livestock, crafts, food and flower competitions. I visited the arts and crafts area first, and became immersed in conversation with a local landscape artist, who confided that her dream was to become skilled at modern art, and was particularly fascinated with Dali's work. After describing the subjects of each of her paintings in painstaking detail, she gave me her name and address in case I wanted to view more of her work.
"Cork, Ireland Continued...."
(Corkians are noted throughout Ireland for their gift of gab.) We saw some gorgeous floral arrangements, and were delighted to find a Tele-Tubbie ("La-la") made out of squash in the vegetable area. We saw some sheep and cattle judging, and visited the horses, braided and brushed, in their stalls. The mayor of Cork even showed up and gave a little speech. It was a great way to enjoy a part of Cork not usually seen by tourists.
In mid-afternoon, we drove about 12 miles to Midleton to visit the Jameson Whiskey Heritage Center, which is where all the Irish distillers except for Bushmills, manufacture their "water of life". We took the tour and got a good look at the world's largest potstill. Once again, Bill bravely volunteered to be a taster following the tour, and received his second official Irish Whiskey Taster certificate, which would be hung in his office at work, along with the mace and his other certificate. It was a proud day.
At about 3:30pm, we headed back to Cork City to a pub called The Gables, which featured trad music at teatime nearly every day of the week. We didn't know however, that teatime in Ireland (6-ish) is different from teatime in England (4-ish). So we chatted with the owner, Fergus Murphy, for an hour or so, and he told us that depending on their schedules, the trad musicians might or might not show up later, and to call before coming back. He recommended several restaurants in Cork, and we ended up dining at one called "Jacque's" (pronounced "Jack's") on Douglas Street. Jacque's is owned by two sisters, one of whom is named Jaqueline. It was decorated in warm orange, gold and green tones with modern art and sculpture lining the walls, and art deco fixtures. For starters, Bill ordered the celery soup with small chunks of a locally made blue cheese melting in it, and I had prawns wrapped in thin strings of pastry and lightly deep-fried accompanied by a peanut oil/soy dipping sauce. Both were excellent. For the entree, I had a rare sirloin steak topped with a pat of seasoned butter and a dipping sauce, along with roasted potatoes, snow peas, baby carrots, and mushrooms. Bill had the venison with pesto sauce, which was tender and delicious. We shared a tasty bottle of Rioja, and for dessert, we both had the creme brulee. This was one of the best meals we've had so far.
Since we were so close, after dinner we went over to An Spailpin Fanach (pronounced SPILL-peen fun-ACH, meaning "traveler"), one of the pubs in Cork famous for traditional music. Unfortunately, Saturday is the only night they don't have trad music, and when we called the Gables, there wasn't anything going on there either. (We should've checked the Irish Music Calendar first!) So we went back to Lotamore House for the night, visions of Ceilis (pronounced KAY-lees, which are Irish dances) in our heads.
Sunday, June 21st
Before we left Lotamore House, we called and made reservations that evening in the tiny Welsh seaside town of Tenby, as well as in Bath, our destination after Tenby. At 8am, the sky was clear and blue, but by the time we left a couple hours later, it was raining cats and dogs. We were planning on driving a total of about 150 miles to Rosslare (near Wexford), where we'd be boarding the high-speed car ferry back to Britain at about 5:30pm. On the way, we talked about all the things we loved about Ireland, and where we'd like to visit again.
We stopped for about an hour in Waterford at the Waterford Crystal Center, and spent some punts on some port glasses and whiskey tumblers. I've never really been a crystal-lover, but some of the pieces in the Waterford showroom were awesome. Like the 10-foot tall crystal champagne flute, and the huge crystal chandelier that dominates the showroom. Incredible.
We arrived in Fishguard, Wales at about 8:30pm, were able to find a pub still serving, so we took advantage. We had fish and chips, figuring they'd be good in FISHguard, but the food was nothing to write home about. Then we drove about 30 miles south to Tenby, a cute seaside town in Wales. We were lulled to sleep by the waves lapping along the beach directly across the street.