I have always had an affinity for the Irish. Or more specifically, a deep felt passion for their culture, literature & poetry, the pubs, the emerald green landscape, and their open friendly nature.
My first trip abroad was to Ireland, in college for a summer literature course on Yeats and Joyce (and also Becket, Shaw, Synge, Edna O’Brien…). Reading “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, “Finnegan’s Wake”, and yes, “Ulysses” at Trinity College, along with Yeats in Sligo, I fell in love with the people and their way of life.
As much pleasure as Ireland brought me, the food had the opposite effect. It was uneatable. One couldn’t tell where the potatoes or meat started and the mushy peas began…just an overcooked mass of food (did lose 10 lbs. on that trip so not all bad). I was overjoyed, when eating at a restaurant north of Sligo, that they had banana ice cream on the menu, until I ordered it. It was literally frozen, unsweetened milk that they then poured banana extract on at the table. But during my two trips back to Ireland in 2012 and 2014, I had quite a different culinary experience.
In recent years, Ireland has established itself as a popular European base for American technology companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Low taxes were one reason as well as a strong pool of talented, young workers. This coupled with the economic collapse in Ireland, which saw property prices fall through the floor in Dublin, helped generate a lower cost of living than rival hubs such as London’s Tech City. And the restaurants followed!
“Flung onto the foggy fringe of the Atlantic pond like a mossy millstone, Ireland drips with mystery, drawing you in for a closer look and then surprising you. An old farmer cuts turf from the bog, while his son staffs the tech helpline for an international software firm. Buy them both a pint in a pub that’s whirling with playful conversation and exhilarating traditional music. Pious, earthy, witty, brooding, proud, yet unpretentious, Irish culture is an intoxicating potion to sip or slurp — as the mood strikes you.” (Rick Steves). And I “sipped and slurped” though Ireland during all my latest tours.
In 2012, we arrived in Dublin and traveled to Waterford Caste, Cork, Kinsale, Kenmare, Kerry, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula. We saw lovely vistas; cliffs overlooking rocky beaches and fields so green you think you have never seen this shade before. And we ate well.
Waterford Castle – Driving from Dublin to Waterford was my husband’s first experience in driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and it was a bit of a harrowing experience. The roads are narrow, and the large trucks thunder by, forcing you to move into the gutter or bushes. We were starving, but it was too much effort to try and find a restaurant or pull over, so we kept on till we reached Waterford. Following the signs, we went off down small roads, wondering if we were forever lost, till there in front of us was a small barge that arrived to take us to our private paradise. Waterford Castle is situated on its own private island, with an isolated, beautiful and luxurious hotel. We must have looked as flustered as we felt, as on arrival, they whisked us into the inviting bar, sat us down in big comfortable chairs in front of a large fireplace, and brought us a pint and a delicious lunch. All without asking us any more than our name!
We dined in their Munster Room restaurant which is critically acclaimed in the 2015 Michelin Guide. It has a warm ambience, wonderful oak paneled walls, ornate ceiling, an extensive wine cellar and exciting seasonal menus. We had the Carrot Tortellini with pickled cart, walnuts, carrot reduction, salty popcorn and buttermilk for an starter, followed by the Monkfish with wild leek veloute, bacon & mussel aioli, celeriac and dill, and finished with a selection of Irish cheese accompanied by a wonderful white, and then red burgundy.
County Kerry – its mountains, lakes and coasts have been the picture-postcard images of Ireland overseas. It spans Dingle, Ring of Kerry, Killarney, and Kenmare. No matter which town or wilderness you visit, it is drop-dead gorgeous. Killarney National Park includes the 19th–century Muckross House where Queen Victoria stayed, Ireland’s highest mountain in Carrautoohil and the glorious Lough Leane.
Kenmare – it is the gate way to the Ring of Beara, Ring of Kerry and ideally located on the Wild Atlantic Way. Its natural beauty offers many outdoor pursuits from golfing, walking, cycling, running or swimming. It is truly a walker’s paradise and its surrounding hinterlands offer you an extensive choice of graded trails. Some restaurants to try: Herbert Room, Park, Line Tree, Boathouse Bistro, Mulcahys, and Packie’s,
Ring of Kerry – drive the Ring of Kerry to experience the raw beauty of 111 miles of the country’s most scenic peninsula routes round the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. The combination of rugged sea, spectacular mountains and small traditional villages will take your breath away. Skellig Michael, a rocky island with an abandoned 7th-century Christian monastery, is a major destination point with spectacular views.
Dingle Peninsula – the second of the Kerry peninsulas is 10 miles wide and stretches 30 miles into the Atlantic from the south-west coast. The top of its mountainous spine is Mount Brandon—at 3,130 feet, the second-tallest mountain in Ireland, with tiny villages lying west of Dingle town. This remote place is steeped in history and the sightseeing is stunning. The area is a “Gaeltacht” region where the people speak the Irish language as their first language. Famous for the dramatic sea views and remote landscape, the winding roads and huge beaches are magnificent. Stop in the lovely Dingle town for lunch (fresh fish of course) and some shopping.
County Cork – it is the island’s largest county, with a beautiful coastline, delicious food and one colourful town after another. Touring Cork is a tale of towns running into the next, each very individual in its character. There is the gourmet getaway of Kinsale, the market town of Skibbereen, the bustling hub of Clonakilty, and the long stretches of wilderness. And at the centre is Cork city. We were told by one local “Dublin isn’t the real capital of Ireland, we just let the Dubliners think it is. We let them entertain the dignitaries, but when the dignitaries are on their days off, they come down her to be entertained properly.”
Kinsale – explore this gourmet getaway and picturesque town. Visit the waterside stone military fort built to protect Kinsale in the 1680s and lean about how pivotal the fortress was in Ireland’s history. In October they have the 3 day “Kinsale Gourmet Festival” put on by the Kinsale Good Food Circle (11 member restaurants who come together to offer a diversity of cuisine) and they boast the greatest concentration of restaurants in Ireland. Some restaurants to note are: Finn’s Table, Toddies at The Bulman, Bastion, Fishy Fishy, Poacher’s Inn, Conin’s, and Max’s.