Slideshow

The Irish Skies Are Smiling


Dia dhuit friends and family,      

La brea buiochas Le Dia. (Translation: It’s a nice day!)  It was a nice day in Cork when we left Thursday morning heading to Dublin via Waterford (ah, yes, retail therapy occurred); but we had toured extensively and eaten heartily and blog-worthily since our last post. And, oh yes, the weather had cooperated beyond belief. It had been sunny and pleasant (lower 70s)--so we have definitely not needed our multiple layers or rain gear. Even the locals had been commenting on their good fortune.

Our second day of touring consisted of a long bus ride from Dromoland Castle down to Cork. It was punctuated with a series of wonderful stops.

The first was at Molanna Dairy Farm, home of Paddy and Margaret Fenton. The farm has been in their family for many generations. They welcomed us into their home with warm and wonderful strawberry scones with creme fraiche, slices of spicy Guinness cake, tea, and coffee. Paddy and Margaret were delightful and exactly the prototype of how you would expect proper Irish people to look and act.

In fact Margaret is the spitting image of Paulie’s friend Peggy (Margaret!) who is first generation American via Counties Clare and Kerry!  The house was lovingly decorated with family pictures. Once we'd enjoyed our morning snack (delectable-- why didn't we take seconds?), Paddy took us into the “old” house where he gave us an oral history of the farm. He showed us the room where he was born!...as was his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather!  One of his sons, who now runs the farm, was also born there.  He told us about raising cattle in the old days (they actually only grow grass since it is primarily a dairy farm). He asked if we had seen any of the little people (leprechauns), and said he is always on the lookout, because if he finds one he will get a pot of gold and be able to go on a Tauck tour!!!!!!  Paddy also recited a poem about life that he learned as a child in school. You can actually see/hear him recite it here. He was an Irish mensch, a true kibbitzer and a real charmer and reminded us a little bit of Wendy's dad Austin-- so sweet. It was a poignant visit in many ways.

Farther along the road, we stopped in the charming town of Kenmare. We had lunch at a traditional pub, Foley's, which was fine but unremarkable. Then we walked around the town. Here is a sampling of some of the shop signs on just one block:



Next, back on the bus, we continued south. Along the way we went over the Caha Pass.  Now many of you know we have been to New Zealand, Hawaii and many other places famed for outstanding vistas. Well, this one was arguably the best we have seen. The road was high up from the valley floor and each bend in the road gave an amazing view of the pastures below and the mountains beyond.  At one point the bus was able to pull over so we could get out and scramble up a ledge of rocks to get a 360 degree view. Truly incredible, and unfortunately, the pictures do not do it justice (which is why we borrowed this one off the internet). 



Next, we stopped in Ballylickey at Manning’s Emporium….a very nice deli. There (as if we needed more food!) they laid out platters of several kinds of cheese (including Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, Milleen), salami, and chorizo (!), all locally made. There was also homemade bread and a sweet red pepper relish. They even poured wine! 

The sun was shining as the group happily munched away on the patio. Paulie really enjoyed it, and ate her fair share, but, truth be told, neither of us had any as we are well into vacation-food-coma status. Yes, you read that correctly…even Wendy passed up some free food!  By the way, “Bally” (and the derivative “ballin”) means town, so Ballylickey is like “Libertyville”. We are also in the area of Ballincolig, Ballinclasher, Ballinascarty, Ballineen, and the ever popular Ballinspittle.


Back in the bus the tour guide put on her favorite CD of Enya. For those who don’t know, Enya, besides being a fan-favorite crossword puzzle answer, is a New Age Irish songstress. Well….the music was interesting and authentic, but either it was one really looooong song or there were a bunch of songs that all sounded the same.


Finally we pulled into Cork, home of University College of Cork, one of the largest colleges in the country.  Our home for these two days is Hayfield Manor…not a castle like Dromoland, but more Downton Abbey-esque. We kept looking for Robert and Cora.  Before we knew it, dinner time was here in the manor's Orchid Room-- festooned with crystal chandeliers at every turn and freshly- scrubbed properly Irish servers anticipating our every culinary wish.  The meal was truly blog-worthy. Paulie began with a contemporary deconstructed Caesar salad-- bite-sized (for a leprechaun) pieces of the individual salad components geometrically arrayed on a slab of slate. 

Wayne and Wendy shared West Cork scallops nestled in foam -- outstanding. On to the mains: Wendy and Wayne ordered the grilled lemon sole-- lovingly accompanied by purple sprouting broccoli, rhubarb jelly, watercress pomme purée, and fennel salad with lemon verbena cream. Paulie enjoyed pan seared trout with dill and butter Rossi, curly kale, samphire (a water plant), Irish seafood broth, and trout caviar. Now, this is dining! All of our pre-conceived notions of Irish dining disappeared in a puff of leprechaun magic with this meal.  Our desserts continued this extraordinary upward trend. Wayne enjoyed a deconstructed pineapple cheesecake-- again presented in bite-sized pieces. 


A mere 8 hours later on Wednesday morning we were once again chowing down another fabulous breakfast.  Think: porridge = oatmeal. Then, on to Blarney Castle!  


No visit to Ireland would be complete without kissing the Blarney Stone (or, in Irish: Cloch na Blarnan).  Paulie and Wayne had had enough narrow-circular-stair climbing at Bunratty, so Wendy went as their proxy (she promised to kiss each of us afterward to share the stone’s magic powers!). Once again we were blessed with fantastic weather….going through this ritual on a cold and/or windy day would be uncomfortable to say the least.  Wendy was a true champ and fulfilled her mission beautifully so she can cross off  “kiss Blarney Stone” (as well as “Visit Galapagos” and “climb to Machu Picchu”) from the “100 things to do before you die" list.  A word about the actual kissing process: Once you reach the site of the stone (after the long spiraled staircase), the "kiss master"  directs you to lie down on a blanket with your head toward the wall. Next, you are directed to grab two poles and arch your head backwards (think an inverted downward facing dog), look way backwards and down and smack away (the kiss master thankfully holds you in place).  While you are getting in position and then kissing the stone (which bestows upon you the gift of gab), the built-in camera is snapping away.  

They offer you the photos (for a price of course) after your descent.  The tour guides do not mention that if you have some height issues, you truly need to be prepared here. One other thing.  Wendy was so fixated on the height she couldn't give much thought to (what should have been) the real "issue" behind kissing the stone.  Let's just say there was no Purel in sight! Yuk!!! All in all, an adventure and worth every second (and the two pictures plus T-shirt).  The castle grounds, with river and gardens were simply beautiful by the way-- and especially beautiful from waaaay up there.  There was even a “Poison Garden”, which featured all kinds of poison plants and an explanation of each (like foxglove, juniper, etc.). The sign at the entrance warned “Do not touch or smell any of these plants”! After descending, you must of course stop in at the self-billed "Largest Ireland Store” in the country. Yes indeed…they had everything Irish.


Then we headed all the way south to the coast and the picturesque town of Kinsale. It looked a little like a Cape Cod town. 

Today we were lucky that the farmer’s market was open.  There were not many vegetables, but lots of stalls selling all kinds of other local and homemade goodies. We had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant called “Fishy Fishy"-- superb fish chowder and Wendy and Paulie shared a delectably lightly pan- fried sea bream with beets, crispy potatoes and zucchini tempura. Yum.   

Then it was a short ride to Charles Fort (ok we would call it “Fort Charles”). This state-of-the-art star-shaped fort was built in the late 1600s to protect the entrance to the harbor from the Spanish and French fleets.  A smaller fort, James Fort, was built on the other side of the harbor entrance. In some places the walls are 16 feet thick! And it was surrounded by a deep, wide moat (factual note: moats were not filled with water, despite what Hollywood has taught us). Here is a mozaic representation of the fort.....
...and a portion of the ruins of the fort itself.


Ironically, it was the British themselves who actually attacked and took the fort from its vulnerable land side. After that it was used as an army barracks until the 1920s.

The last stop of the day was back in Cork, at the English Market. This covered market has been on its present site since the mid-1800s. It was the model for the Boqueria Market in Barcelona (which, in our opinion, is much better). The market did not have a lot of colorful vegetables, but it did have the usual assortment of bizarre (to us) fish and cuts of meat. 


From the market we walked about a mile back to the Hayfield. Here is a picture of a typical street sign, with the name of the street in both English and Irish.



A little later, the group bussed over to a nearby cathedral for a private concert given by Nancy Long

and three of her six children. 
They alternately played as a group and in smaller combinations, and Nancy also sang a number of songs in a beautiful voice. The setting of the huge cathedral made it even more ethereal. And the topper was when they asked for requests and Wayne asked for (and was rewarded with) the most beautiful song ever written, "Clare de Lune", played on the most beautiful instrument.

Dinner was back at Hayfield Manor, but this time in the casual dining room. The menu had many of the same dishes as the previous night, but this time they were more fully constructed. For example, the Caesar salad was more recognizable and substantial. 

Wendy had the seared halibut with coconut-infused risotto. Wayne had pan-fried duck with bok choy and potatoes Dauphinoise.  

Early Thursday we walked along the empty streets and into Cork College. This was a fantastic end to two wonderful days of touring.

During this time, we have passed by green field after green field, all separated by greener hedgerows. So many hues of green!  And we have even seen a few gloriously golden fields of flax.

Next we head toward our final stop in Ireland, the capital of Dublin.

Notes:

In the last installment we mentioned the Irish language. To clear up any confusion, “Irish” and Gaelic” are the same thing, but, legally, the term “Irish” is used. Though the alphabet is the same as ours, they use accent signs and the pronunciation rules are obviously different in many cases. For example, at the Fishy Fishy restaurant our server's name tag read "Caoilfhionn". How to pronounce that? Queelin!!!  She told us the “fh” is silent.  So we don’t want to hear any more complaints about how hard English is! (Can’t even imagine tackling Welsh!)



The Irish (as a rule) don’t eat veal. Why? As Paddy Fenton explained, the bigger a cow was when it was sold, the more money the farmer got. So they kept them and fed them as long as possible. Hence, it is rare to see veal in an Irish home or restaurant.

So for now, Slan agus beannacht (Goodbye and blessings on you) and love from
w&w..............

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