Jedward and more in Ireland
Three days after stepping off a plane at Logan Airport, I am still jetlagged, waking up at 4:30 am, which is 10:30 am in Paris. The only cure I can think of is to go back to Europe to live, perhaps on the Connemara Peninsula in Ireland, where green pastures cover the bogs and gentle untended hills are thick with trees. The Connemara is home to the shores of 100 square mile Lake Corrib as well as being bordered on three sides by the sea, so I wouldn’t have to miss the water there.
We took the trip so we could see our son, Kevin, who is studying in Europe and toured for two weeks with him and his wife, Christine. Then, since we were on that side of the ocean anyway, we met old friends for a week in Paris.
We’d never been to either place before and I can say unequivocally, I loved Ireland best. Not the Dublin nor the Cork nor the Galway, the cities of Ireland, but the countryside. Just outside of the cities farmland flourishes, the greenest pastures I’ve ever seen with placidly grazing sheep and cows and even some white Connemara horses. The sheep were thick and raggedy with wool like wild rams, ready for shearing, and we saw signs advertising shearing festivities in some of the villages. The big draw was to be Jedward, twin Irish boys who had starred in an English reality singing show. The two sported hairdos that stood up straight above their heads and it looked like the shearing would be practiced on them as well as the sheep.
Because of all that farmland close to the cities, the food in Ireland is fresh and flavorful. The preparation might not be as sophisticated as it is in Paris, but the ingredients are tops. One small outdoor lunch stop in the Wicklow Mountains had a short menu which consisted mostly of five versions of a ham and cheese sandwich. I decided to order the one that said ham and cheese salad, which turned out to be ham and cheese with lettuce and tomato on bread. I might add that it was a delicious ham and cheese (salad) sandwich.
I especially loved the milk products in Ireland, thick creamy yogurt, butter that is mouth watering, milk that has the flavor of milk. And, the meat was full of flavor also. We wandered into a butcher shop in Oughterard, and found air-dried ham, a delicacy we’d been served the night before in our hotel, and meat that was the color of real meat. I admit I couldn’t order the lamb chops after seeing all the sweet little lambkins with their moms on the hillsides. Though a lot of the food preparation was simple, we did find some that would rival any chef’s.
At the Currarevagh House in Oughterard, the owner’s daughter–in-law is a trained chef who prepares four course dinners that could be served at any fine restaurant. Can I ever forget the fine crumbed jelly cake served for tea? Nor could I ever forget the owner, Julie, who ran the hotel with her son and daughter in law. Julie was on duty all the time. Just ring for me, she said. There are no phones in the rooms at the Currarevagh House, but there are old-fashioned buzzers that ring downstairs, and to boot, none of the doors have locks. I was glad there was no butler, or I would have thought I’d landed in an Agatha Christie novel.
Julie was like a hummingbird, always in flight but landing long enough to answer questions for whomever crossed her path. In the morning, she was in and out of the dining room, managing, and when we sat down at a table she was right there. The eggs were still swimming in the kitchen she told us; the toast was trotting, and the coffee would be marching out any minute. When the coffee marched out, it was in a glass container with a stand she placed over a small flame. The contraption was like a huge beaker with a Bunson burner in a chemistry lab.
Julie’s warmth was typical of the Irish people in general. Almost everyone we met, on the streets as well as the places we stayed and ate, was helpful and eager to engage in a conversation or help us find our way. And, they were fun. In the tourist town of Kinsale, along the south coast and not far from Cork, we signed up for a “ghost tour” one night, which promised to take us to all the sites of Kinsale’s ghosts. The two thespians who led the tour gave us an astoundingly good history of the town, and were hilarious as well. The tour began, like everything else in Ireland, at a pub. I am beginning to think everything in Ireland begins in a pub and ends at a church. I can’t decide which they have more of, churches or pubs.
We mostly stayed at B&B’s, including Kinsale, where we booked in at Tierney’s B&B. We didn’t find any Tierneys there, or anywhere else in Ireland, though everyone we asked had heard of some in Meath or Mayo or Dublin…they were as elusive as my father-in-law to his ex-wives. I can only conclude that most of the Tierneys must have emigrated.
It was in Kinsale also where we heard best Irish music in the Blue Haven Pub, not just the old shanties, but a sound that was a cross between guitar riffs like the Grateful Dead’s and bluegrass.
In Galway, we stayed at the St. Martins B&B on Nun’s Island. The small yard behind innkeeper Mary Cullen’s cheerful little kitchen is bordered by bountiful flowers and the River Corr. It is a wonderful spot to for afternoon tea and watching the songbirds and the mute swans that swim in to beg for Mary’s day old soda bread. Mary told us the swans were brought there by the Normans, circa 1200 AD, as a food supply and flourished.
Those of us on Block Island who complain about the July 4th rowdy tourists, should take a weekend in Galway. We heard the low burble of raucous conversation from distant streets until after 3 am. It was as though the pavements were alive and speaking. Mary told us every weekend has become like that. Thousands of people, mostly young, converge on the city to party in the numerous pubs and attend events.
Ireland has been in the news recently for experiencing a downturn in their economy. We couldn’t help noticing in the cities a mostly young homeless population sleeping in doorways, enough to rival New York City’s. Just when Ireland’s economy was finally flourishing, this recession hit. We left the day the country voted on whether or not to accept an austerity package, and later learned it had been accepted by a wide margin. I hope it will help Ireland regain its footing.