The Emerald Isle: Another classic travel blog
by Mary Jo
Ironically, yesterday the Mayhem Consultant and I returned from our first vacation in a year and a half: a cruise of the Chesapeake Bay. But I didn't have the time to write a proper blog, so I'm recycling an older blog about a week we spent in Ireland, because who doesn't want to visit Ireland???
The Mayhem Consultant and I sailed from New York to Southampton on the Queen Mary 2 purely to enjoy the leisure and romance of a transatlantic crossing. But once we reached England, we certainly weren’t going to waste being in Europe!
We’d vaguely planned to go to Ireland some day. I’d spent a week there many, many years ago when I was living in England, and the MC had never visited Ireland at all. Clearly, it was time. <G>
Neither the MC nor I have any known Irish blood, but no matter. We loved Ireland for its beauty, wonderful friendly people, and deep sense of history. Rather than ramble on indefinitely, here’s a few bits and pieces, with a modest selection of pictures. (Ireland is a very photogenic country!):
Travel the easy way:
We decided to try something new: instead of hiring a car ourselves, we’d hire a car with a driver/guide to take us around. No stress, and a driver who not only knew the fun, off the beaten track places, but could tell us the history. We worked through an agency recommended by a friend of a friend, and the Ireland Chauffeur Travel company turned out to be a good pick. We worked out an itinerary, rooms were booked, and it worked as smoothly as silk.
We were particularly lucky with our guide, John Daly, Besides being capable, welcoming, and knowledgeable, he’was a certified tour guide with a special expertise in Irish history. Hog heaven for a historical novelist!
Because I was writing a book, Sometimes a Rogue, that as a section set in Ireland, I was particularly keen to see the southeast and Kinsale in particular. Good choice. Kinsale is a lovely little town with a small harbor perfect for my needs, lots of good B&Bs and restaurants, a totally cool fort on the edge of town, and the best fish and chips I've ever had.
The MC also had a special request: as a native Baltimorean, he wanted to visit the original Irish town of Baltimore. We did. It was small. <G> (Above is an image of St. Bridget's Well, an ancient holy well turned Christian. But it's not near Baltimore.)
Bed & Breakfast:
Most nights we stayed in B&Bs, which I love for their friendliness and quirky individuality, not to mention the great breakfasts. The people of the British Isles really know how to do a proper breakfast, which generally includes fruit, cereal, eggs, several kinds of pig meat, and such accessories at grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, marmalade, maybe fried bread or even baked beans. There are regional variations among the breakfasts, but eggs, meat, and toast are pretty universal. Even Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, has its Ulster Fry.
No guest has to eat more than they want, of course, but for sure no one leaves hungry. The Irish variation often includes black and white pudding—a form of blood pudding. I tried it my first morning in the spirit of experimentation, but didn’t get very far. One B&B owner said they no longer offered it for breakfast because only the Irish would eat it. <g>
But one thing we were served everywhere in Ireland and loved was the marvelous Irish brown soda bread. It’s crumbly and tasty and goes well with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any other time you’re in the mood. I have become one of the many Americans who would love to be able to duplicate it at home, but my research indicates that Irish whole meal flour is needed, and it’s a low gluten kind of “soft” flour that grows naturally in Ireland. Good natural buttermilk is needed, too, not anything heavily processed. I am on the hunt for the proper ingredients. I am in danger of becoming obsessive. <G>
The British Isles in general have had an unenviable reputation for the quality of the food, but that has changed a lot in recent years. Ireland is a great country for produce and dairy, and restaurants have taken enthusiastically to locavore cooking. Most of the places where we ate were willing to give you the name of the chicken who laid your breakfast egg. (I exaggerate only slightly. <g>)
Lots of fresh fish and lovely little salads and potatoes. (I may not be Irish, but I do love potatoes.)
In choosing pictures for this blog, I tried to avoid choosing too many images of rocky things. It was hard because Ireland has so many old castles, churches, forts, famine houses, and more. Not to mention the natural rock.
We skipped the beautiful Ring of Kerry, a famous scenic drive, which meant many coaches on the same road. Instead, we opted for the quieter Dingle Peninsula, which has been inhabited since the Iron Age. John Daly pointed out “famine houses:” tiny stone houses that held too many people who had to survive on too little land. (Right)
We also visited a small but intact Iron Age fort. (Above)
The famous Cliffs of Moher (pronounced “More”) tower up to 700 feet in the air and are a grand sight. We visited them by boat on a sunny afternoon, which was great fun, since the boat had occasional impulses to imitate a bucking bronco. <g> But more impressive was seeing them the next day from above in the haunting mists.
“You must stay in a Castle!”
It was our Wench Anne Gracie who said that if we were to visit Ireland, we must spend a night in a castle. Ever agreeable, I told the agency to find us one, and they booked us into the magnificent Ashford Castle. It turned out to be a historical romance fan's dream. <g>
The oldest part is Norman and dates back to the 13th century. The condition was bad in the 19th century when the Guinness brewing family bought it and spent a million pounds restoring and adding to the castle. (And that was when a million pounds really MEANT something!)
Most of the guests were average Americans like us who were enjoying the fantasy of living like lords and ladies. I want to go back and do one of their falconry sessions.
Goodbye to all that
When John Daly left us at a Dublin airport hotel so we could fly home the next day, a rainbow appeared as we were going in. Does that look like a good omen for returning to Ireland? I’m taking it as such!
Have you been to Ireland? Would you like to go? Inspired by Scotland's "Homecoming" celebration, which invited people from around the world with Scottish blood to return, in 2013 Ireland was hosting "The Gathering," an open invitation for members of the world wide Irish diaspora to return (and spend money.) It's a good excuse for a visit!
In the meantime—does anyone know how to make great Irish brown soda bread on this side of the Atlantic?