A Room with a View (and Culinary Delights)

This ain’t your Irish grandma’s fry-up. During our recent trip to Cork and thereabouts, we were very surprised by the quality of the accommodations and the food. Even at the B&B we were least impressed with, we had options beyond the traditional Irish breakfast, which usually includes fried eggs, sausage, bacon (the Irish kind), black and white pudding, stewed tomato and/or mushrooms and soda bread. If there’s a hint of baked beans on the plate, run like hell, because that’s not part of the Irish breakfast.

Fine dining in Cork

In Cork, we stayed at Garnish House, a guesthouse right next to University College Cork, where Marilynn gave her talk. The food was, in a word, sublime. After the four-plus hour drive to Cork (wrong side of the road/roundabouts/time crunch because of when Marilynn’s talk was scheduled), we were ecstatic to be offered afternoon tea, with scones, biscuits and other delights. What a refreshing way to be greeted.

During tea, we also had a chance to peruse the breakfast menu. Traditional fry-up? Or how about one of about six fish choices? Omelets? Porridge? Fruit? Pancakes? Several of the above? I had a half fry-up one day and an omelet the next. Marilynn had an omelet, then poached fish. She also had a bowl of porridge spiked with Bailey’s Irish Cream. Declan had pancakes both days.

While in Cork, Declan and I went for pizza one night while Marilynn was being schmoozed by the university folk, but the next night we all walked in the pissing rain to Feed Your Senses, a tiny tapas restaurant on the main drag that only has a half-dozen tables. It was the best tapas we’d had since a trip to Spain in 2015. A plate of Iberian ham, cheese and bread, an order of olives, one of patatas bravas (fried potato cubes, topped with spicy sauce) and a bottle of wine filled us to great satisfaction. Fortunately, the rain had (mainly) stopped on the way home, so my somewhat drying trousers didn’t get any wetter.

Dingle was great, while Doolin was so-so

And in Dingle, we were treated to not only an ocean view room at the Dingle Harbour Lodge, but also some fine vittles the next morning. The photo at top was the view from our room. We hadn’t booked in advance, so snagging a primo room (for under 100 Euros, nonetheless) would have been an impossible dream during high season. Again, breakfast did not disappoint. Declan and I had delicious waffles made from the lodge’s own recipe and Marilynn had a bagel with smoked salmon.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all high living and fine dining during our Ireland journey. The final stop, in Doolin, was supposed to cap a fine trip. The standard for fine B&B lodging and dining, for us, was set in Doolin in 2002, when we took Walker to the Cliffs of Moher. We still recall the American-style pancakes with delight, amid all the fry-ups we had that journey. The fry-up, while an all-time favorite of mine, loses its appeal as your waistline gains circumference. But that B&B was closed for the winter.

Although this B&B had Doolin in its name, it was nowhere near town. There would be no going to hear local music in the pub, then walking home pleasingly buzzed, as we did the last time. First we had to find it, since there was no address associated with the booking. Up through the main part of the village, down the next … nothing.

So we go into pub and ask the barman, who knows where it is and gives directions. I won’t bore you with the details, but they involve signs that got turned around in the wind; nearly driving onto the beach as pavement gave way to gravel gave way to a muddy mess; turning the car around more times than I care to remember; asking directions at another B&B (bless that woman); and a near meltdown by someone in the car—all in the dark—before we arrived.

OK, so it was me who was close to a meltdown. I tell the proprietor about the signs, and he says something to the effect of, “Aye, it’s been windy lately and that happens.”

What I wanted to say was, “You feckin’ idiot!! If that’s a problem, don’t you think you should have checked that before your guests arrived!” But we were staying in his house, so I kept my mouth shut.

I’ll save those comments for the booking website I used to make the reservation.

A Soggy (Though Glorious) Time Had by All

When we last parted, gentle reader, it was pissing rain in Cork. While bouts of rain continued to pelt us over the next several days, we soldiered on with single-night stays in Dingle and Doolin, before hitting Newgrange on the way back to Belfast on Sunday.

I never thought I’d think this, but the Cliffs of Moher could have been a bit more overcast. While the UNESCO heritage site is among the most beautiful things I’ve ever laid eyes on, it’s even more stunning through a bit of cloud. Marilynn and I last visited here with Walker in 2002, and it was on our short list of things to show Declan during our trip.

Back in Cork, though, the rain was driving down amid 20-plus mph winds when we headed out to eat Thursday night. We waited as long as possible before leaving, but hunger prevailed. By the time we got to the restaurant, our trousers were soaked from jacket bottom to knees. I tried to dry my trousers using the hand dryer in the bathroom, to little avail. The tapas meal was among the best I’ve ever had, but that’s fodder for a future column.

The Ring of Dingle

Hiring the car allowed us the leisure to explore after Marilynn’s talk in Cork. Rather than drive the Ring of Kerry, which I hear is beautiful but is also too touristy for our tastes, we went to the Dingle peninsula, staying in Dingle Friday night.

The drive along the ocean was stunning, and very, very treacherous. At least the road was paved, in sharp contrast to our last vacation to Flagstaff when Marilynn wanted to take the Apache Trail from Phoenix instead of the interstate. As the single ribbon of increasingly rough asphalt turned to gravel and sand (for the next 23 miles, the sign said), two things happened simultaneously: 1) the mountainous road became more twisty; and 2) the dualie pickups hauling boats started appearing around what seemed to be every bend.

So, pavement good. But straining to see around every curve from the wrong seat in the car while grasping the steering wheel with enough force to bend iron (and in the rain, nonetheless) not so good. However, we arrived in one piece and even managed to snare an ocean view room at a local hotel.

On Saturday morning, we drove the “ring of Dingle,” which is what Marilynn called it. Officially, it’s the Slea Head drive, a 50-kilometer loop that goes through Dingle. Our name is better, though. The ocean views were gorgeous, and in most cases we had the road (and the sights) to ourselves. One of the highlights was the Gallarus Oratory, a 1,300-year old triangular stone worship building that remains watertight despite the lack of mortar between the stones.

Natural, man-made wonders await

Then we drove to the Cliffs of Moher, a dramatic cliff face worn away by millions of years of ocean wind and rain. It’s truly beyond words, as breathtaking as the Grand Canyon in its own way. So I’ll shut up about it.

And then yesterday, we stopped by Newgrange, also a UNESCO heritage site. It was built an estimated 5,200 years ago and features intricate Irish swirls and patterns that still inform art today.

It’s only a guess what went on there, our guide says, although a few sets of bones were discovered when the site was excavated, strengthening the argument for religious temple. The most distinguishing feature of Newgrange is its alignment with the winter solstice. A light box above the entrance is perfectly aligned with the horizon, allowing sunlight to enter the temple at sunrise for about six days around the winter solstice. When that occurs, the chamber is awash in light, our eager guide says, shining off the walls in the alcove farthest away.

Newgrange is a feat of neolithic engineering for not only the know-how required to move massive kerbstones from more than 12 kilometers away and create a watertight structure but for the precise measurements required to capture the morning light of the winter solstice.

Two awe-inspiring, renowned ancient wonders in two days. Not a bad way to end a trip to the south and west of Ireland.

About the photo: Cliffs of Moher, nearing sunset on 1/28.

When it rains, it pisses rain

I think southwest Ireland is cursed for me. Fifteen years ago, when Marilynn and I were showing Walker around the island during a driving vacation, I messed my back up so much that we had to stay in one place for several days. What did we miss during the downtime? Driving the Ring of Kerry.

So here we are again, same couple, different kid in Cork, our first foray from Belfast since our arrival three weeks ago. Marilynn was giving a talk at University College Cork, then we are off to see Cobh, Kinsale, the Dingle peninsula and the Cliffs of Moher. That was the plan, anyway, until the 30-plus mph winds and the torrential rains hit.

The first day was OK except for the wind. While Marilynn gave her talk, Declan and I checked out St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the city centre, the indoor food hall and the Scout store. For dinner that night, we ate at a college pub where I had a meat pizza that included black pudding. The pizza was OK at best, and the black pudding neither added nor detracted from it.

Titanic’s last port of call

Yesterday, we went to Cobh (pronounced “Cove”) to visit the Cobh Heritage Center, which has a rich maritime history. It was the final port of call for Titanic before it sank in 1912, and many of the survivors of the Lusitania also were housed there. But it should be known for much more than shipwrecks. The city, known as Queensland then, transported indentured servants to America, slaves hither and yon, criminals to Australia and emigrants fleeing the Potato Famine.

The Titanic exhibit is long on pictures, thanks to those of Frank Browne, whose uncle paid for Browne’s journey on Titanic from Southhampton to Queenstown. Browne was an avid photographer and thoroughly documented his relatively short jaunt. A wealthy American couple offered to pay his passage to New York, but when the theological student sought permission from his Jesuit Superior to journey onward, the response was “get off that ship!” Which, of course, proved fortuitous for Browne.

Among the few artifacts is a bottle found near Cork in 1913, bearing a message from Jeremiah Burke, a Burke of Glanmire, Cork, and tossed overboard a day or days before the disaster.

Although the Titanic exhibit in Belfast is vastly superior to this small presentation, the Cobh Heritage Centre proved worth a visit.

Let it rain. Let it rain.

Until the skies let loose, anyway. It had been so windy the previous night that Declan got blown off course a couple of times. Combined with a driving rain, unfamiliar streets and an unfamiliar road layout (left lane! LEFT LANE!!), the drive to Kinsale was nothing short of perilous.

Marilynn wanted to see Charles Fort (place, not person) to get her in the right mind to write about Brian Friel’s play “Making History,” a play about the Earl of Tyrone (Hugh O’Neill) who led Irish and Spanish forces against the English during the 1601 Battle of Kinsale. His troops endured a long trek in crappy weather like we were experiencing, so it did inform her thinking. It was miserable for us, and we had modern rain jackets, a car and the ability to drive into town for lunch. This fort was built 75 years after the battle but is in the same general area.

We decided to bag seeing the fort and drive home when we chanced upon it anyway. However, the rain was slashing diagonally across the windshield, and Declan and I declined to get out. Marilynn took a two-minute peek and high-tailed it back to the car.

Note on Cobh: The town originally was called Cove, before it was renamed Queenstown in 1849 following a visit from (wanna guess?) Queen Victoria. It became Cobh in 1920 when Ireland became an independent state. “Cobh” is a Gaelicized rendering of “Cove” – it has no meaning in Irish.