Day 4: Touring the Tipperary Region
Mom and dad herded us all out of bed and into the car to do some sightseeing. We first made our way to the Rock of Cashel, a royal stronghold for the Kings of Muenster in southern Ireland from the 4th and 5th century. In 1101 it was turned over to the church and made into a cathedral. A redheaded tour guide showed us around the ruins.
According to one Irish legend, if you jump around the site’s statue of St. Patrick’s Cross on one foot counterclockwise nine times you’ll be married within the year. My sister’s boyfriend Bart and I tried to do it, but it turns out it’s pretty hard to jump around on one foot on uneven ground.
From the Rock of Cashel we could see the ruins of the Hore Abbey, and we knew we had to go check it out.
Since there weren’t any tour guides, we tromped through the tall grass to see Hore Abbey from all sides and gave ourselves a tour of the place.
The restaurant we were supposed to eat at was right next to the Rock of Cashel, but Ma lost her notes, so we were already headed to the small town of Cahir (pronounced CARE) before we realized what we’d done. For some strange reason, one of the townspeople recommended a local cafeteria to us. We’d already stormed the place before we realized what it really was.
Let’s just say that Ireland is not a foodie’s paradise. After lunch at said cafeteria, I began calling Ireland “The Land of 10,000 Bad Tastes.” Almost everything is under-seasoned, and I don’t believe the Irish take advantage of the wonderful world of herbs and spices. You’re practically guaranteed to get either French fries or mashed potatoes no matter what kind of dish you order, and all the pubs we’ve visited offer similar dishes—fried fish and chips, seafood chowder, hamburgers, bacon and cabbage, and bangers and mash.
I’m trying to give Irish food a shadow of a doubt though, and I’m hoping the food will get better along the way. One thing the Irish do amazingly well is butter, which is probably because there are cows everywhere you look. It’s rich and creamy and almost always local.
We pondered visiting Cahir Castle after lunch, but the docent didn’t do a very good job on selling us on taking a tour. Instead, my mom was eager to check out the Swiss Cottage, an extraordinary example of a cottage orne, or rustic ornamental cottage used by the wealthy as a backwoods playground. Think of Snow White’s house but with servants instead of dwarfs.
John Nash designed the cottage for the Butlers in 1810. The couple wanted to escape the pressures and frivolities of wealthy life by hiding out in the countryside and dressing like peasants. Stylistically, an ornamental cottage should blend in with its natural surroundings and all of its designs should ceom from nature—no two things should be alike—so the windows and sloping eaves are all different. It even has a thatched roof. The cottage really was just gorgeous.
Afterwards, we headed back to the castle for a homemade feast. The sweet smell of rosemary-lemon chicken wafted through the air as I whipped up mashed potatoes and fried up bacon and Brussels sprouts.
The family was hankering to hear some traditional Irish music, so we headed to Tipperary town to a pub called the Kickham. There, a group of middle-aged and elderly Irish men and women gathered together to play traditional Irish folk songs. Let’s just say that the simple beauty of it blew us all away. I took a few videos, but I’m working on getting them on the blog. Here are some pics to satiate your curiosity in the mean time.
Day 5: Kinsale: Gourmet Capital of Ireland
After eating so much bar food, I was excited to visit Kinsale, the alleged Gourmet Capital of Ireland. A port town, Kinsale is situated in the Cork region on the estuary of the Bandon River, one of the most scenic harbors in Ireland. When we arrived in the Kinsale at 11 a.m., the tide had yet to come up, so many of the boats were actually sitting in mud—a very strange sight to see, indeed. By the time we left at 4 p.m., the tide had risen up about 20 feet by the time we left, and large fish dotted the waters.
We split up to explore Kinsale. Most of us went shopping, while others went hiking, fishing or to visit the local monastery and church. It really was a picturesque little town, and we found some of the best shopping we’d seen since we started our trip.
My sister Annie and I happened upon one Irish artist’s main art gallery. Eion O’Connor does bright colorful painting of the the Irish countryside and farm animals. I really wanted to purchase this cow painting, but I opted for a bright print of the countryside instead.
According to my guidebook, the town’s annual Festival of Fine Food draws food lovers from all over Ireland. The variety of restaurants in Kinsale spoke volumes for the town’s culinary heritage. There were tapas bars, Indian and Basmati restaurants, seafood spots, wine bars and what looked to be verifiable Italian restaurants—this was a far cry from the pubs and Chinese restaurants we’ve seen in almost every town across the south of Ireland. We made reservations at Fishy Fishy, a lovely spot not far from the marina that our host, Teresa, suggested.
We started with oyster shooters, steamed mussels and Irish brown bread. I ordered the pan-fried cod with creamed cabbage, crispy potatoes and whole-grain mustard cream sauce. It was by far the most gourmet dish I’ve eaten in Ireland.
My brother ordered a light and yummy rendition of fish and chips made with haddock.
We shopped around for another hour before beginning the two-hour drive back to the castle. I rode with my Aunt Margie, who’s a little nervous and jumpy about driving on the left side of the road, so I tried to nap as we weaved our way around the myriad roundabouts the Irish use to control traffic instead of traffic signals. My aunt hates them, but I think it’s a great system because then the state has almost no need for traffic lights or stop signs. Just yield and go.
Exhausted from our travels and knowing that we’d be waking up early to visit the Cliffs of Mohr on Thursday, we stayed in and hung out around the castle instead of going out. We knew we’d be able to visit Nellie’s pub down the street another night.