Guys, big news…. tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day!
I am so happy-excited to share how I’m going to celebrate: The long-ago promised recap of our Ireland trip!
I have been trying to convince myself to write more about the trip for a while. I was worried it would be too far from my cooking focus, too difficult to write about, or maybe even boring for some.
Let’s get a few things out of the way:
- There will be minimal cooking in the recap. My mixing bowl stayed at home.
- It’s okay if you want to skip it (but seriously, who doesn’t want to be whisked away to Ireland?)
- I’m writing this for me. I want to get all the details in writing before things become hazy and hard to remember. I want to share more pictures. Also, I want to convince everyone who has any chance to go to Ireland to take it.
First Days: Travel Hiccups and Irish Hospitality
September 29, 2012
Our little McAlpine family — David and I, his parents Mike and Jean and brother Adam– arrived in Shannon, Ireland on September 29. We were an excited five-some, still catching our breath from just barely making our connection in London. In Heathrow we had to take a dizzying bus ride around construction sites, go through 2 carry-on checks and 2 biometric (?) security checks. Our flight was going to depart in ten minutes. We found a big electronic board with estimated walking time to our gate — 25 minutes!
Like something from a comedy with amusing, fast-paced music, we ran to the gate with backpacks thumping. Our legs brought us just in time to catch the flight to Shannon.
We arrived a few hours later, but unfortunately, our luggage did not.
All five pieces of our rainbow of luggage were lost — the green, the yellow, the red, the brown, the blue. Attempts to find the luggage proved difficult. Lots of different people to talk to, very few answers. Even so, we met a couple people who exemplified awesome qualities we would see throughout the country: mischief and kindness.
After some luggage-searching we found an airport employee who agreed to help us. He was an older and slightly grouchy looking man, or at least I thought so. He brought us into his small office and pointed to the phone number on the wall. Very seriously he told us that this was the direct phone number for his superior. His voice was grave but we saw his eyes were winking at us as he told us that he “can’t imagine who would give us this number; it certainly wouldn’t be him.” More winking and eyes twinkling. We laughed and thanked him. We were thankful for his mischievous rule-breaking help.
We decided to stay the night in the hotel right next to the airport. The kind receptionist immediately joined our efforts in finding our luggage-rainbow. She came to our room to help make calls. She exemplified above and beyond when the phone in our room stopped working, and she kept making calls with our bathroom phone.
While managing the excitement for the trip and hassle of finding our suitcases, we decided to visit the nearby Bunratty Castle. The castle was updated with decorations and furniture everywhere to show how it might have looked centuries before. We warmed up our airplane-jelly legs climbing the steep, corkscrew staircases.
The castle was surrounded by a village of farmhouses, churches, animals, and traditional Irish cottages. This was one of the best places for taking pictures of buildings that we would see throughout the trip while driving but wouldn’t have time to photograph.
We got to see lots of old-style houses, built with stones and thatched roofs. The houses gave me my first experience with a very Irish smell — peat. Peat is turf that can be burned to heat homes. It’s still used in many Irish homes and has a distinct earthy smell — probably because it’s actually earth, right?
After exploring, we settled into a pub — The Creamery — for our first Irish meal. I tried the lamb stew, Jean chose the always-delicious vegetable soup, and the boys had shepherd’s pie. Nice and hearty, delicious, and refreshing for some worn-out travelers.
Thanks to Irish luck and our sweet hotel helper, we got our luggage late that night — immediately after deciding that we would survive without our stuff. When I caught sight of my suitcase, I realized I loved my stuff. There’s a lot joy in travel but also a lot of discomfort, and the thought of not having my comforting personal items was a little overwhelming. We had a very jovial night. The hotel staff and waiter in hotel restaurant also seemed genuinely happy for us.
Hiccups behind us, we would be on the road tomorrow, taking off from our west coast starting point to circle the island.
Ring Around County Kerry
September 30, 2012
The itinerary for our first full day in Ireland was simple and scenic: drive along the Ring of Kerry and arrive in Blarney (yes, home of the stone.) The Ring of Kerry is a gorgeous route along the southwestern coast of Ireland, in County Kerry. Mike drove us around the small, winding roads, and we crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t get stuck trying to cross paths with a big truck or bus.
We stopped for lunch along the way and I opted for a traditional Irish breakfast. Little did I know, I would get lots of chances to eat this breakfast at the B&B’s would be staying in. The meal usually consisted of bacon, thick cut and and more like ham, poached eggs, brown bread, and amazing butter.
This breakfast also had black and white pudding, the two round disks below. I wasn’t sure what the pudding was made of but happily tried it. I made the mistake of looking it up on Wikipedia after the trip. It’s kind of like looking up what’s in hot dogs — better off not knowing.
We drove all the way to Blarney — oohing and aahing at the scenery, and sometimes letting our chins drop to our chests for a jet-lag induced nap.
When we arrived, we started our search for a place to stay that night. We actually didn’t have reservations for any part of our trip because B&Bs are very prevalent around Ireland — even small towns might have three or four. We found a B&B next to woodlands and surrounded by flowering trees, Allcorn’s Country Home.
This B&B was one of the best that we stayed at during the trip. Cozy rooms, soft beds, lots of pillows, and a sweet host, Helen. Helen was hopped up from having just watched the national championship game of hurling. We had to confess we had never heard of the sport so she explained the basics. It’s a football-like game where players use sticks to hit a small ball to each other, trying to get it through a tall goalpost for one point or through the smaller guarded goal for three.
She explained the popularity of hurling in Ireland and how the championship was a matter of city pride. Each city trains and selects their best players to compete. Although the sport is hugely popular, all the players are unpaid amateurs. We loved listening to Helen about talk about the sport with such fervor and were glad to have something to bring up with the locals for instantly passionate conversation.
We went to the Blairs Inn for dinner with directions and recommendations by Helen. The low ceilings and the rustling fireplace made the inn feel cozy and authenticity Irish.
The waiter greeted us from behind the bar and led us to our table right next to the fireplace. He said something about us being Americans so we had to ask how he knew. He was diplomatic and mentioned something about the ballcaps Mike and David were wearing. Then he was charmingly self-deprecating and explained “Well you can always tell an Irishman on vacation because he’ll be red in the face and wearing black socks with sandals.”
We also had fun joking with the waiter and getting him to say “corned beef and cabbage.” Hearing someone say that was part of a list we compiled while traveling — all stereotypical Irish things that we would look out for like bagpipes, a man walking his sheep, leprechauns, and four-leaf clovers. We competed to see who would see each one first and checked one off the list at Blairs Inn.
Mike and Jean had been talking up the soups they had during their trip to Ireland seven years earlier. I decided to give it a try and ordered a bowl, which came with with brown bread and sweet cream butter. So so good. The soup was pureed, incredibly creamy, and so flavorful. I was in love and scooped every little bit I could with the hearty bread.
We returned to our B&B where we sipped tea, played card games, and searched for a hurling match on the TV. We were pretty sleepy — including Adam. At one point he asked me a question, and as I was answering I looked over and realized he had fallen asleep. So, it was off to bed to get ready for another day of travels, this time driving east toward the Wicklow mountains.