It’s easy to kick up your heels on vacation in Ireland
As luck would have it, my recent Irish vacation was like the life of Riley.
Irish jokes rained down on us daily, with even more frequency than the “liquid sunshine.” Our taste buds did the Irish Riverdance over the farm-fresh food. And, we kicked up our heels in the castles, the manors and the Emerald Isle’s green countryside at every opportunity.
Statistics say U.S. citizens outnumber U.K. visitors 3 to 1, and so we “butter the Irish bread,” so to speak. The Irish like and appreciate Americans – imagine that!
Here are some highlights of my visit there as well as dining and activity suggestions:
Double your fun in Dublin
We started off with a bang at the No. 1 tourist spot in Dublin: the Guinness Storehouse. Outside the historic structures at St. James Gate, horse-and-carriage taxis waited on cobblestone streets – and inside the seven-story visitor experience, we gazed up through the Guinness World Records’ tallest glass pint, five stories high.
In 1759, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease on four acres here for 45 pounds. Now, it encompasses 50 acres and the brewery produces 3 million pints a day.
The visitor’s goal is the Gravity Bar, with panoramic views of Dublin and beyond. But first, you must make your way up each level. It took us hours. We sipped, inhaled hop and barley scents in aroma rooms, poured the “perfect pint,” got certificates to prove it, listened to guides, toured historical sights, shopped at the retail outlet and ate at a restaurant.
“The USA is 23 percent of our visitors market,” Executive Chef Justin O’Connor told us at the Brewers Dining Hall. “We make beef and Guinness stew, and we’ve added Irish mussels in Guinness cream sauce, Irish smoked salmon on Guinness bread and chocolate truffles with Guinness. Classic food, simply done, from local suppliers and Irish fields.”
With pints in hand, we popped up to the Gravity Bar, and it was a sea of yellow and blue athletic shirts and shenanigans as the Swedish hurling team was there en masse, drinking dark and creamy brew the day before their big game. Oh, my Guinness! It sure was fun.
In front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, we overheard, “How does the world know Jesus was Irish?”
“Well, he had a dozen drinking buddies! He lived at home till he was 33! He thought his mother was a virgin! His mother thought he was God!”
Even late-great Irish writer Oscar Wilde had his tomfoolery quote pinned up on a nearby building.
“Work is the curse of the drinking class,” we read, before walking to Old Jameson Distillery, circa 1780, to see how work was done in the old days.
We took one of the 30-minute daytime tours that delighted us with its laugh-out-loud introductory movie. Lo and behold, the Swedish hurling team was at Jamesons, gearing up even more for the big game.
The literary life
Indubitably, Dublin offers much more than just beer and whiskey tours. Literary types may peruse the James Joyce Museum, George Bernard Shaw’s birthplace and the National Library. Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature with a claim on Nobel Prize winners such as William Butler Yeats.
The most famous literary attraction is Trinity College & Book of Kells, which transports you straight into a “Harry Potter” film fantasy. Do go there and capture the magnificence and grandeur of the upper-level library.
Trinity College researchers have traced President Barack Obama’s family tree on his mother’s side to the 17th century, when his 6th-great-grandfather, Michael Kearney, they say, was a successful Dublin wigmaker and politician.
For sports fans only
There are more than 300 golf courses in the country – no wonder Ireland is so green! At least 80 are oceanfront, and others are situated on loughs and heaths.
“The Irish love dog racing, too,” says Mike O’Dwyer, owner of Mulligans on the Blue and Fabiani’s, who was in Dublin when we were there to race his greyhound, Hawaii Kinsale. “Dublin’s Shelbourne Park runs races three times a week. Plus, there are 32 other dog tracks in the country.”
Horses are also an Irish passion as much as a tradition. There are 28 horse tracks countrywide and 233 racing days each year, you can bet on it.
You may also bet on hurling matches. I would have put my money on Paddy Power that weekend. But believe it or not, the Swedes won! Hmm . . . wonder what the Irish hurling team was doing the day before?
“This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever,” Sigmund Freud allegedly said about the lifestyle of the Irish.
Dublin’s culinary scene
We couldn’t have been more pleased to stumble upon Fade St. Social by famous Irish Chef Dylan McGrath on our first night in Dublin. This forward-thinking seasonal cuisine restaurant boasts a cool, clean Scandinavian design, yet it’s situated in a Georgian brick building.
We grabbed the last seats at the gastro-pub’s tapas bar, where we devoured popcorn chicken, oysters with chilled cured salmon cream and lemon-salmon dressing, and Irish beef carpaccio with celeriac and apple remoulade.
Across Drury Street from Fade St. Social is the Brooks Hotel, with its Jasmine Bar, a fabulously quiet spot for cool jazz on the piano. Voted one of the “Great Whisky Bars of the World” by Whisky Magazine and listed on the Whiskey Trail of Ireland, Jasmine pours more than 100 different varietals and offers the Whiskey Tasting Experience with Connemara Peat Single Malt and Midleton Very Rare 2006. By the way, it’s spelled with an “e” in Ireland and without in Scotland.
Temple Bar is a pub as well as the most popular nighttime tourist area of Dublin. Prices are higher here than where locals hang out. Patrons may drink outside, and cigarette smoke is as thick as the streets packed with raucous Swedes and other young tourists from many countries.
“What butter and whiskey won’t cure, there is no cure for,” shouted an Irishman near Ha’penny Bridge. Speaking of Irish butter, it’s the best.
Grafton Street is like a restaurant row. Bewley’s Cafe offers lunchtime drama shows and evening cabaret, jazz and comedy. Cafe en Seine was a great find on Dawson Street, a sprawling art deco masterpiece with three-story atrium, art nouveau glass, tall trees and statues.
We discovered Avoca Cafe on Suffolk Street next to Trinity College, quenching our thirst from a jug of housemade lemonade, and dove into the seafood board of crisp lemon sole, poached Clare Island salmon, roast Spanish prawns and Castletown crab with tartare sauce.
We heard all about the Reading Room on Simmonscourt Road in Dublin, and it didn’t disappoint. The Four Seasons’ day and night eatery was surprisingly casual, and affordable to boot. The menu listed nibbles, sharing boards, soups, salads, classic sandwiches, mains and desserts.
The maritime sharing board had a fun presentation of warm garlic brown crab claws and shrimps in jars along with chilled oysters and fragrant mussels. We nibbled on crispy confit of pork belly with pickled beets with apple and vanilla puree, chorizo and grapefruit salad.
But the best meal we had in Dublin was at The Cellar at the Merrion Hotel across the street from Leinster House parliament building, near St. Stephens Green.
The Cellar may not be the five-star Merrion’s top restaurant, Patrick Guilbaud, but under its vaulted ceilings and in its crooks and crannies comes off-the-charts cuisine.
We savored starters such as terrine of venison and duck confit with Clementine mustard and raisin-pecan croutes; and Liscannor crab with sweet corn veloute.
Entrees such as Kilmore Quay grilled black sole with garlic spinach, lemon-caper noisette paired with Domaine Vacheron Sancerre from the Loire Valley blew us away.
The Merrion also offers a slice of the 19th century with Art Tea, a lavish afternoon of miniature sweets inspired by J.B. Yeats and William Scott.
Sip Earl Grey, superior oolong or jasmine pearl green tea and savor savories, breads and cakes and outrageous handcrafted Art Tea pastries.
The hotel itself is a Georgian masterpiece with intricate details and inspiring gardens. It’s located right around the corner from O’Donaghues pub and inn and Foley’s pub, both famous for their Irish music.
Sheridan’s Cheesemongers in Dublin, Galway, Waterford and Meath purvey excellent farmhouse picks such as Bellingham blue and Mount Callan. The expert staff offers plentiful tastes from giant wheels. You may bring pasteurized cheeses home to the U.S., no problem.
But one thing you won’t find anywhere is corned beef and cabbage. Executive Chef Fintan Ryan of Carlton Airport Hotel in Dublin comes to Maui each year to cook hundreds of pounds of it for Mulligans on the Blue’s annual St. Patrick’s Day party in Wailea. “In Ireland,” he says. “We use bacon and cook it with cabbage. The bacon is more like cured pork. The way Americans eat it is a New England thing.”
You’ll adore Adare
A multiple winner in Ireland’s prestigious Tidy Towns competition, Adare is derived from the Celtic words, “Ath Dara,” or “ford of the oak,” referring to a fallen tree bridge that was a passage over the River Maigue, now replaced with a “new” 12th-century arch.
By the Middle Ages, Adare was a large settlement, boasting the Desmond Castle and three monasteries, the Franciscan and the Augustinian friaries and the Trinitarian Abbey. Tourists may visit the ruins and buildings.
By 1820, the Earl of Dunraven started to build the legendary Adare Manor. He never saw its completion, as it took 35 years to finish. Adare Manor is exquisite, rivaling any castle I’ve seen in Ireland. It remained a private family estate until 1982, when the Kane family from Florida restored it to its former glory; now it’s a five-star hotel.
Today, Adare is a tiny village of 2,000 people with thatched-roof cottages housing boutiques and restaurants. A magnificent park runs along the River Maige.
We stayed in the heart of the village at four-star Dunraven Arms. The hotel dates back to 1792 and is a former estate coach house. The bulletin board displays pictures of guests Teddy Kennedy and Michael Douglas.
Its award-winning Maigue Restaurant offers views of the thatched cottages and park. Famous for roast beef and baked Limerick ham carved from the trolley, it also serves Irish prawn bisque with brandy cream; Bluebell Falls goat cheese salad with beets, oranges and roasted pine nuts; and creme brulee with lavender shortbread and fresh raspberries.
More and more castles
An easy 25-minute drive from our base at Dunraven Arms in Adare was Bunratty Castle & Folk Park in County Clare. Along with Knappogue and Dunguaire castles, Bunratty takes you back in time with medieval banquets on long oak tables, candlelight and open fires. Tap your feet to Irish singers and musicians, sip honey mead from a goblet, and dine on four-course meals and select wines.
We chose to tour Bunratty by day and enjoy lunch just outside the castle grounds at the original Durty Nelly’s pub, established in 1620. We slurped three fresh oysters on the half shell and a glass of Guinness.
Next up was King John’s Castle in Limerick. Situated on the River Shannon, its towers offer the highest observation point of the city. The renovated castle is an ultra-modern visitor experience with touch-screen technology that lets you explore castle life, siege and warfare.
Of course, you’ll be told you “must kiss the Blarney Stone” at Blarney Castle, as it gives the gift of eloquent gab. You also must shop at nearby Blarney Woollen Mills, with bargain deals on Waterford crystal and Irish linens.
Cong is King
We drove north from Galway City and sang along to songs such as “The Irish Rover,” and “Molly Malone” on our new Irish pub CD.
We stopped at the thatched-roof home of a family friend and walked past a gaggle of ducks, sleeping dogs and 99 fat sheep before being warmly welcomed indoors.
Then it was off to Village Cong, County Mayo where director John Ford filmed the John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara movie, “The Quiet Man,” which in 1952 put Ireland on the world tourist map.
Danagher’s pub that was in the film is still there, and we enjoyed music there one night by the peat fire in the stone fireplace.
The five-star Ashord Castle is a five-minute walk away. Situated on Lough Corrib, Ireland’s second-largest lake, its foundation was laid in 1228. It changed hands several times over the centuries and was upgraded and expanded. It’s just sublime. Once the Guinness family estate, it became a luxury hotel in 1939.
New owners, Red Carnation hotel group, will close it January to March for even more renovations.
We felt like royalty walking the manicured grounds boasting a golf course, gardens and fountains, and we tried our hand at falconry and it was epic. A lifetime memory. The castle offers clay shooting, horseback riding and bicycling as well.
We took a boat ride with Corrib Cruises. Capt. David Luskin said his grandfather built the antique boathouse across the moat from the castle. He took us to Inchagoill Island, where we toured ancient ruins. We also docked near Oscar Wilde’s home, next to the castle.
As for cuisine and service, Ashford Castle was impeccable in every detail. Five-star all the way, at its George V restaurant.
We went for the gusto with the four-course meal. Cream of fennel-lime soup was topped with air-dried lamb; organic leaves with custard of Cooleeney cheese, sunflower seed brittle and caramelized red-onion dressing; reed cooked rack of lamb with goat cheese potatoes and fresh mint; and dark chocolate Bavarois with wild berries.
Just 40 minutes south of Dublin is Enniskerry in County Wicklow. You may drive there from Dublin, or stay the night in classic old-world bed-and-breakfasts or the five-star Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt.
Picturesque Enniskerry set the film stage for Laurence Oliver’s 1944 “Henry V” and the 2007 “P.S. I Love You,” starring Gerard Butler.
Just five minutes away from the village square is famous Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, the location for “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
In the 13th century, a medieval castle was built and in 1730, the first Viscount Powerscourt commissioned a 68-room Palladian mansion. Now restored to its former glory after a fire in 1974, Powerscourt houses Avoca mall, the Terrace Cafe and a museum for children.
In the house, you pay to tour the Powerscourt Gardens and then you stroll past statues, terraced paths, rose gardens, ponds and a pet cemetery. Redwoods and oaks tower above.
Powerscourt Waterfalls is the highest in Ireland and a short drive from the estate. Ritz-Carlton Powerscourt also offers visits to the River Walk, tranquil forest pathways that were built by the viscount in 1868 so he could fish.
The hotel resembles Powerscourt Estate and is just a five-minute walk away. It houses the epic Gordon Ramsay restaurant, where we dined after touring the gardens on the freshest Atlantic halibut with carrot puree and coriander, gnocchi, salted peach, soy and ginger; and loin of Wicklow lamb, eggplant puree, risolle, baby artichoke and cherry tomatoes, as well as passion fruit souffle with salted caramel ice cream.
Another Enniskerry “must do” is to drive through Wicklow Mountains National Park, with glacial bogs, hills of heather with plump sheep, forests, rivers and waterfalls. A great picnic spot is Glendalough glacial lake, with ancient monastic settlements.
Ireland’s happening west coast city jumps with nightlife as well as daytime activities, culture and music. Yet, its cobblestone streets and ancient doors and buildings will have you stepping back in time to a place that evokes medieval Ireland.
Galway Market is the place to go for farm-fresh produce and arts and crafts. Galway Atlantaquaria as well as Leisureland are perfect for kids. The city also boasts five universities and tons of restaurants.
Galway’s seafood reigns supreme, and the city just celebrated with a big Oyster Festival.
We dined at O’Grady’s on the Pier and Hotel Meyrick’s Oyster Grill Restaurant, the latter offering large Victorian windows with views of Eyre Square, where John F. Kennedy once gave a passionate speech about his Irish heritage.
We had the table d’hote menu: crostini with woodland mushrooms and blue cheese; grilled fillet of North Atlantic cod with sundried tomato and basil butter; and lemon posset for dessert.
House Hotel in Galway’s historic Latin Quarter, just off Quay Square and Spanish Arch, offers an early-bird two course meal that puts out some fine seafood.
First family of food
Modern Ireland is planets apart from its troubled past, which included the Great Famine between 1845 and 1852, when a million people died of starvation and a million fled the country. It’s no wonder that today the Irish have a love of food.
In 2013, The Gathering is a nationwide promo inviting all of the clans that left to return and celebrate events such as the Galway Oyster Festival and the Bram Stoker Experience: Get Sucked into Sligo.
The Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine was one of many events at the Ballymaloe House & Cookery School, owned by the Allen family. Former Mauian Tom “Knockninny” Kelly now lives in Portumna, Ireland. He told me I “must” go to Ballymaloe to dine and meet the Allens.
Kelly went with his grandparents 41 years ago, and the matriarch, Myrtle Allen, is still vibrant and fun. We dined with her and daughter Darina Allen, the Emerald Isle’s most famous chef and a best-selling author and TV personality – and the rest of the Allen family, including farmer Rory Allen, who has windsurfed at Hookipa and loves Maui.
Darina is chairwoman of Slow Food Ireland, and she was the featured speaker along with Ireland’s prime minister the day before at the Grow Your Own event in Waterford.
Situated near Cobh on the southern tip of Ireland, Ballymaloe is 14 fields away from the Atlantic Ocean. It has ancient walled organic gardens, a bird sanctuary, a swimming pool, a coffee store, a gift shop, a grain-house ballroom, and a beautiful estate house that serves as a hotel with restaurant.
Everything on the buffet came from the farm, such as free-range pork, beef, lamb, duck and turkey. All were the best ever.
We were also served the most flavorful spiced carrot-tomato soup, Shanagarry stuffed peppers, and seafood such as mussels and clams in the Goan style.
“I’ve taught thousands at the cooking school,” says Darina. “It’s impossible to give an exact figure. I have had so many Americans who have attended both our 12-week certificate courses as well as shorter one-day, two-and-a-half day and five-day courses.”
So many Mauians I’ve spoken with love to vacation in Ireland, including MauiGrown Coffee’s Kimo Falconer, Green Ti’s Erika Oleska, Maui Culinary Academy’s Julie Umetsu, Cafe O’Lei’s Michael and Dana Pastula, Green Realty Group’s Lisa Teichner, Five Palms’ Eileen Gallegos, and Mulligans on the Blue’s Damian Nestor. Even Mick Fleetwood just performed in Dublin last month with Fleetwood Mac. If you have the chance, do go there. It will be the life of Riley.
* Email Carla Tracy at firstname.lastname@example.org.