Travel Ireland traveling and living in Ireland <![CDATA[ Irish Cooking is not Corned Beef and Cabbage]]>
Yes, the potato is still a staple and is served with almost every meal, but in wonderful and fresh ways. You will also get two other veggies on your plate as well which makes for a very balanced and flavorful meal.

Even the celebrity chefs are aware of the wonderful contemporary Irish cuisine - watch shows by Bobby Flay and Anthony Bourdain as they rave about the food.]]> Tue, 12 Apr 2011 23:24:54 +0000
<![CDATA[Bru Bar Hostel Quick Tip by GlassofWin]]> Thu, 3 Feb 2011 23:06:04 +0000 <![CDATA[ Bru Bar Hostel – Cork, Ireland]]> When my friend Steffie and I were  plotting our travels to Ireland last year, I knew that I wanted our home base to be in Cork, even though we would be leaving for the east and a bit north the day after our arrival. For that first night in Cork we stayed at the Bru Bar Hostel.

Ironically, my boyfriend had stayed there years ago, and just happened to walk in on their first anniversary party (Pimps and Hos theme, apparently). He said it was a nice place, and my handy dandy Cork guide book by Linda Fallon also mentioned it, too.
Bru won out over the other well-known Cork hostel, Sheila’s, for two reasons:
1) Unlike Sheila’s, Bru Bar is not situated on a steep hill
2) Sky Link airport shuttle dropped us off about fifty feet away from the Bru Bar door.

With my heart condition and how tired we were going to be after all of that traveling there was no way in hell I’m going to be lugging my crap up some steep ass hill.

There are two ground floor entrances – one for checked-in guests with a pass card and the door leading through the bar that Bru Bar runs. A nice woman was waiting behind a Dutch door and checked us in right away. She gave us a voucher for a free Bud Lite at the bar. Neither of us drink Bud, but it was a nice gesture. Make it a Bulmer’s or Heineken and then we’ll talk.

There is no lift/elevator at Bru Bar. I repeat: there is no lift/elevator. So, if you’ve booked one of the smaller, all-female private dorms, prepare to hike your ass up about five flights of stairs.
I would have been OK if I had not been carrying about 40lbs of extra weight, but I was, so it did. Hurt, I mean. I’m not blaming this on Bru Bar, by the way. The building itself is just darling and I admire anyone who keeps structural integrity. However, I reserve my right to bitch and moan.


Room with a view
At least the view is lovely.

So we get up to our floor and there are only two rooms – with two bathrooms directly across from each room, divided by a narrow hardwood floor hall. I’ll address my one of few complaints regarding the bathroom in a minute, but first, the dorm. It’s a narrow room, unsurprising given we were up in the topmost floor. Two bunk beds with rolling storage cages underneath were pressed up against one wall and that was about all that could fit. Two people definitely cannot walk around that room at the same time. My bed linen wasn’t the most spotless, but it was clean as the smell of fabric softener still lingered and the hardwood floor had little to no trace of dust bunnies.


Now, when I booked the 4 person all-female dorm room, I knew it was supposed to be en suite. All rooms are described having “private bathrooms, most en suite”. I assumed that the bathroom would be accessible via the dorm itself and we wouldn’t have to bother with a hall. It wasn’t much of a bother until we used our bathroom and realized the people in our neighboring dorm were already in full use of both theirs and our bathroom. Their towels, soaps and hair care products were in both. Uh, OK? I don’t think we would have minded too much except that we quickly realized (as we were trying to nap) that our neighbors were mostly boys.

Well, we just shrugged – telling ourselves again this place was just for one night. We’ll play along, too, and use their bathroom if need be.



Warm yellow walls & modern bunk beds

After our nap, we went downstairs to explore and use the advertised free “high-speed” internet. We found the common room, a cozy room with a bar ledge seating and in-lay conjoined couch, coffee tables, a TV in the ceiling corner (like a hospital TV) and two computers on the bar ledge. A young girl was situated at one computer, the other free. I went to fiddle at the free computer but was informed by the young girl next to it that it was down and had been so for a couple days. After a few more exchanges with her a couple of facts came to light:
1) The girl was from Canada (awesome; I love me some Canadians) 
2) She was a FANGIRL! (hmm...okay, she has interests, it's good to like things...)
3) She had just flown halfway around the world to park her butt in front of a dial-up connection to indulge in her fangirldom. (noooooooooooooooo)

The Canadian FANGIRL! had been on the computer for quite some time reading scantalations – manga (Japanese comics) scanned in, their Kanji digitally erased and replaced with translated English text. Between that and some piece of fanfiction on Livejournal, (“Just let me finish up this chapter! I have to finish it!”) this chick had been hogging the computer for hours. Unfathomable; why travel half way around the world to glue yourself in front of a computer screen?

I was having none of it as the computer was shut off at midnight and it was already 10:30-11:00pm by the time we came downstairs.
I decided to speak her language and talk to her about anime conventions, cosplay and other anime nerd topics. She was very happy that I spoke Otaku and after five minutes of fangirl talk, she scampered off the computer to find her travel buddies - like an unidentifiable anime critter to find mischief and food. I was able to email my mother and let her know I was alive and safely arrived at my hostel. 

The kitchen is adjacent to the common room; it’s large with nice facilities. Cooker, fridge, cupboards, large sink, shelves, drying rack, cutlery and cookware all there. Even a kitchen radio to keep your feet moving.

The beds are comfortable and for the five hours I did sleep, I slept soundly. It was neither too warm nor too cold, and the blankets just right.

The staff was kind enough to put out all of the breakfast goodies in the kitchen a wee bit early and after a hearty breakfast of toast, tea, cereal & porridge we checked out and headed off to Kent station to go to Dublin.




Bru Bar Hostel Pros:
Secure – having your card key on you at all times is a must! Even from the bathroom to your bedroom.
Well-equipped Kitchen – perfect for saving a buck and fixing your own meal with groceries.
Decently clean – Not as clean as they profess on the website, but you’re not about to step or sleep on anything squishy and questionable.
Location – MacCurtain Street is insanely central; it was only an eight minute walk (with our luggage, so 5 minutes regular) to Kent train station and five-seven to the bus terminal.
Friendly staff – Happy to help you out, from food recommendations to directions.

Bru Bar Hostel Cons:
Noise – The bedroom and hallway doors are heavy and LOUD. Just be courteous to your neighbors and hold onto the door handles to gently close the doors.
Wonky Computers – Seriously, there is nothing “high-speed” about their internet. They need to get rid of all of the crap other people have stuck on there, clean the hard drive and upgrade.
Bathrooms – This is my one serious complaint. Firstly, for an all-female dorm to be placed next to a dorm with males is kind of counter-intuitive, especially when bathrooms are not pass key locked. I think the top floor at least needs to be re-worked, because the reason why I booked an all-female dorm en suite with “private bathroom” was to avoid bumping into some dude in his boxers at 5:30am, praying to the high heavens he didn’t miss the bowl of our alleged private bathroom.

Would I stay at Bru Bar Hostel again? For one or two nights maximum.

Would I recommend Bru Bar Hostel? Yes, but I’d give a heads up about the bathrooms.

Bru Bar Hostel
57 MacCurtain Street
021 455-9667

Bru Bar Hostel website

]]> Thu, 3 Feb 2011 19:48:50 +0000
<![CDATA[ Cafe Gusto: The Pancakes to End All Pancakes]]> Though we technically did not eat a full meal there, I feel that Cafe Gusto warrants its own post because it is a place I personally endorse and want to see thrive – not that it really needs my help, as the wall-to-wall patronage was testimony enough to its outstanding fare and popularity.


Latte of Love
Steffie’s latte of love

We knew about Cafe Gusto a bit of time before heading to Ireland because we befriended @CafeGusto on Twitter (and so should you if you’re going to be in the Cork area anytime soon!) after I Twit-shouted for Cork eatery suggestions.

My travel pal Steffie and I went to Cafe Gusto on our very first full day in Cork – we were tired and weighed down by our grocery shopping, but determined to go for “Tweet-Up Tuesday” ~ which included a buy one get one free hot beverage.
We did not know which location to go to, so we headed for the original Cafe Gusto located on Washington Street. Like the total n3rds we are, we declared why we had come, and after stiffing their giggles, the kind staff sent for Cafe Gusto co-owner aka The Man Behind the Twitter, Denis.

Cafe Gusto itself is hip without being pretentious, with a wide variety of beverages as well as a healthy stocked menu and an array of delectable desserts. Regrettably, I had eaten elsewhere (at a fine establishment, I just ordered something that I knew I wasn’t really all that into. I ordered out of necessity for food, not to my taste.) so I went for a pot of peppermint tea (free with Steffie’s latte order! 2 for Tuesday!) and an order of pancakes (Unlike here in America, pancakes appear to be mostly reserved for dessert occasions in Europe & UK).



My words directly from my travel journal say this regarding the pancakes:

“…they were small + squishy looking like crepes and came with chocolate sauce and OHMYGOD did they hit the spot, I want more!!!”

Denis swung by and hung out with us as we were finally able to unwind and really enjoy our day. He chatted with us about out trip and gave us so much valuable information on what’s going on around the city (Street Performer Championships), great places to eat (Ivory Tower – it’s on my 30 before 30!) and more. We felt all the more welcomed after chatting with him, happy to have made a new acquaintance.

Cafe Gusto, along with its sister restaurant Liberty Grill, is an integral part of Cork foodie culture, as it is a vital piece in moving Ireland (Cork in particular) up in the world as a foodie force to reckon with.

Cafe Gusto
3 Washington Street
Cork, Ireland

-secondary location-
The Boardwalk, Lapps Quay, Cork

Cafe Gusto – Website
@CafeGusto – Twitter
Cafe Gusto – Facebook

]]> Wed, 22 Dec 2010 23:00:26 +0000
<![CDATA[ Liberty Grill - The perfect Irish brunch]]>  

Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict
Eggs Royale

Steffie loves her smoked salmon and ordered the Eggs Royale, “smoked salmon, poached eggs on sourdough topped with Hollandaise sauce.”The verdict? LOVE.

I ordered the Crab Cake Benedict, described as “spicy crab cakes and potato, eggs and Holandaise.” Their spicy is mild, but I love it, like a slow, well-seasoned burn. Fresh crab, light eggs so fluffy you’d think they were clouds and perfectly smooth, non-salty (a sign of poor Hollandaise) Hollandaise. I wanted more of you!


Crab Cakes Eggs Benedict
Crab Cake Benedict

Steffie and I reserved Liberty Grill for our last full day in Cork, Monday the 14th of June. We were sad to leave but decided to go hog wild and squeeze in as much Cork experience as we could from shopping, to a museum, to dining out twice and even the theater. It was our last day and we wanted a nice send off. Going to Liberty Grill that morning was not just to enjoy an exquisitely prepared meal but to say farewell to our pal Denis, who, along with wife Marianne, owns and operates Liberty Grill & Cafe Gusto. We could not have asked for a more ideal morning or breakfast.

Liberty Grill
32 Washington St., Cork

Open: Monday-Saturday
Breakfast, Brunch and Lunch: 8am to 5pm
Dinner: 5-9pm

Liberty Grill – Facebook
Liberty Grill – Twitter

]]> Wed, 22 Dec 2010 22:54:50 +0000
<![CDATA[ Cafe Paradiso]]>  

Cafe Paradiso

This is a post long in the making. I’m not just talking about the three months it’s taken me to write this up, no. I’m talking about the fact that this restaurant has been on my radar for well over a year before I actually stepped into its foodie vista. Y’see, I attempted (and failed miserably) to be a vegetarian so when I was initially plotting out my trip to Cork (the city I knew I’d be making home base in) I was hunting for the best vegetarian fare.

People who haven’t been to Cork (let alone Ireland) mightn’t think to connect out of this world vegetarian cuisine with a traditionally meat and potatoes country, but let me be quick to dash any and all assumptions: Cafe Paradiso is not merely a vegetarian restaurant; it is a culinary experience that knows how to work the veg so deliciously it’s almost poetic and no meat is necessary.

I do not want you to think of Cafe Paradiso as a vegetarian only restaurant. It sounds limiting. Truthfully, the food at Cafe Paradiso breaks so many taste bud barriers I think meat would only mar the wonders that master chef and founder Denis Cotter has concocted. This is food for everyone; you do not have to be anything but open minded and ready to have your foodie world rocked to its core.

My first trip to Cafe Paradiso started on a Wednesday early evening. I made a reservation for one but had my friend Steffie guide me because for some reason Ireland really is where the streets have no feckin’ name and totally turns me all about. We parted ways after I spotted the steel blue exterior with foliage etched frosted glass windows. Inside was decorated in muted blues, hardwood floor and comfy seating. Their space is cozy but cleverly used.

I was served a snack of olives and flat crispbread with sesame and pumpkin seeds. Light and tasty – the olives were especially lovely with a bite of brine.

While you wait

Starter: pan-fried Shitake mushrooms with sea spinach and sweet potato with a peanut lime dressing, chili and vermicelli crisps.

The peanut fluff and cools the chili, but it is the sweet potato and mushrooms that are the real stars, bursting with all of their natural flavor under the harmonious seasoning. The crisps are more for texture than anything else and are a nice contrast to the sea spinach.
The chili is a nice kick but you are not constantly reaching for your water.

Starter - Cafe Paradiso

Main: Asparagus, potato and roast tomato gratin with mustard cream, herbed hazelnut and Gabriel cheese crust.

“This is what Heaven tastes like,” I told the general manager when she came to check on me.
It was pretty but inviting – short of having EAT ME written all over it. The sauce was so enchanting I had to force myself to put down my fork and savor each bite. It was very difficult not just wolf this dish down. Everything was cooked to perfection: tender potatoes, sweet tomatoes, and asparagus grilled/roasted so flawlessly that I saved the tips for last. The cheese and sauce blend so well you can’t separate them and yet each individual ingredient stands out to my taste buds. The hazelnuts add a wonderful crunch and the herbs are insane; they’re so complimentary.
I ate every single bite…oh my goodness.

Main Entree - Cafe Paradiso

This is technically where my first adventure to Cafe Paradiso ended as I was due to meet Steffie by the end of my meal. I wanted dessert so badly, though, so I knew I would have to squeeze in another visit. In the time that I was there the restaurant slowly filled up, mostly with locals. I will also take this time to add that they have an impressive wine list but as I am a wine dolt I stuck with my pitcher of water.
Other items on the menu were:
Cardamon yoghurt
Beetroot, watercress and mint risotto
Sweet chilli-glazed panfried tofu with asian greens in a coconut & lemongrass broth, soba noodles and a gingered aduki bean wonton

Their menu changes seasonally to use the freshest ingredients each season has to offer. They have a working relationship with local farm Gort-Na-Nain Farm.

My travel pal Steffie and I managed to make it back on Saturday afternoon to enjoy dessert.

Dessert One: Rhubarb Fool with orange shortbread.

Arriving in a brandy glass, the fool was light, fluffy and sweet (though not abundantly sugary) with a pinch of tartness from the natural flavors of rhubarb.


Rhubarb Fool

Dessert 2: Strawberry Pavlova with passion fruit syrup.

It was like eating a sweet cloud, not unlike taking a bite out of Care-a-Lot with its toasted meringue shell and fluff on the inside. My first pavlova has set the bar very high!

Strawberry Pavlova

Needless to say, we left in a happy, hazy sweet-tooth coma.

Some non-veggies don’t realize just how filling and satisfying vegetarian food can be. It’s time to step away from all of the meat and learn all of the wonderful ways our Earth’s fare can accomplish a full meal.

Browse around their website to learn more about Cafe Paradiso’s philosophy, shop, updates, and even some recipes! I can’t wait to purchase Denis Cotter’s cookbooks and be able to attempt these culinary escapades in my own kitchen.

Cafe Paradiso
16 Lancaster Quay
Cork, Ireland

]]> Wed, 22 Dec 2010 18:47:44 +0000
<![CDATA[ Greenes Restaurant (Cork)]]> Adjacent to the Isaac’s Hotel and Apartments is the Greenes Restaurant, a lovely fine dining restaurant that my friend Steffie and I decided to splurge on our last night in Cork. I had been eye-balling the menu all week and as we decided to stay close to home for our last evening, Greenes was the idea choice before we headed out to the Everyman Theatre across the street to see a performance of Little Gem.

The service was impeccable, attentive and informative. The interior is friendly, warm and classy without being stuffy, exclusive and snobbish. MacCurtain Street is a very busy thoroughfare and yet there is no trace of the hustle and bustle going on a few yards away as the restaurant is kept tranquil. With the waterfall and stone courtyard, you would swear you were off in the country instead of being smack dab in the center of Cork City.



Compliments of the Chef

Compliments of the chef: mackerel pate on a crustini with yellow mustard.
Verdict: Amazing. I normally do not care for mackerel, but I gobbled this up.

Monkfish Cheek on Crispy Pork Belly

Order: Braised Monkfish Cheeks in Red Wine, Mushrooms served on Crispy Pork Belly, Mini Pomme Duchesse
Verdict: If there was a heaven for meat eaters, this would be it. I had never ordered anything so bold and never been so satisfied with a move like this in all of my life. I dream about this morsel a lot.

Baked cod something or other

Order: Baked Cod with Parsley Crust served on Fresh Tagliatelle, Frank Hederman smoked Mussels, Cream & Lemon Sauce
Verdict: I wanted to love this dish but did not. The combination of smoked mussels and lemon was too overwhelming to enjoy the sauce, which is a shame because tagliatelle is my favorite kind of pasta noodle. However, the fish alone was sumptuous.

Natural Smoked Haddock

Order: Pan fried Natural Smoked Haddock on Baby Potatoes, Spinach, Gubbeen Chorizo & Roast Garlic Aioli
Verdict: “It tastes like breakfast!” – Steffie. That’s easily the highest compliment a master chef can earn for a main when it comes to Steffie. She loved that dish.

Creme Brulee

Order: Creme Brulee with vanilla biscuits
Verdict: Steffie’s dessert weakness did not disappoint.

Millefeuille Magic

Order: Millefeuille of Filo pastry, lemon curd, strawberries topped with Chantilly cream, watermelon shake shot glass
Verdict: The watermelon shot was not as sweet as I was anticipating, but instead a refreshing contrast to the sweetness of the main dessert. I could have eaten three of those, they were magic. Strawberries and lemon are never a regretful combo, and the pastry was a light and crisp delight.

Would I dine at Greenes Restaurant again? Yes!

Whether you’re patronizing Isaac’s or not, it’s worth while to make a reservations at Greenes simply because chef Frederic Desormeaux knows what he’s doing. He brings the very definition of master chef to the literal and figurative table.

Greenes Restaurant
48 MacCurtain Street
Cork, Ireland

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]]> Wed, 22 Dec 2010 17:44:55 +0000
<![CDATA[ Pioneering, unique stout]]>
Guinness is one of those underrated beers which is great in part because of how it subtly differs from other stouts.  Folks either love stouts or hate the burned bitterness that characterizes them.  But Guiness goes a step further by adding a signature tanginess which comes from a small portion of the wort being left to undergo a separate, different sort of fermentation.

Guinness is brewed using a somewhat unusual method whereby a small portion of the wort is set aside and allowed to undergo a lactic acid fermentation before being skimmed, boiled, and added back to the main wort.  If you taste Guinness, you will note that it doesn't taste like a stout:  it has a tangy sourness that's not normally present.  That's the lactic acid from this secondary, "sour wort" brewing.  This is similar to the tang you expect from a nice sourdough bread (and actually it's an analogous process).

Sour worts are not generally favored by most breweries and home brewers because there is a view that they are hard to control (and hence consistency isn't as possible as it might be otherwise).  This is true, but Guinness has managed to master it.

So if you are looking for a unique, bitter, and tangy beer, Guinness is one of those you cannot ignore.]]> Mon, 8 Nov 2010 17:58:37 +0000
<![CDATA[Guinness Draught Quick Tip by MNeulander]]> Thu, 12 Aug 2010 02:34:31 +0000 <![CDATA[ Amazing costume store for women--Touch of Ireland]]>


]]> Mon, 5 Apr 2010 23:43:22 +0000
<![CDATA[Jameson Irish Whiskey Quick Tip by Arcticwolf]]> Tue, 9 Mar 2010 16:36:30 +0000 <![CDATA[Guinness Draught Quick Tip by jrjohnson]]> Fri, 5 Mar 2010 21:57:28 +0000 <![CDATA[Guinness Draught Quick Tip by thomasknoll]]> Thu, 4 Mar 2010 07:21:25 +0000 <![CDATA[ Guinness Draught: Nothing but hype]]> Everyone's heard of Guinness. even if you don't drink beer, you've heard of Guinness.  As the gentleman in the TV ads would say, their marketing is, "brilliant!" Unfortunately, their beer is awful!

The Pour

Upon pouring this into a pint glass, the first reaction is, “This is one beautiful beer!”  When you first pour it, it looks brown in the glass as it comes alive in the glass and releases bubbles into a gorgeous very light beige (almost white, really) thick pillowy head.  When the beer settles down, the beer itself is almost completely black in the glass with the most beautiful head you can find in a beer. The contrast in the beer and the head is striking!

The Nose
This smells lightly of roasted malts, but without any hint of sweetness.  It is an Irish stout, after all, which is a drier stout than some other sweet stouts.  It smells somewhat clean, and there are definite hints of coffee beans.

The Taste
This has a very clean, smooth and refreshing mouthfeel and is lighter bodied than you would guess from the pour alone.  There is a very slight roasted flavor profile and it is somewhat dry on the finish.  Sounds good so far, but despite the previous descriptions, the flavor leaves me literally with a sour look on my face (something akin to the old bitter beer face).  It tasted metallic and just unpleasant to me.  I had to  follow it with a bowl of Lucky Charms to get the taste out of my mouth.

I hate Guinness. It can’t be more clear than that. It tasted metallic and just bad, and was not a pleasant beer.  If you like the flavor, for some weird reason, it is very drinkable. To me, it tastes like some sort of chemical, and Guinness’ success can be directly attributable to a job well done by their marketing folks. All hype and not much else.

Recommended: Not to my worst enemy.

Visit my blog for this and other beer reviews.]]> Fri, 19 Feb 2010 04:54:53 +0000
<![CDATA[ The storyteller]]> Thu, 7 May 2009 12:00:00 +0000 <![CDATA[ A great "once in awhile" beer]]>
One thing I've found is that it tastes INFINITELY better when it's super cold.  So if you're a slow sipper, you may find that the last few sips might be a little warm and not as tasty.  So bottoms up!
]]> Fri, 27 Feb 2009 22:10:27 +0000
<![CDATA[ Practically a dessert]]> ]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2008 12:32:54 +0000 <![CDATA[ Excellent beer if you have it in Ireland]]>
I've tried Guinness several times over the years. It's of course a very dark beer, and has a strong taste that has never interested me. I've usually just drank it because it's what was there, and not because I actually enjoy it. However, that was long before I went to Ireland. Of course, Guinness is brewed in Dublin, Ireland. And I for one must say, that it is completely different and so much better in Ireland. At the pubs, bartenders fill the glass 3/4 full and let it sit for 2 minutes to let the froth settle and rise to the top. After 2 minutes, they finish filling it and serve it to you. This is the only way to have a Guinness. I had a Guinness after I returned back to the states and I had to force it down. When I was in Ireland, I had a couple Guinness' everywhere I went. It tasted as good or better than any other beer I've had. The Irish drink it for breakfast.
]]> Wed, 10 Dec 2008 02:23:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Interesting and insightful book]]>
The book is organized into five parts, each part covering a province of traditional Ireland (Ulster, Munster, Leinster, Connacht, and Meath). Within each part, the geography is told in three chapters: an introduction chapter, a second chapter which contains a great deal more detail, and a concluding chapter which includes summaries of other interesting sites. In general, only a couple of closely located sites are covered in any detail for each province.

The book, however, requires that one has a reasonable grounding in Irish myth and legend. Dames does not retell the legends, but largely references them in his discussions of the land. If this is your first book on Irish myth, you are better off to set it aside for the time being, pick up Charles Squire's book, and read that first. However, once you have read that, I still recommend coming back to this book.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Irish myth, though I might recommend other books first to the beginner.]]> Mon, 18 Aug 2008 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ 32 parts stand for the whole island]]>
For instance, the border in the Armagh visit to the Tayto factory at Tandragee Castle reveals a great detail, in impressively subtle observation and comparison, about the cultural differences on each side of the frontier. Similarly, the Fermanagh example of the border hamlets at Pettigo-Tullyhommon & Belcoo/Blacklion show the daily idiosyncracies of phone service, postal delivery, and commercial trade across a sturdy if nearly invisible divide. Another rift she enters in the Meath visit to the Columban missionary fathers' nearly empty but once filled former seminary and the graying and diminishing ranks of the Trappists at Waterford's Mount Melleray opens up deftly the fading echo of retreating Catholicism in an era of declining vocations and secularized lifestyles.

At Malin Head in Donegal, I liked her treatment of how visibility for weather forecasting still depends in a technological era on a human observer looking at the sky and checking gauges on the hour no matter what. This attention for the telling detail is Boland at her best. When she gets to the Sligo "fairy theme park" run by one "Melody, Baroness of Leyne, Ph.D.," all Boland needs to place the dreadful place in its kitschy niche is a deadpan recital of its plastic (or "resin") figurines. The edge the author reveals in her portrayal, however, avoids cruelty and she manages out of a depressing sight to conjure up the appeal of how it's not what we see that makes it inspiring or tawdry, it's what we do with the sights we see that manages to transcend the banal. A tricky point, and this moment, perhaps due to its depth of meaning, makes for me the highlight of this collection.

Yet, many other attractions she locates do not, in her telling, rise above the dutiful depiction of accumulated statistics or information. Staying three days on "Great" Skellig Michael, she transmits little of the gales and the sheer drops and the exhilarating vertigo that must be part of every lucky visitor's memory. How she got there by navigating Irish bureaucracy takes up much of her account; the stay's anticlimactic. Dan Donnelly's long arm in Kildare, carols sung in Laois, a cluttered Temple of Isis in Carlow, or a Raggedy Bush in Kilkenny are examples of the topics she discusses, but while all of these are admittedly interesting, they do not leap off the page or remain long in the memory.

A long recital of the intriguing journey to Africa's Mountains of the Moon by Surgeon Major Thomas Heazle Parke 1887-89 appears better suited to a non-Irish account. A monkey's afterlife fame in Cork, a cabinet of curiousities in Tyrone, or Derry's immense Lough Neagh all intermittently engage you, but the energy dissipates. I suppose the sad fate of the Millennium Tree that Boland had been issued in Wicklow may prove a metaphor for this gathering of attempts at surprising one's self with the hidden but accessible corners of one's own native land. The destination may disappoint or remain stubbornly elusive, but the sense of wonder and mystery still pulls Boland, and you, along to the next stop.]]> Sun, 24 Feb 2008 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Before your trek...]]>
As I begin to make my own plans for my personal trek to Ireland, it was a no brainer to turn first to Globe Trekker. I plan to view many other similar videos, read various books (and down a few pints in contemplation), because my approach to travel is to do my research first, then leave the guides behind and throw myself into the adventure. This Trek's travel guide, Ian Wright, is a terrific intro to an Irish journey. He has the brogue, the humor, the silly grin, the willingness to bumble, wince, earn blisters, down pints, down more pints, get lost, grumble at endless rain, and make friends with locals to show us not how tourists get by, but how the Irish live.

Beginning his journey on the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland, he then explores Belfast. The Irish pubs are all you would wish them to be. He sports his first creamy Guinness moustache in a 150-year old pub (and I make note to find this idyllic place for my first truly Irish Guinness), slurping down oysters on the shell with lemon alongside. Next, he hitchhikes and rides trains along the coast south, to Dublin, then Cobh and Kerry. The eye glories in the Irish landscape of bogs and endless green, mountains wrapped in mist, stony cliffs dropping straight into the sea. Ian visits the Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone for the gift of gab... and comes up speechless. He visits Celtic ruins and makes pilgrimages and enjoys boat rides to more islands, fishes with an Irish fisherman for mackerel, and dances a jig with Irish maidens.

And drinks more Guinness. If this travelogue is at all accurate, this beautiful island has nothing else to drink from coast to coast but Guinness.

I'm packing my bags.]]> Sun, 3 Feb 2008 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Weighty but never ponderous: 20C Ireland's arc]]>
Tom Garvin, paraphrased by Ferriter, teaches how an Irish Republic under DeValera could be revolutionary and reactionary. Those who led it grew up in Edwardian years, full of nationalist yet anti-modern romanticisation of a return to a rural and aesthetic purity. `They rebelled against their elders but, according to Garvin, were sceptical about the possibility or desirability of mass democracy.' (76) Sharing newer findings by historians such as Patrick Maume, David Fitzpatrick, and Peter Hart, Ferriter agrees that clerical conformity guided the rebels along a small-town, `middle-agrarian' perspective often angled oddly against the urbanised cadre that comprised so many of the lower ranks of the IRA.

In his narration of the wars, Ferriter remains fair-minded. Page 234 quotes a Limerick monsignor's witnessing of a Black and Tan atrocity; page 235 informs us that one of those labelled as `agents' killed the morning of Bloody Sunday 1920 was a member of the Veterinary Corps sent over to buy mules for the British army- whose second cousin was Michael Davitt. Fratricidal mayhem expressed pithily. Ferriter shares the dreams of those out in `16 and after without glossing over the hard-headed realism of those with whom they shared bed and board. Seán Ó Faoláin's autobiography Vive Moi! is used well: in it, Séan recounts how his wife Eileen told him and his comrades: `You are all abstract fanatics.' (255)

After the wars came the uneasy peace. Ferriter examines the controversy over Angela's Ashes. Roy Foster castigated Frank McCourt's pose: `if any message is to be read out of the book, it is that you have to get out early as you can and head west.' (qtd. 361) Ferriter adds: `The weakness of this criticism is that it fails to acknowledge that for many this was a necessity rather than a choice.' With the limits on American immigration post-1924, most fled east. DeValera's ideology trapped itself defensively. Protestant Britain equalled Catholic Ireland's foe. That the two nations shared far more than they divided was shunted aside. Morally, the Church formed the bulwark against not only the C of E but the secular forces that were overwhelming nominally Christian England and much of Western Europe in the 1930s. Ferriter refers to Freud's `narcissism of trivial differences' that distorted minor differences to mask major similarities. Those left behind, Ferriter more than once asserts, put on the poor mouth a bit too often. When JFK visited, a red carpet was not laid out for fear it be rained on, at a projected damage of ₤250. Ireland for most of its independence could not have sustained even the stunted prosperity it earned if not for the remittances of its emigrants, the emptiness of its villages, and the lack of competition among those who remained for farms and spouses.

Those able to live mid-century in Ireland, contrary to so many ballads, may have regretted their residence. 2.5% of married women were employed, according to reports in 1945. During the `Emergency', only 740 autos were licensed throughout the 26 Counties. In 1954, 64% of Irish remained unmarried. Across the border, in Fermanagh, 58% of occupied dwellings were deemed uninhabitable. Poet Anthony Cronin in the last issue in July 1954 of the quixotic publication of non-conformist intellectuals, The Bell, diagnosed the malaise. `Here, if ever was, is a climate for the death wish.' (462) However, Ferriter relies heavily on Brian Fallon's An Age of Innocence: Irish Culture 1930-60, which argues for a much more vibrant and iconoclastic undercurrent than is conventionally granted those thinkers and writers who stayed.

Even John Charles McQuaid, as John Cooney's biography (reviewed by me) has shown thanks to the opening in the late 90s of archives, had a modicum (at times) of forward thinking despite their own Tridentine limitations. Mary Kenny's Goodbye to Catholic Ireland (reviewed by me) is employed to good efect. Like Kenny and Louise Fuller in her own recent account of the decline of Irish Catholicism since 1950, Ferriter never forgets that such leaders as the Archbishop, Dev and Collins, like us, are prisoners of their own time and training. Heroic missionaries, craven abusers, corrupt pols, ecumenical neighbours. He balances the reality that is recorded against the distortions and stereotypes that too many lazy and facile commentators on Ireland have peddled during the last two decades.

Ferriter quotes Joe Lee again to good effect. Emigration to England helped Ireland, in my analogy, much like Mexico benefits from the $15 billion sent yearly back by American migrants. Lee: `few people anywhere have been so prepared to scatter their children around the world in order to preserve their own living standards.' (472) Perhaps revisionism at its 1989 harshest, but Ferriter accepts the brunt of Lee's attack. Earlier, a late 50s Tuairim study group sought to upend the `contradictory "Sinn Féin" myth in Irish economic thinking.' (543) Patrick Lynch is quoted: `it is because so many emigrate that those who remain at home are able to afford a standard of living that could not be maintained if Irish political independence implied the obligation to cater on their own terms for all the people born in Ireland since the state was established.' Lynch, as would Lee three decades later, exhumes a disturbing truth. Politicians ignorant of economics could not run the capitalist state. The Church, Ferriter documents, repeatedly interfered with social activism, preferring to exalt the poor towards spiritual uplift rather than risk communist-delivered or socialist-tainted tangible but soul-deadening gains. The myth that Ireland wept as her children left for exile, Ferriter's sources demonstrate, must be abandoned for financial triage. Often, the parents were all too glad to see their weans off, perhaps subconsciously to be sure.

Economic fables and political pandering interfere with later Irishmen and women seeking the self-sufficiency trumpeted by the rebels as Ireland's goal. Nationalist legend also sought to trump facts. Ed Maloney's history of the IRA (reviewed by me) is often relied upon as Ferriter's main source for recent developments; it proves much more useful than Before the Dawn does for Ferriter! Fintan O'Toole's 2000 observation is quoted: `the largest number of republican paramilitaries killed in the conflict were murdered, not by the RUC or the British Army, or the loyalist terror gangs, but by their own comrades. The INLA and the IRA have been responsible for the deaths of 164 of their own members. The British Army, RUC, UDR, and loyalist paramilitaries killed 161.' (637) Ferriter efficiently presents all of the complications of the past thirty years in his final section.

Like all of the chapters, chronological division allows him to roam about topics organised under brief captions, these quoting an apropos phrase from the primary source he cites to make his main point for that page or two. While this approach makes the book more like a series of short essays rather than a narrative history in the usual sense, it also slices up the immense text into portions better able to be read at leisure.

This is not a book for beginners into Irish history, but one to enter after you've learned the basics from briefer works. Also, this is not a book to plow straight through, but one to be waded in. Albeit opposite from Don Akenson's idiosyncratic and semi-factual A History of Irish Civilization (reviewed by me), the Canadian and the Irish historians share an ability to serve up heaps of history as digestible bite-size pieces. The nourishment derived from both of these affordable textual repasts should fuel many mental workouts.

(This is excerpted and re-edited from a longer review to be published in the online Belfast-based journal The Blanket.)]]> Wed, 14 Jun 2006 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Perfect for what I needed and wanted...]]>
Part 1 - Introducing Ireland: Discovering the Best of Ireland; Digging Deeper into Ireland; Deciding When and Where to Go; Following an Itinerary - Four Great Options
Part 2 - Planning Your Trip to Ireland: Managing Your Money; Getting to Ireland; Getting around Ireland; Booking Your Accommodations; Catering to Special Travel Needs and Interests; Taking Care of the Remaining Details
Part 3 - Dublin and the East Coast: Dublin; Easy Trips North of Dublin - Counties Meath and Louth; Easy Trips South of Dublin - Counties Wicklow and Kildare; The Southeast - Counties Wexford, Waterford, Tipperary, and Kilkenny
Part 4 - Counties Cork and Kerry: County Cork; County Kerry
Part 5 - The West and the Northwest: Counties Limerick and Clare; County Galway - Galway City, The Aran Islands, and Connemara; Counties Mayo and Sligo; County Donegal
Part 6 - Northern Ireland: Counties Derry, Fermanagh, and Tyrone; Belfast and County Antrim; Counties Down and Armagh
Part 7 - The Part of Tens: Top Ten Traditional Irish Dishes and Drinks; The Top Ten Items to Buy in Ireland
Appendix: Quick Concierge

For what I was looking for, this book was perfect. I'm not moving over there, nor was I looking for an in-depth discussion and critical analysis of Irish history and culture. I needed something that would give me an overall understanding of the country and the different areas. For instance, not having spent much time going beyond the nightly news, I didn't understand the relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country. At least now I have a basic feel for the forces at play. I was also fascinated by the colorful history of the island over the centuries. It's amazing to think there are buildings and institutions there that are approaching a thousand years of existence. Makes the history of the United States look rather insignificant. If I were going to be headed off on my own for a week or so, the travel and sightseeing information here would be incredibly useful. Not only is there good information about what to see (and what possibly to avoid), the author also gives suggested amounts of time you might want to allocate towards a site. If you're thinking you might like to spend half a day somewhere and she suggests an hour, you might want to give your plans a second thought. I also liked a feature of this book that I haven't seen in others... They include a page of Dummies Post-It flags that you can use to tag important (to you) pages for further reference as you're traveling. A simple thing, but it makes the book even more valuable to take along and use on your trip.

My wife would like to visit Ireland and England one day, but not on the whirlwind schedule that this speaking trip will entail. When we *do* head back over there (and I'm sure we will), this book will be an essential part of our planning...]]> Sat, 22 Apr 2006 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Creative non-fiction about one man's changing "motherland"]]>
He contemplates how, if one's parents have chosen as his did to emigrate in the post-WWII period, those like himself can never be accepted upon their return, having been by the Irish "written out of their will," and therefore disinherited. Although sections on climbing the "Reek," Croagh Patrick, and venturing into the North on a previous trip in 1981 perhaps, his summing up of an Ireland suddenly cash-rich and spending it all makes for sobering and thoughtful reading. I especially liked his interspersed, often deadpan, jingles, snippets of punk and new-wave and Beatles lyrics, and asides to Shakespeare and high culture and low all blended into his own unpredictable prose style, deceptively simple and casual but belying careful construction and arrangement of incident. Not perfect, but a cut above the usual misty-eyed or morally stern travelogue.]]> Fri, 16 Dec 2005 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Delightful folklore in a so-so novel]]>
Ronan O'Mara is nine years old when an itinerant storyteller visits his Irish home. The storyteller is shortly sent on his way by Ronan's mother, a devestating event for Ronan who is enthralled by the storyteller's tales of Irish history.

Over the next nine years, we grow with Ronan who never halts in his obsession with finding the storyteller once again. He keeps encountering the shadow of the storyteller (who has no name) in his quest. These tales enliven Ireland and are alone worth the reading.

Ultimately Delaney invents some turns of plot that were obviously intended to be dramatic, but fall short of the goal. I will not detail these because to know them in advance would render the novel unreadable, for you'd know the mild surprises.

All in all, Delaney has crafted a fine collection of Irish myth and tales, which are delightful reading. The plot he wraps them in and the characters who populate the pages are thin stuff though.

Jerry]]> Sun, 19 Jun 2005 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Hefty tome, detailed photos, informative text]]>
My only criticism is very minor, but the vexed question of the extent of the Celtic incursions artistically and demographically into Ireland appears to be muddled in Harbison's account. A clearer explanation of the academic debate over this issue would have clarified for the general reader the latest thought on this topic. Overall, however, a handsome and carefully organized book, from Newgrange to Harry Clarke, again, stunning illustrations capture the allure of millennia of art and culture.]]> Thu, 10 Feb 2005 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ Irish in spirit]]> I think most Irish music lovers would be glad to own these four as natives of spirit, if not blood. The instrumental sets in particular have the sound of an authentic session band, and a handful of original compositions fit neatly in with the traditional tunes.

]]> Wed, 16 Jul 2003 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ My Irish Eyes Are Smiling]]> Pros: Rich, Thick, Creamy, Excellent Flavor

Cons: An acquired taste, Expensive for beer

The other night, I went to meet an old friend from high school at the Bellport Chowder House. You can imagine my surprise when I found out they had Guinness on tap! I've been to several bars on Long Island, and have found Guinness on tap maybe once. I was stoked!

My history with Guinness goes back to when I was a sophomore in college. (Yes, I was 19 and underage. Sorry.) I was cast in a play about Ireland, Dancing at Lughnasa (by Brian Friel), and we would go to Friday's after rehearsal to unwind. Well, one of my co-stars in the play, Luke, introduced me to THE beer of Ireland. Many people don't like Guinness right away, but it was love at first sip for me.

The beer is very, very dark and rather thick with a creamy head. It's called stout, which basically means that it's not as light as an amber beer, such as Harp or virtually all of the U.S. Domestics (Sam Adams, Bud, etc.) you can get on tap. You don't chug Guinness the way you would the Beast (Milwaukee's Best) or a Bud. It's not a cheap beer, either-- about $4.50 per pint.

I honestly don't believe that the canned or bottled Guinness can compare to what you get on tap However, make sure your bartender knows exactly how to pour a Guinness! A proper Guinness should take 5 minutes to pour. You can't just pour it straight in the glass. Trust me, I'm a bartender. What you do, whether you're pouring your Guinness into a glass from the tap, bottle, or can, it tilt your glass 90 degrees. Let the Guinness hit the inside of the glass, then slowly turn your glass upright. by pouring this way, you should achieve about 1/2 an inch of the creamy head.

Guinness is an acquired taste. Not to be sexist, but many women don't like Guinness. (Don't ask me why-- I love it.) A lot of men don't care for it, either, but more women than men refuse to drink it. I'm the only girl out of all my friends that drink it voluntarily.

If you don't like dark, rich, stout beer, then don't try Guinness. However, if you'd like to venture into the world of Irish brew, then Guinness should be your first stop.


Yes]]> Tue, 13 Jun 2000 12:00:00 +0000
<![CDATA[ My Irish Eyes Are Smiling]]> Pros: Rich, Thick, Creamy, Excellent Flavor

Cons: An acquired taste, Expensive for beer

The other night, I went to meet an old friend from high school at the Bellport Chowder House. You can imagine my surprise when I found out they had Guinness on tap! I've been to several bars on Long Island, and have found Guinness on tap maybe once. I was stoked!

My history with Guinness goes back to when I was a sophomore in college. (Yes, I was 19 and underage. Sorry.) I was cast in a play about Ireland, Dancing at Lughnasa (by Brian Friel), and we would go to Friday's after rehearsal to unwind. Well, one of my co-stars in the play, Luke, introduced me to THE beer of Ireland. Many people don't like Guinness right away, but it was love at first sip for me.

The beer is very, very dark and rather thick with a creamy head. It's called stout, which basically means that it's not as light as an amber beer, such as Harp or virtually all of the U.S. Domestics (Sam Adams, Bud, etc.) you can get on tap. You don't chug Guinness the way you would the Beast (Milwaukee's Best) or a Bud. It's not a cheap beer, either-- about $4.50 per pint.

I honestly don't believe that the canned or bottled Guinness can compare to what you get on tap However, make sure your bartender knows exactly how to pour a Guinness! A proper Guinness should take 5 minutes to pour. You can't just pour it straight in the glass. Trust me, I'm a bartender. What you do, whether you're pouring your Guinness into a glass from the tap, bottle, or can, it tilt your glass 90 degrees. Let the Guinness hit the inside of the glass, then slowly turn your glass upright. by pouring this way, you should achieve about 1/2 an inch of the creamy head.

Guinness is an acquired taste. Not to be sexist, but many women don't like Guinness. (Don't ask me why-- I love it.) A lot of men don't care for it, either, but more women than men refuse to drink it. I'm the only girl out of all my friends that drink it voluntarily.

If you don't like dark, rich, stout beer, then don't try Guinness. However, if you'd like to venture into the world of Irish brew, then Guinness should be your first stop.


Yes]]> Tue, 13 Jun 2000 12:00:00 +0000