Showing posts with label Clare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Clare. Show all posts

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Ballyvaughan to Kinvarra. Forts, Castles, Sheep and Dogs

Connemara Mountain sheep

Ballyvaughan to Kinvarra.

 Forts, Castles, Sheep and Dogs

Sometimes when I visit an attraction or exhibition, I find myself overwhelmed with information on boards and screens and I have developed a kind of easier way out by concentrating on the food element. And there is almost always a food element.

As there was on the 1st of September when I found myself in Dunguaire Castle (more of a tower house than a fortress) on the shores of Galway Bay, very close to Kinvarra. As it happened, there wasn’t that much info here (don’t get me wrong, there was enough) but the food element did catch my eye as we moved up through the four floors. 

It was also possible to get out on the roof and take in the views, possible if you were Johnny Sexton, perhaps not if you were one of the prop forwards on the Irish team, as the walkway between the parapet and the coned roof is very very narrow.

There are displays for each century and in the 17th you’ll see that Galway exported hides, tallow, wool, salmon, animal skins (hare, squirrel, fox and lamb), kelp, oatmeal, linen, pork and herring. Imports were salt, wine, iron, weapons, guns, spices, calico, flax seed, tobacco, potatoes, sugar, cotton and rum. Also at this time, the donkey was introduced to Ireland.

The castle takes its name from Guaire, a 7th century king of Connacht, noted for his generosity. He features in the legend of the Road of the Dishes, dishes filled with the good stuff from his table and transported to that of the hermit St Colman MacDuagh.

Merriman Hotel, Kinvarra

Tables are still often laden here at Dunguaire. It now belongs to Shannon Free Airport (since 1972) and they have developed it as a small scale banqueting hall. Here you may enjoy fine wines, “stories and excerpts selected to lift the soul and lighten the heart”. No banquets at present though due to covid but that could change soon!

Deep Fried Brie in Kinvarra

Later that evening, we ate dinner, some with a retro feel to it (anyone for Deep Fried Brie?),  in the well-located and popular Pier Head Restaurant and Bar at the heart of Kinvarra. A similar Brie dish was on offer in Hylands Hotel in Ballyvaughan on the previous evening.

Fire Pit (for cooking) in Caherconnell

Perhaps one of our better places to eat in this corner of Clare/Galway is Monks in Ballyvaughan. Go for their shellfish, especially those Kelly oysters, and you won’t go far wrong. Watch out too for seasonal trucks and cafés such as Julia’s Lobster Truck and Linnane’s Lobster Bar; I haven’t been at either (I keep missing them) but the recommendations are trustworthy.

Dog on guard Caherconnell

Places to stay? Our favourite is definitely Hazelwood Lodge where you get terrific hospitality, great comfort and a marvellous breakfast. Hazelwood is very well located for nearby Aillwee Caves, Caherconnell Fort and its Sheepdog Demos, and the ancient Poulnabrone Dolmen.

The 10-year old Kinvarra Guesthouse is right in the centre of that village and is bright, modern and spacious with a decent breakfast too (do watch out for the currant soda bread!).

Eagle at Aillwee

Of course, we visited Aillwee and did the fabulous Hawk Walk, details here. Another interesting call was to Caherconnell Fort. We started with the sheepdogs and marvelled at how they responded to the calls and whistles from their very informative handler to get the sheep to where he needed them and also to keep them there. Some of the dogs are also trained to handle the cattle in the hard rocky Burren fields.

I knew very little about the fort here but, amazingly, it dates back to 3,000BC. Our guide talked as she walked and when she stood still. She told us about the first artefacts (from 3,000BC), the first graves (from 500AD), the fire pit (650AD), the construction of the fort (900AD) and the last habitation (1700AD) right up to today (where a small exterior enclosure is used to shelter and protect weak lambs).

Salmon starter at Hylands Burren Hotel Ballyvaughan

Many kinds of jewellery and domestic tools have been found here and all are now in the charge of the national museum in Dublin. A human body was found just outside the fort and that too went to the capital. The remains of an adult female and an infant dating to 600AD were discovered under the fort walls. It seems that it was a mark of honour to them that they were left undisturbed at the time. And they have been left more or less undisturbed too by the today’s archaeologists as such an intrusion would disturb the now historic walls.

It is quite an amazing place and perhaps too little known. If you are in the area it is well worth a visit, well worth the modest fee. By the way, they have a lovely tea rooms here as well overlooking the calves in the adjacent field and vast sweeps of the grey Burren.

The Poulnabrone Dolmen

Just a few minutes away, you’ll come across the Poulnabrone Dolmen (no entry fee). This is a Portal Tomb built from great slabs of limestone, over 5,000 years ago (around the same time as the pyramids were being built). The remains of over 30 people have been found on this ancient site. It is indeed much smaller than the pyramids but still you look at it in awe. 

From it amazing Cliffs of Moher to the Burren to its caves, there is much in County Clare to look at with respect and awe. Time to go and visit!

* Sometime during the 12th century, the mute swan was introduced to the Irish dinner table. (ref: Dunguaire panel).

** Other places worth a visit in the Ballyvaughan to Kinvarra area are Hazel Mountain Chocolate (bean to bar makers) and the Burren Perfumery.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Falls Hotel Provides A Comforting End To A Wet Day. Three Days In Clare.

The Falls Hotel Provides A Comforting End To A Wet Day In Clare.

Hake & Gubbeen Chorizo at The Falls, Ennistymon

Three Days In Clare

(Day 3, Days 2 & 1 below)

Our final day in Clare wasn’t the best weatherwise. It just got worse as we drove around and we were glad to end it in the comfort of the magnificent and spacious Falls Hotel with its splendid elevated site over the Cascades.

After that lovely breakfast at Hazelwood Lodge, it turned out to be a misty morning as we took the coastal route towards Doolin and then it just got worse. Hadn’t really intended to visit Doolin Cave but we were glad we did as it took us out of the rain for an hour or so and we got to see again the magnificent Great Stalactite which, at 7.3 metres (23feet) is the longest free-hanging stalactite in Europe, third in the world.

Before the guided cave trip, we enjoyed a light lunch by Wild at the Cave. It was outdoors of course and we, and others, found some shelter at the tables that were close to the building and had some overhead cover as well. 

Wild at the Cave, whose parent company are Wild Catering, now run the café here. Wild’s menu offers soup and variety of salads, sandwiches and desserts and supports local eg cheese by St Tola, teas by Guru and  coffee by Anam.

The Cueben toastie, with real ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and Tarragon mustard, came with a helping of two side salads (rocket, chickpea) and was a welcome tasty boost on a miserable misty day. The same two side salads accompanied another very welcome toastie, the roast chicken with mature cheddar and basil mayo, another fine pick-me-up for the second half of the day. Each toastie came in a box and two large cups of excellent tea completed the meal.

After the cave, we said we'd head on down to Doolin Pier to see if any dolphins were following the ferries in. It seems they don’t like the rain either! But there were ferries coming and going and no shortage of customers either.


We had a call to make in Lisdoonvarna and noted that the Roadside Tavern and its store next door has quite a bit of outside seating, most of it under cover. Hard going here for all the hotels in the town with the matchmaking festival having to be cancelled yet again but still they’re keeping the bright side out!

In Ennistymon, we had hoped to enjoy the cooking of Ash Gribben (ex Little Fox) who this summer is doing her own Middle Eastern food at Pot Duggan’s but the constant heavy rain ruled that out. Byrnes is another popular place for outdoor dining, as they have a terrace over the famous Cascades, but while they have some overhead cover, the night was just too bad.

The Cascades from our dining room at The Falls

We had the considerable consolation of dining in style at our hotel, The Falls, a very large building alongside the Inagh River. We had a choice of two venues, the Cascades Dining Room or the Dylan Thomas Bar (essentially another restaurant). 

We picked the bar and got a table with a great view over the Falls (which, considering all the rain, were a little disappointing)  I’ve seen them in a more magnificent flow on previous occasions - you can’t have everything!

What we did have was an enjoyable meal with excellent service. Starters were Thai style Fish Cakes with kaffir lime, ginger and chilli served with coriander, garlic and sweet chilli dip and the Confit Silverhill Duck and Asian Vegetable Spring Rolls with a soya and chilli dipping sauce were also excellent, well cooked, the little bowls of sauce spot-on.

And so were the mains. The Battered Fish and Chips (sustainably caught fresh haddock in a light crisp craft beer batter served with home cut chips, mushy peas and sauce gribiche) was better than expected while the Seared Fillet of Wild Hake Gubbeen chorizo and potato hash, grilled asparagus, bell pepper relish and citrus crème, was another excellent combination.  Disappointingly, they had no craft beer, not even the local Western Herd.

Reception desk at the Falls

For breakfast, served in the lovely Cascades room, you picked your juices and cereals from a buffet  (one way system) and the hot dishes (aside from a few that you could order from the kitchen) were also buffet style but here you handled nothing as the staff put it on a plate for you.

Plenty of space to lounge about in this magnificent hotel and they also have a popular spa area. Our room was very comfortable indeed and we enjoyed the visit. After that hearty breakfast it was time to say goodbye to County Clare (for a while) and we headed back to the south.

Day 2:

Highlights Galore, including Hazlewood Lodge, as Clare Trip Continues

(Day two of three, Day one below)

Our stay at Hazelwood Lodge was one of the highlights of the second day of our late June trip in Clare. Hazelwood is just outside of Ballyvaughan, on the same road as Aillwee Caves, and is very highly recommended indeed.

We got the warmest of welcomes from Victor as we were shown to a large and well-equipped room. The interior of the building is very well designed indeed - it had the benefit of being on the Brennans makeover TV programme and you could the influence of an interior design, especially on the bright and airy dining-room where colourful Le Creuset teapots matched the napkins and the light shades.

Attention to detail means happy customers and the breakfast menu was superb. You don’t often get waffles in B&B’s or even hotels but Victor had two on the menu, both made here, one packed with strawberries, the other with bacon. It was perhaps the best breakfast we’ve had. Add in that warm welcome, lots of local info and a warm farewell also and you can see why we enjoyed our night in Hazelwood. Check it out here

Overall the day went very well indeed, even the weather improved as the day went on and we were able to dine outdoors in the evening sunshine at Monks in Ballyvaughan. Monks is rather famous for its fish dishes, it strength mainly in shellfish and molluscs; in fact they had hardly any fin fish on the menu that evening. No matter. I enjoyed six of the best oysters in a long while, supplied by Kellys whose farm is located at Killeenaran, a small beautiful inlet of Galway Bay, about 30 minutes drive from the Monks front door. 

No shortage of prawns here and another good starter is their Chilli Prawns, with leeks,  peppers and sweet chilli sauce. We also enjoyed The Monks Scampi; the mains dish included Nobashi prawns, panko crumb, lemon pepper, Espelette aioli, house slaw, and chunky chips.  The colourful Prawn Curry with all its colours, and served with chickpeas and turmeric infused rice, was also very satisfactory indeed.

It had been  a “busy” enough day, starting with a long walk on Fanore beach where a bunch of youngsters were getting lessons in surfing. Headed off then to Ballyvaughan thinking we might have a light lunch at The Larder but found it closed (opening only at weekends - that may have changed by now). Got a little snack instead at the Farm Shop Aillwee Caves; you can also watch as they make Burren Gold cheese here.


We had a tour booked for the Birds of Prey Experience. Had a stroll around the aviary first and saw the full range of eagles, owls, and falcons and more in their cages. Soon we would see two of them in the arena. First up was Batty (a Bateleur eagle), a common resident of the African savannah. He swooped in low over our heads to land on his handler’s arm and claim a treat and demonstrated his amazing eyesight when unerringly retrieving little crumbs scattered  (when his back was turned) in the gravel.


Simon, the Lanner Falcon (Africa, SE Europe, Asia), was next “on stage”, amazing us with his speed of flight as he tried to retrieve a treat that was spinning at high speed at the end of a rope. He didn’t quite succeed though but came very close on occasions. His speed was amazing and apparently his eyesight is incredible. The caged birds all get a run in the demo from time to time and can escape of course (the arena is not enclosed). But they are usually spotted and we are told some of them like the drive “home” in the handler’s car.

Then it was time to drive up to the Aillwee Cave for a masked and socially distanced tour. Maybe not as exciting as the birds but, aside from stalactites and stalagmites (stalactites hang from the ceiling of caves, whereas stalagmites grow from the ground), it has an underground river and waterfall.

A white-tailed sea eagle.

Thought we deserved an ice-cream after all that and headed to New Quay to find Linnalla, well-known ice-cream producers. What we found instead was Linnane’s Lobster Hut - the Flaggy Shore oysters are brought ashore here too. It was about 2.30pm at this stage and their outdoor area was packed with punters. But, with Monks on our mind, we didn’t hang around. 

Chilli Prawns at Monks

Instead we got directions for the ice-cream and headed off. Eventually we found Linnalla miles away and isolated in the countryside. We asked our server about how the New Quay address covers both Linnanes and Linnalla but he wasn’t from around the area. After all that, the ice-cream was just about average. There is a hard path from Linnalla down to the Flaggy Shore so we took a walk and enjoyed the views before heading back to the car and set the Sat-Nav for the lovely Hazelwood Lodge. 

Sweet Start To Trip to Clare 2021. 

(Day one of three) 

Our latest trip to County Clare began with a visit to Kilkee and we got off to the sweetest of starts at Holly’s Cafe in O’Curry Street. Before that, I enjoyed an excellent Chicken and Pesto sandwich: Grilled chicken with roasted red peppers, Mozzarella & Basil Pesto on freshly baked baguette.

The highlight though came with the dessert. They have a short list of just three. If the Passionfruit and White Chocolate mousse is on - and it usually is - go for it. This is signature item here and one of the very best desserts you are likely to come across anywhere.    

Pollock Holes

It consists of Valrhona white chocolate with passion fruit on a coconut sable with a touch of gold leaf, the perfect treat for any day. And they say “to glaze it with a shiny white chocolate mirror glaze … is oddly satisfying". Not as satisfying though as having one all to yourself!

Down on the cliffs.

After that delightful treat, we headed for another very popular café here. The Diamond Rocks was indeed also very busy but our purpose was to take the cliff walk that begins just here - there is a quite a large carpark.

One thing that catches the eye at The Rocks though is a sculpture of a player wielding a racquet. I was wondering who it was before finding out it was none other than film star Richard Harris, a very handy squash player in his day.

The cliff walk is quite spectacular. You may go down onto the rocks in places and in certain locations it looks like a moonscape. You’ll also pass the famous Pollock Holes, three natural and apparently safe bathing places here. And why Pollock Holes? Well, small pollock may be found therein for part of the year.

Wild Atlantic Break, Doonbeg

Felt like a cuppa as we arrived in Doonbeg. Didn’t make it to Trump International but refreshed ourselves at the blue painted Wild Atlantic Break. The rain had started by now and the tea warmed us up after a tasty tub of Glenown Farm ice-cream. They have a couple of long stools on the pavement but not much use as it was bucketing down by then.

If you’d like a drink in Liscannor then Vaughan’s have some partially sheltered seating for 20 or more outside the pub. Made another few stops, including Lahinch, before arriving in Doolin and checking into the Doolin Inn, on the road down to the pier and indeed overlooking the colourful groups of shops and bar that seem to appear in every article about the strung-out (talking about topography here!) village.

By then the rain had eased off and we went walk-about. Perhaps the most interesting place we saw was the
 Bow & Fiddle with lots of covered outdoor eating and drinking spaces. Very impressive and they also do accommodation.

Back then to our 22-room inn for dinner and that turned out very well indeed, not least because they had quite a selection of Western Herd beers in bottle. They have a nicely glass-walled open-air restaurant, with a view over that colourful terrace, but it is not entirely weatherproof and was unused as the night was wet and windy.

Halibut at the Inn

Inside, aside from the local beer, we enjoyed a couple of excellent starters. Fish feature also and the mains of Poached Halibut, Connemara crab salad, pickled courgette, delicious heirloom tomato, quinoa, avocado cream was that bit different and excellent. The Moroccan spiced cod fillet vegetable couscous tomato and rocket leaves was also well up to the mark. Good too to see they support local food producers at the Inn.

Breakfast too, even with Covid restrictions, was quite good. Nothing overly adventurous but we did enjoy the Eggs Benedict and the Pancakes with Maple syrup. Ready for road after that and Day Two saw us on the way to beautiful Ballyvaughan.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Taste of the Week. Burren Smokehouse Hot Smoked Salmon

Taste of the Week.
Burren Smokehouse Hot Smoked Salmon

Visited Lisdoonvarna earlier this year and called to the Burren Smokehouse. Always do when I'm in the area. Among my purchases was this hot smoked Irish organic salmon, smoked over oak with honey, lemon and pepper, by Birgitta Curtin. By the way, all visitors have the chance to see a short video on how they produce their famous smoked salmon and you also get a tasting or two!

Got our Hot Smoked out of the fridge the other day and enjoyed it, our current Taste of the Week, with a simple garden salad. Superb.

The farmed salmon comes from the clear turbulent waters off the west coast of Ireland, from locations such as Clare Island (Westport). Here, "lean muscular fish are naturally high in Omega 3 & 6 oil".  The smokery adds "only the purest natural ingredients, sea salt, natural oak smoke, locally grown herbs, and wild seaweed foraged in West Clare".

Burren Smokehouse  
Co. Clare 
Tel: 065 7074432

Also in Clare recently:
Bunratty Castle & Folk Park
Hazel Mountain Chocolate
The Burren Brewery
A Tour of Clare
St Tola Goats Cheese visit
Henry's Bistro & Wine Bar Ennis
Burren Gold Cheese
Red Cliff Lodge Restaurant Spanish Point
Oar Doolin
Noel's Restaurant at Bunratty Manor

Thursday, June 13, 2019

The Coast of Clare

The Coast of Clare
Bridges of Ross near Loop Head

Before the crow came...
The coast of Clare provided the backbone for our journey in May, beginning on the Clare-Galway border, calling to the Flaggy Shore and the Fanore Beach, a quick trip inland to Lisdoonvarna, then the pier at Doolin, skirting the cliffs of Moher (we had been there a couple of weeks earlier), then a call to Ennistymon and its cascades, roadworks meant we didn’t get near Doonbeg; then we visited Loop Head Lighthouse (just about able to see in the fog) and we did call to the Bridge of the Rosses before continuing on via Carrigaholt and Kilrush to end up at Bunratty.

Lots of good food and good lodgings over the three nights and four days and more on that later. We left Cork early on day one and our first stop was about noon at the amazing Hazel Mountain bean to bar chocolate factory

In Ballyvaughan, I saw a crow walking behind a heron who was stalking prey in seaweed at the edge of water. Each move that the heron made was “copied” by the crow. The heron seemed to get fed up of the unwanted company and flew across a narrow stretch of water to the opposite shore. On the ground, the same scenario happened again. This time though the crow got even closer and the heron flapped his wings at his “shadow”. Still, the crow stayed close. Eventually, the heron took off on a longer flight out over the water and parallel with the shore. The crow followed suit but only for a brief spell before turning back and landing on terra firma. Perhaps he wasn’t too happy with the flight over the bigger expanse of water. I reckon the heron was happy to have seen off his tormentor.
Tea and Garden Rooms Ballyvaughan

We had provisionally noted Ballyvaughan for a lunch stop but were in no mood to eat anything after all that delicious chocolate! The Tea and Garden Rooms were closed for the day (May 1st) but the Monk seemed to be getting takers for its lobster offering (49.50) and its promise of a taste of Irish beers.

At the Flaggy Shore, we had a view of Galway across the bay, not the clearest as the day was getting duller. Does anyone know how it got its name? I couldn’t see any reason to call it flaggy. After passing the Black Head we arrived at Fanore Beach. Here, there is no shortage of flat rocks. The dunes are of some importance though that doesn’t seem to hinder the congregation of caravans and mobile homes. Some fine walks around here also, starting in the beach car park. The River Caher, the only river in the Burren to run its entire course overground, enters the sea here.

As we drove down the coast road (R477), we thought we’d make a visit to Lisdoonvarna to see the Curtins. Birgitta was not at Burren Salmon when we called. Here, all visitors have the chance to see a short video on how they produce their famous smoked salmon. We enjoyed that and the tasting that followed. Couldn’t make our minds up between hot and cold smoked so we bought both along with some trout and mackerel.
Mural in Burren Smokehouse

Since we were so close, we decided to walk up to the Roadside Tavern to see Peter and who did we meet on the way only Birgitta. Had a small tasting of their amazing no-hops beer and then a wee chat with Peter who was asking for Jack Lynch, his fellow micro-brewer from Mayfield (Cork). More on Peter’s beer here.  
Roadside Tavern

Back then towards the coast and our base for the night, the absolutely splendid and very highly recommended Sheedy’s B& B in Doolin. And also highly recommended, for dinner, is the Oar Restaurant (a short walk from the B&B).
Doonagore Castle, with the islands in the distance

The following morning, after a delicious multi-choice breakfast at Sheedy’s, we spent a short spell on the pier at Doolin, watching the ferries coming and going from the Aran Islands. Then a narrow road took us high into the hills, past Doonagore Castle, and eventually we had great views of the three Aran Islands. Soon we passed the Cliffs of Moher (again, we had been, as we had been in the Doolin cave, a couple of weeks earlier). See account of earlier trip here.
Poet Brian Merriman in Ennistymon

Time then for a bite to eat and we thought of the Little Fox in Ennistymon. Seating and tables are fairly basic here but the food is the luxury. Some lovely dishes on the menu including Campfire beans with garlic yogurt, basil oil, Inagh Free Range Sausages, with fried egg on Hugo’s Sourdough. Another dish to catch the eye was the Mohammad’s Flatbread, with roasted squash, crème fraiche, fried egg and garden greens. Alas, breakfast in Sheedy’s had been so good, we could only manage a cup of locally roasted coffee and a delicious lemon cake.
Cascades in Ennistymon

We almost forgot to check out the town’s famous cascades, just a very short walk from the main street. The water pours down a series of natural steps. Spectacular stuff in the middle of the town, well worth a detour. Speaking of detours, the next one took us well away from Doonbeg and the west coast, even down to Kilrush before heading back towards beautiful Kilkee. With the weather closing in, we headed for the Loop Head Lighthouse.
Loop Head

The rain stopped for a spell and then it got a bit brighter but the improvement didn’t last and it wasn’t at all good when we paid our fee (a fiver, I think), for the tour. We were told what we could have seen! Very tantalising, having climbed over 70 steps. But that’s nature! She doesn’t have to perform just because the tourists are in town. The weather had eased somewhat as we walked, on a hard path mostly, over by the Bridges of Ross, a spectacular coastal landscape, amazing rocks and at least one big arch.

Back then to village called Cross where we had booked into the Old School B&B. Here again we had a great host in Ian and also his wife Teresa (whom we had met earlier in her part-time role as lighthouse guide!). Headed up to Kilkee for the evening meal and the crab claws were the highlight of our meal in Naughton’s Bar in the town .

The following morning found us on the road east, close to the north bank of the mouth of the Shannon, the giant stacks of Aughinish Aluminium visible at almost every turn. Our first stop was to see the ruins of Carrigaholt Castle. A man was busy in the seaweed below, working hard shifting and shaking bunches of seaweed. He told me he was foraging for periwinkles and seemed to be quite successful on the sunny morning.

The sun stayed with us as we arrived in Kilrush to visit the Vandeleur Walled Garden (no charge). The Vandeleurs, planters in the 17th century, were well established here for hundreds of years but their reputation was severely damaged with mass evictions during the famine period. Now though, this is a peaceful colourful community place with that historical garden, a bistro, a garden centre and woodland trails. Well worth a visit.

After that, we headed up towards Ennis on our way to Bunratty where we spent the full afternoon enjoying the Castle and its Folk Park. . Our base for the night was the nearly Bunratty Manor. Here we enjoyed a superb dinner and a fine breakfast too before heading off home on the following morning. It was a terrific trip to Clare.
Naughton's Kilkee