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

Monday, May 20, 2019

Bunratty Castle & Folk Park. Banquets. HB Ice Cream. Cahill’s Grocery. The Doctor and The Pawnbroker.

Bunratty Castle & Folk Park.
Banquets. HB Ice Cream. Cahill’s Grocery. The Doctor and The Pawnbroker.
Banquet Hall

Banquets. HB Ice Cream. Cahill’s Grocery. The Doctor and The Pawnbroker. You’ll come across all this and so much more on a visit to the Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.

I’ve passed this County Clare attraction scores of times on my way up to Mayo, Galway, Sligo and Donegal, and to Clare itself. Never called. But remedied that recently with a deliberately planned visit.
Pygmy Goat

Didn’t plan to visit the doctor though. But that happens when you stroll through the “Village Street”, a street as it was over a hundred years ago. The doctor was checking the herbs in his garden and invited us, and some French visitors, into his parlour cum surgery. He showed us all his dangerous looking implements but it was too much for some of the French when he pulled his amputation saw out of a drawer and he emphasised the shock by saying no anaesthetic!

Bunratty is probably best known for its banquets. They are held all year round, twice nightly!  And that room was one of the first we visited when we reached the castle. The earlier Kings and Earls (of the O’Brien family) though dined in the Great Hall, also a place of judgement. Many other rooms, including the dungeon, to see in the restored castle and, when you reach the top, you have marvellous views over the countryside, including the Shannon.

Ardcroney Church
So out and about then to the park, with all kinds of old buildings, from a Weaver’s Shed to a Blacksmith’s Forge, from the one-roomed Bothán Saor to the late Georgian Bunratty House. Some of the buildings have been removed en bloc(k!) from different locations. The Shannon Farmhouse, for instance once stood on the site of the main runway at Shannon. The Ardcroney Church was moved, stone by numbered stone, from the village of that name in Tipperary.

All the walking around can make you hungry. And aromas of baking draw you in to the well-appointed Golden Vale Farmhouse where herself is baking a delicious looking apple-tart. To get yourself a slice, stroll over to the Tea Room and enjoy. You can also call to Mac’s Pub in the village for soup and sandwiches, an Irish Coffee, or a full lunch.

Hungry Piggies
It was also feeding time for some of the animals as we got to that part of the park. The pigs were really anxious, squealing with anticipation, as they saw the hens getting fed nearby. Their turn came soon enough. You’ll also see the hens around the place, some pygmy goats, some strange-looking sheep on your walk. And you’ll also spot a couple of impressive and friendly wolfhounds, either in their compound or being walked around the grounds.

You’ll see a collection of farming tools and machines in the Talbot Collection, small scale yet well constructed engineering works such as the working vertical and horizontal mills. There’s a Regency Walled Garden. The Village Street has a Post Office (with red post box), a hardware store, a printworks and a grocery etc.

And in that grocery, and also in a few other places, you’ll spot “foodie” reminders of the past like Irel Coffee and Chicory, Harrington’s and Browne’s Mustard, Daniel Dunne’s Teas, OXO cubes, Seven Seas Cod Liver Oil, Carnation Evaporated Milk, Riley’s Toffee Rolls. Not all household names but I do recognise a few of them. I also spotted a can of liquid Cardinal Red floor polish - I’ve been told that I once ate a tin of the solid version. Don’t remember it though. Or the resultant napkins!

There are a couple of large houses on the walk  including Hazelbrook House. Built in 1898, this was the home to the Hughes Brothers who started a dairy industry in the 1800s and later produced HB Ice Cream which went on to become a household name.
Hazelbrook House, home of HB Ice Cream

It is quite a park, especially with all those steps and stairs in the castle included. It has something for everyone and you’ll get three or four hours of interest here and while the €16.95 entry fee may seem a bit steep at first, you will get value.

After all that, you may feel you deserve a drink and Durty Nelly’s, the well-known pub outside the gate, has that for you. Always busy here methinks and had to inch my way to the counter for a couple of ales which were thoroughly enjoyed on the wooden table and benches in the sun outside. By the way, if you are feeling peckish on arrival, you can get some decent snacks at Mr O’Regan’s café at the entrance to the castle before you get your ticket. There is a also a large souvenir shop here.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Hazel Mountain Chocolate Flourishes on a Bare Burren Hill

Hazel Mountain Chocolate Flourishes on a Bare Burren Hill 

On a sparsely populated Burren hill overlooking Galway Bay, you’ll find a tropical fruit being turned into one of Europe’s finest chocolates. Here in John Connolly’s grandparents place, he and wife Kasha (a trained chocolate maker) produce the chocolate and run a café and are guiding their customers towards a cashless future.

But first to the chocolate. It is bean to bar, a rare operation in Ireland. I know of three others: Alison Roberts  of Clonakilty, Shauna Wilkies of Midleton and Proper Chocolate in Dublin. Perhaps there are a few others?

The Connollys import their beans from Madagascar, Venezuela, Mexico and Costa Rica while the cacao for their milk chocolate comes from Cuba (single estate). Their milk (in powder form) is supplied by Dairygold in Mallow.

You can visit and do a tour here. But even the casual visitor can view most of the process via a large glass window. Just stroll around the shop and check the huge range. Dark chocolates, milk chocolates, cake mixes, chocolate spreads, Cacao powder, hot chocolate powder (single estate), a Burren truffle collection, seasonal collections, and so much more.

And you do get a few samples as you enter the shop. And then there’s the café. We called there, of course! And naturally, I ordered a mug of their Salted Honey Hot Chocolate(4.70). Absolutely gorgeous, nicely judged too, not too sweet, just perfect and a terrific match with my fruity tart of the day (5.90).
Carrot Cake

While paying for our purchases in the shop (lots of bars) and for our lunchtime snack, you hear about their drive towards cashless. And we were only too happy to go along with that, including the tip. Now if you have no card, then cash is acceptable and they do have a tip jar. You may well expect a cashless drive by a modern outlet in your local main street but hardly up a bare hill in the Burren. But the Connollys are creatives, leaders. We could do with many more of them around this country.

Oh, by the way, you could get locked in here (also in their shop in Galway). All voluntarily! And I'd say no shortage of volunteers either. They hold regular lock-in events (tours and sampling and a look behind the scenes) at Christmas and Easter.

County Clare

Galway shop
at 9 Middle Street
Galway City
You may also shop online
The factory is easily found: just follow the large chocolate coloured signs on the Kinvara to Ballyvaughan road (N67). Hazel Mountain is about halfway between the two.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Clare: A County of Cliffs and Karst, Caves and Cheese. And so much more!

Clare: A County of Cliffs and Karst, Caves and Cheese. 
And so much more!
Ancient Poulnabrone

You think of Clare, and the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren (a Karst landscape) always come to mind. They are indeed amazing visits but there is so much more as I found out in a recent two day trip.

There are two excellent cave visits. Aillwee is probably the best-known but this time we choose to go to Doolin to see the extraordinary stalactite there. We visited two cheese makers, the well-known St Tola and Burren Gold. Then there was the Burren Perfumery in an isolated spot but still managing to employ over 30 people in the season.
Superb packaging at Burren Perfume

Perfumery garden
As you travel between the perfumery and Aillwee you’ll the grey Burren stretching away at either side. And here too there are reminders of the past, a castle (Lemanagh), a fort (Caherconnell) and, most memorable of all, the ancient tomb at Poulnabrone. Just a few of the many attractions listed on the very helpful leaflet Burren and Cliffs of Moher GeoPark.

Okay, let us start with the cheese. We spent most of the first morning with Brian at St Tola and you may read all about it here. Our last call that afternoon was to the Farm Shop at Aillwee Caves where, if you’re lucky, you can see the Burren Gold being made. We had a lovely chat with Dave here  and an even lovelier tasting.

In between the cheese stops, we called to our B&B, the Fergus View, and got detailed directions for the afternoon from a very helpful Mary. And that was how we ended up at Poulnabrone. 

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) on the grey pavement of the Burren. 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. 

And that awe continues as you eyes take in the extent of the grey pavement  (formed 350 millions years ago) all around as it stretches into the distance and you pick it up on the flanks of the distant hills.

Moher ??
And we got more great views of the unique landscape as we made our way to Sadie Chowen's Burren Perfumery . This  small company is “making cosmetics and perfumes inspired by the landscape around us. Everything is made on site, by hand, in small batches”. They include perfumes, creams, soaps and candles in the portfolio. We enjoyed  a little tour there through the perfume area, the herb garden and the soap room. There is also a Tea Room with homemade local food. The perfumery is open daily all year round.

The following morning we headed for Doolin on the coast, not to take a boat to the Aran Islands and not to take one along the Cliffs of Moher, but to visit the cave there. It is privately owned, by the Browne family. In addition to the cave, there is a café and a nature walk.

Mike Dickenson and Brian Varley, from a Yorkshire pothole club, discovered the cave in 1952. They crawled in. You don’t have to do that nowadays but you will have to bend down in certain parts. We had a terrific guide in Cathy and first she took us down the stairs which is enclosed in a concrete shaft stretching some 80 feet down; then, with our helmets on, we continued down to 80 metres.
Doolin's amazing stalactite. 10 tonnes, 23 feet.

Now, we get “orders” to turn out all mobile phone lights and we are briefly in darkness. A few lights come on in the blackness. Next there are oohs and aahs as the great stalactite is revealed, all 10 tonnes of it, all 23 feet of it (the longest free hanging stalactite in Europe!).  Amazing!
Doolin sheep

As Cathy takes us around and then under it, we get to know it a little better. One side (the whiter one), with drops of water still dripping, is longer than the other which has no drip and has stopped growing, it is “dead”.

Above ground, the nature trail takes visitors on a short rural walk where you will encounter some farm animals including rare breeds of pygmy goats and Soay and Jacob sheep, ducks and chickens. The ducks and chickens weren’t there on our trip, having been decimated by a rogue mink. But replacements were due!

There is also a well-regarded café and a shop and an area where you’ll see some information (mainly on posters) about the cave which was opened to the public only in 2006. As part of the planning permission, there is a limit of around 50,000 visitors per annum.

We had one or two other visits in mind in the Lisdoonvarna area but with the weather bright and clear, if quite breezy, we decided to head for the Cliffs of Moher. And the guy on the parking gate told us we’d made the correct decision, that the views were great.

And so they were. We joined the crowds (11 buses and more than half a mega-car-park full of cars) but the people were well spread out over the area and no sense of crowding at all. We walked and walked and took in the outstanding views. 

Something struck us as we strolled around. Most of the visitors were speaking a language other than English and those speaking English had either American or English accents. Of the small group in the morning’s cave visit, we were the only two “natives”. I know it was a working day (Friday) but still we wondered do we Irish really appreciate what we have on our doorstep. 
Ball retriever.

Over the past few years, we’ve often been asked what did we do this year. And we’d mention Kerry, Clare, Waterford, Wexford, Mayo, Donegal and so on. And the response often is. “Yes, but where did you go on holidays?” Quite a lot of us don’t consider it a holiday unless we go abroad.

We finished off the afternoon by taking the coastal route, calling at Liscannor (birthplace of John P Holland, inventor of the submarine) and a very lively Lahinch where surfers and golfers were out in force before reaching Berry Lodge at Spanish Point. Here we got a splendid welcome from owner David.

Plan to head to Clare again fairly soon, perhaps starting in the southern part of the county. Anything I should see, visit? After that, I’ll fill you in on a few places to eat and stay.
Surfers get a lesson on Lahinch beach while repairs (following last year's storms) continue in the background.

Monday, April 22, 2019

St Tola, where the girls are pampered: pedicures and treats. Sunblock next?

St Tola,  where the girls are pampered: pedicures and treats. Sunblock next?

The only kid!
We got a big noisy welcome when we arrived at the St Tola Goats near Inagh in Co. Clare. Three hundred ladies plus all turned in our direction as we entered their spacious quarters. Farm Manager Petru Gal told us that 200 are milking at the moment and indeed that figure can reach up to 300.

Brian, who has been with St Tola for the past eleven years, having originally signed up to help out with the summer milking, just a short holiday job, was our guide on the visit and he told us that the kidding is staggered with a cut off point around the equinox. 
Our host Brian, standing by an old cheese press

There was just one kid in the large open and airy sheds, where the goats are divided into pens. There is a certain rivalry between the residents of the different pens! And that needs to be watched at milking time, 8.00am and 6.00pm. It is done mechanically, fairly similar to the way cows are milked, right down to the little treat to get the animals installed in the gates.

The three main breeds here, all mixed at this stage, are Saanen, Toggenburg and British Alpine. If you want quantity of milk then you go with Saanen. But when making cheese you need more fat, more solids in the milk, and Brian says the input of the Toggenburg males ensures higher solids. British Alpine are also in the mix. A goat by the way is in gestation for five months and the normal outcome is twins. While we were going through the shed, Petru showed us one of their three long-eared Nubian goats.

Goats don’t like the wet, don’t like being outside in the rain. Brian explained that in the local conditions, which are fairly peaty (“there is high rainfall in Inagh), they can pick up parasites and can develop foot problems. As it is, their feet need to be pared twice a year, not the easiest of jobs! They do enjoy being out and about in the sun but, as it turned out, last summer was too hot for them and the problem, believe or not, was sunburn!

The major food while they are indoors is haylage. Haylage is cut like hay, but only allowed to semi-wilt and not dry completely. St Tola don’t use silage as that can leave unpleasant traces in the milk. Overall, they do like a varied diet, mostly the farm’s own hay, plus treats such as dried peas, even cut willow branches.

St Tola have a shop on the farm but that only opens for bus tours. If you call, you may buy cheese at the office. This year you can buy their hard cheese. This is only made when there is a surplus as there was last year - there was no hard cheese for a few years before that. It is tasting very well at present but stocks are beginning to run down!
Welcome to St Tola

They make cheese three times a week. They do pasteurised but Brian says the raw milk cheese is much better, the demand for it led by high-end restaurants who appreciate its more complex flavours. 

He took us through the cheese-making process, the cultures, the rennet, the separation of curds and whey, draining the curds in bags, the moulding (with 1% salt added). Then for the some of the logs, the ash (a food grade charcoal) is added; this encourages the other moulds and locks in moisture. The plain non-ash logs are sold fresh. Two weeks after start of production, the mature plain logs are available. The fresh is much easier from the cheesemaker's point of view as the mature takes a lot of work and time.
A champion cheeseboard!

Then time for a tasting. Brian tells us that soft cheese accounts for 90 per cent of the production. As indicated above, the 2018 hard cheese is still available and “improving all the time”. We went through them all from the small Crottin right up to the superb Ash Log which is now available in Supervalu. The hard cheese should also be in Supervalu and that means that stocks will be doing down even more quickly.

And there was one more to taste, the St Tola Greek Style, lovely and crumbly, salty and tangy, and ideal for salads. Time then to say a big thank you to Brian for his time and courtesy and slán too to the young ladies of St Tola. Keep on producing that superb milk girls!

Note on upcoming St Tola Tour: Apr 24 2019

St Tola Goat Farm
Public Tour 10.30am sharp. €8/adults €5/children €20 family ticket

Gortbofearna, Maurice Mills, Ennistymon, Co. Clare, Ireland V95 XA9C.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Head For Clare in 2018

When the snows vanish, it will be time to start thinking about heading to County Clare again...

Lough Derg

The Burren



The Burren

Where the Burren meets the sea

Cliffs of Moher

St Tola

Two pucks
 See more detailed County Clare posts here

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Taste of the Week.

Taste of the Week
Bought a wedge of this Sheep's cheese at Bantry Market last weekend. It is a beauty and compares with the renowned sheep's cheese of the Pyrenees. The Cratloe Hills Gold has great flavour and  is certainly creamier, that Irish rain and grass again! Sean and Deirdre Fitzgerald started making sheep's cheese on their Cratloe farm, overlooking the Shannon, in the mid 80s. The product is 100% sheep's milk using only a vegetarian starter, rennet and salt. It is a natural product manufactured in a traditional way with no additives or flavours.  It is our Taste of the Week.

* Sheep's cheese may have certain health benefits. Check out their site here

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Lovely stay at Lakeside Hotel on the Shannon River

Lovely stay at Lakeside Hotel on the Shannon River
Lough Derg
Spent a two very enjoyable days in Ballina, County Tipperary, last weekend, staying at the Lakeside Hotel, a lovely hotel on a little rise on the east side of the bridge that connects Ballina with Killaloe, its Clare “cousin”. Many people don't realise there is a Ballina here at all but it is  lovely riverside place in a very central location and is a great gathering point for boats and indeed there are cruises available on the Shannon and into nearby Lough Derg.

Was never quite sure whether I was in Tipp or Clare. Some places, you read the hotel is in Tipperary, some places they say it is in Clare and then you also see the address is given as Killaloe/Ballina! Maybe they are playing it safe as the flags outside the hotel - they were blowing stiffly last weekend - include both the Tipperary and Clare county flags and even Saturday night’s entertainer said he had to be careful where his feet were when making remarks that might favour one county over the other!
The ducks win this race for food!

That Saturday night session was one of the highlights. We had just enjoyed a lovely meal at the nearby Tuscany Bistro in Ballina and were settling into the hotel bar (where they have a full menu with lots of local producers featured) when the tall lanky singer with a great line of patter arrived on the scene.

His audience, including two couples from Thurles celebrating their 40th anniversary with friends, were all in good form and the singer enhanced the mood with standards from Bob Dylan to Christy Moore, popular songs such as simple 60s pop to The Fields of Athenry. And all the time, I was sipping away at some excellent Red Ale by O’Hara’s, a warm fire nearby.

Ballycuggeran Beach

We don't get a  chance to eat in the hotel’s restaurant, except for breakfast on each morning. Breakfast was totally buffet on the  busy Sunday morning but we were well catered for. Lots of juices and cereals and no shortage either of hot stuff (you could help yourself to the full Irish or any abbreviated version you wanted). Some nice breads and pastries also available. Not too many people there on Monday morning and instead of the hot buffet you were able to order. Either way, it was excellent.

Our room was very spacious and comfortable, all mod cons including TV, hairdryer and Tea/coffee and we had a very comfortable sofa to sit on. The bathroom (bath and shower) was large and very well equipped and no shortage of toiletries.

Rossmore on Lough Derg

They have a lovely garden out front but we weren't sitting there on this occasion. But we did take the walk down to the river. Sunday morning was better and brighter and we drove up the western side of Lough Derg. Ballycuggeran Beach, one of a few if not the only Blue Flag freshwater beach in the country, was our first stop and a pleasant one, even if some of the paths were flooded.

On then through places like Whitegate, Mountshannon, Ogonnelloe and into An Cuas in Galway heading for a viewpoint at Rossmore. Had to negotiate a flood or two (nothing serious) and the view was worth it even if the water in the large lake was lively and quite high. Retraced our steps to Killaloe, arriving a little too late to benefit from the Farmers Market, held between the waters, but in time to see Ireland v Scotland. Later in the evening, we were back at the Tuscany Bistro for the presentation of the Pride of Ireland Awards.

Lakeside Hotel

The weather may not have been at its best but we had a most enjoyable couple of days at our base in the Lakeside where the staff were friendly and very helpful. A day or two after coming home, we got an email offering us 20 per cent off on the next visit,. Nice, and one to be seriously considered. This is a lovely part of Ireland and deserves to be much better known.

Derelict in Disguise. Nice paint job in Ballina.
Related posts:
Pride of Ireland Awards 2013-2014

Tuscany Bistro. Superbo. Splendido. Eccellente