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

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tea and Garden Rooms

Tea and Garden Rooms

If ever you find yourself in Ballyvaughan or anywhere near it, and there are quite a few good reasons why you should be in the area, then be sure and check out the lovely Tea and Garden Rooms  run by Jane O’Donoghue in the scenic village.

Perhaps the best reason for calling to Ballyvaughan is to visit the Burren. There are quite a few routes to take through and around the Burren but perhaps the most spectacular is the coast road, up from Doolin, via Black Head and from there to Ballyvaughan. You’ll have the Burren on your right and Galway Bay and the Aran Islands to your left. There is also a smashing walk in the area.

Whether walking or driving, you now deserve a break. Park the car by Ballyvaughan harbour. Enjoy the scenery, the grey mountains and head into the Tea and Garden Rooms. Have a look at that large table groaning with freshly made cakes and head for the conservatory or indeed take a seat in the lovely garden.

If you just want a cuppa and cake, this is the place. Maybe you want lunch. Again, this is the spot. I really enjoyed a tasty fish pie here recently and followed that with a visit to that tempting table. Needless to say, I didn’t come away empty handed. Study that garden, have a look at the fish in the pond before you depart to finish your circle of the Burren.

And they are open, at the weekends, for November. So why not take a trip to Clare and the Burren. You’ll be there in no time, thanks to that Limerick tunnel. No one could resist this line-up on that celebrated cake table.  I certainly couldn’t!

Also visited: Cliffs of Moher The Burren Brewery Wild Honey Inn  St Tola Goat Cheese The Burren

Monday, October 22, 2012

Four Star Break in Lahinch

Four Star Break in Lahinch

The Lahinch Golf and Leisure Hotel  was our comfortable base for a recent short trip to the northern corner of County Clare. Lahinch is famous for its golf facilities and the other sport that draws big numbers to the Atlantic town is surfing. Both sports are well catered for. But we weren’t there for the sport! Well nothing more strenuous than walking along the lovely beach, just a few yards from the hotel.

We had people to meet in places such as Inagh, Lisdoonvarna and Ballyvaughan and spent a good deal of the time touring. Liscannor is just up the coast road. We arrived there in a peaceful sunny morning, walked along the pier among the currachs and the lobster traps and enjoyed the views.

Doolin ferry

Cliffs of Moher (from Doolin)
 Next stop, after passing the entrance to the Cliffs of Moher, which we visited on a different day, was the pier at Doolin, where ferries leave for the cliffs and the islands. We walked along the flat rocks there and took in the scenery, looking north to the Aran Islands and south to the Cliffs of Moher.

And then there was a bonus for us city dwellers. We heard some people shouting “dolphins” and ran to the water’s edge where we could see four of them dashing through the water, right into the harbour. Indeed, one, maybe two, came right alongside a docked ferryboat, full of tourists. Quite an experience in the Autumn sunshine.
 We were heading for the Burren and a beautiful drive around the coast to Ballyvaughan via Black Head. As you can see, Lahinch is a really suitable base for the major attractions of the area, namely the cliffs and the Burren. And there is much more to do here and I intend going back and visiting attractions such as Doolin Cave, The Burren Centre (Kilfenore), Ailwee Cave and Birds of Prey, Burren Perfumery, Caherconnell Fort and Dysert O’Dea.
Dolphins at Doolin

 The hotel, which has a large parking area, was very comfortable. Service was top class, very friendly and helpful, exemplified by the two young men in the bar on the Friday night who kept the drinks and the food coming with efficiency and good humour. And reception came to the rescue by lending us, from a decent selection, a suitable charger for a mobile phone! Recommended.

 Also visited: Cliffs of Moher  The Burren Brewery Wild Honey Inn  St Tola Goat Cheese Ballyvaughan Tea and Garden Rooms The Burren

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

St Tola Goat Cheese

St Tola Goat Cheese

Clockwise, from top right: Crottin, Hard on shelve, Hard cut, original log
filling the logs, eating up, and the Ash log.

The goats, all three hundred of them, at St Tola Cheese  near Inagh in County Clare, are looking forward to a better summer next year. “They don’t like the rain,” said our host Grainne Casey, who looks after Sales and Marketing for the organic farm.

The goats didn’t get out as often as they’d like this year but still they were well looked after. The grass was cut and brought into them. But it’s not only the animals that will be looking for a better 2013. Keeping them indoors for extended periods has added hugely to the farm’s costs, as organic feed is not easy to get and costs three times more than your normal feed.

Grainne introduced us to cheese maker Carmen Gal, who is responsible for all aspects of the production operation. Then we enjoyed a very interesting tour of the facility during our recent visit. Grainne explained how the cheeses are made. There are two major types, the regular soft cheese that most people are familiar with and also a lovely hard cheese.

St Tola, under Siobhan Ní Ghairbhith, who took over the reins in 1999, never stands still and have within the last 12 months or so introduced the distinctive St Tola Ash Log, a beautiful creamy cheese that has an ash like covering (edible charcoal).

One of the little girls!

The hard cheese is weather dependent, made only in summer with surplus milk. In a good year, St Tola make it from May to July/August but this bad summer they were curtailed to making it from June to mid July.

Then it was time to meet the animals and, first of all, Grainne introduced us to the “little girls”, most of them born in April or May of this year. Beautiful friendly creatures and so too were most of their elder relations. We didn’t get too close to the Pucks. Apparently they stink! Not too many males “survive” here but those that do have quite a choice!

St Tola started off with three different breeds originally, the idea being to get a good balance of milk, including a good proportion of the cream that helps give the cheeses it gorgeous texture. When they are not indoors, the herd has some sixty five acres to roam around.

All was quiet in the shed, which has one side partly open to the outdoors, until Petru Gal, the Farm Manager, appeared on the scene. Then the goats created quite a din, perhaps expecting an extra treat. Petru, a skilled herdsman, has been here since 2003.
A prize winning selection

The milking is quite an operation and is done twice a day. The facility is mechanised, the ladies are led in to the parlour, their movement restrained, the reward is a little treat, and the whole operation takes about ninety minutes in the morning and the same in the late afternoon. Two hundred are milking and they’ll let you know if you are late!

After the tour, we sat down with Grainne and enjoyed a cuppa and a cheese tasting. The room was a reminder of how far St Tola has come as it is decorated with many awards, from Ireland, Britain and Europe. The products are widely available and you may see the full list of stockists here.
Two happy pucks

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wild Honey Inn. A special place.

Wild Honey Inn

 Any county that can hold a banquet with all the food and drink coming from within its own border, as Clare did in Ennis on October 5th, must have some good restaurants. And there are some brilliant ones in the Banner – they regularly turn up on the awards list - but the one we choose on a recent overnight stay was the Wild Honey Inn  in Lisdoonvarna. In a relaxed roadside pub just outside the town, Aidan McGrath turns out delightful dishes.

We called pretty early, just after six and, having been on the go all day, had a good appetite. First though, a drink. Spotted some craft beer on the counter and picked a bottle of the Copper Coast Red Ale made by the Dungarvan Brewing Company. Settled into our comfortable seat and, with help from the friendly waitress, we ordered.

As it turned out, our dishes were all off the Specials menu, with the exception of the exceptional dessert. My starter was the Ham Hock Terrine, celeriac remoulade, salsa verde (€8.90). Quality ingredients in a well presented dish and the same could be said about CL’s starter of Dill Cured Salmon, pickled fennel and cucumber, sauce gravadlax (8.90). Two super tasty starters and we had confirmation that all good things we had heard about the Inn were true.
 We were tempted by the Halibut Troncon with Saffron ratte potato but both went for the other special: Veal Feather Blade, pearl barley, carrot and cumin puree, young leeks (€19.90). Aidan said this was a rare cut and he sure made the best of it.

The whole dish looked well and tasted well. You could have cut the meat with your spoon and the use of the pearl barley was also a rare delight. Even the potatoes that came as a side were top notch. Quality all the way from the farm to the kitchen to the table.

The Apple and Blueberry crumble that we shared for dessert was another winner. The humble apple was the main ingredient, a beautiful example of the fruit, cut into plentiful mini chunks, so juicy. And the fruit wasn't buried under a mound of crumble, just a thin tasty sheet. A gorgeous combination to end a gorgeous meal.

With the friendliness of Aidan and his crew and the top drawer food, the Wild Honey was one of the highlights of our trip to the delightful county of Clare, a place where there is so much to see and do, not to mention so much to eat and drink!

 Also visited: Cliffs of Moher  The Burren Brewery  St Tola Goat Cheese Lahinch area Ballyvaughan Tea and Garden Rooms The Burren

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Burren Brewery

The Burren Brewery
Ireland's Smallest Micro-Brewery!

When you walk into the Roadside Tavern in Lisdoonvarna, you see the normal beer dispensers on the high counter. But then, in the middle, you see something totally different: three unusual taps labelled Gold, Red and Black.

Owner Peter Curtin has his own brewery here, “the smallest micro-brewery in Ireland”, and the taps, designed by a local artist, dispense his lager (Burren Gold), ale (Burren Red) and stout (Burren Black). And very tasty they are too, as we discovered after a tasting of the three.

The brewery, just over 12 months old, is upstairs and Peter showed us up his stairway to heaven! It is all neat and compact. He has got some very good gear here and a great love for the task as we found out. And the pub is the only place that you can get these beers.

The pub itself, just a few miles from the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, has a very long history, in family hands since 1893. But the Curtins were also bakers and that history goes back even further, hundreds of years. Nowadays the pub is also noted for its food and, this year, was voted “Best Gastro-pub in Munster” by the Restaurants Association of Ireland.

 Timing wasn’t quite right for us to eat there but the menu is filled with delicious dishes such as traditional Irish bacon, Cabbage and Parsley sauce and a slightly less traditional rendition of Irish stew (featuring local Burren beef in place of the more typical lamb).

Pride of place is given to several dishes featuring Smoked Fish and Eel from the family's award-winning Burren Smokehouse, run by Peter and Birgitta Curtin. Try the Burren smoked fish platter which is served with organic leaves from nearby New Quay. The Burren Smokehouse  is literally a few yards down the road and well worth a visit. And they have a great shop there too with local products from other producers. You may also buy online.

And don’t skip dessert in the Tavern. Peter says they are fabulous, homemade by Fabiola's Patisserie in Doolin. Fabiola has worked in Michelin starred restaurants and you may also sample her pastry delights at the Cafe in the Doolin Crafts Centre.

Food and good beer. What more do you want? Well, you get much more in this bar as there is a fantastic music programme throughout the season. That series is drawing to a close now but not before paying a massive tribute to Micilín Conlon (who played in the pub for all of 57 years) over three nights (26th,27th,28th of October). And, on the Saturday and Sunday (4.00 to 6.00pm), there will be a tasting combining the local beers, breads and cheese. Sounds great.

If you like a laugh, you’ll never be short of one with Peter and his crew in the Roadside. His sense of humour was seen at its sharpest recently when he more or less hi-jacked the Thursday set aside for Arthur and instead designated it Peter’s Day with pints of Burren Beer selling at three euro.

The beers are very popular with tourists. They are good, really good. So why not call in if you are in the area. Worth a detour, as they say in the best guides.

 Also visited: Cliffs of Moher   Wild Honey Inn  St Tola Goat Cheese Lahinch area Ballyvaughan Tea and Garden Rooms The Burren

Monday, September 10, 2012

Three Clare champions at Ballymaloe

Three Clare champions at Ballymaloe


Fit for a queen
Met three champions from Clare at Ballymaloe last evening. The first, Skillogalee founder Dave Palmer, comes for the Clare Valley in Australia, while the other two, Birgitta Curtin of the Burren Smokehouse and Siobhan Ni Ghairbhith of St Tola, come from our own County Clare, after which the Australian valley is named. It was a promising line-up and they delivered big time.

Colm McCan of Ballymaloe greeted us all with a Skillogalee Sparkling Riesling. “A very unusual wine, only four or five are made in Oz,” said Dave. “It is light, dry and refreshing and aromatic. It is a properly made sparkler, bottle fermented and aged on its lees.” Great start.


Dave then took to the stage at the Grain Store to introduce his two whites for the evening: the Riesling 2011 and the Gewurztraminer 2011. “These are cold climate wines. We pick pristine fruit and try to preserve it all the way through”. These were matched with the soft goats cheeses and the smoked salmon. “Matches made in heaven,” according to Dave. “I think the lemon and lime flavours in the wine is one of the reasons.”

Next on the wine list was the Rosé (a Cabernet Malbec blend) 2011, a rosé “with attitude..brings out the summer berry characters”. Delightful all the way through from its initial beautiful strawberry bouquet.

Two Gold medal winning reds followed as the high standard was maintained: The Cabernets 2007 and the Shiraz 2008. Quality control is vital in Skillogalee and you won’t find The Cabernets 2008. They didn’t make it as the fruit wasn't good enough.

The reds were matched with the St Tola Hard Cheese, just three months old. Very good now, like Gouda, but Siobhan promised it will get better as it matures (more like Parmesan in the end).

Quite often, the language of wine maker and food producer is the same. They are one and all affected by factors outside their control including the obvious one of the weather. They are one and all dependent on their terroir. Siobhan knows that if she were to transport her 200 plus goats to an inland county that the cheese flavours would be different.

“We have a peaty soil near the Atlantic. The St Tola Log cheese is quite natural, a little fruity, hints of the peat and undertones of salt. The St Tola Ash is made in the same way but in smaller log and is rolled in a food grade charcoal to produce the Ash rim. The Ash makes it stand out on the cheeseboard and keeps it fresh.”

The hard cheese is weather dependent, made only in summer with surplus milk. In a good year, St Tola make it from May to July/August but this bad summer they were curtailed to making it from June to mid July.

It soon became obvious that you really need to know what you are doing with hard cheese. “Timing is very important. If done wrongly, it can even explode!” With its beautiful taste and texture and creaminess, it proved a great match for the Cabernets.

Just like Dave and Diane Palmer, Birgitta and Peter started their Clare business about 23 years ago. Now the Burren Smokehouse is internationally recognised and its products are stocked in speciality food shops in places such as London, US and Kuwait. They too set high standards and their excellence has been regularly recognised and many awards have come their way.

They love their location but even here there are challenges, like the scarcity of wild salmon. She told us the wild salmon is a little drier and the flavour lingers a little longer. They get theirs from a fisherman on the Nore and it ends up in the most unexpected places. Like the Queen’s table, for example. Last year, during the Queen's visit, Ross Lewis choose Burren Smokehouse Wild Salmon for the state banquet. Another honour for Birgitta and company!

Birgitta is Swedish and explained that hot smoking is prevalent in her home country while cold smoking is more common in Ireland. She showed a selection at Ballymaloe, including the Donegal Silver (fresh, sweet and full of Omega3) and the slightly paler Clare Island.

Her Hot Smoked Organic Salmon “is slightly spiced, fully cooked and more meaty.” Birgitta suggested it is a good way to get young people interested in smoked fish though she suspected that “the real fish eaters might prefer cold smoked”.

The Burren Smokehouse is quite a tourist attraction. “Some 30,000 people visit us each year, 10,000 of them from France. Please call in!”

A terrific entertaining and informative evening was drawing to a close but, with Dave Palmer on hand, there was to be a sweet ending, a tasting of the famous Skillogalee Liqueur Muscat, made like a Tawny Port, the fermentation stopped at the right point (the tricky part) leaving a 25% sugar content. Great nose and great flavours, not at all cloying and with a long lingering finale.

Thanks to Dave and Dianne Palmer, to Birgitta and Siobhan and indeed to Colm and all at Ballymaloe.