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Gastronomically speaking, the Irish have the right stuff

By Anonymous, May 9, 2012

Let’s talk food – Irish food. In short, it’s great!

You may still be able to find a pub that serves dry, tasteless ham or cheese sandwiches on bland bread, but for the most part, food is fresh, locally sourced, and truly outstanding and not just in the high-end restaurants. Pubs have come into their own, too, and many serve fresh soups and stews, paninis, and other trendy sandwiches along with other pub fare.

We recently attended the dedication of the Titanic Memorial Park in Lahardane, North Mayo, and stopped for lunch at Leonard’s Pub there. For 10 euro, we were treated to an extensive buffet that featured a huge assortment of offerings from curried chicken to cold salmon to assorted cold meats, breads and rolls, pasta and green salads. The selections went on and on. For an extra three euro, you could add dessert, tea, or coffee, and we did. (Leonard’s serves lunch every Sunday from June through the end of August starting at 12:30. If you’re in the area, the lunch is highly recommended, as is the Titanic Memorial Park, which is very well done.)

This spring, we enjoyed several delicious dinners at McDermott’s Pub in Doolin; a very nice lunch at Cashel House Hotel in Connemara; excellent fresh fish specials at dinner in the beautiful Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel (where we also relished afternoon tea with homemade jam and scones) and lunch at the Beehive on Achill Island (chicken, mozzarella ,and roasted red pepper panini with garlic mayonnaise – yum!)

I always make a point when I’m in Connemara to stop in Clifden at Mitchell’s Seafood Restaurant, which serves consistently excellent fare. The fishcakes are divine and, although the menu offers other yummy luncheon selections, we couldn’t resist and had fishcakes on every visit. (Warning: if you hope to have dinner at Mitchell’s, be sure to stop in and make a reservation or call because dinners are usually booked out well in advance.)

In addition to seafood, Mitchell’s dinner menu includes duckling, Irish beef, Irish stew, chicken, and more. Written on the menu: “We would like to advise our customers that, as we only serve fresh seafood, we depend on daily landings and we cannot guarantee the availability of all varieties mentioned on this menu.” Doesn’t that say it all?

Memorable: We’ve had terrific meals at many places but the highlights this year have been, in addition to Mitchell’s: Café Rua (heavenly pate) in Castlebar; Nicola’s (everything is freshly made and delicious) in Westport; Heaton’s Guesthouse (especially outstanding breakfast) and Global Village (delicious mussels) in Dingle; Cullinan’s and the Roadhouse in Doolin (everything is delicious in both); The Granuaille Pub and Newport House in Newport and Nevin’s Pub in Tiernaur, Mulranny, all in Co. Mayo, Farmgate in Middleton, Co. Cork, and many, many more.

Ireland is also home to a number of world-famous chefs including Nevin Maguire who, with his wife, Amelda, runs MacNean House and Restaurant in Blacklion, County Cavan. And, there are many other well-known chefs, some of whom are connected with the better hotels and restaurants.

Medieval castle banquets are fun too. Some of the better known include Dunguaire in Kinvara, Bunratty Castle in Bunratty, and Knappogue Castle, all in Co. Clare. See shannonheritage.com for more details.

The larger cities, of course, are teeming with excellent eateries but we don’t specifically mention them because, in this waffly economy, it’s impossible to keep track of the establishments that are still in business. Travelers will no doubt find their favorite eateries as they meander about Ireland.

Food organizations: Irish food has no doubt improved so dramatically in the past decade or so due to the influx of visitors from all over the world who demand good food and to the many, many Irish organizations designed to govern food suppliers and ensure that standards are met and exceeded. Good Food Ireland, for instance, began in 2006 and links food producers with the hospitality sector. Bord Bia, the Irish food board, acts as a link between Irish food, drink and horticulture suppliers and existing and potential customers. All these groups have websites and you can download recipes from most of them.

There’s also a group, The Irish Farmhouse Cheesemakers Association, that promotes the cheese industry. If you haven’t tried Irish cheese yet, you are in for a real treat. My personal favorites are St. Tola Goat Cheese and Cashel Blue. But, those are just two of many, many Irish cheeses, all of which are different, interesting and well worth trying. I recommend sampling them in Ireland as the Irish cheeses I’ve eaten in the states just don’t taste the same.

Another group is called Love Irish Food and I see their logo on my morning cup of Yoplait strawberry/peach yogurt (made by Glanbia in Dublin.) Love Irish Food’s website says the group’s aim is to help consumers make informed choices about buying Irish manufactured food and drink. Their overall aim, the website writer adds, “is to safeguard the future of food and drink manufacturing in Ireland.”

And then, of course, there’s the food you cook and eat at home. There is an immense selection from any of Ireland’s many good grocery chains like Tesco, SuperValu, and Centra. There are also Lidl and Aldi stores in many areas as well as the smaller “Mom and Pop” stores where you probably wouldn’t do a week’s shopping but you could certainly pick up necessary bits.

I love raw oysters and in Ireland you can find them in many restaurants or buy them to shuck and eat at home. Connemara oysters are delicious, served with a small glass of Guinness, and Clew Bay oysters, with just a squirt of lemon, are divine.

Kylemore Abbey: Magnificent Kylemore Abbey, deservedly one of the West of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations, has an impressive listing of events on its 2012 calendar. A series of musical performances are scheduled in the lovely Gothic Church with its amazing acoustics. The church can accommodate an audience of about 80 and choirs are scheduled to perform there from many countries, including Canada and the US, throughout the summer. Visitors are welcome.

During July and August, the Benedictine nuns of Kylemore sing Latin Vespers in the church each Sunday at 3 p.m. Visitors are invited and no booking is required.

Events are posted and constantly updated on the Kylemore website – and there is lots of other information there about the garden, teahouse, and the craft shop. Kylemore’s chefs also post a recipe every month, which would be fun to try at home. See kylemoreabbey.com for more.

GOINGS ON
• From May 2 to 7, the Fifth Annual Roscommon Lamb Festival will be held in Roscommon Town. Co. Roscommon, the website says, has the highest lamb output in Ireland. For more information, visit roscommonlambfestival.com.

• How about taking a painting workshop on Achill Island? Workshops with Padraig McCaul are planned for May 12 and 13, June 9 and 10, July 14 and 15, and on a number of dates in August. For more information, try e-mail at info@padraigmccaul.com or visit the website: padraigmccaul.com;

• Painting workshops are also taught at Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel in Connemara by Rosemary Burns. Get more information by e-mailing info@rosemaryburnspainting.com or by visiting her website at rosemaryburnspainting.com.

• Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, celebrates the mystical Burren in May with assorted events. Talks on many subjects are scheduled as are walks, films, a farmer’s market, a book launch of “A personal Record: Wildflowers of Ireland,” an art exhibition, treasure hunt, concert, art and crafts fair (every Sunday at 10 a.m.) and a full, half and mini marathon (walk, jog or run) on May 26. The Burren College of Art, Burrenbeo Trust, and Clare Burren Marathon Challenge organized the events.

• Check out the website visitconnemara.com for details on the Peter Bailey Cup Sky Road 10K challenge set for June 3 in Clifden, Co. Galway. Walkers are welcome and prizes abound. Medals will be awarded too to all successful participants.

For details on other activities going on in Ireland – and there are many at this time of year – visit discoverireland.com and enjoy your trip whenever you visit.