By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
How does a traveler to Ireland take the pulse of this foreign land? Some visitors like to get the scoop from residents, read the country’s newspapers, or watch TV news. I like to go shopping – in craft shops, department and grocery stores – not necessarily to buy something but because I think you can learn a lot about a place by seeing what products are offered and how the offerings change from year to year.
There was a day when tourist shops offered leprechauns, shamrocks, and other such traditional Ireland-themed gifts. But many of those same shops today sell original paintings, prints, hand-crafted silver jewelry, leather goods, hand-painted silk, pottery, woolens, and other craft items. There is still an errant leprechaun or two lurking about but generally the better stores focus on products created by Ireland’s many gifted craftsmen.
The granddaddy of all Irish gift shops in the West, of course, is Shannon Airport’s Duty Free Shop, which will celebrate its 70th year in 2017. It’s a great place to shop if you don’t want to pay the standard 23 percent Value Added Tax charged at most stores out in the countryside and are able to carry home your purchases.
Most Irish goods in Duty Free are sold throughout the country so if you are looking for something unique, be sure to buy it when you see it as you’re traveling. Shannon Duty Free is a great place to buy Burren Smokehouse smoked salmon, loaves of McCambridge’s bread, and other products like bacon and sausage that are best bought last minute.
Dublin airport has instituted a whole new shopping experience (theloop.ie) for customers to buy items online and collect them before boarding the plane for home. We haven’t tried it, but it’s an interesting concept.
Once upon a time, I might have taken New England products, such as maple syrup, to Ireland as a gift. Or, I might have packed random but necessary ingredients, like jalapenos, if Mexican food was on the menu, or Band-Aids, because I thought Johnson & Johnson’s were the best but they weren’t available in Ireland. They’re available there now as are many different types of what the Irish call “plasters.”
Today’s Irish grocery stores have nearly everything we have here, and often more, because many large American companies have facilities in Europe and produce products there. For instance, there is one Kellogg’s Special K granola I buy in Ireland (with dried cranberries and almonds) that I cannot find here. I end up bringing boxes of it home, which doesn’t help with the weight allowance of my bags but it’s worth it to me.
I also find that some of our products that are sold in Irish supermarkets taste entirely different there. I buy Yoplait yogurt in Ireland that tastes better than the Yoplait here, in my opinion. Why? Maybe it’s the difference in where the cows’ milk originates?
There are many fine gift shops all over Ireland where you will find just the right holiday gifts for those at home.
Since I rent a house in the West, my familiarity is mostly with shops on that side of the country. Some favorites include The Beehive in Keel on Achill Island, O’Reilly & Turpin and Quay Gallery in Westport, all in Co. Mayo; also, the gift shop at Kylemore Abbey, The Clifden Bookshop and Spiddal Craft Village, all in Co. Galway, Connemara Gifts at Peacocke’s Hotel in Maam Cross, Connemara; and the Donegal Craft Village in Co. Donegal.
A friend and I also discovered Caroline Timony’s Forget-Me-Not gift shop in Donegal Town this spring, where I bought a number of gifts including a wonderful ceramic pin depicting a ram done by Michelle Butler from Co. Tyrone. I also bought several of Michelle’s other designs and plan to give them as Christmas gifts. Her pins are also available at the Museum of Country Life just outside of Castlebar, Co. Mayo, The House of Ireland and National Museum of Ireland, both in Dublin, and O’Brien’s Crafts & Knitwear in Doolin, Co. Clare.
While in Donegal in the spring, I was fortunate to spend some time with Tommy and Patricia Daly at Celtic Weave China in Cloghore, Ballyshannon. For four generations, the Daly family has been creating china baskets and flowered ware in their village, which is just a mile west of the village of Belleek.
Making the baskets is an intricate and time-consuming process that starts with hand-kneading the Parian bone mixture, which then matures for 20 weeks. Strands of clay are then braided and woven to create the baskets. The basket maker individually and painstakingly shapes each tiny piece of every flower, leaf, shamrock, stem, and bud. The item is then built petal by petal and leaf by leaf, fired, glazed, and hand painted. It’s a lengthy and exacting process but the Daly family clearly has it down to an art form after all these years.
The products created are impressive and range from a large assortment of baskets to napkin rings, mirrors, lamps, clocks, candleholders, vases, picture frames, and more.
The small company also makes a number of holiday decorations and other items exclusively available at Tiffany & Co. For more information, visit celticweavechina.com
KUDOS FOR ASHFORD
Ashford Castle in Cong, Co. Mayo, was recently awarded a prestigious AA 5 Red Star Rating at the 2016 AA Hospitality Awards and was named Ireland’s Best Five Star Hotel at the Keeling’s Farm Fresh Gold Medal Awards.
Ashford was the only Republic of Ireland business to win at the Keeling awards, which are in their 28th year and are one of Ireland’s leading independent awards programs for the hotel industry.
Ashford was extensively refurbished from top to bottom over a two-year period before it reopened in 2015. The 800-year-old, 85-bedroom castle hotel is on 350 acres and boasts an equestrian center, Ireland’s only Orvis-endorsed fishing school, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, and school of falconry. It also has several dining rooms, a bar, cinema, billiard room, cigar terrace, wine cellar. The spa was recently named “Ireland’s Best Hotel Spa” at the 2016 World Spa Awards.
The Mulranny Park Hotel in lovely Mulranny, Co. Mayo, has announced walking breaks for Nov. 11 and 12 and two weekends in January - the 21st and 22nd and 27th and 28th. See mulrannyparkhotel.ie to book.
It’s always a good time to visit Mulranny on Clew Bay but also nice to hear that the tidy small town was recently named the overall winner for responsible tourism at the third annual Irish Responsible Tourism Conference in Dublin last month. Second place went to Inishbofin Island in Co. Galway, and third place to Sheep’s Head Way in Co. Cork.
There is still great weather for outdoor activities in Ireland and many tourist attractions are still open. Enjoy your trip whenever you go and be sure to visit Ireland.com for information on things to do, accommodations, and more.