Wilting visibly at the thought of another ‘craic’ at ‘typical Ireland’? The one where we recommend you go to Dublin, live on Guinness and stagger about chatting to lovely Irish folk who’ve got nothing better to do than conform to a cultural stereotype – mind your feet for Leprechauns, winsome Irish dancing lassies and handsomely dishevelled and brooding Celts.
We’ll spare you the rest because there’s more than enough fictional ‘land of stout and little folk’ about to be going on with. Instead we thought we’d travel a bit further afield from the capital and have a look at the beaches, the art and design, the festivals and food and the cities that aren’t Dublin – just for a change.
Not that we don’t love Dublin, we do. Everyone loves Dublin, or the idea of Dublin, but there are other cities in Ireland (or ‘Southern Ireland’ as folk here tend to call it) and unsurprisingly they’re all fiercely competitive about which is the finest and why.
Galway will tell you it takes the title just for the seafood alone. You can forget Dublin Bay Prawns as far as the folks on the West Coast are concerned because nothing compares to Galway oysters (there are locals who’ll try to convince you Guinness was first brewed to go with these beauties, and who’s to say……). There’s a Galway Oyster Festival every year in September, but we like the city in spring when the colourful streets are less crowded and there’s enough of a chill in the air to justify a cosy pub fire, half a dozen on-the-half-shell and a pint of the black stuff.
credit: M A K E H O E
Weather isn’t Ireland’s biggest draw, but that doesn’t stop another of its cities, Waterford, selling itself on sunshine. Well, it might have more sun than the rest of the country, but that’s not saying much. We prefer Waterford for the water and more specifically its lovely quayside, all the Viking stuff (where there’s water there’s a chance of Nordic marauders) and the nearby coastline – perfect for catching a few of those fabled rays, if you’re quick.
Go west from Waterford to find Cork. Probably the second most famous city in Ireland, Cork’s the place you pitch up with a pre-conception and end up going home with a case of world-class micro-brewery beer and some contemporary art. It’s one of our favourite European cities: just the right size to walk about, lively but not too crowded, lots of bridges, great river and an annual beer festival that showcases Ireland’s independent brewers and their strangely fantastic alcoholic alchemy.
credit: Nicola Corboy
Ireland has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and most of them are kept lovely because the country’s reputation weather-wise doesn’t automatically attract crowds of windbreaks, cool boxes and sweaty, determined sunbathers. And, for all we might have gently joshed Waterford’s ‘sunshine’ claims, when it comes to best beaches it’s that coastline you want.
Miles of flawless white sands, perfectly clean water, cliffs, coves, bays, natural harbours and lots and lots of places where you just won’t see another soul for hours on end, beaches like Tramone Bay are as wonderful in windswept winter as they are in high summer.
You might not want to brave the water in December, but swimming in the sea is a bit of a thing in Ireland and the south coast is where it’s at its finest. The notable exception being Dun Laoghaire just outside Dublin – a natural swimming pool called The Forty Foot is the big attraction here. Joyce described its waters as ‘snot green’ in Ulysses and hundreds of Dubliners traditionally take a Christmas Day plunge in The Forty Foot’s icy depths.
credit: Bia Sasta
As well as guaranteeing peaceful beaches, Ireland’s weather is an advantage when it comes to growing fresh produce. The country’s abundance makes a healthy appearance in restaurants, bars and cafes in every county, and local markets are foodie Velcro if you’re renting a holiday home. Kenmare in the south west calls itself Ireland’s Gourmet Capital, so not short on young Turk chefs making their mark with some of Europe’s most exciting food here. Even the bakeries are pretty astounding – yes, they do exotic but we still like the Soda Scones.
Ireland without the arts? We don’t think so. This is the land of Yeats, Joyce, Heaney, Lavery, the other Yeats, more independent publishers in one country than most continents can muster these days, music that’s way beyond the wee man with the glasses and the stadium schtick and not a street worth its salt that doesn’t have at least one art gallery.
credit: Crawford Art Gallery
Dublin’s justifiably famous for its museums and collections, but one of our favourite galleries is the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork (the city’s really worth a visit for private galleries too). The Crawford is next to Cork’s Opera House in the city centre and has a permanent collection of over 2000 works including: 18th century casts of Vatican Greek and Roman sculpture, some of the country’s finest 18th and 19th century Irish art, as well as contemporary works and temporary exhibitions.
What did we miss? Plenty for sure and there is nothing the Irish like more than pointing out errors of omission when it comes to singing the praises of their country. So if we can just say ‘sorry’ now and finish by mentioning – just in case we weren’t clear –Ireland is wonderful and not weather dependent and it’s worth getting out of Dublin to see the other bits too.
Featured image by atomicpuppy68
English speaking visitors to France, cherchez-ing a perfectly grilled steak haché or a nicely browned frite, could do worse than head for French restaurant chain Courtepaille. If your grasp of the language is limited to an embarrassed ‘merci’, it’s probably Bon Appetit all round and none the wiser. But for those with a slightly wider vocabulary, confusion reigns. Because Courtepaille directly translates as ‘Short Straw’, not the first name choice for a successful restaurant you’d think, right? Wrong. In France, if you draw the short straw you’re the lucky winner.
Black cats are another source of confusion when it comes to good luck/bad luck. Apparently The Pilgrim Fathers (who really should have had more to worry them) believed black cats were agents of Satan. But, for centuries, canny Scots have thought the melanin rich felines brought prosperity. Gamblers fear black cats and pirates love them – handy to know if you’re in Vegas or sailing the high seas.
Some superstitions are widely held: smash the bottom of an empty boiled egg shell so a witch can’t make a boat out of it: bird droppings are good luck: a single magpie is a bad omen: don’t put new shoes on a table: spilled salt isn’t good (counteract with a pinch over your left shoulder and into the devil’s eye): and a tall, dark stranger as your first visitor of the New Year heralds excellent fortune (yes, we used the word ‘herald’).
But we think it’s probably fair to say that the best superstitions/omens/etc are based on indigenous lore and legend. They’re certainly some of the strangest (only in Iceland would they give citizens’ rights to elves), most eccentric and, occasionally, plain creepy – Mexico you know who you are! So before we douse ourselves in bird droppings and catch us a couple of magpies in preparation for another Friday the 13th, here’s our good guide to some superstitions of the world – wise travellers, heed our words!
credit: Sergio Rozas
Friday 13th in Spain is just a day like any other. Because, although the Spanish are uncommonly superstitious, it’s Tuesday 13th that’s the unluckiest day in their calendar. And we’re not just talking, watch out for ladders and spilled salt: Tuesday 13th in Spain is a day of mortal dread. As they say – Martes 13, ni te cases, ni te embarques (Tuesday 13th, don’t get married or set sail).
Visiting Russia and tempted to make Blinis? Before you start slathering on the sour cream and caviare, beware. Don’t ever eat the first pancake out of the pan, it belongs to a witch and if she doesn’t get it she’ll get you. Most seasoned pancake makers don’t care, the first pancake’s never that great anyway.
It’s probably not surprising that the birthplace of the magnificent Brothers Grimm should have a healthy stock of very unhealthy superstitions – mostly about death and dying. Our particular gory favourite is the belief that the wounds of a murdered corpse will start to bleed afresh if the body is touched again by the murderer.
credit: Janek Kloss
Forget the poetry, stout and fantastic oysters, if you visit Ireland it’s the fairies you have to watch out for. This may not be of interest to the average traveller, but if you’re renting a holiday house you might want to make sure it wasn’t built on a Fairy Path. According to Irish legend, fairies travel all over the country and if you build a house on one of their routes you’ll never know peace as long as you live. To make sure you don’t fall foul of a fairy: choose your site, stick a post in each of the four corners and if they’re still there in the morning it’s a fairy-free-zone.
The highly intelligent Magpie recognises its mirror image, hence its liking for shiny stuff and glass reflections. But if you’re Scottish you don’t believe any of that old scientific nonsense: a single Magpie on your window sill means death is coming to your home.
Want to ward off evil in Italy? Well, if you’re an Italian man, just grab the front of your trousers (think Michael Jackson Thriller). Yes, that gesture which has most of womankind rolling their eyes in disgust, is actually designed to ensure the bad thing you’re talking about doesn’t happen to you.
If you’re wandering around Yorkshire and you chance to come upon a hairy caterpillar, pick it up and hurl it over your shoulder for good luck – it’s one of those ‘not such good luck for the hairy caterpillar’ things, we know!
credit: K. G. Hawes
Lighting a votive candle in a Catholic church is something almost everyone does, whatever their beliefs. But in France, never light a candle from another candle because only the prayer of the original will be answered.
Wear a turquoise bead when you’re visiting Greece to ward off the evil eye. But watch it closely, if the colour starts to fade, danger is coming your way.
Come any Friday in Brazil (13th or otherwise) wear white clothes and you’ll have good luck. And, to make sure you always have plenty of cash, get yourself an elephant statue for the house and place it with its back to the door – Brazilian Feng Shui.
Finnish folk love a sauna and with every sauna comes a ‘Tonttu’. The Tonttu is a Sauna Elf, and if you forget to throw water on the stove for the Tonttu, he’ll curse your next sauna visit.
When visitors come knocking at the door in Holland the superstitious Dutch rush to answer because it’s said that if the door blows open on its own you’ve invited the Devil into your home.
Famous foragers that they are, no outdoorsy Swede with any sense ever picks heather and brings it home as ancient lore dictates they won’t live to tell the tale.
And finally, for this Friday and any other Friday – watch out for flying swans: if you see them overhead in the morning it’s good luck, but in the evening they’re a very bad sign.
credit: Ben Brewer
If we were ever in danger of forgetting that we can still be mystified and not everything is explicable, the magic of the maze is always there to remind us.
Whether it’s the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur or the political intrigue and literary inspiration of Hampton Court, a maze can always be counted on to chill and delight us in equal measure. But while the puzzle may be ancient, the art of maze making is still alive and well the world over.
Without the help of Ariadne or even a hint of golden thread we’ve found some of the best mazes to get happily lost in for hours on end. And they’re perfect for children. So step inside the legendary adventure of the maze and create an unforgettable adventure of your own.
Russborough House, Co. Wicklow, Eire
Without a doubt one of the most enchanting aspects of a maze is where you come across them. Russborough House in Co. Wicklow, Ireland is known as the longest house in Ireland and is certainly the country’s finest Palladian Mansion. Russborough is a house of secrets and mysteries (the diaries of the last owner, Sir Alfred Beit, are held in trust in Dublin until 21 years after the death of HRH Queen Elizabeth II). Fitting then that the 2000m² Beech Hedge Maze in the garden is a puzzle that needs a map and still has visitors wandering and lost. The ‘goal’ at the heart of Russborough Maze is a statue of Cupid enclosed in a diamond hedge symbolising The Beit Family’s role as pioneers in the ‘diamond trade’. It is possible to attempt solving the mystery of the Russborough Maze before you step inside – one window on the first floor of the house overlooks the entire design – but you should probably take a phone with you just in case.
Il Labarinto, Villa Pisani, Venice
On the Riviera del Brenta about 20 minutes from Venice and 10 minutes from Padua stands the magnificent Villa Pisani. Often called the ‘Queen’ of Venetian Villas, Villa Pisani is famous for its Rococo interior, the ‘most beautiful gardens in Italy’ and for Il Labarinto, still considered to be the most complex maze in the world. Napoleon Bonaparte got lost here in 1807, Hitler and Mussolini refused to venture in and today’s visitors regularly call for assistance from the depths – this maze does not come with a map. For the intrepid and those with a good sense of direction the reward at the heart of Villa Pisani’s Maze is a charming two storey tower with exterior spiral staircases. This is the perfect vantage point from which to observe the confused and to admire the long expanses of the villa’s formal gardens.
Reignac-sur-Indre, Indre-et-Loire, France
Created in 1996, Reignac-sur-Indre is the largest ‘plant maze’ in the world. Although the design is a classical labyrinth, the planting of the maze uses a sowing and re-marking technique to make a vibrant living sculpture that flourishes with sunflowers in summer and dies back almost to a shadow in winter. This isn’t too puzzling a maze but its sheer size is an incomparable adventure. Indre-et-Loire is also famous for its chateaux, medieval towns and villages, beautiful lakes, forests and rivers and for its hot air balloons. So once you’ve explored the maze and its landscape on the ground you can always sail gently over it and see everything from another perspective entirely.
Parc del Laberint, Barcelona, Spain
This 18 acre garden, part of the Alfarràs Estate on the edge of Barcelona, is the oldest in the city and unquestionably the most romantic. The centrepiece of the garden is a maze of 2m high hedges devised to almost exactly replicate the Minotaur’s mythical Labyrinth at Knossos. Not content to mirror the classical design, the maze also uses statuary, art and friezes to capture every detail of Theseus and Ariadne’s love story – the prize at the heart is, of course, a statue of Cupid. The great romantic idyll is celebrated in the rest of Parc del Laberint too. But all the Temples of Ariadne and statues of Echo pale by comparison with a monument created simply to commemorate, ‘one splendid afternoon’.
Cawdor Castle, Nairn, Scotland
With its crow stepped gables and steeply pitched roofs, Cawdor Castle is at once fairy tale and intrinsically Scottish. Often called the Highlands’ most romantic castle and forever linked to Shakespeare through his wildly inaccurate tragedy Macbeth, Cawdor also has one of the finest walled kitchen gardens in Britain and at its heart lies the immaculately groomed Holly Maze. Designed in 1981 by Lord Cawdor and based on the mosaic maze in the ruined Roman Villa of Conimbriga, Portugal, Cawdor’s maze is not a conundrum or a place to get lost, but it is very beautiful and tracing its intricacies passes some very peaceful time.
Vizcaya, Biscayne Bay, Miami, Florida
In 1916 the agricultural industrialist James Deering built his summer retreat overlooking Biscayne Bay in Miami. A huge, Italianate villa with dozens of rooms and over 10 acres of garden, today Vizcaya is one of the most glamorous museums in the world. Deering’s passion was planting – when he realised Miami’s climate wouldn’t fulfil his desire for abundant orchids he created a ‘secret garden’ specifically for their cultivation. He had orchards built, woodland tamed and, of course, inspired by the true spirit of 18th century Italy he made a maze. Not one of the largest or most confusing, but Vizcaya hosts many elegant evening events so it is one of the few mazes to explore by moonlight.
Featured image by Tim Green.
St Patrick’s Day. Our gift to the world is a day of celebration, dying the rivers green, drinking green beer and sensational parades the world over. New York and Boston are famous for it, but what about in Ireland?
Image by Koen Blanquart.
As a native of Ireland, I can tell you that St Patrick’s Day is important and present but in a different way. For us, St Patrick’s Day is a religious day. When I was growing up, we went to mass, always wearing green, sporting tufts of shamrock on our jumpers. I was always excited as I knew that we were allowed to break our Lenten fast on this day. We would store our weekly sweet allowance in biscuit tins for weeks and gorge as soon as we got home.
But, what of the other food? You didn’t think of the food, did you? People forget that Ireland is an island of passionate food producers. All that rain gives us the best pasture. As a result we have fantastic meat and dairy to start. There is also the Atlantic Ocean and our many rivers supplying us with salmon, trout, bass, crabs and much more. Soda bread, the fluffy waterford blaa accompany very well.
Image by YasT.
What to do with it all? Don’t worry, I can help you out.
Start your day with soda farls, gorgeous fresh and fluffy slices of soda bread dough, fried gently in butter. Have them with some black pudding, good Irish back bacon and eggs. You must drink tea with this. We Irish drink more tea per head than anyone else in Europe. With milk, sugar if you fancy. Scald the pot first, then let the tea sit over a gentle heat for a minute or two. Your Irish tea is ready.
Image by Ali Elan.
For lunch you have a few options. I will suggest a light but fortifying one of some terrific Irish smoked salmon, homemade cucumber pickle and some soda bread. The salmon smoker has done most of the work for you here leaving you free to bounce off for the festivities. In Ireland, parades are a very local affair. Every town has one. With some shamrock pinned on your coat, or a badge festooned with green white and gold ribbons for a child, now is the time to indulge.
The parade is over, what next? Ireland’s national dish, in my opinion, is everyone’s favourite bacon and cabbage. It is spring now so why not lighten it? Serve boiled ham with an old school parsley sauce but rather than cooking the cabbage into submission, lets just blanch it so it is still firm, and serve it dressed with some melted butter. Delicious.
Image by Emily Barney.
Dinner is done but we are not finished. What about an Irish coffee to wash it all down? Best Irish whiskey (with an e), coffee, sugar and whipped cream. Maybe a Guinness. Finish with some stories and songs gathered around a roaring fire, and you have had the most perfect Irish day that I can imagine.
Image by insidious_plots.
HouseTrip has over 200 properties throughout Ireland available for rent starting from just €29 per night. A couple that I have spotted with great kitchens in which you can cook Irish treats are:
In Dublin: http://www.housetrip.com/en/rentals/128330
In Kealkill (Good base for explorations of Kerry and Cork): http://www.housetrip.com/en/rentals/61152
Featured image by smarzinske.
In anticipation of Saint Paddy’s this Sunday, in this week’s Photo Friday we attempt to bring together some amazing images of the day when everyone is Irish, no matter where you are!
It is considered lucky to find a four leaf clover on St. Patrick’s Day, so we highly suggest a forage for one as something to do with the kids this Sunday.
Image by ANdrew – HUH.
Image by KRiSS_.
Image by KRiSS_.
Image by Wigi.
Image by Peej’s Photos.
Image by sebastien.barre.
Image by Photolifer.
Image by MmMmMmMatt.
Image by markhillary.
Image by fruitbit.