By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
Ireland is ever changing. If you doubt that statement, just have a meal almost anywhere in the Emerald Isle and you will be more than pleasantly surprised by the excellence of the food, service, wine list, and cocktail offerings. Anyone who tells you the food in Ireland is plain, dull meat, and potatoes, clearly hasn’t been there for many years.
And the same modernization and change hold true for the country itself. Even if you are intimately familiar with a particular area, you often return to find new activities and businesses that have cropped up since your last visit.
I am always surprised when friends say they won’t return to Ireland because they’ve “been there already and have seen it all.” Well, that is just so wrong. Even the tiniest town can undergo major changes in the course of a season or a year.
I return every spring to the same part of the country – Co. Mayo. Why? Well, I go back for the West’s stunning, rugged scenery, the ever-changing light for photography, the people and the fact that the West of Ireland – just like Dublin or Cork or Belfast or Derry – has plunged headlong into modern times. You don’t have to head to other places to find fine food, music or theater, shopping, outdoor activities, or nightlife.
Last spring when I was driving out to Achill Island, I repeatedly passed a sign beside the N59 inviting visitors to stop by Yvonne’s Cottage in Rosturk just outside Mulranny. My interest was piqued. Finally, a friend and I did stop one day and discovered a most wonderful and charming place for tea or a light meal.
The well-appointed cottage has six inside tables with four outside and is open seven days a week from June through September when tourist season is in full swing. Period decorations and art and photos adorn the mantel and white walls to reflect the theme of a 1950s rural Ireland home.
Yvonne’s Cottage is named for Yvonne Moran, a young Ban Garda (female police officer) who was killed in a car accident in 2008. Her father, Kevin, and mother, Barbara, renovated and decorated the small cottage on top of the hill on their property in memory of their daughter, who had always wanted to renovate the barn and make it into her home.
The whitewashed cottage was built by Kevin’s great-grandfather in the 1850s as a byre (a one-room barn). In 1892, Mary McNamara married John Moran and they had 10 children, who all grew up in the cottage (boys in one room and girls in another) until many emigrated. A new house – down the hill – was built in 1964 for the family and the cottage reverted to barn status for the next 43 years.
Kevin trained as a chef and his culinary prowess is evident in the excellent scones and other foods on offer at the cottage. My friend and I enjoyed tea with delicious fruit scones, jam and cream (2.50-euro.) Also included on the menu were: brown bread scone with cheddar, ham and relish (4.90-euro); Granny teacake (2-euro); carrot or lemon cake (2.50-euro.)
Kevin said that about 95 percent of the visitors to Yvonne’s come from the Great Western Greenway, on the hill behind the cottage. (The Greenway, Ireland’s longest off-road walking and cycling trail, follows the path of a long-abandoned railway line from Westport to Achill Island in Co. Mayo.)
If you’re in the area, a stop at Yvonne’s Cottage is highly recommended. The food is well prepared and, on a good day, the view of Croagh Patrick across Clew Bay is stunning.
There are few people familiar with Co. Mayo who would not credit the Great Western Greenway for not only creating many new businesses and jobs but also for helping the economy all along its route.
Bikers and walkers take advantage of food and drink at pubs, restaurants, tearooms, and hotels along the route and consequently the economy of the area has been booming.
In light of the original Greenway’s success, other Greenways are now being planned in north Mayo – from Ballina to Killala along the River Moy – and for Co. Galway commuters traveling from Moycullen to Galway City “on two wheels rather than four.” The Galway Greenway would be Ireland’s first for commuters.
In North Mayo, planners see the Ballina-Killala route as the first phase of a multi-phase greenway in the north Mayo area.
We were delighted to see that Georgina Campbell’s annual awards included Mitchell’s Restaurant in Clifden as 2015 Seafood Restaurant of the year. We couldn’t agree more! We have eaten at the restaurant many times and are especially fond of their crab cakes, which are outstanding.
Campbell’s award presentation says: “Everything is cooked in-house, including breads and desserts - and it shows, in the freshness and flavor. This is a very fair place, offering honest food at honest prices – and, with its really delicious food and outstanding service, it’s getting better every year.”
Mitchell’s, owned by Kay and JJ Mitchell, has been on Clifden’s main street since 1991 and, as Campbell says, consistency is their trademark. The restaurant, Campbell adds, is an “attractive and well-managed family-run restaurant in Clifden [that] offers efficient, welcoming service, and very agreeably stylish ‘good home cooking’ all day, every day throughout a long season.” The next time you visit Connemara, be sure to give Mitchell’s a try.
Among Campbell’s other 2015 award winners were: Beech Hill House Hotel, Derry/Londonderry, hotel of the year 2015; Kai Café and Restaurant, Galway, restaurant of the year; Derek Creagh, Harry’s Restaurant, Brigend, Co. Donegal, chef of the year; Frankie Mallon, An Port Mor in Westport, Co. Mayo, seafood chef of the year; Blairscove House & Restaurant, Durrus, Co. Cork, outstanding guest experience of the year; Síle Gorman, Gorman’s Clifftop House, Dingle, Co. Kerry, host of the year; The Long Dock, Carrigaholt, Co. Clare, pub of the year.
Also, l’Officina, Kildare Village, Co. Kildare, family friendly restaurant of the year, and Gregan’s Castle Hotel in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, pet friendly hotel of the year. As B&B of the year, Campbell chose St. John’s House, Lecarrow, Co. Roscommon, with Blindgate House in Kinsale, Co. Cork, named guesthouse of the year. Country house of the year was Tankardstown House in Slane, Co. Meath, and farmhouse of the year was Lough Owel Lodge in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath.
Georgina Campbell Guides is a family-run, hospitality guide and cookbook publisher established in 1997 that specializes in Irish food, hospitality and travel. Campbell’s are the longest-running independent hospitality awards in Ireland. Award winners are selected based on reports and findings of an annual assessment process and all recommended establishments are considered for all relevant awards each year with no charge for entry or for winners, which we find important as some guidebooks and travel writers do charge for inclusion and mention.
EVENTS AND THINGS TO DO
• The National Circus Festival in Tralee, Co. Kerry, started in 2001 as a juggling convention and is now Ireland’s largest annual circus festival. More information is available from circusfestival.ie
• The Cork Film Festival is Ireland’s oldest film festival and mixes films, music, and ideas. The festival plays the Cork Opera House, Triskel Christchurch and the Gate Multiplex from Nov. 8-16. For more information, visit corkfimfest.org
• Enjoy the 50th year of the FBD Queen of the Land Festival in Bridge House Hotel, Tullamore, Co. Offaly, from Nov. 7-9. The festival includes Tug O’ War, Bouncing Castles, face painters, live bands and more. Sunday includes a trip to Tullamore Dew and live music. See: queenofthelandfestival.com for details.
• The Sneem International Folklore & Storytelling Festival in Co. Kerry runs from Nov. 7-9 and is a weekend of concerts, informal performances, workshops, walks, and lectures themed on storytelling and folklore for all ages. Aimed at exploring local traditions and introducing performers from other backgrounds, the festival gives new storytellers a chance to tell their tales and features storytellers and musicians from Ireland, the UK and US. See Sneemstorytellingfestival.com for more.
This is a great time of year to visit Ireland. Airfare is low and there are still lots of events to enjoy before the Christmas holidays. Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go.
Milestone figure for Cliffs of Moher
The one millionth visitor this year to the Cliffs of Moher, Rita Shaw from Niceville, Florida, arrived on site at 11:01 a.m. on Oct. 20 and was greeted with a certificate marking the occasion as well as a 5,000-euro return holiday to County Clare. Shaw was on vacation in Ireland with her husband Stephen.
Visitor numbers to the cliffs have risen for four successive years, with this year’s figures up 12 percent over 2013. Katherine Webster, Director of the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience, said new routes and increased access into Shannon Airport, as well as the launch by Failte Ireland of the Wild Atlantic Way on which the Cliffs of Moher are a Signature Discovery point have contributed to the rise in numbers.