By Judy Enright
Special to the BIR
Color is the operative word in Ireland these days – brilliant color from the greenest of fields and occasional blue skies to flowering plants, trees, and bushes whose colors pop when sunshine hits them in gardens, yards, and along the roadside.
Flowers flourish on the Emerald Isle – especially in the nearly tropical south - and present a mixed palette of yellow (gorse and iris), pink, white and red (rhododendrons), white (wild garlic), orange (montbretia), and most other colors in the flower world throughout the year.
With that in mind, Garden Trails are available in nearly every county, thanks to local gardeners offering their handiwork for public viewing.
Donegal’s Garden Trail (donegalgardentrail.com) is celebrating its 10th year this summer and joins garden trails in Carlow, Connemara, West Cork, Wicklow, Waterford, Limerick, and other counties. Most of these public and private gardens and trails have websites and can easily be found on the internet in whatever area you are visiting.
There are interesting tours offered in a series of gardens near Lough Derg (loughderggardens.ie), in the Secret Gardens of Sligo (secretgardensofsligo.com), and in the Dublin Garden Group (dublingardens.com) as well as many more around the Republic and Northern Ireland.
If you are in West Cork, be sure to take a ferry over to see Ilnacullin on Garnish (or Garinish) Island (garnishisland.com), a magnificent and unique garden on a 37-acre island in Bantry Bay. Frequent ferry transport is available from Glengarriff Pier nearby.
You can visit gardens on your own or sign on for a specialized garden tour – many tours are offered online including: myirelandtour.com, special-ireland.com, gardenvisit.com, rosstours.com and there are others too.
Also be sure to visit Houses, Castles and Gardens of Ireland’s website: hcgi.ie for many more garden’s and homes open to view.
If you’re hungry in Ireland, it’s your own fault! There are outstanding restaurant options in lots of different categories and the Restaurants Association of Ireland just gave out their 2016 awards chosen from more than 70,000 online nominations.
Dublin’s Luna restaurant on Drury Street won the top award as 2016 All-Ireland Best Restaurant after being open for less than a year. Luna is modeled after a New York-style Italian restaurant.
Enda McEvoy of Loam, Galway, (loamgalway.com) won Best Chef in Ireland and Loam, just off Eyre Square in Galway City, won best restaurant in Connaught.
Best restaurant in Leinster was The Pigeon House in Wicklow, (pigeonhouse.ie) and in Munster, 1826 Adare, Main Street Adare, (1826adare.ie) owned by Elaine and Wade Murphy, took home the top prize.
David Hurley of Gregans Castle Hotel, Ballyvaughan, Clare, (gregans.ie) was named best chef in Munster and the hotel’s dining room also won best hotel restaurant in all of Ireland.
Other winners included:
• Best chef: Dublin, John Wyer of Forest Avenue, Dublin; Leinster, Rob Krawczyk of Brabazon at Tankardstown House, Meath; Ulster, David Gillmore of James Street South, Antrim;
• Best Hotel Restaurant: Dublin, The Brasserie at The Marker, Dublin; Connaught, The Library Restaurant at Belleek Castle, Mayo; Leinster, The Lady Helen at Mount Juliet, Kilkenny; Ulster, Harvey’s Restaurant at Harvey’s Point, Donegal;
• Best Café: All-Ireland, Café Rua, Castlebar, Mayo; Dublin, The Pepper Pot, Dublin; Leinster, Blackberry Café, Kilkenny; Munster, The Granary Café, Waterford; Ulster, Aroma Café in the Donegal Craft Village, Donegal.
The awards recognize achievement and excellence in the restaurant and hospitality industry throughout the 32 counties and are made up of 19 different categories.
OUTSIDE THE PALE
Well, the following places didn’t make the big list but we’d like to add these eateries as some of our favorites: Lough Inagh Lodge Hotel in Recess, Mitchell’s Seafood Restaurant in Clifden, and Renvyle House (crab salad) on the Renvyle Peninsula, all Co. Galway; McDermott’s Pub and Roadford House, both in Doolin, Co. Clare, and these Mayo establishments: the café at Foxford Woollen Mills in Foxford, Mulranny Park Hotel dining room and bar in Mulranny, Glen Keen Farm (great gift shop) in Louisburgh, the Beehive (great gift shop and world’s best lemon drizzle cake) in Keel on Achill Island, and Ginger & Wild Café at the Ballycroy National Park visitors’ center.
Good homemade food with locally sourced ingredients can be found all over Ireland.
When you see all the renovations and exquisite special touches at Ashford Castle in Cong, Co. Mayo, you might think this hotel simply cannot get any better. Then you return a year later and see so many more upgrades and changes at this five-star Irish hotel and you know that, yes, Ashford is even more incredible.
Red Carnation Hotels, a South African company owned by the Tollman family, bought Ashford in 2013 and has spent the past three years undertaking a mega-million euro interior and exterior renovation that included more than 800 new windows, new wiring, new lead roof, air conditioning, repointed stonework, and more. The extensive renovation meant the infrastructure had to be completely overhauled because of the age and size of the castle.
There are now heated towel rails and under-floor heating in all bathrooms, smoke detectors and complimentary Wi-Fi throughout and two telephones in every one of 82 bedrooms. All walls are covered in fabric and all fabrics are different.
Additions at the castle included a luxurious five-room spa, a billiards room complete with an antique billiards table that was bought in London and that King George V reportedly once played on, indoor swimming pool, techno-gym, and a cigar terrace off the billiards room. A 32-seat cinema screens classic films – including, of course, “The Quiet Man” (many crew members, actors and actresses stayed at Ashford during filming).
Virtuoso, a luxury travel network, recently named Ashford the world’s leading hotel, and you can see why.
Also upgraded was The Lodge at Ashford, another accommodation building on the castle estate that is an option for those who wish to partake of the castle’s many activities but want to pay less.
Beatrice Tollman, president and founder of Red Carnation Hotels, her daughter, Toni, the Red Carnation project team, and architect Philippe Bonino, are credited with the upgrades and renovations.
The 8th annual Percy French Festival, an annual symposium on Ireland, will be held at Castlecoote House in Co. Roscommon (castlecootehouse.com), from July 6 to July 8. Titled “The French Letter,” the festival is billed as “an informed social and cultural discussion of Ireland today” and includes music performed by leading songwriters and musicians. Speakers include Dr. Brendan McEvoy,
Maureen Beary Ryan,
Dr. Kieran O’Mahony,
Dr. Teresa O’Donnell,
and Brian Munn.
Performers this year will be: Michael Banaghan,
The Castlecoote Ramblers,
Peader MacMahon and Friends,
The Mulligan Sisters
and The French Ensemble. See percyfrench.ie for more information and to download a brochure.
Ireland Bike Fest Killarney in Co. Kerry, is June 3 to June 6 and welcomes motorcycle owners and enthusiasts from around the world. See irelandbikefest.com for more.
From June 3 to June 12, Carrick-on-Shannon in Co. Leitrim hosts the Carrick Festival with numerous events and activities for the whole family. See carrickonshannon.ie for details and check out the convenient and welcoming Bush Hotel while you’re in town.
From June 4 to June 12, enjoy a series of family fun events at the Cork Harbor Festival in Cork City and Crosshaven. For more, visit corkharbourfestival.com.
The Innishannon, Co. Cork, Steam and Vintage Rally, in support of the Irish Cancer Society, is June 5 and June 6. See isvrally.com for more.
The Bloomsday Festival in Dublin (June 11-16) celebrates that one day in James Joyce’s Ulysses when all action happens. See bloomsdayfestival.ie for more.
On June 10 and June 11, Shauna Kelly and her father, Sean, welcome diners to Kelly’s Kitchen in Newport, Co. Mayo, for a “Gourmet Greenway Afternoon Tea” to sample Kelly’s Butchers’ Gourmet Greenway Pudding, sausages, the Black Goat and more. From June 16 to June 18, join Gerry and Julie at the Chalet Restaurant in Keel, Achill Island, Co. Mayo, for “Formula 1 salmon weekend” and try Ireland’s famous seafood offerings. Gerry is well known for his Achill smoked salmon. The Gourmet Greenway events were designed by the Mulranny Park Hotel and annually attract diners, hikers, walkers, and bicyclists to the Great Western Greenway that runs from Westport to Achill Island.
The Erris Beo Festival is June 16-June 19 in Belmullet, Co. Mayo. See errisbeo.ie for details.
The Carlow Arts Festival will be held from June 10 to June 19 in Carlow Town and surrounding areas. For more information on this festival, visit carlowartsfestival.com.
Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go. Be sure to check discoverireland.com and discoverireland.ie for events and information on happenings and more. And, if you need advice when you’re in Ireland, look for the big green shamrock that designates tourist offices all over the country.