Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ireland Journey

There is always a bit of apprehension when one finally gets the opportunity to have a long held dream come true. Will it meet any of the expectations that have built up over the years? Will the people, places, food, flowers, music, culture be anything like what you think they will be? Will you be able to enjoy the travel and not get cranky from lack of sleep or from poor directions or unfamiliar B&B beds and shower controls or sharing breakfast with strangers?

Despite my nervousness, Sweetie and I decided to fulfill a dream I've had since childhood and to visit the lovely island of Ireland in May. We decided to concentrate on the southwest corner and made it a priority to visit some cousins my mother had met a year earlier.

On coming home you can really appreciate what you have and then, somehow, appreciate even more what you have just enjoyed while exploring all of those new things. I unpacked this morning, started up the washing machine, had a nice long walk with our black lab and Sweetie, then tackled grocery shopping and a long column of e-mails that had come in while I was gone.

I know that some like to keep in touch, check their e-mails, surf the Internet, etc while traveling. I actually enjoy being out of touch for a while and enjoying the moment free from any attention to the life I normally lead and all that goes with it.

Now that I'm back home I hope to share some of the journey and photos, too. There will be some food blogging here and there, and recipes, too. Hope that you have been enjoying yourself over the past weeks and won't get too bored with my travel tales.

One of the first challenges after negotiating customs after a long night and morning of travel was to get to the first B&B in Ennis, Gray Gables, while driving on the left hand side of the road. We were fortunate to have good advice, so had rented an automatic transmission auto and Sweetie decided to upgrade to an SUV, so we headed from Shannon airport on the airport access road in a nice KIA vehicle. The first traffic round-about was uncrowded, so it was easy. At the next one I had to remind himself to look to the right, not left, for oncoming traffic and to exit into the left lane despite years of practice going into the right lane. It got easier as time went by, but was still a bit harrowing on some of the narrow roads and byways later in the trip.

There are so many piles of gray rock ruins everywhere. At first you think - I'd better stop at that one! - thinking that it must be rare and important as such ruins are here in California...we are such a relatively YOUNG place! As it turns out, ruins and piles of gray rock are everywhere in the southwest and probably in much of the rest of the country. One of our favorite church ruins was a simple place on the side of a country road and not on any map or guidebook that we are aware of. It was just outside of Reens in County Limerick. The graveyard was still in use, with lots of contemporary headstones, but the church was abandoned. See the shrub gr owning out of the window in the photo. It also had no roof.

That is part of the charm of driving around on your own instead of as part of a tour. You can find your own ways to appreciate how ancient a country it is and enjoy discovering unusual churches, towers, graveyards, and even shops and cafes that rarely see tourists. That may not appeal to you, but if it does, give yourself permission to explore. We did.

Our first stop was Ennis, the main town in County Clare, and a good place to start since it is a short drive north of Shannon Airport and a great place to leave from to explore the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and the area on the way to Galway. Mary Keane, the proprietor of Gray Gables, is a wonderful, gracious innkeeper. When we showed up at the dining room for breakfast the day we arrived (obviously suffering from jet lag) but found that it was 8:30 in the evening and not 8:30 in the morning as we had thought, she was amused, but understanding. It stays light for a long time in late May and we had fallen asleep. The late day light looked a lot like early morning light to me. When we discovered our mistake we just went back to bed and slept through until morning! This was our favorite B&B.
Contact information: Grey Gables B&B in Ennis, a block from downtown, included off-street parking and full breakfast. Cormfortable rooms, tea anytime, a beautiful parlor to sit in, gracious host Mary Keane, all rooms en suite, helpful directions given to local attractions upon request. Double: 75 euros, tel: 065 682 4487,, e-mail:
We had heard great things about the "Full Irish Breakfast" and were obviously anxious to try it. Looking through photos from the trip I found that I never did take a photo of an Irish breakfast!

The thing to know is that it is a lot of food! You start with a choice of cereals, juice, and often a choice of fruit. After that you get a plate full of eggs (usually poached or fried), some Irish bacon, which is closer to what we think of as Canadian bacon or even ham, a round of black pudding - which I loved - which includes blood in the mixture, a round of a sausage that seems a bit like scrapple, plus sausage links and, often, a broiled tomato. On the side there is toast and brown bread, plus yummy Irish butter. Coffee and tea are offered, and are usually quite good. Some B&Bs also either provide a tea set up for you to enjoy on your own schedule, or some tea when you arrive. As you can see, a full Irish breakfast can fill you up for most of the day. We often skipped lunch, or just had some tea and soup or tea and scones in the late afternoon.

Sweetie and I discovered that we enjoyed the muesli cereal that was always a choice at the B&Bs we stayed in, so today I bought a bag of Bobs Red Mill Muesli cereal to enjoy at home.

The brown bread served was brown soda bread. I enjoyed it a lot, but Sweetie wasn't a fan. When we got back to my Mom's I decided to make some brown soda bread since she had also enjoyed it on her trip to Ireland the year before. As a memento of the trip I had purchased The Ballymaloe Bread Book by Tim Allen. It had a great recipe for brown soda bread. Since my Mom likes hers with caraway seeds and I like mine with raisins, I added those. Turns out that Sweetie likes brown bread that way! So did all of the family visiting over the weekend. This recipe makes a good sized loaf, but it was polished off pretty quickly. It tastes great with some good butter spread over it, even better with a little blackcurrant jam over that, and delicious with some cheddar cheese instead of the butter and jam.

The nice thing about soda bread is that it goes together quickly. I was surprised at the high oven temperature and had never heard of turning the bread over for the last 10 minutes, but it worked like a charm. As with most quick breads, minimal handling is best for a tender loaf. Tim Allen suggested a plastic washing up basin for mixing the dough in. You really need some room to mix it with your hand the way he suggests, so be sure to use a wide bowl. There is one word for this bread - YUM!

Irish Brown Soda Bread – Seedy and Spotted
Based on a recipe from the Ballymaloe Bread Book by Tim Allen

Makes one loaf

2 ½ cups brown wholemeal flour (I used King Arthur Flour’s version)
2 ½ cups all-purpose unbleached white flour (plus a little extra for the pan and shaping)
1 rounded teaspoons salt
1 rounded teaspoon baking soda, finely sieved
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
½ cup raisins
About 1 pint buttermilk (I used a little less)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C)

Mix the flours, salt, baking soda (do sieve it – it really helps it evenly dissolve in the bread dough), caraway seeds and raisins in a large, wide bowl. Set aside.

Prepare a cookie sheet by sprinkling with flour.

Prepare a clean, flat surface by sprinkling with flour.

Pour most of the buttermilk into the middle of the flour mixture. Using your hand with the fingers open and stiff, mix the ingredients in a full circle, drawing in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary, until the dough holds together as a soft dough, but not too wet.

Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface. Then wash and dry your hands.

Tidy up the dough by lightly rolling it around with lightly floured hands. Minimal handling of the dough is best. Pat the dough gently into a round about 2 -3 inches high.

Place the dough ball onto the prepared baking sheet. Cut a cross on the top with a sharp knife. Prick it here and there over the top with the point of a knife to release extra steam.

Bake in the preheated over for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) and bake for a further 20 -25 minutes. Turn the bread upside down on the baking sheet for the last 10 minutes of baking, then remove from the oven and cool upright on a wire rack. When the bread is cooked, it will sound hallow when tapped.

Wonderful when served with good butter and current jelly.


  1. What a lovely post about the start of your trip. Looking forward to reading more.

  2. Loverly country the Isle o' Eire be. Better yet, is the bread of my ancestors land especially as you have baked it!

  3. So jealous that you got to go to Ireland. Glad you had such a nice time.

  4. I've never been to Ireland but it sounds lovely. The bread looks delicious.

  5. Mrs. L, Just posted second installment. Wasn't sure if I should do many posts. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Breadchick, Another Irish colleen by ancestry! Glad you like the was really good.

    Peabody, only took me 50+ years.

    Katie, Ireland really is a beautiful country, so clean, and with super nice people.

  6. Oh, my goodness -- brave you for driving! We haven't tried that yet here, but you've encouraged me... I shall have to ask you about roundabouts later...

  7. Glad you had a good time! Any pictures you put up, we'll be happy to see!

  8. Tanita, As long as you have a driver and a navigator the roundabouts aren't really just have to pay attention. We took the wrong road on one, so just turned around and got back on the merry-go-round, uuummm roundabout.

    Davimack, Hope it doesn't get to be too much trip, but a blog is a journal and I soon will have forgotten all the fun details. Senior memory and all that :)