Mostly Munster

Munster consists of the following counties: Kerry, Cork, Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Waterford.  Time to Take A Break – how many of them could I visit in a short trip, the first venture since the Covid-19 pandemic turned the world upside down?

Wednesday

I like following a map, not for navigation purposes (the sat nav handles that), but just to get a feel for geography, to know which those mountains are, to spot any points of interest along the way.  The road map I was using on this adventure was 15 years old, but to be honest, roads don’t change that much.  Even the new motorways are often just upgraded N roads.  So it was interesting and useful enough to follow.

Drogheda is as busy as it ever was – back in the old days the Belfast-Dublin route used to go through the centre of town, with huge delays and traffic hold ups.

I had a cuppa at a cute little place in Ashbourne Industrial estate.  Face masks are mandatory in indoor retail places, so I was getting used to having mine always to hand.

We stayed at the Maldron Hotel Newlands Cross, and booked a table at the Chinese across the road, the Hong Han.  They used to specialise in buffet style food, but that’s no longer feasible.  However, they were doing a non-stop- roaring trade in takeaway for collection.

I realised it was the first time I’d eaten out in over 4 months, and I thoroughly enjoyed my king prawn and broccoli. The prawn crackers were served with what I’m sure was gravy.

Thursday

I had a rejuvenating night’s sleep in crisp white sheets, though the bright standby light on the telly was annoying.  Is there a travel hack to get around this problem?  The shower was noisy and underpowered.  Breakfast was another area where previous practices have had to be changed.  No more communal queueing and handling of the buffet serving spoons, instead food has to be ordered from a menu.  I had the vegan thyme mushrooms on toasted sourdough, which was nice and light and damn tasty.

We enjoyed surfing through local radio stations as we travelled.  On South East radio they announce recent death notices, followed by a piece of sombre music.  Very Hunger Games!

In Wexford I found the statue of John Barry at the Crescent.  He became known as “The father of the American Navy”, and every year a wreath is laid at this statue.  I was impressed at a photo of JFK taking part in this ceremony.   History has its eyes on you!  There was a teeny alleyway leading up to the main shopping street.  The train crawls through here at a very slow speed.

The John Barry pub on the corner, like all other “wet pubs” which don’t serve food, was closed, with a suitably depressing notice on the door.  This feature was sadly repeated everywhere we went.

I love bridges, and was very impressed with the new  Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, very fine indeed.  At 887m, it is Ireland’s longest, and was opened earlier in 2020.  It crosses the River Barrow from Wexford into Kilkenny.  And now we were into Munster, and crossing the Rice bridge over the River Suir into Waterford city– does the central span lift, I wonder?

Our route took us over another stunning cablestay modern bridge, the Thomas Francis Meagher , and we changed radio stations to WLR.

We stayed in Clonmel – home of Magners/ Bulmers cider.  The Raheen House Hotel had a sign-in sheet for contact tracing, lots of sanitiser about the place, and it was not possible just to have a drink at the bar.  There are beautiful gardens with a wide variety of plants, which allowed for a pleasant stroll.  The magnolia (rhododendron?) blossoms were as big as my hand.  Dinner was served in a soft gentle atmosphere, with candles in the fireplace and classical music playing in the background.  I tucked into some tasty fish and chips with great tartare and mushy peas.  Early to bed, and slept well.

Friday

We had pre-ordered breakfast the night before – I chose grapefruit segments and a 2 egg omelette with mushroom and cheese.  I was a little bit worried about the bowl of sugar and salt sachets on the table – how Covid safe is that?  Imagine I had glitter on my fingers….

The radio was on in the background, and I was struck by how non-aggressive the interviewing style was.  That combative “not letting you finish what you’re saying before repeating the question more animatedly” technique is now rife in the BBC, and it’s not helpful to actually hearing what people have to say.  After breakfast I took a walk by the river.

We found ourselves listening to the morning show on RTE Lyric,  what a strange mix of music, including Goodness Gracious Me, which you would never be able to publish these days.  There was a cooking slot, and I must admit the recipe for mango salsa sounded delicious, I might try that with some grilled halloumi or prawns.

Over there are the Galtee mountains, where the cheese comes from.  This part of the country has rich fertile ground, meaning lots of farming traffic, and roadside stalls selling strawberries and potatoes.

“Welcome to Tipperary – you’ve come a long way” says the sign at the edge of town.  The N24 goes through the centre of town, which is jam packed with delivery lorries.  I could see protest placards about the “road of death” but I wasn’t immediately sure whether they were for or against a bypass.

We stopped in Newmarket, Co Cork, which probably hasn’t changed in years.  Into a coffee shop – there was a limit on numbers entering, and hand sanitiser….but sachets of ketchup in a common bowl.  A sign in sheet for contact tracing, was by the till, with a communal pen, but no-one was ensuring that everyone used it.  Still a 10 euro limit on credit card (ie contactless) payments.  I ordered a cheese scone with my coffee, which came with a mound of grated cheese, a new one on me.  Was I supposed to sprinkle it on the scone or was it just for decoration?

I had to use the cash machine in the Spar , but I did find a a lovely rust jacket in a sale in an old fashioned drapers.  “That’s not a local accent?” said the lady behind the till, and we chatted about how the pandemic has affected everyone in different ways.  Those in the arts sector found their work ceased overnight, with little prospect of getting back to normality any time soon.  Whereas farmers and local shops like this, not so dependent on tourist trade, are impacted less.

Sadly I missed a phone-call from the spa where I had been on the waiting list. Oh well, no-one really wants to see my runners’ toes!

The road carried on over the mountains, where it’s hard to have straight roads.

We skirted Limerick, where the signpost as you enter the motorway made it clear what vehicles were not allowed to use it!

Into Tralee, Co Kerry, where this year’s Rose Festival has sadly had to be cancelled.  We stayed at the Ballygarry House Hotel, just on the edge of town.  There was limited mask wearing, though we later clarified it was only mandatory in retail outlets, rather than hotels.  I changed into a colourful holiday maxi dress and we had dinner in brasserie, halloumi salad and not-Chardonnay.  I felt bad having to say no to this and sending the wine back, the waitress even produced the till receipt to show that it did indeed say “Chardonnay”.  All I can say is, my palate has had a lot of practice over the years.  Never mind, I switched to Pinot Grigio, which was fresh and light and a good accompaniment to the salad.

Saturday

Well that was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages!  The beds are ginormous, and the white cotton bed linen crisp and inviting.

The breakfast buffet is still there, but not help yourself.  You point at or ask for what you want and it is served to you by a member of staff.  Hot food is ordered from a laminated menu.  All the menus have a little box explaining what changes have been made to keep everyone safe.  I had a glass of cranberry juice and poached eggs on avocado and tomato toast.  The portion sizes were just right, and the menu held lots of tempting choices, including porridge with their own honey.  We watched the bees outside the window and spotted the hives a bit further back.  Lovely grounds, must be popular for weddings….which have of course been severely hit by the Covid restrictions.

Running gear on, we headed to Inch beach, a popular surfing spot and an official parkrun route.  Grey and dull, I couldn’t see any mountains, though Ireland’s tallest are just over there.

Lots of other runners were around, some bravely barefoot, as with the number of jellyfish I was dodging I wouldn’t be setting foot in the sea without a wetsuit.

The loos were open, an unusual feature in these times, so I was able to change into loose black trousers and jade shirt.  Cafes and  BnB are right next to the beach, which I will note for when parkruns are eventually back up and running, as it were. Jogging on sand is always challenging, but I enjoyed the sea air and listening to the Hamilton soundtrack.

Our next stop was Minard Castle in the mizzle, with conspiracy graffiti on the coronavirus notices.

From there we went into Dingle which was packed!  After a bit of a wait for a parking space, we wandered by the harbour, watching the tourist boats fill up with hopeful dolphin-watchers. I’m not sure I’d want to be on a boat with lots of others jostling around on the ocean waves.

We called into a café within a store, and I was appalled:

  • Very little mask wearing (even though this is a retail store)
  • No sanitiser at entrance to café
  • Tables held communal cutlery, sugar, salt and pepper shakers, milk jug
  • No sign in sheet
  • Didn’t see tables being sanitised between uses.
  • No paper towels in the gents (so when were they last checked?)

We felt uncomfortable and didn’t stay any longer than we had to.

We treated ourselves to some fabulous ice cream at Murphys – Dingle gin, sea salt, and Irish brown bread flavours. Breakfast of champions!

There were too many people around, no social distancing being practiced, crowding round the ice cream shops etc, so we decided to head back to car.  The heavens opened,  the wind threatened to blow us all away, and we got absolutely drenched.  Luckily the dogs’ towel was there.

Back we went  through Anascaul, home of Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, and the north side of the peninsula.  Showered and chilled out in the hotel’s fluffy white robe and slippers.

I went for a walk in Ballyseedy Wood, but I didn’t spot any of the otters or red squirrels.

Dinner in the brasserie, where the menus are on disposable paper, discarded after each use.  I chose a goat cheese in a nut crumb with spiced pear and beetroot salsa.  There was very good attention to cleaning tables and sanitising between use from the staff.

Sunday

Lovely breakfast – chia seed pudding, French toast, and a drizzle of their honey.

We had an insightful chat with the manager, who remained very visible throughout our stay, and who was very conscious of the damage that one photo on social media could do.  So his brief to staff was – customers have their eyes on you.  And his clear objective was to persuade customers that You’ll be Back.

We listened to Hamilton en route back home, reaching Barak Obama Plaza just as One Last Time was playing (R’ s favourite version of that number has Obama himself delivering Washington’s farewell address).  Obama, like many US presidents, has Irish roots, and he and Michelle visited relatives here back in 2011, including pouring a pint of Guinness in a nearby pub.  Someone had the Offaly bright idea of turning the service station into an attraction in itself, and there is now a mini conference centre upstairs.  The dog holding area is called “Central Bark”.

Home

What did I miss?  Well, I don’t think we managed to cross into Clare, so I didn’t quite tick off the full Munster House.

And it won’t be “One Last Time”, as we enjoyed our stay so much that we straight away booked for another visit!  I shall get my reservation in to the spa in good time, so I’ll be able to report back on that.  The honey and Irish whiskey body scrub sounds fabulous, I’ll just have to be patient while I wait for it…..

 

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