Day 8: Noooooo!

Cathy and I were on a 9 AM flight so we all got up at the crack of dawn and left the hotel without any porridge. We hit the duty-free for the traditional Irish whiskey sample and of course drank a toast to Ireland. (It was a new blended whiskey called Slainte that was honestly pretty underwhelming — definitely not up to the sky-high standard set by last year’s sample of 15-year Red Breast.)

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I also bought a bottle of non-export Connemara Turf Mor whiskey that proved conclusively why you shouldn’t buy non-export whiskey; when Chad and I opened it at home it was thoroughly delicious and we immediately became depressed that we couldn’t buy more.

And then we were home, and Ireland was just a shining memory once more …

Day 7: Birthday Treats

Much as we loved Kilkenny, we wanted to have as much of a day as possible in Dublin, so we packed up first thing, had breakfast at the B and B and set off. We cruised into town around noon and handed the car over to the Merrion staff to park.

Being generally overstuffed, we skipped lunch and headed out in search of a traditional waxed cotton raincoat for Jose. We couldn’t find the shop Beth and Cathy had been to last year so we crossed the river to Arnott’s where we spurned some 350-Euro versions. Then we went around the corner to see the historical exhibit at the General Post Office.

The exhibit opened last year to rave reviews and big crowds, and we could see why. It offers a lively and balanced view of the Easter Rising, incorporating a much wider view of the national and world context than we’d encountered before. They had a great series of video interviews with historians offering different perspectives on the seminal event of Irish independence, including one who drily notes, “Nobody cares about the poor people who were burned in their houses. We only remember the people who were executed, who had their names on a proclamation.” (Two guesses what gender she was.)

We spent at least a couple of hours poring over the exhibits before emerging into the giftshop which was, ironically, packed with the kind of Easter Rising swag that is harder to buy after you’ve been through a thoughtful exhibit that examines all the angles of the Easter Rising.

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Afterward we headed back to “our” side of the river for dinner at the Pig’s Ear. On the way we found the coat shop and got a waxed coat for a much more reasonable price.

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The Pig’s Ear was delectable — more challenging than the hearty comfort food at Hatch, but delicious and rewarding, with little dollops of intense sauces and surprising curls of pickled things. We got a bit lost afterward going across the river again to the Gate Theatre, and speed-walked the last mile or so to arrive just in time.

We saw Noel Coward’s Private Lives, which has not aged well. Honestly, it was hard to understand how watching a couple bicker and actually beat on each other for two hours could ever have seemed like a fun time. 

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When we arrived back at the Merrion, there were roses in the room and champagne on ice for Cathy’s birthday! We toasted to another great trip, and I was tempted to call it a night, but I couldn’t get on the plane the next morning without taking one more trek around the corner to O’Donoghue’s. I had studiously avoided making the success of the trip dependent on getting a chance to play in a seisun — but I wanted a little more time to enjoy real live Irish music.

O’Donoghue’s was packed and while the playing wasn’t quite up to the incredible standards of last year’s crew, it was still very good. I ordered one last Paddy’s and had a brief chat with a young woman in front of the bar — for some reason people always congratulate you when you order whiskey in an Irish pub. The band tore into the Pogues’ Dirty Old Town and I was tempted to join in but I haven’t played that one in a long time. Then they launched into a traditional tune that I know well, although I couldn’t put a finger on the name. I couldn’t help whipping out the whistle and trying to follow along, although I never quite caught up with it.

The players immediately made room for me and the concertina player to my right asked me what tunes I knew. I named the three tunes I’d been practicing and after a brief consultation with the fiddler next to him he said they’d play Lilting Banshee. When the next tune ended he signaled the seisun leader to let me start it. I explained that I’d been to the pub a year ago and loved the music so much I was inspired to take up the whistle. The leader said he remembered me — we had spent a long time with them last year and put a lot of euros in the kitty, so it was a dubious but not inconceivable claim — and that “What happens in O’Donoghue’s stays in O’Donoghue’s.” Come to think of it, we were in O’Donoghue’s. But whatever!

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I was so excited/tipsy I blew too hard and started the tune a whole octave too high, but once people joined in I settled down and got through. A tune or so later a guitarist showed up and I gave him my seat. I was surprised to see Cathy in the crowd so we finished our drinks together. Then everyone sang “Fields of Athenry” and the seisun leader took my photo with the concertina player and fiddler, and it was time to go to bed — elated but heavy with the knowledge of what was to come.

Day 6: Up the Cats

The next morning, our last in Cork, I popped out of bed before 8 and went up to the English Market for one last effort to procure tripe and drisheen. Some of the stalls were selling the raw ingredients but no-one had the prepared dish, and the restaurant didn’t start serving it until noon, so with relief and the tiniest pang of regret I gave up the search.

We set off early to get to Kilkenny before noon. I was somewhat alarmed by a sign on the outskirts of town that read “Up the Cats.” But it turns out the Kilkenny Cats are a much-loved hurling team. I immediately wanted a Kilkenny Cats shirt, so as soon as we got settled in at our B and B, we headed downtown.

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We weren’t terribly hungry for lunch after a substantial hotel breakfast so we just got gelato. Beth and Cathy went to tour the local castle, and Beth had an epic climb up a round tower on a staircase that was more like a ladder. I saved my touring energies for the shopping district, where I found two types of Kilkenny Cats shirts — both acceptable but neither outstanding — and some books and other things.

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Kilkenny is a charming place and I say so even though the pubs were closed for Good Friday. It has lots of historic buildings — the castle, a couple of stone churches, a prison, etc. — and because it’s not a large city, everything is within easy walking distance. It’s also known as a music town but sadly, many of the pubs were closed for the day so we didn’t get to go out and hear any.

“It’s probably the last year we’ll have that law on Good Friday,” said our B and B host, so at least it was a Historic Moment.

We had fish pie and steak pie for dinner, went back to the B and B and read books about Ireland from the excellent collection in the drawing room.

Day 5: The Legend of Tripe and Drisheen

We had all of day 5 to spend in Cork, so we slept in and had a late breakfast at the hotel. The porridge was somewhat inferior to the Merrion’s, being a little too smooth — Beth thought perhaps the Merrion stirred theirs with a spurtle, which is why it ends up having delicious small lumps — but they had a tasty fresh rhubarb compote that more than made up for the difference. Then we set out to the English Market, one of Ireland’s most famous markets. 

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The English Market has been around since 1788, and it’s a foodie paradise. Choosing just a few cheeses from the huge counter was a challenge. We ended up getting some blue cheese, sheep’s cheese with fenugreek and goat cheese with fresh thyme and honey, along with some rolls called baps.

In my preparations for this trip I had become somewhat fixated on a dish called tripe and drisheen, which, honestly, sounds kind of terrible but is the food traditionally most associated with Cork City. Drisheen is a blood sausage “with a gelatinous consistency,” according to Wikipedia. Tripe is, well, tripe. Marry them in a milk and you have tripe and drisheen. A restaurant upstairs at the market sells it but, having just had breakfast, I just wasn’t up for it. So we crossed the river to the high ground of north Cork and our next stop.

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The Butter Museum does a thoroughly entertaining job of examining Irish history through a lens of butter, as it were. It reaches all the way back to the days of clan rule, when cattle-stealing was a revered leadership skill. Raids were so routine that it wasn’t unusual for someone to have their own cattle stolen while they were off stealing someone else’s.

Meanwhile, farm life revolved around the routines of milking, separating, and churning. The cream often sat out for a few days until the farm wife had enough to churn, so the butter would have had a fermented flavor and was heavily salted for preservation. There was all kinds of local folklore about fairies and demons who would steal or spoil the butter, so people often kept a donkey shoe under the churn to scare off supernatural beings. There are also some hair-raising stories about using a dead person’s hand to churn the butter, for the same purpose.

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Naturally the museum had a pot of bog butter on display.

Feeling fact-crammed again, we decided to take the train to the coast at Cobh and just wander around. At the visitor center next to the station we ate the cheese and baps, all of which were delicious, and then set off on foot.

Cobh is famous as the last stop made by the Titanic before it went down. It’s also the place survivors and many bodies were taken after the Lusitania was torpedoed off the Irish coast, bringing the US into World War I. We walked to the opposite end of town and wound up at the Titanic Memorial Garden, which honors the victims of both disasters. It was nice to sit in the sun for a while, watching ships come and go.

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Walking back through the city, we stopped to examine dozens of pub and restaurant menus but failed to find a single place serving tripe and drisheen. It seems even Cork residents enjoy the dish more in theory than in practice. Eventually we got back to the hotel restaurant and ordered some soup — nobody was very hungry after all that cheese and bread. I splurged on a glass of the Midleton Very Rare, a whiskey that is always Very Expensive. It was delectable — perhaps one of the few whiskeys that could vie with 12 Year Red Breast for my heart.