Cripple of Inishmaan

The Cripple of Inishmaan

I’m secretly in love with Martin McDonagh. I’ve never met the man but I did live in his neck of the woods in London for a while and I like to think that we might have reached for the same carton of milk in a corner shop at some stage. Or perhaps we sat sipping coffee at our respective tables, scribbling away. I like the way his mind works – the quirkiness of his plots and pieces. He got me playwise at the Beauty Queen of Leenane and won me over heart and soul with his movie In Bruges. I saw his play, The Lonesome West in Hungarian (Vaknyugat), with English surtitles, and was blown away at how well it translated and how much the Hungarian actors got him. They could have been Irish. I only recently saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, a movie that set me on the trail of the talented Sam Rockwell – but I digress.

The Cripple of Inishmaan

Passing through Dublin last Thursday night, I scored a single ticket for the Gaiety production of The Cripple of Inishmaan, another McDonagh oldie, and joined some friends who’d had tickets for ages. With no one beside me to chat to, I paid more attention than usual to those around me. A night at the Gaiety oozes civility. You can order your interval drinks before the show and then sit during the intermission at your assigned table, avoiding the crowds bellying up to the bar. The theatre itself, while nowhere near the grandeur of the Urania in Budapest, is steeped in history.

The curtain first rose on 27th November 1871 and since then, the Grand Old Lady of South King Street has been entertaining the masses. I wish the management would ban the sale of sweets, though. Or only sell ones that come in boxes. There’s always someone who needs to rustle in a crinkly bag just when something important is going on, on stage. On the night that was in it, a man behind me lost the run of his maltesers, each one falling to the ground and rolling forward … and forward… and forward. But that wasn’t the only noise of the night.

McDonagh has a way with words. His characters in The Cripple of Inishmaan have a turn of phrase that would make sensitive women blush and I’d a few of them sitting behind me. The nervous titters and the strangled gasps evoked by the crude bantering between parent and child, brother and sister, aunts and nephews, and lines such as this amused me no end.

She was as ugly as a brick of baked shite. Excuse my language but I’m only being descriptive.

First written in 1997 and set in 1930s Ireland, The Cripple of Inishmaan has some topical running themes. References to what priests might get up to in the sacristy other than pouring the wine gave pause for thought and a regular refrain of

Ireland mustn’t be such a bad place if the Yanks (the French, the Germans, the dentists…) want to come to Ireland

had me thinking about immigration. The bits of news traded by the local newsman (gossip) Johnnypateenmike and the efforts he goes to, to get his news, called to mind the tenacity of the gutter press. He delighted in bad news and feuds because, as he said:

What news is there in putting things behind you?

The play opened last week in Dublin and is currently playing, too, in LA. One review says of the US production said that The Cripple of Inishmaan is…

arguably one of McDonagh’s most sentimentalized and obvious works — a blatant misrepresentation of Irish peasantry so reductive that it requires special handling to prevent it from crashing into caricature.

But we had Irish actors with Irish accents, even if they did move around the country on occasion. Funnily enough, had not the great Rosaleen Linehan (she who has seen 81 summers) played the part of Mammy, the rest of the cast would have carried it off. But good as they were, they paled a little in comparison. They played their parts but Linehan played it real.

That said, there’s a new band of actors coming on line. Ian O’Reilly (Padraic in Moone Boy) and Jamie Lee O’Donnell (Michelle in Derry Girls) are worth watching out for. As they come into their own, we’ll be in for a few treats.

For me though, the star of the show was the set designer Owen MacCarthaigh. He nailed it. I swear I could smell the turf fire, the seaweed, and the porter, as we moved seamlessly from the cottage shop, to the beach, to mammy’s bedroom. Magical.

For a country of some 4 million people, Ireland does incredibly well to sustain such a wealth of literature, art, and theatre. I miss it. If you’re in Dublin between now and March, it’s worth checking out.

Cripple of Inishmaan

 

St Brigid, a busy patron saint

I have fond memories of learning how to make St Brigid’s crosses when I was in primary school. The best part was finding the swampy grounds where the reeds grew. Growing up in Co. Kildare, St Brigid (aka Mary of the Gael) was a household name – our very own saint. Patron saint of the county and patroness of Ireland, she had quite the life.

The story I remember is that her dad was a pagan chieftain in the province of Leinster, her mother a christian. Brigid herself was born in Dundalk, Co. Louth, about 450 AD. She was a great fan of St Patrick, the chap who inspired her to become a nun, and is supposedly buried with him in Downpatrick (minus her head, which is buried in Lisbon). Brigid wanted to join a convent, but her dad was having none of it. He’d already married her off in his head to a rich local and had gone so far as to promise her hand in marriage to a bard. But Brigid pulled a fast one. She prayed to God to make her so ugly so that this chap wouldn’t fancy her. God did as she asked and her father gave in. And when he did, and she took her vows, God gave her back her beauty, and then some.

Brigid wanted land to build a convent. And she wanted to build it in Kildare. No idea why – perhaps because it’s so flat. Her dad, generous chap that he was, said he’d give her as much land as her cloak would cover. So she spread it out on the ground and miracle of miracles, it covered the 5000 acres that today form the Curragh of Kildare.

St Brigid’s well was a fixture on our school trips. There are sacred wells scattered all around Ireland, sites of great healing. Tradition has it that you should dip a clootie (a rag) into the water and then wash your wound. Then you should tie the rag to a tree as an offering. The faithful are healed. Other well, like Fr Moore’s, require you to walk around and across the water while reciting the rosary. I’ve worn my weight into those steps in my time. We’re a funny lot, us Irish.

Other than making crosses in primary school, St Brigid’s day, 1 February, went by unremarked. But apparently this year is different. According to an article in the Irish Times, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs is using the day to

showcase women in the Irish diaspora, and build a programme of international events offering an alternative celebration of Irishness to St Patrick’s Day.

Apparently, celebrations took place today in six European countries (Ireland, UK, Belgium, Poland, France, and Germany) and five US states, including Washington DC.  Looks like the woman, patron saint for babies, blacksmiths, boatmen, cattle, chicken farmers, children whose parents are not married, dairymaids, dairy workers, fugitives, infants, mariners, midwives, milk maids, poultry raisers, printing presses, sailors, scholars, travellers, watermen, and creativity scholars and poets, is finally coming into her own.

How to make a st Brigid's cross

 

 

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

Yarn bombing

I nearly crashed the car. Driving a road I’ve driven hundreds of times, I had to do a double-take. Were all the trees in the park wearing sweaters? Had the park benches been kitted out in knitted flags? Mad.

On the way back, I pulled in to have a look. And yes, Liffey Park in Newbridge has been yarn bombed in celebration of the creativity in the county. Love it.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

Yarn bombing is also known as yarn storming, guerrilla knitting, kniffiti, urban knitting, or graffiti knitting. Wikipedia says:

[…] yarn bombing has become synonymous with the current feminist movement due in part to the reclamation of a traditionally feminine act (i.e. knitting and/or crocheting) to partake in the traditionally masculine and male-dominated graffiti scene. The women and girls who make up the yarn bombing subculture are diverse in race, age, sexuality, class, etc. and create space for themselves and their art everywhere from college campuses to public parks. This creation and preservation of space is what motivates some of the participants, some of whom have never been able to access a political art space before.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

It’s a relatively new phenomenon, apparently originating in Texas back in 2005 when boutique owner Magda Sayeg covered the doorhandle of her shop in Houston with a knitted cozy. And from such small beginnings, a global movement has sprung. International Yarnbombing Day was first celebrated on 11 June 2011. Who knew.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

In a 2005 article published in the Royal Geographical Society journal Area, author Joanna Mann argues that  yarn bombing

[…]does more than feminise the city, for the whimsy with which it is imbued has the capacity to increase our attentiveness to habitual worlds in a series of micro‐political gestures.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

It’s quite something. When I first came across it (can’t remember where) I remember thinking that it brightened up what was otherwise quite a dreary place. And admittedly, it is all rather frivolous – but it certainly attracts attention, is temporary in nature, can be easily removed, and makes for a happy place. Kudos to the Kildare Yarn Bombers. Job well done.

Liffey Park Newbridge Yarn Bombed

 

 

 

Wicklow Gap

Life in the passenger seat

American essayist Hamilton Wright Mabie said, ‘The question for each man to settle is not what he would do if he had the means, time, influence, and educational advantages, but what he will do with the things he has.’ My biggest challenge is what to do with my time. My influence (albeit limited) I use to good effect, likewise my education. But I’m very conscious of the fact that my time is limited and how I choose to spend what time I have is something that keeps me awake at night.

I was at the races this week with my dad. All my horses are still running; he didn’t bet at all. He went to see the regulars, those he would bump into every year at this annual meeting. He didn’t see anyone he knew. Me neither. But at least he didn’t lose any money. It was a good day, nonetheless. Yesterday he decided we’d go again today. And his reason – because we might not be around this time next year. And at 92, perhaps he has more reason than I do to suspect that this might be the case. But thankfully, he’s showing no signs of shrugging off his mortal coil just yet. Then the sun came out and mowing the grass took priority. I was just as happy.

Yesterday, we went to visit his brother over in Greystones. Coming back, we were in danger of hitting rush hour on a Friday evening. I checked and saw a couple of accidents on the M50 that added 40 minutes to our 50-minute journey. So the choice was there: go sit in traffic or take the two hours needed to go the road less travelled. I’ve had my fill of crowds and traffic and have vague memories of driving through the Sally Gap and the Wicklow Gap at various stages in my childhood as we went to visit cousins in Wicklow town, so we took that option. In another month or so, this road will be choked with tour buses. It’s a popular route with St Kevin’s Way and the Sugarloaf in the vicinity offering hikes and climbs for the fitter, more adventurous walker. We passed a handful of cars. I resisted the temptation to put the foot down and let my inner Rosemary Smith run loose. It was the first time, Boss said, that he’d been in the passenger seat driving this road, a road he’s driven hundreds of times, and he was taking the time to see it all.

There’s a lesson there for me, too. I’m a poor passenger, preferring to have control rather than to be at the mercy of another. But how much do I miss? I wonder.

 

Wicklow Gap

 

Holy Mary

I made my First Communion in Waterford back in 1972. I have only vague recollections of the day, and those that I have, have been aided and abetted by photographic reminders. I do remember my white drawstring bag, though, and a Communion Prayer Book with a mother of pearl cover that I probably got from an aunt. Of the day itself, I draw a blank. No matter how hard I try, I can’t recall any specifics. But the sense of the occasion is still strong.

If I’m in Dublin for any length of time, I make sure to check what production Viking Theatre has going on in Connolly’s – The Sheds, in Clontarf. It was there I caught the sublime one-man-show by Philip Doherty – The Pilgrim, in which Rex Ryan gave us his all. Last night, having been housebound by the snow for three days, we walked down to check out Aoife Spillane-Hinks’s interpretation of Eoin Colfer’s Holy Mary. Colfer’s pre-writer experience of being a primary school teacher shows through as he nails the conversation and the wonderings of the two seven-year-old stars, Mary and Majella.

Played by Mary Murray (Love Hate, Adam & Paul, Magdalene Sisters) and multi-award-winning actor Maeve Fitzgerald, we meet the two girls on the day of their First Confession in the run-up to their First Communion. It says something about their acting skills when I had no trouble in believing that these girls were just 7. Murray and Fitzgerald between them also cover the rest of the roles: Mrs Leary (Mary’s mother), Mrs Barnes (Majella’s mother), Miss Murphy (the teacher) and Fr Ibar (the priest).

The play is laugh-out-loud funny. The girls’ take on religion is reminiscent of the kids in Give up yer aul sins and the teacher Miss Murphy, capable of going ‘full-on Provo’ when she’s in a bad mood, is also from the North. I’m still laughing at Majella’s explanation of Moses needing some ‘me time’ away from the Israelites.

The kindly priest, Fr Ibar, is from the Wesht of Ireland, the place where all the ‘unfortunates’ live. Conjuring up notions of Frank O’Connor’s First Confession, through his relationship with the girls, the good Father embodies a church I miss – one that is empathetic, patient, understanding, and in tune with the needs of its parishioners. In an attempt to broker peace between the two enemies, Fr Ibar (played by both Murray and Fitzgerald) encourages the pair to consider that they might be more alike than might appear.

For all its comedic lines and clever turns of phrase, the play offers a serious exploration of bullying and how cruel kids can be. It shows us that while our perception is very much our reality, other people have their perceptions of our reality, too. And rarely will these match.

Set in 1986 Dublin, the expressions took me back to my own childhood. I knew a few ‘right rips’ and had an aunt who was always ‘on her last nerve’. I was transported back to a time when coming from the country, I was slagged for being a culchie. I split my sides laughing at the three reasons Mary gives for culchies being allowed to come to Dublin – if they’re priests, if they’re nurses looking for husbands, or if they’re going to the All Ireland. Classic.

Billed as a ‘hilarious and heartbreaking tale of Communion, confusion, and consternation’ the original production back in 2011 lasted 55 minutes. We had a play in two parts, each lasting about 45 minutes. It played to a full house on Saturday, and I’m sure that when word gets out, tickets will be thin on the ground. If you’re in Dublin between now and 17 March, treat yourself. You’d be hard pushed to find a  better way to spend 15 quid.

 

 

 

 

The curfew has lifted

4pm yesterday I was glued to the front window waiting for the storm to hit. Those in the know seemed quite certain that it would. Our Taoiseach (Prime Minister) was on national TV telling us all to be indoors by 4pm Thursday and to stay indoors until 3 pm on Friday. And then it was 12 noon and then it was back to 6pm. I stopped briefly to wonder why Leo V, leader of the country, was on camera. Surely Eoghan Murphy,Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government would have been better served as spokesperson. But hey – face time is face time.

I knew the situation was serious. But it still felt a little like the head teacher warning us to be back in class when the break-over bell had rung. A sliver of stubbornness leaked out and I thought about going for a walk at 4pm in a childish act of defiance. But at that stage, I’d discovered the Comedy Gold TV Channel and I was busy watching reruns of the Good Life. Watching Barbara trying to count chickens seemed a warmer use of my time.

So we stayed in. We watched the telly. And we ate dinner. We watched reruns of University Challenge and got all excited when we got an answer right. Late into the night, we watched an episode of Shetland, a TV series based on the brilliant Perez books by Ann Cleeves (Note to self to check Netflix with a view to investing time in watching the rest of the series). We occasionally looked outside to see what was happening. At times the wind was howling and blowing around the snow that was already there. That seemed to be the blizzard. The one metre of snow forecast never materialised – at least not in this part of Dublin.

This morning, I was like a kid at Christmas, peaking through the curtains to see what havoc had been wreaked.. But there’s little difference. The wind is still howling, and there might be a little more snow. But that’s it. I checked the airport. It’s closed until Saturday. Some 260 people were stranded there last night. Not the most comfortable of places to spend any length of time as I’m sure the vending machines haven’t been refuelled and the cafés and restaurants might not have been restocked.

I checked this morning’s papers. Some people, driving in defiance of the public order, had been stuck in their cars overnight. That must have been bloody cold. Dublin Fire Brigade had to assist 200 ambulances who couldn’t make their way through the snow. And about 25000 houses are without electricity. Public transport is still not running and a lot of the shops aren’t opening until this afternoon.

Pictures from around the country show that other places definitely had it worse than we did. There are murmurs this morning of a national over-reaction but then those in charge are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Better safe than sorry, I say. And to the world that’s wondering how such a relatively small snow event could bring the country to its knees when it wouldn’t cause a second blink in Minnesota or Toronto or Anchorage – remember that this is the norm there – it’s a rarity here. We’re beginners, novices, newbies to the whole snow thing.

Yes, I’m still put out that I missed the inaugural St David’s Day celebrations in Budapest. I’m more than a tad peeved that I’m missing the Brain Dogs gig tonight. And I’m a tad disgruntled that my pre-workshop prep time has been derailed. But at least I have somewhere to stay, good company to share, and great TV to watch.

The funny side keeps popping up on the radio. My favourite so far is a lad who wrote the words SEND BREAD in massive letters in the snow, and then climbed on his roof to take a photo of it. And one Spanish couple went ahead and got married and then braved the elements along the Grand Canal, photographer in tow, to get the sacred wedding pics. One of the 52 babies born in the last 48 hours in Holles Street hospital has been named Emma. A happy coincidence or just stuck for inspiration – you gotta wonder.

The status red is still in operation for Leinster and Munster and Galway, but orange reigns elsewhere. The curfew has been lifted though, so we can venture outside, if we really need to. Just another couple of days to go before I can fly. If I had to get weathered in, Dublin was the place to be.

Lucy At Home

2017 Grateful 11

I was baptised into the Catholic Church. And for the large part of my adult life (when I got to choose whether or not to go to mass) I’ve been a regular Sunday mass-goer with the occasional mid-week celebration thrown in for good measure. I had a couple of years where I didn’t go. I was living in Alaska at the time, so perhaps it was a combination of simply not bothering and not having a regular priest that put paid to my religious attendance – I can’t remember.

I like going. But I prefer going to mass in a language other than English, as that way I can’t understand the sermon and I don’t get upset at a priest wasting 10 minutes of golden speaking time on a captive audience by not making his sermon relevant to twenty-first-century living. A few years back, for one liturgical year, I posted and recorded my own 3-minute sermons – sermons I’d have given on the day, had I been a priest, something that’s not likely to happen in my lifetime.

On being Catholic

I’ve taken schtick over the years for being Catholic, for being party to a religion that has been damned over and over for turning a blind eye to abuse, for aiding and abetting Nazis in the aftermath of WWII, for atrocities in Franco’s Spain (CJ Sansom’s Winter in Madrid, albeit a novel, was eye-opening). The list seems endless at times. Let us not forget that the Roman Catholic Church, like most religions, is a man-made institution and subject to human faults and failings – not an excuse just something to bear in mind. My relationship is with my God, rather than with my church. My church and I differ on a number of issues, as do my friends and I, too. My religion is my faith. That it bears the Catholic brand is something that doesn’t put in on me one way or another.

Without weighting the various atrocities and scandals associated with the Catholic Church in order of perceived atrociousness or level of scandal, one that has bothered me consistently over the years is the part the Vatican played in the Ratlines and Pope Pius XII’s associations with Hitler. John Cornwell’s article in Vanity Fair back in 2013 left me reeling. Perhaps this is why I’m always inordinately pleased to discover someone of church ranking back then who did some good, who stood up  and lived their faith.

 

God has no country

In Killarney recently, I happened across a man I’d never heard of. Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, a Kerry man, aka The Vatican Pimpernel or The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, a man immortalised by Gregory Peck in the movie, The Scarlet and the Black. His was a fascinating life. His life is also immortalised by actor/director/playwright Donal Courtney (uncle of the talented actor/musician/songwriter Jess Leen – one to watch) in his play God has no country. [This is on my must-watch list for Irish theatre – has anyone seen it?]

Stationed in Rome, back in the early 1940s, the Monsignor toured POW camps in Italy tracking down those reported as missing in action. Using Radio Vatican, he’d then try to let their families know that they were still alive. He became a familiar figure. When those who had been released in 1943 post-Mussolini were in danger of being recaptured now that the Germans were at the helm, they reached out to him. [Did you know that the Irish Embassy to the Holy See was the only English-speaking embassy to stay open in Rome during WWII? I didn’t. ] His band of merry men (and women) included other priests, agents of Free France, communists, and some nobility. Together, they hid thousands of Allied soldiers and Jews in hideouts around the country. The Monsignor would travel outside the Vatican in disguise but when the Germans finally figured out who he was, he had to stay within the Vatican to avoid arrest.

The local head of the Gestapo and the SS in Rome apparently drew a white line on the ground marking the point where the Vatican ended and Italy began, a line the Monsignor should not cross. When he was caught and imprisoned after the War, Obersturmbannführer Herbert Kappler had one regular visitor – O’Flaherty. The visits had an effect, as in1959, he converted to Catholicism, baptised by the Monsignor.

When Rome was liberated, the Monsignor and his helpers had  soldiers and Jews from some 25 countries under their protection, evidence of his belief that God has no country.

Hugh_oflaherty_memorial

The Hugh O’Flaherty Memorial

A memorial to the great man was unveiled on 30 October 2013 in Killarney in the hope that

[…]this and future generations will be inspired by Hugh O’Flaherty’s  incredible deeds and example and will in turn play their own part in making our world a better place.

Slowly but surely word of his daring is leaking out as hordes of visitors stop and read and take photos to tweet and blog and share at with a greater audience. Just like I’m doing. Not for the first time, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to be a tourist in my home country and grateful, too, that I’m still discovering the joy that is Ireland.

 

Four-poster fantasy

I tell myself that I only need a bed. A clean bed. And hot water. And a decent breakfast. I tell myself that I don’t need to spend a huge amount of money on a room that I will only be showering and sleeping in. That’s how I usually justify my hotel choice. But I have gotten tired of the sameness of hotel rooms, the miles and miles of carpeted corridors, the galleries of cheap prints on bland walls. Still, if the bed is clean and the water is hot and the breakfast is included, price usually wins out.

I don’t make the sort of money that allows me to rack up three-digit-euro-a-night hotel rooms. If I did, perhaps the stars would matter. But they don’t. Not really. Anyway, I found out this week that the word luxury as used in the hotel world applies to 6* and 7* hotels and resorts, and not, as I’ve always thought, to the 5* ones like the Four Seasons. So my usual 3* stays have now paled to paler than pale.

When we were planning our trip to Killarney, I reserved two hotels online. Himself reserved one. He seemed quite attached to his choice and I wasn’t much bothered about mine, so his was the one we went with. There was little if any difference in the price of all three. All promised clean beds, hot water, and a decent breakfast. Decision made, I left it at that. I didn’t do my homework. I didn’t check the website. I didn’t check the reviews. I simply trusted that it would work out.

We turfed up to the Earls Court House Hotel just off Muckross Road on a Monday night. We were late arriving but had rung ahead. ‘Just ring the doorbell,’ the nice lady said. ‘Someone will open up.’ So we did. And they did. And it wasn’t at all what I expected, not that I’d expected anything other than a clean bed, hot water, and a decent breakfast.

Hotel history of Killarney

Tourists have been visiting Killarney since the mid-eighteenth century, thanks to the then Lord of Kenmare,  Thomas, 4th Viscount Kenmare, who began by inviting visitors and residents to the town. When Queen Victoria dropped by in 1861, Killarney went international, and it’s been on the global tourist map ever since. Before the railway came in 1853, it had three hotels. A year later, it had seven. And they’ve multiplied over the last 150 years to epic numbers. It seems like every other house in Killarney is a B&B, a guesthouse, or a small hotel. Roomex.com lists 93 hotels. Alphrooms lists 53. Kerry Hotels lists 247. And out of all these, himself chose the Earls Court House Hotel.

Ray, one half of Moynihan team that owns and runs the place, answered the bell. He was all chat. We signed the forms and got our keys, only too delighted when he mentioned that he’d put us in a four-poster bed and hoped we’d enjoy our stay. I knew that wasn’t what we’d booked but hey, I’d never slept in a hand-built 6ft x 6ft four-poster bed so I kept quiet. For a change. Anyway, all I was after was a clean bed, hot water, and a decent breakfast. Breakfast started at 8 but we were due to start the conference at 8. ‘No problem’. he said. ‘We can open the kitchen for ye at half seven. And if there’s anything else you’d like, let us know.’ It was all very relaxed. I offered to pay but he said we could do that when we checked out. No rush.

The voice in the lift announces each floor in a broad Kerry accent. The carpeted corridors don’t match. The paintings and prints on the walls are a hodgepodge of styles. The  Period armchairs sprinkled around the place are upholstered in all sorts of materials and patterns.  And the overall effect is absolutely fabulous. It’s like stepping into a period house, complete with drawing rooms, drapes, and duck-down duvets. Okay, so maybe the duvets are a bit on the modern side but they’re covered with heavy brocade bedspreads that turn a sleep into an experience you want to drag out forever. Tucked out of sight at the back of the hotel is a service room where guests can do laundry. A pragmatic nod to twenty-first-century living.

This is a photo taken from their website. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t do the room justice with my limited photographic skills. We didn’t get the flowers or the wine, but that’s not a complaint – it’s me being honest. I wouldn’t want ye to get too envious. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t want to leave my hotel room. I cut short a night out on the town and passed up on another to come back to the room and work. It was so quiet, so spacious, so real that I caught myself reaching for a bell-pull that existed only in my mind’s eye. I wanted to summon the maid to turn down the bed and draw me a bath (or in this case, a Jacuzzi).

The Earls Court is more than a 4* boutique hotel furnished with some lovely antiques and an extensive breakfast menu covering everything from award-winning porridge (I didn’t ) to a full Irish (I did); from kippers (I didn’t) to a bacon, cheese and guacamole wrap (I did). The home-cured ham, the homemade brown bread, the lemon drizzle cake … delicious. Yep the Earls  Court is much more than a hotel; it’s an experience.

What makes the Earls Court different

And for all that it has, the one thing the Earls Court doesn’t have is sameness. It’s an original. What started out in in 1990s with 10 rooms has been extended to 40 over the years. Ray and Emer are still very visible, very much in charge. But they’re more than ably assisted by a very personable staff who have a nod for everyone. From the witty Margaret Mary on the front desk to the inimitable Agnes, a veteran of the hospitality business, who adds a breath of fresh air to breakfast, everyone we met had time for us. They were never too harried to stop for a chat, to ask how our day had gone, to answer a question or seven. And they have what everyone in Killarney seems to have been blessed with – the ability to banter.

The Lord of Kenmare knew what he was doing when he recognised in Killarney an innate hospitality that would make it a memorable place to stay for centuries to come. And had the Earls Court been around back in the 1700s, he might even have had our room.

 

 

 

Bertha’s revenge

I like my gin. I’m fond of the odd tipple. I’ve even been known to have a lengthy meal, each course accompanied by a different gin rather than a different wine. I like to think that I helped put Dingle Gin on the map, back before it was ever as popular as it now. I’d like it even better if I could get Murphy’s Dingle Gin ice-cream in Hungary, but that’s silly wishful thinking. Neither An Post nor Magyar Posta are up to the challenge.

This week was a first for me in many respects. My first travel bloggers conference, TBEX Ireland. My first time in a four-poster bed. My first time eating gin-infused ice-cream. And it was also my first time sampling Irish milk gin. I know. I did a double-take, too. It was the same Tuesday night that I tripped over the marvelous Longueville House Cider at the Taste Kerry night at TBEX. Justin Green from Ballyvolane House in Castlelyons, Co. Cork, was on site with his gin, Bertha’s Revenge.

Will the real Bertha please stand up

Bertha is a cow. Or was a cow. She was, in fact, the was the oldest cow in the world when she died in Sneem, Co. Kerry, back in 1993. And she was just 48. Considering the average lifespan of a cow is 18-22 years, I suspected that Bertha might have been a figment of some gin-soaked imagination, but no. She made the headlines in Ireland back in 1986 when she got through her 39th successful pregnancy. She was some gal.

So impressed were the lads at Ballyvolane (Justin Green and Antony Jackson) with this prodigious bovine, that back in 2014 they decided to immortalise her in spirit. Their gin is whey-based. They get the whey [the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained] from the local farmers. To this they add some special yeasts and let them work their magic for all of 30 minutes or so. The resulting ethanol is then distilled several times. Using this and their own natural spring water and what they call ‘an interesting mix of botanicals’, they’ve hand-crafted a milk gin they call Bertha’s Revenge (42% ABV).

Their ‘grass to glass’ philosophy is complemented by their annual donation of a percentage of their sales to charity. Sorta gives a whole new slant to the term ‘cash cow’.

I sipped it neat to taste and then tried it with some Fevertree tonic. And yes. I like. A lot. And I might like it even better in a cocktail. But it’s the backstory I love.

With the Irish market (and indeed the world market) flooded with craft gins of varying degrees of quality, its nice to see producers creative enough infuse their gin with something more ethereal than botanicals – a bovine spirit. Bertha was a good looking cow – and this Ballyvolane gin is a good looking gin.

I don’t profess to be an expert in gin. I only know what I like and what I don’t like. The reviews I leave to the experts – like those at the Gin Foundry.

On the nose, Bertha’s Revenge has a real sweet acidity coming from the whey. Piquancy flicks at the nostrils and the cardamom pops alongside a peppery tingle. This carries through to the taste; the gin is sweet at the fore – the liquorice and sweet woodruf makes themselves known – but there’s also a creamy (dare we say milky) taste, which must come from the base alcohol itself. Juniper rises up, but is quickly pushed aside by cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, which dominate towards the end and lingers long after the first sip. […] The passion behind this spirit comes through in the taste – it is of genuine quality and is one we’d be quick to recommend.

I think that means they liked it.

Ballyvolane House itself has a great history to it, too, one that runs to witches, murders, and buried treasure. Note to self has  duly been made to visit, next time I’m in the neighbourhood.

 

Ballyvolane House
Castlelyons,
Co. Cork,
P61 FP70, Ireland

Tel: +353 (0)25 36349

 

 

 

 

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‘Tis all in the apples

I was a great fan of Bulmers back in the day. I loved the stuff. But over the years as my stomach ages and my taste buds get a little more sophisticated, that love has waned. While I still enjoy a glass every now and then, I can’t handle it like I used to. I’ve been looking for a replacement for a few years now but find everything too sweet. Or too dry. Or too sharp. Or too gassy. And I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve tried craft ciders. I’ve tried English ciders. I’ve tried Hungarian ciders. I came close once with a French cider, but that was a short-lived long-distance relationship.

The other night, at the opening night of TBEXIreland, I was exploring the stables at Killarney Racecourse. The horses were away and the stalls given over to food and beverage producers from the area, courtesy of Taste Kerry. It was there I ran into Rupert and his cider from Longueville House in Mallow, Co. Cork. [As a complete aside, every Rupert I’ve ever met has been tall – is there something in the name?] It was love at first sip. No artificial sweeteners. No additives. No colourings. No sulphates. No preservatives. Nothing but Irish apples and natural yeast.

I did the whole tasting bit. I sniffed and swirled and let the apples soak into my tongue. I did a mental checklist of all the descriptives I could use, checking for notes and bouquets and heritage. A line from a cider review by Charlie Harvey came to mind: robust with a good kick of apple balanced by some nice farmyard notes. Sounds good but in all honesty, I wouldn’t know a farmyard note if it sang to me. I can’t lay claim to be an cider aficionado. I just know what I like. And this I liked. A lot.

I asked him what the secret was to making a good cider. It’s simple. ‘Tis all in the apples: cider apples. They don’t use eating apples or cooking apples or any other sort of apples other than cider apples. Other cider makers might use cider apples but they’ll then add some regular apple juice to the mix for sweetness. Not Longueville. They only use Dabinett & Michelin, heritage, heirloom cider apples.

I went back for seconds, and thirds, and fourths: they were small glasses. Had the queue not been forming behind me, I’d have been brazen enough to ask for a bottle to take with me. But, Rupert assured me that Longueville House Cider is on sale in SuperValue right now – 3 bottles for €10. I thanked the travel gods that I’d booked check-in luggage to take back with me.

And there’s more: Longueville Mór  (slightly stronger than the Longueville House cider with an AVB of 8%). This cider is fortified with brandy. Their brandy. Yes, they do brandy, too. I liked the cider and brandy mix but I’m not a great one for neat alcohol. The brandy is very much a brandy and judging the sighs of satisfaction from those around me, it’s a good one. Me? I preferred the house cider.

Curious, I did a quick search to see if any cider heads had reviewed it. And I found this on Cider Says:

First Impression:  Light orange amber hue.  Very low carbonation.  Smells of cider apple juice, yeast, and a hint of funk.

Tasting Notes:  On the sweeter side of semi-dry.  Medium bodied.  Low tartness, acidity, funk, and tannins.  Hints of bitterness and sourness.  Notes of tannic rich cider apples, barnyard, brown sugar, orange, leather, yeast, and honey.  Moderate length finish.  Moderate apple flavor, sessionability, flavor intensity, and complexity.

And while still curious – What does sessionability mean? – I was delighted to note that my new love is similar to cider from Normandy, France, ‘such as Christian Drouin Pays d’ Auge, due to the richness, flavor notes, and funk’. Whatever funk is.

Now, all I need is for someone in Budapest to stock it.

Longueville_cider

 

Longueville House, Mallow, County Cork, Ireland P51 KC8K
Tel: +353 (0)22 47156
US/CAN toll free tel: 800 323 5463 info@longuevillehouse.ie

 

 

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