A Revolution: Travel Guide Ireland

Bombings in Belfast and Dublin. U2 singing Sunday Bloody Sunday. A 1970’s economy so dire that at one point banks closed their doors and pubs became de facto banks.

Ireland never pushed to the top of my travel list. Maybe it was these memories. Or because I really didn’t like Guinness. Or whiskey. Or corned beef and cabbage.

It ain’t pub food. Baked hake atop mussels at
The Vintage Kitchen in Dublin

But Ireland’s moved way beyond bombings and bland food. It’s stocked with fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and fish (it is after all an island!). With those raw ingredients and a thriving economy to lure culinary creatives and local and foreign diners, Ireland is undergoing a whole culinary revolution.

This unexpected trend lured us to Ireland. But a host of things will bring us back.

That’s the thing about Ireland. You’re not going to see it all on one trip. So choose a region(s)you’ll collect ideas for next time. And choose a theme. I suggest food.

We enjoyed an exceptional one-week insider’s culinary tour in County Cork with Charlotte Capan of LetzCook. A few highlights are included below. It became the basis for our thinking differently about food across other counties in Ireland.

Starting South

Any food exploration of Ireland should start at Ballymaloe.

Ballymaloe Guesthouse & Restaurant

Ballymaloe is a country guest house and restaurant located on a 400-acre estate in East Cork. Ballymaloe is the Chez Panisse of Ireland; Ballymaloe Cookery School founder Darina Allen is Ireland’s Alice Waters. Over decades, Ballymaloe has become an Allen family affair, with descendants all passionate about connecting visitors with the best of Ireland.

Ballymaloe is the perfect base in County Cork. Rise with the sun and walk the grounds before an elegant breakfastjust remember to pace yourself with the scones (you’ll learn to make them later). Read a book fireside; enjoy a game of chess on the patio or croquet on the front lawn. Make sure to enjoy dinner on the property. The five courses include Ballymaloe’s iconic dessert trolley.

Chefs Rachel and Florrie at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Ballymaloe Cookery School is 4 km down the road. While Ballymaloe hosts aspiring chefs for 12 week stays, chefs of all levels can immerse in a half-day cooking demonstration and experience. The teaching staff is exemplary. And at the end, you’ll gather to share the bountyIrish soda bread to soup to entrées to dessert. Walk it all off with a tour of the Gardens of Ballymaloe.

From Ballymaloe, make comfortable day trips to Ballycotton and Midleton. Bring your windbreaker to the cliffside fishing village of Ballycotton and hike the cliff walk, later rewarding yourself with a pint of Murphy’s and fish & chips at a local pub.

For Midleton, there’s one destinationJameson Distillery. Reserve a Behind the Scenes tour and Premium Whiskey Tasting. You’ll learn the basics of Irish whiskey-making and how a nearly 300-year-old business has protected its brand and weathered business cycles.

Oysters at the English Market in Cork

You’ll inevitably need to return to Cork, so don’t miss a visit to Cork’s English Market. Get lost among the stalls, which sell everything from local seafood to meats and baked goods to international spices and sauces. At Farmgate Café, try a classic Irish dishtripe & onions with drisheen (a local blood sausage). Order oysters to-go at a fish stall. Or take a break from the Irish foodie focus and indulge in a decadent O’Flynn hot dog.

From Cork, it’s a short bus or drive to the foodie heaven of Kinsale. Colorfully painted buildings surround the harbor, and you can spend several days wandering and eating your way through town. While Kinsale offers a host of classic lodging options, I’d recommend one of the handful of rooms at the Giles Norman Townhouse above the Giles Norman Gallery. The decor is simple, modern and designed to complement Giles’ mesmerizing black and white photography.

Sauvignon Blanc and prawns on the shell at Fishy Fishy in Kinsale

Head to Fishy Fishy, which almost single-handedly launched Kinsale onto the international food scene. Owned by celebrity chef Martin Shanahan, the restaurant is a celebration of fish. You may not see Martin around the restaurant, but his passion jumps off the menu and his infectious humor is evident on signs scattered throughout the restaurant. Insiders tip? The Blue Room, a more casual wine and tapas venue upstairs that opened days after our visit.

Pubs have existed on certain dining spots as far back as the 16th century. The Bulman & Toddies Restaurant and The Spaniard are two examples, both located just outside of Kinsale town and accessible via foot via the beautiful seaside Scilly Walk.  Continue walking to the Charles Fort, a classic 17th-century star-shaped fort that’s one of the largest military installations in Ireland.

Scilly Walk in Kinsale

My favorite of the restaurants we were introduced to was CRU Winebar & Bisto on Main Street. Owner Colm Ryan is passionate about local food and each hand-selected wine on the list. Trust me, save the Guinness and whiskey and explore the wine.

Continue your celebration of fish and the sea by cruising it with Kinsale Harbour Cruises. Hearing stories of shipwrecks and the fishing industry, you’ll think differently about the seafood you consume every week.

Bags made of reclaimed sails at Mamukko in Kinsale

With art galleries, antique shops and knitted wool sweater stores, Kinsale’s a great place for souvenirs. My favorite shop? Mamukko. Founded by two Hungarian brothers, Mamukko creates one-of-a-kind bags and other products from reclaimed ship sails, life rafts, leather and other textiles. There’s nothing more durable than ship sails. And nothing’s better than an eco-conscious business.

Go West, My Friend

If you have more time, don’t miss exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. It’s a 2500 km stretch to drive every western coastal nook and cranny from Kinsale all the way to Sliabh Liag in Donegal in the north. We chose to drive in a few hours straight acrossfrom Kinsale towards Limerick in County Clare

Limerick is a hipper option than the more touristy Galway. Visit Limerick’s Milk Market; it and Cork’s English Market are known as the two best food markets in Ireland. While in the 1800s Limerick had separate markets for everything from pigs to potatoes, today they’re all housed in this one placebut the market’s only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Famed Cliffs of Moher, Ireland’s west coast

For lodging, you may choose to stay in Limerick, in Bunratty near the Bunratty Castle, or in the more wild terrain closer to the coastor a combination of all three. Next time I hope to check out one of the Doolin Village Lodges.

The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most photographed spots in Ireland. One way to avoid the tour buses emptying swarms of day-trippers is to park in the town of Doolin and hike to/from the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre. Go early, and you’ll spend most of the four hours peacefully alone.

If you have energy for more hiking, pay a visit to Burren National Park and choose an inland trail. The park offers a host of ways to learn more about this unique geological landscape, as does The Burren Centre in Kilfenora.

County Clare is full of rolling farmland and castles. Around Quin, there are several horse riding stables. Enjoy an afternoon of English saddle riding with Castlefergus Riding Stables. Afterwards, wander through Quin Abbey, a 14th-century Franciscan friary built on a former castle. Then enjoy a late lunch/early dinner at Abbey Tavern Bar & Bistro. They offer a two-course lunch for 14 Euro until 4:30 pm. Seated near the bar, we felt like one of the locals whose daily post-work routine includes a visit.

Outside Durty Nelly’s, a 400 year old pub

That said, it’s fun to be a tourist. Bunratty Castle & Folk Park is a 15th-century castle that fell to ruins before being painstakingly refurbished in the 1960s. Touring the castle and the 19th-century folk park surrounding it will bring you back in time. Extend your time in an earlier era with a visit to Durty Nelly’s, a former castle guards’ quarters that has operated as a pub since 1620. With nightly music around 10:00 pm that pulls in locals and tourists alike, it’s worth the late night out.

Dublin

Finally, enjoy a few days in vibrant Dublin. Walk the Liffey River towards the Docklands, and you’ll see new buildings everywhere. Dublin is considered a post-Brexit alternative to London, pushing Ireland to rank fourth globally in nominal GDP per capita. Foreign multinationals now employ 25% of the workforce. Grab an after-work beer at The Boat Restaurant & Bar on the MV Cill Airne and you’ll see why the “Silicon Docks” nickname is appropriate.

The Little Museum of Dublin

One of the new buildings you’ll find in the area is EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum. Irish or not, it’s a fascinating dive into the connections Irish people have across the world. If you do have Irish ancestry, book time with a researcher at the adjoining Irish Family History Centre.

The National Museum of Ireland is free and offers three locations in Dublinfor Archaeology, Decorative Arts & History, and Natural History.

Long Room at Trinity College Old Library

My favorite city museum? The Little Museum of Dublin. In just 30 minutes in two memorabilia-packed rooms of a Georgian mansion, a talented guide leads you through centuries of Dublin history. Don’t miss the extra exhibitsespecially the one dedicated to U2. 

Finally, visit Trinity College Dublin, one of the oldest universities in the world. You’ll wonder what it’s like to be a student when hoards of tourists visit daily to see the Book of Kells and the Old Library.

But let’s get back to the food, shall we?

“Seafood Chowder” at The Vintage Kitchen

Charlotte referred us to The Vintage Kitchen, a small eatery in the old part of Dublin town specializing in local ingredients. It’s a cozy space with only about a dozen tables that book out months in advance. Bring your own wine for a small corkage fee, or grab your beer at the bar next door. Order a starter and main for 35 Euro. The portions are huge, the dishes are creative and flavor-packed, and the service is just as enjoyable as the food.

It’s vintage Irelandwhere you never leave hungry, thirsty, or without a smile.

Ready to Go? Travel Basics

Ireland is one of the cheapest places to fly to in Europe from the U.S. Aer Lingus, Norwegian Air and Ryan Air (from Europe) can offer killer fares. Check flights into both Dublin and Cork. Try to be flexible on dates. The shoulder seasons of Spring (April & May) and Fall (September & October) are wonderful times to visit. We found the last two weeks of May perfect. Might it rain during a Spring visit? Sure. But you’re in Ireland.

Quin Abbey in County Clare from the road

Once on the island, connect city-to-city by bus or car. Bus Éireann is the national bus company, though private bus companies compete very favorably. We took a 3-hour private express coach from Dublin to Cork for 11 Euros/person. 

But nothing beats the freedom of exploring Ireland from the open road. Rental cars are relatively inexpensive but offer three challengesdriving on the left, manual transmission vehicles, and some very narrow roads.


Want a unique insider’s view into Ireland’s culinary renaissance? LetzCook offers an exceptional one-week culinary tour in County Cork.

Want to see more about Ireland? Don’t miss my travel album & posts Ireland 2019. To hear further examples of thinking differently, subscribe to my blog or join us for an upcoming Venture Travel.


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Jodi Morris Written by:

Venture Guide to High-Achieving Seekers. Success Coach. Venture Travel Curator. Impact Investor. Traveler. Writer. Global Connector. When we connect to others' stories it changes our own. Let's Venture!