Summertime springs in Ireland/Whiskey lessons/GPS woes/Cashel and Adare
They said it was the worst winter in memory. But spring – actually, summer – has suddenly sprung in the land of Erin Go Bragh.
Friday was nice. Saturday was terrific. And Sunday was glorious, with a riot of spring flowers in bloom and folks celebrating the season with coffees – or beers – at sidewalk cafes from Limerick to Dublin in record, 20-degree weather.
Managed a weekend tour of both the Jameson Distillery and the Guinness brewery in Dublin, and I was just slightly proud of myself on the Jameson tour, I must say.They asked for volunteers at the start of the tour of one of Ireland’s great whiskey-producing spots. I, being the shy and retiring type, and also having read about the tour in advance, volunteered.All it really got me was a chance at the end of the tour to taste three types of whiskey, or whisky, depending on your perspective. They put tiny glasses of Kentucky whiskey, Scotch and Jameson’s in small glasses on a paper mat and asked about eight or 10 of us to try each of them.
Foolishly, they labeled the three glasses so we could tell what we were drinking. The idea was to tell our tour guide which we preferred. But that wasn’t good enough for a self-indulgent Canadian travel editor, who insisted that a fellow volunteer mix the three glasses up so he couldn’t know for sure which was which. I’m sorry to say that I’ve had enough whiskey in my day that it wasn’t all that hard to tell the difference.
The Kentucky stuff is made with corn and is quite sweet. No problem to identify that nose and the taste. It took a brief second to catch the difference between the clean Jameson’s and the peat-y Scotch stuff, but just a second. The tour guide made me feel good by saying she was surprised, but even a casual whiskey drinker shouldn’t have that much trouble sensing the difference between Scotch, Irish whiskey and Jack Daniel’s.
They’re all good, but there is something about Irish whiskey’s clean, snappy taste that I quite like. It’s said that when Julius Caesar came here once upon a time (a package tour, I’m told), he said something like, “This beats the hell out of Asti Spumante,” or words to that effect.I must say I wasn’t quite as taken by my tour of the Guinness brewery. It’s just a bit too much for my North American beer tastes. But a fun tour, and the so-called Gravity Bar on the seventh floor of the brewery is a fabulous spot to people – and city – watch and sample the goods.
From there it was on to the Rock of Cashel, not far from Tipperary. A beautiful old abbey it is, and of the great ruins of Ireland.There are frescoes inside one of the chapels that date from 1130, although Cromwell’s forces from England destroyed most of them.
The GPS I rented at the Dublin airport got us to our hotel, the fine Clarence Hotel in Temple Bar area, with perfect ease. But Sinead, that’s the name I’ve given her, doesn’t like the new M-series highways between Dublin and Limerick as she kept telling me to make left turns when there weren’t any and to occasionally make a U-turn on a divided highway. I deemed this unadvisable.
I must’ve heard the words “recalibrating” a hundred times before I switched the damned thing off. Hoping it works better today once we get away from the new highways, which must not be programmed or something. Which is a rather long way of saying poor old Sinead had her troubles getting me to Adare, but it was worth it. I find the thatched roofs a touch twee for my tastes, and pardon the excessive alliteration, but I can see why some folks call it one of the prettiest villages in Ireland.
The Irish tourism folks back in Toronto (thanks Judith and Andrea) put me up Sunday night at the ridiculously beautiful Adare Manor. It almost killed me not to play golf on the Robert Trent Jones Sr. course, but I instead went for an hour’s walk around the grounds before having one of those eight-course tasting menus.You don’t hear a lot about Irish food back home but it was absolutely tremendous. There was a goat cheese wrapped in paper-thin pastry alongside honey and lavender soaked rhubarb; one of the top dishes I can remember anywhere – plus smoked salmon, a beef cheek tenderloin in a beef bourguignon sauce served inside a small, perfectly chewy pastry, a turnip gratin to die for and a lovely serving of perfectly moist John Dory with a lemongrass and coriander sauce and a seafood risotto. All with matching wines picked by a wonderful sommelier from Versailles. Wow. Oh, and a lemon and thyme "drizzle cake" with a mascarpone sorbet and blueberry compote. I hadn't had one of those in a couple days.
The grounds at the manor feature a lovely, formal garden that’s only now showing a bit of spring form, plus a billion trees and a nice walking path along the river. It’s the sort of place you expect to see a gallant price or duke come charging over a hill with a pack of baying hounds in search of a dashing fox.
A great room with exposed stone, big windows and a large, modern bathroom make for a wonderful spot to sit and watch the Masters play out, albeit on a fairly small screen with a terrible picture. (The other stations were quite clear but for some reason the feed from Georgia looked as fuzzy as Tiger Woods after a late-night encounter with a fire hydrant. It was likely the networks' fault, not the hotel).Anyway, off today to the Cliffs of Moher, where I’ve always wanted to visit. And a stay at a more modest B and B that’s much more in line with a wrinkle-shirted scribe from Canada.