Sue goes to Ireland!

Our trip to Ireland was WONDERFUL!!!!!   My husband Michael won the trip for us through a contest at Wild Oats, an all-natural food store where he manages the meat and seafood department.  Another man also won the trip and his wife accompanied him, and the Seafood Buyer for the company and his wife went, and then there was our host, Patrick, an Irishman who is involved in a venture to have all-natural salmon imported to the U.S.  Patrick met us at the airport and he was so warm, friendly, and kind.  He spoiled us all totally rotten.  We based our stay in Dublin in a 5-Star hotel where fancy chocolates and beautiful dishes of fresh fruit awaited us.  We had 5 and 6 course meals every night in places we couldn't afford ourselves.  We had little bowls of warm water with lemon slices to wash our hands in during our meals and as soon as we dipped even a pinky in them they were wisked away and replaced!  The Yankee in us kept thinking, hey, I could use that a few times -- LOL!!  Dinners lasted anywhere from 2-4 hours, no kidding, and they usually started around 7:30-8 p.m. 

Our ride from Dublin airport to the hotel was great! There was so much to see that I'd never seen before: centuries-old buildings, houses, cathedrals, sitting alongside more modern structures.  But in Dublin there are no buildings over 5 stories so you can see a lot.  Houses are connected to each other but each one looks different from the other in structure.  But when you look down the streets there are no gaps between houses or stores or pubs. Almost all windows had white lace curtains.  People paint their doors bright colors -- like deep lemon yellow, teal green, royal blue, Christmas red and green.  They drive on the wrong side of the road! And the streets weren't designed for cars, but rather for horses and carriages and such, so they are quite narrow.  People drive fast there and cars sometimes barely seemed a foot apart.  That was unnerving at first but you get used to it after a bit while still thanking God you don't have to do the driving yourself!

On our second day we drove from east coast to west coast to Galaway Bay where we had a tour of a salmon and mussel processing plant.  They prepared a humongo feast for us of all their own products and more.  The ocean was beautiful, and the tides are different from the East Coast USA where I live.  When the tide goes out it recedes probably a mile.  People just leave their boats anchored and the boats settle on the ocean floor until the tide comes back in.  It's weird to look out and see boats on the ocean bottom! 

Our drive to Galaway Bay was just fantastic.  We drove through wonderful countryside where we saw what most people envision when they think of Ireland -- rich, fertile, green grass sectioned off by stone walls or controlled brush growth -- sheep in the different sections grazing peacefully.  The farmers spray paint the butts of the sheep bright colors so that they will know which sheep are theirs.  Some have fushia butts!  Some aqua!  No kidding!  We saw adorable country homes with thatch roofs and little towns with narrow streets, houses build together, and always with a church and a pub.

Here and there we saw old deserted stone houses in varying stages of decay.  Most were deserted during the potato famine.  Oh, and I learned something about that famine.  It was caused by a blight that got into the soil.  Somewhere along the coast some people pulled kelp up onto the blighted soil to make compost.  They discovered by happy accident that the kelp killed the blight and restored the soil.

Most of the veggies that they grow out there are root veggies like carrots, beets, potatoes and turnip.  A main reason for that is because they have pretty much constant winds blowing over their little island country.  It's about the size of the State of Maine I think.  They have very harsh winters with freezing cold winds -- not much snow except in the mountains, but freezing whippin' winds.  The people in the country and along the west coast have their homes built behind what little natural wind break they can find, and I gather they don't get out much in the winter at all, which might explain that the inside of their homes are painted SO bright -- yellows, reds, greens -- maybe that helps them get through dreary winters.  Oh, and about those veggies.  I have always detested turnips, but I was served some one night, ate it to be polite, and was shocked to find that it was delicious!  I think in the states we pretty much get aged turnip coated in wax and over there it is so fresh and sweet.  I actually began looking for it at meals and couldn't get enough of it! 

That night we drove up north and stayed in a town that I can't remember the name of, but it was on the ocean and was an exclusive bed and breakfast that our host managed to get us into.  What an unbelievable place.  I'll never forget it!!  It was only 25 years old but it was made to look like an old Irish farm house.  It had a cozy greeting area around a huge fireplace that was burning brightly when we arrived quite tired and chilled from a drizzly day.  We warmed up there a bit and then they took us to our rooms.  The whole place was filled with cool antiques and there were embroidered items and lots of lace.  The beds were the old iron-post kind.  The bedrooms were very chilly and the bed felt hard and I thought we were in for a tough night.  We left our belongings in the room and then went back down to one of those 5 course meals.  We sat by the fire a bit and then one by one drifted to our rooms for the night.  I was so surprised to find that once we lay on the beds they felt like heaven and the comforter on top was about 3" and made us snug and warm in a minute.  With the cooler breathing air and the smell of peat burning in nearby houses we just fell asleep immediately and had one of the best night's sleeps of our lives.

The next morning we had breakfast there and it was a riot!  There was a retired farmer named Jeremiah who was helping to cover the dining room while someone else was absent.  He handed us menus and someone ordered some waffles to which he replied, "Well, now, that would be a wee bit hard. Would ye like to have the Traditional Irish breakfast?"  Someone else tried ordering another item and was told, "Well, now, that would be a wee bit hard. Would ye like to have the Traditional Irish breakfast?"  Finally the truth came out that the person he was replacing had been hospitalized and a lot of the food they would normally have had not been ordered -- so basically we could either have a Traditional Irish breakfast or....a Traditional Irish breakfast!  What that typically consists of is brown bread, a fried or scrambled egg, a broiled half tomato, sausage links, blood sausage, bacon, and lots of coffee.   Sausage there was not like ours. It must have had a lot of filler in it or something because it was sort of mushy inside. Their bacon isn't like ours either.  It's not all salted and cut in strips with tons of fat on it.  Instead it is cut thin and lean but pretty much in the shape of that section of the animal. The blood sausage, well, I guess Iíll let you guess what was in that! We did try it, and wonít again!

Next we traveled east along the coast and saw more incredible sights -- lush countryside, little towns, homes with thatched roofs, high cliffs along the shore instead of sandy beaches.  We drove into Northern Ireland, too -- right through Belfast.  It just looked kind of like a tough city dealing with more than its share of poverty perhaps.  We ended up back in Southern Ireland in Antrim County, which is named for Lord Antrim who has a big whippin' castle and 2,000 acres of incredible land and manicured gardens.  Lord Antrim spends most of his time in England and then occasionally hangs out in his castle.  There is a little tea room on his property so that the public can go there and enjoy some of his beautiful gardens.  I was in there with the wives in the group and who should walk in but Lord Antrim himself.  We talked with him a bit and then off he went to his castle. 

                                                               Sue at Antrim Castle

Lord Antrim is working with our host Patrick and another gentleman to produce all natural salmon to market in the U.S. A river runs through Lord Antrimís estate and it is a salmon run.  On his property they harvest salmon eggs and raise them from that stage right up until about 32 months when they are lifted out by helicopter and released into large netted areas in the ocean. Throughout all this time they maintain a high percentage of water to fish, which enables the fish to be super active. They are fed all natural foods.  All this care and attention produces salmon that has very firm flesh and meets the high standards that Wild Oats has regarding all natural seafoods.

We then headed farther south to Hoath, almost back to Dublin, where we met with a man who owns a shipping fleet. He is responsible for preparing the salmon and then shipping it to the U.S.  We were treated that night to another 5-6 course dinner at a country club that began at 8 p.m. and didn't end until almost midnight.  Then we went back to our original hotel in Dublin.

This whole time we were traveling we were in a large van with Patrick and the other two couples.  Patrick told us so much about Ireland that it was a fascinating trip throughout.  And I loved listening to that Irishman talk!

Our last two days in Ireland we were free to explore on our own. Michael and I stayed right in Dublin and had a ball.  I arranged a meeting in Dublin with Maria, a stitcher from Dublin that I met on a message board for stitchers, 123stitch.com.  I asked Maria to show me anything needlework-related that she thought I'd like to see.  I envisioned buying lots of Irish linen.  She warned me that supplies there were very sparse, and she sure wasn't kidding.  There were 3 small craft stores in Dublin and the only thing they had was Anchor floss, aida cloth, and a sprinkling of kits.  She didnít know of any needlework stores in Ireland anywhere! Maria told me she has to order almost everything over the internet.  The only linen she could even show me is that which is used for making clothing -- much too tightly woven to comfortably stitch on.  I guess they are known more for lace making in Ireland then for any other types of needlework.  It seemed so sad to me, but I guess they don't miss what they've never known.  It was so strange because I've heard so much about Irish linen -- and then I get there and discover that most of their linen comes from England!!  What a surprise!  Who knew?!? 

We took a tour of Dublin Castle and visited Trinity College and some centuries-old cathedrals. We learned SO much history and were absolutely fascinated by it all.  We attended an evensong service at a Catholic Church and then a Sunday morning service at an Episcopal church (St. Patrick's).  At St. Patrick's there was an all male choir singing -- young boys to older men.  The high ceilings in the cathedrals made for wonderful acoustics.  They sang accapella and it was an absolute thrill! 

In downtown Dublin we frequently saw street muscians -- of varying degrees of talent!

I can tell you that during our free time our meals lasted 30 minutes tops and consisted of one course! LOL!!

Everywhere we went the people were soft spoken, thoughtful, kind, sweet, friendly and open.   I never heard any bad language from anyone.  We had a great time talking to people there and getting to know a little about their lives.

So now that we have been overseas we are longing to go back to Europe to visit England, Scotland and Wales.  I've wanted to go to Scotland for probably 20 years.  Now we are definitely going to work toward that goal.  It's easy and cheap to travel from one country to another once you're there.  The Euro has been a big help in that. 

So thatís a little bit about our trip for all those who have been asking.  I hope youíve enjoyed reading about it!

Sue

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S