“Ireland is one of the best places in the world, if only you could put a roof over it” laughs the cabbie as he drives us from the airport to our hotel in Cork City.
We’ve all been on the receiving end of a wet summer this year, but don’t let the met office put you off a visit to the Emerald Isle, whatever the season. The forecast promised driving rain and temperatures the wrong side of ten degrees for the August bank holiday, but we experienced more sunshine than rain over the three days and were cursing our holdall full of woolly jumpers, when shorts and t-shirts would have been more appropriate, but enough about the weather!
Cork city is the perfect place to start a long weekend, before heading to the beautiful ring of Kerry and Dingle peninsula. The airport in Kilarney is arguably closer to the south west of Ireland, but flights from London are more frequent and a lot cheaper to Cork. Sometimes regarded as Ireland’s second capital, it’s much smaller than Dublin and you’ll be straining your ear to understand the locals, but this city has much to offer. We started with an early evening stroll along the River Lee into town. The perfect way to wind down from the journey and build a bit of an appetite for dinner, well certainly a thirst and you’re spoilt for choice with places to quench it. We stumbled into the An Bodhran pub on Oliver Plunkett Street, which plays live music every night – the perfect welcome to Ireland!
A few drinks and plenty of merriment later, we were ready for some food. Like pubs and bars, there are hundreds of restaurants to choose from, but if you’re after something light, head to Dashi Sushi, just around the corner on Cook Street. This serves sushi to rival Japan, and the locals say it’s the best in Cork. It boasts friendly staff and sashimi that will leave you salivating for more! The quality of the food is amazing and so fresh.
We took a whistle stop tour of the city the following morning, which included a fascinating look around Cork City Gaol (Jail). It’s now a museum, but well worth a visit, to gain an insight into Irish history. It was interesting to learn about the length of sentencing people received for such petty crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread, some cloth or a book. Spending some time looking around the English Market is also worthwhile. It’s full of local produce and has a fabulous balcony café serving light lunches, tea, coffee and cake.
The drive from Cork to Dingle, takes about two and a half hours, and the rolling green pastureland and countryside as you pass into County Kerry is just breathtaking.
Dingle itself, is a small but incredibly picturesque town, with a lot of pubs and a lot of life. In fact it has the most pubs in one high street, in the whole of Ireland – but more on that later! It’s also a favoured tourist destination and the prices at some of the top fish restaurants in town reflects that, but if you look left and right of the high street, you will find some hidden treasures.
An Canteen on Dykegate Lane opened in 2009 and has been attracting raving reviews ever since, and it’s easy to see why. Situated off the high street, you’ll find a cosy collection of tables and ambient atmosphere that’ll leave you so relaxed, time will literally stand still. The menu features a selection of distinctive dishes made from fresh and locally sourced ingredients, exquisitely cooked. Just delicious! I’d recommend the mussels and the fresh mackerel fillets with a salsa verde sauce. In honesty, whatever you choose, you’re in for a feast. And I’m talking Irish portions here! Like the people, the portions are definitely generous. So much so, we regreatfully had no room for dessert, but all the more reason to go back! Incredibly good value.
There are plenty of things to do aside from dine and drink in Dingle, and the cheapest option is to get your boots on and go for a walk. The countryside almost draws you out into the fresh air and wills you to enjoy it. A great choice, is to head to the Dingle Peninsula and climb the Three Sisters. This is a fairly short but challenging walk, which is very steep towards the end, but the views from the top are totally worth it. Topped with the endorphins relased from your heart racing to get you up there, it’s the perfect way to start a Sunday morning.
Head for afternoon tea in one of Dingle’s many tea rooms, or head out on a boat trip in the afternoon, to see Fungie the dolphin – a popular tourist attraction, who’se been a resident in Dingle bay since 1983. If that sounds too energetic, there is always the option of heading to a cosy pub to kick back and enjoy the Sunday papers. There are plenty to choose from!
In fact, as I mentioned earlier, Dingle has more pubs in one high street than anywhere else in Ireland. What’s surprising, is that most of these are traditional shops which have been turned into pubs with all the traditional shop fixtures and fittings in tact; windows which are dressed like they’re a hardware store, sports shop or vintage boutique with the counter inside transformed into a bar. Small though they may be, they are bursting at the seams on a weekend, but you can take your pick there are so many to choose from. Ibiza club music rattles out of one, you can be transported back to the nineties for some Indie rock in the next or get your fix of traditional Irish jig music (Trad) in another. There is something for everyone.
If you’re staying for a long weekend, be sure to catch a late flight home on the Monday. This means you can pack loads more wonderful experiences and culture into your last day.
Heading out on the coastal road is a stunning way to take in the breathtaking views and once you reach the Cloghar headland, you’ll find the workshop and store of renowned Irish potter Louis Mulcahy. This is definitely worth a visit. Louis Mulcahy ceramics grace hotels and homes across Ireland and the world and when you seem them, you will understand why. Allow some time to settle in here for an hour or so. Try your hand on the wheel and make your own dish or vase as a souvenir for 4 euro. If you want it glazed, fired and posted to you anywhere in the world, they’ll happily oblige for a flat fee of 19 euro. It’s a wonderful craft to learn and keep sake to take home from your weekend. It’ll take a strong will to not be lured upstairs to the café where fresh scones and cakes are baked daily and a selction of loose teas as well as coffee is served.
On the road back to Cork, we allowed plenty of time and I’d recommend this. The roads out from Dingle are slow and getting caught behind a tractor or similar could add up to half an hour to your journey. Kilarney is en route and is a nice town to stop for lunch and a look around as well.
On the outskirts of Cork city and just ten miles from the airport lies Blarney Castle, where you will find the legendary Stone of Eloquence, found at the top of the Tower. Kiss it and you’ll never again be lost for words…now that’s a gift from the Irish!