Trip to Ireland, Part 2: Cobh

Wednesday, July 9th, 2003

After a pleasant three-hour train journey from Dublin, we arrived in Cobh on Monday evening, just in time for a delicious dinner of fish pie from the Ballycotton Seafood shop and new potatoes dug fresh from the garden. It had been raining in Dublin in the morning, but the clouds had cleared over Cobh, so after dinner we retired to the neighbor’s deck to sip white wine and nibble on cheese and biscuits while watching the sun go down over sparkling Cork Harbor.

We got up late the next day and had several lazy cups of coffee in the garden before making a brief foray to Fota Island, which is home to both a stately house and a big wildlife park. Jeremy and I had been through the extensive park several years ago, so this time we opted to wander around Fota House and its vast, lovely gardens.

Since Brighton is largely devoid of any sort of foliage, the damp, lush greenery on Fota Island was almost overwhelming. The air was heavy and humid, and the palm trees, ferns and massive bushes full of flowers lent a very tropical atmosphere to this little corner of southern Ireland. I took about a million pictures of the fantastic fuschia scattered around the gardens, and we marveled at the giant sequoias, the rainbow of hydrangeas, and the lily-dense pond populated by ducks, a gorgeous heron, and an unidentified water fowl trailed by half a dozen fluffy black chicks.

After absorbing so much nature, we were famished, and we merrily devoured a tasty Indian dinner that night back in Cobh. The Indian restaurant at which we ate overlooked the harbor, so we spent much of the meal looking out at people fishing for mackerel. After dinner, we wandered down to the water’s edge ourselves to get a closer look and to see if we could buy a few fresh fish off the young fisherman. The water in the harbor was alive with silvery, darting sprats being chased by sleek mackerel, and it was incredible to watch someone simply drop a line into the water and, less than a minute later, pull the line back up with six fat mackerel dangling off of it.

We bought four of the iridescent blue and silver fish, and after walking home, Jeremy and I spent an inordinately long amount time attempting to behead, gut and fillet the things. The beheading and gutting was a simple enough (if extremely messy) task. Filleting proved to be a heck of a lot more tricky. Jeremy got the hang of it and managed to produce some pretty tidy little fillets; I turned out to be useless in the fillet department, producing nothing but irregular, mushy, shredded strips of fish. But even my pathetic little fillets tasted delicious the next morning, fried in a bit of butter and served up with some rich brown bread.

After our mackerel breakfast on Wednesday, we proceeded to spend the rest of the day in the garden. Jeremy’s aunt and uncle were visiting, and we all picnicked in the sunshine on freshly picked lettuce and onions, crab from the Ballycotton Seafood shop, and Hederman’s smoked salmon. Wednesday night is session night at the Roaring Donkey in Cobh, so in the evening Jeremy and I made our way to the pub where we met up with friends and downed creamy pints of Murphy’s, accompanied by a rip-roaring traditional music session.

A brief note about stout: having now tasted Murphy’s in a dozen different pubs around Cork and Cobh and having had Guinness straight from the source - and I’d venture to guess that it doesn’t get any better than that - I have to say that I do think the Murphy’s is better. So if you’re taking a trip to Ireland, go ahead and have the Guinness in Dublin - but if you make it down south, take the plunge and try the local brew. It’s rich and dark and smooth and utterly delectable.

Despite staying out rather late at the session (as one is wont to do in Ireland), we managed to drag ourselves out of bed at a decent hour the next morning to take a day trip to Kinsale, the culinary capital of Ireland. Kinsale is a lovely little town with a plethora of cafes and restaurants - just my kind of place. We ate lunch at Jim Edward’s , where I had the kind of meal I always have when I come to Ireland: seafood chowder, followed by mussels baked with garlic breadcrumbs and fresh brown bread. I’m glad I finally got to Kinsale, and I’d like to make it back sometime to go to their summer food festival and try out some of the other restaurants that line the pleasant, narrow streets of the town.

And finally, on Friday we spent the day in Cork city. Cork is a nice city: smaller than Dublin, but still bustling and filled with shops and restaurants. Unsurprisingly, my favorite thing in Cork is the English Market , which is packed with the countless food stalls that send Jeremy and I into a rapture. We always spend ages gaping at the fish counters piled high with fresh wild salmon, smoked salmon, mackerel, oysters, prawns, mussels, monkfish, swordfish, eels and a dozen other fish I wouldn’t even know the names of.

Our favorite place to have lunch is a little deli in the market, where they make a feta cheese, pesto, sun-blushed tomato, cucumber and fresh basil sandwich that is truly one of yummiest things on the face of the earth. After devouring lunch, we wandered around the market a bit more, did a spot of shopping, had a restorative coffee at the Triskel Arts Centre , met up with friends in the Long Valley pub and headed for our next meal, which turned out to be kangaroo and ostrich in the Oz Cafe in Cork. It was a day of culinary adventure, rounded out by a final pint of Murphy’s back in Cobh to tide us over until we make it back to the lovely south of Ireland again.


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