postcards from ireland | kilkenny & kinsale

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On arriving in Dublin, we parted ways – Mum took a train to Dingle and Rem and I picked up our rental car for the start of our Irish road trip.

Driving in Ireland is a hazardous sport for a number of reasons.

Firstly, apart from the main roads of towns like Galway, the majority of the country’s roads are narrow lanes that snake the hilly terrain, the effect of which  – combined with 100km speeds – is like riding a continuous roller coaster.

Secondly, you often can’t see more than several metres ahead due to the constant presence of hedge thickets, forest or stone walls.  Unlike Australia, where we’re used to broad roads and plenty of cushioning before you even get to any walls or vegetation, there’s absolutely no room for error on hairpin bends or pulling over for the various tractors/lorries/buses coming at you from the opposite direction.

It’s an adrenaline pumping exercise seeing a four tonne lorry with its two right wheels over the centre line of the tarmac hurtling towards you.

Most times there’s nothing to be done but steer the course (trying not to scrape the side of the rental car on the adjacent wall in an effort to move as far to the left as possible) and hope for the best.  Wincing and reciting expletives as a giant hulk of mechanics whizzes past your head. . .

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Finally, there’s the danger of the scenery itself.  It’s so amazingly beautiful and captivating that I almost drove off the road several times craning my neck to see it.  Eventually, frequent exclamations of, “Oh my god – look at THAT!” had to be suplemented with, “Except you Ange, keep driving.”

 Our first stop after leaving Dublin was Kilkenny, a charismatic town steeped in medieval history.

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Kilkenny Castle was built early in the thirteenth century and is a stone’s throw from the town centre, surrounded by beautifully kept grounds and woodlands along the river side.

Although we didn’t venture inside for the castle tour, we strolled through the grounds admiring the gardens and abundance of roses.

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We spent our one night in the town at a charming little B&B called The Laurels.

One of its most notable features (apart from the wonderful breakfast offerings, including homemade scones) were the residing feline characters.

Frankie, a snowy white giant of a cat, was the first inhabitant we met on arrival, sitting regally in a large armoir where he could survey the comings and goings of his domain.

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We were later informed by our landlady that Frankie had been inherited from a vacating neighbour, which was when they discovered he tipped the scales at 15 kilos and was promptly confined to a strict regime of diet kitty food.

Although losing several pounds since then, for all appearances he was still roughly the size and weight of a small horse.

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From there we travelled south down to Kinsale, a gorgeous seaside town in County Cork.

We were lucky to have absolutely wonderful weather during our two days there and took full advantage by walking all throughout the surrounding hills and harbour.

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Being situated right on the ocean edge, Kinsale is a fishing town and home to restaurants regarded throughout the country for serving up their local seafood.

Bearing this in mind, we opted for fish and chips the first evening and took the warm parcels down to the edge of the harbour to eat.

We sat with our legs dangling over the edge of the water, munching on amazingly fresh, golden-battered cod and taking in the view of the green hills bordering iridescent blue waters… And keeping a wary eye on the enormous gulls threatening to make off with the whole lot the minute we turned our backs.

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During our explorations of the town we found a cute retro ice cream parlour called Sundays, complete with red leather booths and American movies stars smiling out from black and white photographs.

Much to my brother’s delight, they had a huge array of indulgent flavours, which resulted in a double scoop, caramel-honeycomb-choc-waffle creation.

Out of my league in the sweet tooth stakes, I settled on the modest choice of pineapple sorbet.

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We were also lucky enough to be in town for market day and came across the lively proceedings on our way back from a walk in the hills.  By this point we’d shifted into that glorious, vague state of mind where the calendar is forgotten and days of the week become a blur, so it took us by pleasant surprise.

Stalls were piled high with everything from bakery fare, freshly made crêpes and coffee, flowers, vegetable seedlings and wooden tubs of gourmet deli delicacies, to locally produced crafts, jewellery and linen.

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In the centre of all the activity sat two musicians, playing guitars and singing traditional Gaelic folk songs to an appreciative crowd (and two captivated dogs).

She had that wonderful, husky Irish voice that lends itself so well to music and has the tendency to stop you in your tracks to listen.

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We explored the city of Cork in the afternoon and on returning decided to go with the local recommended pizza spot for dinner.

The Stolen Pizza is a very nifty joint with a sunken stone basement (complete with fireplace and bar) that serves as its dining room.  We were the first to arrive as their doors opened for the dinner crowd but the basement was almost full by the time we left.  And for good reason – their pizza was excellent.

The menu is a fairly standard Italian offering of pizzas, pastas and antipasti with sprinklings of local produce thrown in.  It’s simple food but from what we ate, I suspect it’s all executed very well indeed.

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Although our appetites at that point would have easily allowed us to share a pizza, my brother and I have very different ideas when it comes to acceptable toppings.

He’s a carnivore-and-pineapple guy who can’t stand mushrooms, while I’m suspicious of any meat disguised with melted cheese but will happily chow down on any vegie pizza (topped with goat’s cheese, of course)…

We therefore each decided to get our own and eat the leftovers back on the road the following day.

I chose the Forresta hearty, earthy mix of garlic and thyme roasted mushrooms and goat’s cheese.  The dough was nice and charred, the mushrooms bursting with their marinade and the local goat’s cheese lent a distinctive smokey flavour to the whole deal.  Great stuff.

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The following day, we were back on the road and continuing around the south of the country.

Next stop, Dingle. . .

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