Sunday, July 1, continued
Dinner was a serious oinking. It started with a little cup of gazpacho served with Village Style West Clare Crab, Chive and Tomato Salsa. We had a palate cleanser of Elderflower & Black Current Granita and moved on to the serious stuffing. We each got our own little Fig, Ham Hock & Sweet Onion Tart, a Traditional Slow Cooked Duck Leg, Sloe Gin & Herb Sauce, new Potatoes, Mint Butter Leaf Salad, Dilisk Seaweed & Sherry Dressing. This was followed by Irish Artisan Cheeses and a Date Cake, served with vintage port. Dessert was Local Strawberries, and Rose Marshmallows, served with Liqueurs. Yes, of course there was wine, but I didn’t take notes. What a meal.
Monday, July 2
I could be feeling better. I could be feeling worse. I mustered and showered for breakfast by 8:45 am, and it was worth it. Olivia had laid out everything we wanted, and then some. She makes her own breads and pastries, too. It was all excellent. We had yoghurt with fruit, compotes, homemade granola, soda bread, raspberry filled croissants, raisin bread, potato rolls, oatmeal crisps, on and on.
I wrote the diary I sent on Monday, and dealt with some travel agent-type work, until they needed the table for lunch three hours later. Lunch was not to be believed. There were about fifteen items, ranging from chili, to kimchee, to guacamole to bean salads, to a potato and onion tart that was to die for. Only the Irish would make pizza with potatoes and it was fabulous.
In the afternoon, Rory took us to Kilbeggan, the oldest whiskey distillery in Ireland, dating back to 1757. Its water wheel still works, but they don’t use it for making whiskey anymore. Anyway, that’s two whiskey tastings in two days. I couldn’t do it justice. We got off in Athlone to walk around and spent all our time in Athlone Castle, which has been restored and re-done as an historical experience, with costumes and games as part of the experience.
Rory was interesting in the bus, on the way to the whiskey tasting. He talked about the Celtic Tiger experience. At one point, not too long ago, Ireland had the greatest number of private helicopters per capita in the world. That bubble burst and Ireland will be recovering for a long time. Fabulous place to be a tourist, though.
Back on board, there were Mohitos and Thin Gin martinis. Thin is pronounced “tin” here, of course, and chef Olivia knows the family that makes it and swears the story on the back label is true. It reads: “Thin Gin is a fun fruity and fragrant gin that often appeals to the unconventional and naughty. When Isaac Thin couldn’t find the exquisite gin he’d tasted in Paris during an afternoon assignation with the wife of an Austrian Count, he set about creating his own. Hiding in Ireland, Thin conducted his experiments using juniper, coriander, citrus and Irish hedgerow fruits. He settled on thirteen; one for every lady he’d kept company with. “ The gin drinkers tell me it is very good.
Tuesday, July 2
After another lovely breakfast, we sailed through The Callows, lush grazing meadows full of contented cows, and a crazy number of hay bales per acre. Lush, in this case, means many, many blades of grass per square inch. Carolyn knows. She’s a farmer. And here’s what I love about river cruising, we moored right at Clonmacnoise, and walked up to the ruins, which have been excellently tarted up for tourists. Michael, our guide was clear and a font of early Irish history. The place is over a thousand years old. It was a major town, but of course the townsfolk lived in wooden houses, which have long since passed to fire and decay. The religious buildings survived as ruins and are being restored. Particularly interesting is a nine-story tower, probably a lighthouse, that proved to be a lightning rod, not long after it was built. Somehow, they managed to move the top part a hundred yards away and set it up again.
Back on board, we sailed through lunch and docked at Shannonbridge. There we visited Leap Castle, probably Ireland’s most haunted house. It’s owned by an ageing hippie, meaning our age, named Sean Ryan, who is a famous tin whistle player in these parts. He bought it about twenty-five years ago, and has been restoring it ever since. Well, the part he and his wife and daughter live in, might be restored. We never saw it. The part we did see was pretty original, which is what made it fun. Sean is a character and loves to talk, and play the tin whistle. We were invited to climb up to the second and third floors, one of which is a reception/dining room, to which I wouldn’t be carrying plates anytime soon. The other is the famous chapel, from which many were tossed, dead and alive, into the oubliette, a long shaft, with long upright spikes at the bottom. Dead would have been my preference, as no one ever got out alive, and some did have prolonged agonies. The stairs are steep and treacherous, so it’s not for the faint of heart, but well worth it. See https://tinyurl.com/qhj9omh for more.
Back on board the cocktail of the day was another ginny concoction, with Campari and God knows what else. This wino stuck to wine. Dinner was fabulous again. We found out that Olivia, Rory’s wife, our chef, studied at Ballymaloe House, in Cork, where we are going for lunch next Wednesday. Brilliant. We ate there with Mary and Sean years ago, can’t remember which trip, but it was a wonderful meal and I am looking forward to another.
After dinner, a game of 45s broke out, as it tends to, and Candy and I went to the upper deck, while Ernie gave a running commentary. There were a few ducks about and we fed them the last of Trader Joe’s Sea Salt Peanut butter pretzels. They liked them, even if they did stick to the roofs of their bills. Must find more food for them.
Wednesday, July 3rd
Again, we cruised in the morning, and again the scenery was beautiful. By lunch time, we were in the village of Terryglass, usual wined of Ireland’s “tidiest town” award. We walked to our bus, which, by the way, is a very luxurious Mercedes Sprinter, and had a short ride to a very nice pub, which fed us a very nice lunch. On to Birr Castle, home of the Parsons family, since 1620. The fact that they are still living in it is testimony to the fact that they were good to their surfs. The peasants, and later the IRA, took care of families they didn’t like by burning down their castles. We didn’t get into the house itself, but there was plenty to see around the grounds.
The parsons were ahead of their times and had the worlds’ biggest telescope, built by the 3rd Earl in 1845. It held that title for 70 years, no mean feat. The Earl discovered the Whirlpool Nebulae, which was the first hind of the existence of other galaxies. This place, too, is restored by public money, and has its museum and Science Centre. Another good visit.
Another good ginny cocktail, for those that drink it, and another good dinner awaited us back on the Shannon Princess. We had Cured Howth Salmon, Pickled Cucumber, Wasabi and Honey Dressing, followed by Roast 30 day Dry Aged Westmeath Beef, with Sautéed Duck Liver, Mash, and a Beef Morrow Bone Sauce., a Garden Leaf Salad and Local Farm Cheeses, served with Fruits, Membrillo, Port and Oat cakes. Dessert was Duck Egg Crème Brule and Verbena Poached Aprocots. The bitter chocolate fudge that came with the Liqueurs, tea and coffee was special. There’s always a fudge and they are all special, mind you.
We had a bunch of soda bread left from lunch, and we tried to feed the ducks again, but there were only three of them, and it was a big marina. I think they got enough from the other boats. They ate enough to be polite.