I used to be intentional about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 each year. I learned to travel solo in Ireland and I love this celebration of all things Irish. While I don’t like cornbeef and cabbage, I do love Irish stew and Guinness. So any excuse…
Learn more about St. Patrick–an Englishman called to save the Irish after his Christian conversion–by reading Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization. If you are traveling through Ireland, stop in Downpatrick in Northern Ireland and check out the St. Patrick Centre.
If you can’t get to Ireland, never fear. Several Irishmen have shared over a pint that the best St Patrick’s Day they’ve ever had was in Chicago, New York or another US city.
Raise a pint and toast the man and the saint! “Sláinte,” (pronounced “slawn-cha”) and translates to health or cheers.
My very first solo trip overseas was to London and Dublin. London was a tough slog as people are just not very friendly. I treated myself to the Royal Mews and all the other things that previous trips I’d been deprived in the negotiations with friends over itineraries.
When I arrived in Dublin I immediately felt welcome and relaxed. I would order my half pint of Guinness at the bar and someone would hear my American accent and start a conversation. I had an absolutely fabulous time. I really loved the Irish peoples love for group singing in pubs. It doesn’t happen every time. Every time it did happen I would sit grinning and join in if I knew the song. At that time in the mid 90s the Dubliners I met LOVED John Denver so we sang a lot of “Country Roads.” It is an uplifting experience and that is not the Guinness talking.
When Tevis and I got to Dublin he confirmed a meet up with a friend who he met when working in Mountain View. We met up at a pub on the edge of Temple Bar in Dublin–Peadar Kearney. It is smallish, even so we were able to grab a table. Deeper in the bar a live band led the crowd in a sing along. I smiled wide. I love Ireland.
One of the highlights of staying at certain hotel properties in Ireland or Britain is the Afternoon Tea. This was my special birthday treat to myself when I stayed at Powerscourt Hotel in County Wicklow.
I was looking for a special way to celebrate my birthday at the end of November. I chose to stay at the Powerscourt Hotel. I remembered being impressed umpty years ago when I saw it in the distance. I checked it out on-line and then my son offered to use his points to make a reservation.
Tevis had to return to Boston for work, and his points allowed me to stay two nights and enjoy the hotel amenities and the garden at Powerscourt. His “status” earned an upgrade to a garden suite and I was tempted to not leave my room.
It was raining on and off, sometimes intensely. I had originally thought I might drive to other places in County Wicklow. The weather and the quality of my accommodation made it easy to stay put and focus on Powerscourt Hotel and the garden. I walked the labyrinth and ate dinner at the hotel’s pub.
They have a spa (didn’t try because I had a massage scheduled when I returned home). Breakfast was included with my upgrade and the downstairs restaurant served up a wonderful omelette. I would have stayed longer if I could. It isn’t far from Dublin (businesses in Dublin use it as a place for off-site training) and it could serve as a base for seeing the greater Dublin area and avoid the ridiculous hotel prices in the city.
One of the best gardens in Ireland is in County Wicklow less than an hour from downtown Dublin. Powerscourt gardens are beautiful and delightful even in the end of November–the mark of a garden with good bones. The house is a shell of its former glory since a fire ravaged it. The living spaces have been replaced by specialty shops and cafes. The stable at Christmas sells Christmas trees and greens. The garden drew me back and it still satisfies.
The entrance fee for an adult is 10 pounds from March through October and 7.50 pounds in winter. There are discounts for seniors, students and children and it is 25 pounds for a family of five. There are headphones with additional information and an introductory film, both available for free. Although the repetition of how proud the owners/descendants are of the property gets tiresome.
I first discovered Powerscourt many moons ago when I traveled around Ireland with Cameon, my chum from high school. I had won airfare for two in an Irish-American Club raffle on St. Patrick’s Day. We flew to Dublin and rented a car to travel around the island. We started by driving north so our stop in Powerscourt was towards the end of our week. I remember it fondly and have frequently wanted to return on other visits. Even though it is only 40 minutes from Dublin, I could never include it in my itinerary. I’m so glad I made it back.
While dining on stew at O’Neill’s pub, a couple of local Dubliners made some recommendations. I was thinking aloud with my son about what I was going to do in the afternoon considering I have seen most of the popular destinations at least a couple of times. I took up both of their suggestions.
First I walked to St. Stephen’s Green to see the temporary exhibit of the World War I soldier. “The Hauntings Soldier” is the creation of Martin Galbavy with the assistance of Chris Hannam. The sculpture is made from scrap metal items like horseshoes and spanners. It is really quite moving and I was especially impressed to see how many people were on site to take it in.
Then I walked to the other side of Dublin–to Parnell Square–to see the Francis Bacon studio (recreated) at the Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane. The studio walls could use a fresh coat of paint. I walked all the way through the galleries (tiptoeing past a concert in the middle gallery). The exhibit with the Francis Bacon studio begins with a David Frost interview with the artist on a loop. Chaos fed his creativity. Then you walk up to a window into the recreation of his London studio and see why he is so very creative.
“The Hauntings Soldier” may not be there when you go to Dublin, but the Francis Bacon studio will be. Go!
I was staying close to the O’Connell Bridge in City Centre, so when I asked Google Maps to show me “bookstores near me” a lot of red markers popped up. Big smile. I decided to head across the River Liffey to the nearest red dot.
The Winding Stair is lovely inside. The coziness invites browsing and buying. I have no business buying more books, so I bought gifts for others.
I received a text from Tevis and met for lunch at O’Neill’s pub on the other side of the river–crossing the Ha’Penny Bridge. We were chatting over lamb stew about our plans. A couple of local Dubliners sitting next to us heard me say that I’ve seen everything at least twice. They suggested I check out a special statue in St. Stephen’s Green and Francis Bacon’s studio (see next post). I decided to continue my bookstore crawl and see the tribute to WWI soldiers in St. Stephen’s Green.
I walked past a few unmemorable shops, plus a rare bookstore (danger, Will Robinson), I ended my crawl at Hodges Figgis at 56-58 Dawson Street. It is in the Waterstones corporate family and yet it offers so much choice I had to go in. To avoid purchasing I took pictures of books that appealed to me.
I did buy books for others and I mailed them home from the post office in Bray. Some of those books took a month! to get to California.
Bookstores sing a siren song to me. I cannot resist going in. I’m already thinking about how close my hotel in London is to Foyle’s bookstore for my stay in March. I just had some new bookshelves built in my dining room and I was finally able to unpack my boxes of books after more than a year. I found a book on polo with a forward by Prince Charles that I bought with money I could not afford when studying at Cambridge University one college summer.
I will embrace my weakness and make it my strength! And pack accordingly.
Christmas is an inspiring time for baking. I usually focus on pie but I never liked mincemeat pie. Until I spent a Christmas season in New Zealand and fell in love with mince pies (a tart size version). Kiwis sell them in coffee shops, in the grocery store in 6 and 12 packs, and at church bake sales. When I was in Ireland I fell back in love with mince pies at Starbucks of all places. Their shortbread crust and mince is the perfect combination.
Plus my art dad Jim said all he wanted for Christmas was a mincemeat pie. In the past I’ve tried mincemeat from a jar. Even the fancy stuff leaves me “meh”. I looked at the prepared mincemeat sold in the Powerscourt shop and also knew I didn’t have room in my suitcase. So I asked my friend UK Sarah if she had a recipe. She took a photo of it and sent it to me right away.
I looked through the ingredients and read the instructions. I can do this! Oh, except what is suet. UK Sarah said to look in the shops before I leave Ireland. So on my way back to the airport I stopped at the grocery in Bray and found suet. I slipped it into my suitcase in case TSA might confiscate. (At the time I wasn’t really sure what suet is; I learned that it is beef fat, which sounds much grosser than it tastes.)
Once I was home I bought the rest of the ingredients and proceeded to make the mincemeat. It is not difficult. It does take time with the resting 12 hours and baking 3 hours on low heat. I made the pie for Jim and it was a big hit.
For the tarts I used Nigella Lawson’s crust recipe. I don’t have a photo of the mince tarts but so far everyone has been enthusiastic (and they disappeared quickly). Several people commented that the tarts are just the right balance between the mince and crust.
My friend Carole gave me Christina Tosi’s new cake cookbook. And my neighbor friend Tiffanie presented me with gorgeous persimmons. I do believe I will be baking a lot this season.