Foods of Ireland

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’ve probably realized a few things about me: I can’t wait for my next adventure, my kids are pretty rad, and I love food. I love eating food, I love cooking food (when my rad kids aren’t getting in the way), I love reading about food. I even love just looking at food. This is not a new thing. In fact, my mom has always joked with me that all of my memories in life are somehow tied to food–what we were eating at a certain pivotal point in my life, the restaurant we visited on a vacation, the food that was served at an event. It is no wonder, then, that the food of Ireland has enthralled me.

Much of the food in Ireland is similar to food available in America. There are a few culinary delights that stand out to me, though, and I’d like to share them with you. Some of these unique-to-Ireland foods are common throughout the country, and others are more indigenous to my “native” County Cork (which, by the way, produces the best food in the country. It’s a foodie’s dream, really). Now, here are some of my favorite Irish foods:

Potatoes: In the case of the Irish, the stereotype is true: they love potatoes. At the grocery store there are at least a dozen varieties of potatoes to choose from (and none of them are the basic Russet baking potato that is prevalent in America). Every meal is served with some form of potato: mashed, fried, baked, roasted, boiled, stewed. The humble potato still reigns supreme.

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Tayto Crisps: And, while we’re on the topic of potatoes, let’s not forget about Tayto crisps (a brand of potato chips). The traditional flavor is cheese and onion, although many varieties are available. These chips are so popular that one of the largest amusement parks in the country, Tayto Park, is named after them.

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Cottage Pie: This is also known as shepherd’s pie (although cottage pie is typically made with beef  and shepherd’s pie uses lamb). Meat, veg, and gravy topped with–you guessed it–potatoes. It’s easy to make, delicious, and one of my favorite ways to use up leftover mashed potatoes. Win, win, win.

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Lamb: I can not get my 3-year old to eat any meat, with one exception: Irish lamb. My son will quite literally eat a whole leg of Irish lamb if it is offered to him. It’s both interesting and completely disturbing. I don’t blame him, though. The lamb here is fresh and succulent (probably because the sheep here are so dang happy. They spend their days contentedly roaming the lush green rolling hills out in the countryside without a care in the world. Except perhaps the butcher. But I doubt they even notice he’s coming for their intent efforts at grazing all day. When one of their sheep friends go missing they probably just assume he’s wandered off to some other lusher greener pasture on the other side of the hill).

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Offal: Pig’s hooves. Yep. Pig feet. I see them every week in the butcher but I can not, will not bring myself to eat them. Offal actually refers to any bits of the animal that you would not find in your typical Michelin-Star restaurant: ears, eyes, internal organs and such. Scrumptious. Much of traditional Irish food originated in peasant cooking where it was not only practical, but absolutely necessary to eat “everything but the snout” (which, I understand, can be quite rubbery).

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Clonakilty Black Pudding: Don’t let the name deceive you. This “pudding” is not referring to a smooth and creamy dark chocolate dessert. No, this is blood sausage, generally made from pork blood and oatmeal (yummmmm….). It is a key component to the Full Irish Breakfast (see next entry):

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The Full Irish Breakfast: Mom always said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. The Irish have taken this sentiment to heart, and the traditional Irish breakfast is enough food to put you in a coma (or gear you up for a day of hard labor on your farm). The “Full Irish” consists of black pudding, sausage, rashers (bacon), eggs, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, potatoes, baked beans, toast, and tea. You can go to any restaurant in the country and order a “Full Irish”–just bring your appetite!

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Fresh Seafood: Ireland is an island. Which means the country is literally surrounded by oceans teeming with seafood. There is not a single day that goes by and I don’t see a truck or a stand on the side of the road selling fresh Atlantic fish that was caught that morning. I’m a bit of a seafood-phobic so I don’t take advantage of the abundant offerings. But if I were a lover rather than a hater, I’d be spoiled for choice. Pollock, Cod, Hake, Plaice, Monkfish, Prawns, Mussels–all just sitting there in the water waiting for some hungry person to come eat them.

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Scotch Eggs: A hard-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage or black pudding, breaded, and fried. What’s not to love?

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Pies and Pasties: When someone refers to “pie” in Ireland, they are usually talking about a savory meat or vegetable pie rather than granny’s caramel apple pie. And when they refer to “pasties”, they are usually talking about hand-pies (think of a gourmet Hot Pocket), not the–ahem–little patches that women might wear in place of a brassiere.

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Rocket: It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…ROCKET! This leafy salad green (called Arugula back home) is the hip health food of the moment in Ireland. Restaurants and grocery stores advertise rocket as if it’s actually a rock star, not a piece of glorified lettuce. There’s even a guy at my farmer’s market called “The Rocket Man” who makes gourmet salads and juices with rocket. But The Rocket Man may actually be a rock star (I mean, check out that ‘stache!):

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Fresh Dairy Products: You do not have to go far in Ireland to find a farm. In fact, the majority of the land in Ireland is farm land. As a result, you do not have to go far to find good, fresh dairy. Big chain grocery stores stock dairy products from the local dairies, which is pretty awesome. Fresh-from-the-cow milk, country butter, natural yogurt, cream cheese, panna cotta, clotted cream–enough lactose to fuel a nation.

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Gubbeen Cheese: Made on a family farm in West Cork, this cheese is a local delicacy. It has a smooth, rich, savory taste, similar to white cheddar, and it is buttery soft. Gubbeen cheese is made from milk that comes from the family’s cows that graze in their seaside pastures on the farm. And it makes a darn good grilled cheese sandwich.

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Banoffee Pie: A dessert made from bananas, toffee (banana-toffee = banoffee) and cream piled high in a pastry crust. You can find this pie in any coffee shop, tea cafe, restaurant, or supermarket in Ireland. They even have banoffee-flavored yogurt and pudding.

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Scones: Perhaps the single most-consumed food in Ireland (after potatoes, of course), scones are an integral part of daily Irish cuisine. Every time you visit a friend or go to a cafe for a “cuppa” (tea, that is) it is expected that you will be offered freshly-baked scones. Some are plain, some are “fruited” (with raisins or sultanas), all are delicious. They are typically round, about 3 inches across, and about 2 inches high. Scones are typically served with butter, homemade jam (which you can buy in the supermarkets here) and, if you’re lucky, cream (whipped cream or clotted cream…yummmmmm):

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Barry’s Tea: Tea is the lifeblood of Irish culture. If you took tea away from the Irish, the Irish would simply cease to exist. True story. But not just any tea will do. No, you must drink “Gold Tea”, a black tea blend and, more specifically, you must drink Barry’s Gold Tea. None of that hoity-toity herbal stuff. I mean, sure, between cups of Barry’s you might try some Jasmine tea or some orange-spice Chai just to say you’ve done it once in your life, but the purists stick with the real tea. Barry’s tea.

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Elderflower: I think I had heard of Elderflower before we moved to Ireland, but I certainly had never heard of eating it. Turns out, Elderflower is downright delicious. In Ireland you can find Elderflower cordial (concentrate that you add to water to make juice), Elderflower syrup, Elderflower liqueur, and Elderflower tea. Elderflower is made from the flower of the elderberry (which grows plentifully in Ireland) and it has a sweet, aromatic flavor similar to lychee. It is the perfect refreshing summer drink.

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So, there you have it. Now you all know why my pants fit a bit more snugly now that I’ve been living here for a year–Ireland really is a food-lover’s dream come true. The whole idea of “eat local” was born here and, really, it’s the only way people have ever eaten here. With an abundance of fresh ingredients and regional treats, Irish food offers the perfect mix between comfort food and gourmet offerings. All I have to say is, if you’re coming to Ireland, come hungry!

My American Mother’s Day in Ireland

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As an American living in Ireland, I often find myself stuck in the middle of two cultures: do I continue to act American or try to assimilate with the Irish? This conflict has become most apparent during holidays where I have my own cultural traditions that I want to keep alive even though I’m living abroad. It came up at Thanksgiving (which, obviously, is not even celebrated in Ireland) and Christmas and Easter. I did not, however, expect my “cultural expectations” to come into play for holidays like Mother’s Day. I have never even have given Mother’s Day much thought until we moved here–that is, until I realized how important it really was to me.

You see, Mother’s Day is celebrated in Ireland–just on a totally different day than American Mother’s Day. In Ireland, Mothering Sunday occurs on the 4th Sunday of lent, which happened to be March 30th this year. It was 6 weeks before the day that I, the American, expected Mother’s Day to fall on. My mom wasn’t celebrating it yet and it  just didn’t feel right. Also, March 30th happens to also be Jon’s birthday, and I didn’t want to steal his thunder. So, we kind of just let Irish Mother’s Day quietly pass us by (even though David made me a cute card at school and we got beautiful flowers at church) and decided to wait until May to celebrate our “official” Mother’s Day.

Yesterday was American Mother’s Day, and we decided it was finally time to celebrate me. Well, more accurately, I decided it was time to celebrate me and I told Jon and the boys my expectations. They did not disappoint.

My Mother’s Day weekend started with a fun date with my big boy David on Thursday afternoon. We went to Peppa’s Big Splash, a play based on the popular British cartoon Peppa Pig (one of David’s favorites). The play was at the Cork Opera House, making this David’s first official viewing of live theater. It was a great experience–there was lots of noise, jumping around, glow sticks, ice cream and even squirt guns involved in the show. All of the characters were these huge puppets that the puppeteers danced and sang with all over the stage. I’m fairly certain that the average age of the audience was 3 years, and they did a great job catering to their patrons.

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On Saturday we spent the whole day together as a family–this was kind of a big deal, because it’s been about a month since we’ve all been together for a whole day with all of the travel we’ve been doing lately. David has been begging us to take him swimming lately, so we started the morning at a wonderful pool across the city in Churchfield. It had a lap pool and a kids pool that had a playhouse in the middle of it with a slide. David was in heaven.

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Jacob was actually a bit terrified of the water for the first half of our swimming session (I guess it’s been too long since we’ve been in a pool!), but once we got him sitting in a baby flotation device he calmed right down. There was also a really cool tunnel slide that wrapped all the way around the building that Jon and I (ahem…the kids…) thoroughly enjoyed. The best part of swimming in Ireland, however, has to be the swim caps. All swimmers are required to wear swimming caps at all times. Yes, even babies.

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After swimming we were famished, so we drove into the city center for lunch. We went to our favorite go-to “restaurant”: Mc.’y D’s. Before you judge, though, you should know that the McDonalds’ in Ireland are a bit classier than in The States. They will do things like seat you at a table and take your order from the table (you know, like you’re really at a restaurant) and make your kids balloon animals while they’re waiting for their cheeseburgers to come out of the microwave. It’s an experience. After lunch we walked around town for awhile and did a bit of shopping. We also stopped for some delicious gelato before heading back home for afternoon naps.

On Sunday (Mother’s Day) I got the best gifts ever: sleep and kisses from my boys. I told Jon that my only request for Mother’s Day was that he let me stay in bed for as long as I darn well pleased. It was almost 10:00 by the time I peeled myself away from my pillow to get ready for church. When I got downstairs Jon made me breakfast while I read the cards that the boys had made for me. It was then that I discovered I would be getting another Best Gift Ever: a massage and relaxation day at a spa. I’m already feeling more relaxed just thinking about it!

The rest of our day was spent going to church, calling our moms in America, and lounging around at home. Jon made us a feast for dinner: gourmet burgers, bacon-roasted asparagus, balsamic potato wedges and cheesecake. I didn’t even take a photo of the food because we devoured it all so quickly. It was all delicious and lovingly prepared–the perfect end to a memorable weekend.

Thank you for parenting with me and loving me so well, Jon. And thank you for letting me be your mommy, David and Jacob. I have the best job in the world, and I even get a whole day every year to remember that. Well, unless you’re living in Ireland. Then you get TWO whole days!

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the amazing moms out there–the world would not be the same without you!

 

Lost In Translation: My Attempt At Writing In “Irish”

Each and every day that I live in Ireland I am struck by this fact: “English” (the language) is a relative term.  There is English-English, American-English, Australian-English, Irish-English…and they are all utterly and completely different. Although I technically speak the same language as my Irish friends, most of our conversations have to pass through a vocabulary translator of sorts before we can understand each other’s jibberish. To illustrate my point, I will write this post entirely in “Irish-English” (and, just in case you get lost, I’ll post the American-English translation at the end). A note to my Irish friends who might be reading this–I apologise in advance as I know I will still butcher this humourous “translation”. So, here it is–a glimpse into my world: the world of a girl living behind the language barrier.

Thursday (Irish-English Version)

On Thursday, 27 March, I had a grand day with my smallies. We started our day as we always do, with breakfast: porridge and toast with blackcurrant jam. Then it was school time. After I dropped David at playschool Jacob and I drove down the motorway to our favorite Thursday ritual: the Mahon Point Farmer’s Market. On our way there we passed a breakdown van that was rescuing an estate car that had somehow run into the crash barrier under a hoarding.

The car park was nearly full by the time we IMG_1486arrived at the market, but I managed to find a spot available between the trolleys and a lorry that looked like it had just rolled in off the farm (the number plate was so muddy I could hardly make heads nor tails of it). We had to take the lift down to the market as I had Jacob in the buggy. The market was bustling and I had to queue at several stands. My favourite vendors were all there and we managed to find some great bargains. One stand even had a voucher promotion going on and I was able to buy courgettes and aubergines for half price. At one stall there was a woman with short fringe and a pink hairslide arguing over the price of maize and mangetouts–I’m not quite sure why she had her knickers in such a twist! In the end, though, we came away with some fresh ingredients for our supper. I could hardly wait to prepare all of our delicious veg on my hob when we got home.

After our morning at the farmer’s market I wanted to call on a friend for a cuppa tea, but it was already time to collect David. After David put his backpack in the boot I asked him how his day at school was. He said that he had a grand time playing in the sandpit with his friend, Seán Murphy, who he had met in the crèche before school. David said that at school they were practising maths and that his teacher was even teaching him how to tie his trainers. His trousers and jumper were a bit wet, and he said that it started raining while he was playing football with the lads in the play yard. No bother, I told him, he could just change into his dressing gown when we got home.

unnamedWhen we got home we had lunch and then decided to go for a walk. There is a nice footpath that goes along the sea not far from our house, so we decided to go down to the beach for a spell. We all wore our wellies so we could splash in the water (it was only 9 degrees out, so not nearly warm enough for swimming costumes!) and we brought along a spade and pail so we could build sandcastles! I also brought along minerals and biscuits in case we got peckish while we were out. We had a grand afternoon playing by the seaside. At about 15.00 we decided to go back home so Jacob could have his sleep.

After returning home I changed Jacob’s nappy, gave him his dummy and laid him down in his cot. While Jacob was sleeping, David and I heard the Mr. Whippy van passing through our green. We ran outside and caught him just before he passed our front garden. We each had a lovely ice cream cone topped with colourful hundreds and thousands–I was so tempted to buy some jelly babies and candy floss, too, but I decided the ice cream would be sufficient. The last thing I need is more sweeties!

Plus, I had to get back inside. I still needed to ring the surgery on my mobile to discuss our bill–it cost us nearly 100 Euro to visit the A&E, if you can fathom. And that was before our visit to the chemist! Just imagine what it would have cost if we actually had to utilise the theatre there.

It was a grand day with my smallies but, I have to say, I wouldn’t mind getting away on an aroplane soon. This mummy needs a holiday!

 

Thursday (American-English Translation)

On Thursday, March 27th I had a great day with my little ones. We started our day as we always do, with breakfast: oatmeal and toast with grape jelly. Then it was time to go to school. After I dropped David off at preschool Jacob and I drove down the highway to our favorite Thursday ritual: the Mahon Point Farmer’s Market. On our way there we passed a tow truck that was rescuing a station wagon that had somehow run into the guardrail under a billboard.

The parking lot was almost full by the time we arrived at the market, but I managed to find a spot between the shopping carts and a semi-truck that looked like it had just rolled in off the farm (the license plate was so muddy that I could hardly make it out). We had to take the elevator down to the market as I had Jacob in the stroller. The market was bustling and I had to wait in line at several stands. My favorite vendors were all there andwe managed to find some great deals. One stand even had a coupon deal going on and I was able to buy zucchini and eggplant for half price. At one stall there was a woman with short bangs and a pink barrette arguing over the price of corn and snowpeas–I’m not quite sure why she was throwing such a fit! In the end, though, we came away with some fresh ingredients for our dinner. I could hardly wait to prepare all of our delicious vegetables on my stove when we got home.

After our morning at the farmer’s market I wanted to meet up with a friend for coffee, but it was already time to pick up David. After David put his backpack in the trunk I asked him how his day at school was. He said that he had a great time playing in the sandbox with his friend, John Smith, who he had met in the daycare before school. David said that at school they are practicing math and that his teacher was even teaching him how to tie his tennis shoes. His pants and sweater were a bit wet, and he said that it started raining when he was playing soccer with some boys on the playground. Don’t worry, I told him, you can just change into your bathrobe when we get home.

When we got home we had lunch and then decided to go for a walk. There’s a nice sidewalk that goes along the water not far from our house, so we decided to go down to the beach for awhile. We all wore our boots so we could splash in the water (it was only 50 degrees out, so not nearly warm enough for swim suits!) and we brought along a bucket and shovel so we could build sandcastles. I also brought along beverages and cookies in case we got hungry while we were out. We had a great afternoon playing by the ocean. At about 3:00 we decided to head back home so Jacob could take his nap.

When we got home I changed Jacob’s diaper, gave him his pacifier, and laid him down in his crib. While Jacob was sleeping, David and I heard the ice cream truck passing through our neighborhood. We ran outside and caught him just before he passed our front yard. We each had a yummy ice cream cone topped with colorful sprinkles–I was so tempted to buy some jelly beans and cotton candy, too, but I decided the ice cream would be enough. The last thing I need is more candy!

Plus, we needed to get back inside. I still needed to call the doctor’s office on my cell phone–It cost us almost $150 to visit the ER, if you can believe it. And that was before our visit to the pharmacy! Just imagine what it would have cost if we actually had to go to the operating room there.

It was a great day with my little ones but, I have to say, I wouldn’t mind getting away on an airplane soon. This mommy needs a vacation!

St. Patrick’s Day In Ireland

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On March 17th each year the whole world dresses in green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Never in my life did I think I would actually be in Ireland on this most-Irish of all holidays. Yet, here we find ourselves, and I couldn’t have been more excited. This being our first St. Patrick’s Day in the Emerald Isle, we wanted to make it memorable. And, now that I’m starting to recover from the festivities, I can honestly say that St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland did not disappoint. We had a whole weekend of celebrations, and this will definitely be a St. Patrick’s Day that none of us will ever forget!

Our St. Patrick’s weekend festivities began on Friday. The boys received a care package in the mail from their Gammy and Grandpa Pete in Washington. It was full of goodies–including “leprechaun candy” that they feasted on all weekend:

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On Friday afternoon we had a St. Paddy’s playdate with some of David’s friends. We all went out to lunch at our “local” (the pub in our neighborhood) that was all bedecked in Irish decor. Two of the moms  have recently gone back to work so we don’t see as much of each other as we used to–we had a grand time catching up while the kids ran around the pub like wild banshees. Here’s David with his two buddies: Alannah and Jack Kelly (David calls him Jack Kelly–not just Jack–Jack KELLY. I kind of love it because it sounds so very Irish):

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Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day so we went out to Blarney Castle for a romp in the gardens. The castle grounds were beautiful with the Spring flowers blooming and the (rare) sun shining to warm us:

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On Sunday we had our day of rest to prepare for the busy day on Monday: St. Patrick’s Day! Since St. Patrick’s Day is a national holiday in Ireland,  Jon had the day off work (woot!). We started our day with a hearty St. Patrick’s-themed breakfast: “shamrock pancakes” (green pancakes) and “leprechaun juice” (green milk).

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After breakfast we noticed that there were little green “clues” hidden all over the place. Apparently, a sneaky little leprechaun had snuck into our house while we were sleeping and hidden his treasure for us to find. The boys ran around (and up and down and all about) following the clues until they found the leprechaun’s treasure:

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After our scavenger hunt we dressed up in our green get-ups and got ready to drive into the city for the Cork City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Even Bota dressed up for the occasion (even if she didn’t get to come with us to the parade):

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We arrived about 2 hours before the start of the parade which was kind of perfect–all of the Catholics (a.k.a all of the Irish people) were still in mass so we got a great parking spot and staked out a seat along the parade route. While we were waiting for the parade to begin we wandered around and got lunch at the food booths, visited the face painters in the park, and generally took it all in. We were here, in Ireland, for St. Patrick’s Day!

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The parade was a grand affair. Michael Flatley of “Riverdance” fame was the master of ceremonies, although I didn’t even recognize him when he drove by (you can hardly blame me–he wasn’t wearing tights). The parade had bands, acrobats, dancing groups, an eclectic collection of international groups, fire trucks, and floats. The boys loved watching the parade–David’s favorite group was “the army guys” and Jacob’s favorite was the Chinese dragon (I know because he cried when it went around the corner and he couldn’t see it anymore). It was all really, really wonderful.

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The parade must have wiped the boys out because shortly after we returned home I  found them resting on the floor with blankets they’d pulled off their beds. Ah, even leprechauns need their sleep.

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I probably should have joined them for their little afternoon snooze, because my day was far from over at this point. After the boys were tucked in for the night we had a babysitter come over so Jon and I could go out and enjoy the St. Paddy’s nightlife. We went back into the city and met up with our friend (and Jon’s co-worker), Cole, who had just arrived in town for a week of work in the Ireland office.

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We visited some pubs, and I learned three important truths on our little late-night escapade:

1. There is nothing like celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in an Irish pub. Especially if that Irish pub is actually in Ireland. The atmosphere was…how do I put this…electric. Everything was buzzing and alive and, well, crazy. It was tons of fun.

2. Even the rowdiest pub in Ireland will still serve you tea and scones at midnight. No joke.

3. I am getting old. One of the pubs had a great band playing cover songs and we spent most of the night signing and dancing along with (what seemed to be) half of Ireland. I left the pub feeling old. Very, very old. Nevermind the fact that I still can’t hear out of my left ear (the one that was facing the speaker while the band played) or the fact that I left the pub clutching my sore back (too much dancing). The thing that makes me feel REALLY old is the fact that me, Jon, and Cole were the only ones singing along to songs from our high school days. Which makes sense when you consider that most of the other revelers in the pub were probably in Kindergarten when those songs were popular. Dang.

In short, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was everything I’d hoped that it would be…and more. Every St. Patrick’s Day for the rest of my life I will remember this week: that time that I was actually in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day.

And it was–wait for it–legendary.

Repost: Redeeming St. Patrick’s Day

I posted this entry last year shortly after returning from our first visit to Ireland. Now that we are actually living in Ireland and about to celebrate our first St. Patrick’s Day here, I thought it would be fitting to repost it. Although the drinking and the leprechauns still seem to steal the show here in Ireland, I am reminded that St. Patrick was a real man who really stood for something. So, on Monday as we join thousands of spectators lining St. Patrick’s Street and Grand Parade for (what I’m hoping will be) the most memorable St. Patrick’s Day parade I’ve ever witnessed, I’ll keep good ‘ol Patrick in mind. And hopefully he won’t mind if I have a pint in his memory.

 

Original Post: Redeeming St. Patrick’s Day and a Shamrock Craft

I’ve never really liked St. Patrick’s Day. People seem to just use it as an excuse to drink too much beer and pinch unsuspecting bystanders who made the unfortunate choice to not wear green on March 17th. This year, however, I’m seeing things a bit differently. You see, I just got back from my first trip to Ireland where I learned a lot about Irish history and who St. Patrick really was (yes, he was a real person). So this year, instead of eating green eggs in a drunken stupor, I am going to try and redeem St. Patrick’s Day for my kids.

Who Was St. Patrick?
First of all, Patrick is not really a Saint (you know, the capital “s” type canonized by the Catholic church). And he’s not even Irish. Patrick was born in Scotland and, when he was about 16 years old, he was captured in a raid and brought to Ireland as a slave (this was in about the year 405–a really long time ago). At the time, Ireland was a radically pagan place– considered to be about as far away from God as any place on the planet. Patrick’s grandfather, however, had been a priest. While Patrick remained in bondage in Ireland he clung to his faith and relied on prayer. Then, after 6 years, he managed to escape and return home.

When Patrick was in his 40’s, God brought him back to Ireland–this time as a missionary (I love God’s sense of irony!). Patrick had become intimately connected with the Irish people during his years in slavery and history tells us that one of his first converts was the very man who had held Patrick in captivity. Patrick went on to spend the next several years of his life preaching and spreading the gospel throughout Ireland. He was so successful in his missionary work that he turned the once-pagan island into one of the early centers of the Christian faith.

Legend has it that on one of Patrick’s missionary journeys through Ireland he came to a castle at the top of a rocky crag called the Rock of Cashel. I had the great honor of visiting the Rock of Cashel a few weeks ago when I was in Ireland:

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It was here at the Rock of Cashel that Patrick (reputedly) used a shamrock to tell the story of the trinity and then baptized King Aengus. Basically, the illustration of the shamrock trinity is that each of the leaves represents one of God’s persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While they are each separate and unique, they are all part of one whole.

As you look out from the Rock of Cashel to the Irish countryside, it’s easy to imagine what that day must have been like:

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For The Kids: Shamrock Collages
This week I told my 2 year old about St. Patrick. I told him how he was a man who lived a long, long time ago and that God used him to help other people learn about Jesus. We looked at pictures of shamrocks and I explained the trinity to little David using Patrick’s illustration. It was awesome!

Then the former-kindergarten teacher in me had to get crafty. We decided to commemorate our little shamrock “lesson” with a simple project.

I started by gathering an assortment of green things: scrapbooking paper, pom-poms, foam shapes, tissue paper and a large piece of green cardstock. I also put a dime-sized squirt of glue into a bowl with a Q-tip to use as a paintbrush:

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I used a pencil to draw a shamrock shape onto the cardstock (heavy construction paper or cardboard painted green would also work), then I cut out the shamrock:

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I sat David down at the table and gave him all of the green things I’d collected. He helped me tear the tissue paper into small pieces (this is great fine-motor practice, by the way!). Then I showed David how to use the Q-tip to “paint” glue onto the shamrock where he wanted to stick his green things. Whenever we’re using glue we use the mantra “just a dot, not a lot!”. David had a lot of fun picking out the decorations for his shamrock and sticking them on.

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He required quite a bit of supervision and direction (put the glue here…ok, now pick out another piece of paper..ok, now put the paper on top of the glue…please don’t lick the glue…). In the end, though, his little shamrock turned out pretty darn cute! And the best part of all: we’ll have something meaningful to think about this St. Patricks day.

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Mitchelstown Caves and Cahir Castle

This week brought several storms through Ireland–blustery wind, chilling rain, and even snow in the “mountains” (the quotes are there because Irish mountains are nothing like Washington mountains. They are simply taller rolling green hills than the rest of the rolling green hills that dot the countryside.) Nevermind the storms, though, adventures were still out there waiting for us. I found a nice indoor activity for our family that would get us out of the wind and the rain: cave exploring. After a quick stop at our new STARBUCKS (!) in town, we were on our way.

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The caves we went to are called the Mitchelstown Caves, and they’re only about 45 minutes outside of Cork. We drove up early Saturday morning and we were the first (only?) visitors of the day. I guess other Irish people don’t have my same sense of let’s-go-cave-exploring-in-a-storm adventure.

The caves were discovered in 1833 by a farmer who was doing some work on his farm when his crowbar fell through a crevasse. His family explored and developed the caves, and to this day the same family still owns the caves and leads tours through them. Here we are at the cave entrance, anticipating the wonders that await us below:

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Once you get inside the caves, it is absolutely breath-taking. Stairs lead you down into the caverns where you can see all sorts of stalactites (the mineral deposits that hang from the ceiling like icicles), stalagmites (the little mounds that form on the ground beneath stalactites), pillars (where the stalactites and stalagmites eventually meet to form a floor-to-ceiling column), and “curtains” (intricate patterns of mineral deposits that cover the cave walls, looking like a gently-folded piece of cloth).  Limestone stalactites like these form at the rate of about 1 inch every hundred years, so you can imagine how long some of these bad boys have been growing. I didn’t know that rocks could be so beautiful.

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Photo courtesy of Google Images since we weren’t allowed to take photos inside most parts of the cave.

Back in the 1800’s (and well into the 1900’s, in fact) the only way to see the cave was to carry a candle into the dark abyss where you would spend hours climbing over boulders and through tiny crevices. Thankfully for us, that is no longer the case. Today, the cave is fully lit with electric lights and has a cement pathway with handrails that lead you 1/2 a mile into the cave . When you get to the end of the trail in the “developed” section of the cave, there is a large natural platform surrounded by huge pillars. They actually use this platform as a stage, and during the summer the Cork Opera House brings in musicians to play in this unique performance hall. David and I sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” from the stage and, I have to say, we never sounded so good. Here we are standing in front of the stage by a large pillar that they call “The Dragon”:

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We all loved the caves and will definitely try to return again some day.

After our morning of cave exploration we were ready to head home. At least, we thought that’s what we were going to do. The great Irish road system had other plans for us, though, and after a wrong turn that led to a 16 Kilometer detour the wrong direction on the highway, we ended up in the town of Cahir. Turns out Cahir was a good place to unexpectedly turn up as they have one of the largest and best-preserved castles I’ve seen in Ireland:

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Since we were already there we decided to check out the castle. So, after some quick refueling in the car:

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…it was on to Cahir Castle!

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The weather was absolutely horrendous by this point–you can’t tell from the photos, but the rain was blowing sideways and it was freezing cold. We had to make pretty quick work of the castle, then, to avoid becoming human Popsicles. In the end it was all worth it, because the castle was really amazing. There were cannons all over the grounds that David used to help defend the fortress:

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And iron gates that could chop your head off if you got in the way (not really, Grandma Doreen, they’re just for show…):

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There were several rooms of the castle that we could walk through. Even though the castle was built in 1142, the preservation work that they have done in this castle is beautiful and really gives you a picture of what life would have been like inside these walls. This was the banqueting hall. Note the huge ancient Irish Deer antlers hanging on the wall. These animals weighed between 800-1000 pounds and stood over 6 feet tall, with antlers nearly 12 feet wide. I would have loved to see one of those creatures in real life!

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Back outside the castle there were lots of little nooks and crannies and holes in the wall (literally) to explore:

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As we came to the outer edge of the castle wall I marveled at how the town of Cahir just exists here. With a castle across the street. I wonder if the people who live and work and shop here realize how cool that is.

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It was a day full of adventure–and misadventure turned into adventure. But isn’t that what adventure is all about? The planned and the unplanned, the known and the unknown. The journey. Even if that journey takes you 16 kilometers out of your way.

A Photo Tour Through My Irish House

One of my favorite shows on TV is House Hunters (and its sister show, House Hunters International). If you’ve ever watched the show then you know the thrill of peeping into other peoples’ homes for a glimpse of how they live. When we were getting ready to move to Ireland I basically stalked the local house listing website to see every house that came on the market–every potential spot that I could be living. I wanted to know what the houses were like and how they would work for our family. Now that we’ve been living in Ireland for half of a year (how does time go so quickly?!) I feel like our “Ireland House” is our home. And I know that some of you are as curious as I was–what is it like? So, in the fashion of House Hunters International, I will now give you a little photo tour of our “typical Irish house”:

This is the view of our house from the street (our house is actually the third one in from the left with the silver car in the driveway). We live in what is called a “terraced house” (posh wording for townhouses). Most people I know here in Cork live in terraced houses similar to ours. Some people live in semi-detached homes (a duplex). Once you get out of the city you may even find a fully detached home. Notice the lack of garages–I don’t think I’ve seen a single house with a proper garage anywhere in Ireland.

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Once you walk down our driveway you come to the front door. There is a mail slot in the door where our “post” is delivered each morning (if I want to mail a letter myself I have to walk to the shop by David’s preschool to drop my letter in the large green an post bin).

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After opening the front door to our house you come into the entrance way. There are stairs to the right that lead to the second level, the kitchen is straight ahead, and our “sitting room” is off to the left.

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We have converted our sitting room into a multi-function room as it is the only extra space we have in our house. The left side of the room has a couch, a chair, a fireplace, and a TV. Our house was “fully furnished” when we moved in–meaning that most of the furniture, knick-knacks, decorations, appliances, etc. you will see in these photos actually belong to our landlord. In fact, our house was so fully furnished when we moved in that there were still clothes in the closet and dirty dishes in the dishwasher!

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The other side of the sitting room is our makeshift office and storage facility.

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If you were to continue walking down the hallway past the sitting room you’d pass a small bathroom and then enter the kitchen. The kitchen is a pretty good sized room so we spend most of our communal time in this space. The far end of the kitchen has our dining space and baskets full of the kids’ toys .

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The other end of the kitchen has all of the kitchen-y stuff.

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We have a fridge/freezer that is quite large by European standards and an oven that is about the size of an Easy-Bake oven. Here is the oven all opened up. If you look closely you can see a 9×13 pan on the single rack–the edges and top of the pan are nearly touching the sides of the oven. Thankfully it is a double oven, so we can actually fit 2 sheets of cookies in at the same time!

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Another surprising feature of our kitchen (at least to us Americans) is the washing machine right next to the dishwasher.  The dryer, however, is not in the kitchen. When I’m ready to dry a load of laundry I first switch on the power to our shed in the cabinet that is next to the washing machine.

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Then I carry the wet clothes outside, walk across the back yard, and go into our shed.

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Then–Ta Da!–we find the dryer amidst the gardening tools and outdoor toys. After the clothes are dry I retrieve them from the shed and hope that it’s not raining too hard when I carry them back to the house.

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As you walk through the back yard toward the house you pass this little contraption. At first I thought it was a compost bin–how handy! In fact, it is a coal bin. Full of coal. Note the zip-ties that keep the coal bin door locked shut–for some reason this is the boys’ favorite place to play and hide their toys.

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We’ve never actually burned coal in our house. I don’t like the smell of it and I know that the boys would have a heyday smearing coal soot all over my house after the fire burned out. Instead, we use our lovely radiators. We are able to set them to come on 3 times a day. When the radiators are on, they’re ON. As in, we go from freezing to boiling in a matter of seconds. I’d kill for a Nest thermostat here.

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Continuing right along our tour, now. Upstairs we have 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Jacob’s bedroom is at the end of the hallway. It’s a cozy little space that the Irish refer to as the “box room” (because it’s tiny and is typically used to store boxes, not babies). Luckily for him, Jacob is tiny so he doesn’t mind the small space.

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And we’ve even managed to squeeze some boxes into his little box room.

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David’s room is a pretty good-sized space. Unfortunately, most of the room is taken up with a queen-size bed. David sleeps in about 1/10th of the bed and the rest is used to store his numerous “Gigi’s” (blankets) and stuffed animals.

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Next to David’s room is our “hot box”–a storage closet with the hot water heater on the bottom. The boiler heats up this tiny closet like it’s a dry sauna–perfect for keeping towels toasty before a shower or warming your hands during the hours between heat bursts from the radiators.

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Next you come upon the boys’ bathroom. The tub is always full of bath toys, the toilet seat has broken off, and the room always seems to smell vaguely of urine. It’s not my favorite room in the house.

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Finally we come upon my little oasis: the master bedroom. It’s not a large room, but it has a door with a lock so I love it.

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…Even if I do have to share my special space with about a dozen Rubbermaid bins of assorted storage that didn’t fit anywhere else in the house.

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Our bedroom also has its own bathroom. Most of the sinks here have separate hot and cold taps. If you want to wash your hands in warm water you have to turn on both taps and move your hands rapidly between “boil your hand off” and “icy stream”.

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In order to take a shower you have to first flip a switch on the wall that turns on the hot water. Then you turn on the water inside the shower and adjust the temperature on the wall mount. This took a little getting used to, but now I actually really appreciate our electric shower.

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And with that, you have seen our whole house in all of its Irish glory. A lot of things are very different from what we were used to in America, but that’s part of why we moved here. To experience something different. And, do you know what? I love it! I love how our house is small and cozy. I love that the view out of my kitchen is lush rolling hills with meandering cows. I love that we are learning new ways to do things and that I am being forced to be creative in how I approach everyday tasks. Yes, things are different, but they are good.

Now, one final photo. This is the view you would have if you were walking out our front door. I hope you enjoyed your tour and we’ll see you next time!

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Slán (Goodbye)!