Cashel Blue

And finally the last day we spend in Ireland finds us just outside Cashel where we have booked into Tir Na Nog B&B for the night.  Despite all the advice and comments on internet feedback devices, booking into an establishment you do not know is a bit of a lottery.  Happily we find that our host is one of those men for whom nothing is too much trouble and who is willing to make a friend of his guests.  Tommy welcomes us with a tray of tea and good advice for our eating and shopping needs.  With his help we get a decent evening meal, and the following day we buy the woollen garments we have been searching for and happen upon some clothes sh0ps where red SALE  signs advertise real bargains.  I buy a navy mid-length wool and cashmere coat for a snip.  Anne and I also stock up on the locally-made black pudding which we have enjoyed on our breakfast plate.

After checking out Tommy accompanied us to the local cheesemaker of Cashel Blue, a drive of about 10 minutes.  We had chosen Cashel partly because we had enjoyed this cheese in Connemara and wanted to buy some take home.  Little could we have imagined that the source of this delicious variety of Blue cheese was on Tommy’s doorstep!  After a chat with the director we each bought a 1.5 kg ‘wheel’ of Cashel Blue and a smaller piece of their Crozier Blue which is the only blue cheese to be made with sheep’s milk in Ireland.

With little time to dally in Cashel we were not able to visit the Rock of Cashel with its castle atop.  After buying our clothes and black pudding we headed for Rosslare where we made a brief pit stop for soup before checking in at the ferry terminal

Birthday!

The morning of my birthday dawned.  This was to be our last full day in Connemara, however we picked up a message from Irish Ferries to say that our Tuesday crossing was cancelled owing to sea conditions that would be the same as those during which we travelled to Ireland.  We needed to stay two further days in Ireland.  Geraldine was happy for us to stay over, which would effectively complete the week and we searched for a destination with B&B midway across Ireland.  In the end we chose Cashel, which is actually much nearer Rosslare.

We ate a good Irish breakfast during which we were blessed with a view of a rainbow.

Blog-Rainbow

After staring at the maps we decided to drive a bit further afield, so we headed southwest for Finish Island.  Here we found the extensive sands and rock outcrop in much the same state as the other beaches we have visited.  Some minor sea defences and the faces of turfed sand dunes which back the shore had been truncated by the waves.  Three men with an excavator  were replacing the large stone blocks.  Sand had been swept over beds of seaweed over the shore.  More floats were found.  After a good dose of wind and intermittent drizzle we retreated to our burrow and made a peat fire.  Champagne was served, together with crackers and foie gras and a handful of cockles we had collected at Finish.  Anne and Francois gave me a pretty jug that I had admired at the Roundstone pottery.

After, we drove into Roundstone to O’Dowds for a birthday supper.

Blog-RoundstoneHarbour-atNight

We were seated at the only small table in the cosy nook by the fire where we ate seafood with glasses of Guinness and afterwards I tried my first ever Irish coffee.  Special friends, happy memories 🙂

Blog-Birthday1

Flotsam and Jetsam: but where are the Strandlines?

Some parts of the Connemara coast are blessed with sweeping sandy beaches.  They act as magnets for recreation of all kinds.  Some beaches in western Ireland are favourite haunts for shellseekers.  The Gulf Stream has a positive benefit for biodiversity and this results in rich species lists after a session of tracing the strandlines across the shore, both at the top of the beach and along the water’s edge.

During our trip to Connemara we walked Dog’s and Gorteen Bays just west of Roundstone.  We also drove south east to Finis Island and west to the southwest-facing beach at Ballyconneely where shelldrift was very sparse but the men found beached colourful trawl and net floats.  The tops of the beaches were covered in decaying seaweed, banked up and with all manner of rubbish mixed through.

It was clear that the recent tempestuous weather has brought about large-scale sand transport with the result that the normal gradual accumulation of shells and other biological remains is obliterated before it becomes a recognisable horizon across the shore.  I did collect some of the more colourful tellin species on two occasions with the intention of creating a collage for Anne.

I will let the beaches speak for themselves:

Blog-Dogs-Bay-Panorama2

Blog-Dogs-Bay-Curve

Blog-Dogs-Bay

Finis

Oyster-Beach

An Appointment with Gifty

After one or two fruitless attempts we finally made contact with the owners of the Musical Instrument Workshop in Roundstone.  Gifty, the wife of Malachy Kearns, who lives in Clifden would need to make a special journey into Roundstone to open up the workshop.  Our musical friend Anne was keen to look at the Irish bodhrán and possibly buy one.  The bodhran is an Irish frame drum with a goatskin tacked to one side and the other side is open-ended for one hand to be placed against the inside of the drum head to control the pitch and timbre.

We arrived to a warm welcome and allowed Gifty to talk us through the various bodhrans on display.  The various models range between those that are made for the tourist market and instruments which are made for professionals.  We spent some time looking at the bodhrans on display and tinkered with them.  Anne and Nick found the wrist technique necessary to beat out a rhythm more easy than I did.

With persistence and a bit of tuition they could play more confidently and both decided to buy an instrument of their own.  Once they had settled on their choices they left bodhrans in the shop so they could be signed by Malachy Kearns.

Bodhrans-Ensemble2

Round Trip to Roundstone

We all slept well and celebrated our contentment with a good Irish breakfast.  Our sense of wellbeing was somewhat disrupted when Francois received a phonecall with the unwelcome news that his locum had broken his ankle on the first day of surgery and would be unable to fulfil his contract to cover the medical practice for Francois’ two-week absence.  Some fruitless calls were made to try and find a replacement locum but to no avail.  A covering system was set up with the help of an efficient secretary, and fall-back arrangements with the other local doctor  then we all proceeded to get on with the business in hand – our Connemara holiday.

Roundstone is a small village/port on the mainland, across the water from our niche on Inishnee.

ViewToRoundstoneF2enh

Full of energetic enthusiasm we decided to walk into the village to explore our victualing possibilities.  Geraldine told us it would take about 40 minutes, but clearly she has never covered the journey on foot.  We worked out that it was something like 11 km.  We covered the distance in intermittent rain (a constant companion during our Irish days) and enjoyed ever-changing views.

We found two grocer shops, one of which, J. Woods, is a family-run business and which became a regular haunt.  I’ve lost count of the number of home-baked soda bread loaves we bought, but it went well into double figures.  On that first morning we were invited into the kitchen to meet the business matriarch, Christina, who gave us tips on how to make our own soda scones.  Anne and I experimented with cheese and cumin versions and fruit ones too.  Soda scones are now a regular part of my diet – brilliant with soups.

Just after the middle of the day we popped into O’Dowds, the bar area of which is open at this time of year.  Francois and I chose a gorgeous crab salad with home-made soda scones to accompany.  Their scones were the best we tasted in Connemara.  I drank glasses of Guinness, too, whilst in Ireland and loved its velvety feeling in my mouth.

ODowds5      ODowdsNickF4

Before we left Roundstone Nick spotted the arrival of a small yellow fishing boat.  We bought 6 fresh crabs for 8 Euros and cooked them later, back at the cottage.

RoundstoneHarbourF3

We started back on foot with a new array of sea- and landscapes and at some point Nick walked ahead to pick up the car and scoop up stragglers.

ViewToInishneeF6enh

 We roasted a small piece of gammon for supper and relaxed during the evening before the peat and log fire. We all have books and Anne has knitting.   We taught Francois how to play Spite and Malice, a card game which seems to engage whomever we teach.

Arrival at Island Cottage

After a handsome Irish breakfast we leave the Kilkenny area and head for the west coast. Our chosen route takes us via Portumna where we find a bar that will serve us coffee and a butcher where we can buy something for our supper. We eventually arrive in Galway, the gate to Connemara and take the north route via Oughterad. We drive along roads with uninterrupted views across to the scenic craggy mountains, expanses of bogs, heaths and grassland, the low-lying land with its laced network of lakes .   Francois takes innumerable photos of vistas from all angles.  (At the end of our holiday he will have an album of stunning shots.)

Connemara is one of the most scenic regions in Ireland. Situated in the heart of the West of Ireland, Connemara National Park covers some 2,000 hectares. Dominated by the majestic Twelve Bens mountain range, (Na Beanna Beola) and fringed by the deeply indented Atlantic coastline with its expansive sandy beaches, innumerable creeks, bays and little harbours, it is one of Ireland’s most popular and memorable touring areas, enjoyed for its peaceful solitude and rugged beauty which exemplifies The West of Ireland.

We arrive at Island Cottage to be welcomed by Geraldine who owns three properties on her plot and lives in the one adjacent to ours.  Since Nick and I last stayed there Geraldine has acquired a flock of hens who live a charmed life to judge from the time and attention they receive.  Our breakfast eggs taste wonderful.

Anne and Francois are absolutely delighted with the cottage and the situation, this is clear.  Everything is auguring well for a good week.

IslandCottageFirstViewF1

We are Shellshucked!

………… so we spill out of our cars on Inishnee and haul our buckets onto the terrace outside the cottage’s kitchen.  First we enjoy sorting the catch into species.  We have 21 Pecten maximus, 67 Chlamys varia, 38 Ostrea edulis, 1 Crassostrea gigas, 31 assorted clams and about a gallon of Mytilus edulis. 

Preparing shellfish is time-consuming.  All the shells need to be scrubbed clean and the mussels and small scallops need particular attention as they are steamed in their shells.  We shuck the king scallops carefully because the shells will we used for collections and garden edging.  The assorted clams need to be halved carefully so the meat can be laid in half-shells to be grilled as ‘palourdes farcies‘.

Preparing the oysters is a veritable chore shared by Nick and Sonia.  Forcing one’s way into an oyster via the ligament region requires teeth-gritting determination.  It is a dangerous business.  Nick is using his folding knife and delivers a wound to his finger when the knife snaps shut.  (Note to self to include an oyster knife in my field trip kit-box).  Fortunately first aid kids belonging to seasoned field archaeologists are on hand and special materials are applied and the cut heals without a murmur.

So what we did is we laid out platters of opened oysters to start.  And we flash-grilled the small clams with a dressing of butter, parsley, garlic – this is ‘farci’ or stuffed clams.  We had prepared, in advance, a liquor to steam our mussels ‘marinieres’ .  We had also chased some bacon snippets round a pan ready to receive the steamed small scallops.  And we had chopped garlic and root ginger to saute the king scallops.

We ate the oysters and clams and they were good.  Then we steamed two large panfuls of mussels which we ate and they were good too.  And then we cooked both kinds of scallops and they were very good indeed.  We ate this delicious shellfish with Irish Soda bread, and we drank some wine.

This feast was real ‘degustation‘ .  A French word which seems to have no direct English translation and is an altogether more pleasant experience than it sounds to the English ear.  Degustation is a culinary term meaning a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods and focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company.   Exactly so!

I’d like to leave it there but I should add a cautionary note.  You cannot go to any shore and collect willy-nilly without a thought for the health of the shore and its waters.  You need a fully marine environment which receives regular flushing with clean seawater.  Collecting molluscs from the shore to eat, especially oysters and mussels which are filter feeders, has an element of risk.  You cannot tell by looking at the shellfish, although your nose will be a useful indicator if something is amiss.  Any bivalve that you collect should be able to ‘clam up’ if you try to pull the valves apart.  Any bivalves that do not demonstrate the muscle-power to remain firmly closed before they are cooked should be discarded.

Get yourself a useful handbook such as The Edible Shore by John Wright.  This is an invaluable guide to collecting a fabulous range of food from the seashore and there is plenty of helpful information to make sure you collect safely and responsibly.  Caveat comedor!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Rare Shore

During our Connemara week we surveyed some shores with evocative names: Mweenish, Lettermore, Gorteen Bay….  We found richness in numbers of invertebrates and rarity of species.  But we were knocked sideways by a shore in a very sheltered location which shall remain nameless to preserve its mystique and bounty.  It is axiomatic that the most beautiful beaches to walk may yield nothing in the way of shells and other rejectamenta, and rather mucky-looking gravelly muddy bits of coast may reveal a fantastic array of marine life when the tide recedes to uncover something of the seabed.

So it was when we drove north from Roundstone to record a shore which was reached by a tortuous route.  As the water ebbed we found mussels, clams, oysters in profusion and scallops aplenty.  It was thrilling, wading about in the shallows, stooping to collect the shellfish for our communal cooking pot.  The six of us staying in Island Cottage pooled our catch, and when we got back to base we took a deep breath and began to prepare the ingredients for a seafood fest…………..

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Connemara Companions

It’s that time of year again, the Equinox, when low-tiders’ thoughts turn to shores and field work.  The Conch. Soc.’s annual marine meeting took place in Connemara.  Six of us shared a cottage on the island of Inishnee, near Roundstone.  This area has found recent fame, thanks to Monty Halls and his tv programme Great Irish Escapes.

We converged at our base over the weekend and on Monday we drove north to Doonloughan for our first rendez-vous with the other participants. We parked on the new pier, littered with crab pots, and dropped down onto the beach.  It was a fun shore to work consisting of sands and gravels with scattered rock outcrop resulting in channels and runnels.  In places the narrow gullies and the drainage to low water, resulted in stretches of fast-moving water.  Some filter-feeding marine life loves the rapid flow with its suspended particulates.  Like the variegated scallop Chlamys varia.  The French call these ‘petoncles’ and they are sweeter than the larger St Jacques if you can gather enough to make a mouthful or two.  We were to see lots of these during the forthcoming week.

We were joined on the shore by a group of French fishers.  They were wielding serious shrimping nets and waded around in the slightly deeper water sweeping, apparently randomly, and filling their keep nets.  The French woman I spoke to said this was their third visit to the site and that they found the best strategy was to sweep below the floating kelp blades, under which the prawns lurk.

While seasoned conchologists splashed around in the shallows working the shore, Sonia took photos of the searchers and of some of the animals we found under rocks.  By her kind permission the slide show below gives a flavour:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.