I’d hoped for something of a gastro tour of Ireland but clearly with a family of four (including a picky teenager and an easily bored nine-year old) and a tight budget it was not the cheapest or easiest option. But really that didn’t matter because we had a never-ending expanse of coastline to explore and plenty to do without actively seeking out foodie experiences and boring the kids to death, we called it ‘stealth foodie-ism’. Armed with some tips from Niamh (eat like a girl) and a few of her twitter followers, plus local knowledge from the in-laws we were able to eat very well and very cheaply.
My in-laws live just outside Clonakilty which is about half an hours drive from Cork city. They’d organised a place for us to stay (two minutes along the lane from them) and filled our fridge with local produce. Clonakilty black and white pudding, local bacon and sausages, eggs from the farm up the road, salad, ham, bread and organic milk. All local, all fantastic. We topped this up with local strawberries and raspberries, Glenilen Farm cream, Gubbeen cheeses and tapas tubs of olives, tapenade and stuffed sweet peppers from the award-winning Scally’s supervalu in Clonakilty. Packed lunches, fruit, plenty of juice and water were the mainstay of our holiday, with a couple of dinners at the in-laws helping keep our costs down.
We hardly ate out at all apart from a couple of trips to the chippy (freshly caught and cooked fish is far superior to the stuff bought at home) and a late lunch at a gorgeous pub on the harbour at Crookhaven. This followed a dramatic, bracing and windswept walk along the cliffs at Mizen Head, the most westerly point in Ireland making the most of the afternoon sun after a drizzly start to the day. Kids generally hate walking but this included just enough adrenaline pumping scenery and plenty of interesting lighthouse facts (Fastnet lighthouse is just visible to the south) to keep them happy.
We finished the afternoon with a pint of Murphy’s, some ham ‘sangwiches’ and Tayto crisps (for the kids) and a gloriously rich and creamy bowl of seafood chowder for me at O’Sullivan’s bar.
We also took a trip to Kinsale. Another undoubtedly pretty harbour town but I found it rather twee in a very touristy kind of way. It wasn’t our cup of tea. It was very anglicised, full of coach parties and the ‘sailing set’ (not that I have anything against those that sail. We had our own afternoon on the sea later in the week) but because of the clientele everything just that bit more expensive. I prefer places off the beaten track where I can live like a local and tucked well away from the very touristy haunts, as do the rest of the family.
We had a quick look at fishy fishy, a well-known, award-winning seafood restaurant which was recommended by Niamh, but with four of us it would have proved too costly (plus the teen hates fish). Instead the kids opted for an enormous ice cream from a really lovely ice cream parlour and we headed out-of-town to James Fort for another bracing cliff walk. Far more enjoyable for a nine-year old boy and much more spectacular than a fish dinner in an expensive cafe.
As the weather improved over the week we gravitated towards the sea and beaches more. There were plenty to choose from and we were spoilt for choice. With dramatic rocky coastlines at Dunworly to blue flag beaches at Inchydoney and the Warren at Rosscarbery. The Warren proved a little windy on our first trip, although that didn’t stop our nine-year old stripping off and running for the sea.
On another day we took my father in law’s boat out to sea. It hadn’t been out for a year so it was an opportunity to give it a run and do a bit of fishing. We didn’t catch anything, but sailing with seals was a fantastic experience for the kids. On an earlier trip to Ireland we took a charter trip out from Union Hall (there are plenty of boats going out, but check and book in advance. Easiest to go down to the pier and ask the harbour master or one of the fishermen) to do some sea fishing and look for seals, dolphins and whales. It was a little early for Whales but we saw plenty of seals, who tend to chase the fish into the harbour on the tide. That was a bigger boat. This time our boat was much smaller and the seals swam really close to us.
Friday was our one dedicated foodie day as we headed to the farmers market in Clonakilty. Gubbeen cheese nestled beside home-made cakes, chorizo, preserves and great coffee. Dips, basil hummus, chorizo and mozzarella, plus a bit of salad made a great supper (we’d taken some wraps with us which came in handy). The sunshine, buskers and a throng of people gave it a real festival atmosphere as we sat eating local organic lamb burgers. Later that evening we headed back into the town for the Random Acts of Kindness Festival where our kid got to show off his giant bubbling skills as part of a ‘bubble flash mob’ followed by live music and an absolutely hilarious Ceilih at the famous De Barras folk club. Money raised was for the Clonakilty Flood Relief Campaign.
We spent our last day in scorching sunshine. We followed up a huge lunch with the in-laws at the West Cork hotel (the food wasn’t that much to rave about but again the produce was all local and the meat and fish was delicious) with a trip to Lough Hyne. We sat in the sun looking over the small deserted harbour watching people dive off their boats into a clear warm sea longing for a yacht of our own.
Once we’d thoroughly depressed ourselves with our longing for a boat and lack of resources to do anything about it we headed for the beach at Inchydoney. Here we whiled away an hour or two swimming in gloriously warm sea before taking a last trip to Rosscarbery pier and a bit of fishing (the fish had been elusive so far so this was our last hope).
As high tide approached fishermen lined the sea wall on one side and a gaggle of kids threw themselves off the pier into the sea on the other.
The teen somersaulting into the sea…crazy girl that she is!
Diving into the sea at Rosscarbery pier
Fishing off the sea wall…I didn’t get a pic of the seal
Once again the fish were elusive, this time scared away by the diving kids on one side and seals chasing every fish on the other. It’s not that the fish weren’t there, plenty bit, but it was impossible to land them with Mr. seal lying in wait to grab them off the hook as we reeled them in. In fact the fishing went on longer than anticipated as it became a real battle of wills. Man against seal. Every fish was a fight to the death. Those feckin seals became public enemy number one. We eventually left at 9.30pm tired, hungry and with two tiny pollack, the landing of which received huge cheers all along the pier!