Ireland

Contraband Jam

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When I was in Ireland, specifically on Inchydoney Island in West Cork, my friend Karen urged me to buy some preserves.

“You have to,” she said. “It’s the best raspberry jam ever.”

She was right. It was criminally good. The smell? Rich and pure raspberry. It tasted heavenly sweet.

Apparently, berries thrive in locales with cool temperatures and lots of light, and Ireland has that in spades in summer. (Similar conditions exist elsewhere. Years ago I ate the best strawberries ever on the island of Askøy, Norway. But I digress.)

In February I left Ireland with a jar of Inchydoney jam in my suitcase. But foolishly, I stowed it in my carry-on, and airport security spied it through x-ray. “Sorry, miss,” the security officer said. Like a surgeon extracting an organ, he reached into the belly of my bag and plucked out the jar.

Damn, I thought. Well, at least he called me miss, not ma’am.

Never mind. Karen successfully mailed me another jar, buffered by clothing. I cherished it, eating the jam sparingly. When it was all gone, I kept the jar in the fridge.

And sniffed it periodically. Like an exotic perfume.

Karen thought my jar-sniffing was weird, so on her next trip to West Cork, she bought me two more jars. This time, she mailed them wrapped in a dish towel. Later, she mentioned that the postman told her she was crazy — the postal service camera would catch the jam and confiscate the whole package.

But he was wrong. The contraband jam slipped the system. Two pristine jars of goodness.

So I’m back to eating — not sniffing — for now.

 

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Ireland, that’s a wrap

 

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As promised, here’s my blog post about Ireland. And only 96 hours late. Not bad.

Ireland was as I’d been warned and as I’d expected: changed and yet the same. Karen’s castle still reeked of its damp, stony smell and that wonderful, acrid aroma of fire fueled by coal and peat briquettes. It rained — at least a bit — each day. And at night the wind rattled the windows in the castle keep.

But some things had changed.

Karen was spot on about development. Motorways have fast-tracked road travel, eliminating the need to wend along two-laners and creep through villages. But they’ve also watered down the scenery; motorway driving is ho-hum — another generic strip of straightaway threaded through nothing. To a lesser extent, dual carriageways have rendered many rural roads obsolete. And pastures, once home to cows and sheep, now house… well…

…houses.

Still, there are a few of these:

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But also a staggering number of these:

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Irish food? It’s… better. Salads have certainly evolved. Once marked by a single leaf of iceberg, beneath a gelatinous blob of salad cream, salads are actually green(!) and even accompanied by other veggies… and not the spud variety. (Realize that I’m speaking of the country’s western reaches; Dublin has long offered cosmopolitan cuisine.)

But I can’t talk food without mentioning yogurt. The generic, run-of-the-mill, grocery store yogurt is simply delicious. It was my breakfast every morning and dessert most nights. Yum.

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And a few words about kids: children are golden in Eire. Celebrated, revered, always welcome in restaurants, hotels, even stores stocked with crystal figurines and porcelain plates. Shop keepers never scowled when I arrived with Brynn; instead, they considered it their duty to entertain my 3 year old while I browsed their wares. Gas station attendants offered to mind “the wee one, so she doesn’t get a chill” while I pumped gas and consulted my map. In restaurants, I’d leave Brynn alone at the table while I hunted down the bathroom, knowing full-well that the patrons and employees would watch her. It was really nice… this ever-present ‘Zilla assistance.

Oh you kids are having a pillow fight in the lobby? Perhaps we can find you more pillows to throw?”

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Fox hunting? Well that hasn’t changed a lick. It is still thrilling, intimidating and downright scary. Trappy country and imposing obstacles in pursuit of a fox. Sixty riders running headlong toward the same stretch of stone wall, then leaping off a bank and clattering down the road. That’s what I expected and I wasn’t let down. I hunted just one day, but it was 4 1/2 hours of fun and exhilaration, punctuated by moments of terror. 

Typically when riding, I don’t consider negative thoughts of potential injury or disaster. But hunting in Ireland there was a moment — as I stared down a huge, imposing stone wall, fortified with tightly-packed boulders — when I thought, “Ok, this might be the wall that kills me.”

But then I thought, “Get real, Jo. You might break your collarbone or a leg or knock out a tooth, but you’re not gonna die…

And then I thought “shut up, already” and I kicked my horse forward and we sailed over that monster wall. (Thank you, hireling, for being such a handy and athletic horse.)

Sorry, no photo of the monster, but here’s a typical stone wall of modest height:

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Music: Have you ever wondered what happened to the ’80s tunes? No, you haven’t? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. They’re alive and well in Ireland. Duran Duran, Debbie Gibson, Wham, Mr. Mister, Starship… they’re thriving on Irish radio, sprinkled among song sets like salt and pepper. (Though admittedly, I didn’t hear anything from Salt-n-Pepa…). On road trips, I logged plenty of time reliving the eighties.

So there you have it. Ireland. The music hasn’t changed, the villages still smell of coal and peat, the back roads are perilously winding and narrow, the craic is still alive in pubs and shops, and the horses remain lithe and fast.

And, as I discovered one morning — standing alone on a stretch of southern coast, just after a rain… the sun warming the sky and the wind sweeping off the damp:

Irish air is the cleanest and purest that I’ll ever breathe.

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(Early morning, Inchydoney Island)

 

O’er in Éire

Tomorrow’s forecast calls for thoughtful words strung together in literary fashion.

But for the time being, you’ll have to chew on a few photos and captions from Ireland. In no particular order, here’s today’s serving:

Arriving at Kilcolgan Castle–

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Brynnzilla aboard “Captain,” towed by Karen’s husband, Tony–

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Hungry sheep in the craggy Kerry hills–

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Brynn with Karen’s daughter, Linda, and faithful Grizzly-Moss–

 

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Wicked Atlantic storms turned pasture to lough–

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Just plain Irish–

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