So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 7): Let’s Go Shopping!

This series started with an introduction, and here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a souvenir shop in Ireland, so sooner or later you’re going to find yourself in one, if for no other reason that to pick up some postcards. But what you really want is something nice to remember your trip by. Something lasting. Right? I know I do.

When you’re shopping for gifts for yourself or others (I like to do my Christmas shopping in Ireland), look for things you can’t get at home, or—in the case of international brands like Waterford Crystal or Belleek porcelain—that you can get somewhat cheaper than at home. (Particularly when the exchange rate favors the dollar.)

So here’s a quick list of things you might buy in Ireland:

• Knitwear: sweaters, scarves and more
You’ve seen the sheep, now buy something woolen. I buy sweaters and scarves every time I travel to Ireland; they’re available just about everywhere. And the range of colors and styles! Oh! They make lovely gifts.

• Clothing made from Irish linen or tweed
You can buy beautiful woven wool scarves, too—and tweed caps, jackets, waistcoats (you may call this a vest). Some shops sell piece goods so you can sew your own at home. Look for beautiful table linens and handkerchiefs and you’ll think of Ireland every time you sit down to a meal.

• Crystal and glassware, china and pottery
Waterford Crystal is the category leader but there are other good quality brands equally beautiful (research it before you go). Jerpoint Glass is one of my favorite places to shop (Co. Kilkenny) but you can find their pieces in nicer shops all over the country. I also love Nicholas Mosse Pottery, which is readily available. Check department stores for Royal Tara china or Belleek, for a lot less than you’ll pay for them in the States.

• Handmade arts and crafts
There is so much to choose from here: jewelry, pottery, prints and paintings … we could go on and on. Look for small art galleries, museum shops, individual studios (like Jerpoint Glass and Nicholas Mosse) and workshops … and larger outlets like Kilkenny Design Centre in Kilkenny and Dublin (which often, by the way, runs free-shipping-to-the-States promotions). Here’s a website that will give you some ideas. Steer away from those Philip Gray prints; aside from the fact that Gray’s the Irish version of Thomas Kinkade (a hack), these reproductions are poorly done on cheap paper. You’ll know real art when you see it.

• Books
Ireland is a nation of readers (and the home of many fine writers), so you’ll find a bookstore in every town of a few thousand or more. Look for books by Irish authors, photography books, books on Irish history or of local interest (architecture, say) in both new and secondhand shops. Or choose a cookbook!

• Music
If it’s in the budget, you can buy traditional handmade instruments (tin whistles, flutes, fiddles, pipes, bodhráns) from craftspeople in their workshops or in more traditional music stores. While you’re in that music store, you might be interested in sheet music or teaching CDs, such as the one I purchased the featuring a how-to on fiddling traditional Irish melodies and techniques. Music stores and record shops will feature the recordings of local musicians and bands, too; these are affordable and make one-of-a-kind gifts.

• Fashion, design, and up-market personal products
Ireland has a youthful population and has a growing reputation for fashion and design; a special item of clothing might be just the thing to take home. There are many Irish designers (research it) but lately I’ve been loving Orla Kiely; you can find her bags all over Ireland (and they’ll be different from what you’ll find in the States). I also love Moulton Brown hair care products (it’s a British company but I was exposed to the products in Ireland), and I make sure I bring some home from every trip.

• Antiques
Dublin has an antiques district but even small towns have an antique shop or two. Look for unusual prints, vintage jewelry, a teacup … something small and special you can carry home with you.

• Foodstuffs
I am a real sucker for farm shops as well as the upscale grocers you’ll find in larger cities and department stores. I bring cheese home on every trip. And chocolate (see below)! Other delights: tea, jams and jellies, Sarah’s Wonderful Honey, cookies … and did I mention the chocolate?

• Chocolate in particular
On the other side of the pond, chocolate must contain at least 20 percent cocoa solids. In the US, on the other hand, cocoa solids need only make up 10 percent. So there’s definitely a taste differential. My three favorite chocolate brands are Áine, Butler’s, and Cadbury. I stock up on the big bars to bring home for gifts, Christmas stocking stuffers, and so on.

• Little gifts for friends
As mentioned, chocolate bars are always a hit. Irish-themed Christmas ornaments are nice (you can find them in souvenir shops or department stores). And, frankly, though it may seem cliché, the Guinness line of trademarked souvenirs (T-shirts, hats, and so on) are generally of good quality, so if you’ve someone who’d like that sort of thing, go for it. Now … if you really want a nice, truly Irish T-shirt … you’ll have to drive to Lahinch, on the west coast, to the Celtic T-Shirt Shop. A family-owned business since 1979, these shirts (and other apparel) are original designs screen-printed by hand—and they’re gorgeous. Honestly, the website doesn’t do them justice.

See? You don’t have to let the souvenir market drive your purchasing decisions. Don’t buy the first thing you see. Look around! You’ll find something perfect. And don’t forget to pick up a bottle of Jameson’s in the duty-free on your way home. 🙂

A few things that came home last time: scarf from Avoca Hand Weavers, Nicholas Mosse mug, chocolate-covered cookies from Cadbury.

A few things that came home last time: scarf from Avoca Hand Weavers, Nicholas Mosse mug, chocolate-covered cookies from Cadbury.


The Second Breeze

20 May 2013, Monday

In spite of a late start—about half an hour—from Chicago, my flight still landed right on time in Dublin: eight o’clock in the morning. Early! My bags came off the plane very quickly—more good fortune—and I hustled through customs and out to meet Gerry.

From there we went to the car rental desk, but this time we didn’t have to ride the shutttle to their off-site location; the car was right at the airport. Somehow it’s mellower when you get the paperwork done in the terminal. “You got a very good rate on this,” the clerk said. The hits just kept coming.

We ran right home to Gerry’s place for my first official Irish fry-up. Gerry gets his white and black pudding from a butcher who has his own recipe; the sausages were from a grocery chain called Superquinn. (And when you say “Superquinn” around any of Gerry’s family, you immediately get this rejoinder: “Best sausages in Ireland!” I’m a brand-loyal shopper myself, so I can relate.)

There wasn’t much on the agenda for this day, and that’s a good thing. I’ve never thought I slept particularly well on that Atlantic flight, but there is a big difference between uncomfortable, crick-in-the-neck plane sleep (which is, after all, some sleep) and a screaming baby in your aisle (which is, not to put too fine a point on it, no sleep). I was already exhausted. Normally I get a second wind after my first Irish breakfast … but I couldn’t even locate a second breeze.

So we piddled around. Gerry had gotten me a new camera, and he taught me how to use it. (A little Canon EOS-M—I love it!) Then we went out looking for a few grocery items I wanted to pick up. On my last trip to Ireland, I’d purchased a jar of Sarah’s Wonderful Honey at a farm shop—and loved it. Wanted more. We found three varieties at Tesco. We ran over to Superquinn (“best sausages in Ireland”) to have a look, just in case. Then we went to our hotel.

Hotels are not inexpensive in Ireland (you’ll get a better rate at a B&B), but Americans will find the bathrooms (rooms in general) a bit more spacious in a hotel. Elevators are a nice touch too. And if you’re willing to pay in full in advance, you can find very good rates indeed. I did this and was not disappointed. This trip was to be primarily a Dublin tour, with places to be visited both inside the city centre and a little further out—so I split the time between a city centre hotel and one near Gerry’s place.

That was the airport Bewley’s. It’s a weird parking situation, because they’re in the park-and-fly business too. So the lot (the carpark!) is always active; lots of business travelers. (There’s three places to park—outside, or in the basement, floor A or floor B. You should opt for floor B: fewer cars.) In fact, the lobby is always active too. It’s a busy hotel, and the desk staff tends to be a little terse. It’s not a touchy-feely friendly place, but it’s quiet upstairs, and comfortable enough. (Be sure you take the airport shuttle at least once, as you’ll get a little country tour on the way … a sight you might not otherwise see.)

After we got settled, we went for an early dinner at a place just up the coastal road in Clontarf. As in any large city, there are neighborhoods that were once villages in their own right, and that’s the case here. Clontarf used to be an isolated, sleepy little fishing village right on the sea just north of Dublin Port. It’s grown to be a nice, upscale Dublin suburb but it is still quiet and has that village atmosphere.

Margaret and I had looked in at the Sandbar Trattoria last September when we were here, and everything looked fresh and good. The restaurant sits right at the intersection of the Clontarf Road and Vernon Avenue, in the heart of the village.

The Sandbar Trattoria, Clontarf Village, Ireland

The Sandbar Trattoria, Clontarf Village, Ireland

Gerry had pizza. It was lovely. I ordered a calzone that could have fed both of us.

Gerry had pizza. It was lovely. I ordered a calzone that could have fed both of us.

After dinner we walked a couple doors down to have a look at the church, which is St. John the Baptist’s Catholic church. In his wonderful blog, my friend Patrick Comerford offers this bit of history on the church—

The church dates to the appointment of the Revd James Callanan as Parish Priest of Clontarf in 1829. He bought a house that is now home the Holy Faith Convent, and approached Colonel Vernon of Clontarf Castle for a site for a new church. Archbishop Murray laid foundation stone on 16 June 1835, and it opened in 1838. The church was designed by the prominent Dublin architect, Patrick Byrne. The church was enlarged in 1895, with the addition of 17 ft at the chancel end, a new high altar, pulpit, altar rails, sacristy, bell and belfry.

—and a nice photo taken when the gates were open. (They were not when we were there.)

St. John’s Church, Clontarf

St. John’s Church, Clontarf

I’m thinking that must be John on the left of the photo, but who is the other fellow? I don’t know. St. John’s Church, Clontarf

I’m thinking that must be John on the left of the photo (looking a bit like a Georgian street person), but who is the other fellow? I don’t know. St. John’s Church, Clontarf

Then we walked across the street … to the sea.

St. John’s Church, Clontarf, from across the street. It’s lovely, really.

St. John’s Church, Clontarf, from across the street. It’s lovely, really.

There’s a beautiful walk along the beach: paved, well-lit, and scenic.

Looking east along the beach at Clontarf.

Looking east along the beach at Clontarf.

And then I recognized a landmark that Gerry had told me about long ago: the Poolbeg Chimneys, Dubliners call them. They are part of the ESB’s Poolbeg Generating Station at Ringsend, on the south bank of Dublin Port. The thermal station chimneys—number 1 is 680 feet 9 inches tall, number 2 is 681 feet 9 inches—are some of the tallest structures in Ireland, and you can see them from all over Dublin city. There’s been a power station on this spot since 1903, but construction for the Poolbeg station began in the 1960s. Tower number 1 was completed in 1971, number 2 in 1978.

A new, more efficient station was built on the site in the 1990s, so the towers are no longer used or maintained; the ESB wants to tear them down. But for folks born in the last fifty or so years, they are a powerful symbol of home. (Look here if you want to see more.) So … they remain, for now. And there they were, right there!

The Poolbeg Chimneys. Number 1 is on the far right. (Remember, you can click on the image—and click again—to zoom in.)

The Poolbeg Chimneys. Number 1 is on the far right. (Remember, you can click on the image—and click again—to zoom in.)

After that I was pretty much done. I’d been up more than twenty-four hours. So we went back to the hotel and crashed.

Really Old Church Day (Part 1)

Day 11 / Friday, 21 September 2012

The innkeeper at the Fanad House has a little dog; sometimes she got out of his quarters and came into the dining room, trying to be friendly with everyone. He’d come and get her, shoo her back into the kitchen. This sort of casual attitude might shock some Americans (not me; I grew up sharing the house with cats and dogs); but the Irish love their dogs, and we encountered them everywhere we went. It turns out the pup was only a year old; she was a rescue dog. So good on ya, Pat Wallace, friend to man and beast.

After a full Irish breakfast, we loaded up the car and set out on the road. There are several artists and craftsfolk with studios in the Kilkenny area, and two I like to visit are Nicholas Mosse Pottery and Jerpoint Glass. There was only time for one on this trip, so we dropped by Jerpoint Glass in Stoneyford, where we watched glass being blown and did a little shopping. I say a little shopping because the trunk was very full with luggage already; there wouldn’t be a lot of room for too many purchases.

It took about 10 minutes for this young man to put this pitcher together.

Here he’s starting a new one!

Here he’s starting a new one!

On our way out of town, we indulged in what would become a welcome habit on our trip: we stopped for a midmorning coffee break because Alli has a little coffee jones. I loved this “tradition” we developed of stopping for “Alli’s coffee.”

Coffee break! Knockdrinna Farm Shop & Artisan Café in Stoneyford, Co. Kilkenny. (Margaret’s photo.) Don’t forget you can click on the photo, then click again to zoom in.

The Knockdrinna Farm Shop & Artisan Café in Stoneyford was the perfect place for coffee. Too bad we’d recently had breakfast—everything looked luscious. These small “farm shops” are my favorite place to purchase produce, cheeses, preserves, and so forth. (I still swoon just thinking of the cheeses and honey Gerry and I bought at the farm shop just outside the Aillwee Cave in Co. Clare in 2003.) I am always tempted by honey, though, and indulged in a jar of Sarah’s Joyful Honey (with orange). I love a little honey on toast.

We’d barely left town before we were stopping again, this time at a little church in Rivergrove we’d passed on the way in. My passengers had been fairly quiet but I finally convinced them to just say stop if there was something they wanted to photograph; I’m very good at pulling over quickly. And they did learn to shout it with glee. 🙂

This is the angle at which we’d seen it on the way in, just off the R713. Note the little brook. I think this church is about all that’s left of Rivergrove.

Here it is coming back. Isn’t it just lovely?

I’ve googled like crazy, but can find no information about this small church in this small town. Your guess is as good as mine. (Although you can get an excellent look at it using street view on Google Maps.) We pulled up in the driveway; the gate was closed. So all four of us, cameras in hand, walked up and down the rock wall, taking photos. Some of us took photos of the rock wall.

I am utterly fascinated by these tiny ferns, which I’ve just learned are called maidenhair spleenwort (asplenium trichomanes). They’re so perky and resilient.

Seriously—can’t resist ’em. And they’re growing on every stone edifice in Ireland.

Margaret noticed the iron rings spaced along the wall, no doubt for tying up horses back in the day. (Margaret’s photo, of course.)

Everyone was making do outside the stone wall (Jill climbed over); the gate was closed. That is, until I walked up and tried it. Yes, it swung right open. 🙂 This yielded a few more interesting photos, at least for me, since it was unlikely I’d be climbing any fences.

Isn’t that ivy, with its autumn colors, just gorgeous?

Of course, you know how I feel about those watermelon-red doors—perfect!

The graveyard was pretty too.

I’m fascinated by headstone art, and the little organisms that grow on it.

What a lovely day it was! (Margaret’s photo.)

Another look at the brook before we go. If only I’d been a little taller.

Finally we got back in the car and headed toward Cashel, our next planned stop. Stoneyford’s a bit off the beaten path, so the first leg of our trip, cross-country to the N76, was, I should say, exciting. If we’d been using the paper map we might have gone a little out of our way to use main roads, but Emily (yes, we called the GPS Emily) took us on the straightest route—which was also on the tiniest little country lanes, sometimes just wide enough for one car. It was quite an adventure. And occasionally scary.

It was a beautiful day for a drive, though. (Margaret’s photo.)

We were only on the N76 for a couple kilometers, however, before we exited to the R692, which took us all the way to Cashel. But first we passed through Fethard (pronounce this FED-erd).

Fethard was pretty quiet for a Friday around lunch time. (Margaret took this one.)

There is a fine old church in Fethard, on the site of what was once an Augustinian Abbey that was founded in 1305. Part of the original wall still exists.

This is the fourteenth-century wall. Note the very old gravestones leaning against it.

Those gravestones are really old. And beautiful.

A wider view of the property in the medieval town of Fethard.

The link above tells a year-by-year history of the church. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, the abbey began to fall into ruins. It was reopened in 1823; the façade you see here dates from about 1835. This site offers some interesting photos of the inside.

This little gate allows access to the tiny graveyard. It was open too. 🙂

This post has gotten long, both in words and photos, so I’ll stop here for now. But stick around—there’s one more old church to visit on this day, and another very exciting drive!

This Morning’s Impression

Even in the smallest places—Stoneyford has a population of 487; Rivergrove is only a spot on the map with no census figures to be had; Fethard’s population is just 1,541—there is a beautiful old church, treasured and preserved by the local populace. History is important.