Story and photos by Bo Zaunders
in Southeast Ireland
Some sixty feet below us stretched the Irish Sea, with distant waves sweeping with barely audible sounds onto the shore. Apart from the twitter of birds, nothing else could be heard.
Quite a difference from New York City from where we had just come.
My wife Roxie and I were following a narrow grassy path known as the Cliff Walk, next to Clifford House, our new home away from home, in Rosslare Harbour in the southeastern corner of Ireland.
Originally a Victorian summerhouse and, since the 1950s, open as a guest accommodation, the Clifford House calls itself a luxury B&B which, although it may sound like a contradiction in terms, proved an appropriate representation.
Inside and out, there was an abundance of flowers, greenery, paintings, small sculptures and, of all things, broken pottery pieces from the cargo of a ship wrecked in a gale in the 1850s (incidentally, the paneling of that ship, indicating first, second class and steerage, now lines the walls of the narrow corridor that led to our room).
It was time for yet another walk, now in search of a place to have dinner. We found Kilrane Inn & Pub, an establishment claiming to be the first (upon arriving by ferry from a distant port to Rosslare Harbour) and the last pub (on the way to travel to farther shores) in Ireland.
As Roxie decided to try a chicken mushroom tagliatelle, I settled for a Beef & Guinness casserole.
“How much Guinness goes into it?” I asked the waiter. “Two pints,” he said, surprising me not a little. Then I saw the twinkle in his eye and the smile on his face and decided that he may be exaggerating.
Maybe so, but the casserole turned out to be rich and succulent, rather like an Irish take on Boeuf Bourguignonne.
Speaking of food, right after we checked in at Clifford House, our hostess Margaret made sure that our every wish as to what constitutes a perfect breakfast would be met. How many sausages, how to make the eggs - or maybe oatmeal, served with orange marmalade, strawberries and black currant? All to insure a satisfactory beginning of each and every one of the six days we were there.
Our walks in the immediate neighborhood included visits to the harbor, where sometimes as many as three giant ferries may be loading and a multitude of trucks waiting to board. Walks also included a stroll through Memorial Park and Kirwan’s Garden, which showcased a maze of swirling paths through thick sensory plantings, interrupted by surprising and whimsical outdoor sculptures.
One day we took the 20-minute train ride north to the historic town of Wexford. Founded by the Vikings in about 800 AD, its history goes way back, and can still be felt in its medieval lanes and in a restored 13th century tollgate and a ruined abbey.
Which brings to mind the nearby Irish National Heritage Park, an open-air museum with a series of reconstructed human settlements beginning with one from the Mesolithic period from between 10,000 and 8,000 BC, and ending with a settlement following the Norman invasion in 1169 AD. A 9,000-year journey in other words.
Our visit to Wexford had a rather bizarre ending as we found ourselves at Rob’s Ranch House, a Western cowboy style restaurant, lavishly decorated by the sort of things you would expect to see in the heart of Texas. Roxie picked a pizza, surprisingly served with fried potatoes.
As for nearby restaurants in Rosslare Harbour, we found one at the Dock Boutique Hotel to which we returned at least three times. We even got to know Clare, one of the bartenders, and met with Wayne Strong, the chef, who once brought us a most satisfying Salmon Darne, served on a bed of stir-fried vegetables.
From Rosslare Harbour we took a bus to Waterford, from where we continued to Kilkenny, a town described as a gem in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East - as well as one of its most cosmopolitan places.
Sure enough, it brimmed with medieval treasures, narrow alleyways, and gaily painted storefronts.
With its deep religious roots, it has many well-preserved churches and monasteries. Then there’s the grand Kilkenny Castle, built in 1195 by Norman occupiers. Walking all the way to the castle, we relaxed for while in its peaceful, expansive green garden.
I also visited the Rothe House & Garden, high on the list of things to do in what is sometimes nicknamed the marble city. The Rothe House is a 16th century merchant townhouse complex, made up of three houses, enclosed courtyards, and a large reconstructed orchard garden. I wound my way through it all, feeling hundreds of years back in time.
Through the middle of Kilkenny flows the River Nore, one of the principal rivers in the southeast region if Ireland. I recall crossing a couple of its four or five bridges, and how beautiful it all turned as dusk fell.
We spent the night I Kilkenny, and on the following morning we found Kilford Arms, the place for a perfect breakfast.
In came bowls of scrambled eggs, sitting on plates next to slices of smoked salmon and with a sprinkling of capers and finely cut red onion, and served with the kind of brown bread that only the Irish know how to bake. Quite delicious.
Thinking back on our Irish adventure, the last day of which was spent in Dublin, I keep remembering my chat with Michael, the husband and partner of our hostess Margaret. I had been watching the news on TV in one of the sitting rooms of Clifford House when he joined me. Minutes earlier I had seen him sawing wood and trimming one of the big trees outside. In true Irish spirit he was now ready to discuss poetry, specifically the works of W. B. Yeats.
Our attention then went to the giant TV, which he handled rather like a magician, turning on and off any number of games I never even knew existed, and finding a sort of virtual reality available on this high-tech instrument.
“Where do you live in New York?” he asked. I gave him the address and suddenly found myself walking up the avenue in the direction of our street.
“Aha, there it is,” I said, pointing at our apartment building.
So there I was, just virtual steps away from home. Then, glancing at the window to my right, I could see of the shimmering Irish Sea.
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