The Irish in America


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DAY 30: Jimmy and Helen

Helen and Jimmy McCormack

Helen and Jimmy McCormack

Can’t believe the month is already over. And here I sit with a list a mile long of things I love about Ireland! What to pick for my last favorite thing…

The entire Irish branch of the McCormack family tree is the best, and their warmth, humor, and hospitality make our visits to Ireland fantastic. But Jimmy and Helen are the ones who are usually stuck with the Yanks when we visit. They live on the farm in Ballyedmond, County Laois where my great-grandfather was born, so I suppose it is the natural place for us to end up.

I could go on forever about Helen’s magnificent cooking and entertaining panache or Jimmy’s GSOH (Good Sense Of Humor for those of you who don’t read the personal ads in the Farmer’s Journal on Thursdays) but what makes them so special is their generosity. Whenever we visit, they invite us into their lives and make us feel welcome.

A couple of years ago, Jimmy and Helen even came to our rescue. There was a problem with the self-catering accommodation my mom, dad, sister, and I had booked for our two weeks in Ireland. (We will save that story for another time, this is about my favorite things in Ireland, after all.) Jimmy and Helen found us a place to stay…

Lisheen Castle, Ballingarry, County Tipperary

Lisheen Castle, County Tipperary

Yes, we actually stayed in this castle. Our vacation went from disappointing to a fairytale in less than a day, thanks to Jimmy and Helen. It was a memorable couple of weeks.

An afternoon at Birr Castle

An afternoon at Birr Castle

But even more memorable than a castle are the evenings spent at the farm in Ballyedmond, after a day of site-seeing and a glorious dinner by Helen, relaxing while Jenny or Sarah do their homework, deciding whether we will go to the pub. That is a tough decision, sometimes it even requires a vote by secret ballot. The pub usually wins.

I am so fortunate to have family in Ireland like Jimmy and Helen, and all the McCormacks. Luckier still that they are my friends. Now, if I could only get them to come visit us in the States!

Thanks for following my month of Irish favorites…hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have!

Photos by Regan McCormack

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DAY 29: Michael Quirke

It’s been too many years since I’ve made it up to Sligo for a visit with my favorite butcher-turned-woodcarver, Michael Quirke. I have a couple of Michael Quirke’s gorgeous sculptures at home, so I am reminded of him so daily but I miss seeing him in his workshop and listening to him talk. When Michael Quirke describes his pieces and sets them within the mythology of Ireland, it is pure magic. I am transported to my childhood, when I considered folk tales to be true stories. The days before I got so “smart” and realized no one lived for thousands of years and no one could ever turn me into a swan.

MichaelQuirke_sculpturesRegan and I each have a couple Quirke creations. Pictured on the right are Amhairghin (mine) and Queen Maeve (Regan’s). I love it when you walk in to the shop, inevitably just as someone else walks out, and Mr. Quirke looks up and welcomes you. He might look a bit tired, but one comment on a sculpture in the window is all it takes. He was just catching his breath. With a twinkle in his eye, he launches into a wonderful story. And when you decide on a purchase, you get to hear the story all over again – always with a new details and instructions for care – when he pulls out a piece of paper and a pencil and writes it all down for you.

Regan and I visited Mr. Quirke for the first time in 1995 on instructions from our Aunt Eeny to buy a sculpture for her to add to her collection. She had visited him several years earlier. I don’t remember at the moment which one we picked out for Eeny, but Mr. Quirke told us the story, then told us again as he wrote it out, wrapped the treasure in brown paper, and tied it with twine.

Then he asked us for our favorite animals, scrounged up a couple of scraps of wood, and carved the images of our favorites on one side, with our name on the reverse. Of course, more stories about our animals followed. I treasure this little square as much as the larger-scale sculptures. Visiting Sligo is a priority for my next visit to Ireland, and I can’t wait to take the journey through Irish folklore with Michael Quirke.

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DAY 27: I LOVE MAYO

I saw this beautiful print on a website a couple of years ago and fell in love with I Love Mayo – the company owned by talented artist Jane Steger-Lewis. Jane is based in the west of Ireland, on County Mayo’s Achill Island.

irelandmapImage from www.ILoveMayo.com – click to visit the website!

I sent out I Love Mayo Christmas cards in 2011. I have never received more compliments on a Christmas card. Click here to see the whimsical and very special cards. I am a huge fan of her “Irish Blessing” series of prints – they are a beautiful and super versatile for gift-giving. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, retirements…you name it. Click here to see the full selection prints. Someday I hope to own a Jane Steger-Lewis original painting…I have my eye on BeakyDozy, or LaToya! I’m not posting pictures of these items here on purpose – I want you to go straight to Jane’s website and see all of her gorgeous work.

Jane is as delightful as her artwork. She is truly a pleasure to do business with. I think everyone should have a little piece of Ireland in their home, and ILoveMayo.com makes this possible. Thanks, Jane, for making my world a bit brighter!


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DAY 25: Ardmore Pottery & Gallery

View from Ardmore Pottery

View from Ardmore Pottery

I love Ardmore Pottery & Gallery. It’s a pottery studio and stylish craft shop rolled into one. From www.ArdmorePottery.com:

Mary Lincoln established Ardmore Pottery and Gallery in 1983 out of her home in Ardmore, Co. Waterford. The premises, having expanded over the years, has maintained its original location. Ardmore Pottery and Gallery is proud to have sustained its founding ethos: to house under one roof the best of Irish craftwork alongside a working pottery studio.

ardmorepotteryThe pottery is gorgeous. Regan and I picked up a sweet milk jug for our mom last September when we visited, and I bought an adorable cream and sugar set – one polka dots, the other stripes – for Regan’s birthday. Someday I am going to get an entire set of Ardmore pottery dishes.

Ardmore Pottery has a great selection of unique Irish crafts. This is the kind of shop where you feel like each item was hand-picked just for you, which means I usually want one of everything!

Regan snapped the photo on the right of some of her favorite Ardmore Pottery items. Her photo-styling skills may need a little work, but she has good taste. The leather bag is beautiful!

Next time you are in Ireland’s “Sunny Southeast” be sure to visit lovely Ardmore and the exquisite Ardmore Pottery & Gallery!

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DAY 21: Mini Rolls

89590-Cadbury-Mini-RollsI love Cadbury Mini Rolls. Hands down, Mini Rolls are the best packaged snack cake in Ireland. American readers might think a Mini Roll looks just like a Hostess HoHo. They may look similar, but there is really no comparison in taste. These are Cadbury, after all! Delicious!

So, next time you visit Ireland and are stocking up on groceries for your self-catering holiday, don’t forget to pick up some Cadbury Mini Rolls. You will not be disappointed!


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DAY 20: The Black Velvet Band

Album: When Justice Came by The Black Velvet Band.

The minute Regan came home from college at Christmas with this cassette tape (it was the late Eighties, after all) I fell in love with it. Regan saw The Black Velvet Band when they opened for 10.000 Maniacs. Those were the days of great music…

Hope you enjoy this song. It is definitely on my all-time Irish favorites list.


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DAY 11: Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

When we fly into Shannon Airport, we usually arrive in Ireland around 9am. Although you have travelled for nine hours and all you really want to do is take a nap, it is 9am and a brand-new day in Ireland.

My favorite warning sign, posted at the Cliffs

My favorite warning sign, posted at the Cliffs

No one wants to waste a minute of time on a trip, so we hit the ground running. A natural first stop from Shannon are the Cliffs of Moher. The fresh Irish air hits you hard as you walk along the path and view the Cliffs. It is really the best thing. I feel like the grime of air travel is swept from my skin and hair, away out to sea. I always feel refreshed and ready for the trip to begin.

Until you get back to the car and realize what you are actually ready for is an early dinner (preferably at Monk’s in Ballyvaughan) and a comfortable bed.

The Cliffs of Moher have become my favorite “first-day-in-Ireland-when-arriving-at-Shannon” activity. Not to be missed.

 

Photos by Regan McCormack


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DAY 7: The Old Parochial House

OPH

Old Parochial House

I love the Old Parochial House in Ballingarry, County Tipperary. The OPH (as the Old Parochial House became known to my family during our stay in September 2009) is in my top two of self-catering stays in Ireland. The OPH offered the total package: beautifully restored 19th century house, huge bedrooms and bathrooms, comfortable rooms to relax and entertain, plenty of room to spread out, spacious, gourmet kitchen, and more!

Party at OPH

Party at OPH

We even did some entertaining during our stay. Click here to read my story about the party we threw for our Irish relatives, which to my surprise was a success.

The house is quite large, with gorgeous high ceilings and big windows, yet it retains an extremely warm and cozy feel. My family had a delightful time, and we speak often of returning to the OPH.

I mentioned that the OPH is in my top two self-catering properties in Ireland. You will need to stay tuned for the other one!

If you decide to book a stay at the OPH, make sure you tell Aileen and Donal that Aine sent you!

McCormack Family

McCormack Family

Photos by Regan McCormack


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DAY 4: Bogs

My knowledge of bogs is very limited, but that hasn’t stopped me from being fascinated with bogs and the things that come out of them. Especially bog bodies. Creepy to some, but I think the ancient, deeply tanned body parts discovered by farmers and turf-cutters – just going about their business – are just the coolest. Bog bodies are the main reason bogs are one of my favorite things about Ireland.

Bogs are everywhere in Ireland, covering one-sixth of the island. When I am in Ireland I often hear people talking about the bog. I know people aren’t regularly coming across bog bodies like these, but I wonder what it would be like to know that at any time you might uncover an ancient body. There are many reasons why I would make a poor turf-cutter, chief of which is that I would never get around to cutting any turf. I would think every twig could be a leathery finger or toe, and each plant root a strand of hair connected to a severed, flattened head.  

Bogs are mysterious and spooky. In 2011, we were visiting family in County Laois and the quickest way back to where we were staying was to take the bog road. There was a lot of talk that week about whether to send the Americans back to their self-catering via the bog road. There was also something about the Green Man on the bog road. It all was a bit complicated – you had to turn off your car and your lights, get out and lay on the road (or something) for a chance to see the Green Man. The road was straight, but extremely narrow and it was super dark and foggy at night. With bog on either side of the road, there was little room for driving error. You might end up as a bog body of the future.

Of course, it isn’t only bodies that they find in bogs…they also find ancient artifacts like bowls, jewelry, tools, and even butter!

 


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DAY 3: Simply Irish Knitwear

All that talk about Youghal yesterday reminded me of one of my favorite shops in Ireland, Simply Irish Knitwear. Located just about ten minutes from Youghal off the N25 Cork-Rosslare road (follow the signs) this delightful shop and studio is my pick for day three of things I love about Ireland.

Cardigan in natural with crochet trim - www.simplyirish.ie

Cute cardigan with crochet trim – http://www.simplyirish.ie

There is a lot of knitwear in Ireland, but Ros Ledingham really knows how to design and create stylish and classy pieces. She’s been at it since 1982. The women’s range of cardigans, sweaters, jackets, suits, and accessories is available in an array of delicious colors. I am especially fond of her cardigans, such as the style pictured above. 

My sister, Regan, purchased a cozy fuchsia scarf at Simply Irish Knitwear last September, and I don’t think a day went by this winter that she wasn’t wearing it! Super soft knit and a beautiful color. Can’t believe I don’t have a picture of Regan wearing it since she really did have it on every day!

In addition to the fabulous knitwear, the shop stocks a hand-picked assortment of crafts by other local artisans. This is great for those of us looking for unique, quality, “Made in Ireland” gifts to bring home for friends and family.

Next time you are in East Cork, be sure to stop in at Simply Irish Knitwear…you won’t be disappointed!