Ireland Beckons 4: Lucinda O'Sullivan Says.....
I invited Lucinda O’Sullivan to be a visiting editor and post a message on our blog page.
There is always a bit of apprehension when meeting up with someone you haven’t seen for quite a long time, never mind taking them on a week’s tour of the REAL hidden Ireland, but that was blown away in the first five minutes of screeching and jumping up and down as Ethne and I immediately recalled our childhood memories in the hallowed surroundings of Dublin’s poshest Hotel – the Merrion. Photos - a flash of self-consciousness - we have just met again -memories of all those we knew and loved, laughter and tears. Our paths may not have crossed for a while because we were on different sides of the pond and had young families – all boys - but our other similarities have come out – we both write – we both love food, travel, interiors, gardens…. and writing….
Lucinda O'Sullivan and her family, Ian, Aidan, and husband, Brendan.
I started out my career in the Tourism business working in Ireland House in London and in a roundabout way I have come back to it. For the past number of years I have been Food, Travel and Restaurant Critic with Ireland’s biggest circulation newspaper, The Sunday Independent, which makes me every Irish Chef’s nightmare! In fact I am the longest standing critic with any Irish newspaper and I have been the only critic to travel the country widely and anonymously, thus receiving the same treatment as any other traveller. What does that say about me – some might say she is tough as old boot – but no, not really. I am soft as Irish butter and have built my reputation on being scrupulously honest in my weekly reviews. However, I want to see standards continue to rise in the food and tourism sector in Ireland and will not brook lack lustre efforts and rip off establishments.
Things have changed greatly in Ireland since I started out with my pen and paper. Ireland is now wealthy and it is hot and hip. We travel all over the world bringing back new and exciting ideas. There is an obsession with cutting edge design, fashion, interiors, and food. Having come through the “Modern Irish” food syndrome with those sky high layers of tasteless ingredients on a plate at horrendous prices, hopefully, we are mellowing into a more knowledgeable return to simplicity with fine local produce, well cooked, with precision and exquisite trimmings. We have superb fish and shellfish in Ireland, magnificent lamb romping our meadows, beautiful well padded cattle on lush grazing, gorgeous white pigs honking with delight as they are now fed on grain rather than the auld scraps of yesterday. Our cheeses are second to none. We have Slow Food, Organic Food and Local Produce galore being proclaimed all the time, although it is hard to know what is really on your plate! I sat in the café of a well-known Country House where everything is supposed to be grown on site, as the big white van of a Fruit and Vegetable distributors arrived with the lettuces and vegetables and headed straight in with the regular order! However, with the Celtic Tiger and influx here now of so many different nationalities we also have some really good ethnic restaurants with really great Indian food at places like 'Rasam' in Glasthule – along the south coast of Dublin and at 'Jaipur' in Dalkey – a lovely village unknown to tourists but where the rock stars like U2 live. Charles de Gaulle famously said of France – “how could you rule a country with so many different cheeses” – and shortly the same will be said of Ireland.
In my role as Critic with the Sunday Independent, I was constantly receiving emails and letters from people saying – “we want to go away for a weekend – where will we go that is not a faceless 4 Star Hotel”. “You wrote about a place 6 months ago but I can’t remember where it was - Why don’t you write a book?” Well that was that. The first edition of “Lucinda O’Sullivan’s Little Black Book of Great Places to Stay” came about in 2004 and was a sell out success – hence the 2nd Edition.
I had probably slept in every bad bed in Ireland, had thimblefuls of watery orange juice and greasy rashers of bacon. I suppose you could say I was ideally qualified. So, I set about doing a book which would cut across all the marketing organisations and categories covering Country Houses, Castles, Special Hotels, Spas, Inns, and places that had something different to offer with enthusiastic and welcoming hosts. What is also different about my book is that it is not just a travel guide in guide speak – it is written in the style of my weekly reviews recounting my experiences at different houses. It is not sponsored by any organisation so I do not have to include certain places because they stock a particular brand of whisky and so on. Also, it is all in colour – because I like to see where I am going and not just a dreary black and white exterior and possibly a bedroom. There are over 500 colour photos– some quirky – showing the Real Hidden Ireland – as it is now in 2006. The book is now available in the U.S. through Irish Books & Media retailing at $18.99.
One could be forgiven for thinking there was only one Country House in Ireland because this one particular establishment is all that seems to be covered by visiting journalists, and boy do they miss so much. They fail to find the real gems; they just fall into the same old tourist traps. I would send them to places like 'An Bohreen' overlooking Dungarvan Bay and run by Jim and Ann Mulligan who have returned to Ireland after a lifetime in the U.S. Jim went out with his mother and younger siblings and fought in Korea thus attaining citizenship. Ann is an amazing cook and both are wonderful hosts.
Go to Cobh and visit the Gaudiesque Cathedral standing like an sugar frosted confection in the little town on Cork harbour which was the departure point of all the emigrants who left Ireland – and the last departure point of the Titanic. Stay in the John and Pam Mulhaire’s glorious 'Knockeven House' - it is just beautiful and so reasonably priced. Meet the delightfully effervescent Olive O’Gorman and her serene farmer husband at 'Glasha Farmhouse' in the Nire Valley with a sweet little really olde world pub a hundred meters down the lane. I guarantee you will never have seen anything like it. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the serenely beautiful Foxmount Country House on the edge of Waterford City - home to Margaret and David Kent – the house, gardens and farm are perfection – soft blushing roses on windowsills convey Margaret’s style and personality. These are just a few people and places in my book.
But the really good thing about Ireland is the friendliness and, no matter where you are, you are not far from the sea. You will have read of the wonderful places I took Ethne and Amy to…and we really do love welcoming our American friends to the Emerald Isle there is such a tie between our two countries. Do come and visit us….