I’ve recently dug out some old artifacts from my trips to Ireland. My husband and I have been to the Emerald Isle a handful of times since our original trip, our honeymoon 15 years ago. The first-married weeks we spent there — landing in the southern part of the island, driving our way through B&Bs and hotels in a tiny rental car followed by a stay in a serene cottage in Portsalon, Donegal — stand as some of the most vivid and delicious memories of my life. Other Irish trips have been with friends and family (including our oldest son, just a wee infant then, now a teenager) and each visit seems to direct us to some of the same highlights while also introducing us to new experiences.
I thought it might be fun to see if I could find any details on the wine that we drank while we were there. Of course we drank tons and tons of Guinness, but with dinners we chose many (now nameless, aside from the one image of a Montes that I found) bottles of wine. I happen to be a paper saver and I was happy to pull out this stack of invoices, travel books, pamphlets and other “reading material” (what I call the multitude of sheets and booklets I bring home from each trip). And though we had reams of receipts and invoices, I didn’t see anything that listed a wine by name…so it is memory that will serve us today.
We spent our first Thanksgiving as man-and-wife in Ireland, a country that doesn’t celebrate the holiday or serve much turkey in November. We’d booked into The Connemara Coast Hotel, a seaside delight near Galway. I’m going to indulge myself a bit here, because this spot happens to be one of my absolute favorite travel highlights. The Connemara Coast has outstanding service, that’s true, and it shares its backside with the Atlantic Ocean, irresistible… but I’m certain there is something else at play that draws me back so deeply when I remember the time my husband and I spent here.
Before I go on, I’m going to ask something of you. Open another browser tab and visit The Connemara Coast’s website. Turn your sound on. What you hear is the ocean, the sound of waves and gulls and life on the beach at the hotel.
This is where I disappear. I’m no longer a middle aged writer, mom of teenagers, lady with laundry. At the sound of these waves, my husband and I go way back…past wrinkles and SUVs, past joint taxes and baseball schedules, past wifi and twitter, past graduate school and publications. We are now face to face at a two-person table, ordering our first Thanksgiving wine from a waiter with a Gaeltacht accent. We must have paid cash for the meal (at that time, still the Irish punt) because on our invoice (yes, I have it) there is a room charge, about 20 IR£ in telephone charges and less than 5 IR£ for the bar. What we ate and drank and dinner isn’t included, but I do remember we didn’t have a turkey dinner and the phone charges were holiday calls to our siblings and parents. Later that night we took a dark walk near the beach but there was no light and we couldn’t see a thing. I remember thinking I was about to step in the water, it sounded to so close, but I had no idea how near the surf was to my feet.
Within a few days we were north of Galway, to our home-away-from home cottage on a cliff in the seaside village of Portsalon, Donegal. We had the same ocean soundtrack; we slept every night with the windows open so we could hear the waves. George Harrison died while we were there. We bought an Al Pacino VHS multi-pack which wouldn’t work on our player at home. We learned to use the term prawn instead of shrimp and torch instead of flashlight. We drove a stick-shift SUV (included in our cottage terms; also a perk: use of a pre-paid cell phone) to all the incredible sights: The Giants Causeway , Belfast, Dunluce Castle, Slieve League Cliffs. I got a cold and drank Volvic water and ate wine gum candies from the on-the-left passenger seat. We were the only people dining, one night, in a country restaurant. It was a weeknight in November, the sun had been down for hours, and I think they opened up just for us when I’d called ahead. We were the only tourists in small grocery shops, fisherman pubs, knickknack stores. We were off-season in a beach town. We walked with a flashlight down the coast road to visit the local pub where we had dinner several nights.
We ate a lot of sirloin with garlic butter, a side of fries and a bottle of red wine. This was before we’d been to France and I giggle now at the realization of our nascent craving for steak frites and rouge vin de table. Another night we went out late and sat fireside with a couple that had been married many years. They toasted our new marriage with a round of Guinness. Years later I saw that that pub was for sale.
I still recall (with painful vibrancy) the scent of the lotion I brought with me on that trip, the color of my manicure, the feel of the fold-out road map in my hands. The radio announced that Santa would soon be in his grotto in Letterkenny and advertisements advised husbands not to buy their wives dodgy Christmas pressies.
I’ve always kept up on Ireland, podcasting Morning Ireland from my desk, subscribing online to The Irish Times, taking Gaelic classes at The Irish American Heritage Center. We are South Side Irish, we’ll sing it out once more…we come from the Windy City and we’re Irish to the core. (If you know that song, please comment!) I own BallyK on DVD, the full set. As mentioned, we’ve been back to Ireland, with more kids on our roster and more Euro in our pocket. We were in Kenmare the night the US bombed Iraq in 2003, in a townhome with our siblings and our first born son. That night I dropped and shattered a pint glass in a pub while a live band covered The Water Boys.
And now I’m afraid I’ve tricked you all. I called this post The Wines of Ireland, but I’ve barely mentioned wine (aside from the blurry-in-more-ways-than-one Montes). No tasting notes, no winemakers, no recommendations. There aren’t many vineyards in Ireland, but you knew that. I’ve pulled you in to witness my travel memories, the earliest days with my husband. But I do have a treat for you. I kept a travel journal and reading it over, I understand that twice I ordered salmon with white wine (something I hadn’t recalled). A a treat to you I’ll share this entry from the journal:
County Donegal was SO wonderful. We got to Kerrykeel and stopped off for groceries. We went into a little bitty store and got about 20 dollars worth of basics. Then we went to the pub. We had Guinness and talked about Chicago with a bar patron called Desi. I also tried Guinness with blackberry. We had a great time and we even saw the town pest. He tried to get a drink but the bartender tossed him out. When we finished we headed for Portsalon and our cottage. It was perfect. The view is of a large bay with mountains and beaches outlining. I will never forget this place.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Jill at L’occasion. Thanks for following, reading and commenting. If you’ve been to Ireland, please share your stories here.