August 2011

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Lamb’s liver for idjits

The lamb's liver at Farmgate Cafe in the English Market, Cork

Lunch at the English Market is upstairs at the Farmgate Café. Just walking through it to get to our table in the back makes me hungry, staring at the plates of Shepherd’s Pie and rock oysters and the savory tarts.

The café owner, Kay, comes over to tell us what she’s preparing for us today: lamb’s liver and bacon, Irish lamb stew, and tripe and drisheen.

Drisheen? What’s that, I ask her.

It’s lovely, says Kay. A kind of black pudding made from sheeps blood.

Well I’ll have it, I say. I’m sure it’s grand.

The wine comes and Mr. O’Connor and I settle down to a discussion of Irish slang. You know, he says to me in a whisper, that when someone in Ireland says something is grand, they mean the opposite.


Mr. O’Connor nods. For instance, he says. Say you’ve invited someone to join you for lunch and at the last minute they call your mobile to cancel. Well, you’d say, Don’t worry about it. It’s grand, it’s grand. Which means you’re pissed.

What else, I ask him.

Well, my favorite is idjit, says he. It’s a soft way of saying someone is an asshole. For instance, you might say of someone who called a Traveler a Tinker or a gypsy that they were just an idjit.

Here we go again, I think. We’re back on the Irish gypsies. Well, I say, I’m sure I read in the Irish Times only yesterday a story about a family of Tinkers whose son was hit by a car.

Not in the Times you didn’t, says he.

I’m sure I did.

You didn’t.

And that’s the last word as far as she’s concerned. Until Kay comes back to the table with the most lovely lamb’s liver and another of the tripe and drisheen, both for me. Tell you what, I say as she places the dishes on the table, why don’t we just share these. Mr. O’Connor? Offer him up the lovely lamb’s liver with bacon.

Not for me, then, he says. Ah, I say, taking back the plate, I guess it’s just for meself then. And so it is.

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The English Market in Cork

The English Market in Cork. Photos by David Lansing.

Mr. O’Connor has invited Mr. Lynch and me to join him and a few others for lunch at the English Market in Cork. Shall we say about one? Fine, fine, says Mr. Lynch. How do we find it? Not a problem, says Mr. O’Connor. It’s not such a big town. Just ask about when you get there.

But setting down our car is a problem. There is no parking in Cork. None that we can see. We cross back and forth over the River Lee, get stuck in god’s own traffic jam along St. Patrick’s Street, Mr. Lynch cursing as motorcyclists zoom dangerously around our blind side and lorries honk their horn at our slow pace. Just look for a goddamn parking sign, Mr. Lynch shouts, or we’re going to end up going in circles all afternoon long.

There’s one! I tell him, pointing at a round blue sign with a P just before another bridge going over the river. Mr. Lynch lurches to the left, illegally, more horns blaring, pedestrians staring at us, and we follow several more signs until we end up in some lot several stories high on the edge of a shopping mall. Thank god, says Mr. Lynch, the engine off, sweating, breathing heavily, hands still on the wheel of the car.

No map. No idea where we are or where the English Market might be. Out on the street Mr. Lynch accosts an old woman pushing a small shopping cart in front of her. I’m sorry to bother you but could you possibly tell us in what direction we should head to find the English Market. She takes his arm in her bony hand. Come with me, she says. Oh, no, says Mr. Lynch. That isn’t necessary. Maybe you could just point us in the proper direction.

Nonsense. You’d get lost in a moment. Better I should take you there. It’s no problem. Down the street, up an alley, down another, and suddenly there we are: Standing in front of the English Market.

Hot Irish sausages at the English Market. Photo by David Lansing.

Remarkable, says Mr. Lynch as our guide leaves us. Can you imagine anyone in New York doing that? Absolutely not, I say. They’d pretend they’d never even heard of it even if they’d lived next door to the place for twenty years. It’s true, it’s true, says Mr. Lynch.

We’re early. Not yet noon. So we have a bit of a walkabout in the market which is chock-a-block with the most gorgeous colleens I’ve seen anywhere in Ireland. One fair lass with strawberry hair and pale green eyes is grilling up fresh sausages. Reminds me that the only thing we’ve had to eat today are the several glasses of whiskey in Midleton. Can I buy you a sausage, I ask Mr. Lynch. Might ruin lunch, he says, waving me off. Well, I’m getting one, if you don’t mind. Not at all. Go ahead.

The colleen smiles at me as she uses her tongs to flip the roasting grilled meat. What kind would you like? says she. There’s white pudding and black pudding and breakfast sausages and…

Whichever you think is the best, I say.

She grabs a fat beefy boy grilled all brown and delicious and puts it on a stick, wraps it in butcher paper. Mustard with that? Yes, please. Tell me, I say. Do they intentionally hire all the prettiest girls in Ireland to work at the English Market? She laughs lightly without looking at me. One euro, please. I give her a coin. She hands over the hot sausage. I take a small bite of the steaming meat and still it burns my tongue. It’s lovely, isn’t it, she says, daubing at her milky skin with the back of her hand. It is, I tell her. Very lovely indeed.

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Jameson for breakfast

The old Jameson distillery in Midleton.

Should we have breakfast in town or at the distillery, asks Mr. Lynch as we check out of our hotel. Do they serve breakfast at the distillery? I ask. If your breakfast is a dram, he says. Then at the distillery, say I. I’ve had enough blood pudding for the while.

We’re the first to arrive at the Midleton Distillery. Front door still locked. Not another car in the gravel parking lot. Loiter about like profligates from the local reform school until the front door opens and a young woman looks at us and then the brooding sky and says we’d better come inside before it starts to rain.

Would you be wanting a guided tour then? Sheepishly Mr. Lynch suggests we don’t bother with the guide. I know how they make whisky, says he. Just thought we’d have a quick look at the old buildings and the water wheel and maybe a taste, if we might.

Sorry, says the young woman. For insurance and all you have to go on a proper tour with a proper guiode. So a tour it is. There are dates given out and ingredients lauded: barley, is it, that’s tricked into thinking it’s spring so it sprouts and produces sugar and the flour-y bits called grist and the wort and wash before it’s converted to alcohol (now we’re getting somewhere, murmurs Mr. Lynch) and there you have it. Would you like a taste?

The breakfast nook at the Midleton Distillery.

Would we not. From behind the bar comes a tray filled with glasses of whisky. Mr. Lynch looks around. Just for the three of us? No, of course not, says the young woman. I’m not drinking. It’s just for you.

Three glasses each. Seems we’re going to have a full Irish breakfast. First a whisky from Scotland, then an American bourbon, and lastly the Jameson. Good lord! What time is it then, asks Mr. Lynch. Quarter past ten, I tell him. Right-ee-oo, he says. Let’s call it brunch, he says sampling the first glass. The Scotch whisky is all smoky peety thick and the bourbon slightly sweet. The Jameson, says Mr. Lynch, seems the perfect breakfast whiskey. A little on the light side, it seems to me. Do you think so, asks Mr. Lynch. Perhaps I’d better try another dram.

The bartender refills his glass. He sips and smiles. I like it, he says. Did you know they also make Tullamore Dew and Powers here, says he. No! Do they? They do indeed. I wonder how they’d compare to the bourbon and Scottish whisky? Perhaps we should find out, says Mr. Lynch. Who’s driving this morning? I wonder. That’s right, says Mr. Lynch. I’ll just finish up this Jameson and then we’ll be off. Should I take care of your bourbon, I ask him. Absolutely, says Mr. Lynch. It would be rude to waste it. Bottoms up. Breakfast done, it’s time to move on.

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Don’t order coffee in Ireland

If you feel like a coffee in Ireland, I suggest you go to a pub and order a Guinness. Photo by David Lansing.

I am sorry to say that you cannot get decent coffee in Ireland. I’ve tried everything. The coffee served at my hotel in Dublin was so bad that on the third morning I went to the bar and ordered an espresso and then watched as the lovely young woman pulled a shot that tasted like that godawful chicory concoction they serve in the South.

The next morning I ordered breakfast then hurried down the street to a coffee bar and ordered a latte that must have been made with the leftover malted barley from Guinness. The Irish don’t seem to have heard of fresh roasted coffee beans. Or maybe they’re using Nescafe in their espresso machines. Hard to say.

This morning in the dining room of the Castlemartyr resort, I asked Emilie, my waitress, to tell me honestly if they knew how to make good coffee.

Oh we do, she said brightly. People say it’s the best in Ireland. French press, she boasted. Steeped for a full three minutes.

So I ordered it. It was hot. It was ebony. And it tasted like ashes.

So now I’m done ordering coffee in Ireland. Forever more. From now on, it’s tea for breakfast. Even though Irish tea is basically just a cup of Lipton’s. Better yet, from now on when I feel like a cup of coffee maybe I’ll just wander down to the local pub and get a Guinness. It’s just as dark and about the same temperature as a cup of Irish coffee.

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Castlemartyr and the Stones

The castle ruins at Castlemartyr resort. Photo by David Lansing.

Back the way we came, away from Cork and through Midleton (isn’t that where they make Jameson? Must check on that) to Castlemartyr, a village with a fish ‘n’ chips shop and a greengrocer and Barry’s Bar where a couple of the lads from the Rolling Stones stopped in for a pint or perhaps something a little stronger on their way to play a concert in Cork in 1965.

Of course, there’s also a castle here (I’m gobsmacked; my guide lists 63 castles in Ireland yet there’s not a word on Castlemartyr which would be odd news to the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly, known to the local peasantry as the Dogs of Blood because of their rather nasty disposition).

Not much of a castle, however. Smallish ruins in a grassy field on the edge of a links course. No one playing. And there’s four or five hours of light left in the summer sky. Pity.

Mr. Lynch pulls up in front of the 17th century country manor that is now a spa and resort (and our home for the next couple of nights) and before any of the over-dressed squires can rush out and commandeer our luggage, I’ve got everything in hand and am swatting them away like flies.

Just make a right at reception and go straight down the hall, says the chirpy young woman who checks me in. Down past some regal portraits (perhaps of Sir Walter Raleigh, a former owner, or the third Earl of Cork whose tomb they say is somewhere on the estate…near the castle ruins?).

Damn long walk. Take a breather half way to my room and take a photo of the hallway. Just in case someone comes out of their room and wonders why I’m sitting on a bench with my luggage. Eventually find my room. Feel like I’ve humped into the village itself to get here. Open the door and, crikey! It’s not a room it’s a palace. How many rooms? Three, four? Where do they all lead? Fresh strawberries on a plate and an invite to join the manager in the Knight’s Bar for cocktails. Just enough time to shower and clean up a bit. If I can find the bathroom.

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