When Hali and I traveled Europe 30 years ago we didn’t make it to Ireland. Lack of time and invalid Eurail passes detoured us away from the “Full Irish” experience of the Emerald Isle.
Three months traveling on a students budget – staying at hostels, guest houses, pensiones, train stations – breakfast was almost always part of the overnight deal. But the deal was breakfast varied greatly… especially in the “fresh” department. Nourishment was typically a couple cups of coffee and a croissant or hard scone. If we were lucky, a bowl of corn flakes or Raisin Bran served with boxed milk. We’d supplement with plenty of ice cream back then.
While traveling, we’d hear stories from fellow travelers about the far superior Irish breakfast, AKA: The Full Irish. The thought of this legendary breakfast lingered and kept our desire to visit Ireland alive for so many years. Finally, I get to report and review on our three week trip around Ireland, the places we visited, and the morning ritual of the breakfast that kept us going each day.
Starting in Dublin at the Hazelwood House, we had a room the size and shape of a 4 man tent. We could stand at the entrance but the ceiling tapered downward just like a tent. The shared bathrooms were probably the worse we encountered the whole trip, but they were always available and provided with fresh towels. At 32€ a night, we had three nights stay for what most would pay for only one night in Dublin. The Hazelwoods’ saving grace was its peaceful common area. This was our retreat for “e-work”. Breakfast was served friendly and efficiently. Above average: an egg, two thick bacons, two sausages, white and black puddings(a palatable term for blood sausage), lots of toast, a stewed tomato, coffee, juice, cereal, milk. The tomato was surprisingly good and we would discover it’s a standard on the full Irish plate. A wee bit of vitamin C along side all that protein. Good place to experience the puddings; one white, tasted like liverwurst, the other black, tasted like a scab. 3 stars.
Pinecrest B&B was a pleasant two day stay with Helen and Liam. Just a short walk from town, our big en-suite room was an earned respite from our cozy campsite in Dublin. Helen would ask each morning, “Full Irish? ” Hali made the request to hold the puddin’ – shaping her fingers into a hockey-puck shape, to make the point clear; I’d give them another shot. Maybe Helen’s specialty might just be a top notch blood sausage?? Wrong! It’s the same everywhere. I ate it anyway, making note to follow Hali’s lead next time. 4 stars.
Davitt’s was an unexpected gem. Found this place on booking.com the night before, the smart deal, 70€/night. This guesthouse was chic with art and stylish with furnishings. Mary’s vast menu selection included scrambled eggs with locally smoked salmon. The countless variations you could mix & match even had Hali’s favorite: French toast. Oddly, we both went with the Salmon Scramble (breaking travel-dining RULE #1: never order the SAME meal) however, it did not disappoint. Also on the plate: bacon, sautéed mushrooms, tomato, grainy brown bread. Mary earns her bonus star on the amazing do-it-yourself cereal bar: several whole grain cereals, pecan halves, dried apricots, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, gorp, fresh strawberries and the biggest local blueberries I have ever seen, plain and flavored yogurts, and milk. 5½ stars out of 5.
Ring of Kerry
Half way around the Ring of Kerry, we stopped at the small beach of St. Finnians Bay. Bridie and Jack at Beach Cove B&B offered a pretty solid breakfast. A good time to describe Irish bacon~ imagine a thick, lean, strip of ham, slightly fried. Not a stand out, 3½ stars. The extra half star for the best table in the house overlooking the bay, with Skellig Michael looming offshore.
In Dingle we opted out of Kathleen’s breakfast at Harbour Nights B&B. Several early morning options were scattered about in this cute little coastal town. A stop at the farmer’s market provided us with muffins, scones, and “Dingle-berries” to accompany our in-room coffee. A nice break from what was becoming the norm. Thanks Kathleen for accommodating us in our waterfront room with a view. 3½ stars.
Probably the best value on the entire trip was the Burren Breeze B&B between Doolin and Lisdoonvarna. More importantly a short walk to the Roadside Tavern. Yes, yes, Ann was very gracious and friendly. At this point of our trip, most hosts didn’t consistently serve the pudding, which was fine by us. If they did, hey, another souvenir for Carlos. How could it go bad? At 46€, this was a sweet deal. 4 stars.
Took a ferry to the small Aran island, Inisheer, pop. 300. The three pubs, including Tigh Ned (House of Ned), accommodate overnight travelers. Ostan Inis Oirr a spacious pine paneled room which reminded me my Grandpa’s cabin on the lake.Thomas ran the house with help from his nephew, Martin. At ten years old, Martin pours a perfect pint just as well as his uncle. For breakfast Hali chose the breakfast bap (Irish egg McMuffin). I chose scrambled eggs with cheese. 3 stars with a half star thrown in for the kid-friendly service. 3½ stars.
Linden Hall in Westport was not in my guidebooks but it should be. Paul, our doting host, bargained for a mere 60€. He showed us to our huge room with a California king bed, in this Victorian era house. Full Irish, which Hali would downsize to make room for the hearty cereal buffet including, yogurt, dried fruit and nuts. Paul set down before me a feast fit for a King. Wow! Beans over toast, that’s a first. Picture a plate piled with protein prior to our pilgrimage 2500 feet up Croagh Patrick. Good luck! 5 stars.
Our next stop, Derry, Northern Ireland, home of the hero in Leon Uris’ novel Trinity, Connor Larkin. Hali parked in front of Paddy’s Palace. I guess palace is British for hostel. Our Polish roommates were envious of the instant Starbucks we brought along. A help-yourself kitchen, typical in hostels, was all ours. Toast with marmalade, corn flakes with boxed milk. If there is coffee, make it yourself. A half star. For a hot shower and bunk at 15£ (pounds), we saved a ton. Maybe another half star, with a full star for the Mark Twain quote above the palace entryway, “Travel is fatal to hatred, bigotry, and prejudice.” Grand total, 2 stars.
The seaside town of Portrush was an ideal home-base to explore the Giants Causeway and the North Coast. Rachel of Beulah Guest House ran a tight ship. Our room was small but Tidy, with a capital “T”. At breakfast Rachel didn’t miss a beat. She had us fill in our bill-of-fare sheet the night before so the kitchen would have our plates served promptly. A hearty full Irish, poached eggs, the mandatory meats, beans, and incredible cereal bar. 5 stars . Fabulous! Fabulous! Fabulous!
Back to Dublin
Disappointed that wedding parties squeezed us out of the castled town of Trim, we followed B&B signs over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house. Yep, we shared a house with Grandma and Grandpa O’Malley, complete with grandkids. The room was adequate for our short stay. Breakfast was forgettable (won’t dare say meh) but we did save the head of the table for Grandpa Mickey. 2 stars. Thanks Gramps!
Finally, our last night at Bewley’s hotel by the airport. The Irish version of a Holiday Inn. At 79€, this was the most we paid for a room the entire trip. Also the only place to provide us with a magnetic key-card which I fumbled around in the dark trying to find in order to switch on the lights. No breakfast, only in-room instant Nescafé. One star for the shower cap, another for the early morning FREE shuttle to the airport. 2 stars.
That sums up our three week trip around the Emerald Isle back in the Spring of 2013. Hope it’s not too stale.
Happy St. Patricks Day!!