Sunday, August 9, 2009

Co Cork

A few weeks back, the Irishman and I went on a little trip with big significance: we went to Ireland, to County Cork. For the last 20 years, the Irishman's family has been renting a holiday cottage on the coast in a small hamlet called Oysterhaven. We flew over for a long weekend so that the Irishman could play golf in a family fun tournament, and I could meet his family.

We flew Aer Lingus (of course) after work and landed at 11:30pm, so my first glimpse of the Irish countryside was pitch-black. We drove from Cork to Oysterhaven down narrow country lanes that were bordered on either side by tall hedgerows - we were essentially driving through wooded tunnels. I had to grip my seat tightly and close my eyes when a car came flying towards us (ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD) and pray we wouldn't have the right side of the car sheared off. It was after the first one of those encounters with opposing traffic that the Irishman informed me he forgot to print out the directions - but he assured me he remembered the way. It is at this point that I inform you readers that County Cork, Ireland, does not have street signs. At all.

Once in Oysterhaven (we only made one wrong turn), we were greeted with wine and a peat fire and lovely Dubliners. I met mom, dad, aunt and cousin all within a half hour (after midnight no less) and managed to not be cranky before the Irishman ushered me off to bed. A glass of wine and exhaustion does not make a charming Danielle - he's a pretty smart cookie.

After that rocky start, the rest of the long weekend was lovely and relaxing, full of food, food markets, golf, and awe-inspiring vistas. The Irishman played golf for most of the trip, that being the real reason we were there; his family and their friends set up this fun tournament several years back and take it quite seriously. The course they play on is beautiful, set on a hill with stunning views of the Irish farmland all around. Since I don't play golf I was given the position and title of Official Tournament Photographer and the very important responsibility of documenting the tournament. I took this job quite seriously, including running into the club when a torrential downpour with thunder and lightning interrupted the second nine holes.

Fortunately, the epic storm during The Classic was the only rain that dampened our trip. When I was packing, all of the weather forecasts for Southwest Ireland showed rain and 60°F weather. I was terrified that I was going to be sitting in a tiny cottage with the Irishman's family for four days playing Scrabble and Parchesi while it pissed down. Luckily, the Irish coast is apparently famous for its microclimates; small pockets of independent weather systems that are impossible to predict. Because of these magical environmental conditions, we enjoyed sunshine, beautiful puffy clouds, and temperatures around 75°F.

Our trip wasn't only golf and weather reports, of course. The Irishman's family is full of foodies (now I know where he got it from), which meant we focused a lot on food, cooking, and eating. We went to farmer's markets in Cork and Midleton, and took a side trip out to Ballymaloe - a world famous inn, restaurant, and cooking school. The Irishman's cousin just recently completed a three month intensive course at the cooking school, so we got a private tour of the school which was pretty fantastic. I've never been inside a cooking school, let alone a huge professional kitchen, so I was quite excited for that.

And of course, the eating; one of the real treats of the weekend was 22 of us trooping into the tiny village of Nohoval for dinner at Finder's Inn. The menu is full of fresh fish caught right on the coast, and the restaurant is decorated with eclectic kitchy antiques.

Of course I got to see some sights as well. We tooled around little tiny villages like Ballycotton and the tourist town of Kinsale. Kinsale is adorable, with colored houses and tiny shops and a pretty port with ships and boats.

The Irishman also took me out to The Stack, a huge rock outcropping on the water that he was dumb enough to jump off of in his heady youth. We climbed the cliff to look out over the water, and it was one of them most wonderful, relaxing, and idyllic spots I've ever been lucky enough to experience.

When it was time for us to pack up, say our goodbyes, and make our way to the airport, I was really sad to go. The Irishman's family was lovely and made me feel really welcome, and the Irish countryside was so relaxing and calming. Everywhere I looked I saw something beautiful, and the thought of heading back to a heaving metropolis was almost unbearable. I definitely will go back to Cork soon; I don't think much could keep me away.

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