Hame by Annalena McAfee.

Tir na nOg, South harbour, Cape Clear, Cork, Ireland.

I believe I have mentioned before the Irish tradition of dispatching young teenagers to remote Ghaeltacht (Irish-speaking) areas for the summer holidays. I spent four Julys on the island of Chléire (Cape Clear) and three of those Julys I lived in this house:

Tir na nOg, South harbour, Cape Clear, Cork, Ireland.

It’s not too difficult to see why I left a piece of my heart behind. On Sundays, when we didn’t have Irish classes and had hours to fill between dinner and the nightly céilí, my best friend and I would pack up our books and a packet of biscuits and clamber over the rocks to sit on the very corner of that headland. From there, the view stretches to the big lighthouse at Fastnet Rock and beyond that, America. That’s where I lay on a bed of sea thrift and read A Handful of Dust, The Pearl, The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies and, perhaps most appropriately, Wuthering Heights.

When a man stands on the shore looking out to sea, he stands at the littoral of his unconscious. Grigor McWatt.

In her new book, Hame, Annalena McAfee imagined into being a Scottish island called Fascaray. By coincidence, I suppose, it’s near enough the same size and shape as Chléire and similar in almost every description except perhaps the prevailing winds. My island is just like hers but warmed by the glow of happy memories and a gentle southwesterly breeze.

I loved her book. I like big books. I like stories that suck you in and swallow you whole. Annalena McAfee made me laugh out loud in the coffee-spluttering, nearly-choked-myself kind of way (as opposed to the throwaway LOL kind of way) and she gave me an excuse to drink whiskey at lunchtime ( had to take the photos in daylight!). Best of all, she gave me a week of feeling almost as though I was back on that green rock. If I met her, I would give her a hug and say, Thank You.

Read my full review, including photos of whiskey, here.

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The Jameson Tour.

The bar at the Jameson distillery.

My grandfather drank Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. He is buried with a bottle of it. Shush, maybe I wasn’t supposed to tell you that. At his wake, my cousin and I, both in our early twenties, were confined to the scullery and charged with making sandwiches and endless pots of tea. There was only room for the pair of us in the tiny kitchen so we had to work hard to keep the mourners fed and watered but we found strength and comfort in the bottle of Jameson that my uncle slipped to us.  We laughed a lot and maybe cried a bit but, overall, it is one of my warmest memories. I think that’s how a good wake should go.

We live twenty minutes from the Jameson Distillery where ALL the Jameson is made but we had never done the distillery tour. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Are we mad?  Last weekend, in celebration of Husband’s birthday, we set out to remedy this appalling situation.

I warn you, whether it’s down to the fumes in the air or my growing sense of anticipation about the whiskey-tasting finale, the photos get blurrier as we go along.

Neither a spaceship, as the Small Girl thought, nor a gigantic Christmas bauble, as Teenage Son suggested, this is the top of a copper pot-still. Every garden should have one.img_2454

The tour is held in the old distillery building where Jameson was made until 1975 when a new facility was built in the next field.vintage photo of Jameson distillery.

Have you the slightest interest in the technicalities? The tour guide was a fascinating man who made the whole process of whiskey-making seem wildly exciting. Again, that might have been the fumes getting to me.

Did you know that American Bourbon is made with corn (maize) making it sweeter than Irish whiskey which is made with barley? I didn’t. The barley is soaked and laid out on the malting room floors where it is encouraged to germinate. After a couple of days, germination is stopped by lighting huge fires at the bottom of the malting house. Irish whiskey makers traditionally burned anthracite in closed furnaces. Scotch whiskey makers, by contrast, burned peat in open pits so that the smoke imparted a peaty, smoky flavour to the finished drink.

These are the fabulous shoes worn by the workers who had to walk around the scorching hot malting rooms:malting at the jameson distillery.

And here, my friends, is the biggest pot-still in the world:World's biggest pot still.

For scale, notice the man’s head on the left.

The big still has been retired but here, just two weeks old, is a wee baby micro-distillery. This is where the master distiller plans to test new recipes. Jameson is triple-distilled, meaning the original yeasty ‘beer’ goes through each of these stills, each time becoming purer and more alcoholic.Jameson micro-distillery

Onwards to the cooperage. The regulations on Bourbon production stipulate that it be aged in virgin oak casks for a minimum of one year. That leaves bourbon producers with a whole stack of used casks.Irish whiskey must, by law, be aged for a minimum of three years.  Second-hand casks are not just a bonus, but a requirement. Jameson purchase 260,000 empty bourbon casks every year and re-fill them with whiskey. This imparts Jameson with a touch of the sweetness of bourbon.They also use casks which have previously been used to age Oloroso sherry and Bordeaux wine which bring distinctive fruity notes. The resulting whiskeys are blended to make the various Jameson varieties like Green Spot and Redbreast.casks at the Jameson distillery.

No photographs are allowed in the magnificent cathedral of aging casks because the air is loaded with sufficient alcohol fumes to make explosion a real risk. The volume lost is known as The Angel’s Share and the fuzziness of this next photo is testament to its potency. Woah, man, that was good.Angel's share at the Jameson distillery.

Jameson estimate that the first 70 barrels filled every morning just replenish what was lost to the angels the previous day. Lucky angels.

Here is a sneaky peek, through glass, into the room of privately owned casks. These are valued at somewhere in the region of 75,000 euros each. private casks at the Jameson distillery.

Shall we retire to the bar? How’s this for a welcome?whiskey tasting at the Jameson distillery.

Want a closer look?

Here we have whiskey by Johnny Walker, John Jameson and Jack Daniels. Woops, Are those empty? What a negligent blogger am I? whiskey tasting at the jameson distillery.

The scotch was noticeably peaty and the bourbon was noticeably sweeter. The Jameson was the best. They paid me to say that. In whiskey. (no they didn’t…)

There are plenty more to taste another day… any volunteers?The bar at the Jameson distillery.

We wandered around, slightly tipsy, just admiring the place. This was the Master Distiller’s cottage. Completely perfect.The master distiller's cottage at the jameson distillery.

This is the Irish Distiller’s Academy. Downstairs holds teaching laboratories with table-top distillation columns and the like. Upstairs, we were told (not shown) is more like an exclusive club with a private bar and dining-room. The Irish Whiskey Academy at the Jameson Distillery.

The building in the background houses the huge distillation columns of the new distillery.

Fancy a drink? You can pour your own personalised bottle of cask strength (60.2 %!) distiller’s reserve for 100 euros.Fill your own bottle at the Jameson distillery.

If you like it, you could buy enough bottles to make this chandelier. Jameson chandelier. Midleton, Co. Cork.

Or, if you have a care for your liver, you could buy just one bottle of 40-something-year-old whiskey for 4000 euros. This would have been made in the old distillery in that record-breaking copper still.only 4000 euros for a 1973 bottle of jameson.

Heck, go mad, buy a truck load. vintage delivery truck at the Jameson Distillery.

We didn’t go that mad. We came home with just one bottle of 12-year-old Redbreast.

You can kind of tell we are not quite sober in this photo:sozzled. at the jameson distillery.

I admit, I was fairly sozzled. But happy. And happy to have someone to lean against.entwined. at the Jameson distillery.

Happy Birthday, my love. Can we have the same again next year?

It Was Worth It.

Delphi Adventure resort, walking, Delphi Valley, Connemara, Wild Atlantic Way,

The Sultanabun Family absconded to the Delphi Adventure Resort in Connemara for the weekend.IMG_0936

Our children were engaged in various exciting/dangerous/exhausting activities (surfing, kayaking, climbing and rolling around in a bog)…


…while Husband and I strolled at a leisurely pace taking photographs.


As  parenting techniques go, I believe we have discovered a winner.


It was a long drive to Delphi and a looooooooonnnnnngggggger adventure home. It was worth it. Well, I think it was. Give me a day or two to get over it.


We travelled in a two car convoy which brings its own stress and hilarity.There was a puke-stop, followed by a pee-stop followed by an engine-shaped-light-flashing-orange-stop.


My car and I were coaxed over the last fifty miles by the administration of copious quantities of noxious smelling liquids. In fact, for viscosity and flavour, I would guess the service station coffee and oil were interchangeable. Looking on the bright side, they combined to mask the lingering whiff of puke.


I must leave you now to go wash the bog out of our clothes.

It was worth it. It was worth it. (Repeat as required)

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The Looting Of Doon.

the loot from Doon

Yesterday, I poured out the mixed emotions stoked up in my lapsed Catholic soul by the auction at the convent of Doon. You can read that here.

I promised to return with the loot of Doon and here I am. Actually, here is Husband despairingly trying to fit the loot in to the boot.

loot from Doon.

I see a tow bar and trailer in our future. Well, I hope I do.

Pause a moment.We had to pull into a farmer’s gate on the way home to admire the Rock Of Cashel.  The area around Cashel is known as The Golden Vale and it is surprisingly beautiful if you can bear to leave the main Cork-Dublin road.


Down to the business of treasure hunting.

Lot #1 Tray of cutlery. You might be surprised to hear that this is precisely what I was hoping to find at the auction. My children, following years of admonishment to clear their plates, eat their spoons. They must do, there can be no other explanation for the chronic dearth of cutlery in my drawer. So, mine was the first hand raised in the chapel of Doon and the restaurateurs and dealers, who were after the good silver, let me have it all for 5 euro. Oh, the scintillating thrill of it. I was ecstatic.



Lot #299, Fireside chair and formica tea trolley. I couldn’t believe my luck. Not a soul bid against me and I got the pair for 10 euro.

trolley to paint, up-cycle, dolly-up the trolley

I had a moment of self-doubt as I realised that I had just filled the car with one enthusiastic wave of my bidding card. Then, I wondered why no-one else wanted them. I had spotted the trolley on our tour and my eagle-eyed Husband noticed that the formica was not an original feature.


Looking better already:


I’ve given it a temporary home but there are up-cycling plans afoot…


I only wanted the trolley but I could hardly look a gift chair in the mouth. Husband took one look and disparaged it as a ‘nun’s chair‘. Ermmm, yes… exactly so.


It will need some work but has claimed its position at the fireside.


I bought two cardboard boxes labelled as assorted lots. Together, they cost 31 euros and contained (below, from back left):a black plastic urn (?!), a thermos flask, 5 cake tins, a teapot, a bucket, a plastic lunchbox, a christmas plant container, a glass vase, a stainless steel tray, a cooling rack, a kidney dish (oh, yes indeed), a nut cracker, an enamel casserole (love it!), 2 votive candle holders, a measuring jug, a sugar bowl, 2 sherry glasses, a brass teapot, a rolling pin, 4 matching (nice daisy pattern) dinner plates, 1 salad plate, 3 side plates and small serving plate, a matching (very pretty pussy willow pattern from Royal Tara) china cup, 2 saucers, plate and sugar bowl, a shamrock pattern china jug, a shamrock pattern small mug (Arklow) AND a butter dish which was the thing I was after.the loot from Doon

Husband bid on the three wooden boxes at the back and got them for 20 euros. They were all in the sacristy. The pine box was clearly used to hold blessed palm for Palm Sunday.


The middle box seems very old. It’s stamped with the words Hamilton, Long & Co. , 3 Lr Sackville st., Dublin.


Ireland-DUBLIN-Grafton-Street-1907-PPC-Medical-Hall-Hamilton-Long-Co-tram-15A google search revealed that Hamilton Long and Co. was an apothecary and purveyor of mineral water. Sackville Street became O’Connell street in 1924 but Hamilton and Co. had already moved to Grafton street by 1917, where the became a Medical Hall, a chemist, and now, a pharmacy. All much the same thing, of course. What do you think they were sending from Dublin to the convent? My guess is olive oil.

In any case, the box has woodworm and has been quarantined on the back porch until we get around to giving it a dose of something.

The third box is my favourite.The hinges and lock have been pilfered which is a great shame. I can’t even imagine how this found its way to the sacristy of Doon.


This was only my second experience of auction sales but I think I have the bug. It’s a complete roller-coaster. It’s tough if you set your heart on something and don’t get it, particularly if you miss out by only a small bid or two. There is some satisfaction when an item you spot is sold for a fortune. On the other hand, the adrenalin buzz when you succeed is worth all the waiting around.

Of course, then you have to go home and clean it all up. I’m off now to dolly up my trolley.

As for The Goblet Of Doom…any takers?


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The Convent Of Doon.

The Mercy Convent of Doon closed last week. (relax, that is Doon, a small village in Co. Limerick, not DOOM as my children persevere in calling it).

The Convent Of Doon, Co. Limerick. nuns. convents. faith. sacrifice. poignant.

Seven surviving  Sisters packed their bags and left last Friday week.

The contents of the convent were sold, in 633 lots, at an auction that was held in the chapel and lasted seven hours.  Viewing of the lots was by a tour of the convent. Every cranny of convent life was on display, large and small parlours, front and back kitchens and two floors of identical bedrooms.

bedroom corridor. convent. ireland.

In 1861, in the aftermath of the famine, a room of one’s own would have been unheard of. It would be easy for me to portray holy orders as a prison sentence but the fact remains that the nuns lived in safety and relative luxury.

nun's cell. convent of doon. Limerick. Ireland.

All the same, the grille in the door must have some stories to tell. Ancient trunks and suitcases were lined up, evoking thoughts of young girls delivered to this entrance with their worldly belongings and habit-clad sisters ushering them into silence.

entrance to the convent with grille in the door. old trunks.

Did they have a calling to the service of God? It is my feeling that women crave security, predictability and order. These would have been assured in the Convent of Mercy but the price was exorbitant.  Not only were they required to leave their reproductive urges at the gate, they abandoned their individuality, they  even gave up their names.


Regardless of my opinions, the atmosphere of the convent was not one of sacrifice. Rather, it was of community and genuine sisterhood. The sisters’ private sitting room held what must, in its day, have been a very expensive record-player and a substantial collection of operatic recordings and popular musicals.


Seats were arranged around a fine piano and a small sideboard housed a touching selection of well-used board games. These women were not alone. They shared their lives and, most poignantly, went to a shared grave.


The assembled congregation included a sprinkling of dealers, restaurateurs with a nose for a bargain and locals seeking a souvenir, a holy relic of Doon.


The auctioneer, a man more often found selling livestock at the market in Charleville, sat behind the altar sipping a bottle of Club Orange.

‘Raise up your bidding cards,’ he admonished reluctant buyers, ‘raise them up and I will knock them down.’

The highest price, 1600 euros, was attained by a book. Granted, it was no ordinary book but a hand-illustrated, calf-bound Stations Of The Cross.  A friendly farmer seated next to me commented sadly,

‘well, there’s that gone out of the country.’

Indeed, there was a sense that some locals had good intentions of protecting the nuns’ belongings.

The interesting thing about an auction is that the value is set by the buyer. One must decide what an item is worth, for its beauty or usefulness, for its symbolic or novelty value.

The convent library held several beautiful collections of encyclopaedias, educational tomes and lives of saints. I imagine it was their pristine condition and impeccable provenance which led to high prices.

It was surprising to note that, in Ireland of 2016, religious symbolism was worth almost nothing. The asking price for a lot of ten large statues of saints was knocked back from 1000 to 50 euros with no takers. The congregation sat in mortified silence until a woman at the back shouted that she would, ‘take them for thirty.’ Sold.

A small collection box, with a six inch carved wooden angel who nodded his head in acknowledgement of every coin dropped, sparked a bidding war between a local man and a dealer. The convent safebox, with its key, almost caused a riot. Money talks and, in an age where average people have lost faith in the banks, a nun’s safe is a better bet.

Bookending the convent itself were two large boxes of similar size and shape. At the Northern extremity, behind the back kitchen, was a walk-in fridge. It was probably quite old but the farmer at my side assured me it was likely to be in good working order.

‘It would be very handy,’ he said,’ you could hang a lamb in it.’

At the opposite end of the convent, sitting inside the back door of the chapel, was an ornate confession box. It most likely wouldn’t work if you didn’t believe it in it. One box sold for five times the price of the other. Can you guess?

Husband and I left the house on Saturday morning with few expectations and hoping for nothing more than a day out without the kids. In the end, we had an experience that we are unlikely to forget. The auction was immensely entertaining and the peek inside the inner sanctum was fascinating.Yes, we took turns bidding and made a few impulse purchases. My instagram followers have already had a peek at the haul. I shall return on the morrow to give you the full report.

When we turned into the drive at sunset our house seemed more homely than usual. I was more grateful than usual for my privileged existence, my quirky home,  my skittish dog, the man at my side and my children who came spilling out the door to greet us.

My neighbouring farmer passed on the rumour that the convent is to be refurbished as accommodation for refugees. That seems remarkably fitting to the original purpose of a small group of nuns who travelled from Kinsale in 1861 to bring succour and comfort to a broken land.

‘The more things change…’ I said.
He nodded in agreement and passed the final judgement,’…the more they stay the same.’

The Convent Of Doon, Co. Limerick. nuns. convents. faith. sacrifice. poignant.

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What We Ate In France.

cheese stall. market. French cheese. french food. french market.

Think of France and you think of cheese.  cheese stall. market. French cheese. french food. french market.

So much time, so little to cheese (misquoting Mr. Wonka).


The delightful market at Saint Vivian de Medoc. I shopped for food and cooked everyday but you could hardly call this work.


My mornings looked like this…


…and I spent a lot of time in this position:


The first thing I buy whenever I visit France is a tray of petit suisse. It’s a soft, creamy cheese that the French eat with a spoonful of sugar. I ate at least one every day of the holiday which might explain the extra three kilos I carried home on my person.


As might this…IMG_1204

…confit de canard. Oh Dear Lord, this stuff is mighty good. The duck joints must be carefully extracted from the encasing fat and then crisped up in a hot pan. I sautéed potato cubes in the fat for good measure.


Follow that up with a fine apricot custard tart and some chilled Sauternes on the side.


On the anniversary of the first barbecue that Husband made for me, twenty-five years ago, he and Teenage Son took over the cooking (and Teenage Son fired the clay pots he made at the beach).


Those foil bundles are potatoes shmeared with leftover goosefat. Point of information: should you ever find yourself with half a French baguette, a cup of leftover goosefat and a barbecue…go for it, Nirvana awaits.


Not neglecting any opportunity to add cheese:IMG_1233

Our second batch of foil packages contained peaches and cherries. The cake was an almond sponge.


A petit suisse for complete indulgence and the last of the Sauternes. I cannot remember any better dessert. Ever.


I was tipsy enough to wear a daisy tiara and attempt a Titanic pose but stopped short of singing…Titanic Pose. L'Amelie Beach . France.IMG_1302

…my heart will go on. 🙂IMG_1146

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Ballymaloe House and Gardens.

Peregrine peach. Walled garden. Ballymaloe House.

Ballymaloe House

The farmyard at Ballymaloe was a hive of activity during Litfest 2016, thronged with celebrity participants and eager foodies. Pork crackled on spits and craft cider was swilled with an air of orgiastic revelry.

Just a stone’s throw away, the gardens remained an oasis of serenity and order.

Wild garlic. Ballymaloe House.

The walled kitchen garden was a particular delight.

Walled Garden. Ballymaloe House.Sea Kale. Walled garden. Ballymaloe House.Beans. Walled garden. Ballymaloe House.orchard. walled garden. Ballymaloe House.Cherry cherokee. walled garden. Ballymaloe House.

I was wildly impressed to see these cherries ripening against a wall. My mind is spinning with possibilities…if I only had a wall!

But then, these beauties took my breath away. I couldn’t resist rubbing my thumb against the, well, peachy skin. Wonderful.

Peregrine peach. Walled garden. Ballymaloe House.


A few links I liked:

I bought some seeds from Brown Envelope Seeds. http://www.brownenvelopeseeds.com/

They have a huge selection, beautifully packaged and their brown paper catalogue is a thing of beauty in itself. Their blog is fascinating.

Brown envelope seeds.

They have some cute gift box ideas. I thought the idea of giving new parents the seeds to grow their baby’s first dinner was a sweet one. Wouldn’t this be a fantastic baby shower gift?

Brown envelope seeds

Impressed as I am by Teenage Son’s talent as a whittler (read here), I have been drooling over Hewn.ie. Eamonn has the embryo of a very well written blog and it’s just impossible not to like him. It’s quite shocking to the system when you come across a talented craftsman and your first thought is, ‘his mother must be very proud’.

hewn.ie. Eamonn O'Sullivan. Handmade spoons. Litfest.ie

Middle Girl went on a school tour yesterday to The West Cork Secret (http://www.westcorksecret.ie/) and had the time of her life. If you are looking for somewhere you can bring your kids to, literally, roll around in the mud, this is your spot.

Keeping it Local, I bought chocolate and cocoa husk tea from Clonakilty Chocolate . The chocolate is amazing. It’s not cheap but they deliver free in Ireland. The jury is split on the tea. I like it and have discovered that I can make the tea and then use the tea to top up an espresso, making a chocolate-hinted Americano. Now that is stupendous. I could start a new trend.

That’s my lot.

Enjoy your weekend,