If you want to sharpen up your act, let your children criticise your work.
A couple of years back, when our son PJ was touring the country trying to offload velux paraphernalia to shopkeepers as a student summer job, he came home one evening and explained that whilst he had enjoyed a good day, he found using our book, Ireland The Best, somewhat confusing.
“When I’m in Ennis” he said, having been in Ennis, “I want ITB to tell me what I need to know to find the good places. On one page.”
No pressure on us, then.
PJ’s advice gave us a clear idea of how to shape the second edition of ITB. Anytime you opened the book, wherever you might be, we wanted to give the reader/user the dope they needed to get the best food, find a good place to stay, and check out the historical and cultural treasures that were adjacent to the good food places.
So, we abbreviated the new text, and Sally laid out the book so that every pair of pages offered you a dozen choices or more. Cork city’s survey of good places for coffee and vegetarian eating dishes up 15 choices on pages 106 and 107. There are a dozen choices of modern and classic cooking in Galway on pages 154 and 155, whilst casual eating in Belfast has 14 choices between pages 192 and 193.
We have 14 classic golf courses described on pages 288 and 289 because – how to say this, really? – John McKenna was a keen teenage golfer.
Don’t think bad of him.
ITB is, we hope, an aleph: a point from which you can see the whole. The book allows us to let down our hair a little bit, so we could add Stripe and U2 to the list of things that Ireland has given to the modern world, along with the bacon rasher, the flavoured potato crisp, and the Kelvin Scale.
We also get the chance to write about our heroes, like the church architect Liam McCormick, the iconoclastic Eileen Gray, and Tarlach and Aine of the Inis Meain Knitting Company, amongst many others.
In the digital age, writing guide books can be regarded as an anachronism: if everything is on line, then why carry a book?
You need a guide book, we would argue, because we all need a companion, we all want company on our journey, whether we want to walk to a coffee shop or traverse a Pilgrim Path.
Our work over 35 years has taken us to pretty much everywhere in Ireland, and we can only hope that our experience allows us to put things in proper context.
Library St is a vitally important destination, of course, but so are the Ceide Fields and so is the Kindred Spirits monument in Midleton. Life is made richer if you know to turn off the N22 at Farran to experience the magical Wunderkaffee, and a swim at the Diving Tower in Salthill should precede every visit to Blackrock Cottage to enjoy Martin O’Donnell’s cooking.
The meticulous potters Rosemary Durr and Andrew Luddick are as integral to the Kilkenny experience as Campagne and Cakeface and Kilkenny Castle, so wherever we went we have tried to join the daisy-chain that unites creative people, and then present it as concisely as possible.
It goes without saying that it is humbling to write a book entitled Ireland The Best: so much beauty, so much talent, so much community wherever you go. Safe journey.
A Baker’s Dozen from ITB
P.28 The Wilder
A classy, colourful destination in Dublin 2, and the staff always go the extra mile. Turn up early and you get to park for free. In Dublin? Yep.
P. 196 Sunflower Public House
It may be the coolest bar in Belfast city. What’s for sure is that every time you see the Sunflower’s signature slogan on the wall – “No topless sunbathing. Ulster has suffered enough” you will laugh every single time.
P. 243 Murphy’s Ice Cream
The Emperors of Ice Cream achieved the impossible: they got the Irish to eat something freezing cold, irrespective of the time of year. Eating your cone on Strand Street is an act of passage for all children.
P. 248 Derrygimlagh Bog
Just outside Clifden, this resplendent prairie of bogland is doubly historic – Marconi; Alcock & Brown – and the most fun you can possibly have whilst traversing a 5km boardwalk. Best enjoyed when it is drizzling.
P.207 The Sooty Olive
Derry city has lots of smart places to eat, and Sean Harrigan’s modest Sooty Olive has offered lovely, understated cooking for ten years now. A quiet little star in a wild city.
P.74 The Carlingford Oyster Company
The oysters are beyond good, and nearly as amazing as the views across Carlingford Bay from Kian and Mary Louet-Feisser’s panoramic tasting room.
P. 114 L’Atitude 51
Beverley Matthew’s must-visit Cork city wine bar has it all; lovely cooking; stunning wines; and an ambience that you will only find on the banks of the River Lee.
P.65 The Hugh Lane
Everyone raves about the Francis Bacon room, but for us you go to The Hugh Lane to pore over the mastery of Harry Clarke, the greatest stained-glass master of them all.
P.77 Sheridan’s Cheesemongers
Several great things happen at Sheridan’s headquarters, at the old station house in Pottleragh. Firstly, they host one of the great annual food festivals. Secondly, they age their cheeses here with rare expertise and understanding. Thirdly, their farm shop is a beauty. Finally, their Saturday morning farmers’s market is one of the country’s best.
P.80 Woodfield Garden Centre
County Offaly’s great destination for gardeners, and for food lovers, thanks to Hannah Ward’s smart-as-a-whip cooking. Great sweet baking, pizzas on Friday evening, and the star of Birr.
P.170 The Misunderstood Heron
Yes it’s pictured on the cover of ITB, which is no more than Kim and Reynaldo deserve for their thunderous food, cooked and served from a food cart poised at the edge of Killary Fjord.
P.58 The International
Indulge us whilst we head back to our youth and the days and evenings when all the hacks from Hot Press magazine used to pack this lovely piece of Victoriana. We have aged: The International hasn’t.
P.229 The Apple Farm
You can bring your caravan to The Apple Farm, or pitch your tent, here on the road between Cahir and Clonmel. But the reason to visit is because Con Traas is Ireland’s smartest farmer, which makes The Apple Farm Ireland’s smartest farm. You’ll be amazed.
This is such exciting news... - we have been fans of your work since those first slim little volumes in the 90's which brought us and our then small children on many trips around Ireland in search of great food, and our appreciation of Irish food and hospitality, and indeed everything else that Ireland has to offer, has grown with and through those guides. We have bought every one of them over the years and lent them and passed them on, and bought them as presents, especially when living abroad and asked for advice from friends moving to or visiting Ireland. It has been wonderful to watch their evolution, so we look forward to this latest incarnation.
Just planning a flying visit next month and, hopefully, a longer roadtrip in the summer so will definitely get hold of a copy!