Tuesday 6 December 2016

It's A Great Little Country: Our readers pick Ireland's tip-top establishments

#GreatLittleCountry

Online Editors

Published 09/05/2016 | 02:30

Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa, Co. Cork
Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa, Co. Cork
Marlfield House in Gorey, Co Wexford where the staff go out of their way to ensure all customers enjoy the stay.
Cork's English Market, which has been trading since 1788, has a massive variety of foods - and is also a great place to savour the local banter.

The Sunday Independent's #GreatLittleCountry series continues with readers' choices of Ireland's best establishments.

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We asked you to share the places which go the extra mile for customers, the ones which give you a heartfelt welcome and immediately make you feel at home.

We discovered that true hospitality lies in unasked-for coffee top-ups, a kind gesture by a barman, restaurants which serve food for the soul, a receptionist with a genuine smile, and a lovely cuppa. Here are your responses.

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The Sandwich Stall, located in the corner of Cork's wonderful English Market. As I set off on my lunchtime journey from UCC, headphones firmly placed over my ears, there is only one question I have to ask myself - wrap or baguette?

As I reach the holy grail, there is always that moment of panic as I near the Market stall; will the smoked chicken wrap be gone, or will I face the dual agony of having to choose between it and the brie and cranberry baguette. I'm almost certain the one remaining smoked chicken wrap has my name on it.

I think the lady behind the counter knows it too, as she always seems to hover the salad fork over it as she asks me my choice; which in my opinion, is always the sign of a good establishment; knowing your customers. Now, what to do with the remaining 49 minutes of my lunch ... except tuck in - Denise Goggin

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Swimming in the sea at Scotsman's Bay, Sandycove, I bear the cold and dream of hot tea and scones at Juggy's Well in the dinky village of Glasthule. Dried and dressed, I stroll towards this hidden oasis of warmth.

The ghost of James Joyce is never far away in this terrain as I picture him ordering lemon meringue pie and a caffe latte! "You won't go wrong here, Jim," I say.

In Juggy's Well, Nell brings all her Tipperary home-cooking skills to life. Customers feel at home and are always greeted with courtesy.

As we are about to leave, my wife orders two fresh brown soda cakes, which we savour at home, knowing we will be back before the last crust is eaten - James Conway

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The Parnell on Parnell Street, right off O'Connell Street, Dublin. It has everything. And no matter how crowded, Louie will always figure out somewhere to seat you. Oh, and did I mention that the food is great - Dennis Quinn

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The minute you walk into Murphy Sheehy's in Castle Market, off South William Street in Dublin's city centre, you feel at home.

They always have the very fabric you're looking for.

But it's not their goods that are their stock-in-trade. It's the friendly faces, the first-name terms, the bit of advice or recommendation, and taking the trouble to find the perfect thing, be it for dressmaking or upholstery.

It's their patience while you scour through patterns or textiles, taking aeons to make up your mind - Gertrude Reynolds

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My wife suffers from Multiple Allergy Syndrome and so cannot be in contact with people wearing perfume, hairspray etc. Therefore, it is very difficult to dine out.

The management and staff at the Duck Restaurant at Marlfield House Hotel, Gorey, ensure we have a table away from other clients and the staff don't wear perfume or aftershave when we make a reservation.

It is nice to feel she can have a social outing and feel safe in the environment - George MacDonald

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Entering John B's in Listowel is always a novel experience. The pub, now run by Billy Keane, will always have something going on, whether it's pub theatre midweek in the summer, or ballad music from Mickey McConnell, of Only our Rivers Run Free fame.

There's a YouTube video of Mickey singing The Ballad of Lidl & Aldi at John B's which has over a half million hits. Billy is always good for a few gags and the nights are closed out to the pub anthem, The Black Hills of Dakota (a nostalgic tribute to John B) - Ger Hussey

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My favourite place to relax on a sunny day in Limerick has to be the Curragower pub on Clancy's Strand. It is delightful to sit in the pretty terrace enjoying a glass of Guinness and gazing at the stunning view of the Shannon and the magnificent King John's Castle.

It is the perfect place to savour their mouth-watering scampi or their tantalising chicken wings and proper chunky chips. I always bring visiting friends there because I think it really captures the beauty of Limerick city - Jane Bingham-Shee

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Zuni. What is it? It's the best boutique hotel in Ireland. It's based in the heart of Kilkenny City, and is a place that transports you into another world.

The warm staff make it a homely place with great accommodation and food that's second to none.

Even the breakfast is to die for - they remember to offer coffee top-ups and make sure you have a newspaper to hand. It's a great place for family get- togethers, and no ask is too much trouble - Mary Reynolds

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As a family group of around 20 people, we have been spending New Year at Inchydoney Lodge & Spa, above, for at least the past 10 years.

This is simply an outstanding establishment with staff, food and entertainment to match the stunning sea views.

Each year, when we return, they let us know our business is appreciated with little touches like spa vouchers, bottles of wine and slates of home-made "welcome back" chocolates.

These gestures are so appreciated by our group that we wouldn't consider going anywhere else - Trish Lavelle

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My mother suffers from dementia and is resident in a nearby nursing home. When I visit her I sometimes bring her out for a little hot port. As the scenery from the nursing home to Kerrykeel, in Co Donegal, is quite spectacular, I usually head in that direction.

During the winter I spotted this little pub, The Village Inn, and decided to try it out. There was a huge, welcoming open fire and the greeting we received from the barman was genuine and sincere. He appeared to immediately recognise that this little trip out was all about my mother and the respect he showed towards her was something that stood out. The time that he took to speak to her, to listen to her little stories from long ago and the patience that he showed towards her was second to none.

We have visited about twice a month since. Mum returns happily to the great care in the nursing home where she tells them all about this lovely little place, with the big fire where she had her little hot port - Bernadette Buchanan

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I grew up in Dublin, and am now happily settled in Enniscorthy. The day we left the Rotunda Hospital with our new baby boy was also the day we officially moved.

Feeling quite isolated in a new town, I'd often take a walk down town with the baby in his pram, and stroll into the Riverside Park Hotel down at the promenade.

It was convenient place to go to with a buggy with loads of space and a lift. I'd sit at the window and look out at the river and enjoy a 'life-saving' coffee in the lovely, welcoming surroundings. It played a big part in helping me to settle into a town where I didn't know anyone - Patricia McNally

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After a boat trip to Skellig Michael, we headed to a fine establishment, The Blind Piper Pub in Caherdaniel, where the reward of a creamy pint of Guinness awaited.

The Blind Piper was wonderfully warm and welcoming, with a turf fire and traditional music sessions, and a classic Irish country pub atmosphere. The staff were delightful and helpful, serving great food in a timely manner - Yvonne Tone

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I'd like to nominate Pickles Deli in Kimmage as a great establishment I always return to. While it only has space to seat a small number of people inside, the chicken special on homemade brown bread cut into doorstep slices is enough to have me salivating even just writing this.

A gem in the suburbs I just keep going back to - Leyna Shaffi

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Wells House, Co Wexford. This is where fairies live in an enchanted woodland wonderland, and is the stuff of Enid Blyton storybooks.

Children screech upon discovering a prettily painted fairy door lodged into tall oaks. Twinkling fairy dust indicates a fairy is at home - and then the names; Rainbow, Daffodil, Ruby and Gracious. We tuck into our humble feast on benches (joining our party were a few 'buzzy bees' as my kids call them and proud peacocks strutting their stuff).

That done, we go inside to the cosy tea rooms where it's hot chocolate and marshmallows all round. What a memorable experience - a little bit of magic came home with us that day - Yvonne Redmond

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Fiacri House in Tipperary runs a restaurant and cookery classes. It's home to the Hennessy family, and three generations of the Hennessy/Maher family are there to greet you on arrival with warm smiles, the familiar cuppas, the buttered jammy hot scones, the chat and recipes.

Nothing sophisticated or pretentious in the welcome of modest, unassuming country people, who hope that the cold you had the last time is now cleared up and that your son passed his final exams.

Those in the 'springtime' of their lives distribute the recipes for the cookery classes, set the tables, while those in 'summer bloom' cook, bake, barbecue, demonstrate and instruct.

Those colourful characters in the 'late autumn' of their lives remind us of the old ties of friendship, camaraderie, rapport, love and laughter. Food for the soul is also there in abundance - Mary Carr

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Abbey Tavern in Howth is a great spot! Good food, great staff and a lovely atmosphere #GreatLittleCountry - Alison McGlone

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Our little gem that we return to again and again is the Headfort Arms Hotel in Kells, Co Meath, returning every couple of months for the last 10 years, usually for an overnight of B&B and R&R.

The greeting on arrival is like visiting an old pal for a catch-up. The receptionists have a genuine interest in the customer while the hotel itself is `olde worlde` and full of character and characters - Rena and Steve Rowe

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Many of life's quandaries can be solved by sipping a delightful cup of tea and that is indeed true of Tara's Tearoom. From the charming mismatched teapots, the quaint china cups and saucers, to the wonderful velvety loose leaf tea.

Tara's Tearoom is a rare find and a true gem of an establishment in Cork - Sheila O'Brien

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I discovered Maggie's Tavern, Carrickmore, St Johnston, in Donegal, when our group, the Gateway Writers, organised a meal there. The day was really cold and wet. But on entering Maggie's, a lovely warm fire was a welcome sight. The proprietor pulled chairs close to the fire, and we all huddled round with a good wine and a few hot whiskeys clasped in our hands.

Maggie's is a lovely wee place to just sit, have a chat and relax - Betty Devenney

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Next week, it's all about magical places.

Read Brendan O'Connor as he ponders the magic of destinations like Gougane Barra at the source of the Lee, and Powerscourt with its impeccable gardens.

Email your favourite magical places to GreatLittleCountry@independent.ie, or tweet your entry using the hashtag: #GreatLittleCountry.

Alternatively, go to Independent.ie/GreatLittleCountry to submit your entry or send your suggestions to A Great Little Country - Experience It, c/o 27/32, Talbot St, Dublin 1.

Closing day for entries is Wednesday.

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