Rebel County RnR: From Aherne's to Ballymaloe in East Cork
A return to his childhood stomping ground in East Cork throws up fond memories (and new finds) for Frank Coughlan.
Set the mood
Seeking out new places is the fun part of travel, but sometimes it's alright to do a u-turn and go back. In fact, some people return again and again to somewhere they find comforting by virtue of its familiarity.
I don't make a habit of it myself, but a short visit to East Cork and the towns and resorts that helped define my childhood was too hard to resist.
West Cork may get the lion's share of the press (not to mention the Wild Atlantic Way), but as a child of the 1960s, Youghal seemed to have it all. I wondered now if my memory was a faithful storyteller or whispering me well-meaning fibs.
Words fail me when it comes to Ballymaloe (ballymaloe.ie), if only because you must have heard them all before.
This legendary country house and 400-acre estate exists in its own oasis of calm, and an amble in the grounds is the perfect precursor to the feast to come in one of Ireland's most celebrated dining rooms. My monkfish was exquisite and, while Deborah's vegetarian dish was deemed delicious, it seemed to me a wasted opportunity - a bit like sipping a lemonade on a tour of the nearby Jameson Experience (irelandwhiskeytrail.com).
Our room, its window framing a blooming mulberry tree in a lush garden, was comfy and - to its credit - devoid of a television.
In Youghal, our hostess pointed us in the direction of St Mary's Collegiate, a 12th-century church with remarkable stories - not least its links to that Elizabethan scallywag, Walter Raleigh. It's one of the highlights when stretching your legs on the 1.5-hour Walking Trail (youghal.ie).
We recovered with a decent coffee and amazing apple strudel at Jack O'Patsy's (jackopatsy.com). On its mezzanine, we came across the delicate pastels of local artist Andrea Cashell who was busy in her open workshop. A real find.
Back then (I was in Youghal for the first moon landing, which wasn't yesterday) we had lodgings in a Victorian terrace on the seafront. This time, we put our sandals under a bed at Aherne's Townhouse - rightly famous for its seafood and hospitality. I know I should gush about the fish (yum crab starter and cod main), but really the potato croquettes were the tastiest morsels I'll eat this side of the promised land.
Cork people are well acquainted with nearby Ballycotton, which visitors tend to overlook. Try the cliff walk, take a dip in one of the coves, enjoy a pint in The Blackbird (blackbirdballycotton.com), or take a €20 boat trip to the lighthouse.
Letterkenny boasts the longest main street in Ireland, but Youghal can't be far behind. Unfortunately - and this is a nationwide problem - the town has its share of dereliction and boarded shops. But don't let that blind you to its charms.
Get me there
Youghal and Ballymaloe House are scarcely a 40-minute drive from Cork City, taking the decent Waterford/Rosslare N25.
Aherne's Townhouse & Seafood Bar (ahernes.net) offers one night's B&B with dinner from €80pps. B&B in a standard double/twin room at Ballymaloe starts from €100pp in the winter months. Both properties are members of Ireland's Blue book, which lists further special offers at irelands-blue-book.ie.
See also ringofcork.ie.