Vibrant treasure trove of vintage delights
Lively Killarney, both old and new, has much to offer in terms of value and quality, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan
EACH year, for many years past, I have taken myself on what I call my own 'Last Rose of Summer' trip driving from Killarney, through Moll's Gap to Kenmare, and on through vistas of hills and bays to Glengarriff and on to Bantry.
There is something about the whole experience that I find calming and reassuring, and then I am ready to settle into what the winter has to to throw at us.
This year, as though reading my mind, the Brehon Hotel in Killarney introduced a dual package break which suited our purpose perfectly -- two nights in Killarney and two nights at its sister hotel, the Maritime in Bantry, at €249pps for the four nights' B&B. This gave us lots of time to visit local areas, including the Ring of Kerry.
I like the Brehon. It has the great Angsana Thai Spa, and excellent food in the Danu restaurant from new head chef Mike Hayes. We tried the luxurious five-course menu at €49, which had a shellfish starter of scallops, prawns, and mussels served on a slate or prawn cocktail, followed by a choice of lobster bisque or Champagne sorbet, with mains including surf 'n' turf (steak with half a lobster and asparagus, truly yum) and a glass of Champagne, finishing with scrumptious puds.
Next morning, we couldn't but be drawn by the 'Retro Rose Bazaar', in an Art Deco style typeface, over a flower-bedecked black shopfront in New Street in Killarney. There was a subtle touch of Hercule Poirot in an Agatha Christie novel that needed investigating... happily it was more 'Love on the Nile' than Christie's Death on the Nile.
Killarney is a 'can do' town; its residents are great business people. We didn't see any real signs of shops being closed, just what was new.
The traders and hoteliers really pull together in marketing their cracking destination, and as we walked around the streets at night there was a great atmosphere with musicians hammering it out here and there, which really felt good.
Noelle Crosbie opened her new Retro Rose Bazaar in May 2010 at a nearby location. "It was a very small shop, but it went very well. I was dying to get into bigger pieces of furniture so I moved up to this New Street location last November, where there had previously been an antiques shop."
Noelle also has Dinis Cottage, a Victorian tearooms once visited by Queen Victoria, in the Killarney National Park. It is close to the Old Weir Bridge and the Meeting of the Waters, accessible on foot or by boat, "but it is very seasonal and weather-dependent".
Dinis Cottage is a really gorgeous romantic place, with graffiti that dates right back to the 1820s. There was, apparently, a tradition for newly engaged couples to carve their names on the glass windows for luck with their new diamonds. Perhaps it is appropriate too that Dinis is run by Taher, Noelle's husband of five years, whom she met on a cruise on the Nile in 2006.
The birth of Retro Rose Bazaar came about as Noelle wanted to do something else along with Dinis. "I had breast cancer in 2009, and this was my goal because I love vintagey things, and I promised myself if I got through it..."
Noelle was born in London but went to school in Rathfarnham, Co Dublin. "My parents came on a holiday to Sneem and never left Kerry. They bought the guest house they had been staying in. We moved to Killarney when I was 16 and we had a hotel."
Noelle clearly inherited her adventurous 'have a go' spirit from her parents. "I have always been dabbling in businesses. I had a boutique on High Street at one time and I then did the catering in Ballybunion Golf Club for 10 years. However, I got divorced and moved back to Killarney, where I had a restaurant before I took over the tearoom.
"Life is great," Noelle says with a laugh. "I got married five years ago to Taher, who is from near Alexandria in Egypt."
With her daughter, Noelle went on holiday to Egypt in 2006 and met Taher. They got married the same year.
"We met on the second last day of the holiday. When I came home we kept in touch by email. I went back out in April of that year and we got engaged, and then got married in November. Being Lady Captain of Killarney Golf Club the same year, it was somewhat of a surprise for everyone when I arrived home from Egypt with a new, much younger husband," she says, laughing.
Her shop is clearly also a source of happiness. "I love sourcing for the shop. I get great fun out of it; there is nothing like this type of vintage shop in Kerry."
Retro Rose Bazaar is an absolute treasure trove of vintage clothing, amazing Audrey Hepburn-style hats, Grace Kelly-style handbags, fur coats from New York, vintage tea sets and platters, jewellery, books, vinyl records and furniture.
"I buy individually at auctions, on eBay, and people will bring me in things. I sell them quickly, I don't put a big mark-up on so that the stock moves all the time." Noelle also offers clothes on a swap-shop basis -- sale or return.
"All of the family love Taher, he is a dote. I am so lucky and so happy." Noelle may be 52 and Taher 29, but there is no doubt that age is truly a state of mind -- and Killarney and the Nile were both always romantic spots.
On our way out of Killarney via Moll's Gap we spotted John and Anne Kissane's sheep farm, where you can not only watch sheep-shearing and sheepdog demonstrations, but cuddle and bottle-feed orphaned pet lambs or take one of three marked mountain walks. In addition, you can help preserve the heritage of mountain sheep by adopting a sheep for €45 a year, which gives you free entrance to the farm. You can give your adoptive sheep a name and you will receive a certificate with your name and the tag number of your sheep on it, and the Kissanes will keep you up to date on your new ovine baby's progress. So go on, give a sheep a cuddle!
We eventually arrived at the contemporary Maritime Hotel, which has lovely views out over Bantry Bay. We had dinner in the Ocean restaurant, enjoying delicious fresh crab and avocado salad with a wasabi dressing, followed by scallops and pork belly for me and pork fillet rolled in a ginger and herb crumb for himself. It was good, too, to see O'Connor's seafood restaurant open again under the new ownership of former head chef Pat Kiely.
Thanks also to Bantry Tyre Centre, which very quickly sorted us out with a new tyre after I clipped a hole in the old one near Moll's Gap -- so look out for the stony edges, and those Kerry boyos whizzing down the twisty roads!
www.thebrehon.com; Retro Rose Bazaar, tel: (087) 687-3364; www.kissanesheepfarm.com;www.maritime.ie