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Pure bliss at Ard Liss

A feisty wee Scots woman with an array of filleting knives – capable of splitting split ends – in front of her is advised by a fisheries inspector that she should label her produce in Latin. Some of her reply was that "There's dinnae any Latin for kipper".

The diminutive lady is Sally Barnes who puts her name to a range of smoked fishery products and she is one of an ethnic melting pot of artisans who make West Cork the culinary capital of Ireland.

Up a seemingly endless boreen in a tiny but spotless smokehouse she vacuum packs a host of smoked produce with one very strict rule – everything has to be wild and no farmed fish crosses the door.

She has to know the origin of everything even down to the wood shavings that produce her smoke.

 

Skills

 

She demonstrates her skills to visitors and we were privileged to participate in the filleting of a fine specimen of tuna.

The size of her premises belies the output which ends up in the upmarket stores in our cities and towns.

We encountered Sally while visiting the area and staying at the 200-acre Liss Ard country house estate outside Skibbereen.

It is owned by the Stern family and on a last spring day nothing could be further away from another of their enterprises, the Martinhal resort near Sagres in the Western Algarve.

But it compensates for its lack of rays with history, ambience, walkways and idyllic features which are timeless.

Liss Ard is a Georgian mansion dating back to 1850 and was the home of the O'Donovan clan.

Originally a six-bedroom mansion it has been developed now to incorporate a mews house and lodge which can accommodate 49 guests.

It has been a retreat for celebs such as Oasis, Van the Man and Nick Cave, and its most eye catching feature is its crater-an oval installation set in the Irish Sky garden.

Built at a cost of half million by American "installation artist" James Turrell, it has a bed of Liscannor stone.

The design is based on a birthing scenario but others have described the experience as like lying on the bottom of a tea cup and looking up in contemplation at the rim.

Leading to the site is a souterrain or chamber dating back to the iron age. Its all to with the yin and the yang, apparently.

It's the centre piece of the estate which has all water sport facilities,from kayaking to fishing. They even hand out the wellies and wax jackets if you mistakenly thought there would be sunshine.

Younger children stay in their parents' room free gratis and a kids' menu and playroom are also provided.

Golf can be arranged at a variety of clubs including the Old Head of Kinsale – but for a welcoming club house and a good test of golf in good company try Skibbereen and West Carbery on your doorstep.

Its smacks of a cosy community where members "pitch in" at every opportunity to keep the bills down.

Everything from cans of paint to the wood burning stove are contributed and the practice of creating impossible bunkers as monuments to captains has no place in their policy. Pubs are a plenty and Anny Mays in Skib town provides a good trad seisuin while further out in Castletownsend is a top class pub and restaurant called Mary Ann's.

Here larger than life character Fergus O'Mahony and his wife Patricia assure visitors of a hearty welcomeand very good food.

 

BEAUTY

 

Home produce is at the heart of every meal in every place you go. Back in Liss Ard the estate has given over a three-acre plot to UCC where 15 students will have practical training in organic growing of fruit and vegetables as part of a degree course.

The West Cork region has been blessed with a natural beauty sweeping from Union Hall and Glandore to areas like Tragumna and Lough Hyne.

It was Ireland's first marine nature reserve and was a freshwater lake to which the sea gained access.

Liss Ard and West are a world away -at home.

FACTFILE:

For deals and breaks, check out lissardestate.com. For things to do, log on to westcorkfood.com and skibbgolf.com.


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