Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 5 – New Ross

New Ross seems to draw me. Every trip I’ve made to Ireland has included time in New Ross and three times I’ve stayed for many weeks or months in the countryside nearby. It’s become “my town” in Ireland. I find the people here to be very friendly and the town is a good base for exploring southeastern Ireland.

William Marshall was an important Norman-English knight who won the friendship and admiration of King John of England. He was given a wealthy bride, Isabella de Clare, the daughter of “Strongbow” (Richard de Clare, second Earl of Pembroke). Together they brought the southeastern corner of Ireland out of the middle ages. Isabella is credited with beginning the town of New Ross in the year 1189. William Marshall made New Ross his port city because of its location on the river Barrow. This “power couple” began the city of Kilkenny and built the Irish Tintern Abbey a few miles from New Ross.

Today this 800-year-old town is becoming a popular stop on tour itineraries. That’s largely because of the connection to New Ross of President John F. Kennedy. The president’s ancestors lived on a farm six kilometers outside New Ross. His great-grandparents departed Ireland on a ship from here. Today a replica of that ship, the Dunbrody, provides an opportunity to discover the miserable conditions immigrants to the New World were made to endure. One of the last public appearances President Kennedy made was in New Ross. That event has never been forgotten and it’s memorialized on the main street of the town today. Irish-American donors and the Irish government cooperated to create the John F. Kennedy Memorial Garden and Arboretum near the old Kennedy family farm.

The town is hilly. The old town center lies along the river banks and a new, modern town is developing on the other side of the hill. Little has changed in the old town. Three tall steeples grace the skyline. The thosel – Irish for town hall – is at the center of a small nest of shopping streets. It appears to date from the late 18th or early 19th centuries. Many of the shops and pubs are old, and bear the names of their owners. Not much has changed in the last 50 or 100 years, and I like that.  I’m already making plans to return next year.


The photo above is of the ship Dunbrody. The building behind it is the very good tourist information center. It houses a small museum about Irish emigration and a good restaurant.


Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 7 – Cool summers and mild winters

In 2016 I was in Ireland for seven weeks in April and May. When I returned home to North Carolina I experienced one of the hottest summers ever. Each day I’d look at the weather app on my phone and read that the temperature I was feeling was about 97 degrees. I’d also see that the temperature in New Ross was 67. Before the summer was out I made arrangements to rent the smallest cottage at Fruit Hill for all of the summer of 2017. I didn’t regret that decision! Once or twice this summer the high temp was 25 degrees Celsius (according to the thermometer in the car) which is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Most days the afternoon temperature was in the high 60s. I never once wore any of my short-sleeve T-shirts; every day this summer I wore a light sweater all day. Although the skies were often cloudy there were not a lot of rainy days.

In 2005 my late husband and I were considering moving to Ireland. Because his grandmother was born there he was entitled to Irish citizenship. We wanted to test life there, including the weather, before making any final decisions.  We rented a cottage in the same area of Southeast Ireland for four months in winter, from early January until the end of April. Every morning George recorded the temperature. It was never lower than 40 degrees. It snowed once.

Ireland is positioned very far north on the globe. During June and July the sun doesn’t set until nearly 10:00 pm. In winter, the hours of daylight are short. The island is protected from temperature extremes by the jet stream but global warming is a great concern to many Irish people. Should the jet stream change its course, Ireland would experience very different weather conditions.


The photo at the top of this post is the view from the kitchen window of my 2017 Irish cottage at Fruit Hill.

The Top Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 8 – Kilkenny

Recently, in the 13th century cathedral in Kilkenny, I heard a small choir sing the original version of Handel’s “Messiah.” It was just one of the many offerings of the Kilkenny Arts Festival presented over a ten-day span in August. A few years ago I attended an opera performance in the old theatre in the town. In Kilkenny I’ve enjoyed Irish music in lively pubs and toured a castle, part of which dates back to the year 1195 when the city began. I’ve shopped and dined well. The city is small but it’s successfully filled with many enticing businesses.

Kilkenny is my favorite Irish city. It is called Ireland’s “medieval city.” An ancient city, it provides a perfect blend of history, interesting shops, traditional pubs and good restaurants. There are a number of centuries-old buildings to explore. The recent addition of the “Medieval Mile Museum” installed in a very old church in the very center of the town promises to make experiencing the town’s long history easier for visitors.

Like many Irish towns, the shops that line the streets of Kilkenny are painted in bright colors. Some of the shops retain identifying signs dating to the 19th century. My favorite shop is called “Yesterdays.” Located on Lower Patrick Street, just a few steps from the center of town, the shop, packed full of artful objects for the home and for gifts. There’s always something new and delightful on offer. A lovely small hotel called Butler House is just across the street.  Many old houses now occupied by businesses feature Georgian-era doors brightly painted such as the bright yellow doors of Butler House.

The location of Kilkenny in the middle of southern Ireland and an easy drive from Dublin and the south on modern highways makes it an ideal location from which to discover much of Ireland. There are many hotels in the town and self-catering cottages scattered about the surrounding countryside.


The photo above was taken just prior to the performance of Handel’s Messiah in the 13th century cathedral in Kilkenny.


Kilkenny City Online is a fun site, useful for planning a visit there.

Wikipedia has a detailed description and history of Kilkenny.

The Top Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 9 – An Original Local Food Movement

Ireland’s 21st century restaurant and hotel offerings begin with traditional, home-grown foods: delicious soda bread (called “wheaten bread” in some places) and smoked salmon and the famous “Irish breakfast” of sausages, bacon, beans, broiled tomatoes and eggs. In old pubs all over the country visitors enjoy delicious seafood chowder and other longtime favorites.

In restaurants around the country, however, innovative chefs are combining fresh local ingredients, traditional recipes and new ideas to create an exciting new Irish cuisine. One of my favorite places is a small restaurant and inn called Zuni in Kilkenny. Its upscale dining room overlooks the open kitchen where chefs turn out original dishes that are always excellent.

And there’s Avoca, a successful Irish company that combines clever retail shops, food markets and really good restaurants in a number of locations around Ireland. The chefs create ever-changing seasonal menus offering the freshest local dishes. Recently I had a spectacular crab salad at Avoca.

Another of my favorites is a small bakery and café called Ormond’s Café located in Dungarvan, a busy seaside town. The offerings at lunch here are very un-lunch like. Large servings of fresh fish are accompanied by original side dishes. (The photo above was taken at Ormond’s – isn’t their take on ratatouille appealing?)

Local food isn’t confined to restaurants. Grocery markets offer many of my favorites. I love “West Country” yogurt made in west Cork with fresh cream and Irish milk. The tiny fish market in New Ross offers a wide choice of fresh fish including salmon, crab and haddock. In the southeast, Wexford strawberries are sold from small booths along the highways throughout the summer. A new facility covered by greenhouses is located near the place where I stayed this summer. I suspect tomatoes, strawberries and other fragile fruits are being grown there. Chicken is especially good in Ireland where a photo of the farmer who produced it along with his name and county are shown on package labels.

Pride is a chief ingredient in delicious Irish cooking and it can be tasted in every bite!

The Top Ten Reasons I Love Ireland: No. 10 – a calm, centuries-old way of living

I had the good fortune to spend all summer this year in Ireland. Irish immigration laws allow Americans to stay there for only 90 days. Now that I’m home again, I’m feeling a bit sad about leaving beautiful Ireland.  Beginning with this post, I’ll be sharing the characteristics of Ireland that have caused me to fall in love with that small green country.

Ireland is littered with small towns, smaller villages and many wide-spots-in-the-road with very strange names. These places are hundreds of years old and many of them retain some very old buildings and the atmosphere of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Narrow farm roads crisscross the green hills. Often traffic on them is slowed by big blue tractors driving no more than 40 kilometers per hour (about 25 mph). Farming appears to be the main occupation supporting many families – perhaps a majority. Farms spread over the green hills, divided by ancient hedges and stone walls that are relics of centuries past when Ireland was a colony of Great Britain.

The people who live in these towns and villages and farms are gentle souls, always polite and friendly, speaking with the gentle brogue for which Ireland is well-known. In the west of Ireland many people still prefer to speak the gaelic “Irish” language. Signs are bi-lingual everywhere.

Dublin and other Irish cities are fully engaged in the 21st century but in the countryside life seems to be as gentle as a misty Irish morning. And I loved that!


The photo above is of the ten-arch bridge in Inistioge, which gets my vote for “most beautiful Irish village.” Read my earlier post about it here: https://in-my-suitcase.com/2015/11/07/the-loveliest-village-in-ireland/

An 800 Year Old Lighthouse

Near the place where I am staying this summer in County Wexford, Ireland, is a small peninsula called “Hook Head.” Abandoned old homes and churches are found often along the narrow roads that lead to the end of the peninsula and Hook lighthouse. The lighthouse is the second oldest functioning light in the world. It was built around the year 1200 on the orders of William Marshall, a member of the English royal family whose name is connected often with the history of this region.

Here are a few of the many photos I’ve taken on the Hood peninsula. I hope they will tempt you to visit southeast Ireland.

The coastline of the peninsula is rugged, cut deeply. It’s a popular area for biking, hiking, and kayaking.

Just a mile or so before the end of the peninsula and the lighthouse is a tiny village comprised of the remnants of very old houses and some lovely new homes. The road is narrow and lined with flowers, some naturally occurring wild flowers and some planted by people whose homes are along this road.

This house is slowing being taken back by nature. It’s next to the house shown above and directly across the road from the church ruin in the next picture.

This church is likely the ruin of a very old monastery, known to have been created here ca. 500 AD. The Knights Templar were in this area in that era and are believed to have installed a monastery here. The site noted below provides a simplified history of this region that explains this in more detail.

A mile or two from the lighthouse is a tiny village called Slane which is the site of this medieval castle. It is not the only castle on the peninsula but it is the most complete.

Just in front of the castle in Slane is this small protected harbor.

Loftus Hall is a bit farther up the peninsula. It’s been abandoned for a long time. The current owners are slowly working on restoring it. Today the grounds are being used as hay fields. All over Ireland in July these huge rolls of hay are harvested and piled up on slow-moving tractors for removal to winter storage places. (Wish you’d seen the piles on the tractor wagon I saw yesterday!)


P.S.  Tintern Abbey and Colclough Gardens (which I wrote about here very recently) are also on the Hook Peninsula. In New Ross, the nearest large town, a project of depicting the history of this region and William Marshall in original tapestries has been ongoing for more than ten years. Read about it in this post I wrote last year:

This is a simplified but good site for learning about the history of this area.  Read more about this area here and here (this site has a video)

This is NOT a picture of your friendly photographer:

Tintern Abbey Chapter 3: Colclough Walled Garden

In the early 1800s the Colcoough family (pronounced Coke-Lee), residents of Tintern Abbey for centuries, created a large walled garden about a kilometer away from their home. Little remained but the brick walls and 30 giant Sitka spruce trees which had been growing for a couple of hundred years. In 2010 the Hook Tourism Council began recovering the garden. Today a magnificent garden delights visitors throughout the year.

Led by professional horticulturalist Alan Ryan, a team comprised of staff and volunteers has made this 200-year-old garden spectacular. Divided by a brick wall, the front half of the garden has deep perennial borders on three sides.

Recently historical surveys uncovered footprints of diamond-shaped flower beds in the center of the space which have been restored and filled with red, yellow and blue annuals.

In 2016 I discovered this garden during a visit to the abbey in May. Although the weather was cool, many plants were large and blooming.

Apple trees and other fruit trees grow on or near the walls all around the garden. They were in bloom in May.

When I returned to the garden in early June this year I was really surprised by how advanced the plants were so early in Ireland’s cool summer. I asked what type of fertilizer was used.  Mr. Ryan explained that the garden is entirely organic, that the soil is very rich as a result of being abandoned for so long, and that now all dead plant material is left in the garden as mulch. He also pointed out that the brick garden walls soak up the heat of the sun and raise the temperature in the garden by several degrees.

By mid-July the garden was in full bloom, bursting with color.

This spectacular acanthus plant was a new discovery for me.

The garden is divided by a brick wall. The back half is a kitchen garden, as it was in the 19th century. A tall man made of wicker stands guard at the entrance. An enormous variety of edibles is grown here, ranging from apples to artichokes.

Everything flourishes in this garden.  Irish weather, famous for being damp and cool, irrigates the garden naturally.  Everything, including herbs, grows well here.

I try to return every week or two, watching the changes in Colclough Garden. It’s been a delightful learning experience.