Home Churned Butter

It's Mary Flynn's turn to churn the butter at the Coole Cottages Open House. Everyone must take a turn to ensure luck and sweet butter.

It's Mary Flynn's turn to churn the butter at the Coole Cottages Open House. Everyone must take a turn to ensure luck and sweet butter.

City raised folks like myself harvest our cream and butter in the refrigerated section of the local market. The cream is easy to find since it’s always next to the milk. However, the butter could be anywhere – perhaps next to the yogurts or over by the cheeses. In the market or on the tongue, butter and its replacements are one product, cream another one entirely.

So, tasting fresh churned butter is a revelation. Aha – butter is nothing other than agitated cream!  Like twins, the butter is simply born a few minutes after the cream following some extra tremors and contortions. Butter is cream transformed, one note up on the cream register, but still light and clear and, yes, creamy on the tongue.

No doubt this is a commonplace to my farm neighbours but it took Mary Flynn’s demonstration during the Coole Cottages Open House during Heritage Week to bring this matter forcefully to my taste buds. Mary runs Nells House, named for hubby’s Aunt Nell, up Rathgormack direction. Mary invites primary schools, scouts and adult groups to learn some oldtime farm skills.

Aunt Nell used to separate cream from milk simply by pouring it still warm from the cow into a great big basin. Nell would give the lighter cream a few hours to bubble to the top of the basin. Then she’d skim it off and scoop it into a wooden churn. The normal ratio was 10 pounds of milk to produce 1 of cream.

Then came the cranking of the churn handle, a steady and smooth operation with no great excess of speed allowed. Everyone who visited during the churning took their turn. It was particularly auspicious if a man of the cloth dropped by since his turnings called heavenly blessings upon the finished product.

Depending on the heat of the day, as little as 20 minutes of steady churning could produce enough butter to feed a family for days. Any extra butter could be sold. Such sales of butter and eggs earned many a household the funds for school supplies and the yarns and cloth that kept the family clothed.

But enough history, for all this is prelude to the payoff. Spread the freshly churned butter on a genuine Waterford blaa. Mmm…mmm! You may travel this wide world over, but you won’t find a more appetising treat.

You can enjoy seriously good food at sponsors Clonea Strand Hotel overlooking the area’s finest European Blue Flag beach.

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Two youngsters in front of a thriving crop of 'rubus fruticosis', the gentleman farmer's friend.

Some gardeners insist on weeding or digging in mulch and other such nonsense. I have even observed neighbours working so hard in their gardens that moisture has risen upon their foreheads. Clearly, these folks are raising the wrong crop.

My advice is to grow prodigious amounts of ‘rubus fruticosis’, the gentleman farmer’s friend. Luckily, the species thrives in Ireland and grows in all types of Irish soils, in hedgerows, woods, wasteland, in fact anywhere it gets half a chance. The plant is vigorous and annual growth of over 9 metres has been recorded.

The diligent fruticosis farmer should begin each season by ensuring that a favourite seating apparatus is fully functional. If necessary, clean it thoroughly and add fresh padding. Then fill a tall glass with a favourite beverage. Sit. Drink. For a bumper crop, repeat this procedure daily.

In particular, there’s no need to dig in new specimens. Fruticosis reproduces primarily by extending offshoots and these, after taking root, extend further still. Each newly established plant is genetically identical to the parent so a single ‘individual’ can spread over miles of countryside. Such a unique strain of fruticosis must compete with its neighbours and it will succeed only if it can outgrow them or if it is superbly adapted to its own small niche.

If you closely inspect a thriving copse of fruticosis, you will note much variation – some plants feature thick cables, others delicate leaves and thin stems. These are not just older and younger versions of the same plant but genetically separate subspecies. The whole mass thrives precisely because each plant is intimately customised to its own wee cranny.

However, you don’t want to inspect these robust masses of fruticosis too closely because they have noticeably sharp barbs. Non-botanists often refer to these spiny points as thorns. This is incorrect – they are ‘prickles’. Similar errors are made by non-specialists when they label the fruiting body of fruticosis as a berry. Botanically, it is termed an “aggregate fruit”, composed of “small drupelets.” Drupelets each contain their own seed, so the plant exponentially increases its chances of successful reproduction  because the fruit contains so many seedlets.

These ‘aggregate fruits’ grow only from secondary buds, never from the primary stem. This is why the wise fruticosis farmer does not interfere with the plant’s growth patterns. Cut back a stem and you risk losing that year’s crop. No, the best way to encourage a bountiful harvest is to grow fruticosis along hedges with a fine southern exposure and leave them alone till cropping time.

They reach full flavour in late August and early September and can be gathered then by farm labourers. Mature drupelets have a shine of ripe perfection much sought by veteran pickers. It should be noted that young fruticosis pickers are not averse to sampling the tangy product and total yield often suffers thereby.

Some areas are particularly noted for their fruitage. The Irish word for berry is smear – as in jam thickly spread on toast. In the Dungarvan area, we have the township of Coolnasmear named for its famous ‘smeara dubha’. But, ‘rubus fruticosis’ grows just about everywhere in Ireland. Aspiring farmers take note – here is the perfect crop.

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The Best Invention of All Time

bike path flowers

Spring has sprung on the old railway line path from Dungarvan to Clonea Strand.

The best invention of all time? That would hands down be the bicycle – personal freedom on two wheels. And they’re fun!

How many of you remember exploring the neighbourhood when you were young? Suddenly, you could end up miles from home, attending high school, exploring creeks or heading off to the sports field.

Of course, no one ever heard of gears. Up hills or on the flats, there was no namby-pamby down-shifting. You just did it – or suffered the ignominy of walking your bike while your friends left you in the dust. Which brings me to the second greatest invention of all time: flat land with lots of bike trails.

bike signs

The bike route is well signed.

Holland comes to mind. But, many Irish towns also fit the bill. Most began as sea or river ports and enjoy a surprising amount of flat land. Dungarvan, though surrounded by hills, has only one height – the negligible ascent from Main Street – O’Connell Street up to Convent Road – Mitchell Street. And the Council has thoughtfully provided miles of bike trails, though the effect is somewhat ruined by all the self propelled metal hulks hogging the paving.

Ducks Pool causeway ramp

The causeway ramp across the Ducks Pool tidal flats.

The solution in town will eventually be dedicated bike lanes. Dungarvan has won a grant of €7.2 million to “transform Dungarvan into a Smarter Travel Town.” You can get a sense of the possibilities by renting a bike or refurbishing that rusting frame sitting in the shed and riding the Old Railway Track from Abbeyside out to the beach next to the Clonea Strand Hotel. What a lovely trail – along greenways to Dungarvan Bay, over Ducks Pool on a long causeway, past placid cows in neighbouring fields and finally out to Clonea Strand and its mile long sandy beach. Thirty minutes tops, even for cycling duffers. And it’s flat!

The bike path as it reaches the sea beside Clonea Strand Hotel.

The bike path as it reaches the sea beside Clonea Strand Hotel.

The trail is well signed – and well used. Baby buggies, walkers, runners and bicyclists share the path. A few extensions lead to nearby estates. The Smarter Travel folks are planning to make the whole town similarly safe for those users who aren’t encased in metal and glass protective shielding.

Rent a bike in Amsterdam to see how it should be done. Bike lanes carry the majority of the city’s internal traffic. They are coloured red and feature their own traffic lights and rules of the road. You can sail through the busiest intersections and streets of the city in safety.

The most picturesque bike rack in Dungarvan.

Overlooking the beach at Clonea is this bike rack with a view.

While the upgrades happen, however, Irish cyclists have to squeeze themselves into the open millimetres between traffic and parked cars. But… increasing numbers of daredevils seem willing to risk life and limb. Bicyclists are now part of the Irish scene. This is a total win. Fitness, less pollution and traffic, Darwinian selection for exceptionally fast reflexes – the benefits are myriad.

Visitors can rent bicycles at Gold Coast Golf Resort or bike shops in town. The Smarter Travel plans for Dungarvan can be read here.

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The Bronze Age Solution

Our retired politicians can thank their lucky stars they’re not living in bronze age Ireland.

Thousands of years ago they knew who to blame when total disaster reared. The Gods were angry and the king was probably the cause of this anger. You needed to do two things – get rid of the old king and pray to the Gods for pardon.

Ireland's modern politicians can be thankful we don't treat them like this!

Ireland's politicians can be thankful we don't treat them like this!

And what nicer offering could you make to your angry deity than the old heretic prince who had caused such heavenly distress. You got rid of him in a thoroughly complete sort of way. You garroted the old rotter, bashed him over the head, shoved a footlong sharp bronze sword in his jugular and you drowned him in an inky black pool of bog water. And then you left him to turn into a bog body.

An extra bonus, totally unanticipated, would be if one day someone dug what’s left of him out of the turf. Ideally, they’d put his grisly remains on display in the National Museum of Ireland to thrill gawking school children.

After dealing with the old king, you then got down on your knees and prayed for forgiveness. And, if the Gods were pleased, they relented and the sun shone strong and bright, the rains fell gently and rainbows shone.

Marking a piece of paper with a number one is surely a more civilized approach. But, a prayer for rainbows and sunshine still wouldn’t go amiss.

When that sunshine appears, there’s no better place to be than mile long Clonea Strand, a European Blue Flag Beach. Check out the Clonea Strand Hotel.

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The Duke of Devonshire's programme included the building of Dungarvan's Causeway Bridge.

The Duke of Devonshire's programme included the building of Dungarvan's Causeway Bridge.

Times are hard and look to be getting harder. A little over a year ago, the government voted to give control of the country to foreigners. The political party deemed responsible has been voted out. And the year is 1802.

Dungarvan in 1802 was a shambles of close set medieval lanes and crowded houses. Two thirds of the town was owned by the Duke of Devonshire and ‘austerity’ was a way of life. Grattan’s Parliament had voted itself out of existence and Ireland was united with England, Wales and Scotland. And the first chance voters got to express their displeasure came when the Duke’s hand picked candidate stood for election. He was trounced.

That caught the Duke’s attention and an Agent, a man named Henry Bowman, journeyed to Dungarvan to assess the situation. Bowman’s recommendations transformed the town. He proposed a programme of building “out of which may be created many good votes both from the borough and county.”

We live with the result – a central market square to replace the slums in the town centre; a market house to promote business; and a stone bridge to link Abbeyside to the main town and encourage east-west traffic between Lismore and Waterford.

The result of this economic stimulus? Bowman wrote the Duke to tell him that the project “has created a revolution in public sentiment… It has set man’s minds a speculating and roving. Some expect they may be favoured with a good house, others that they may obtain profits by being employed or by selling something during the erection of the buildings…”

Austerity versus stimulus – it’s not a new debate.

This nugget of useful information comes right off the wall at the wonderful Dungarvan Museum – www.dungarvanmuseum.org – a treasure trove of matters Dungarvan. Definitely worth a look!

When visiting Dungarvan, you’ll also want to check out the finest beach around and Clonea Strand Hotel.

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Munster Fleadh… Fleed… Fled…

Munster Fleadh 2012 in Dungarvan Ireland

Musicians know that Dungarvan is the place to be for the Munster Fleadh in July 2012

What’s a fleadh?

For those of us who don’t speak Irish, the first question is how to pronounce it. Is it flee-ad? fleed? The unlikely answer is flah, as in open your mouth and say ahhhh….

Silent ‘e’. Silent ‘d’. Silent ‘h’. For a word with so much silence, the meaning is ironic. Fleadh (flahhhh!) means festival. And, typically, a ‘Fleadh’ is a festival of music. Hardly silent.

Take the Munster Fleadh. (a ‘Munster’ is the southwest province of Ireland, that is, counties Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Clare.) The Munster Fleadh is a week of traditional Irish music, song and dance. And this year’s flahhhh takes place in Dungarvan.

Yes! This Dungarvan. Dungarvan, County Waterford, Ireland, Europe.

And from the moment on Sunday, the 15th of July when the official opening ceremony and concert take place, through the traditional Irish music workshops and recitals, the week of street music and pub sessions, onto the final huge weekend of competitions, concerts and dances, and closing events on Sunday, the 22nd of July – well this incredibly long run-on sentence only begins to capture the scale of the Munster Fleadh.

For the full programme of events and loads more, go to the official website – www.munsterfleadh.ie.

Note: Thousands of families and trad music lovers will descend on Dungaravan during this week. Finding accommodation will be a challenge. Blog sponsors Clonea Strand Hotel, Gold Coast Golf Hotel, Bayview Caravan Camping, Gold Coast Self Catering (including Cottages, Lodges, Villas and Suites) are all available for booking.

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Found – Ireland’s Missing Town

The fifth biggest town in Ireland cannot be found on any map of the island. It is bigger than Waterford and Dungarvan put together, but you’ll look in vain for its location on Google maps or Wikipedia. This place is a phantom, moving year by year, its populace continually changing and always on the move. Yet, it occupies roughly a square mile of Irish countryside, its streets are made of metal and annually it imports thousands of farm animals to occupy its dozens of huge barns.

“It” is the National Ploughing Championship – the centrepiece of the farming year. Taking place at the end of September, the Ploughing Championship attracts upwards of 1,100 exhibitors and nearly 200,000 visitors over its three day appearance.

This instant town celebrates all things farming. Visitors can view whole milking parlours, tractors gigundus, balers, harvesters, binders, swathers and all the assorted arcana of farm machinery. There are food stands selling every variety of Irish beef hamburgers, gadgeteers galore, displays of old threshing machines, stands displaying the wares of every green energy supplier in Ireland, sackfuls of leaflets, and a giant amusement park with rides guaranteed to make the faint-hearted sick.

Hey, there are even ploughing championships! You can thrill to the glacial progress of horse ploughs or watch modern tractors cut multiple furrows in one go. Name a farm animal and you’ll find some sort of competition for best of. Name a type of tart, flower arrangement, jam or cake and you’re sure to see a whole bunch of satisfied looking judges stuffing their faces while anxious entrants await decisions.

This is it – the Big Kahuna of Irish farming. And this coming year, 25th-27th September 2012, the Ploughing Championships will be coming to New Ross in County Wexford, less than an hour’s drive from Dungarvan.

As you’d expect with an instant city boasting all manner of fast food but with nary a bedroom in sight, hotels within reach are booking up fast. Check out Clonea Strand Hotel, on an EU designated Blue Flag beach. Enjoy a full day exploring what will be South East Ireland’s biggest town, then relax to the soothing sound of the sea.

2012 National Ploughing Championships, Heathpark, New Ross, Co Wexford, 25th-27th September

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The First Quiz

The neighbours turn out for a table quiz at the Gold Coast Golf Hotel.

The neighbours turn out for a table quiz at the Gold Coast Golf Hotel.

The very first quiz featured a husband and wife team. The prize was a paradisiacal home and so much wealth that they’d never have to work a day in their lives. The format adopted for this precedent setting event was for the Quizmaster to tempt the wife with something she really wanted, the veritable apple of her eye. Even though she had been specifically warned her not to go for the obvious answer, in her excitement, the woman chose incorrectly.

Ashamed, the husband rushed offstage and hid behind a tree. The furious Producer wandered around looking for either contestant, and finding them, banished the pair from the show, telling them in no uncertain terms that they’d blown it and would have to work by the sweat of their brows from that day forward.

So Adam and Eve were cast out of Eden and tortured themselves ever after with the thought that they almost gave the right answer.

The next key date in Irish Quiz history came in the 1980′s, about the time that tea bags first became an acceptable substitute for the genuine article. It was during that decade, which also witnessed the Emerald Isle’s introduction to music videos and wine, that the first table quiz came to Ireland. Before too long there were semi-professional foursomes competing for the cash prizes.

Brendan O'Brien, Dungarvan's Table Quiz Maestro, at the Gold Coast Golf Hotel.

Brendan O'Brien, Dungarvan's Table Quiz Maestro, at the Gold Coast Golf Hotel.

The latter half of the 1990′s  witnessed the final apotheosis of the table quiz format. For it was then that Brendan (Bob) O’Brien began hosting local contests. The man runs dozens of table quizzes a year for local groups and is himself responsible for raising well over a million euro for good causes.

Brendan is a table quiz genius! Not only are his quizzes really fun, but there are homilies laced through the proceedings. Take this stumper: “What is greater than God, worse than the devil, and you will die if you eat it?”

Brendan’s latest masterpiece of quiztory was organised in aid of the Munster Fleadh, the great traditional music festival, which will arrive in Dungarvan in mid-July 2012. Participants gathered at the Gold Coast Golf Hotel which furnished the excellent venue.  Fits of laughter and rambunctious sing-alongs were evidence of the good time had by all.

Full disclosure requires me to note that the writer of this essay was part of the team whose brilliance garnered third place in the quiz. To honour our quick wit, the Gold Coast Golf  Hotel graciously awarded ‘Table 19′ a free lunch at the Hotel’s excellent restaurant. I can truly say from the bottom of my gut that this well deserved prize tickled our celebratory taste buds.

Thanks Brendan! Thanks Gold Coast. Go Fleadh!

The answer: Nothing is greater than God, Nothing is worse than the devil and you will die if you eat Nothing.

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Irish Christmas

The taste of an Irish Christmas

Minced Pies - the taste of an Irish Christmas

When does the Christmas Season begin? Before Halloween, if the profusion of red and green packaging in the stores is a guide.

But, officially? It seems to take a big holiday to get the ball rolling. Thanksgiving turkeys in America are followed by Black Friday, the biggest shopping day in the American calendar.

Ireland holds fire for nearly another two weeks. December 8th marks the official launch of the Christmas shopping season. This is the day in the Catholic calendar when Mary was conceived, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Not too long ago, December 8th was a rather low key affair. Stores and schools were closed that day. The faithful went to church and then returned home for a quiet meal with the family and the standard round of farm and household chores.

Gone be the days! Now the stores are open, the street decorations lit, the throngs thronging. And thus begins a continual round of get-togethers: company parties, parish happenings, choral offerings and invites to this and that and t’other.

The baking starts in earnest. With so many women in the work force, you’d think the production of Christmas puddings and fairy cake confections would suffer. Not a bit of it! Mountains of minced pies are made – and promptly eaten. ‘Mincemeat’ is the filling inside these miniature pot pies, but no meat is involved. The ‘meat’ is really fruit, nuts, butter – and for the hardcore traditionalists – suet. Heated and flaky, they are the taste of an Irish Christmas.

The really crazy shopping day, the Madness, is Christmas Eve Day, that is, the 24th of December. The population descends on the shopping streets and the lines for the cash registers snake through the stores. Many head to town just to enjoy the bustle. This is also the day that neighbours drop in on each other to say hello and drop off gifts and snort each other’s wine and whiskey. That evening, Midnight Mass is stuffed.

And on Christmas, so are the rest of us.


For a Christmas treat, check out the special offerings at Clonea Holiday Resort and Gold Coast Golf Resort - the sponsors of this blog.

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Halloween in Ireland

A traditional Halloween bonfire

A traditional Halloween bonfire.

Halloween in Ireland used to amount to spring cleaning. In some neighbourhoods, folks contributed their old tires, off cuts of lumber, rags, old mattresses and assorted garage detritus to a large central stockpile. The whole was liberally doused with gasoline and as night falls, the entire toxic mess was set alight while capering children excitedly inhaled the poisonous fumes.

Ahh, All Hollows Eve in Auld Ireland.

Government diktat has ended the most noxious bonfires. The recent American import of dressing up and going door to door for candy has taken its place. There are always numerous donations of fruit and home made cookies and, thankfully, these are still safe to enjoy. Costumes are mostly home produced and face paint figures prominently. Fireworks abound. Explosions routinely rock the air.

On my first halloween in Ireland, neighbours filled my head with true stories of local mysteries and spectral sightings. In the dark, I headed up the lane to my own home. No light. Houses are scattered hundreds of yards apart and I was on a deserted stretch of road when…

A heart stopping screech suddenly rent the silent night. SCREEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!

My heart leapt, adrenaline pumped, and my mind instantly fixated on two all important questions. Does Ireland have mountain lions and how high is this ditch I’m about to leap over?

Then, bang!

A firework exploded and my heart crept from between my teeth. The kids up the lane had just set off their first “screamer”.

Night time wanderers, take note. The last wild wolf was killed in the 1600’s, the last bear in prehistoric times and lions never made it to Ireland during this glacial era.

by Scott Simons

Note: The sponsors of this blog, Clonea Holiday Resort, offer a smashing Halloween week special offer. Families and couples will want to check it out.

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