This article originally appeared in The Farmer’s Journal on 3rd October 2018
Katherine O’Leary speaks about how Storm Ali cancelling the Ploughing helped her rediscover an appreciation for the town of Birr
Last Thursday, I was in Kilkenny City and I had a few hours to spare. I drove around the lovely streets remembering when I used to come there shopping with my mother many moons ago. The traffic congestion remains the same. I did what a lot of people do in our towns and cities and that is to find the big shopping centre.
Google led me to MacDonagh Junction. Shopping centres are so convenient when time is scarce. I decided to have my lunch in the very inviting courtyard area. The sun was shining and it was a perfect day to eat outside. When confronted with a lot of restaurants it is strange how we make choices.
Our number-one rule is to choose one that is busy. It is usually a good indicator of return business. To be fair, they were all quite full. Something about the logo over the door of one on the other side caught my eye. It was Quigley’s. I wanted a nice salad and I’ll tell you why soon. I had the Mediterranean one. It was prepared while I waited. It cost €6.95 and it was lovely. It is all about the dressing. Afterwards I went into Eason’s looking for Senator Lynn Ruane’s biography, People like me. The young man behind the counter had to search hard to find it. He did it with good humour and plenty of chat. Oftentimes the bigger shops in Cork and Dublin do not offer the same friendliness.
A free afternoon
This affable trait was visible in abundance in Birr on the day the Ploughing was cancelled. We were left with time to fill. Mairéad Lavery and I decided to head into Birr to have our lunch. Mairéad chose The Stables restaurant on Oxmantown Mall.
The tree-lined street is impressive with its imposing period houses. We entered the restaurant through the courtyard to find a sprawling restaurant filled with character. We settled on the superfood salad.
It contained seeds, leaves, sweet vine tomatoes, red onions, peaches and marinated chicken in a fabulous red dressing. I have been trying to recreate the flavour since with some limited success, nonetheless the family are delighted with my effort.
Adding a salad to a meal is very often rushed and uninteresting. It is well worth putting in some fruit or roasted vegetables to improve the flavour of the mix. This salad was definitely the nicest salad I have ever tasted, hence my renewed interest in nice salads.
Our lunch in The Stables ended with two scrumptious pieces of cake chosen from an interesting offering of desserts. We could not leave without a meander through the emporium behind the restaurant where one can pick up gifts and beautiful things for the home. We kept our money in our pockets because we had plans – both of us are avid gardeners, we wanted to visit at least one garden centre.
Bootfull of plants
Mairéad was the navigator and the destination was the Woodfield Café and Garden Centre. Despite a long summer of drought, there was a beautiful array of flourishing plants. I found some lovely silver plants called Corylopsis. They had died out on me over the summer and a few other nice things. Mairéad was equally successful. Dermot Ward, the owner of the garden centre was generous with his knowledge and again we experienced that friendly willingness to chat and time for customers. Dermot’s sister Hannah runs the café alongside the garden centre. Once our hobby had been indulged, we headed into Birr town. We parted company for a while. Birr is a town that Tim and I regularly pass through but rarely stop into.
I walked down the main street window shopping. I passed a big hardware store with the name ‘W. K. Fayle Hardware Ltd’ over the door. I peeped inside. It had everything! I bought a particular size of bin that I’ve been seeking out for a while. I wanted a few brass screws, a small door knob for a press, a nozzle for a hose pipe and a few hooks. They were on a list that had been generated a few weeks back and I didn’t have the opportunity to find them.
A few doors down, I found the perfect strong dog brush for big dogs in Horse and Dog Outfitters. Cork had failed me in that regard with several broken ones ending in the bin. When I returned to the car, Mairéad did look at my dog brush and bin a bit quizzically but she didn’t comment. The evening was crowned with a call to a private magical garden that Mairéad had visited previously. We were suitably inspired. An unexpected free afternoon away from home, courtesy of storm Ali, ended in an appreciation of the welcoming town of Birr.