A weekend in Inisheer
On the West Coast of Ireland lie three jewels: the Aran Islands. While my boyfriend has visited each one of them dozens of times, a family weekend on County Clare seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to discover one of these famous Irish landmarks.
Close to the Cliffs of Moher, about 30 minutes off the coast, Inisheer is the smallest of the three islands. On a hopelessly grey Saturday morning - July in Ireland could easily be mistaken for a month of November, Damien and I embarked on the Rose of Aran to spend the day on Inis Oírr. We were not alone; in spite of the dreadful weather, a lot of tourists come to Ireland in the summer, many of them delighted to escape the heat wave happening in their own country.
Saying that the boat trip was a bit rocky would be an understatement. The small ship got hit by strong waves during the 35 minutes of the cruise and while I luckily didn't get soaked, many people weren't as fortunate and landed on the island shaken, wet, and probably quite nauseous. I kept thanking myself for skipping breakfast on that morning, as it would have undoubtedly made its way back up my throat at some point.
Seeing the island emerging from the mist came as a true relief. Inisheer is only 8 km2 so it is easy to visit all the interesting sites in one day, especially if you jump on of the many horse carriages waiting for you by the pier or if you rent a bike, which we did. For 12,50 euros a day, you can cycle on the empty roads, admiring the countless walls of stone and stopping whenever you please without having to lock the bike.
After going up to the castle, which looks more like an old warehouse than a palace to be fair, we stopped for lunch (the seasickness disappeared after the bike rides) in a place called The Castle Café. It is not your average restaurant: in front of her house, an old lady simply placed a few wooden tables and decided to serve food.
She offers mostly fresh fish and seafood, sandwiches, pastries and tea, depending on what she could lay her hands on that day. We started with a cup of tea - did I mention it was about 15°C? - and shared a seafood chowder as a starter. Made with the fresh catch of the day, pollock, crab and lobster, it felt much lighter than your average chowder, which is often very creamy and as a result quite heavy. The crab gave it a stringy texture while the lobster made it probably the most flavourful chowder I have ever tried.
As a main, I went for the crab claws while Damien ordered the pan-fried pollock, both served with a salad and brown bread. I absolutely love crab so it felt like Christmas when I saw how many crabs claws were stacked on my plate. I didn't count precisely but I'd say there was at least 8, served with a classic Marie-Rose sauce and an armless salad. Damien got a massive fillet of fish that he devoured. For 36 euros, we both enjoyed one of the best seafood we have ever had, cooked in the simplest way and probably as fresh as it gets. "It is only fresh fish", said the lady when I told her how much we had enjoyed our meal.
After another bike ride to the shipwreck, the old graveyard overlooking the sea and the lighthouse, we stopped at Teach An Tae, a small family cafe which made it in this year's Irish Magazine's list of ‘Ireland’s Top 100 Places to Eat’. The place was jammed, inside and out, and the cakes and pastries were leaving the kitchen at a fast pace.
We ordered a scone made with berries grown in the back-garden and a brownie. The scone, served with cream and jam, was probably the best I have ever had. Moist, tasty, perfectly crumbly, it was as good as a homemade treat can get. The brownie impressed me less purely because my vision of a brownie is a rich fudgy slice. Albeit freshly baked and tasty, this brownie was more of a chocolate cake than a brownie.
Before getting the boat back, we stopped one last time in our of Inisheer's most popular attraction, Tigh Ned, the local pub. We sat down at the bar and got a couple of pints, enjoying the friendly ambiance. In spite of the bad weather and the rough boat trip, Inisheer won me over thanks to its beautiful food offering and warm atmosphere - a true Irish experience.