My family’s adventure in Ireland began in Donegal Town! Also, here is our family recipe for Chilli Sauce, a delicious savory-sweet condiment we enjoyed in Ireland.
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This trip was my most exciting Delectable Destination yet. The last one was our family’s impulsive jaunt to Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, and that vacation set the bar pretty high. But this trip was an adventure across the Atlantic: traveling with my mother and sister to visit Ireland, the second time there for our mom and the first for me and my sister.
Deciding the travel dates was easy, but picking the destinations proved much harder. There are so many sites and towns to see – it’s impossible to narrow down where to go in just one week! Little by little, with help from Rick Steves and Lonely Planet travel guides we honed in on places to visit, and my mother scouted out sweet little B&B’s where we could stay.
The route that emerged would begin at the airport in Shannon, and then take us mostly through the north and west of Ireland, plus one quick dash over to Dublin on the east coast.
And the first of those stops was Donegal. (Dún na nGall)
Our morning arrival at Shannon airport – we were excited to begin and a little punchy too, despite our best efforts to sleep on the flight. The Hertz rental car representative (who looked so much like actor Simon Pegg!) took great pleasure in teasing my mother about a mistake in the reservation she made. (Drive a stick while also on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car? Yeah, no thanks.)
To our relief the Simon Pegg doppelgänger found a car we could manage, and also got us laughing with an exaggerated “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Armed with cups of airport coffee and tea, we got on our way to our B&B in Donegal: Rossmore Manor.
The drive there was long and rainy. The landscape I could see through the rain-streaked windows was very green, ranged from flat to somewhat hilly, and was dotted with sheep and brown cows. My mother got the first taste of driving and my sister of her nail-biting role as navigator. (Mr. Pegg would only allow two names on the rental agreement, and that was mine and mom’s. I wanted to cheat and let my sister drive too but someone said we’d get into trouble.)
It seemed the trickiest part for us both was staying off the shoulder (on the left side there) and out of the shrubbery, rocks, etc. just off the shoulder. So my poor sister saw that treacherous shoulder looming towards her quite often.
A few hours along we stopped for a bite in the small town of Charleston and found The Market Café a little eatery with a homey decor of flowered tablecloths, hutches and china. and. It was here that the first Irish breakfast was enjoyed! My sister’s plate held traditional foods of a big Irish Breakfast: sausages, black pudding, white pudding, toast, fries, and eggs. (No beans on this one.)
The puddings were so interesting: two semi-circular, fried-up slices, and the white pudding tasted much like a regular breakfast sausage. The black pudding which is a blood sausage had a much stronger and distinct flavor that reminded me of our grandmother’s old-fashioned Thanksgiving dressing made with turkey giblets. I was nervous to try it… and surprised that I liked it! My lunch was a sweet-savory panini of ham, pineapple, and Ballymaloe relish.
We finally reached Rossmore Manor in Donegal a few hours later, after winding through a narrow lane that sat low between fields with grazing horses and sheep.
Rossmore Manor is perched at the top of a steep drive and is a lovely stone home designed to look like a small castle, complete with coats of arms and arched doorways with heavy wood doors!
The view from the drive was stunning: a sweeping view of lush, cow-covered hills sloping down to the inlet where the River Eske empties into Donegal Bay.
How beautiful of a view the owners of Rossmore get to look out on every day!
In Donegal Town that night we had dinner at The Harbour Restaurant, and a blazing fire in the fireplace greeted us as we came in out of the windy, damp evening. It was there at our table that we heard our first “Not a bother!” This was our waitress’s smiling reply as we ordered food, or when we asked for something, and after each of our thank-yous!
“Not a bother” was such a welcoming phrase, and though we would occasionally hear it during the rest of the week to us it was really a Donegal-ism.
My sister had the Harbour’s traditional Fish and Chips (served with Mushy Peas!) and mom had the Oven-Baked Cod.
I had a really interesting and delicious entree: a Mille Feuille made with layers of flaky pastry, goat’s cheese, pesto, and Mediterranean veggies. The layers of goat’s cheese were generous in size and warm, and very nicely balanced with the pesto and pastry.
We wandered, visited shops, and as dusk approached we saw a sign for the ruins of the 15th century Donegal Abbey and graveyard.
As we entered the graveyard to have a look, I noticed two girls (15, maybe 16 years old) in miniskirts and warm jackets. One of them was leaning against the other to close the straps of her tall, clear-plastic wedge sandals. And I thought, “Well, that’s weird.”
It was then I realized that the graveyard was filled with teens: beers in hand, girls dressed to the nines and shivering in the drizzle and cold, boys smashing empty bottles against crumbling walls. We had walked into a party… at the ruins of a 500-year old friary, and the kids began to eye us leerily. So we decided to sight-see some other time!
The next day after a lovely breakfast of sausages, brown bread, and a Café Americano I shared with Rossmore owner Vicky our plans to take a long drive north to Fanad lighthouse and then back south to Galway. She looked worried and replied, “Oh no, no, no, no, no.” Her husband said, “Oh that’s mad.” (I loved it.)
On maps and apps it seems all points in Ireland are at most three hours away, but we realized by week’s end that this doesn’t account for weather, traffic, or sheep in the road. Thankfully they convinced us to drive to the nearby lighthouse on St. John’s Point instead – such a wise suggestion.
It was my turn to drive and I confess I was terrified-ish. But to my surprise it was not hard to get used to. My navigator-sister had a few tense moments while I drove, as the shoulder came close to her own shoulder, but overall I think I did OK.
The narrow drive wound down the point, and the views around the lighthouse were gorgeous: dramatic with pounding waves, windy cliffs, and the word “EIRE” spelled out in white stones (a remnant of WWII.)
Along the point we came upon a gem of a thatched cottage and met Cyndi Graham who weaves beautiful scarves and cloaks in the small space.
She told us her family has lived on the point for several generations.
Her husband and father help her re-thatch the roof of the cottage every few years.
We left the point to make our our way south and in Ballyshannon stopped for a break. In a small arts cooperative shop we learned a lot from the owner about ’70s rock guitarist Rory Gallagher whom Ballyshannon claims as their own. (A statue of Rory, a musician who influenced the likes of Brian May and Eric Clapton to name a few, stands in the center of town.)
We had lunch at Kate’s Kitchen and were delighted to find on the menu a mention of Chilli Sauce.
Why? Well, my mother has recipes from her Great Aunt Lizzie Reilly (such as a traditional Irish Soda Bread), one of which is for Chilli Sauce. We had always assumed that “chilli” was supposed to be “chili” and that it had simply been misspelled on the card. But here, and indeed everywhere else we went in Ireland it was spelled “chilli”.
At this lunch spot the chilli sauce was tossed with shredded chicken and piled onto a bap – a soft, white roll and was very tasty indeed. After some tea and Americano we said goodbye to Ballyshannon to head to our next destination.
Next post: We travel the Wild Atlantic Way (it was very wild) to Clifden and explore the fascinating island of Inishmore.
More Ireland posts:
See below for the recipe for my Great-Great Aunt Lizzie’s Chilli Sauce!
>> Have you tried this Chilli Sauce? Please click the stars at the top of the recipe to rate it and leave a comment for me below!
Aunt Lizzie’s Chilli Sauce
- 12 tomatoes (about 3 to 3 ½ pounds)
- 2 bell peppers (I like to do one red and one green)
- 2 yellow onions (about 12 ounces)
- 1 jalapeño pepper
- ½ cup white vinegar
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. While you wait for the water, use a sharp knife to cut an “X” into the bottoms of the tomatoes. When the water is boiling, drop in the tomatoes (in batches if necessary) and leave them in for one minute. Remove the tomatoes from the water with a slotted spoon to a colander set in the sink. When all the tomatoes have been scalded, discard the boiling water and hold the pot aside.
- When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the skins back from the "X" and remove them. Slice the tomatoes into chunks that are about 1-½ inches in size (be sure to cut out the tough core where the stem was) and place the tomato chunks into the pot.
- Remove the stems, seeds and membranes from the bell peppers. Dice the peppers and add them to the pot. Then peel and discard the papery skins from the onions. Dice the onions and add them to the pot as well.
- Slice open the jalapeño. Remove the seeds and membranes. Dice the pepper and add it to the pot.
- Add in the rest of the ingredients: the vinegar, sugar, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and cayenne and stir everything together. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring the contents to a boil. Once this happens, reduce the heat to low – the sauce should stay at a low simmer so adjust the heat as necessary to achieve this.
- Simmer the sauce over low heat for 1 hour, stirring it often. The vegetables will soften and the liquid will reduce and thicken. And your kitchen will smell incredible.
- After an hour, remove the pot from the heat and let the sauce cool. Ladle the sauce into jars and keep them sealed or covered in the fridge. It will last for weeks. You can also can this sauce using mason jars and a hot water processing method.
- This sauce is delicious spooned over hotdogs or burgers, over grilled chicken or tossed with shredded chicken. You can also make an appetizer by spooning the sauce over a block of cream cheese and serving it as a spread with crackers.
My Ireland posts are dedicated to my mom Kathy and sister Melissa. I loved our time together in Ireland and I love you both!