Saturday, 30 May 2015

Howth - dosh and chips

A year or so ago, waiting at Portsmouth to board the ferry to Santander, we had a short conversation with the man in the queue in front of us. He was Irish and interesting of course, and recommended a brilliant tiny hotel in Northern Spain (Palacio de Prelo, look it up!) which we went to stay in a while later.  The owner of the Palacio (who is another fascinating character in his own right) told us that this Irishman was actually a great landowner in Howth, and we looked him up on Wiki or somewhere. He inherited great chunks of Howth as a young man following the death of his uncle (or something), though not the title which had gone with it.

So today, looking for somewhere to go, we chose Howth as our destination, wondering if we would bump into him again, to thank him for recommending the Palacio at Prelo.  (We didn't).
But we have had a marvellous day.

We set off to drive north round Dublin Bay which is a remarkable bit of sea - a huge wide shallow sandy estuary as you could see from my photo in the last post. It is embraced by the low mountains and hills along the coast to the south, and of the Howth peninsular to the north, and Dublin is pretty much in the middle of the back of the bay. There are restos and cafes in various large houses facing the sea - Indian, Thai, Pakistani.

Once we had passed Dublin Port, we turned off the strand to our right to go to Bull Island - a pier-like promontory on the north side of the bay, which turns out to have been more or less invented by Capt Wm Bligh (of the Bounty), who was asked in 1801 to find a way to stop the River Liffey from silting up. In effect, and with later alterations and additions, his idea worked and now, with the accretions of decades of sand, and great boulders added after storm damage, etc., it is a beautiful sociable enticing place to walk or cycle. There are steep steps for swimming from, and sand-dunes filled with wild-flowers, and families and runners out enjoying themselves.  A tall statue of the Virgin Mary complete with halo decorates the end, and that is marked underneath by a large important-looking stone announcing that it was put in place by a particular Archbishop of Dublin, the Rev Dr someone-or-other... we speculated that he came to bless the statue on condition that his name appear on this rock, but we may have been maligning him, although we thought the statue would have been more mysterious and inspiring without his name being added to the bottom of it.

Further round the bay we stopped at an open food market, being held at the Red Stables of what was once a private park and estate called St Anne's, belonging originally to the Guinness family. The mansion burned down in 1943, and the (then) Corporation of Dublin took the whole place over, later building lots of houses on the edge of the park up the hill and running the rest as a recreation ground for the community. It is a terrific place, still expansive and park-like, well-kept, with swathes of large old trees and sweeping lawns, and lots of people out enjoying themselves.  The food on sale in the artisan market included Chinese dumplings, Thai, Indian, pizzas, vegetarian and vegan, baked goods, and greengrocery - once again it seemed like foreigners are setting the pace.... We bought a coffee from an Irish lady who had a Gaggia set-up on the back of a Piaggio tricyle thing (like a Lambretta or Vespa)... so sweet.

On we went - round the coast of Howth itself - rich, rich, rich... exclusive with its high garden walls and large houses commanding the fantastic views over the bay.  Reaching the harbour, we found our free parking place and started our stroll round, looking for lunch. There's hot competition.... lots of ethnic foods as you would expect. The old railway station is now converted to something called The Bloody Stream, and in front of that is another ramshackle-arty place called the Doghouse tearooms.

We walked on.  At last we reached a run of fish places - selling wet fish (local catches) and meals.. Beshoff was stylish (and later I ran back for a couple of John Dory), and then we had - ah - so many to choose from ... Nicky's Plaice ('Hooked on Fish for Generations') was staffed by what seemed to be Chinese salesmen.  Tapas, Brass Monkey, Crabby Joe's, Aqua, Wrights of Howth, all with variations of fish, chips, chowder, etc etc. But we chose The Oar House (geddit?) and had an excellent fish lunch including chowder, fish-and-chips, mussels and crab salad between us.  A large party of Chinese was on one table beside us, and an equally large party of German guys on the other. It's all very international. The chefs in the Oar House looked Iraqui (I didn't ask so that is just a guess).  The servers in all the fish-shops we went into were mostly Polish. Families walking around were Nigerian.

Once again, invasion or settlement or exploration based on food. There is such energy and power in this sector. People love fresh food, offers, choice, competition. It brings - money. You can see the international labelling, just in this photo....

If our acquaintance from the Santander ferry ever reads this, I hope he knows we are dead impressed. His Jag may have been dented but his influence is creative and productive.

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